Saturday 31 December 2011

Today's Review: Playing Monopoly For Ages

This is the third game of Monopoly I've played within a week, each one has lasted hours. It's all back and forth, owing each other pitiful amounts. After running out of paper money in the bank in our regular version, I went and bought the new one with cards instead of cash. So this evening's has probably been the most successful I've played so far.

We've managed to build up quite a few houses, but I just got wiped out by having to pay £10m. The game has lasted a few hours anyway, so no matter how efficiently you can play it and how many resources you have, it's still a long game. Still, it's all good fun, the time has kind of flown by, I'm certainly not ready to give up anyway. I will rebuild my empire.

My rating: 3/5

Friday 30 December 2011

Today's Review: The Guard

Ooh, an Irish movie. They make movies in Ireland? I thought they just drank Guiness and cried about not being under our glorious English government.

The Guard stars Brendan Gleeson as a Garda, or Irish policeman, named Boyle. He's not too enthusiastic about his job, seeing as he frequents prostitutes and takes drugs he finds at crime scenes. But the discovery of a dead body in the sleepy town of Galway opens up a whole can of worms, as an FBI agent (Don Cheadle) comes investigating an international drug smuggling ring. Boyle is unwillingly dragged right into the middle, and finds himself uncovering more than he'd probably like to.

The Guard is a good black comedy. It certainly has tones of In Bruges contained throughout, and has all the great trademarks of a gangster movie. The drug smugglers themselves make a good trio, bantering and arguing between themselves, with a good old fashioned British geezer thrown in for good measure. All the Irish cast pull in good performances as townsfolk trying to figure out what's going on in the area, and Gleeson in particular plays a very good role, you can never quite figure out his ulterior motives, but you can certainly see his character is quite smart. The only low point in the casting is Cheadle. His character feels somewhat tacked on in order to get the bigger name in the cast. He doesn't really add much to the production, I'm sure the story could have progressed quite nicely without him, and he seems very out of place in the middle of Ireland.

Still, The Guard is a very entertaining movie. It's well paced, funny, and definitely worth a watch.

My rating: 4/5

Thursday 29 December 2011

Today's Review: Troll Hunter

I certainly haven't seen a Norwegian movie, at least not in a long time. But this one has been quite hyped up over here with trailers and the like, so I was definitely looking forward to it.

Troll Hunter takes the form of a "found footage" movie, in the vein of The Blair Witch Project. It follows a group of students attempting to pursue an illegal bear poacher across Norway, but instead stumbling upon a man who is working in secrecy with a branch of the government, keeping the troll population of Norway under control. While the students don't quite believe him at first, they carry on following him and encounter these unbelievably huge beasts, and discover the tactics used by the hunter to keep them at bay.

Troll Hunter is certainly a very tongue in cheek take on the regular found footage genre. While zombies and ghosts are familiar territory for several jump scares and suspense, these massive trolls, and the explanations behind them are clearly quite silly. While doing a good job of making the characters believable, the movie clearly doesn't take itself too seriously, even inserting an excellent cameo of the Norwegian Prime Minister.

The scenes are structured is quite good, with interviews spliced between the action sequences in order to explain the backstory and further the plot, but while the final product is quite entertaining there are certainly some slow parts, and the dialogue can get a little silly at times, though this may be due to the translation from the original language. If you're going to watch it, I'd go for the subtitles option instead of the ridiculous dub that I decided to check out at a few points throughout.

Still, this is probably new territory for Norwegian cinema, and it's admirable to see them taking the tongue in cheek route rather than churning out another regular horror story. The CG used for the trolls is pretty awesome, and while I certainly didn't feel utterly engrossed all the way through, it was certainly entertaining enough to hold my attention. It's a great idea, and it's pretty well executed.

My rating: 4/5

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Today's Review: Tesco's Finest Cranberry & Orange Tiramisu & Pot Au Chocolat With Orange

Sorry for my short, shitty reviews over the Christmas period. To compensate here's a two in one.

I was browsing the clearance section at Tesco once again today, when my gaze landed upon some particularly interesting desserts. Finest desserts are always too expensive in my opinion, 'cause you don't really get much for them. So I like to have a dabble when they're cheap.

First up was the Pot Au Chocolat, which can be quite easily translated to "Pot O' Chocolate", seeing as it is indeed a pot of chocolate. It is described as "velvety smooth chocolate orange ganache made using Belgian milk and dark chocolate, topped with crystallised orange shreds". In layman's terms, it's a thick chocolate mousse with some orangey shit on top. Still, it certainly was nice, although there's very little of it. But it's thick, filling, very nice indeed.

Then there was the Cranberry & Orange Tiramisu, described as "Valencian orange and cranberry compote with Grand Marnier soaked savoiardi biscuits, smooth Valencian orange and Marsala wine mousse, hand finished with cranberry slices". My word, they like to describe the shit out of these things don't they? Still, it looks nice, and it certainly wasn't bad to the taste buds. Smooth mousse, not too tangy with the compote, the liquer taste was hardly noticeable. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this dessert is it didn't flag up as a restricted item on the self checkout. If I were under 18 I could have made away with the whole tray, scorfed them down and gotten wasted, and diabetes. Oh well, also good.

These Finest things clearly aren't aimed at me, I couldn't care less about where my oranges came from, or how many vowels the names of my biscuits have, but it's nice to have a taste of the high life, although eating stuff from Tesco probably isn't the way to do that.

My rating: 4/5

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Today's Review: Not Having Time To Fix All The Screw Ups Caused ByThe Blogger App

I've posted from my phone the last couple of days, what with being at various places away from a computer. While the Blogger app is quite handy in that respect, every time I put an apostrophe in a blog post title it cannot compute. I know I could leave out the apostrophe until later, but that makes me look a bit of an idiot, instead I have to have an incomprehensible mess where that apostrophe should be.

Hopefully they can fix it soon, and add some ability to change the location and size of the pictures, but for now it is very annoying. At least I can change all these garbled symbols soon.

My rating: 1/5

Monday 26 December 2011

Today's Review: Late Christmas Nights

I'm still not at home. I'm playing cards right now, could go on for a while. But despite my tiredness, it's all good fun, and it happens but a couple of times a year. No one's grumpy, it's all just fun and laughs, and that makes good Christmas.

My rating: 4/5

Sunday 25 December 2011

Today's Review: Mega Christmas Buffet Sandwich

The dinner was eaten. The buffet was laid out. But I was quite full. So what better way to avoid munching endlessly on several snacks than putting a small selection between two pieces of bread?

I had a bit of everything. Lettuce, twiglets, turkey, tuc biscuits, pickled onions, Jaffa cakes, mini roll, Pringles, all topped with sweet chilli sauce. Disgusting in theory, not bad in reality. It certainly didn't taste awful, but as I was quite full I couldn't quite finish it. But that might just be my freakish taste buds. Given the disgusted reactions of people around me, I wouldn't overly recommend everyone try it. Merry Christmas everyone.

My rating: 3/5

Saturday 24 December 2011

Today's Review: Assembling Christmas Presents On Christmas Eve

We just spent the past couple of hours assembling a wooden kitchen for the kids. We've had a couple of kitchens before, but they've quickly fallen apart and broken to pieces. This is one of those proper sturdy ones that has a price tag to match its durability.

Trouble is, it was harder to put together than a cabinet from IKEA. But still, it's finished now, and it looks pretty damn good. Until we realised it was almost midnight, and we still had a garage and Barbie house to set up. I don't know how Santa does all this shit, it took us bloody hours.

My rating: 1/5

Friday 23 December 2011

Today's Review: Cowboys & Aliens

In the realm of nerdery, there are several warring factions. Ninjas, pirates, zombies, cowboys, aliens, each one having their case put forward by adamant geeks, determined to prove their favourite is best. But now we have a Hollywood movie that will settle the score between two: Cowboys & Aliens.

This movie follows a mysterious cowboy played by Daniel Craig, who wakes up in the middle of nowhere with no memory and a strange device strapped to his wrist. Finding refuge in the saloon of a nearby town, he stirs up some trouble with the locals, but that's nothing compared to that evening when aliens show up and abduct the townspeople. With the cowboy determined to find out about his past, and the town's remaning inhabitants intent on getting revenge and bringing their people back, a posse is formed to track down the aliens.

Cowboys & Aliens is a big budget movie. There are guns, explosions, menacing aliens, and it all looks pretty damn good. It's what a B-movie would look like if it was polished up to blockbuster standard. There's character progression, attention to detail, good special effects. It's especially nice to see the amount of effort put into the set pieces and costumes of the old west, which a regular B-movie would most likely skip over.

Surprisingly, Daniel Craig makes a pretty good cowboy. He's got the accent down well, which was my biggest concern, and his presence really makes him stand out amongst the others. Harrison Ford turns in a good performance too, with some clear character progression from grizzled town overlord to alien war hero. The casting is pretty good all round, in fact, and everyone gives it their all throughout. Olivia Wilde's character is a little weird, and seems a bit unnecessary, but she helps to hurry the narrative along so that no lengthy explanations are needed.

Unfortunately, the movie can drag on a bit. Perhaps it's because I was watching the extended director's cut, but the actual hunt for the aliens does become a bit stale, just watching the posse ride through the desert. Still, I was entertained throughout. Even if the middle of the movie has little in the way of action, there's plenty packed into the final minutes.

While certainly not a perfect movie, Cowboys & Aliens is a great effort at blending genres, that doesn't take itself too seriously, but also doesn't fall into the trap of being too ridiculous. It's a sci-fi western mashup the likes of which I've never seen before.

My rating: 4/5

Thursday 22 December 2011

Today's Review: Where's My Water?

This app was free from Apple's Facebook page a couple of weeks back, so of course I got it. It's pretty much the only iPhone game I've been playing since then, so that tells you something.

Where's My Water? is a physics based water game, following the vein of Cut The Rope, which itself follows the same kind of formula of Angry Birds. Several levels in different episodes, introducing different mechanics and offering a three star score to those willing to go the extra mile.

Our cute mascot in this game is Swampy, an alligator who really loves showers, so much so that he invades various peoples' houses in order to use theirs. It's clearly not the same shower, because each one is connected to a series of confusing sewers in which the player must dig through dirt, turn valves and even convert liquids in order to get the water to the shower head. We start out with simple digging, but quickly move onto the different liquid types. There's a poison water which clears out algae but makes Swampy pissed off if it lands in his tub, and a gelatinous ooze that turns algae into hard rock.

Various mechanics are introduced as the episodes progress. There are convertor valves, hot coals that turn water into steam, switches that open up gates, but all are introduced at a steady pace, and don't need too much explanation. After a few levels of introduction, you can quickly learn to use all the different mechanics together with ease.

The real challenge, of course, comes with trying to get all the ducks scattered around the level. Similar to the stars in Cut The Rope, each one is a little bit out of the way, meaning you have to think a little differently than normal in order to spurt water in the right direction, or avoid soaking them with poison water, which kills them dead. It does take a fair amount of trial and error sometimes, but it's never difficult enough to be really frustrating.

The same can be said for the rest of the game too. The difficulty is not that hard, but in a game aimed at kids this is probably a good thing. I've breezed through most of the levels without much thought, so perhaps for seasoned gamers like myself it doesn't provide an overly satisfying challenge, but it's nice to not be stuck on the same level for hours trying to figure out what to do.

Where's My Water is a cute, colourful, fun game. It's not too hard, but there are various things to get used to while playing. If you've had enough of flinging birds at pigs or trudging through corridors shooting Russians, this game will certainly provide some entertainment for a good few hours.

My rating: 4/5

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Today's Review: KFC's Supercharger

Yes, it's time for another KFC burger. This time though, they've done away with that no skin crap, and given us a different sauce instead. Yes, KFC aren't much for originality, I know, but when they added bacon and called it a Big Daddy I liked it a lot.

So here we have the Supercharger. Clearly not as nice looking as it is in the advertisements, but it'll do I suppose. This burger boasts two mini fillets in a "soft sub roll", with mayo and a "supercharged" sauce. They offer no hint as to what the sauce tastes like. Does it contain caffeine? Electricity? Is it designed to wake us up, or just give us a nasty shock?

Turns out it's spicy. It's a smooth kind of spicy sauce, it has a bit more kick than the normal hot sauce, so we can only assume that "supercharged" is one up on the KFC heat spectrum from "zinger". I guess the next step would be something like "awooga wooga". Anyway, it wasn't a bad sauce, but the fact that the only other ingredients are chicken, cheese and lettuce makes it fall a bit flat. Where's the towering option? I guess because they've opted for a sub to contain it in we can't go sticking hash browns in the middle, but it would be nice to have some bacon or something in there. In its defence though, the bread is quite nice. It is indeed soft, as they state, and I certainly preferred it to the normal KFC burger bun. 

The Supercharger is a nice burger. It certainly doesn't overtake the Big Daddy in my esteem, but it's a good enough effort. Maybe if they added a bit more originality past the different sauce and bread they could be onto a real winner. But nice try.

My rating: 3/5

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Today's Review: Final Destination 5

Hooray, it's time for some more random, bloody deaths. While the last one was called "The Final Destination", they were clearly lying, because there is now another, and you'll be pleased to know that it continues the series long tradition of gradually getting worse.

This time round the main accident revolved around a suspension bridge collapse. I'm not exactly sure if the events shown are physically possible, but some strong winds come along, make the bridge crack up, and the middle falls out, impaling, drowning and slicing people in the process. Of course, this is Final Destination, so a character with hardly any background or character witnesses it all in a premonition, freaks out, and drags himself and several other caricatures out of a bus to safety.

We have a perverted fat guy, an uncaring rock chick, a general douche, all dying in over the top ways as the result of ridiculous situations. With the Final Destination series intent on making sure no place is safe in our minds, we have gory deaths taking place in a gymnastics hall, a laser eye surgery and several other locations. This time, however, the sequences of events are nowhere near as solid as in the other movies, and are mostly just a random collection of things that distract from the sudden final moment. Also, this movie seems to be set in an alternate universe where the people are made from a paper like substance that just rips apart when any sort of heavy physical contact occurs. Bones pop out, eyeballs detach and limbs fly at the slightest smash.

The recurring character of the coroner also returns to creep the survivors out, and of course provide them with the explanation for what's happening. Trouble is he also seems to be taking the piss, as he makes up an arbitrary rule about having to kill someone in order for Death to skip over you, something he clearly pulled out of his ass but which every character suddenly believes without a doubt. This adds an even bigger sense of stupidity to the movie, especially at the moment when I was figuring out what was going to happen in the death sequences by purely imagining the most ridiculous thing I could.

Still, this is a Final Destination movie. We know what to expect, blood, guts, random deaths in random places. But the other movies have pulled it off quite well, it seems that now they've just completely run out of ideas of how to make the story or situations believable. Perhaps with the next one they'll just provide an hour and a half of constant gore.

My rating: 2/5

Monday 19 December 2011

Today's Review: Butterscotch Malt Shake From Ed's Diner

I just realised how blurry that picture is, but now the drink is gone and the cup disposed of. Oh well.

I went to Lakeside today, probably a bad idea since everyone is rushing around buying presents, but we went to see Santa, and got in the Fast Track queue, so it's all good. Since I wasn't really buying much, I figured I'd indulge in one of the slightly expensive malt shakes that the American diner in the food court offer. There is a cheaper milk shake variety, but expensive means better, right?

There are several flavours on offer, from the plain spread of  chocolate, vanilla or strawberry, to the interesting banana, peanut butter or butterscotch. I went for butterscotch, because I have grown to love it through consumption of Angel Delight.

The shake was awesome. It seems to defy the laws of physics by weighing almost nothing when it's in the cup. Also it takes ages for the drink to disappear, and that's certainly not a bad thing. The shake was not too cold, awesomely smooth, and the flavour was certainly present, without becoming overwhelming. I have no real comparison with which to assess how good the malt element made it, but I could certainly taste the malt, similar to the part of a Mars bar that isn't chocolate or caramel. It blended well with the rest of the drink, and made for an awesome drinking experience. I was very sad when it was gone.

Still, there's always my next visit. Maybe then I'll be brave enough for peanut butter.

My rating: 5/5

Sunday 18 December 2011

Today's Review: The Way Aliens Are Portrayed In The Media

I watched Contact for the first time last week. I didn't review it, but I can say I enjoyed it. What was especially interesting is the fact that it portrays aliens in a positive light, which nowadays is somewhat of a rarity.

Aliens are weird things, we can all acknowledge that. They come from different planets, they probably look different to us, eat different foods, have different beliefs, maybe weird powers. But do we really have to make them so evil in movies? Pretty much every alien movie out there paints them as evil blood thirsty creatures who have come to enslave the human race, or harvest our bodies, or out natural resources. Perhaps their home world has been destroyed as a result of their own consumption, or maybe they're just greedy. But why is that always the case? I think it's just projection, people. Killing people for resources is what humans do. When we come across something we haven't seen before, our first reaction is probably to kill it dead.

My point is that we have been broadcasting all these different movies as signals across our planet for years. If aliens are advanced enough to pick them out, all they're going to see is countless frames of aliens murdering people and people shooting back at them. If they don't have such a thing as movies on that planet, they'll probably just assume that we murder all our other worldly visitors, but if they do have such entertainment they'll just guess this is how we think aliens are. Even movies that have portrayed aliens positively, such as Paul and E.T., show them being locked up by the government and tested on merely for showing up on our planet. We're sending some pretty bad signals out into space. If we were to intercept some waves emanating from a faraway planet and saw countless movies of aliens destroying and imprisoning humanoid figures, we'd probably steer clear too. Hell, we can't even stop killing each other, what alien race is going to want to share its knowledge with us?

Thankfully there are some good souls in the world. Mr. Gene Roddenberry provided us with the best portrayal of aliens and humans getting along fine. Star Trek shows just how nice it can be if all the races of different planets get along nicely, a motif that is also present throughout the Mass Effect video game series. There are of course some bloodthirsty races thrown in for good measure, but obviously they're all dicks so no one wants to invite them to the party.

We need to start portraying aliens in a more positive light in our media. We need more peaceful movies about first contact with intergalactic species, with the characters offering gifts and gladly accepting knowledge. The way it is now, we're just destroying our chances of anyone wanting to come and show us some pretty cool stuff. To the rest of the universe, we probably look like a bunch of filthy violent Klingons.

My rating: 1/5

Saturday 17 December 2011

Today's Review: Not Being Able To Review A Movie Properly

I watched Kill List last night. It's a British movie that bridges the gangster, thriller and horror genres. It's been generally well received, some calling it the best British movie in years, so of course it would be great for me to review on this blog.

Trouble is, I'm currently addicted to Skyrim, so any movie I watch is played simultaneously. Let me tell you, Kill List is not a movie that you half want to pay attention to. I didn't get it at all. There are twists and turns along the way, nothing is really explained, and a lot is left to interpretation. But when you've also been killing dragons and performing quests while watching, it's hard to figure out what's going on.

This is the problem with some movies. While some seem to really enjoy them, I find myself struggling to relate to what's going on. I can work out the most complicated of twists in movies, but still there are a few that leave me baffled. I did enjoy what I saw of Kill List, but I felt I could have taken away a lot more if I'd paid full attention. So obviously I can't review it. What would I say? "This movie is apparently really good, but I didn't understand it"? That's not a review, it's more of a rambling Facebook status admitting my stupidity.

So yes, while I do watch the vast majority of movies released, there are some that I don't review for various reasons. It could be because they left me baffled, it could be because I couldn't think of much to say about them, it could be because I'm still in awe at how terribly awful it is. But when it happens, it's not good. I need to review one thing a day, often a movie is the one thing in my day that is different from normal routine. Without being able to review it I'm subjected to thinking of something random, like this review right here. And that's no fun at all.

My rating: 0/5

Friday 16 December 2011

Today's Review: Burger King Breakfast

Now that school runs need to be done on a regular basis, my fianceƩ and I often have to nip to town in the times between drop off and pick up, meaning we get to town in the early hours of the morning. Since I still get up at the latest time possible before leaving the house, I regularly only have time to give the kids breakfast, leaving me starving by the time I get to town. Thus I have started buying breakfast, which I haven't really done before. Normally we opt for a meal in the Wetherspoons, but today it was time to test what Burger King had to offer.

I went for the Breakfast In Bread, because I like puns. It's regular breakfast burger fare, bacon, egg, sausage. All in all it wasn't too impressive, but it certainly did have that distinct flame grilled taste as far as the sausage was concerned, so I definitely enjoyed it more than a MacDonald's breakfast burger. Next time though, I'll probably go for the bacon double cheeseburger, which is so awesome that they serve it all day.

The sides are worth noting too. While MacDonald's hash browns are full sized, Burger King present you with several hash brown bites. While this does provide a larger proportion of crunchiness to potato, they do feel a little small, and are gone within a short amount of time. Still, they were quite nice, just not as good as MacDonald's. 

The mini pancakes are weird too. It seems Burger King are afraid of regular sized breakfast foods. They're less like pancakes and more like deflated spheres. Thus the inside is a bit too fluffy for my liking, they're just too thick. At least syrup is provided, though obviously not maple syrup, as they've had to name it "pancake syrup". Still, they tasted like pancakes, so kudos to the king for putting them on the menu. 

While not a perfect breakfast experience, it's probably one I'd try again. I certainly felt full after my feast, and the coffee didn't taste like crap either, so that's a bonus.

My rating: 4/5

Thursday 15 December 2011

Today's Review: Nosebleeds

I had a nosebleed earlier. I haven't had one for a while, and man, they really catch you off guard. There I was, minding my own business, and then blood starts dripping out of my nose. Why was my nose bleeding? I don't know, and that's what makes it more annoying.

Nosebleeds can stop as quickly as they start. With no explanation, it just seems like your body is a bit bored, so it decides to just unleash a wave of blood through your nasal passage just for shits and giggles. Is there a cut inside your nose? No. Is your brain haemorrhaging and your demise innocent? No. Your nose is just bleeding. Proceed to watch blood trickle down your face and drip on the floor and your clothes until it decides to stop.

The worst thing is trying to stop it. Once you've managed to mop up the stream running down your face you think you should tackle the problem of the source. But where exactly is it coming from? You can pinch the bridge of your nose and lean your head back, but that might just result in blood trickling down your throat instead. You could even stick some tissue or cotton wool or something up there to stem the flow, but that option leaves you looking like a complete idiot. Especially if you decide to use a tampon or something (this has never crossed my mind, I promise).

So yeah, nosebleeds suck. I suggest that blood just piss of back to where it came from and stop bothering me while I'm trying to live my life without dripping blood from my face.

My rating: 0/5

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Today's Review: Frugo

There will be no more movies coming out until after Christmas now, so clearly I need inspiration for more reviews. Perhaps I'll review some of the games that I never got round to reviewing, perhaps I'll review some old favourite movies, or perhaps I'll just write a load of bullshit. But for today, I paid a visit to the ethnic section of Tesco once more, and found these tempting little bottles of juice on sale for only 33p. Of course, I snagged both flavours.

The green does look a little off putting, but then I was reminded that it is "ultra green", and that can't be a bad thing. The picture does look like a negative of an unripened tomato, but the bottle informed me that the main flavour in this beverage was "lulo", which is scientifically known as "Solanum quitoense". It looks like an orange, apparently has a flavour somewhere between rhubarb and lime, and most importantly the juice is green, hence this delightful colour. There's also kiwi and apple thrown in for good measure, but all in all the drink wasn't bad at all. It's a smooth juice with a tangy but sweet flavour, definitely one of my favourite green beverages (I'm looking at you, Mountain Dew).

"Ultra black" is on the other end of the juice spectrum. This one predominantly features "pitahaya", or dragon fruit, with grapes, cherries and blueberries thrown in. The combination gives a taste similar to pomegranate juice. I have had Pomegreat before, and always found it to be a little too dry. While this drink suffers from the same problem, the different juices add together to create a smoother experience. 

If you can find these little bottles around, give them a try. I was pleasantly surprised, and would definitely give them another try. Hey, where else are you gonna get some lulo and dragon fruit juice? Drinking those makes you sound badass.

My rating: 4/5

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Today's Review: Homemade Breakfast Sandwich

I've been feeling a bit poor lately, so my old habits of buying stuff to eat when I'm working late shifts needs to come to an end. Trouble is I want something hot and nutritious, and that's hard when all you have is a microwave. But today I decided to cook a fry up at home and stick it all in some bread, to create my own awesome all day breakfast sandwich.

I say fry up, I mean bacon, eggs and sausage, because beans would be weird and putting hash browns in there would mean it wouldn't fit in my mouth. I ate it cold, but it was still good. It seems fry up food is good hot, good cold, but disgusting in between, kinda like pizza. The result was pretty good, much like a shop bought breakfast sandwich, so any time you're stuck for ideas, just stick whatever you have in a sandwich.

My rating: 4/5

Monday 12 December 2011

Today's Review: Black Mirror - 15 Million Merits

15 Million Merits is part two of Charlie Brooker's mini series that is designed to make us feel very uncomfortable with the modern world, the first part of which aired last week. While I neglected reviewing it, it was definitely a chilling and well done piece of drama, enough to make me excited for the next installment.

15 Million Merits is set in an alternate reality, or is it just a future time? It's not very clear, and in fact nothing is explained. The citizens we are introduced to live in cells, and pedal on bikes all day, every day in order to earn points, or Merits, that they can spend on items for their cartoonish avatars, food in vending machines, and the option to skip the obnoxious adverts that pop up in front of them at regular intervals. One resident, named Bing, meets a girl and begins to feel something he's never felt before, so he decides to give her some Merits so she can have a chance at winning the reality show Hot Shots, to graduate from the mundane cycling the rest are subjected to.

We don't know why these people live like this, or how this system developed, it's never explained. But in reality, it doesn't need explaining. The whole structure of this world is very familiar. We already spend days working mundane jobs for money that we spend on pointless things, often immaterial things. The whole avatar concept is firmly in place on XBox Live, for example. 15 Million Merits is certainly an unsettling piece of television, but only because it seems so plausible.

The episode focuses mainly on Bing (Daniel Kaluuya), and to very good effect. His character transforms from silent and accepting of his role in society, to unsettled and angry, and Kaluuya give it his all every step of the way, playing a perfect docile human, to delivering an outstanding monologue towards the end of the episode, which itself is used to even greater effect as the show draws to a close.

15 Million Merits is an extremely well written, well acted and haunting piece of television. If it doesn't evoke unsettling feelings in you, or make you question where the world is headed, then you might as well just get on your bike.

My rating: 5/5

Sunday 11 December 2011

Today's Review: Putting Plates In The Microwave That Are Too Big For The Microwave

I have more Chinese food waiting for me today. So much in fact, that I've had to stack it onto one of my big plates so it'll fit in the microwave. Of course, it's big enough to actually fit in the microwave, but once the microwave started spinning it was clear the plate was not going to comply. I spent the last two minutes listening to my plate fighting struggling against the very walls of its radioactive cell.

Of course this raises many questions. If the plate doesn't spin, will the heat caused by the waves be appropriated correctly throughout the food? Is the plate even microwave friendly? I didn't check. Is this food even safe to microwave? The answer to the latter is of course, it's Chinese food. It defies all laws of food hygiene and safety somehow. I assume the plate is microwave friendly too, because it is still intact. As to the heating of the food, not so much. There is a reason why the plate in a microwave turns, and it's not just to look pretty on the shopping channels. So while putting a huge plate of food in the microwave will make it warm enough to enjoy, and not feel like a hobo eating from the trash, it's really better to just put things in smaller containers and get that even spread of heat.

My rating: 3/5

Saturday 10 December 2011

Today's Review: Spy Kids 4: All The Time In The World

I can't say I've avidly watched the Spy Kids series, but I've seen snippets, I think I sat through the entirety of the first and left feeling like a ruined man. But it's made by Robert Rodriguez, he knows what he's doing, and he knows what his kids want, so kudos to him for making kiddie fare alongside his massively violent grindhouse features.

I was a little excited about Spy Kids 4 being delivered at work though. I've had a 3D TV since August, and I had yet to watch an obnoxiously in your face 3D movie. I've seen the awesome depth work of Disney and Pixar, the lacklustre post-production conversion of mediocre Hollywood action movies, but nothing with stuff flying out at my face. Also this is in 4D, which means it comes with a scented card, the numbers of which you rub as they appear on screen. It's like we're in the early 90s all over again, but the 3D is more advanced. The smell technology, however, is not.

I won't go too much into the plot, because really it doesn't matter. It's nonsensical, and it knows it is, because it spends no time explaining itself, and more says "this is the way things are, now just watch these kids using cool gadgets and taling to a robot dog". In short, there's a supervillain called The Timekeeper, and his accomplice Tick Tock, who have a device which is stealing time somehow, and time is speeding up somehow, which also means the world will run out of time somehow. Jessica Alba plays a retired spy who is forced to go back for another mission, her year old baby in tow, and Joel McHale plays the unwitting father, who is trying to launch a TV show in which he hunts spies. Ironic, right? The kids, of course, are thrust into the spy role, and end up having to save the day.

To be honest, I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. Once you just accept that the plot is nonsensical, and everything is just over the top and stupid, you begin to see how self aware the whole thing is. The characters just breeze through everything, accepting these ridiculous situations for what they are, and the one liners they crack are often hilarious, especially coming from Argonaut the robot dog, voiced by Ricky Gervais. The kids are great in their roles, encapsulating the personality traits of their characters brilliantly, and in fact everyone just seems to be having a great time. Even the original Spy Kids make an appearance, which probably goes to show that they had a great time making the first three.

The 3D effects are pretty damn good. There's stuff flying out all over the place, various particles flying around the screen, and the depth effect work well. Where it all kinda falls down is with the Aroma-Scope card. It's a neat idea, with different scents for bacon and candy, but there are also numbers that correspond to two different types of fart, and when you go to smell them, they don't particularly smell bad. I know I've been around baby poop long enough to become acclimatised to it, bur I still think it smells pretty bad. Again, the whole idea is something that will appeal to kids, and I guess that's the point of this movie.

Spy Kids is not bad. Despite me hating the first movie so much, I'm tempted to go back and watch the first three to see if I still feel the same. Certainly Spy Kids 4 is not a fantastic piece of cinema, it's all over the place plot wise, and focuses mainly on the visual effects, but I had some laughs while watching it.

My rating: 3/5

Friday 9 December 2011

Today's Review: DVDs That Have Nothing To Do With Christmas Being Rebranded With Christmas Packaging

Christmas is now upon us. The lights are on, the decorations are up, the songs are playing, and at work we are swamped with deliveries of random movie boxsets and countless other DVDs that people are likely to buy for presents.

DVDs are fine, everyone likes to receive a DVD. What I can't abide is when at this time of year they take a regular DVD and put a new slip case over the top with a Christmas theme. And by Christmas theme I mean they badly photoshop santa hats on top of the characters.

Marley & Me, a nice family movie. Not particularly to do with Christmas, but add a nice little bow to the puppy's neck on the cover, and hey presto, it's a perfect Christmas gift. I know that's a little tame, so of course I have several more examples.

Marmaduke is a not so good family movie. It's about a family with a big dog who has a congenital deformity that makes him look CGI a lot of the time. Anyway, they move to a new place in California, and hilarity(?) ensues. Of course, it's sunny in California, hence the palm trees and sunglasses. But now it's Christmas, so we have...

Snow! Santa hats! Scarf! Lose the palm trees though, 'cause they're nothing to do with Christmas. Keep the sunglasses, because they're too hard to remove with a five minute photoshop job. Hey, now it's a Christmas movie, even though it has nothing to do with Christmas, and you still get the regular cover when you take this abomination off. 

Rio is set in Rio de Janeiro. That place is hot too, you know. The original cover has the main bird wearing the scarf and earmuffs because he moves there from Minnesota, where it's quite cold. But still, no one's gonna want to buy this popular children's movie as a gift if we don't add obnoxious Christmas themed overlays.

Gnomeo & Juliet is about gnomes. In England. It never snows in England when it's Christmas, it sneaks up in January when nobody expects it anymore. The gnomes aren't even small enough to fit in a snowglobe! It makes no damn sense! They can't even leave relatively Christmassy movie alone.

 Sure, Happy Feet is about penguins in a really cold climate, but we need MOAR CHRISTMAS! I'm surprised all the penguins in the background don't have individual hats too.

Finally, we have an ACTUAL Christmas movie. But it's clearly not enough that it's called "Beethoven's CHRISTMAS Adventure", they need to absolutely pile on the imagery. Santa hat? Snow? Not enough. Let's put a gigantic wreath around his neck, a candy cane shoved in his mouth, and surround him with wrapping paper and ribbons. It's like Santa and his elves had a weird bukkake session with a St. Bernard.

I don't get it. Do people actually fall for this? Do they think that giving these Christmas themed covers will get their children to love them more? If I had some DVDs in my collection whose covers were only relevant during one part of the year, I'd blow a gasket. But hey, I guess this is how people do things now. 'Cause when the world runs out of Christmas movie, they can just make anything they like fit in with the holiday season.

Merry Christmas! Ho Hrm Hrm! (That would be ho ho ho, but they're surgically attached anus to mouth, you see.)

My rating: 0/5

Thursday 8 December 2011

Today's Review: Mr. Popper's Penguins

It's another kids' movie, yay! But since my mind has been scarred by Zookeeper and The Smurfs, I wasn't sure I was ready for another mental beating. But I watched anyway.

Jim Carrey is back in a comedy role as Mr. Popper, a man who inherits some penguin buddies from his recently deceased father. As he struggles to accept the penguins into his life, he must also learn to work on the relationships he has with his ex-wife and kids. Blah blah, lovey dovey, predictable.

Yet, despite the generic storyline, I actually quite enjoyed this movie. Maybe it's because I grew up watching Jim Carrey prance around in The Mask and Ace Ventura, but there was something about seeing him take on a nice family comedy role after all these years that brought out the child in me. Another nice thing is that it didn't rely at all on pop culture references. There were no 80s rock songs blasting from cars, no obnoxious product placement, this is just a funny family movie about a guy who suddenly gets penguins, and chaos ensues.

I haven't read the original book, so I can'y say how outraged I would have been at how it's different, but the book was written in the 1930s, so a faithful adaptation would probably be even weirder. There are some nice touches thrown into this movie though, in particular Mr. Popper's assistant who unknowingly uses as many words beginning with "p" as she can when she speaks. Jim Carrey brings all his old trademarks into the fray too, with some weird voices and slapstick thrown in, but it's never over the top, and he's really aged well, so the whole movie just has the feel that family movies used to.

Mr. Popper's Penguins was a nice change from the obnoxious family movies I've grown used to. This isn't a movie about selling as much stuff as possible, or being ridiculously over the top, it's just a fun movie that can appeal to anyone who watches it if they just let the child within them out for a while.

My rating: 4/5

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Today's Review: Rayman Origins

I know I don't review too many games, mostly because it takes me a while to fully play through everything that is review worthy so I can give a balanced score. I certainly haven't finished Rayman Origins, but I feel I have seen enough to pass judgement.

Rayman was a 2D platformer back in the old Playstation days. I have played snippets of the original game, and found them to be quite enjoyable. It was Rayman's venture into 3D territory that was awesome though. Rayman 2 was one of the best games on the N64, much following the pattern established by Mario 64 and present in some of my other favourite games of all time, such as Banjo Kazooie. Nice, large levels, plenty to collect, interesting game mechanics, these were the golden days of the platforming genre.

Then the new generations of console came along and something terrible happened. Mario is still obviously going strong with his platforming games, but all the others seem to have faded. The latest Banjo Kazooie was a bit of a mess, introducing some unnecessary vehicle building gameplay, and the introduction of the annoying Rabbids devolved Rayman into mini game fodder, until eventually he was pushed out of the spotlight altogether to make way for legions of screaming rabbits.

But now Rayman is back in Rayman Origins, and origins is the correct word for it. This game is back to the basics. It's a 2D side scrolling platformer, which in this day and age seems a little strange, but the new technologies that have been developed have been employed to full potential here. The game is pretty large. I'm at the end of the fourth world, but there are about ten as far as I can see. Graphically, Rayman Origins is absolutely stunning. It would be so easy to skimp back a bit on the visuals in a simple platforming game, but there are vibrant colours everywhere, and elements in the background and foreground that have great detail put into them. The animations of Rayman and the enemies are great, and these happy, bright colours are a welcome change from the dingy greys and browns of modern shooters and other dark and dreary games.

The gameplay itself is excellent. Each world has its own theme, and within each one several gameplay mechanics are introduced. Skills are gained that can be used to navigate the environment, but pieces of the environment can also be used to progress through the levels. There are wall jumps, ziplines, luminescent sea creatures that guide you through hands that want to grab you in the dark, pretty much every level introduces something new that you'll soon learn to use with ease.

As far as difficulty goes, Rayman Origins is spot on. You can easily run through the levels without too much trouble, perhaps dying a few times, but there are several checkpoints throughout to make sure you don't lose much progress. The difficulty comes in obtaining all the bonus medals. In each level you must obtain 350 of the yellow floating Lums in order to obtain a medallion, and getting all of those can be pretty difficult, forcing you to go outside your comfort zone and pull off some tricky manoeuvres to get to hidden areas and stashes. There is also a bonus level in each world in which you chase a treasure chest through tricky terrain, which are very reminiscent of Super Meat Boy. In these levels, one slip up and you start from the beginning, so memorisation and precise jumps are the key to victory.

All these extra hard parts are optional though, so Rayman Origins is really suitable for the casual gamer and the completionist alike. This game is just pure fun, it looks wonderful, the music is wonderfully composed and never gets too annoying, and it really is a great thing to see in this modern age of bland shooters.

My rating: 5/5

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Today's Review: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

I saw the original Planet Of The Apes some years ago. I remember it well because I was preparing my art portfolio for GCSE and simultaneously trying to memorise some Latin poetry, since I forgot I had an exam the next day. Needless to say I associate that movie with feeling pretty stressed out, but I aced the Latin test, so that's okay. Anyway, I don't remember too much of the movie, apart from the iconic scene at the end of course.

So when Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes came around, I didn't feel I should be outraged at the ruining of a classic franchise, mostly because I haven't seen the other four original films, which might all be terrible, but also because I feel more attached to that terrible Tim Burton version than the first one. But still, it looked like another one of those terrible Hollywood reboots.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes starts out with a man named Will (James Franco) working on a cure for Alzheimer's. His team are using chimpanzees to test the formula on, and despite one ape getting pretty smart, there are complications, and Will ends up rescuing a young chimp from being put down and takes him home. It seems the formula has been passed on from his mother's genes though, as he quickly develops great intelligence and skill. Given the name Caesar, he grows up living with Will and his Alzheimer's stricken father (John Lithgow), growing quite close to them in the process. But inevitably, he has problems getting others to accept him, and after a few outbursts he is imprisoned with several other apes. Understandably Caesar is a bit pissed off about that, so he works on setting the record straight.

I don't feel too bad relaying that much of the plot, because the trailer basically reveals everything that happens in the movie. Even that poster up there depicts one of the climactic scenes. I really hate it when trailers do this, but it did make me quite excited to see the movie, and this movie was really good.

One thing I liked was the way the scenes played out, developing into a grander scale. We start off with the nice home life of Will and Caesar, and the relationship they form, but it all quickly escalates into city wide carnage as events unfold. While the focus is mostly on the human characters for the first part of the movie, they are all pushed aside as Caesar develops into his own character. Hats off in particular to Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar, albeit via motion capture. His expressions are often scary as hell, and the way he moves leads me to question if his mother was actually a monkey. I guess he's had some practice playing King Kong, but man, he does a good monkey. Caesar is clearly the star of this movie, his character progression is absolutely flawless, because despite his spiral into villainy I could not help but understand the changes he was going through, and Serkis' performance is outstanding in making the character so relatable.

The rest of the actors, not as great, but good. Lithgow turns in a great performance as usual, but Franco's character kind of fizzles out as the plot develops, and a strange appearance by Tom Felton with a bad American accent stalls proceedings a little. The other problem I had with this movie is the way that things are wrapped up. I won't spoil anything too much, but with all the build up I expected the payoff to be greater, and can't help but feel they rushed through a lot of stuff that could have been explained with another 20 minutes or so. There are already talks of a sequel, even a whole series, so I guess events can carry on in those, but the ending to this movie felt a little sour.

All in all, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was a big surprise. As far as modern Hollywood prequels go, it's probably one of the best I've seen, definitely up there with X-Men: First Class. Thanks to the critical and commercial success it obtained, sequels are likely, so hopefully the quality of production can be kept up, as I look forward to seeing the next chapter.

My rating: 4/5

Monday 5 December 2011

Today's Review: Mother's Day

This movie came out a little while back, but I know I've been neglecting my horrors a lot, evidenced by the fact that if someone asks for a horror recommendation at work I stutter a bit and then mention The Human Centipede II. Or maybe it's because I'm so desensitised that only truly grotesque and disturbing films are the ones I find noteworthy.

I'd heard good things about Mother's Day though, so I gave it a shot. The story opens with three criminal brothers, Ike, Addley and Johnny, who have suffered a bungled bank robbery with Johnny being shot, and take refuge in their mother's house. Trouble is, their mother has been forced to move out, and the new owners are having a party. Not being the most compassionate and apologetic brothers, they don't pack up their things, wipe the bloodstains and leave, they take everyone in the house hostage and call their mother to come to the house and help them. Everything seems to be okay when a sweet, well dressed mother turns up and apologises to the hostages, stating she just wants to get out of their hair. But as they learn that they need to gather money in order to skip out of the country, things turn nasty as Mother reveals her true nature, and we begin to realise how her children grew up to be such monsters.

Mother's Day is pretty heavy stuff. It's certainly not in the overly disturbing realm, but there are quite a few gory scenes, and the tension never lets up. As Johnny's health deteriorates the demands of the family become more and more disturbing, and the methods they employ to get things to go their way become increasingly violent. The hostages swing quickly from wannabe heroes to quivering wrecks, and the family often find themselves struggling to keep their victims at bay. Threats turn into violence, and then into twisted games. Secrets are uncovered for everyone involved, and the twists and turns really kept me on my toes throughout the entire movie.

Rebecca De Mornay steals the show as mother. She can change from a lovely, sweet person to psycho in a matter of seconds, and remains the predominant threatening presence as events unfold. The rest of the actors do quite well, especially the brothers and the main hostage couple, but the rest of the cast don't really have too much of a spark. While there are many twists and turns throughout the movie, they do start to become too frequent, and it does drag on a bit. I was very gripped as a whole though.

Mother's Day is not your conventional slasher horror. The bad guys are threatening and devious instead of just running around with big knives, and they often work to expose the flaws of the hostages to their own gain. If you like your horrors suspenseful and gory, this one's for you.

My rating: 4/5

Sunday 4 December 2011

Today's Review: Tesco's Finest Barbecue Crisps

Is it barbecue? Or barbeque? After looking at those words for a while they both look stupid and wrong, but Tesco have firmly settled on the former with their Finest hand cooked crisps. When I first looked at these, despite the picture featuring barbecue sauce, I did wonder what exactly they meant by "barbecue" flavour. It doesn't say it's barbecue sauce, so for all I know I could be picking up a packet of crisps that tastes like hot crumbling charcoal, fire and metal.

They do in fact taste like barbecue sauce, maybe barbecue sauce that's been dropped into a barbecue and scraped up very professionally, but barbecue sauce none the less. It's a smoky flavour, and I liked it. Most barbecue flavoured crisps are paired with a meat of some kind. I don't like meaty crisps, because crisps aren't meat, and the texture and flavour is often all wrong. So to see these crisps offer me barbecue sauce flavours with none of the weird meat thrown in, I was excited, and in the end I was rewarded. They're certainly not my favourite crisps, give me some good salt and vinegar or Chilli Heatwave Doritos and I'll choose them anytime. But I did thoroughly enjoy this barbecue experience.

My rating: 4/5

Saturday 3 December 2011

Today's Review: The Hangover Part II

I liked The Hangover. That's all, just liked it. I didn't think it was amazing like a lot of people do, but I'll put that down to the fact that I am an Apatow production fanboy. Sure, it was funnier than a lot of movies, but it wasn't amazing. Then the sequel came around, and while I certainly didn't mind the news, I was a little apprehensive.

The story picks up two years after the events of The Hangover. Stu is now set to marry a Thai lady, who is definitely not a stripper, and despite protests, ends up having a drink with the old trio a couple of days before the wedding. Of course, things go wrong again, and they wake up in a hotel in the middle of Bangkok with no idea what happened. Alan's hair is gone, Stu has a tattoo on his face, and the bride's brother is missing.

They've certainly stepped up the game with the sequel. The location and events that unravel during the movie are larger and more extreme, and the addition of a smoking monkey is a nice touch, in keeping with the tone of the movie. Sadly, the tone is that it's pretty much a man's movie. The comedy is partially drawn from shock value and ridiculous situations, and I didn't really find myself laughing at much of it.

I think the main problem with The Hangover Part II is that it's too similar to the first. I understand that the first was a financial hit, as was this one, but when you use the same amount of people, following the same kind of clues in the same way and going through the same kind of scenarios, the whole thing seems a bit stale, like you've seen it all before.

The actors all do pretty well in their roles, the main trio had quite a bonding experience while filming the first movie, and it shows, as they settle well into their characters and have a certain carmaraderie between them. The Hangover Part II is a good movie, but only in the same way that The Hangover was a good movie. What seems to be a new direction quickly becomes formulaic and familiar, which really dampens the experience.

My rating: 3/5

Friday 2 December 2011

Today's Review: Galaxy Present

Everyone loves a novelty holiday themed chocolate. Actually, I don't love them too much because they seem so intent on ripping me off. But I do have a soft spot for some, such as the Lindt bunny, and the Maltesers bunny. Maybe I just can't be mad at a bunny.

So here we have Galaxy's attempt at the Christmas themed chocolate, and look at that, it's a present. Everyone loves presents. As well as stating that it is in fact a gift for the person who is about to eat it, it likes to tell us that it's "New", without also stating the obvious that it is "Not going to exist in a couple of months"

We are also told that in fact this present is half caramel, half milk chocolate, which is clearly a lie, because one half isn't just pure caramel, it's caramel covered in chocolate. What results is a veritable Russian Roulette of trying to find out which half has the caramel and which doesn't, depending on whether you prefer caramel or not. Or perhaps you can just try and fit the whole thing in your face without getting any spittle mixed with chocolate on the floor. Let's call that game American Roulette.

There's not too much to say about this really. If you've had Galaxy and Galaxy Caramel before, there are no surprises, it is simply that chocolate in a different form, and it's probably too expensive. But Galaxy tastes nice, so in any form it's good. At the end of the day, why not have Christmas themed chocolate? Christmas selection packs were a fond memory of my childhood, and clearly people buy themed confectionary, so what's the harm really? This Galaxy present was nice to unwrap. Then devour.

My rating: 4/5

Thursday 1 December 2011

Today's Review: Eating Really Hot Food Quickly

I was travelling home from Kent this evening, and I was quite hungry. In absence of a Burger King, and not really in the mood for Upper Crust, I settled on a pasty. A steak and stilton pasty to be precise. The smelliest cheeses always taste the best.

But therein lies the problem. I was hungry, the pasty was hot, and I was about to get on the tube. I've seen all those adverts dotted around the place telling me not to eat smelly food. Would I really face the scorn of other passengers for tucking into something containing potent cheese? Thankfully the next tube wasn't for eight minutes, so it was on.

I ate that bad boy right up, but quite slowly. In normal circumstances it would have been gone in a couple of minutes, but it almost took me the whole eight. The complicating factor, of course, was that the pasty was as hot as the surface of the sun. It was probably a bad idea to tuck in. I could have waited, my hunger would have built, certainly, but the pay off would have been better. Instead I burnt my tongue, and didn't really get to enjoy the flavour since every bite was accompanied by a certain amount of pain. 

Eating really hot food is certainly not enjoyable, so just wait, people. No matter how tasty something might look, losing layers of skin kind of dampens the experience.

My rating: 0/5