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Bertie Buggerington (U.K.)

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Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters
Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters
Price: £12.67

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE finest slice of musical theatre ever created., 24 Dec 2012
My title calls this album "musical theatre", and that is exactly what it is. A concept album like no other from the mind of the late, great rock poet Robert Calvert - featuring the comedic genius of Viv Stanshall, along with Jim Capaldi, Arthur Brown (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown) and a host of fantastic guest musicians... mainly from the Hawkwind family (notably Dave Brock, Lemmy and Nik Turner). The album even features legendary musician, record producer and visual artist Brian Eno on synthesizer. What a collaboration indeed!

Mixing music and comedic dialogue, the album tells the story of the F104(G), the ill fated Starfighter jet plane at the heart of the Lockheed Bribery Scandals; a series of bribes and contributions made by officials of the American aerospace company, Lockheed, to facilitate the sale of aircraft during the 1950's and 1960's. The F104 'fair weather fighter' jet was converted to the F104(G) - a multi-purpose combat jet, which was then sold to West Germany (among other countries). Unfortunately, this conversion was executed poorly in the design and production stages, leading to the deaths of a great many fighter pilots and earning the plane the epithet 'Widow Maker'. It is this tragedy of corruption and human error that lies at the dark yet hilarious heart of this musical black comedy.

In a nutshell, we have several of Robert Calvert's greatest ever songs, such as 'The Aerospaceage Inferno', 'The Widow Maker', 'The Right Stuff', and 'Ejection', interspersed with the comedic dialogue of mainly Viv Stanshall, Jim Capaldi, Arthur Brown and Calvert himself. And let me tell you, your ears won't be disappointed. This brain child of Robert Calvert's genius is the man's greatest legacy, and a genuine, bona fide classic album that earned both mainstream and critical success upon release. And for good reason. Believe me, your music collection both deserves and needs it, be you a fan of Calvert, Hawkwind or the famed British eccentric Viv Stanshall.

I also heartily recommend Calvert's other great solo album, Lucky Leif and the Longships - produced by the aforementioned Brian Eno.


Heavenly Sword - Platinum (PS3)
Heavenly Sword - Platinum (PS3)
Offered by Gameseek
Price: £14.35

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most underrated game of this generation., 20 Mar 2012
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Heavenly Sword is an often overlooked classic, especially amongst late adopters of Sony's PS3 console. Late adopters will scoop up games such as God of War 3, the Uncharted series and the Batman 'Arkham' games like they're going out of fashion , while criminally overlooking the majestic Heavenly Sword. I honestly believe it is that good, and consider it one of my personal favourite games of this generation. Considering my other favourites are the likes of Uncharted 1-3 and Metal Gear Solid 4, you can see the high regard I hold it in. The only reason I'm not using the word "epic" here is because of the game's length, which clocks in at around 10 to 12 hours. However, it is 10 to 12 hours of gaming bliss that, for me at least, is several orders of magnitude greater than the gameplay in generic casual crowd pleasers like the Call of Duty series, that seem to make mountains of cash every year for what amounts to mere updates. It seems we've learned nothing since Ico and Shadow of the Colossus proved that critically acclaimed and original titles rarely sell well. Not that Heavenly Sword scored as high in reviews as Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, but early titles on a system rarely score high... despite some proving they're worth a higher score in the fullness of time. Heavenly Sword is one such game.

Reading some luke warm reviews from the time of its release, it is clear many reviewers misunderstood the game's combat system and tried to get by with the time honoured 'tactic' of button mashing, as anyone who can call this combat system "shallow" has clearly not uncovered its many combos. There are tons of them to be mastered, and the animations that accompany them rival games made five years later. The game's graphics are gobsmackingly lovely for a game that actually should have been a PS3 launch title in 2006. A last minute delay saw it release in early 2007 instead. The colour palate is rich and vibrant, while still being somewhat realistic, and the beautiful Oriental vistas make you stop in your tracks, just to admire the view. Blossom petals fall from trees, and realistic rays of sunlight dapple on rocks and ancient Oriental architecture. It really is a joy to behold.

Unlike modern 3rd person games, this earlier title has fixed camera positions, only allowing you to pan the camera to the sides. However, the view doesn't switch at inopportune moments like other games with similar camera systems. For me, the camera system in Heavenly Sword works very well indeed... similar to the PS2's Ico in this respect, but better. Although some gamers may feel it is outdated in the days of 360 degree camera control via the right analogue stick. Speaking of which, the right stick in this game is reserved for rolling out of the way of attacks, adding yet more depth to the combat system. A particularly surprising feature of Heavenly Sword is that, despite being one the PS3's earlier games, it makes BY FAR the best use yet of the SIXAXIS motion control system. For years before 'Move', this was the only motion control feature for the Sony console, and few developers ever got to grips with it. Not so here. The motion sensing is used to apply what the game refers to as 'Aftertouch' to crossbow bolts and cannon balls, slowing time down Matrix style and allowing you to guide your shots to specific body parts by tilting the controller in the desired direction. The first mission to use Aftertouch is a little too early in the game for one to be adept at this, so I always switch to analogue stick Aftertouch in the menu for this early mission, replaying it with motion control after I get the 'knack'. For the rest of the game I use motion sensing in all but one or two other missions where I find stick control more suitable. One particular mission where you protect an injured man from assailants running towards him from several directions is the best use of the motion sensitive Aftertouch in the game, and one of the best uses of motion controls in ANY game I have played for that matter. I often go back to this mission just for fun, as the joy of guiding a 'bullet time' crossbow bolt into an enemy's head from long distance just *never* gets old.

The lip syncing and voice work beat nearly every other game I've played on PS3, and the cut scenes are directed by a man many film goers believe has been deprived of two stonewall Oscar nominations; of course I'm talking about Andy Serkis, of Lord of the Rings and Rise of Planet of the Apes fame. He also voices the game's main bad guy, King Bohan, to wonderfully villainous effect. The rest of the cast, including other notable actors, are all fantastic, too.

Best of all are the characters and the story itself. None of them are lazy video game clichés. They're all wonderfully eccentric... particularly King Bohan's favourite bad guys. From the decidedly camp but deadly 'Flying Fox', to the fiendishly piscine 'Whiptail' - the writers and voice cast have poured heart and eccentricity into these 'people', leaving you with no choice but to love them while you hate them. The two main protagonists, Nariko and Kai, voiced by Fringe's Anna Torv and relative unknown Lydia Baksh respectively, are also brilliantly written characters, and both are playable; each having their own skills to suit particular missions. Nariko with the titular 'Heavenly Sword' skills, and Kai with her crossbow. I particularly love Kai, Nariko's slightly deranged sidekick who refers to fighting with her crossbow as "playing Twing Twang". Kai eats insects and talks to dead birds, but is actually quite cute... despite her quirks. Fringe actress Anna Torv breathes such life into the main protagonist, Nariko, that you can't help but fall for her. Anna Torv also narrates the story as Nariko, but from a hindsight perspective, meaning the game begins at the end, and then goes back to show you what brought Nariko to the place and time of the game's climax. It also drops the spoiler that Nariko is actually dying by the end of the game, but this isn't *really* a spoiler as it is literally revealed in the opening minutes of the game. Basically Nariko is cursed to die to pay for the power she wields in the Heavenly Sword. She decides to make this sacrifice to protect her father and her clansmen from the forces of King Bohan. The way the game works back through the story with on screen pointers such as "2 days earlier" etc. is very clever, and lends the game a very dramatic edge.

I hope I have given you all good reason to take a punt on this overlooked, underrated classic. For the relatively low price you can pick it up for these days, the short play time will sit far easier than it did for those who paid the full RRP back in the day. The game is also on the Platinum label if you struggle to find an original copy, which should make it cheaper still. Thanks for reading.


Heavenly Sword (PS3)
Heavenly Sword (PS3)
Offered by Bonkers4Bargains!
Price: £10.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most underrated game of this generation., 20 Mar 2012
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Heavenly Sword (PS3) (Video Game)
Heavenly Sword is an often overlooked classic, especially amongst late adopters of Sony's PS3 console. Late adopters will scoop up games such as God of War 3, the Uncharted series and the Batman 'Arkham' games like they're going out of fashion , while criminally overlooking the majestic Heavenly Sword. I honestly believe it is that good, and consider it one of my personal favourite games of this generation. Considering my other favourites are the likes of Uncharted 1-3, Heavy Rain and Metal Gear Solid 4, you can see the high regard I hold it in. The only reason I'm not using the word "epic" here is because of the game's length, which clocks in at around 10 to 12 hours. However, it is 10 to 12 hours of gaming bliss that, for me at least, is several orders of magnitude greater than the gameplay in generic casual crowd pleasers like the Call of Duty series, that seem to make mountains of cash every year for what amounts to mere updates. It seems we've learned nothing since Ico and Shadow of the Colossus proved that critically acclaimed and original titles rarely sell well. Not that Heavenly Sword scored as high in reviews as Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, but early titles on a system rarely score high... despite some proving they're worth a higher score in the fullness of time. Heavenly Sword is one such game.

Reading some luke warm reviews from the time of its release, it is clear many reviewers misunderstood the game's combat system and tried to get by with the time honoured 'tactic' of button mashing, as anyone who can call this combat system "shallow" has clearly not uncovered its many combos. There are tons of them to be mastered, and the animations that accompany them rival games made five years later. The game's graphics are gobsmackingly lovely for a game that actually should have been a PS3 launch title in 2006. A last minute delay saw it release in early 2007 instead. The colour palate is rich and vibrant, while still being somewhat realistic, and the beautiful Oriental vistas make you stop in your tracks, just to admire the view. Blossom petals fall from trees, and realistic rays of sunlight dapple on rocks and ancient Oriental architecture. It really is a joy to behold.

Unlike modern 3rd person games, this earlier title has fixed camera positions, only allowing you to pan the camera to the sides. However, the view doesn't switch at inopportune moments like other games with similar camera systems. For me, the camera system in Heavenly Sword works very well indeed... similar to the PS2's Ico in this respect, but better. Although some gamers may feel it is outdated in the days of 360 degree camera control via the right analogue stick. Speaking of which, the right stick in this game is reserved for rolling out of the way of attacks, adding yet more depth to the combat system. A particularly surprising feature of Heavenly Sword is that, despite being one the PS3's earlier games, it makes BY FAR the best use yet of the SIXAXIS motion control system. For years before 'Move', this was the only motion control feature for the Sony console, and few developers ever got to grips with it. Not so here. The motion sensing is used to apply what the game refers to as 'Aftertouch' to crossbow bolts and cannon balls, slowing time down Matrix style and allowing you to guide your shots to specific body parts by tilting the controller in the desired direction. The first mission to use Aftertouch is a little too early in the game for one to be adept at this, so I always switch to analogue stick Aftertouch in the menu for this early mission, replaying it with motion control after I get the 'knack'. For the rest of the game I use motion sensing in all but one or two other missions where I find stick control more suitable. One particular mission where you protect an injured man from assailants running towards him from several directions is the best use of the motion sensitive Aftertouch in the game, and one of the best uses of motion controls in ANY game I have played for that matter. I often go back to this mission just for fun, as the joy of guiding a 'bullet time' crossbow bolt into an enemy's head from long distance just *never* gets old.

The lip syncing and voice work beat nearly every other game I've played on PS3, and the cut scenes are directed by a man many film goers believe has been deprived of two stonewall Oscar nominations; of course I'm talking about Andy Serkis, of Lord of the Rings and Rise of Planet of the Apes fame. He also voices the game's main bad guy, King Bohan, to wonderfully villainous effect. The rest of the cast, including other notable actors, are all fantastic, too.

Best of all are the characters and the story itself. None of them are lazy video game clichés. They're all wonderfully eccentric... particularly King Bohan's favourite bad guys. From the decidedly camp but deadly 'Flying Fox', to the fiendishly piscine 'Whiptail' - the writers and voice cast have poured heart and eccentricity into these 'people', leaving you with no choice but to love them while you hate them. The two main protagonists, Nariko and Kai, voiced by Fringe's Anna Torv and relative unknown Lydia Baksh respectively, are also brilliantly written characters, and both are playable; each having their own skills to suit particular missions. Nariko with the titular 'Heavenly Sword' skills, and Kai with her crossbow. I particularly love Kai, Nariko's slightly deranged sidekick who refers to fighting with her crossbow as "playing Twing Twang". Kai eats insects and talks to dead birds, but is actually quite cute... despite her quirks. Fringe actress Anna Torv breathes such life into the main protagonist, Nariko, that you can't help but fall for her. Anna Torv also narrates the story as Nariko, but from a hindsight perspective, meaning the game begins at the end, and then goes back to show you what brought Nariko to the place and time of the game's climax. It also drops the spoiler that Nariko is actually dying by the end of the game, but this isn't *really* a spoiler as it is literally revealed in the opening minutes of the game. Basically Nariko is cursed to die to pay for the power she wields in the Heavenly Sword. She decides to make this sacrifice to protect her father and her clansmen from the forces of King Bohan. The way the game works back through the story with on screen pointers such as "2 days earlier" etc. is very clever, and lends the game a very dramatic edge.

I hope I have given you all good reason to take a punt on this overlooked, underrated classic. For the relatively low price you can pick it up for these days, the short play time will sit far easier than it did for those who paid the full RRP back in the day. The game is also on the Platinum label if you struggle to find an original copy, which should make it cheaper still. Thanks for reading.


Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker: Prima Essential Guide (Prima Essential Guides)
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker: Prima Essential Guide (Prima Essential Guides)
by David Knight
Edition: Spiral-bound

3.0 out of 5 stars Great guide in awful quality paper and binding, 14 Feb 2012
I admit, the guide itself is up to Prima's standard for in depth help without nannying you through the game. That side of it I cannot fault. Perhaps if you pushed me I would say that it would have been nice of them to include some artwork from the game, like in the bigger Prima Authorised Collections, and that the screenshots were better quality (they're small and blurry), but overall I can live with it.

However, my gripes are the same as everyone else giving a less than glowing review. The guide being smaller is perhaps understandable, owing to the fact it is for PSP and is, therefore, meant to be portable. I bought it for use with the new MGS HD Collection for PS3, so I would have appreciated a bigger size, but I DO appreciate why it is smaller than normal. But my main gripe is the spiral binding, which is great for keeping your place in theory, but is let down by the terribly thin... and I mean THIN paper they decided on using. It is like tracing paper we used to use at school. Unless you are extremely careful, you will be ripping pages out on a regular basis. I'm finding I have to use kid gloves with it to avoid any damage.

This is not up to the usual standard from Prima in physical quality terms. Especially as their Authorised Collection guides set the benchmark by which all other strategy guides are measured.


Metal Gear Solid HD - Collection (PS3)
Metal Gear Solid HD - Collection (PS3)
Price: £15.85

95 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PS2 and PSP era MGS in glorious HD., 3 Feb 2012
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
This is something I've been waiting a long, long time for. Honestly, the delay for the UK version was like a knife twisting in my gut. The PS2 era was my era for gaming, so the series of 'HD Collections' of PS2 era games for the PS3, updated to be played in HD with higher frame rates, have been a godsend for me.

In this HD Collection, we get Metal Gear Solid 2, 3 and, for the first time on a 'big' console, MGS Peace Walker - a PSP title updated for the big screen. Some fans have bemoaned the lack of MGS1, the first game in the 'Solid' era that really brought the series to the attention of the Western world, but I consider this a wise decision. Apparently they explored the possibility of including it but found that a PSX era game could not be upconverted to anything vaguely resembling high definition. Rumour has it that Hideo Kojima has designs on bringing a completely remade version of MGS1 to us at a later date, likely coinciding with an anniversary of some kind. This will be far better in my opinion. In the meantime, for those yet to experience it, the original MGS1 title is available to purchase on PSN for a tiny fee, and for those with an old PSX copy of the game knocking around, you can play it on your PS3 (it was only PS2 backwards compatibility that was sacrificed in later PS3 hardware revisions, so all PS3's play PSX games)

As regards the updated graphics, well they can certainly hold their own now on a modern HD display. I played MGS2 a couple of years ago on my PS2 and it really did suffer on a modern HD display, but now in pure 720p both PS2 games can really hold their heads high. Of course they cannot rival a game such as Uncharted, that was only ever conceived with HD in mind, but for an upconversion job you will be hugely impressed. HD displays tend to fudge the graphics of PS2 games, and I often found it difficult to spot animals and items in the jungle and other shadowy parts of the MGS3 levels. Not so now, the increase in clarity gives you a much better command of your environment. Another great feature is that the games now play in 16:9 widescreen instead of full screen 4:3, and I mean REAL widescreen, not just zoomed and cropped, so we have more side of screen information than we saw in the PS2 versions. For those with the equipment to decode it, audio is full surround sound now, too. Not just in the cut scenes like the originals, but while you're actually playing the levels. This adds a welcome element of reality, as you can hear the direction the enemies are approaching you from.

Words cannot describe how happy I am that they gave us the fully controllable 3rd person camera from MGS3 Subsistence. I always believed that Subsistence turned the vanilla 'Snake Eater' version of the game from merely a good, to a brilliant game. Obviously the technology given to the player has to reflect the period in history concerned, so MGS3 being set in the cold war era 1960's could not have had the state of the art radar system of MGS 1 and 2. All fair and well, until you realise that keeping the overhead camera of the previous games while taking away the radar never made for fluid game-play. The gamer often found himself running into the field of vision of guards and soldiers that you could not yet see in your own field of vision. This led to many tiresome instances of you hiding behind a bush or a rock until the guards had stopped looking for you and your alert level had come down. The only way to avoid this in the vanilla Snake Eater is to stop every few paces and scout the area for enemies with use of the first person perspective button, which takes a lot of fluidity out of the game. Thankfully, this was something that Kojima and team were willing to address for Subsistence. The result is a fully controllable camera, that sits behind the character in a more traditional position, akin to a modern 3rd person game, and can be panned a full 360 degrees to better survey the surrounding territory. It isn't that it makes the game easier, just more fluid. Had they not given us the Subsistence version of MGS3 in this collection, it would definitely have been a deal breaker for me. Of course fans more familiar with the vanilla Snake Eater camera can click a button and play it the old way instead. MGS2 plays as it ever did, which for me is great because if it isn't broke, you don't fix it. Peace Walker plays differently of course, owing to the controls being adapted for the PS3 pad. By most accounts this has improved the game, as we now have a second analogue stick to control the camera, which makes for a more modern feel, or so I'm told.

I have only dipped my toes into Peace Walker as of yet, so I'm far from an authority. Especially so as I never owned a PSP. However, I am pleased with what I see. On the graphics side of things, it doesn't quite shine as much as its two older brothers, but this is of course understandable as it was made for a smaller screen. Anti-aliasing has been applied in spades with the upconversion and, while it does have the higher definition textures, AND gets rid of the jaggies from the PSP version, the anti-aliasing blends and obscures some of the more intricate details I see in screenshots of the original PSP title. However, playing the game in HD on a big screen with a proper control pad is more than worth that sacrifice. I hear that this game is absolutely HUGE, with more hours game play than any incarnation of the series yet. Which is kind of odd considering it was originally made for the smallest system. The comrade system used in the previous PSP title 'Portable Ops' is dropped this time, in favour of a more traditional Co-operative mode, and this forms a BIG part of the game by all accounts. I believe at several points, many gamers feel it is almost mandatory that they receive the help of another player. Of course for this you will need to be connected to the internet. From what I can tell so far, the story is far less bizarre and more straightforward than usual, and is helped along by beautifully rendered graphic novel style cut scenes.

You will also be pleased to hear that they have given us the best of the extra features from the 'Substance' and 'Subsistence' versions of MGS 2 & 3. Most of the immediately noticeable omissions, from memory, seem to be from Subsistence, so there's no Metal Gear Online, as that has been superseded with the online game from MGS4. The Duel Mode and Snake vs Monkey mode also appear to be missing. The skateboarding game from MGS2 Substance isn't here either. But yes, we DO get the most important and anticipated features - the original two 'Metal Gear' era titles that were previously only available on the Japanese MSX home computer system. These are pixel perfect, English language ports and are really good games for their era. They will prove FAR more than a novelty to hardcore fans of the series. We also get the 'Alternative Missions', 'VR Missions' and 'Snake Tales', that all came with MGS2 Subsistence. 'Casting Theater' and 'Boss Survival' modes also become available after completing MGS2 on any difficulty setting.

All in all there is enough Metal Gear Solid here for fans to bathe in for months, and I for one will be putting the Do Not Disturb sign on the door a good many times in the foreseeable future. If you are unfamiliar with the PS2 and PSP eras of the franchise and have only come to the series by way of PS3's MGS4, you really do owe it to yourself to experience these unmissable slices of MGS history. And at this price point, the games have never been cheaper.

*EDIT*: It has come to my attention that to play the game with DTS audio instead of Dolby Digital, you have to untick the Dolby Digital option in the sound settings of your PS3's XMB. This was obviously an oversight on the developer's part, and if you have both the Dolby Digital and DTS options ticked in the PS3's settings, the game will default to Dolby Digital instead of the far superior DTS format. I will inform Konami of this and hopefully they can patch it. Just don't forget to re-tick the Dolby setting afterwards, as it will mess you about with other games, DVD's and Blu-rays if you forget. Another [MAJOR] annoyance I found was that owing to the difference in ratio between the PSP's screen and our 16:9 HDTV's, the default display settings on Peace Walker have a fair bit of text and edge of screen icons seemingly cut off. The in-game pause menu settings have no way to overcome this, and many players have simply put up with the annoyance. However, there is an initial title menu screen in Peace Walker where you start/load your game that is very easy to overlook or skip past (use up and down to select). It has several categories; ranging from deleting save files, changing the in-game language, 'Transfarring' (the ability to use PSP save files on PS3 and visa versa), and finally, hidden away under the 'Extras' category, the ability to adjust the screen to your display. I found that adjusting it so the arrows in the corner barely fit your screen, meaning a tiny amount of black to give you a buffer, is by far the best compromise... but you might want to have a good old tinker with this setting and see what suits your TV best.
Comment Comments (31) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 2, 2012 1:46 AM BST


Lost: The Complete Seasons 1-6 [Blu-ray]
Lost: The Complete Seasons 1-6 [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Naveen Andrews
Price: £61.95

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reference quality Blu-ray, 1 Feb 2012
The mythology and lore of the Island and the allegorical dissection of this series has been done to death. I don't intend to add to it, other than to say that you owe it to yourself to see one of the most ground-breaking series made for television since Patrick McGoohan's 1960's opus 'The Prisoner', from which J.J. Abrams and other executives behind Lost have admitted taking inspiration from. So further dissection of this seminal series mythology is NOT what this review is concerned with. This is purely from a technological perspective as regards the series on the HD Blu-ray format. I feel it deserves this as it has come to be considered a reference quality release for a modern television series on the HD format. By that I mean it is without equal, and will be the standard by which all other series on Blu-ray will be judged for some time.

The quality of the series in HD comes down to a mix of the wonderful panoramic locations in Hawaii, the Grade-A 35mm film stock and state of the art cameras used to shoot the series, as well as the sensitive post-production and care taken with the transfer for HD home video. The detail in the foregrounds and backgrounds are equally impressive, and the colours just leap off the screen. Blacks are deep, and contrast is unrivalled. Compression artefacting and edge enhancement, as well as use of digital noise reduction are nowhere to be found. This means there is the odd noise spike in low lit scenes, but this is down to original cinematography and not a mistake in post production. Fine textures pop out at you, close-up details are a feast for the eyes and edge definition is crisp without being artificial. What grain there is has been perfectly preserved, along with all the detail and texture it holds. Whenever I want to impress someone who has not yet made the leap to Blu-ray, I show them either a particularly panoramic scene from my Lost Blu-ray set, or bang on the opening five minutes of the Blade Runner or The Dark Knight Blu-rays, which have also earned reference quality status among fans of the Blu-ray format. If you are one of these people who use one of your Netflix style streaming services, I can assure you that the heavily compressed codecs they are serving up as "HD" are another world away from HD done right. Even those TV stations broadcasting in 1080p are lowering bitrates and applying a good level of compression to their broadcast streams. None of this can compete with what Lost on Blu-ray and other reference quality titles can offer you in terms of pure quality viewing.

Of course Blu-ray can also offer high definition audio as well as picture, and this is one of a very small handful of releases that earned 5 out of 5 stars for both video AND audio on the blu-ray-dot-com website. The 5.1 DTS uncompressed Master Audio tracks on these discs are a joy to behold. Even if you don't have the equipment to decode HD audio, and you're down-sampling to the 1.5Mbs DTS standard, you will be impressed with what you hear. However, if you DO have an amp capable of playing the uncompressed tracks in all their glory, you will be amazed. From the initial plane crash on the island in the pilot, with its explosions that will make your speaker diaphragms punch the air, to the overwhelming clarity in the eerie sounds of the jungle, the wind in the trees, the whispering 'Others' and the other worldly noise of 'The Smoke Monster', your ears will be in raptures the whole time. I believe you will only ever come across its equal, and I doubt you'll ever hear better from a Blu-ray disc.

The series comes with a wealth of extras that also help to make this a reference quality release. From interviews with cast and crew, to explorations of the mythology, to commentaries on many episodes, fans will be able to bathe in all things Lost for a good many hours beyond the actual episodes themselves.

All in all, this is what Blu-ray was made for. Some people say that Blu-ray only really benefits your summer blockbuster type films of the sci-fi and fantasy genres, with plenty of special effects... and that more down to earth dramas and serials don't benefit as much. Well to a certain extent I can see their point, but with Lost being set in one of the most beautiful locations ever considered for a film or TV serial, that rule gets smashed to pieces. You owe it to yourself to see this the way the production team wanted you to see it, as it was clearly shot with nothing but HD in mind. Watching this streamed over the internet, on standard definition DVD, no matter what fancy upscaling shenanigans you may apply, is doing a disservice to both the show and yourself. If you only buy one more Blu-ray release, EVEN if you already own the series on DVD, make sure it is this. Thanks for reading.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 2, 2014 1:24 PM BST


Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Next Level (Blu-ray) [2012] [Region Free]
Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Next Level (Blu-ray) [2012] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Patrick Stewart
Price: £7.00

233 of 246 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A word to the wise on ratios and HDTV's..., 31 Jan 2012
This is in reply to all the "It's not fair, it doesn't fill my TV... why do I have these black borders at the sides?" people:

The ratio on the Blu-ray discs is the same as it ever was for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Same as it was shot in, same as it was broadcast in, same as it was presented on VHS and the same as it was presented on DVD. Why on earth some people expect Blu-ray to magically alter this situation is beyond me, but you only have to note the two and one star reviews to see they are. The series was filmed in 4:3, a quarter of a century ago, long before anyone envisaged that we'd all have 16:9 widescreen TV's in our homes in the future. "But I could make my Star Trek TNG DVD's play in widescreen", I hear you cry. No, actually you couldn't. What you were doing was stretching or zooming the image to fill your widescreen TV. This is fake widescreen, and something purists never do, but was quite easy to achieve with a standard definition DVD, on a standard definition DVD player, over a standard definition connection. This is HD though, and stretching or faking widescreen is not really an option. "Why?", I hear you cry. Well, HDTV resolutions are either 720p or 1080i/p... 1280x720 or 1920x1080. These are 16:9 'widescreen' resolutions by default. This means that your Blu-ray player HAS to display everything as a 16:9 image. In the case of films and TV shows shot and framed for cinema or 16:9 broadcast, it will fill your widescreen TV. Sometimes with small black borders at the top and bottom if they have chosen to present the original cinematic ratio. Now, when they are presenting a 4:3 image on HD Blu-ray... this same rule applies. It HAS to be displayed as part of a 16:9 frame. Meaning the 4:3 picture displayed correctly in the middle of the screen, and two black bars, one either side of your TV's screen, which all forms the 16:9 frame. It is pretty much unavoidable.

"But wasn't there more screen information on the 35mm negatives", you may ask. Well Mike Okuda has said in some scenes there was. Not all, but *some*. However, in many of the scenes there was lights stands, bare studio, crew and other equipment in the wider frame. In other words, it was framed *purely* for 4:3 broadcast.

So zooming and pan scanning was the only other alternative. I have ONE DVD set that had this treatment out of the thousands I own. The TV series 'From Earth to the Moon'. This was shot and framed for 4:3 broadcast, and it was released in America in the correct ratio. However, when it released in the UK, for some bizarre reason, they decided to zoom the image out to 16:9. The result is not pretty... you think those black bars at the side of the screen are ugly? You have not seen ugly! From Earth to the Moon in Region 2 DVD is the most claustrophobic and fuzzy mess you will ever witness. There was also a huge public outcry when they recently did this same thing to The World at War documentary series, and people returned their box sets in droves. It literally means that in closely shot scenes, of which there many in Star Trek: TNG, that people's faces are cut off at the eyebrows, and legs are cut off at the knees. Further, it will no longer be true HD as you are zooming the image. Think passport photo blew up to A4 size. In other words, it is FAR too much of a sacrifice to even contemplate for something as cherished as Star Trek. Had they done this to Star Trek, there would have been an outrcry from fans, and they wouldn't be selling too many box sets. Of that I can assure you. Plus, the people charged to see that this franchise is represented the best way it can be, people like Mike and Densise Okuda, who oversaw this restoration, could never sanction such a travesty.

So I can only suggest you try get used to those black borders at the sides, as if you have a fondness for anything filmed for TV from this era or before, that is how your Blu-ray discs will come. It is the same for Star Trek: The Original Series on Blu-ray, seasons 1-3 of Farscape on Blu-ray... anything and everything that was shot for 4:3 broadcast. It is also true of many films, such as It's a Wonderful Life on Blu-ray, and very old films like The Wizard of Oz. All of these come with fixed black borders in HD. It isn't some sinister Big Brother forcing you to watch it a certain way, it is literally the only way they can present 4:3 without totally ruining the composition. The good news is that everyone goes through this stage when they first play 4:3 on their widescreen sets. At first you can't help but be conscious of the offending black bars. However, hand on heart, I never even see them now, and many people will tell you the same. Your brain just cancels them out. It just takes time, and a little appreciation for why this situation happens.

Back to the Star Trek The Next Generation: The Next Level on Blu-ray:

It is superb. There are details no one has ever seen before. This series may have been shot on 35mm film, but it was edited and stored on videotape. Even on DVD we were watching videotape resolution and quality. I believe one popular sci-fi magazine had nicknamed it "Blurry Trek" in a preview from before it was even broadcast. All that is in the past now, or at least it will be when we can buy all seven seasons on Blu-ray. Unlike with Star Trek: TOS Remastered, which I loved, they have not chosen to re-create the special effects scenes in CGI. Instead, they have re-composited the images from the original negatives (a far more lengthy and costly exercise than new CGI). So what we are seeing is the original effects and the original studio models in all their HD glory. Elsewhere, they have lovingly restored every last frame, freeing it of dust and debris. The grain structure is still in tact, meaning no sacrifice in fine detail from the use of DNR filtering. The result is beautiful. Colours and contrast are perfect... rich, deep blacks and vibrantly coloured Starfleet uniforms. One of the biggest let downs for me as regards the DVD sets was that they didn't try and restore the series a little back then. This meant washed out VHS quality colours. Not so here, I'm pleased to report.

The sound is impressive when listening to it in the context of the era it was made. It is not a modern summer blockbuster made with multichannel audio, it was only ever recorded in stereo. So they have fashioned a 7.1 surround sound mix from what they had. With this in mind, I am impressed with both levels and channel separation. Decent speakers will punch the air in all the right places, mark my words.

In summary, it is a huge success. Pre-orders for the complete season sets will be the easiest purchasing decisions I will ever make. This teaser disc also comes with a five pound 'cashback' voucher, to offset against the cost of the first season on Blu-ray. You send your receipt for the first season off with this voucher, and they send you a cheque for five pounds. It effectively means this teaser disc will cost you peanuts, and will let you taste TNG in HD eight months sooner than those waiting for the complete season sets. What are you waiting for? Just buy it!
Comment Comments (28) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 6, 2013 5:07 AM BST


Star Trek: The Original Series - The Full Journey [Blu-ray] [1966] [Region Free]
Star Trek: The Original Series - The Full Journey [Blu-ray] [1966] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ William Shatner
Price: £75.95

224 of 254 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 5 Star Series in a 2 Star Budget Box..., 16 Jan 2012
I felt awful clicking the 2 star tab, as I'm a life-long Star Trek fan and this is a pop culture icon... the very definition of a five star series. However, it is my duty as a consumer to warn other prospective buyers and to urge you to pay the premium and buy the separate season sets over this complete set. Reason being? Scratched discs from the awful cardboard slot style packaging, the likes of which you receive FREE promotional discs in a Sunday newspaper.

No doubt you have come across all the new 'Full Journey' sets... TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT on DVD, and TOS also on Blu-ray disc? Well common sense and a previous experience of this cardboard slot type packing should steer anyone away from the DVD sets (the slimline season sets are much higher quality and cheaper), knowing how prone DVD discs are to scratching, but knowing how difficult it is to scratch a Blu-ray disc, I assumed I'd be safe to go ahead and order the TOS set on Blu-ray and save myself a considerable sum of money (the individual season sets on Blu-ray, unlike in the case of the DVD's, are higher priced). Well yes, I did save some money... and then received my box-set with several discs rattling around loose inside. I quickly put them back and stored it on my shelf, thinking I was safe as Blu-ray discs are hard coated. I started playing the odd disc here and there, but noticing several surface scratches on the discs as I took them from their card slots. This could only be caused by this ridiculously cheap packaging, or cheap manufacture of the Blu-ray discs. The last straw was a disc I pulled out that wasn't even one of the ones that arrived loose, yet it had a severe scratch, a scratch which ran horizontally across the surface of the disc, the type of which can cause havoc and leave the player's error correction a real tough fight to play the media back without skips and freezes. Needless to say, they got quickly packed up and a return/refund request was placed. I am ordering the individual sets instead, which have the discs in sensible Amaray multi-cases.

As regards the series itself and the episodes I watched on Blu-ray, well they're immaculate. It looks like it could have been filmed yesterday. You get both the new CGI and the old model based special effects (unlike on DVD which only has the new CGI), and you can change between them on the fly with either the angle button if your remote has one, or via the pop up menu. There are also a wealth of extras. So yes, a 5 star release let down by shoddy packaging of which CBS Paramount UK should be ashamed. They are in for a world of hurt as regards customer returns, and it will be a hassle to places like Amazon and other suppliers as much as the customers, as they have to deal with constant returns. So for the sake of (at the time of writing) thirty to forty pounds more, you should really go for the individual sets if you can afford to. If that kind of a saving is just too much to pass by, you could take your chance and hope that there are few if any scratches and, of those there are, they do not cause playback issues. I myself believe Blu-ray should NOT be getting packed in budget packaging at all, as it is a premium format, commanding a premium price, and you should be able to rely on getting a premium product. In the case of this 'Full Journey' set, that is NOT the case. So buyer beware, I'm afraid.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 5, 2014 1:19 AM BST


Arrietty [Blu-ray]
Arrietty [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Price: £12.16

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Destined to be considered classic Ghibli., 10 Jan 2012
This review is from: Arrietty [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Having watched Arrietty at my local cinema and now having savoured the Blu-ray, I'm going to go out on a limb and proclaim that the wonderful Studio Ghibli stable has finally found a *potential* successor to Hayao Miyazaki. Arrietty is an absolutely wonderful film, and it is gobsmacking to think that this is a directorial debut for Hiromasa Yonebayashi - who has already been proclaimed the studio's "best young animator" by the 70 year old veteran (Miyazaki) himself.

I won't spoil the story for you other than to give you the film's basic premise: Arrietty is based on Mary Norton's classic book, The Borrowers, and it more or less sticks to the book's narrative. It tells the tale of 14 year old Arrietty, a 'Borrower', or 'little person', and her family. She lives with her mother and father under the floorboards of a house in Western Tokyo. As 'Borrowers', they sneak out at night to "borrow", or rather take food and other essentials from the house's human occupants, but only enough as to live on. One of the humans in the house, or "human beans" as the borrowers hilariously call them, is a boy named Sho, who is of a similar age to Arrietty and is staying at the house to convalesce prior to an operation. One day he spots Arrietty, which is the worst thing possible to happen to a Borrower, as being seen by human beans traditionally spells trouble for these little folk. However, Sho is not your ordinary brash screen kid, he's a kind hearted and gentle soul and only wishes to befriend Arrietty. I will not delve further into the plot for fear of spoiling it for you, other than to say it is a simple tale and ask that you don't go looking for hidden metaphors or underlying subtext as you would with some other Ghibli films. Like Ponyo before it, this is an old fashioned simple tale of friendship and discovery. And herein lies its beauty. However, there are some subtle action scenes and plenty of humour, too. Most of all though, like the best Ghibli films, it oozes charm and warmth.

As regards the animation, well for me it is up there with the very best Ghibli films. Every single frame is so beautifully drawn that you'd want to hang each of them on your wall. The sense of scale is quite astonishing as these tiny people are offset against the background of the human bean world, containing (at least to them) enormous furniture and other everyday knick knacks. The sense of peril that things such as rats and insects pose to a Borrower is wonderfully translated to the viewer by the beautiful animation and its clever use of scale. It screams Hayao Miyazaki from every pore, and it is clear that, despite not being the director, the master had a HUGE influence on this production. The characters all look like they're from a Miyazaki film and all have that unmistakable Ghibli charm. They're not just Ghibli characters on a superficial/visual level either, you *care* for these people. Which is more than I can say for the characters from Goro Miyazaki's Tales from Earthsea, for example. This is why I feel Yonebayashi could be the future of the studio. I like many of the non-Miyazaki/non-Takahata Ghibli films, in fact The Cat Returns is one of my favourite Ghibli titles, but this is the first time I've sat there and realised that a rookie Ghibli director has truly been mentored by Miyazaki... truly *absorbed* some magic from him. But for all of its feel of a Miyazaki film, it also feels new and fresh, which is Yonebayashi's own personality and stamp. Just the way it should be.

As much as I adore the Joe Hisaishi compositions of past Ghibli films, Cecile Corbell's Bretton/Gallic haunting melodies are a match made in heaven for the images on the screen. Although it is set in Tokyo, it still has the western feel that The Borrowers always had, so for me the Western 'vibe' of the music is extremely well suited. Besides, some of Corbell's score sounds subtly influenced by Japanese folk anyway.

As for the technical details regarding the Blu-ray: Well I have watched the Blu-ray from start to finish and it is a wonderful transfer. Not the slightest hint of noise reduction or edge enhancement. It is as beautiful as when I saw it on the local cinema, and the rich palate just leaps off the screen. There is no sign of shimmering lines, blocks or any other compression based artefacts. The sound is also well presented, and we have DTS HD audio for both the Japanese and English tracks. I'm not sure if the Blu-ray seen here comes with a DVD copy of the film or not, as I bought the deluxe collector's edition Blu-ray and this does have a DVD with it, but if this does, too, then I have to tell you... the film doesn't look so great on DVD. The shimmery artefacting and blocky compression looked particularly bad. I don't remember seeing an Optimum Ghibli release look this bad on DVD since Spirited Away, which also suffered terrible and needless compression artefacts. The colour is OK, but if you have access to a HD screen and Blu-ray player, I urge you to spend wisely and buy this Blu-ray or the Deluxe Collector's Edition instead of the DVD.

As regards the English voice track, and just as it was for the UK cinema release, it is totally unique to the British market. By this I mean it uses different actors to the Disney track that will be added for the American market. This is a first for Ghibli releases in the UK. It is also why we managed to get the film so much sooner than our friends across the pond, both as regards cinematic release and home video, and it is something I hope to see more of in future. While I myself prefer to watch in the native Japanese, I do not think it is fair that we get American actors thrust down our ears at every opportunity when it comes to the dubbing of anime, so it's nice to see some Brits get a fair share of the work for once. And, as far as dubs go, the largely English voice cast suits Arrietty perfectly. Far more than a Hollywood cast would have.

Extras/special features: Well, they're pretty much run of the mill for an Optimum Releasing Studio Ghibli title. We get the now standard alternate angle 'storyboard' track, which allows us to watch the entire film in storyboard mode, the original Japanese trailer, a couple of TV spots and interviews with the cast and production team. Although the interviews are far more extensive than normal and run to about an hour in length. Miyazaki is as charming and candid as he always is, as he discusses his decision to award the director's job to Yonebayashi. Worryingly, more hints are made as to the long term survival of our beloved studio and, once again, he seems to be encouraging fans to adopt the young Ghibli directors - after all, Miyazaki won't be around forever. Yonebayashi seems a little shy and awkward in his interview, but what he has to say about his work on the film is extremely interesting, and he also takes us through some conceptual artwork of his. We also get interviews with the English voice cast, which was quite interesting to me even though I'm a fan of anime in the the native tongue. Finally, there's a video of Cécile Corbel & ensemble performing the wonderful 'Arrietty' theme song. I should also note that, again IF there is a DVD copy of the film included with this Blu-ray, the DVD only contains the alternative angle storyboard feature. Whether this is true or not for the standalone DVD, I do not know, but it is definitely the case for the deluxe edition I own, and will be for this, too, IF you get a DVD copy with it.

In summary, I have no qualms *whatsoever* in giving this wonderful anime 5 stars. It is a must see hand drawn classic amongst a sea of commercial guff and generic CGI animation. I urge you to buy it not only as the studio needs our support now more than ever, but also because it begs multiple viewings. A rental just wouldn't do it justice.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 21, 2012 5:44 PM BST


Arrietty Deluxe Collector's Edition - Double Play (Blu-ray + DVD)
Arrietty Deluxe Collector's Edition - Double Play (Blu-ray + DVD)
Dvd ~ Hiromasa Yonebayashi

43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Destined to be considered classic Ghibli., 10 Jan 2012
Having watched Arrietty at my local cinema and now having savoured the Blu-ray, I'm going to go out on a limb and proclaim that the wonderful Studio Ghibli stable has finally found a *potential* successor to Hayao Miyazaki. Arrietty is an absolutely wonderful film, and it is gobsmacking to think that this is a directorial debut for Hiromasa Yonebayashi - who has already been proclaimed the studio's "best young animator" by the 70 year old veteran (Miyazaki) himself.

I won't spoil the story for you other than to give you the film's basic premise: Arrietty is based on Mary Norton's classic book, The Borrowers, and it more or less sticks to the book's narrative. It tells the tale of 14 year old Arrietty, a 'Borrower', or 'little person', and her family. She lives with her mother and father under the floorboards of a house in Western Tokyo. As 'Borrowers', they sneak out at night to "borrow", or rather take food and other essentials from the house's human occupants, but only enough as to live on. One of the humans in the house, or "human beans" as the borrowers hilariously call them, is a boy named Sho, who is of a similar age to Arrietty and is staying at the house to convalesce prior to an operation. One day he spots Arrietty, which is the worst thing possible to happen to a Borrower, as being seen by human beans traditionally spells trouble for these little folk. However, Sho is not a typical brash screen kid, he's a kind hearted gentle soul and only wishes to befriend Arrietty. I will not delve further into the plot for fear of spoiling it for you, other than to say it is a simple tale and ask that you don't go looking for hidden metaphors or underlying subtext as you would with some other Ghibli films. Like Ponyo before it, this is an old fashioned simple tale of friendship and discovery. And herein lies its beauty. However, there are some subtle action scenes and plenty of humour, too. Most of all though, like the best Ghibli films, it oozes charm and warmth.

As regards the animation, well for me it is up there with the very best Ghibli films. Every single frame is so beautifully drawn that you'd want to hang each of them on your wall. The sense of scale is quite astonishing as these tiny people are offset against the background of the human bean world, containing (at least to them) enormous furniture and other everyday knick knacks. The sense of peril that things such as rats and insects pose to a Borrower is wonderfully translated to the viewer by the beautiful animation and its clever use of scale. It screams Hayao Miyazaki from every pore, and it is clear that, despite not being the director, the master had a HUGE influence on this production beyond his role of script writer. The characters all look like they're from a Miyazaki film and all have that unmistakable Ghibli charm. They're not just Ghibli characters on a superficial/visual level either, you *care* for these people. Which is more than I can say for the characters from Goro Miyazaki's Tales from Earthsea, for example. This is why I feel Yonebayashi could be the future of the studio. I like many of the non-Miyazaki/non-Takahata Ghibli films, in fact The Cat Returns is one of my favourite Ghibli titles, but this is the first time I've sat there and realised that a rookie Ghibli director has truly been mentored by Miyazaki... truly *absorbed* some magic from him. But for all of its feel of a Miyazaki film, it also feels new and fresh, which is Yonebayashi's own personality and stamp. Just the way it should be.

As much as I adore the Joe Hisaishi compositions of past Ghibli films, Cecile Corbell's Bretton/Gallic haunting melodies are a match made in heaven for the images on the screen. Although it is set in Tokyo, it still has the western feel that The Borrowers always had, so for me the Western 'vibe' of the music is extremely well suited. Besides, some of Corbell's score sounds subtly influenced by Japanese folk anyway.

As for the technical details regarding this 'Deluxe Collectors Edition', well it comes with both a Blu-ray and a DVD of the film. I have watched the Blu-ray from start to finish and it is a wonderful transfer. Not the slightest hint of noise reduction or edge enhancement. It is as beautiful as when I saw it on the local cinema, and the rich palate just leaps off the screen. There is no sign of shimmering lines, blocks or any other compression based artefacts. The sound is also well presented, and we have DTS HD audio for both the Japanese and English tracks (more on the English track below). As regards the DVD, well it's not such good news I'm afraid. The shimmery artefacting and blocky compression looked particularly bad. I don't remember seeing an Optimum Ghibli release look this bad on DVD since Spirited Away, which also suffered terrible and needless compression artefacts. Unlike the Optimum Spirited Away DVD, the colour on the Arrietty DVD is actually OK, but if you have access to a HD screen and Blu-ray player, I urge you to spend wisely and buy this collector's edition or the standard Blu-ray instead of the DVD.

As regards the aforementioned English track, and just as it was for the UK cinema release, it is totally unique to the British market. By this I mean it uses different actors to the Disney track that will be added for the American market. This is why we managed to get the film so much sooner than our friends across the pond, both as regards cinematic release and home video, and it is something I hope to see more of in future. While I myself prefer to watch in the native Japanese, I do not think it is fair that we get American actors thrust down our ears at every opportunity when it comes to the dubbing of anime, so it's nice to see some Brits get a share of the work for once. Also, as far as dubs go, the largely English voice cast suit Arrietty perfectly.

Extras/special features: Well, they're pretty much run of the mill for an Optimum Releasing Studio Ghibli title. We get the now standard alternate angle 'storyboard' track, which allows us to watch the entire film in storyboard mode, the original Japanese trailer, a couple of TV spots and interviews with the cast and production people. Although the interviews are far more extensive than normal and run to about an hour in length. Miyazaki is as charming and candid as he always is, as he discusses his decision to award the director's job to Yonebayashi. Worryingly, more hints are made as to the long term survival of our beloved studio and, once again, he seems to be encouraging fans to adopt the young Ghibli directors - after all, Miyazaki won't be around forever. Yonebayashi seems a little shy and awkward in his interview, but what he has to say about his work on the film is extremely interesting, and he also takes us through some conceptual artwork of his. We also get interviews with the English voice cast, which was quite interesting to me even though I'm a fan of anime in the native Japanese tongue. Finally, there's a video of Cécile Corbel & ensemble performing the wonderful 'Arrietty' theme song. I should also note that the included DVD only contains the alternative angle storyboard feature. Whether this is true or not for the standalone DVD, I do not know, but it is definitely the case for the deluxe Blu-ray/DVD combo discussed here. A handful of 'artcards' (postcards) featuring artwork from the film are also provided.

In summary, I have no qualms *whatsoever* in giving this wonderful anime 5 stars. It is a must see hand drawn classic amongst a sea of commercial guff and generic CGI animation. I urge you to buy it not only as the studio needs our support now more than ever, but also because it begs multiple viewings. A rental just wouldn't do it justice.
Comment Comments (17) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 27, 2012 3:41 PM GMT


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