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Olly Buxton "@electricray" (Highgate, UK)

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Salomon X-Race (Ski Only) 2015 -
Salomon X-Race (Ski Only) 2015 -
Price: £374.87 - £463.06

3.0 out of 5 stars Not much fun on hardpack; not much use in powder, 23 Feb. 2015
I have just spent a week in varying ski conditions with a premium hire package which means I got to try out as many different skis as I liked.

The snow started off hard-packed, we then got about 6 inches in one day day, that then got wind-blown, but by that stage I'd ditched these skis for a pair of Volkl Mantra 184s.

The first thing to note is when they handed over these Salamon X-Race skis the fascia was positively wrecked, particularly at the back: scuffed, scratched, scraped and dinged. Now looking good on the slopes is all part of the deal: I said, "hang about - these are supposed to be premium skis! What are you giving me these dungers for?"

The guy shrugged and said, "these were brand new two weeks ago".

And I can tell you why. The X-Racers aren't designed for people who, like me, like to keep their feet together. They were constantly clipping and climbing all over each other, especially (and unusually!) at the back. Now I know that ankle-kissing parallel turns are an unfashionable vestige of a bygone era, but so am I: it's an era I harken back to. Dammit that's how I ski, and how I like to ski. The X-Racers wouldn't let me do that. I had to plod down the mountain somewhat spreadeagled, like a man fighting off an attack of the trots.

At least, until the snow came. From nowhere, the weather gods deposited about 6 inches on the Jungfrau over the course of a morning. All of a sudden I was sinking under the snow rather than cutting through it or floating over it. I don't blame the X-Racers for making a meal of heavy snow conditions - they don't pretend to be an all-mountain ski and are designed for hardpack - but it was enough to bring the experiment to its conclusion. I wound up shortly afterwards skiing past the rental shop. I took the opportunity to give the X-Racers back. You can read about my happier experience with the (powder-snow-designed) Volkl Mantras here!

Later in the week the hard pack returned, but I wasn't persuaded to go back to the X-Racers. At this stage I was on a pair of Stoeckli Laser AX slalom skis. Now *they* were something special.

Olly Buxton


Volkl Mantra (Ski Only) 2015 -
Volkl Mantra (Ski Only) 2015 -
Offered by Snow+Rock
Price: £500.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic off-piste ski, 23 Feb. 2015
I have just spent a week in varying ski conditions with a premium hire package which means I got to try out as many different skis as I liked.

The snow started off hard-packed, we then got about 6 inches in one day day, that then got wind-blown, and towards the end of the week went from crust to crud to corrugated iron, while the pistes got harder and harder-packed each day.

The Mantras are big, wide off-piste and powder skis: They're 100mm under the boot, with a large side-cut radius (just over 25 metres on the 184cm version I rented). Compared with your average carving piste ski, they felt like air-craft carriers. This means no sneaky little fishtail turns on the piste, but as long the marked runs have a fair covering of snow they're manouvreable enough. They have some rocker technology and carve pretty well.

The Mantras come into their own off the side, especially in fresh powder snow: they float beautifully, turn quickly, and made the job of getting through suddenly heavy snow a cinch. I was able to compare them directly with a set of good piste skis (the Salomon X-Race) which were suddenly sinking like a stone.

As the conditions hardened over the week the Mantras struggled a bit more: Off the side the Mantras are fine on crust but are less forgiving when the powder snow really hardens as they're too big and wide to break through (even with my 100kgs on top of them!). At this point piste skis are a much better bet as they'll hold a better edge. On hardpacked and icy pistes the Mantras gave quite a bit of judder, as you'd expect, not being designed for that sort of thing.

That being said they were still better than Rossignol's dedicated all mountain ski the Experience 84, for which I eventually exchanged them. The Experience wasn't convincing on or off the piste in hardpack/crud conditions, and quickly I switched again for a pair of really tight radius Stockli Laser AXs which were perfect for the last day (they're great piste skis, by the way!)

TLDR:
*These are big, wide skis like aircraft carriers.
*They are great fun in powder
*They're perfectly responsive in tracked powder and crusty snow
*They're fine on piste as long as there's some snow cover
*As you'd expect they struggle on hardpack, ice and genuine crud.

If you were going to own one pair of skis I doubt you'd go for powder specialists like the Mantras. If you're hiring, or you have the resources to own more than one pair, put these on your list.

Olly Buxton


Patagonia Alpine Guide Men's Trousers
Patagonia Alpine Guide Men's Trousers
Price: £94.38 - £187.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, slim, flexi ski pants best worn with a base layer, 5 Feb. 2015
These Patagonia Backcountry Guide ski pants arrived in the mail in a packagae so small as to make a man apprehensive: for how could trousers so thin, lightweight and fey protect and warm a man's posterior on the icy heights of the Grand Massif?

I need not have worried. From the manufacturer's review here it looks as if they're intended as winter climbing pants rather than ski pants specifically, but they have snowgaiters, zipped trousercuffs for skiboots and plenty of pockets. They're also infused with spandex making them snug, stretchy and comfy. One can even look passably slim in them. (I say "one" - personally, I can't, but that's my thunderous physique, not the trousers' fault).

In any case I've now skied a week and a half with them in temperatures, with a windchill factor, of up to minus 20 degrees Celsius and, paired with an IceBreaker merino baselayer, they were superb - warm, comfortable and flexible and not even on a stationary chairlift on Chaz Dura, La Rosiere, in a whipping artic wind could make me doubt them. I took them off the side of the pistes frequently - but the snow wasn't deep enough to really drench them except on the couple of occasions I left my skis behind and communed with it head first.

In short, very happy with these as ski pants and will certainly buy again when these wear out.


Columbia Men's Whirlibird Glove
Columbia Men's Whirlibird Glove
Price: £45.00

2.0 out of 5 stars All very colourful and high-tech - but give me some Snowlifes anyday., 30 Jan. 2015
I bought these at the end of last year to replace a pair of old faithful Snowlife Goretex gloves that had finally given up the ghost after many years of faithful service. These have an odd silvery lining that looks more like a disco-ball than it does warm or toasty. The pointy heads (or marketers) seem to think it will be super warm, being designed to reflect all heat back into your hands.

Well it didn't do that for me. I've had two ski trips this year and in both my fingers have felt quite cold for long parts of the day. Additionally they seem to get damp in a way my snowlifes didn't, and they're a small fit for "large". You have to be careful when removing them to take them off from the fingers, otherwise the lining all comes out and they're impossible to put back on again.

I guess you get what you pay for - but for another fiver or so you could have a pair of snowlife GTXs and you'll be much better off. I have since ditched these and bought a new pair of Snowlifes.

Olly Buxton


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 [DVD] [2015]
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Jennifer Lawrence
Price: £9.99

9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing ourselves to death, Part III, 30 Dec. 2014
The novel on which The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I is based is, by a distance, the weakest of Susan Collins’ trilogy, so it is for commercial rather than artistic reasons Lionsgate have resolved on a two part treatment. That worked for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows because it was an enormous (and excellent) book; beside it New Line’s three-part Hobbit melodrama looks like an exercise in rank cynicism.

So far, Francis Lawrence has got away with it here.

A couple of passages flag but, by and large, the narrative bounces along and the early exchanges, in which Lawrence sets out his conceptual stall, are excellent, and spoiled only by some silly acting by his namesake.

We rejoin the action with Katniss having been rescued, ensconced – or imprisoned? – within the fabled District 13. These District 13 guys are about as different to the ruling elite of Panem’s capitol as can be, except where they’re not: functionally unflattering jump suits and love of the democratic ideal is imposed on the people, whether they like it or not (the show-stealing Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who has been “rescued”, emphatically does not: she misses her moisturiser).

Besides, the rebels already have a healthy regard for propaganda, they’ve boned up on their Marshall McLuhan, two legs are already better than four, and you just sense the iron gray hair of President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) has a touch of Snow about it.

In any case the proletariat has an alarming fondness for a collective fascist chant which First Comrade Coin takes no steps to quell as she addresses the huddled masses in a tone which is unadulterated passive aggression.

Behind closed doors, the message is: it’s all about the message.

In the mean time, Katniss does her bipolar thing, aided by an elite commando camera crew. We are never sure whether Katniss Everdeen is her own greatest asset or worst enemy, and patently, neither are her new paymasters in District 13.

So the schema is good, in early exchanges the acting less so, Jennifer Lawrence almost ruining by over-emotion a sequence where she returns to a blasted District 12, carefully rendered as a blitzed Palestinian ghetto but with twisted World Trade Center gantry punched through. She does settle down and the second half of the film is more nuanced, though it checks the archetypal waystations rather methodically as it goes. The rebels live in an underground bunker bred of The Empire Strikes Back and The Matrix: Reloaded, so it is hard not to see this film as a fugue on exactly the same theme. In many ways, it is.

It is poignant to see the late Philip Seymour Hoffman looking apparently well, and sad that his last film role is limited, but he enjoys himself in a nicely reflexive gag on the frustrations of green screen acting. Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman), a dried out Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) Elizabeth Banks’ magnificently stoic Effie Trinket and a bagged cat provide excellent comic relief, while Francis Lawrence feels obliged to have the intense Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and intenser Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) compete astrally in a bizarre love triangle with Katniss which is the weakest of Collin’s plot devices.

It’s an engaging film. Where Mockingjay succeeds best is in conveying Collins’ underlying political point: there are no impermeable boundaries between war, media, theatre, politics, propaganda and entertainment. Katniss is kitted out with high-tech gadgets like 007; we watch her progress on screens like Call Of Duty. We may be, as Neil Postman memorably put it, amusing ourselves to death, whichever side we think we’re on. On the other hand, Katniss’ few moments of solidarity with the poor huddled masses don’t work half as well as they did in the first two films.

It is difficult to say much more without spoilers, but we leave the game nicely balanced – President Snow sneaks an equaliser on the stroke of half time, so we can look forward to a total war resolution in the final instalment.

Olly Buxton


In Order of Disappearance [DVD]
In Order of Disappearance [DVD]
Dvd ~ Stellan Skarsgård
Price: £7.00

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The whitest of black comedies, 30 Dec. 2014
“In Order of Disappearance” is not a memorable title for a movie, but it’s a better one than “Prize Idiot”, which is the literal Norwegian translation of “Kraftidioten”. It is a film-maker’s in-joke, of course, and director Hans Petter Moland certainly has some fun with it as the credits roll.

Moland and his cast have quite a lot of fun throughout the film, in fact, which is not what you’d expect from a violent revenge thriller set in the arctic reaches of Norway.

Stellan Skarsgård is Nils Dickman, the snow-plough driver in the ski-resort of Beitostølen. When it comes to snowploughs they don’t do things by halves in the Arctic Circle, and Nils drives one big bastard of a snowplough. It can shift forty tons of snow an hour, and it throws it thirty five metres. It comes in handy, and no-one calls him names to his face. Indeed, despite his unfortunate surname (we are informed its Norwegian translation is “cock man”!) Nils’ position is of such utility in this community that he has been voted citizen of the year.

Nils’ (innocent) son is mixed up in a drug smuggling turf war and killed. When his wife walks out, her folded note containing no words at all, Nils forsakes his life of upstanding community service and sets about avenging the boy’s death.

This involves picking off the lower order gangsters employed by Greven (Pål Sverre Hagen, chewing almost as much scenery as Nils’ snowplough) one by one – hence the order of disappearance. This is carried out in brutal fashion, but cut with mordant humour as dry and chill as the local weather. Things go swimmingly until Greven unwisely attributes Nils’ activity to a crew of local Serbians, who do not take kindly to their guy being strung up on an elevation sign on the highway out of town. Little was Greven to know that 1389 – the altitude displayed in the sign – happened to be the date of the Battle of Kosovo, in which the Ottomans routed the Serbians and enslaved their lands. Serbians, led by their Papa (the ever-wonderful Bruno Ganz) are not amused.

Cue bloody, but hilarious, mayhem. Skarsgård and Ganz are the only ones who play it entirely straight; the supporting cast has a riot. There is a glorious nod to Fargo in the final scene which rounds the tone nicely.

If I had a reservation it would be a purely commercial one: Moland would get a far wider global distribution were this film scripted largely in English: Skarsgård and Ganz both have easily enough of a following in the US for this film to rate interest there, all Scandinavians in their home audience understand English perfectly well, and large parts of the film are subtitled in English (or Serbian) in any case.

Olly Buxton


Somersets Original shaving Oil 35ml
Somersets Original shaving Oil 35ml
Offered by Everyday Pharmacy
Price: £11.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The bee's knees, 10 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is where Amazon's purchase history really helps validate a product's claims. I bought this product on 9 March, 2014. There have therefore been 276 days since I ordered it, and I have used it every time I've shaved in the meantime (usually not weekends or holidays, but every other day). I reckon I've had 190 shaves out of it, and about a quarter of the bottle is left, so I'm pretty much on target for my 260 shaves out of one bottle.

This stuff is great - no foam, no gel, no mess, nothing stuck in your ears - it's a small bottle that's easy to lug around. I'd never go back.

Can't recommend it enough.

Olly Buxton


Trekmates Men's Long John Legging
Trekmates Men's Long John Legging
Price: £20.69 - £25.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Merino BLEND, just in case you were wondering, 8 Dec. 2014
Note per the Trekmates website these are 50% merino, 50% polyester.


Proporta Leather Style Folio Case for Samsung Galaxy S5 - Black
Proporta Leather Style Folio Case for Samsung Galaxy S5 - Black
Price: £14.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On being careful when handling delicate flowers, 3 Sept. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am a clumsy so-and-so. It runs in my family. Owning something as intricate, sophisticated and clever as a Samsung Galaxy S5 was always going to be fraught. It is like a delicate and sweetly fragrant flower; I am like an Orang-Utan.

One day, not long after I bought it, when swinging from tree to tree as I do, I dropped it. It smashed. There was a little man in a pop up office on London Wall who repaired it in a jiffy. But he charged me £160.

"Be careful," he said. "Don't you know this is a delicate piece of machinery? You strike me as a bit of an oaf. Just be a bit sensitive."

A life lesson learned. I thought I should buy it a cover. I tried this thing that cost a fiver called a "Shock Proof Heavy Duty Builders Case Cover With Belt Clip & Built in Screen Protector". It made my delicate petal look like a transceiver from BattleField Earth. It did a job for a week, but then it fell apart soon after. It was no match for this Orang-Utan.

Then I remembered my Kindle, and the lovely faux leather Proporta Leather Style Folio Case I have for it. I thought I should find something similar for my Galaxy. And here it is; handsome, strong, reasonably priced, and not resemblent of something from Star Trek.

It has the same folio style cover, in a handsome faux leather (somewhat firmer in consistency than my Kindle equivalent), with a clever little hole in the back fo the camera. The phone snaps into the case and is held snugly - even a little firmly.

And here is my problem. I need to take my Galaxy S5 out, every day, when I take the dog for a run. Getting it out is hard - the Proporta clutches it impressively. You have to work at it with your fingers.

I was working at it with my fingers when I inadvertently ruptured the LCD display by twisting or squeezing the phone somehow (not the Gorilla Glass; the screen behind it). Over 48 hours purply pink LCD juice leaked grimly across the screen. After that the screen was almost completely black. It was munted.

My Galaxy S5 is back with the little Fellow on London Wall for its second replacement screen unit and this time tomorrow I shall be £160 poorer. I blame myself, the Orang-Utan - but all the same, you must be careful when handling delicate flowers.

Olly Buxton


The Book Thief [DVD]
The Book Thief [DVD]
Dvd ~ Geoffrey Rush
Price: £4.99

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Cate Shortland's Lore. Suffers Accordingly., 3 Sept. 2014
This review is from: The Book Thief [DVD] (DVD)
There is a moving, beautifully-filmed story about a handsome young German girl struggling for her life, and to come of age, through an unlikely bond with a young Jewish refugee during the death throes of the Third Reich.

This isn’t it. That film is Cate Shortland’s remarkable Lore (2012), and if you haven’t seen it, you should.

About this film, which also concerns an orphaned German girl coming of age through a relationship with a young Jewish refugee in the dying days of the Reich, I’m not so sure. Director Brian Percival – he of Downton Abbey – paints by numbers, and his scriptwriter Michael Petroni has a tin ear for dialogue.

The opening aerial shot, swooping in over a layer of cloud, is trite enough to be a studio logo animation. As we dive through the cloud to track a steam train puffing excitedly through snow-bound countryside, one could be forgiven for deducing a Harry Potter instalment. But no: Roger Allam’s mellifluous baritone fills the soundstage and we are underway. Allam is the unseen voice of Death, and he intercedes periodically through the two and a quarter hours of this film to tell slow-witted viewers what is going on.

Yet Allam’s dialogue is aspirationally coherent and not actually meaningful. If you let his velvet gravel, John Williams’ lachrymose music and Florian Ballhaus’ luscious images do their work, you may switch off altogether and still get the gist.

The gist comes through loud and clear elsewhere: 10 year-old Liesl, (Sophie Nélisse) has been orphaned and comes to live with Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson), of whom Hans is warm and kind, and Rosa cold, practical, and interested only in the money she will earn from fostering. They wind up sheltering handsome young Jewish refugee Max (Ben Schnetzer), and everything else proceeds exactly as you would expect had you any experience with this sort of story (The Diary of Anne Frank, Schindler’s List, and so on), only without any edge or challenge to expectations. Petroni’s awful dialogue affords the cast no scope to practice their craft and the viewer no need to practice inference. Instead, through wholly artificial dialogue delivered in cod German accents, which lapse for easy words into actual German (nein, ich bin nacht kidding) the screenplay beats us over the head with every plot development.

The actors, accordingly, flounder. Rush is as good a character actor as you’ll find these days, and he works a small miracle breathing life into Hans. Watson singularly fails to animate Rosa, and with their tender years the two child leads, Nélisse, and Rudi (the exceedingly Aryan-looking Nico Liersch) have no chance. Nélisse is an engaging personality, and may go far, but at 11 she was a few years young for this to generate the sort of vertiginous pubescent tension of Lore: Hannelore (15, but played by 18 year-old Saskia Rosendahl) is truculent, nuanced, vulnerable and organic. Liesl is (by necessity) wide-eyed and saccharine, though she does give one of her classmates a good kicking early on.

(Contains spoilers)

Thereafter the screenplay pulls punches it should have thrown heartily: despite being threatened, Liesl’s basement secret is never discovered. Nor is her book-thievery. Max is not captured. Despite being selected and threatening to run away, Rudy never gets sent to military training, and while Hans does get conscripted, before long he’s home again nursing nothing more than a limp and percussion deafness in one ear. A book burning is portrayed rather like a glum Guy Fawkes’ night. Even Kristallnacht is sanitised. Max reaches death’s door from fever a couple of times but, after some mawkish scenes, is turned away each time.

(end of spoilers).

These missed beats mean the long middle of the film stumbles around like a blind man in a dark room in search of an exit, but who keeps walking into cupboards. Eventually he finds his way out, courtesy of a ten-ton weight unprompted by any of the dramatic devices or character arcs that have been carefully established, but by this stage – over two hours in – my patience and forbearance had long since been exhausted.

Olly Buxton


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