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Olly Buxton "@electricray" (Highgate, UK)

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Slow West [DVD]
Slow West [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michael Fassbender
Price: £6.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Slow Western., 1 Feb. 2016
This review is from: Slow West [DVD] (DVD)
When he signed on to finance and star in this picture Michael Fassbender must have had in mind one of those slow-burning, lyrical westerns like Unforgiven. He might have imagined Clint Eastwood's grit: Fassbender's is a handsome, square-jawed face, his eyes are bright sapphires, but he is urbane: in outings to date there has been little of the wild frontier about him.

Perhaps, by going unshaven and chomping on a cheroot, he could channel The Man With No Name. Especially juxtaposed against snow-complexioned Jay Cavendish (Jodi Smit-McPhee), a young man who has the misfortune to look like a pubescent Andy Murray and who in this picture has little to do but gape, goldfish-style, at all that goes on.

Slow West is, as the name on its tin suggests, a picture long on chasmal wide-shots and smouldering looks. It is short on dialogue and action. Therefore the dialogue must count. It must be profound. It be moving. It must work overtime to define its characters. By themselves, winsome tableaux of New Zealand’s McKenzie Country won’t do. But the script delivers neither profundity nor definition. The journey on which it propels its characters is moot.

Much of this can be laid at the door of John Maclean, once of the Beta Band, for he both wrote and directed Slow West. This is his first full length feature. It shows.

It ought to take something momentous to impel a sixteen-year-old lad as feebly constituted as Cavendish to journey alone from Scotland to frontier Colorado, yet all we are told is that he pursues a lass, Rose, with whom he once rolled down some sand dunes. And we are literally told it: The film starts, over a black screen, with Fassbender announcing: “Once upon a time, Jay Cavendish travelled from the cold shoulder of Scotland to the baking heart of America to find his love: A jack-rabbit in a den of wolves.”

Now leaving aside the concentration of platitudes that this voiceover represents, it also neuters the very power of the film: Maclean’s primary job is to show just this, not to have Fassbender tell us.

So, an under-explained lad sets out on an implausible Odyssey to a violent and degenerate land, the best accounting for which is that the boy is a bit dim. At least that’s something: of Fassbender’s character, Silas Selleck, we know nothing at all. His motivations are at first masked from, then quickly revealed to the audience (guess what: he’s compromised) but the internal struggle through which he must go to arrive at the film’s climax is taken as read. Yet that is precisely what a slow-burning, lyrical western should be about. By age and life experience, Jay is necessarily one-dimensional: inexplicably, Maclean asks Fassbender to be so as well. His script is studded with dialogue as corny as this: “Sure kid. You need chaperoning. Let’s drift.”

In fact, Fassbender’s chief role seems to be to patronise the audience. A posse of bounty hunters arrives on the crest of the hill, John Ford Style. They could hardly be anything else. “They’re bounty hunters” says Silas.

Without personalities or conversation to spur on their actions, the characters are left behaving in ways that can only be understood by reference to the dictates of the plot. This is not how effective drama works.

Rory “The Hound" McCann has a late cameo as Rose’s father, but this import from Game of Thrones - the most beautifully characterised drama since Dallas - really serves only to highlight McLean’s failure to build interesting characters here.

For a slow-burning film, it is blessedly over in well under an hour and a half.

Olly Buxton

Mad Max: Fury Road [DVD] [2015]
Mad Max: Fury Road [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Tom Hardy
Price: £6.95

12 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Oh, look: another hero., 18 May 2015
In 1985, apparently sending George Miller's Mad Max franchise to the hereafter, Tina Turner sang "we don't need another hero". Thirty years later, Miller has had a change of heart. Mad Max is back, with another hero, and she's called Furiosa.

Mad Max: Fury Road is set on a huge featureless, arid, salted, dead plain, 45 years after "the fall of the world". We are told "the future is the road", yet there don't seem to be any roads; just tracks in the sand. Nor is there water or vegetation, and the only food on offer is one two-headed mutant lizard and an underweight cockroach.

Yet life persists: the desert teems with angry bogans driving monstrous supercharged V8s. What they eat and drink, and where on earth they get refined gasoline half a century after the apocalypse is anyone's guess, but they sure as hell blow through the stuff. Actually, they do tell you: they get it from Gas Town. Munitions - also gleefully expended - hail (ahem) from Bullet Farm, it taking more than nuclear holocaust for Australians to kick their habit of unimaginative place names.

So this tale starts out as a rather grand voyage to go and fill up the car. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is the tanker driver sent out to get it. She has only one arm, a crew cut and a faraway look in her eyes. Instead of eye-shadow she has smeared her forehead with engine grease.

And she's, like, a woman; seemingly the only one in the Citadel not in some kind of indentured breeding programme. This might lend Mad Max some post-feminist credentials, though what you'd be doing even looking for them in a movie whose conceptual scheme is basically Grand Theft Auto Goes to the Desert is hard to say. It's also moot whether one should bother about logical inconsistencies or continuity errors in a film which is basically predicated on them, but Furiosa's tanker is *already full* of gasoline when she sets off.

As convention dictates, Furiosa goes rogue. She turns east. She has stolen five fecund foxes from under the nose of the Citadel's chief warlord Immortan (sic) Joe. Joe, who wants them as breeders, saddles up his baddest tricked-out bogan desert sleds and a zombie thrash-metal guitarist strapped to a mobile public address system and chases Furiosa and her chicks across the desert for an hour.

I hope you won't consider your experience spoiled if I tell you they then turn around and get chased back, for the remainder of the film's running time.

Now you might have noticed someone missing from the synopsis to date. Isn't this film about a mad bloke called Max? Well; yes and no. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is there, along for the ride. On the way out, literally: strapped to the bonnet of a chasing vehicle like a living figurehead, intravenously feeding his blood to anaemic War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) as he drives it.

Once he unhooks from that, he hooks up with Furiosa and her kidnapped harem, and rides shotgun back, fixing engines, opening stiff jam-jar lids, wasting War Boys, and generally helping out around the house a bit like Schneider used to in One Day at a Time. But he doesn't have much to say. Mad Max: Fury Road is no more about Max than it is about a road: in the alternative (surely apocalyptic) universe where this film garnered academy award nominations, Max would only be a supporting actor.

So it is Furiosa, not Max, who is the heart and soul of this two hour marathon of stunts, explosions, noise and truck-bound production design. All that's missing is blood, gore, nudity, bad language and a sense of humour.

And, maybe, Tina Turner.

Olly Buxton
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 17, 2015 1:45 AM BST

No Title Available

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars These are ok quality tools but beware they are NOT ..., 11 April 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
These are ok quality tools but beware they are NOT sufficient to repair a Blackberry Z10 as advertised. The Z10 has Torx T3 and T1 screws in its chassis. These are tiny - particularly the T1 - and the screw drivers that will fit them are hard to get hold of. They are not part of this package.

No Title Available

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

No Title Available

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!)

*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
Offered by Backpacking United Kingdom
Price: £167.16

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: £32.99 - £45.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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: £5.00

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: £10.23

22 of 23 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 Superfooduk
Price: £15.99

3 of 3 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

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