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S. Richardson (London, UK)

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Ex Machina [Blu-ray] [2015]
Ex Machina [Blu-ray] [2015]
Dvd ~ Domhnall Gleeson
Price: £13.00

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'God from the Machine', 12 Feb. 2015
What an interesting movie.

I went into this movie not knowing what to expect, and three quarters of the way through I still wasn't sure what kind of movie this was. Sci-fi, certainly. Thriller, maybe. This is a slow burner, but that's not to say it's not interesting along the way, and it definitely gets you thinking. This is a movie about science and where this may lead us, it's also a lesson in paranoia. I sat through most of the movie expecting something to happen, not knowing what that something might be, nor who would instigate it. It's a lesson in tension, and the score which for most of the movie goes along fairly unobserved, really punctuates the few moments of high tension and drama.

The film primarily centres around three individuals, our protagonist a geeky programmer, a wunderkid of the digital age who for the duration of the movie you are left wondering about his motivations and intentions, and finally the Artificial Intelligence (AI), Ava, around who the plot revolves. It's a tight drama focussing on so few individuals and the interplay and relationships that develop are interesting and complex.

'Deus Ex Machina', is literally 'God from the Machine'. It's a term usually used to describe a plot device that comes out of nowhere to resolve the storey and somehow breaks the storey's own internal logic. I'm not sure that's the case here and the plot seems to flow logically from start to end, albeit there are a few surprises along the way. It revolves around a complicated Turing test, to see whether or not Ava can truly be considered an AI. I won't tell you the conclusion, but it does get you thinking about what is conciousness and how would you determine if something has it or not. It's not till the end of the movie that you realise just how clever a test this is.

For those that are concerned by such things there is a lot of female nudity in the movie, though it is never in my view gratuitous and serves a purpose. The film doesn't shy away from difficult topics like discussions around having sex with robots, but it seldom feels the need to elaborate on such matters and show you, it is merely enough in most cases to set you thinking. There is violence too, albeit this is brief, and again not gratuitous.

All things considered this could be a prequel to the Terminator franchise. The ending is good, and I wouldn't change it, however it does feel like a beginning rather than an end.

A good movie which left me thinking about AI and the world we live in days after watching it, which is no bad thing.

Big Hero 6 [DVD]
Big Hero 6 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Don Hall
Price: £10.00

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars WATCH THE POST CREDITS, 12 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Big Hero 6 [DVD] (DVD)
Watch the Post Credits! Done that, good, now for the rest of the review;-)

Big Hero 6 is actually based on a Marvel comic franchise but takes the base characters and completely reinvents them and their back storey. Following the acquisition of Marvel by Disney in 2009, this obscure comic range has been dusted off and had new life breathed into it making it a completely different affair. This film is pure Disney, which is no bad thing. It has a cute main character, a compelling storey and as with other Disney movies (Bambi and the Lion King spring to mind), is not afraid to deal with death and the loss of a family member. That said this is also a Marvel movie. It follows a fairly typical journey for a Superhero team. From the initial trauma that creates the motivation, to the forging of the team, their initial outing not going entirely to plan, their inevitable break up, to the gripping final confrontation where they all come together again to whoop some bad guys. This could be the plot of any Superhero team movie, but Marvel and Disney manage to make this seem fresh and different, both big names bringing to the show what they do best. The team are unique and different (as a Superhero buff I was impressed with their range of powers) but it is the main character that gives the movie its heart and character, and if that's not what Disney do best then I don't know what is.

Make no mistakes this is a Superhero movie for kids, but adults will enjoy this too. For Marvel buffs, Stan Lee gets the biggest cameo in this that I can remember him having in any of his other movies (and if after watching this you don't believe me on that last point, let me remind you to WATCH THE POST CREDIT SEQUENCE)!

Box office success allowing I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a sequel, it's certainly set-up for one.

Is this the best kids superhero movie ever, no (it's not quite on a par with The Incredibles in my book), but it is a very good movie and you should certainly watch it and bring the family (and the popcorn).

Lunar and Planetary Webcam User's Guide (The Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series)
Lunar and Planetary Webcam User's Guide (The Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series)
by Martin Mobberley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars like me, you follow up and visit the website ..., 12 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This was my entry point into astrophotography and it is a very inspiring and insightful book. As someone with a finite budget for astronomy (I have a 4 1/2 inch refractor) webcam astronomy has always had an appeal as this is a branch of astronomy within the reach and budget of all but the poorest of astronomers. The book really helps to demonstrate what is possible with this most humble of pieces of hardware, and if, like me, you follow up and visit the website of one of the main contributors (Damian Peach), you will be blown away by what is possible. Some of the images contained in this book rival those of the Hubble space telescope (though be warned this is no art book and these are depicted in black and white). What can be achieved with a telescope, a laptop, a £20 webcam and a few other basic bits of kit is quite simply stunning, and as explained by the author the ability to cut through the atmosphere allows even the smallest of telescopes to take images that rival telescopes many times their diameter using traditional techniques, and at a fraction of the budget.

My initial attempts have resulted in wobbly, tiny movies, but much to my delight I was able to easily record the rings of Saturn. The book is a great place for a beginner in this field, and also provides a lot of technical information that will also help a far more experienced astronomer.

Having said this is a budget minded branch of astronomy, to really get the full benefits of this book you will need a serious investment in equipment, not least of which is a tripod with accurate tracking.

I have knocked off a star as whilst this is a fantastic resource, it does perhaps move too swiftly into more advanced techniques and reading the text I did feel that I would have benefited from spending more time on some of the basics. That said I am perhaps not the target audience, and this may be more geared towards someone who has already a modicum of experience in the field.

As a previous reviewer has pointed out, a text like this needs to be regularly updated to keep pace with the field, and whilst some aspects of this may be a little out of date (especially if you expect to use it to get to grips with the latest version of the software needed (e.g. the Free Registax)), much of the tech (at least the entry level stuff) hasn't moved on a massive amount from when this was written.

The author is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about his subject and should be commended for creating, what as far as I could see when I first bought this,is the first book to tackle a completely new area of astronomy (prior to this the subject merely warranted a casual discussion in a single chapter of more mainstream books).

Lego Chima Crocodile Sword
Lego Chima Crocodile Sword
Offered by Mya & Matilda
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars This is a great fantasy weapon, 12 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Lego Chima Crocodile Sword (Toy)
My 4 year old, in his word, 'collects swords'. This is a great fantasy weapon. Soft enough that we can have a fairly realistic battle without the fear of seriously hurting each other (or more to the point him hurting me), but hard enough to make these pretty decent swords.

This one in particular has a great look to it, very unique and very vicious looking. I always end up with this one as the nominal 'baddie'. I find this very easy to handle, though have knocked off one star as I feel the flat handles could have perhaps been slightly better designed for smaller fingers. Having said that my 4 year old has no complaints.

Max Steel Interactive Steel with Turbo Sword
Max Steel Interactive Steel with Turbo Sword
Offered by Kidco
Price: £14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A very big sword (a little like something out of Final Fantasy) and good value for ..., 11 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A very big sword (a little like something out of Final Fantasy) and good value for money (at least it was when we purchased it). This was the highlight of my 4 year old's Christmas and the one toy he played with more than any other on the day. Also comes with a talking 'Steel' who if you've seen the show combines with the sword to make a special 'Turbo Charged' weapon. The sword also lights up which is an added bonus.

A bit noisy for my tastes (hence docking it a star), and probably not the best sword for actual play combat as I'm worried that repeated blows may damage the electronics. That said, if my 4 year old was reviewing this it would definitely get 5 stars.

Lego 850611 Cragger's Shield
Lego 850611 Cragger's Shield
Offered by hotbuyeverything
Price: £11.49

5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect shield for a sword obsessed 4 year old, 11 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Lego 850611 Cragger's Shield (Toy)
The family and I recently went to Legoland and saw these shields as well as other shields and weapons in the Chima range. My youngest is 4 and obsessed with Chima and absolutely loved this (we also purchased several other swords and shields so we can recreate some of the epic battles from the TV show).

The shield is made from a heavy foam type material and so far has proved extremely durable (and we've given them quite a beating). It is also soft enough that you shouldn't do any serious harm with this (or perhaps more importantly, my 4 year old won't do any serious harm when he whacks me with it)! It's also just the right size, measuring 35cm wide by 40 cm tall, not too big for a 4 year old to handle, but at the same time big enough to deflect an attack.

Haven't seen these for sale in the shops (only here on Amazon) so may have to head back to Legoland to pick up some of the other weapons in the range we haven't got yet.

Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food
Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food
by Jeff Potter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Say after me, "I'm a geek and I'm proud"!, 9 Jan. 2015
This was one of those rare Christmas presents that I didn't even know existed until my wife bought this for me a couple of years back. In my mind these are always the best presents, something that really resonates and that you hadn't already found for yourself. My wife obviously was just randomly googling sets of two words that she associated me and this fell onto her results pages like a gift from on high!

Imagine my joy when my Brother-in-Law, also for the same Christmas, bought me a molecular gastronomy kit. A complete coincidence, however I now owned both this book and the means with which to make all manner of froths, gels, bubbles etc.

I must say this book has opened my eyes to a new world of cooking. I've always liked cooking, but this is a cookbook unlike anything I have ever seen before. Filled with the science of cooking, and really delves into how and why things do what they do, rather than just merely telling you what to do.

If you've ever seen Heston Blumenthal and wanted to recreate some of the amazing things he creates in his kitchen then this is definitely the place to start. Even if you never set foot in the kitchen this is still a fascinating read.

Say after me, "I'm a geek and I'm proud". Now buy the book and get cooking.

NERF N-Strike Elite Firestrike Blaster
NERF N-Strike Elite Firestrike Blaster
Offered by Fun Collectables
Price: £10.68

4.0 out of 5 stars A very nice blaster. Strong and accurate, 9 Jan. 2015
A very nice blaster. Strong and accurate, however it lacks the capacity to make it a primary weapon in any Nerf fight.

That said this is an assassin's weapon. The red light that can be switched on with a simple pull of a separate trigger is both very atmospheric, and unlike most Nerf sights, actually does help you hit the target.

This is smaller than the previous non Elite version of this blaster which along with its range are the main advantages it has over it's predecessor.

The earlier version however features an adjustable 'laser pointer' however which is a real plus, added to which it has a dual pull trigger which allows you to pull gently to aim the 'laser' before pilling fully to shoot. The downside with this is you cannot shoot without also firing the light beam, however it is simpler.

All in all I like both blasters equally, but can't help wishing they had combined the best bits of both into just one gun.

NERF N-Strike  Elite Jolt EX-1 Blaster
NERF N-Strike Elite Jolt EX-1 Blaster
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Easy and quick to reload, 9 Jan. 2015
So small, but packs a significant punch.

Easy and quick to reload, and cheap enough to have several secreted about your person in a full blown Nerf war.

Certainly not a primary blaster, but given this never jams, can be easily hidden or pocketed and has great range and accuracy, it's always a good idea to have one of these as a back-up.

Mice and Mystics Board Game
Mice and Mystics Board Game
Price: £50.13

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We have all enjoyed being part of the story and the kids like ..., 9 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Mice and Mystics Board Game (Toy)
I was given this as a Christmas gift (being a keen Roleplayer) and since then have played this repeatedly with my wife (not into gaming or roleplay), son (4) and daughter (8). We have all enjoyed being part of the story and the kids like the sense of adventure and rolling of dice.

Whilst on initial inspection this is a run of the mill dungeon hack with mice instead of humans tagged on as a skin, it does have a number of interesting plusses going for it.

...the first of which is that tagged on skin, the mice. Whilst to me this looked like just a rebadging of any of a dozen other Roleplaying games, with characters being essentially still cleric's, barbarians, thieves, magic users etc, it does actually permeate the entire game in an endearing way.

The games also tries to simulate a story and whilst this is only partially successful it does make you seem involved in the plot and key to the events that are unfolding. Some children may not like the, at times, lengthy story text and switch off, however my two loved it.

This is also a cooperative game. There is no Games Master or Dungeon Keeper as there is with other similar games and everyone gets to join in with the adventure. This also means trhat should you choose to you could even play this solo, though much of the fun is with the interactions with other players.

The game itself consists of a number of high quality board pieces that are joined together and form parts of the castle and grounds in which the adventure takes place. Miniatures (unpainted plastic ones) are moved around the tiles which are attractively designed. The story takes place in sections called 'Chapters' and each Chapter is essentially one gaming session as these can take some time to complete.

So why have I knocked off a star. Well it's not the most original game out there although it is still entertaining and we all enjoyed it. It can also be frustrating to play an entire chapter as if you all perish before the end, or the time runs out (something that can happen all too easily) then you have to replay the entire chapter again. Also whilst I didn't pay for this it is an expensive purchase, and I can't help feeling it should be at least £10 cheaper than it is.

One final point, the game comes with a story booklet outlining 11 Chapters, however once you have played all of these the replayability factor is limited. That said there are two expansions now out (also costly), but also a number of free fan created Chapters online that might be worth a punt. Take a look at the Boardgamegeek website to find these available to download.

All in all this is a fun family game that we have all enjoyed. A great Christmas present for those long, cold winter's evenings.

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