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Motorola Moto G 5-Inch (2nd Gen UK Stock) Dual Sim 8GB SIM-Free Smartphone Black
Motorola Moto G 5-Inch (2nd Gen UK Stock) Dual Sim 8GB SIM-Free Smartphone Black
Offered by FRElectronics
Price: £123.93

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Catastrophic Failure, 17 Mar. 2015
The Moto G is a value smart phone from Motorola. It comes with the standard range of functions and benefits when sold sim-free. It is a relatively light-weight phone that does not weigh down a pocked too much. The touch screen is usable for normal sized digits. The screen rotates when the device is tilted. The phone comes with a decent camera. Apps are downloadable and after a bit of familiarisation with the phone are easy enough to use. Battery life is relatively short. The battery is literally irreplacable.

Unfortunately it is a really poor product. The sound quality is appalling. It is tinny and irritating. Professional call handlers such as call centre operatives found it hard to hear though interference from the phone. The screen locks in place at times. Internet connectivity is pretty good though set-up can be complicated with a series of online instructions sometimes being necessary to find. Worst of all the Moto G is prone to catastrophic failure which cannot be recovered from. Make sure important things like photos are backed up either locally or online.

The catastrophic failure of the Moto G is boot-loop. A crash to boot loop is often completely irrecoverable rendering the phone absolutely useless as it persistently tries to start up but fails to do so. Intervening during the boot sequence to try different types of hard restart do not necessarily work.

Anyone concerned about the lifespan of this product should be advised that it did not last three months in this reviewer's relatively lightweight use. It died on Christmas Day leaving no video record of a baby's first Christmas. An unforgivable sin from Motorola that this reviewer will never forgive.

Buy at your own discretion but beware that there is a reasonable chance this phone will suffer catastrophic failure and is in any case a poor quality product.

Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation
Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation
by Elizabeth Pisani
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading for Indonesia, 9 Mar. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Indonesia etc is a fabulous travelogue covering Indonesia in nearly 400 hardback pages. It is an expertly written tale by former Reuters correspondent Elizabeth Pisani taking in an array of people, places, and cultures across the remarkably diverse country that is Indonesia. Pisani's writing style is effortlessly easy to read making this such an accessible introduction to a strange land. It is required reading for anyone with an interest in Indonesia.

Pisani introduces the reader to a range of fascinating issues affecting Indonesia by telling each story through encounters in a particular location. The idea of Indonesia as a nation is challenged in some of the outer islands comprising part of the east of the country for instance where a radically different people live in circumstances so different from metropolitan Jakarta.

It is the people who stand out most from this tour of the country. The generosity of spirit in almost all the locations Pisani finds herself in is really heartwarming to read about. Pisani herself seems quite capable of taking advantage of such generosity, talking her way into all kinds of weird and often-times wonderful situations. As a travelogue it is fascinating to read of Pisani's adventure, taking boats without any real sense of direction for instance. The waiting around for things to happen is something any visitor to Indonesia will be familiar with. Taking that further to see the relaxed attitude as almost spiritual is quite intriguing. There is almost a sense Pisani has accrued a set of anecdotal evidence to support the idea that some peoples are just more industrious than others.

Weaving a narrative around such a disparate set of peoples is a remarkable skill. Pisani's ability as a writer is tremendous. She does not use overly-emotive language to describe the places she finds herself in, there is relatively little description of the environment because it is contained in the conversations she reports. The world is seen through the eyes of Indonesians rather than the author, an excellent way to construct a travelogue.

Indonesia is of course a place of many different peoples. Fundamentally though there is a huge gap between the Malay west and the Melanesian east. Pisani starts her journey from the capital Jakarta heading way out east. She takes in small islands in Nusa Tenggara Timur starting with the distant island of Sumba, a place where the locals carry machetes for their everyday work and where it is a bit too hot and too under-developed for the emerging Javanese-led industrialisation. It is the place where the strapline of taking tea with a corpse takes place. The more community and family-oriented lifestyle of Sumba contrasts so strongly with the gleaming towers of a place like Jakarta. Central Jakarta does not seem like a developing country. Pisani's description of Sumba is much more in-tune with an older and somewhat slower pace of life.

Travelling out of Sumba to the even more distant island of Suva is fascinating. Pisani challenge the notion of Indonesia as a unitary state. The federalism slowly being rolled out across Indonesia has yet to make real difference except for the emerging political class. The insights into Adat and into the ties that bind people into the system are excellent. It is the best description of how Indonesia really works yet made available.

Taking various boat trips adds real value to Pisani's work. Her interactions with other passengers are great but also tell both a social and a travel story. The social story of migration patterns around Indonesia is great. It helps to explain how easily Indonesians see their country as being enough. Indonesians do not really travel much further because just going around their 1700 islands is a lifetime's work. The travel story is fun. Pisani's careening around various island tracks on a small engine motorbike is a good laugh at times. She's clearly adventurous, the motorbike is the best way to get around but it is quite intimidating to be around.

Pisani delivers a series of wonderful insights through her travels. The generosity of most Indonesians is amazing. Pisani stays over with people she hasn't seen in maybe a decade or more yet they remember her and are thrilled to see her again. The way Pisani writes it really seems genuine and in no way the author aggrandising. Stopping over in some remote part of the world for Christmas is the stuff great travelogues are made of. Her insights into the role of patronage are brilliant. Corruption is a poison that corrodes progress and success. It is also the way in which family-based communities naturally operate. A family, tribe, clan etc needs to support one another in order to survive and prosper. This is not the same kind of corruption as acquisition of personal wealth but it still has an impact.

Democracy is a relatively alien concept in a society which still venerates elders. Pisani's analysis of various localised forms of the democratic process is hilarious. Getting elected is costly. Pisani tends to hang around with those who do not make it to the top which gives a brutal insight into the harsh reality for those who absorb the cost but none of the success. The local big-men who do make it seem really quite keen to run projects in their area while also ensuring their own living arrangements are well catered to. More and more local government areas spring up, each of them adding layer upon layer to the complex web of Indonesian bureaucracy.

It is impressive to read Pisani's accounts of issues that she might not necessarily be neutral on. Her praise of a mining company comes with lashings of qualifications but is amusing nonetheless. Pisani's insistence on the moderate nature of Islam in Indonesia is great and she evidences it well during her travels including in less tolerant Aceh. Her explanation of jilbab wearing as a means of retaining an attachment to a community in a time of great change is eminently believable. Until that is a reader might happen across hordes of identiki schoolgirls dressed in white jilbabs and come face to face with the reality of an increasingly Islamised country.

Pisani also does not really engage all that much with the most traditional denizens of Indonesia. She does not really invest a huge amount of time in longhouses for instance. These remain the domains of telegenic travellers traipsing through jungle.

During Pisani's travel she does mention the pre-Presidency Jokowi. He is a by-product of her journey in that he wins the election in Jakarta against hardline Islamic opponent. Pisani does note that it is the affluent middle classes who support Jokowi despite his slightly socialist inclinations while the poor vote for the tough-minded muslim despite his economic conservatism that would put him at odds with their financial interest. Amusing that Jokowi is just a by-stander in Pisani's story - did Pisani foreshadow what kind of President he would become?

Pisani does touch a little on deforestation, one of the critical issues facing Indonesia. The tribespeople who live in the jungle being demolished around them are one of her stops. This is not though the story of the forest, it is the story of people.

The final stages of the journey seem a little more rushed than the earlier going. They are still worthwhile with Pisani exploring non-Jakarta Java and finding a very different place. The city of Surabaya works in ways that Jakarta does not. Rural Javanese still take in the Wayang even if they do not appreciate the use of shadows in the way Pisani describes her first encounters with that medium.

As an introduction to the country, Indonesia etc is required reading. It is the best travelogue and social commentary available. Elizabeth Pisani has done a tremendous job tying together the disperate peoples and places into a spellbinding tale. A fascinating read and one absolutely worth indulging in for anyone with any interest in Indonesia. An outstanding contribution.

24: Live Another Day [DVD] [2014]
24: Live Another Day [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Kiefer Sutherland
Price: £10.00

3.0 out of 5 stars The Old Jack Is Back, 23 Feb. 2015
24: Live Another Day is the resurrection of 24 over 12 episodes across 4 DVDs. It takes the usual 24 action adventure to London, making for an interesting environment to that segment of the audience intimately familiar with the city. With most of the 24 characters having been killed off during the various previous seasons there are only a couple of returnees - Jack Bauer of course played even more ruggedly by Kiefer Sutherland - and Chloe played in even more put-upon fashion by Mary Lynn Rajskub.

Fans of the series will find pretty much all the tricks of the 24 trade in effect. The running clock is still great. The real-time action against that clock works. The tension that leads to a cliffhanger pretty much every episode is better than any other series. The cliches that allow Jack to survive against the odds yet again are always present. Fortunately, we can rest assured that not everyone at the CIA London Station (filling in for CTU) can be trusted.

As an action adventure, Live Another Day is exciting. Jack must battle to take down terrorists using captured US drones who attempt to bomb London with them. He must do so as an outsider, a renegade rejected by the country he loves so dearly. Thrown into the plot are secrets being smuggled to the Chinese, the Russians, a Wikileaks style information operation, and a former love interest.

Jack is at his ruthless best in Live Another Day. He is utterly remorseless in his use of extreme violence. Loyal people are killed so he can reach the end goal. Classic Jack as the embodiment of the ends justifying the means. He is not to be trusted at all - only the end objective counts. He even fails to show loyalty to Chloe early on, the one person who has stood by him despite his reign of brutal terror.

Chloe's story is moved on from where she ended up at the conclusion of the regular series. Unfortunately it is moved on in a really sad way that is practically brushed over. The sad revelations about her family life exist pretty much only as a plot device for her to miss a villain at a key stakeout moment.

That stakeout moment is really good. A rare piece of clever use for London's geography as villain Simone Al-Harazi emerges from one of the ridiculous number of exits at Charing Cross. In the main though London is a backdrop only in use for its difference from the previous LA locations.

Using London does mean using more Brits and there are some great ones on display. Simone Al-Harazi is played by newcomer Emily Berrington. She may well be the most beautiful woman 24 has ever seen. Whether in ridiculous Russian wig or when in a style closer to her own natural appearance, Berrington is so beautiful it is much easier to will her to succeed than those opposing her.

Simone's character and the desire for someone so beautiful to win gives Margot Al-Harazi instantly recognisable traits. The writing team skillfully use Michelle Fairley's excellent performance in Game of Thrones and the naive appeal of her daughter Simone as a way of making immediately clear the domineering matriach on display. Fairley does not have to stretch herself in the role of Margot but her gravitas is always present. As with many characters throughout 24's history, Margot does stupid things in the quest to achieve short-term goals at the expense of the long-term. It seems no-one in 24 can think through the consequences of their actions.

Margot's plan overall is a good one, using captured US drones to launch missile strikes on the UK while the US President is in town. Given the skill she has in her team, it should work. It is pretty much only undone by her own lack of long-term planning in sacrificing the love of those loyal to her and because she meets an adversary in Bauer who is prepared to fight less honourably than she is.

The use of drones is inherently political. There is much talk in the DVD Extras of Live Another Day being relevant because it features a salient political issue. Drone strikes have been so incredibly successful against the Bin Laden al-Qa'ida but the morality of their use remains in question. Using the British Indian Ocean Territory for drones is probably something most protestors outside the US Embassy during the action here would not really have been familiar with.

The political sub-plot of the wikileak style Open Cell is not as brave as it could be in exposing the flaws in the open information argument, it is greed and personal gain that are the bad part of what they do. Jack challenges Chloe's use of Open Cell messaging by giving a metaphorical c'mon man.

The politics means we see high level activity. The Prime Minister is ably represented by Stephen Fry. National treature as national leader. Occasionally a British viewer might want to see Fry correct some of the errors on display but as an archetype of Englishness there are few better.

The US President is James Heller played by William Devane. Heller is a returning character but now he has alzheimer's disease and must mask the effects of that while also leading through a crisis. He puts in a decent effort throughout.

Heller's family make for an intrguing sub-plot. His daughter Audrey is a former love-interest for Jack. That plays out with her having married the Chief of Staff. Can the Chief of Staff be trusted? Will Audrey survive so Jack can love her? This is 24-land of course. It is unclear why Jack is so obsessed with Audrey, she was nowhere near the potential match some others in his past could have been. Kim Raver's grossly elongated face and her height advantage over Kiefer Sutherland do not make her an obvious partner for him.

The range of other characters are ok. Chief of Staff Boudreau played by Tate Donovan is fun to watch. The CIA team are a bit dull, Kate Morgan played by Yvonne Strahovski as a female Jack is not believable, Gbenga Akinnagbe as Erik Ritter has a lot more charisma.

The character of London is not in full force but there is good use of a council estate and a London accent by an early villain. Translations for American viewers are given by characters so as to make things simple eg council estate = projects. Sometimes those translations work better for the US audience than a British one. Brits don't drink root beer, the offering of a ginger beer to a child as the British alternative by Agent Morgan seems out of place. On the other hand, there's a pub. The use of the Underground in a chase sequence is excellent even if the escape by Simone Al-Harazi relies on a maintenance worker not noticing a beautiful woman walk right through the door he is working on.

Perhaps what is most intriguing about Live Another Day or lad is how old everything seems. The series is old now, it is still exciting but the plot devices are often mundane because they have been used so often. The format is a little tired, taking it to London was a good idea to give it some additional intrigue. Most obviously of all Kiefer Sutherland is old. This is deliberately played out with a sequence showing him running. Those legs just do not move like the young Jack did, Sutherland is clearly carrying the effects of long-term injuries that limit his physical capability. His face shows significant signs of wear - matching Jack's incredibly hard life. Somehow he is still able to defeat pretty much anyone in physical combat but it is now not quite so believable, the action seems to take so much more effort than it did 13 years earlier.

Even the villains look a bit older. Chinese villain Cheng Zhi played by Tzi Ma is clearly decades older than Ma's first Hollywood appearance as Consul Han. In Tzi's case though there is still the intensity on display.

The DVD Extras are relatively limited. There is a little bit of talking head sequence discussing the return of the show and the move over to London along with some interest in the politics. Best of all though is a brief sequence that could be a teaser featuring the ridiculously unfairly maligned Tony Almeida. This suggests a potential future plot involving the character best suited to being Moriaty after the way he was so badly treated by Bauer.

24 remains enthralling viewing. It is really well designed with great cliffhanger endings to most episodes. The holes in its logic have stretched quite significantly over time, this is the old 24 and the old Jack. Great to have them back but a reminder that time withers us all.

Luther - Series 1-3 [DVD] [2010]
Luther - Series 1-3 [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Idris Elba
Price: £10.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unparalleled Psychological Detection, 23 Feb. 2015
The box set of Luther series 1-3 is a 6 DVD collection of each of the episodes from the great BBC detective drama starring Idris Elba originally screened between 2010-2013. The detective genre is hugely over-exposed but this is a cut above pretty much anything out there. Idris Elba is absolutely magnificent as the troubled but genious detective in his first great role after his breakthrough in The Wire. This show is not about Elba but he is what turns an excellent concept and set of plotlines into an all-time great TV show.

The downside of Luther is how short it all is. There are only 14 episodes in total plus one Special Feature for the first series. Less may occasionally be more but more Luther would be good.

There is hardly anything with Luther that falls short of perfect. The choice of theme tune is superb. The outstanding Paradise Circus by Massive Attack is an excellent choice with its slightly haunting minor key arrangement accompanying the breathy vocals of Hope Sandoval. Eery and clever, just like Luther.

The visuals are explained at quite some length in the quality Special Feature for the first series. The use of colour is so well designed. Grey is not necessarily the easiest palette to work with but it looks good here. The subtle colours, clever use of angles, and interesting photography of London gives the audience a feel of being part of the unfolding action. It may help to be familiar with the filming locations of East London but this is so obviously London and so obviously now.

In each of the three series, Luther has two issues to deal with. He has crimes to solve and he has a bigger problem trying to take him down. His crime solving is top notch sleuthing because it is not so much about solving the case as getting inside the head of the killer. A range of weird and wonderful psychopaths commit horrendous crimes that Luther has to understand in order to solve. While it might be fun to harken back to Sherlock Holmes, Luther takes solving using psychology way beyond any of the Sherlock thought processes into a sophisticated analysis of the human condition. It is light years ahead of the other similar works including the legendary Columbo.

Most of the cases feature quite seriously deranged villains. It is Luther's job to take the audience inside an alien mindset to help track down his opponent. Quit where writer Neil Cross drew his inspiration from is unclear but he produces a magnificent set of monsters for Luther to match wits against. The villains are generally clever though not always so. They are always motivated by something that feels credible. Even stock characters such as the bloodthirsty Lucien Burgess are given enough additional material to make them unique and engrossing.

The killings are often quite savage. This is not family viewing. The killers occasionally brutalise their victims in sadist and frankly disgusting ways. The squeamish should not watch this show.

Occasionally, Neil Cross seems to delve into niche worlds he must know a little about. The emergence of killings motivated by roleplaying games suggests Cross must have decent knowledge of the RPG genre even as he seemingly references the DnD panic of early the 1980s US. The solution to that particular crime is classic Luther - he puts himself at great personal risk because he has worked out how to lure in the villain. He understands the motivation of someone who seems almost locked-in, using his knowledge and his awareness of surroundings to outwit an enemy with seemingly no psychological weaknesses.

The performance on display from Idris Elba as Luther is utterly incredible. This is clearly the man inside Idris. It is a character so very far away from Stringer Bell. Elba is still that same huge guy, physically imposing and capable of bouts of uncontrolled rage. He is also clearly full of the introspection and insecurity that comes from being an exceptionally intelligent man. Luther's failings as much as anything make this something spectacular to see. Elba is able to play so close to the edge that it is entirely believable each time he falls over the other side and does something we all know Luther will regret. It is a performance burning with barely controlled intensity punctuated by moments of completely believable clarity. Unlike some of his detective genre competitors, Luther's eureka moments are as apparent to him as they are to the audience. This is one of the great performances in British television history.

A core part of the storyline is antagonist/love interest Alice. Played by the dazzling Ruth Wilson she is a fascinating character. Amid the low-key and muted people who express themselves through their actions, Alice is an intellect and wordsmith worthy of matching Luther. She was perhaps originally designed to be the Moriaty character but she is much more than the equally brilliant villain to Luther's hero. Alice has licence to act in ways that Luther cannot. She has the literal freedom in that she is not constrained by the duty of upholding the law. More interestingly she has the intellectual freedom that her alleged psychopathy permits. Alice resolves problems in ways that would often mark her out as one of Luther's targets but her actions are designed to serve the greater good.

Ruth Wilson's performance is quite extraordinary. She smoulders throughout, overtly sexual in every motion without ever making anything explicit. The combination of her eyes and pout make Alice's scenes always intriguing. Wilson's combination of intelligence and a touch of almost malevolent humour gives her a sparkle. Her actions late in the cycle play this up a little bit too much and her long boots are not a great look but the brilliance with which the audience can read the non-verbalised communication between Alice and Luther is genious.

Luther's greatest enemies are another set of stock characters - Internal Affairs. Luther clearly breaks the rules. He does so in a way that may not have been possible on the BBC before Gene Hunt but in doing so he breaks open the audience's need to see both humanity and a positive result. The rules exist for a reason but it is Luther's way that the audience wants to see succeed.

Internal affairs activity really kicks up a gear in the final series with the arrival of the thoroughly unpleasant George Stark played by David O'Hara. Stark's character seems to have an array of issues to address but there is an amazing swerve revealed right near the end when the impeccable logic of his own position appears briefly and is as credible as anything Luther comes up with.

Those around Luther do not always have the best of lives. The love triangle between Luther, his suitably beautiful ex-wife Zoe played by the stunning Indira Varma, and third wheel Mark played by Paul McGann is bound to end badly. The weird group of people Luther ends up surrounded by at the end of a heartbreaking first season is great misfit action. The worst villain of the first season and the one who poses the greatest threat to Luther generates a truly devastating sequence of events. When the same is replicated through another villain at the end of season three, the villain is interesting for different reasons but it is the effect on characters the audience has grown to know over the three seasons that has the impact.

Luther is an amazing show. It casts one of Britain's greatest acting talents as a genious in a world full of glorious depravity. Idris Elba is magnificent. Around him are a set of excellent performances, not least the brilliant writing of Neil Cross. Luther manages to stand out way above even the best of the detective genre. Must see television.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 10, 2015 11:47 AM BST

Guardians of the Galaxy [DVD] [2014]
Guardians of the Galaxy [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Chris Pratt
Price: £9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intergalactic Marvel, 18 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Guardians of the Galaxy is a blockbuster Sci-Fi from Marvel set in outer space. Unlike all the other Marvel offerings so far, this is not a superhero film. It is a fun, almost family-friendly action adventure with plenty of laser shooting. Guardians has a run-time of two hours with the DVD somehow being a minute shorter than the theatrical release. There are no DVD extras with the only feature being a forward look to an Avengers film.

The hero of Guardians of the Galaxy is Peter Quill played by Chris Pratt. Quill is a roguish explorer on the hunt for treasure. His backstory is the opening segment, it is a powerful start to a film. Quill's mother is on her death bed, presumably dying of cancer. She doesn't make it but she does give him a collection of her favourite tunes to remember her by. It is an excellent concept and works so well because the soundtrack is awesome.

The soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy is at least the best Sci-Fi soundtrack of this century. Normally a US film with such a great soundtrack comes from the genious of Quentin Tarantino. There are a couple of over-played songs like Spirit in the Sky and Ain't No Mountain High Enough but generally it is great pop music that has not been too over-exposed recently. The use of Come and Get Your Love and Quill's reaction to hearing it are great. It really sets the tone for this film - fun, not too serious, yet still really cool. Of course the reminder of one of the great song intros of all time in Hooked on a Feeling is life-affirming. The soundtrack includes tracks by Bowie, 10cc, the Jackson Five and other well-known acts but also includes some who might not be immediately recognised by name. The tunes are mostly crackers though and help speed things through so well. It helps that this soundtrack is from the 70s because the pre-MTV era allows some American songs to be lesser known elsewhere in the world.

Chris Pratt is good as the lead, he is not quite the great screen presence that would have made Guardians one of the all-time greats. Pratt does not have the charisma of someone like Harrison Ford but he's plenty good enough to make this a fun feature. His interaction with the other characters is often a little lost in his own world but Quill does have some good lines of banter. Pratt is really good as Quill, he's fun and endearing. The emotional impact of the memory of his mother works. Quill's trouble-finding nature is entertaining. Unfortunately Pratt is heavy. His movements are heavy which means his dance moves look like they're supposed to be a joke at his own expense. The dance-off sequence seems to draw inspiration from fellow larger-jowled actor Jack Black in that it is all positive vibes and little real humour. Pratt is also heavy in his facial work. He does not have the range of expression the true greats possess.

That Pratt could even be talked about in the same conversation as Harrison Ford's performance is a reminder of how good this film is. He doesn't have the charisma of Ford, William Shatner, or even Tim Allen in the better scripted Galaxy Quest who all made for much more memorable appearances in the same character type so the casting may be an issue as the character design is tried and tested.

The most banterous character is genetically-engineered raccoon Rocket voiced by Bradley Cooper. Rocket is extremely violent both with his action and his words. He's not really all that witty, his humour is mostly pretty obvious but Cooper's delivery of a relatively average script is outstanding. Rocket is a fairly one-dimensional character but he is fun. The idea of the character is great, he's an expert in his fields, and comes up with great escape plans that do work. The abusive outer-shell hides a genious engineer underneath.

Rocket's sidekick Groot is a magnificent character, so unlike most of what screen can offer. Groot and Rocket are both animated but Groot has such a humanity about him. He is some kind of tree-based life form capable of extraordinary bravery and power. Groot is played by Vin Diesel and it might not be a stretch to say this could well be Vin Diesel's best ever performance. Groot mainly uses just the phrases "Groot" or "I am Groot" through the film. The delivery with various different inflections gets across meaning even when the words themselves are not there. Groot's moment of triumph is a spectacular destruction of a group of bad guys followed by a huge grin. It is one of the funniest moments of a pretty funny film. That grin is total awesomeness.

The two other Guardians are physical opposites. Super-skinny Zoe Saldana is perfectly fine as Gamora, the green alien whose allegiances are unclear. Gamora does not have a huge amount to do but through her the plot develops. A background hint of romance between Gamora and Quill alludes to sequels.

Perhaps the most interesting character is the one who could be dubbed the first autistic hero of cinema. Drax the Destroyer is a huge physical presence with a vocabulary that can only encompass the literal. Dave Bautista looks a slightly different shape to his WWE days, clearly benefiting from a different set of vitamins. He's really good as Drax, a character very different from his wrestling persona. Drax is loyal and single-minded. He is not really able to see the bigger picture at all but he has a great heart. It is a really endearing character for such a muscle-bound freak. Drax's concluding sentiment is awesome.

The main villain is not a subtle character. Ronan the Accuser is a genocidal maniac shrouded in a dark mantle and who has an overriding lust for power. Ronan is clearly just an antagonist, there's nothing of The Accuser's backstory in this tale. The most impressive parts of Ronan's screen time are his dismantling of physically larger opponents with no trouble at all. Ronan's tossing of Drax into yellow gloop looks great.

Much more entertaining is Yondo Udonta played by Michael Rooker. He's an interesting blue bandit leader with motives that are apparent but never spoken. Udonta's main motivation as an antagonist is the saving of face rather than securing glory. Maintaining his position as bandit leader comes with expectations of how he will deal with others. That he chooses not to kill at will is fascinating because when backed into a corner, his special weapon is utterly and hilariously deadly. Rooker's performance fizzes throughout. The Texas accent and a sense of humour behind his eyes add to all his scenes.

A couple of major Hollywood stars play minor roles in Guardians. Glenn Close as the leader of planet Nova Prime has relatively little to do so it is a surprise to see such a legend take on what is not much more than the role of an extra. Benicio del Toro plays The Collector, a very small role. Del Toro plays it minimalist. The Collector is involved in the only post-credits scene. It is a rubbish scene - the appearance of Howard the Duck is literally signposted as otherwise it is hard to know how an audience would be aware of that character. Much funnier is the unreferenced appearance of a dog resembling Laika, one of the unfortunate pioneers of space travel.

A good cameo from John C. Reilly works well, hopefully he'll return in a larger role for future Guardians activity. Reilly's delivery of his line about 100% is probably the best bit of comic timing on show. Amid a few too earnest performances, Reilly clearly gets it with his role helping to defuse the lead character's ego a little. There needs to be more of this guy next time.

Visually, Guardians is absolutely stunning. Almost every scene is awe-inspiring. The cinematic creation of alien worlds is now so intense that even without 3D it is hard to look at what is going on in the foreground when the background is so beautiful. The lighting, rendering, and depth on display is mesmerising. 90% of the film is computer generated and those machines did great work. Guardians is a visual feast right up there with anything so far produced.

The plot of Guardians is secondary to its people and its look. There is not much of a plot. The Guardians and a whole lot of other beings are after a MacGuffin of universe-altering power. Good fights evil after good realises that it is indeed good.

The action sequences in Guardians are top notch. Quill is a superb combatant because of his use of technology, the changes of direction he achieves creates drama in his fights against opponents he would be expected to be over-matched by.

There is one major action sequence in Guardians and it is outstanding. Two fleets take on the hulking ship of evil-doers in an excellent tactical exchange. Space combat works when it is well designed. The design here seems to owe a lot to Babylon 5 given the creation of a much better Line than B5 could display but along the same concept. It is beautiful when shown in such advanced graphics. That the battle ebbs and flows is excellent including changes of tactics as one side or the other grabs the advantage.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a spectacular action adventure. It has no real plot to speak of but is generally fun and good-humoured. It is not as funny as it could have been and lead Chris Pratt does not quite have the charisma to turn this from good to all-time great but with stunning visual backdrops and a fun team of likeable good guys to cheer for it is a positive and easily likeable couple of hours to enjoy.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 1 [DVD]
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ming-Na Wen
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun Marvel Sci-Fi, 16 Jan. 2015
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Agents of SHIELD is a fun slightly sci-fi TV series set in the Marvel universe. It brings the SHIELD organisation to the screen over 22 episodes based around a small group of SHIELD agents led by the eminently likeable Agent Coulson. At first blush it appears that this show is more gloss than substance but it is not. It is a clever and extremely well-written tale that builds interest in the various characters and their motivations to give the fast-paced conclusion so much more impact.

Agents of SHIELD inherits a fascinating legacy, combining various inputs in such ingenious ways. Those viewing it purely from the perspective of liking the Avengers will possibly have missed most of the point. This is SHIELD from the Marvel universe so there is indeed cross-over into Marvel's cinematic world. Surprisingly though, that is far from the strongest point. An episode involving two Asgardians is easily the weakest of the 22 screened while the cross-over into territory from Winter Soldier assumes the viewer would be interested in Captain America whereas it is these SHIELD agents who are far more interesting.

Much more engaging is the clear influence of television past. The first episode has clear parallels to Heroes with the existence of people with extraordinary abilities living ordinary lives among everyday folk. Clever in-jokes also reference the the Twilight Zone, X Files, and most obviously Men in Black.

The formation of a good looking young team around the less young Agent Coulson played by Clark Gregg yields a great, knowing line about mid-life crisis. The whole first episode is packed with high quality comedy. Episode 1 is much funnier than most comedies and is packed with great in-joke, geek humour, and cultural reference. That first episode is so sparkling with wit that there is barely one scene played purely straight.

The show does dip a little after that great start, it is not funny again until the final half dozen episodes. There's a reason for those episodes being much funnier - Bill Paxton who plays Agent Garrett. The guy just has magnificent comedy timing. He is so funny, every moment he has on screen is brilliant.

Paxton is the only on-screen presence more amusing than lead man Clark Gregg. Agent Coulson is the glue. He holds all of this show together. That's a great piece of character because his entire raison d'etre during cameos in Marvel films has been to tie various themes together. Doing so while also being the lead character in his own right here offers layers of characterisation a film typically cannot achieve. It really helps that Gregg is just so damn likeable. He's given occasionally funny lines but mostly it is the look he has. There's something about Clark Gregg that just screams non-threatening. He is perfectly cast as the guy who sees the good in others but occasionally has to take the tough decision. The writing team has put together a great leader. Agent Coulson is quite probably the best manager/leader ever shown on television. He has qualities that would genuinely make his team want to work for him. So often leadership in US television is shown by shouting or being rude. In Agents of SHIELD there exists a leader of a much higher quality.

Coulson's team takes a little longer to warm to. It is largely a young, good looking bunch which on face value as it were makes for a more difficult group to like. Most difficult of all to like is computer hacker and socialist Skye played by Chloe Bennet. Her character is the brash, me-first teenager and she plays it well. Bennet is a believable annoying teen even though she's in her early 20s and looks older than that. Skye's purpose as a character is to provide the counter perspective to that provided from the Shadowy Government Agency. In doing so she also questions most other things meaning it is through her that the explanation from other characters to the viewer is delivered. Perhaps she has to be annoying to allow the others to pass messages to the viewer but Bennet's somewhat erratic real-life persona seems to make it believably her rather than the character. Bennet is also supposed to be attractive - she passes that test just about except for the scene where her unfortunately shaped body is exposed direct to camera for far too long for anyone to be comfortable with it.

The difficulty with Skye's character is that the others treat her so sympathetically. They go out of their way to fight for her, seeing something in her that is not as obvious through the screen.

The one character who does not fall for Skye's charms is Melinda May played by the dazzling Ming-Na Wen. May is the polar opposite of Skye. She is a more mature woman, someone with life experience to draw upon. The 51 year old Ming-Na is superb throughout. Her early, glaring incarnation is relatively limited. For quite a while it seems as though Agent May is a minor character in the series, especially compared to the younger cast members. Perhaps it is no surprise that Agents of Shield becomes dramatic and brilliant just when May comes out of her shell.

Ming-Na is a great athlete. She is such a believable fighter, easily the most impressive physical performer on display. This is largely because she is so light-footed. It feels totally realistic when she takes on men who look much stronger than her because she is fast and agile. The choreography works perfectly for her, never once looking like dance and always making her seem combat-ready.

As a sultry older member of the cast, she presents a very different image to anyone else other than Agent Coulson. She is not a fresh-faced and naive newcomer. The relationship she has with one other cast member screams of her knowing exactly what she wants, and that it is nothing more romantic than that. Ming-Na is easily the most appealing member of the cast for the male segment of the audience comprised of something other than teenage boys.

The variety of acting styles on display helps build May's character. She is the only member of the team who clearly lets her actions speak louder than her words. Ming-Na is a gifted enough actor to need only the merest of facial expressions to convey meaning, a subtlety none of the other cast offer.

The interaction between May and the other characters is part of what makes this show so much better than superficial appearance suggests. The chemistry between May and Coulson is spot-on. The pair have a relationship based on understanding their profession so well it does not need to be spelled out - a great counter-balance to the other members of the team.

The youngest part of the team is FitzSimmons. The British pair are good fun. Simmons is an English Rose, she does not have too much to work with during this season so there is not a huge amount of depth. What makes her character work is the banter with Fitz. The two of them bicker and brilliantly choose to end sentences at the same time with different phrases. So great to hear two people on television consistently talking as if they were not on television. A great piece of writing.

Fitz is a fascinating character. Played by Iain De Caestecker, he is a great example of nerd culture moving beyond arrogance to confidence. Fitz is a classic nerd - an engineer who loves to tinker with things, a bit of difficulty expressing his underlying feelings, too small to really see action. Yet Fitz is part of the rough and tumble of the group. He announces his presence by cracking action hero Ward on the back in playful manner. Fitz goes on to prove himself adept during operations as well as heroically brave.

For all Fitz stretches the nerd character to new heights, by far the best part of him is the banter. Fitz is consistently funny. Iain De Caestecker has great timing, his jibes hitting the mark throughout. Fitz is an excellent part of the team.

The team is rounded out by action hero Ward played by Brett Dalton. Ward is supposed to be a one man army. It was brave to cast Dalton in the Ward role. While Dalton is tall he is not exactly big. Despite being of athletic build, Dalton does not really move with much grace. There are plenty of warrior villains throughout the season who look easily capable of despatching Ward. It also doesn't help that at first Ward looks a bit gormless.

Remarkably all those weaknesses in the Ward character evaporate in the second half of the season. As events develop, Ward becomes much more interesting as well as much more believable. It is almost as though the plot development frees up Dalton to become a character he is much more capable with, adding charm and a bit of macho stubble to add the charisma that was lacking to start with. Like the series itself, Ward develops over time to become retrospectively fascinating.

A 22 episode season needs to have a good range of villains to keep the good guys entertained. There are a couple of amazing villain characters. The warrior villain archetype is filled superbly by Deathlok. Played by J. August Richards, Deathlok is a villain capable of generating incredible empathy. He is a great fighter because of the cybernetic implants combined with the natural height and dexterity of Richards. He is not muscle-bound but looks the part expertly. The pathos Deathlok generates is incredible thanks to the humanity of his situation and the parental instincts he embodies. Deathlok repeatedly makes the wrong choice, leading him inevitably down the darker path, but he does so for understandable reasons.

The brainy villain archetype is a breathtaking piece of acting by Ruth Negga. Her character, Raina, is almost hypnotic. It is the slightly twitchy head movements she employs that make her so captivating. Similar movements are part of trance-inducing rituals among some cultures of West Africa and Haiti. While almost everyone else is stock still, their movements calm and calculated, Raina tilts her head in atypical ways that do not always match the rhythm of the words she is saying. It is an incredible physical performance that transforms an interesting character played by a pretty woman into someone the audience needs to know much more about.

Raina's other trademark is floral dress. She is the only person in the show to generate character through her costuming. Ordinarily a sci-fi run by a comic company could be expected to be all about costume but it the floral dress is really the only stand-out piece of fabric on display.

The most beautiful piece of fabric appears in the worst episode of the season. The episode covers a couple of warrior women from Asgard battling in a low population town somewhere in the American South West. The costume worn by Lorelei is so beautiful. Unfortunately she turns into a boring biker chick after a couple of scenes. The transformation from Goddess to barely standing out from the scenery is remarkable and just goes to show how important costume can be.

The episode is poor because it just seems out of place. Agents of SHIELD Is a quality show in its own right. Bringing in unimportant people from the Thor line just doesn't work. Cross-over can be fun but frankly SHIELD is vastly superior to Thor. Equally, cross-over to Captain America: Winter Soldier seems like an attempt to achieve buy-rate for that film by having it referenced in this superior product.

The only part of the cross-over that really adds a lot of value is Avengers. After all, Agent Coulson died. The implications for the plotline here are great. Project TAHITI is excellent, bringing a slightly X Files style touch of paranoia to the proceedings. The payoff does not quite fit the build-up but it is still a really enjoyable ride.

Having long arcs covering interesting parts of the tale makes for excellent television. What is Project TAHITI? What is in that secret SHIELD file on Skye? Who is The Clairvoyant? Building these points into the episodes alongside a show that generates its cast over time works really well. It is brave considering part of the audience is presumably those who feast on the shorter attention span of Marvel feature films. Of course, what this show does well is replicate more the comic feel. Comic storylines are much more thoroughly developed, fitting better with television than with the generally fairly average films (other than Avengers and the Iron Man series) the Marvel universe has produced.

Visually, it is clear that SHIELD has a big budget. It looks gorgeous. The effects are generally excellent with just the occasional exception. The locations are quite good. Explosions and action sequences play out expansively.

SHIELD does make the occasional glaring error. The most egregious is casting the island of Malta as some kind of off-shore haven where major international agreements do not have effect. There are so many of those havens in the world that picking an island that isn't one of them makes no sense, especially if filming isn't actually in Malta anyway. The US does occasionally forget that Malta is in the European Union - the episode supposedly set on Malta is another reminder that Europe is still relatively unknown in American circles.

It is also jarring to hear one of the Asgard characters refer to Coulson as Son of Coul. While there could arguably be some merit in referencing the name in that format given its possible link to the great Irish folk hero Finn Mac Cumhaill, having a Norse character say it is annoying given Coulson is a name in the format that the Norse and their Germanic brethren brought to the world. Again it suggests a lack of awareness of things non-American.

The American parts of SHIELD work extremely well. An episode including a right to information hacker is an excellent deconstruction of the Wikileaks mythology. The role of the US in Latin America comes right to the fore in an episode set in Peru. The ease with which the US finds internal scapegoats is brilliantly played out in the final few episodes.

There are a couple of episodes in the early going that could perhaps have been skipped over. The first episode is incredible and vibrant but the show spends quite a while on character development after that. It was the right choice. The final sequences work because of the investment in those characters. Agents of SHIELD is a character-based ensemble so getting to know everyone matters.

Of course, there's also Samuel L. Jackson very occasionally and he's cool.

The DVD comes with a few extras. They're ok. The extras include a recap of the cast and crew going to ComicCon in San Diego as well as a few five minute behind the scenes chats. The chats are worthwhile because they show how great Clark Gregg is and what a wonderful human being he seems to be. There's not a whole lot else worth seeing. A gag reel includes one or two laughs.

The show itself is excellent US television. It is not the show it appears to be on surface level during the early going. It is a sci-fi with an ensemble of characters the audience can care about. It is led by the brilliant Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson but also includes a range of other great performances as well as at least three characters outside the team who are memorable enough to stand out. Well worth it for those who like sci-fi including those of us who are not all that bothered about some of the films the series crosses-over into.

Moidart: Among the Clanranalds
Moidart: Among the Clanranalds
by Charles MacDonald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Glorious history of Clanranald written in the 19th century, 6 Jan. 2015
Moidart: Among the Clanranalds is a history of the people who inhabited some of the most beautiful land in the world. It is a harsh and difficult place where the greatest branch of the greatest clan lived. Charles MacDonald's work written in around 1889 represents the authentic voice of a man who came to be part of the Rough Bounds in that stretch of the Scottish west coast across the water from the south of Skye. His history largely tells the story through the leaders of Clanranald but also includes anecdote and perspective from his contemporaries around Moidart.

As a cleric in the Moidart area Charles MacDonald was in position to see first hand the world of the Clanranald as it existed in the late 19th century, a long time after the decline of the Gàidhealtachd. He chooses to write the story of those centuries when decline was not yet complete, a history starting really with John of Islay who ruled these parts through most of the 14th century. It is a stirring and vivid account of John's times. The context of the 14th century, sometimes rightly dubbed the worst century of them all, is not really given because this is at its heart a local tale.

The locality is what matters here. Moidart and its surrounds represent a home even if the savage beauty of the place might inevitably only make it a home for the hardier of folk. Charles begins and ends his story with the place and some of its people. He tells of its physical features as well as providing an invaluable account of some of the families in the area and their holdings.

Charles MacDonald tells the history that unfolds between the 14th and 18th centuries from the perspective of this corner of the Western Highlands. It includes anecdotes involving heroic figures such as the 4th chief, Allan, as well as lesser figures such as the hated and seemingly insane Dougall. Perhaps more interesting are the tales of the preacher and strongman Alasdair mac Mhagistir and his son the poet Alasdair mac Mhagistir Alasdair. Great characters like these exist in every community, it is wonderful that Charles MacDonald put together various tales to bring these people to life so long afterwards.

It is also interesting to read of the late 19th century. Charles MacDonald was writing roughly 150 years after the Jacobite rising of the '45 which was the proximate cause of the final collapse of Gaelic Scotland given the Campbell-led purges afterwards. The revival of enthusiasm for the Highland way of life long after it had really passed over into memory provides the context for the work of Charles MacDonald. He straddles fascinating moral and political lines. He lavishly praises the royalist beliefs of the Highlanders while also noting many Clanranald and Moidart denizens who went on to great success in the British Empire or in fighting for the Union side in the American Civil War. He is largely critical of the brutal campaign of devastation led by the British Crown through its proxies the Campbells in the mid 18th century but is careful to offer no criticism at all of the Crown in its late 19th century form.

Charles MacDonald's views on the Clearances and the famine that proceeded them are fascinating. He ascribes the emigration as largely being voluntary and so a good thing as people moved to better lives. That they should never have had to move to better lives had the clan system survived more intact is not really well understood in this work. The feudal existence by the time of the Clearances is in part the result of adopting alien cultural practices such as primogeniture. Still, Charles MacDonald does offer one nugget which is that the poverty of crofters would be alleviated if their holdings were not so punitively small. Sound economics recognising the importance of economies of scale.

This account is not the complete story of Clanranald, Clan Donald, and Moidart. It skips over events such as Bloody Bay. On the other hand, the description of well-known parts of history such as how Clanranald managed to kickstart the '45 is intriguing. His brief description of the Jacobite events is incredibly readable. It is as exciting as any modern effort.

The readability of the work in general is pretty good. Late 19th century history writers seem to have a style that has remained accessible more than a hundred years later. It helps that Charles MacDonald is a brilliant writer. He weaves together a narrative that never relents throughout hundreds of years of history while also telling quirky anecdotes and bringing some of the people and place vividly to life.

The publication of this work in 1997 and the subsequent editions includes John Watt as editor. He does a great job. Watt's editing includes an introduction almost as interesting as the chapters themselves as well as a summary at the end. Each chapter includes a set of notes such as translations, corrections, and a bit of context. Watt sensibly does not interrupt the flow of the great writing but puts corrections at the end of chapters. A description of more general errors such as weaknesses in the gàidhlig used by Charles MacDonald comes right at the end of the book along with translations of names. The translation and pronunciation guide for names is a bit unnecessary but otherwise Watt adds value as editor.

The value here though is excellent for anyone with an interest. It probably is only peripherally interesting for those from the outside. However, Moidart: Among the Clanranalds is absolutely essential reading for any Clanranald of MacDonald, anyone with an interest in Clan Donald, and in particular anyone at all familiar with Moidart and its surrounds.

Scottish Names (Waverley Scottish Classics)
Scottish Names (Waverley Scottish Classics)
by George McKay
Edition: Paperback

1.0 out of 5 stars Obsolete, 4 Jan. 2015
Scottish Names is a collation of various personal names used in Scotland. It includes many given names as well as quite a few surnames. The book runs to 188 pages but paper is not the format for a list like this. It is regrettably obsolete. It was probably obsolete on publication in 2009. The reason for obsolescence is that this kind of list is much more effectively stored in a database and distributed on the internet. There are so many web sites with lists of names available these days that there is no point in having a book on the subject if that book only generates a list. Scottish Names is nothing more than an abbreviated list, it adds no additional value.

The only interesting part of Scottish Names is the slightly more than four page introduction. The introduction includes analysis of trends in name concepts and a bit of historical context around surnames. It is only four pages and is in quite large print so this is inevitably on the briefest of glimpses into the heritage that the names of Scotland offer.

The remainder of the book is an alphabetical romp through some names in Scotland. Several of these names do not bear the phrase Scottish Names as they are simply names that are used in Scotland - certainly not the same thing. An easy example would be Jason. Quite a famous name and not at all from Scotland. It is only listed because at the time it was in the top 100 boys names.

Confusingly the given names and surnames are all intermingled. This of course means M is by far the longest of the alphabetical entries. Including surnames was a major mistake because there is nowhere near enough space to do them justice. The author's own surname is of course listed and has marginally more of an entry than many around it but is still just five short lines. The lack of space means there is very little worthwhile included in any of the entries. One of the longest surname entries is for MacDonald, running at eight lines. Those eight lines still manage to forget the arguably highest profile and most numerous of the MacDonald branches, Clanranald.

The entries for given names are briefer than a typical internet site. An example would be Ciara which receives a couple of words on its relation to Ciaran, has a few more on its basic Gaelic etymology, and then the phrase "a name which has become more popular in Scotland in recent years". An internet site would quantify that popularity while anything that purports to comment on names would suggest the surge in interest in the name and its various mis-spellings.

There are quite a few lesser known names scattered through the book which could be interesting to read about. These are generally surnames though and frankly there are hundreds if not more surnames that each have a complex etymology and history to share. The inclusion of obscure surnames with place name reference would be fine but for anyone with a connection to a name such as say Rettie the inclusion of half a dozen words in this book would add absolutely no value at all. A surname like Ingsetter is obscure and unusual yet surely given its location and construction is Norse - no mention of origin at all.

Scottish Names is a nice try. An idea to bring together Scottish names in a dictionary style form. There just is not really any point to doing so. A book cannot keep pace with annual changes in name popularity. It cannot store enough data to give any comprehensive catalogue. A book could possibly provide analysis and insight but that is not available here. The inclusion of surnames means there is no space for anything interesting. A bit of a waste of time really.

Vikingdom  [DVD] [2013]
Vikingdom [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Dominic Purcell
Offered by Champion Toys
Price: £2.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor quality medieval combat film, 30 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Vikingdom [DVD] [2013] (DVD)
Vikingdom is a silly action film nominally featuring Vikings in which a small band of misfits must battle to take on the Thunder God, Thor. Surprisingly it is a Malaysian-made film. Not entirely clear what Malaysians thought they were up to in developing a Norse tale with a largely western cast. Directed by a Malaysian pop-rap artist, it is a badly made film with some redeeming qualities.

Some of the redeeming qualities include parts of the cast. The band of adventurers is quite large. It includes a couple of interesting people with the occasional usable bit of banter. There is though one excellent piece of character development where a character with a shady past shunned by his peers turns out to have a genuine motive for his otherwise unacceptable actions. It is the most interesting piece of character in the film as the viewer is so conditioned to look for the traitor amidst heroes that it is an abrupt shock to find this idea completely turned on its head.

The downside to the size of the adventure group is that it is hard to tell them all apart. Some of them do not make it to the end. It is not always easy to recall which one is which as they have largely generically Scandic names like Sven and tend to look pretty similar in battle gear.

Other parts of the casting are laughable. The idea of a Chinese martialist battling in the frozen north is ridiculous. The development of the Yang character and casting of John Foo is such a blatant effort to add to the Asian market that it cannot surely have worked at all. Yang does not really speak the English of those around him which makes sense as presumably that English would have been Old Norse which in turn would not have been widely accessed in the Far East. It does though mean that Foo's interactions are inherently childlike. He is so much smaller than the rest and can only use visual responses to comment. One Asian character is cast, it is a silly decision, and that character is treated like a joke.

The casting of ballerina Natassia Malthe as a warrior woman is more forgiveable because she is pretty. She's stilted and wooden but is generally ok on screen. However, Malthe is far too skinny to play a combat role. In a part of the world which once had female characters who could easily best the strongest of men, Natassia Malthe was not the image anyone could have had in mind.

The worst piece of casting though is the lead man Dominic Purcell. It is largely his fault that this film falls below average. For all the failings of plot and directing, an acceptable quality lead could have made this a light hearted bit of fun. Purcell is not acceptable quality. He is so lacking charisma it is almost painful to watch. This is a man who is more a box of muscle than a leader. As henchman no 3 he would have filled in well. As the lead he is appalling. The one positive about Purcell is that his physical size fits perfectly for the final showdown with Thor. Purcell is just the right amount of size smaller than Conan Stevens to make him a massive underdog but not a completely implausible opponent. Purcell's fight scenes are generally ok, and his weight adds to the physicality.

The best piece of casting is Conan Stevens as Thor. Stevens is a professional Big Guy. He is a monster of a man so naturally he is intimidating as the Thunder God. He's actually pretty decent in this film as an actor. The red beard adds to his impressive appearance but it is his wild eyes and menacing voice that make his Thor fascinating to watch. Stevens is a lot of fun in this film.

The plot of Vikingdom is almost ok. The good guys must prevent a god from using artifacts during a 'blood eclipse' which would bring about the end of humanity if he succeeds. Along the way they must also fight the jealousies of rival clans and go into pitched battle against the forces of darkness.

The early part of the film is largely about the bringing together of a group of adventurers under the leadership of outcast former king Eirick. Eirick is not a great recruiter. He's not much of a leader at all - perhaps a nod to Dominic Purcell's lack of charisma. He can only draw upon the weird and the not so wonderful. Eventually that group must deal with betrayal en route to a showdown in pitched combat.

There is quite a lot of combat, most of it highly gory. The battle scenes are quite good. Choreography is not particularly complex. The scenes largely boil down to larger people out-muscling smaller ones or very skinny people using agility/marksmanship in one-on-one efforts. Blood splatter happens most times which is fine.

The final battle is really badly directed. There is never really any sense that the shape of the battle is understandable. It is hard to know how the various clips of fighting interact with one another as they all seem to be happening entirely in isolation. The tension is also absent. The good guys seem to have things well in hand pretty much throughout with only Thor vs Eirick being a risk to their victory. The final battle is an example of what not to do when directing a film.

Of course, knowledge of Norse mythology is a distinct disadvantage when it comes to enjoying this film. It goes without saying that there is nothing here for fans of the various sagas to be pleased about.

The special effects and CGIa are ok. The slightly cartoonish elements around Thor are fine because they work well with Conan Stevens. The visual look of the film is generally pretty good. The frozen north is entirely believable, it does look as though the adventurers are traipsing through the high north. The sets and costume are ok, a little on the cheap side at times but the recreation of a Norse village for instance is fine.

There is allegedly a making of video somewhere. It was not immediately discoverable on a cheap DVD.

Vikingdom allegedly cost more than $15m to make. It seems to have lost pretty much all that money. It lost it because it is badly made, terribly directed, and features one of the worst leading men ever to disgrace cinema. On the plus side Conan Stevens is awesome and there are some nice performances amid the adventurer group including the odd witty joke. Until the end sequences the action scenes are quite good.

Fire Over Afghanistan [DVD]
Fire Over Afghanistan [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jeff Stearns
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.96

1.0 out of 5 stars One of the worst films ever made, 8 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Fire Over Afghanistan [DVD] (DVD)
Fire Over Afghanistan is a 2003 film released on DVD in 2011. It is supposedly set in Afghanistan involving a lone-wolf US soldier and a reporter taking on unconvincing Afghan warlords. It is one of the worst films ever made. Everyone involved should be ashamed. It appears to be an attempt to make a pastiche of the worst mistakes of new film students. There are absolutely no redeeming features at all. The plot is appalling. The acting is with one exception embarrassing. Quite possibly there were no lighting professionals associated with the film as it is all shot in gloom. The camerawork is poor. The directing is ham-fisted to such an extent this cannot have been a real production.

The plot of Fire Over Afghanistan sees military officer Captain Walker played by Jeff Stearns take on a violent Afghan warlord called Babashan. Walker takes his campaign personally. Turns out his son was killed in a terrorist attack on US soil and that haunts him in an 'emphathise with this guy...please' kind of way. It might be deemed emotionally exploitative if it was pathos generating in any way at all. It just isn't because it is so badly directed. The use of ethereal music does not help. Nor does revealing the flashback in stages. Those things only achieve empathy if they reveal something unexpected and heartfelt.

Nothing is heartfelt around Walker because Jeff Stearns is such a bad actor. It took Stearns four years after Fire was originally released before he achieved another credit. On the plus side Stearns is muscular in an athletic kind of way. The viewer knows this because he is topless quite often.

Walker is a rebel. He's the kind of bad ass military officer who don't take no s***. Or something like that. Walker does seem to be the only military person on show who bothers to engage with the local tribespeople. He shows due respect at the death of a local tribal elder but the plot line involving that elder's son eventually disappears into nothing.

Walker's other associate is reporter Kris Andrews played by Jordan Bayne. Bayne is not bad. She's about the only actor in the film who is anything other than awful. Her annoyingly persistent reporter character is riddled with cliche but she plays it well. Her scenes with Stearns offer no chemistry at all but that appears to be the fault of Stearns as Bayne is believable at times. She does though have to endure an unnecessary rape sequence which goes on for far too long. The sequence could have been a quarter as long and still deliver the plot development it was perhaps imagined to achieve. Instead the viewer is offered lingering camera shots, especially of Bayne's breasts. With a poor music choice running alongside, the rape sequence looks like extremely old fashioned soft porn. Something of an insult to everyone and to the crime of rape.

Bayne is less believable as the damsel in distress. She becomes that character when Walker and her miraculously survive being shot down in a Blackhawk. The pair find themselves headed to Babashan's cave where Walker proceeds to Rambo his way to victory.

Babashan is presumably a joke at the expense of Afghanistan's most north-easterly province. It is never made clear what the joke is but perhaps it is just a way of associating the action with a location outside of the Taliban's Pashtun strongholds yet in a lawless and dangerous part of the country. Or it is just a stupid name.

Babashan is played by someone called Dimitar Terziev, Like many of the cast and crew he appears to be Bulgarian. Bulgarians don't really look like Afghans.

There are no DVD Extras.

Ultimately the blame for this atrocity of a film lies with director Terence H. Winkless. Everything about it is just terrible. The sequencing is poor. The plotline is a waste of space (Winkless is also the main writer). The acting is largely not believable. The emotional intensity is horrendously mis-judged. No way this useless picture gets a pass grade at film school.

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