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Pop Culture Bandit (England)

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The Archers: Ambridge Affairs Love Triangles: Heartache at Home Farm (BBC Audio)
The Archers: Ambridge Affairs Love Triangles: Heartache at Home Farm (BBC Audio)
by Bbc Books
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £13.25

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Listening for the Archers Addict!, 25 Sept. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I had previously listened to the other release in this Ambridge Affairs range, which focused on the love triangles between the Grundy boys and Emma, alongside Sid Perks and Jolene's secret tryst. I enjoyed the glimpse in Ambridge's past, but found that both stories seemed rushed in an effort to fit them onto one CD each. With this release, there is just one story (although it is told in two separate chapters) and it definitely suits this more expanded approach.

Brian Aldridge is a happily married man, with his wife Jennifer and his children, but behind this surface, he is having an affair with a married woman named Siobhan. The first disc deals with the affair and the inevitable outcome, whereas the second disc takes a more sobering approach to the typical love triangle with Siobhan developing cancer and wanting to secure a life for her love-child before she dies.

Having gone through a losing a loved one to cancer, I found it very easy to sympatheise with the plights of the characters involved and thought the illness scenes were very well written and acted. It was a different side to the usual love triangle storyline, and very realistic, which you'd expect from The Archers.

As with the first CD, the audio and acting quality is top notch, with each CD containing plenty of chapters to allow you to skip back without having to relisten to huge chunks of dialog. The chapters also help you work out the passage of time between each piece of audio, as these stories are merely excerpts from the episodes they appeared in, and clearly several months must pass by throughout Siobhan's treatment/illness.

My only criticism would be that the first disc is very similar in storyline to the Sid/Jolene disc and that perhaps a different genre of storyline should be used for any future audio collections, as most love triangle plots in drama tend to follow a set pattern. Other than that, this was a great collection for a more recent Archers fan (4 years in!) who wants to find out a little more about the family histories of the characters. More please, Mr BBC!

Skeletons [DVD] [2010]
Skeletons [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Jason Isaacs

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't get Trapped in the Closet, 25 Sept. 2012
This review is from: Skeletons [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
It's strange how certain things stick in your mind, and my first exposure to this film came from a review on a website where there was a picture of the two leads, wearing suits and holding briefcases, as they walked along train tracks (something that happens a lot in the film) and it seemed so odd that it stuck in my memory and intrigued me enough to read about the film, which sounded like it had a nice blend of indie film mixed with the paranormal. Eventually I was reminded of the film again, and I quickly added it to my LoveFilm queue.

Skeletons won't be too everyone's taste. It doesn't explain itself fully and a lot of the storyline is dependant on the audience filling in the blanks and drawing their own conclusions. The basic premise is that the two leads work for an unusual agency, who visit people's homes and perform a pseudo-exorcism on the 'skeletons' in the closet, entering their memories to discover their secrets, then report back to the people. This is predominately used for couples to discover whether their spouse has any secrets, but eventually the two leads are given a different case to work - a missing persons case.

I really enjoyed this film, especially due to the complex nature of the plot and I can see the similarities to 'Inception', which focuses on dreams whereas this movie focuses on memories. I would like to have seen more adventures of this odd-couple pairing and particularly enjoyed the relationship between the two workers. It has a definite British feel and showcases a lot of the countryside with some long-shots of the duo walking towards their locations via the railroads.

Not all the questions are answered and the rules of their world aren't fully explained, but it doesn't need to be. The film works as a narrative within itself, but I would happily see further installments that expand the story and explain some of the finer details behind the agency and the methods used by the two protagonists to explore people's memories.

Great Film!

Transit of Venus (Dr Who Companion Chronicles 3.7)
Transit of Venus (Dr Who Companion Chronicles 3.7)
by Jacqueline Rayner
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lost at Sea with Doctor Who, 10 Sept. 2012
Big Finish's Companion Chronicles range are different from the full-cast audio dramas that they produce in the Doctor Who line as they focus primarily on the First, Second and Third Doctors era, using their companions to retell a 'lost story' in a monologue form. Since the companions were a lot younger than those original Doctors, many of them have outlived their Doctor and are available to tell these lost stories, often framed as the Companion (now in old age, to explain the difference in voice) tells a tale to the audience or a secondary character.

This particular release focuses on Ian Chesterton (William Russell) who along with Barbara Wright, was one of the first human companions to accompany the First Doctor and his grand-daughter, Susan, on their adventures in time and space. I had watched the First Doctor's adventures recently on DVD and was particularly fond of Ian and Barbara's tenure on the show. This story takes place firmly between two of the televised adventures, 'The Sensorites' and 'The Reign of Terror' and makes frequent reference to the events of the former adventure, so it is recommended that you view that serial before listening to this audiobook. Luckily, it has been recently released on DVD as Doctor Who - The Sensorites [DVD], so it should be easier to source than before when your only option was VHS or dodgy youtube links.

William Russell manages to keep the story interesting and it does feel as if it would slot into the First Doctor's era, since there is a very historical & educational tone to the story, which was one of the key components to the early black and white serials. Russell slips effortlessly back into his role as Ian Chesterton and manages to convincingly convey the voices of his absent cast members, especially his interpretation of William Hartnell's Doctor. The 70 minute story is broken up into two distinct parts, including the classic Doctor Who theme music separating them and a trademark cliffhanger!

I would recommend this to fans of Doctor Who, particularly the Classic black & white stories, who haven't experienced the Big Finish Range of Audio adventures. It manages to be quite stand-alone without much continuity, apart from watching the serial 'The Sensorites'. Sometimes the main range of Big Finish audios are quite self-referential and require listening to prior audio stories, even from completely different Doctors, in order to pick up the plot or characters. As I said, that isn't the case with this story which supplements the TV adventures really well. I would quite enjoy listening to further lost stories from Ian Chesterton and the rest of the classic companions!

American Pie: Reunion [DVD] [2012]
American Pie: Reunion [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Jason Biggs
Offered by Direct-Offers-UK-FBA
Price: £3.20

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Reunited and it feels so good...", 6 Sept. 2012
This is the fourth American Pie film to be shown in theatres, but technically the eighth instalment to be made. The film returns to the original Great Falls High class of 1999 from the original trilogy, after four direct-to-DVD movies that focused on the Stifler relatives, of which only Jim's Dad remained the sole recurring cast member from the franchise.

The gang are brought back together by their high school reunion and given the time gap since the last movie, there is a feeling of a reunion between the cast members themselves that works well with the film. As with the original trilogy, the focus is on Jim Levinstein, who is married with a young son and is struggling to maintain the sexual side of his relationship with his wife, Michelle. Returning back to his hometown brings out temptation in the form of his now-legal teen next-door neighbour who harbors a crush on him. The rest of the original cast return, with their own baggage accrued during the hiatus between films, which gets resolved during the course of the movie.

There are shades of American Pie 2 in this sequel, which had the gang reunite after their first year of college and struggle to adjust to the changes in their friendship as a result. Whereas that instalment concentrated on their relationships with each other, this one focuses on the relationships that each guy has with their wives/girlfriends and how they can improve them. Ultimately Jim and Oz seem to get the larger share of story time, with Kevin and Finch's storylines acting as afterthoughts in order to have them in the movie. You could subtract their story-arcs and lose nothing from the film.

The film works well, and follows in the same vein as the original trilogy without retreading too much old ground. There are some references to the events of the prior films and certain catchphrases, but the film could run as a stand-alone movie, although you'd lose a lot of the attachment to the characters and their growth if you never saw previous films.

The film does struggle with tying the various plotlines together and I felt that the Jim's Dad story-arc was under-utilised and could have had much more comedic effect. It was a strong return to form and proved that a teen-comedy can grow up and appeal to the twenty-something's who grew up alongside the characters. I could see further films in the franchise appearing after this, but rather than a return to the direct-to-DVD market, there could be another two cinematic releases to form a second trilogy of American Pie films, set in their late twenties/early thirties.

The Cabin In The Woods [Blu-ray]
The Cabin In The Woods [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Chris Hemsworth
Price: £24.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you go down to the woods today...avoid the cabin, 30 Aug. 2012
It is tricky to review "The Cabin in the Woods" as there is a major twist to the storyline, which is revealed fairly early on, but changes the entire concept of the movie. Even the trailers gave away aspects of the twist, which would have normally infuriated me, but instead actually drew me towards a film that I initially wrote off as typical horror movie fare. Without giving away too much, there is a second layer to the movie which acts as a commentary on the typical tropes of a horror movie, such as the stereotypical Jock, Stoner, Slutty Girl and the Virgin. It also pokes fun at the implausable nature of circumstances that occur to the victims to keep them trapped in a clever way.

Produced by Joss Whedon, there is a air of Buffy about the whole affair, especially the latter half which borrows a lot of themes from the fourth season of Buffy and the secret government organisation called the Initiative. There are little nods to other Horror franchises, such as Hellraiser and Evil Dead, which the keen horror fan will pick up on. There are also plenty of cameos from actors who feature in some of Whedon's past projects, such as Amy Acker and Tom Lenk.

I would describe "The Cabin in the Woods" as a horror-comedy in the same vein of "Shaun of the Dead", which manages to be both humorous but maintain suspense and horror. While some might think it is quite critical of the classic horror setup, I think it is a homage by genuine fans of the genre who manage to take the more ridiculous elements of a horror movie and mold them into a very smart meta-fiction commentary. Fans of the horror genre as a whole will enjoy this movie!

Essential Daredevil Vol. 1 : Reissue
Essential Daredevil Vol. 1 : Reissue
by Stan Lee
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A "Blinding" Start for Daredevil, 29 Aug. 2012
This thick tome collects the first 25 issues of Daredevil - The Man without Fear. As with the other editions in Marvel's Essential line, the comics are reprinted as black and white copies on fairly basic pulped paper. This allows them to create these bulky compendiums without breaking the bank - higher quality reprints of these earlier issues are available, but at a much greater cost and smaller quantities of reprints.

Daredevil was introduced on the back of the successes of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Avengers, but much like the initial incarnation of the X-Men, it struggled to find its voice, only really flourishing when it evolved into a grittier crime drama rather than standard costumed superheroics.

As this is the first collection of the series, it starts off with Daredevil's origin, which like many other heroes at the time involved radioactive materials and the death of a family member to inspire heroism into the protagonist. Daredevil's gimmick is the fact that he is blind, but his other senses have been heightened to the point where he can overcome his disability and perform amazing feats of acrobatics that a sighted person wouldn't dare attempt.

The bulk of Daredevil's civilian life revolves around the love triangle between himself (Matt Murdock), his best friend and business partner, Foggy Nelson, and the beautiful receptionist, Karen Page. As with most of Stan Lee's writing at the time, the love triangle is due to the hero not wishing to risk the safety of the girl he loves, so he continually pushes her away, but had lengthy inner monologues about his angst.

The villains introduced in this first volume aren't as iconic as some of the characters appearing in the other books. The Matador, Purple Man, Leap Frog and Stilt Man are hardly the most fearful sounding characters, and this weak opening rogue's gallery could be what contributed to Daredevil's weak sales. The stories are interesting, but not compelling.

Overall, this is a good and inexpensive way to experience the first chunk of Daredevil comics and a nice slice of 1960's comicana - focusing on the teenage angst that supports a superhero love triangle. While there could be a stronger ongoing sub-plot beyond whether Matt and Karen would get together, it does begin to pick up towards the end of the book.

The Archers: Ambridge Affairs: Love Triangles
The Archers: Ambridge Affairs: Love Triangles
by Bbc Bbc
Edition: Audio CD

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect format for a recent Archers Addict, 24 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I'm a relative newcomer to the Archers, listening for about four years now and while I have picked up enough of the backstory through conversations that the characters have, I was curious about some of the iconic events and love triangles that rocked the sleepy village of Ambridge.

This Audio CD release comes with two CDs, each one focusing on a different Love Triangle. The first disc details the affair between married pub landlord, Sid Perks and flirty Jolene. The subtle nuances of their burgeoning affair make entertaining listening, as does the eventual fallout when it all comes out. The second disc focuses on the more explosive love triangle between the Grundy brothers, Will and Ed, and the object of both of their affections, Emma Carter.

These storylines ran over many months alongside other plotlines and rather than replay the full episodes, this release picks choice excerpts over the course of the storyline. As such, it does feel disjointed at first, but you soon get used to the cutaways and the implied passage of time between each one.

Each CD lasts about an hour and has numerous tracks allowing you skip back and forth without having to relisten to huge chunks. I think I would listen again to this as I liked the complete nature of the story, although I did think that the Sid/Jolene storyline ended a bit abruptly compared to the Ed/Emma/Will storyline. I am very interested in picking up more from this collection and hopefully there will be more releases covering more lengthy storylines, but not necessarily love triangles.

Ultimatum TPB
Ultimatum TPB
by Jeph Loeb
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A rather gory end to this chapter of the Ultimate Universe, 14 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Ultimatum TPB (Paperback)
The Ultimate universe is a secondary universe created by Marvel to update their characters in the twenty-first century and keep them fresh and appealing for new readers. The line opened up with Ultimate Spider-Man, which was a retelling of Spider-Man's origins in a modern era, focusing less on radiation (which was a fear during the 60s when the original stories were written, and more on genetic manipulation - a more relevant fear for today's youth). These stories allowed for a fresh approach to the original material, with subtle tweaks to the established characters. It proved immensely popular, and the universe was expanded with an X-Men, Fantastic Four and Avengers title. However, over time the quality on these secondary titles dwindled somewhat and the events in the original universe were proved to be far more interesting than their more "modern" counterparts, so the decision was made to drastically change the landscape of the Ultimate universe, making the differences between the two universes even greater. Writer, Jeph Loeb, and artist, David Finch, were tasked with the job of 'destroying the Ultimate Universe' so it could be rebuilt into a brand new status quo, and with this apocalyptic mini-series, they certainly succeeded.

Considering the tone of the Ultimate Universe prior to this miniseries, it does seem very mismatched. There was seldom any gore or violence in any of the Ultimate Universe books, which were aimed at new and younger readers, but Jeph Loeb seems to forget this and fills this miniseries with plenty of shocking and violent deaths - some of which are particularly gory, even for someone in their late twenties to read. While it appeals to me in a naughty way to see these legendary characters, such as The Blob or The Wasp, get killed off in spectacular fashion, it does make me wonder whether this is a particularly child-friendly book, and whether it crosses the line into Adults-only material.

The miniseries is very grand in scope, and opens up with a dramatic global catastrophe that devastates New York, which costs the lives of several heroes. It transpires that one iconic super-villain is responsible for the millions of deaths that have occurred, and promises more attacks. The heroes have to deal with the repercussions of the attack, gather their dead and injured and wage a final last-ditch attack on the mastermind before he destroys mankind.

I have been purposefully vague on some of the details, as this book relies heavily on the shocking events rather than the character moments, and to spoil what happens and who dies does ruin most of the appeal from the book. As I said earlier, this is not a tame book and while in normal stories, most of the heroes (and villains) would emerge from the conflict unscathed - due to the status quo changing element of this series, there is a feeling of 'no holds barred' and that not everyone will be walking away from this one.

As this miniseries was published alongside the other Ultimate titles (Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four) - there are allusions to events happening within those books and how they tie-in together, so it does read slightly incomplete on its own, with those supplementary titles providing some of the details between the panels. For example, most of Spider-Man's appearances seem slightly disjointed and vague, due to the fact that most of his involvement is played out in his own solo series and not within this book.

I did enjoy this book for what it was - a giant, blockbuster movie with devastating and graphic depictions of its results. It succeeds in its endeavour to deconstruct the Ultimate Universe in a way that Marvel could never do with their original universe, killing of iconic characters and wiping out key landmarks. It leaves writers with hundreds of potential ways to approach future stories, forcing them to create brand-new characters to replace the ones they have lost, making the Ultimate Universe a truly different alternative to the core Marvel universe.

However, for parents of children who have seen the various Marvel Avengers' movies and want to buy a book for their kids to read - I would recommend steering clear of this as it depicts gruesome violence, mostly revolving around people's heads. There's gunshots to the head, beheadings, heads popping and even elements of cannibalistic behaviour. I am surprised Marvel didn't issue a kid-friendly alternative to this book with some of the more violent images removed or redrawn, in order to allow children (from whom this line was originally intended to draw in) to read this latest chapter.

Breaking Bad: Season 1 [DVD] [2008] [2009]
Breaking Bad: Season 1 [DVD] [2008] [2009]
Offered by Assai-uk
Price: £5.20

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There's no substitute for this Teacher..., 13 Aug. 2012
I'd heard about Breaking Bad from several co-workers of mine, who were proclaiming it as the greatest TV show of all time, and this was during it's second season, and they urged me at great lengths to purchase the initial Season on DVD. The first Season consists of only seven episodes, due to a writer's strike in America, but the seven episodes are so mindblowingly good that it would seem too short if there were one hundred episodes in the boxset.

The show follows the misadventures of Walter White, a chemistry teacher who finds out that he is suffering from terminal lung cancer, and in a misguided decision decides to 'break bad' in order to provide for his family once he has gone and turns his chemistry know-how into making scientifically pure crystal meth for his partner, one of his former students, to sell. With such a crazy premise, the show almost writes itself with the excellent juxtaposition of a mild-mannered science teacher turning into a Scarface-esque kingpin.

Rewatching this boxset in anticipation for the fifth (and final) season, I was struck by the amount of dark humour in these initial seven episodes. Where the plot has gotten more crime-heavy in the later seasons, the first season makes a lot of humour in the situation of Walter turning into a criminal. There are some really well-acted dramatic scenes there also, such as an emotionally charged 'intervention' to convince Walter to take chemotherapy.

Fans of crime-drama such as the Sopranos and The Wire, will find much to like here, as the show realistically approaches the subject material, but from a different angle. We have the uninitiated criminal finding himself becoming more and more corrupted by the underworld as he strives to earn money for a good cause. Walter's motiviations are very realistic, and whilst we might not all have the same chemistry know-how as he does, many of us would do anything to provide for our loved ones if we were in a similar situation.

All of the cast put in fantastic work, although some of the characters are more likeable than others. Hank, Walt's brother-in-law and DEA agent, is one of the more watchable characters, and while he comes across as one-dimensional at first, there are more complicated layers to his personality. Marie, his wife, however, is possibly the only character in the show who irritates the hell out of me, but as Jessica Rabbit once said, 'she's not bad, she's just written that way'.

While later series become more complex with more factions and drug lords introduced, this is a fantastical opening season to the series that quickly gets as acquainted with the characters and at only seven episodes long, eager for the second season where things just get a whole lot more complicated for Mr White. I fully agree with my co-worker's sentiment that this is quite possibly the best show on TV, narrowly edging out Dexter for a strong and realistic narrative with an enjoyable anti-hero to root for.

Lost - Season 2 [DVD] [2005]
Lost - Season 2 [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Jorge Garcia
Price: £11.74

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "What's in the Hatch, Jack?", 31 July 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Lost - Season 2 [DVD] [2005] (DVD)
This second season of Lost is when I got hooked on the show, as it focuses on the mystery of the island and introduces key elements to the series that would come into play heavily in the final few seasons. While the first season concentrated on the mystery of who the survivors were before the plane crash, this season turns its attention to the island itself, and the mysterious `Others' who seem to hidden within the jungle, waiting to strike out against our heroes from Oceanic 815.

The first episode continues straight on from the cliff-hanger finale of the previous Season - Jack, Locke and Kate head down into the bizarre hatch they found buried in the ground of the island, whilst Michael, Sawyer and Jin attempt to stay alive on the remains of their raft, blown up by the sinister group of Others who stole Michael's son, Walt. The first four episodes take place over the events of this chaotic night, and there is some play with the narrative structure, with overlapping stories which might annoy people as it feels like there is no real advancement at first.

The main threads for the season are Michael's hunt for his son, Walt, who remains captive, the discovery of a new group of survivors and whether Locke's faith in the island (specifically the contents of the hatch) is misplaced or not. As a whole, this season works really well although it did attract a lot of criticism at the time of broadcast for the change of pace from a character-driven show into a more science-fiction based drama. Some of the episodes are less vital than others and the flashback sequences begin to repeat character motifs that we already knew from the outset, such as Jack's `father issues'.

There are some answers to the mysteries that bugged viewers from the first season. We find out what happened to Claire during her abduction, during one of the more riveting flashbacks of the Season. We also learn what crime Kate committed to earn those handcuffs on the plane. Not all the mysteries about our Losties are answered, however, such as the cause of Locke's paralysis prior to the island.

I really enjoyed this season as I found the dynamic of the Losties vs. The Others to be more compelling this time around, with the introduction of more antagonists, and the slow drip-feeding of information. We also got introduced to some new cast members, as well as seeing some others get killed off, proving that the island is not a safe environment.

Key episodes include: The opening few episodes which introduce the state of play for the season and the new location for most of the action: The Swan Hatch. Another favourite is Episode 11 - `The Hunting Party', where a group of survivors are met by an opposing group of Others, and they have a tense conversation at gunpoint over just whose island this is, and what happens to those who become too curious. Episode 15 - "Maternity Leave", is an interesting glimpse into the events that happened during Claire's abduction and provides some answers. The lead-up to the finale is particularly satisfying, with a real action-movie feel, particularly the two-part finale, `Live Together, Die Alone' where all the key threads tie together, and leave us wondering what next.

The existing actors are all comfortable in their roles, and the additions to the ensemble are all pretty good, especially Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje imposing turn as the quiet, yet threatening `Mr. Eko' and Michael Emerson's `Henry Gale', who manages to teeter on the edge of innocence and sinister for the majority of the season, before revealing his true motives. Michelle Rodriguez plays her usual stock character of the butch tom-girl for the cop `Ana-Lucia', but does open up towards the end, showing a bit more depth to her character (and acting set!).

Overall, this is a great season and while it does have its lulls in the middle, it benefits from the box set treatment and not having to wait a whole week for a new episode. The themes of the Season seem to be about Faith, in particular highlighting the faith that Locke has, but Jack doesn't. Jack is the Man of Science, who refuses to believe in the fantastical elements of the island, whilst Locke is ready to accept the supernatural and believe. This season does a good job of weeding out the casual viewers by introducing certain elements to the storyline, which increase in complexity with each forthcoming season. If you find the sci-fi elements in this season to be off-putting, then it is unlikely you will enjoy the next four seasons as the focus moves further from the characters and deeper into these complex themes and ideas.

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