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D. Rogers "Amazonian" (Oxford, England)

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Films About Ghosts (The Best Of Counting Crows)
Films About Ghosts (The Best Of Counting Crows)
Offered by MediaMerchants
Price: £6.82

5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant album from a brilliant band, 24 Mar. 2008
Being too young to remember the original Counting Crows boom in the Nineties, I approached this album with some trepidation, unsure what to expect. And it blew me away.

It opens with Angels of the Silences, a very loud, powerful rock track (and not one of my favourites - I prefer the more acoustic version on Across a Wire). It moves straight on to Round Here, a track which took a while to grow on me, but when it did, it became one of my all time favourite songs, and remains so.

Rain King is fairly upbeat and cheerful, and A Long December is slightly more wistful, whilst Hanginaround is more of a swing record - all three pretty good, if slightly unremarkable.

Mrs Potter's Lullaby is the longest song on the album, but it'll pass a lot faster than the seven minutes would suggest, and is very up-tempo (and also provides the source for the title of the album). Mr Jones is possibly one of the more well known Counting Crows songs, and, like so many of the other songs, has poignant, thoughtful lyrics in contrast to the music they are sung to.

Recovering the Satellites is another grower, and another one that has become a top song. American Girls falls under the same category and style as Rain King etc.

Big Yellow Taxi, a cover, is sung very well by Adam Duritz, and he certainly does the song credit. Omaha is a bit slower than some of the others, and provides a little bit of a break from some of the faster songs earlier in the album. Friend of the Devil sounds quite country in places, but still catches the essential essence of the band.

Einstein On the Beach is a cheerful, upbeat song, in sharp contrast to the slower, more thoughtful Anna Begins, referring to those first moments of love. Holiday in Spain is far and away my favourite Counting Crows songs, with a melancholy song matching the lyrics, referring to a life going to waste somewhat.

The album is closed with another cheery song, She Don't Want Nobody Near, and the live version of Blues Run The Game, another acoustic song.

This album is a brilliant introduction to Counting Crows, and contains a lot of their best songs (although there is not enough room for all their best songs. There could almost be a second CD in this album, with the likes of Miami, Black and Blue, Accidentally in Love, If I Could Give All My Love, Catapult, A Murder of One and Colorblind all failing to make the final cut).

If you have never heard of Counting Crows before, I would first recommend this album; then, for any tracks that you particularly like, try and pick up live versions of them (there are enough live albums for most of their better songs to be available live). Counting Crows are excellent in the studio, but live are nothing short of remarkable.

A 5-star album, and one that has hardly left my CD player since I first bought it.

FIFA 08 (Xbox 360)
FIFA 08 (Xbox 360)
Offered by marxwax
Price: £10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Addictive and realistic, 23 Feb. 2008
This review is from: FIFA 08 (Xbox 360) (Video Game)
I bought this game a few days ago, having spent a couple of years wandering in the Pro Evolution Soccer world. I used to buy the FIFA games, until I switched just before they started getting good.

And now that I've come back - what a difference!

First, my gripes. There is no real sense of speed with the players - even the fastest seem fairly sluggish. Also, some of the cut-scenes can be annoying - particularly the substitution screen. I mean, why have one clip of the player leaving, a clip of the stadium, and then another clip of the new player entering the field? Would it not be possible to have all of that in one screen.

Now, for the rest of the game. Brilliant, in a word. Excellent, to add a second.

Gameplay is solid, yet challenging enough to make scoring goals hard. If there is a single strategy for scoring every time, I have yet to find it, and getting a clear cut chance on goal is an achievement in itself.

The Be a Pro mode isn't easy, and the controls can sometimes be unintuitive, but, overall, it seems to be a fairly good addition to the game, and an idea that I have thought would be good in a football game for a couple of years.

The career games are enjoyable, with the ability to develop your players as the seasons progress, and the management tasks, such as scouting for players, developing the backroom team, and answering questions from the media, are all enjoyable tasks at the moment.

It is not a flawless game, hence the star deducted, but it is certainly one of the best and most enjoyable football simulations I have ever played.

Assassin's Creed (Xbox 360)
Assassin's Creed (Xbox 360)
Offered by Ace Goods Co. Ltd
Price: £13.28

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as the hype, 28 Dec. 2007
As soon as I heard the announcement of Assassin's Creed, I was just as intrigued as everybody else. Here would be the ultimate in gaming, the future of the consoles, the best stealth game ever designed.

Actually, what you get is a solid game, that's great fun to play.

First, the irritations, the things that lose the game a star. You can't escape from soldiers just by running, or climbing onto the roof as, by a miracle of homing, the soldiers will make a beeline for you. You can't just blend into the crowd either, something I was really hoping you would be able to do. No, you have to hide in pre-selected areas, such as travelling scholars, roof gardens or piles of hay. The Leaps of Faith aren't particularly exciting, and just involve leaping off high things, where you clearly know where you're going to land - in some hay. Seriously, it's a good job they had hay in the twelfth century.

Now, onto the good points. Everything else. Honestly. The fighting system is simplistic, visually effective, and challenging enough when you have to keep an eye on seven guards whilst standing on a cliff edge. You can throw people off buildings, or counter attack with moves that you can only dream of. The missions are simplistic and repetitive, but they do it in the same manner as Spiderman II, in that there are lots of the same missions, but you don't really mind, as they're all quite entertaining to do - although I admit that the game's addiction with collecting flags is probably not healthy.

Overall, this game is not really what you would expect it to be, and it will clearly never be as good as it has been hyped up to be. But would I get rid of it? You'd need an assassin to get it from me.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 (PC DVD)
Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 (PC DVD)
Offered by UK-Bargain-Cellar
Price: £4.00

2.0 out of 5 stars Poor offering, 25 Dec. 2007
I am convinced that this game may be good and, possibly with a little more playing time, it may prove to be excellent. But currently, having clocked up just a couple of hours of gaming time, I have to declare myself disappointed.

For a start, no effort has been made at all to make it into a PC game. Graphics are blurry and clearly not designed for a computer screen, all controls (including those in the manual) are designed for the 360 version, forcing you to try to discover the controls for yourself, and the game itself is not much better.

The match engine seems to be more or less identical to that of the previous offering, with a couple of extremely minor, and mostly useless, additions. From the reviews I had seen, I was expecting a game of far better quality. The only (and I'm being extremely honest here) advantage I can see over the previous version, which I have the 360 version of, is that you can use the editor in this game. Hardly a bonus for a feature that should have been included in last year's game anyway.

I was disappointed by PES 6 - or, at least, I thought I was. This game has taken an all time low, and, unless they seriously sort out the game for next year, I will be switching to FIFA.

That Mitchell & Webb Sound: The Complete Third Series: Series 3
That Mitchell & Webb Sound: The Complete Third Series: Series 3
by David Mitchell
Edition: Audio CD

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hit and miss..., 16 Oct. 2007
I'm a huge fan of Mitchell and Webb, and listened to the entire series when it was on Radio 4. These CDs have been listened to over and over, until I almost know some of the sketches by heart.

And the final impression I get is extremely mixed. On the one hand, there are sketches that are original, clever, or just bizarre enough to be entertaining. This accounts for a lot of them, and my personal favourites include Big Celebrity Fame Zeppelin, Spurs Fan and an excellent one involving Lindsay Davenport and a large multinational corporation. For these alone, it is worth buying.

However, there comes along, every now and then, a sketch that just seems to be thoroughly lacking in any humour. The problem with this is that Mitchell and Webb's humour seems to stem from taking one joke, and extending it into a sketch. This is all very good, as long as the material to flesh out the joke is good enough, and the initial joke itself is also good enough to form the foundation of a sketch. The problem comes when there isn't, at which point it seems to degenerate into a joke being taken far too far. The laughter can sometimes seem patronising, and will often appear in places where you can't find a joke, which then makes it seem like they are laughing at you, and your idiocy.

Overall, there are some very poor sketches, and some truly magnificent ones. I would give this three stars for that, except that the good sketches more than make up for the ones that don't quite seem to work. I would definitely recommend this, but not all of it.

Maybe wait for a 'Best of Mitchell and Webb' CD?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2 Disc Special Edition) [DVD] [2007]
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2 Disc Special Edition) [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Daniel Radcliffe
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £3.97

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good film - by itself, 16 Oct. 2007
There is a problem with the adaptation of any novel like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc., which is that, no matter what the filmmakers do, there will be a large number of people who will be unhappy with the finished product. Cut too much of the book, and die-hard fans will be disappointed that their favourite character, who had two lines in the middle of the book at one point, wasn't in it; but cut too little, and you have a ten-hour film, that won't be well received by the vast majority of the cinema-going public.

Surprisingly, this doesn't seem to be such a problem with this film. It hurtles along at quite a pace, but, at about four pages a minute, this is understandable. The film does manage to cram in the main action of the film, and doesn't miss out any key details. Yes, there are some parts that could be considered important that have been cut out (the visit to St Mungos, and Kreacher reduced to about five seconds of screen-time), but that is inevitable.

However, if you go to see the film expecting it to be exactly the same as the book, it would be a thoroughly pointless venture - you would know exactly what was going to happen. And that is why, in my opinion, these films should be considered, not as adaptations of a seven-part book, but a series of seven films, not focusing on how similar to the books they are, but how they are viewable by themselves, as individual films.

And, you would have to admit, the film doesn't quite deliver. There is a lot of action, and, towards the final third of the film, tension is at a high, but there is something slightly odd about the rest of the film. It's watchable, but not Oscar-worthy.

And that was always going to be an issue with the adaptation of this book. The book has a lengthy section of explanation, where Rowling begins to let us into the secret of her plot. It makes fascinating reading, but would make incredibly dull viewing.

This is why the films are never going to be faithful adaptations of the books, and why, although this film is virtually the book on a screen, I still don't want to give it five stars - because, as a film in a series, it isn't quite up to standard.

Mayfair Games - The Settlers of Catan
Mayfair Games - The Settlers of Catan
Offered by Joyco International
Price: £135.66

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable game, 15 Sept. 2007
I'll be honest - I love board games. So, naturally, I'm going to be biased when describing a game like this, which could easily be considered for 'Board Game of the Century' (Which century? You choose). However, a useful yardstick I can use in these situations is the reaction of my family to this, my family not being the sort who generally enjoy board games.

The first time I played, the sheer size of the rulebook daunted me. However, once you open it, you'll discover that most of it is examples of how parts of the game work, for extra clarification. The rules may still seem overwhelming, but do not give up on it at this point. Within a few turns, the whole way the game works will begin to make sense, and, by the end of one game, you'll be an expert on the way the game works.

So, putting rules aside, how does the game actually play? In a word, magnificently. Every element is clearly thought out, giving every player an opportunity to try different strategies, and, due to the fact that the board changes with every game, there is no one 'ultimate strategy' that will guarentee you a win, as is the case with so many other board games.

It also gives you a chance to reconstruct your own economy - as resources have no fixed price, it really is an example of supply and demand - if one resource is particularly scarce, it can suddenly become immensely valuable, and, from game to game, and even from turn to turn, you can find the value of certain resources changing, noticeably.

Trading is a large part of the game, and gives you a chance to develop your negotiation skills. When we play, we make a slight deviation from the rules, and offer services as well as trade - e.g. 'You swap me stone for wheat, and I'll give you the next wool I get.' It gives the game a whole new dimension.

Overall, this game is, quite frankly, unmissable. The only disadvantage is that, after a while, you'll start to need food or sleep, and this game doesn't provide either of these. But, to be honest, I can survive without them, if it means one more game.

Wintersmith (Discworld Novels)
Wintersmith (Discworld Novels)
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to standard, 28 April 2007
I can't help but feel that, although Wintersmith is a decent book, that the whole of Terry Pratchett's Nac Mac Feegle collection is not up to the standard of the rest of his Discworld series. There seem to be very few sections with original humour, and, although the Feegles do provide various comic interludes, they become fairly repetitive fairly quickly.

This just leaves the serious action of the book, which is not one of Pratchett's strengths - you don't read them for the complex intertwining plots, but for entertainment. And, sadly, although this book has its moments, it is not particularly entertaining, and certainly not one of his classics. I for one hope that Pratchett will not pursue this strand of his Discworld series too much, as Tiffany Aching will never be ranked as highly as some of his other, considerably more immortal characters (and in one case quite literally an immortal character).

How To Save A Life
How To Save A Life
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £4.79

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply marvellous, 27 April 2007
This review is from: How To Save A Life (Audio CD)
I'm sure a lot of people will be tempted to buy this album by the recent success of How To Save A Life, and if you like that song, then this album will be more of the same, plus some other things.

The album opens with She Is, which is one of several songs that The Fray manage to produce, which on first listening appears not bad, and every subsequent listen makes it sound better and better, and it is an excellent opening to the album. The next song is Over My Head, the second single by The Fray to be released in the UK, and is another magnificent song, and extremely catchy.

The third song is How To Save A Life, and if you haven't heard it, in my opinion it is another magnificent song, and one that I would tip for the Song of 2007, despite it only being April.

The next two songs are All At Once and Fall Away, which are of the same sort of style as Over My Head, and, although they may feel a little repetitive, I still love them both, and Fall Away is, in my opinion, the best song on the album, and one that should definitely be released as a third single.

The style begins to change at this point. Heaven Forbid is a calmer song, with a more pop-music-style influence, and Look After You is similar, and equally catchy. Hundred opens with a piano solo, and turns into an almost balladic piece.

The last four songs in the album, Vienna, Dead Wrong, Little House and Trust Me, and these are fairly unremarkable, although they still fit in with the general feel of the album.

Overall, I believe that this is one of the best album releases of the year so far, with some of the best pop-rock songs I have heard for a long time. I would definitely recommend it to anybody who enjoys this genre of music, and if you enjoyed How To Save A Life, this album will almost certainly provide you with at least one more favourite to add to your collection. Certainly one to buy.

Casino Royale (2 Disc Collector's Edition) [2006] [DVD]
Casino Royale (2 Disc Collector's Edition) [2006] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Daniel Craig
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £3.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent baptism for Craig, 21 April 2007
As a fan of the James Bond books, I have always noticed that the Bond actors chosen, although all good actors in their own rights, never seemed to capture the essence of Bond.

And then came Daniel Craig.

Craig immediately captured the essence of Bond - serious, a bit shady, and not as clean and suave as other Bonds. The script departs a little bit from the conventional Bond scene, with moments of relative calm in parts of the film, a rarity in Bond films, but Craig again carries off the serious parts. As the film continues, you can literally see Bond changing, which I believe is the mark again of a good script and a good actor.

The plot itself is very similar to the book for about the last hour, and there does seem to be a slight jump from the first part to the second which doesn't seem to be adequately linked, and it is not as good as some of the other films, but it is definitely not a waste of time watching.

I can't wait for the next film. I hope that Craig gets a chance to do some more action sequences, and to show his acting talent more fully. I look forward to a long and successful era with Craig as Bond.

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