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Olly Buxton "@electricray" (Highgate, UK)

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Goosebumps [DVD] [2016]
Goosebumps [DVD] [2016]
Dvd ~ Jack Black
Offered by Bee-Entertained
Price: £4.90

3.0 out of 5 stars Apocalypse now., 20 Oct. 2016
This review is from: Goosebumps [DVD] [2016] (DVD)
R. L. Stine, who sounds like a pseudonym borne of a pun, published “Goosebumps”, a series of something like 60 young adult horror stories in the nineties. For all their 350 million worldwide sales, their target market missed this reviewer by a distance. They are generic chillers: werewolves, reanimated gnomes, possessed ventriloquist dummies, zombies, evil clowns, giant locusts – you know, the sorts of things that populate Stephen King’s back catalogue – written tightly into a formula: beginning, middle and TWIST.

Rob Letterman (Gulliver’s Travels) has again co-opted Jack Black and Sony Pictures Animation to create a kind of meta-goosebumps story – not a dramatisation of an R. L. Stine tale itself, but one about the stories, in which we meet all of them. At once.

In a leisurely opening act we meet our protagonists. Zach (Dylan Minnette) is the new kid in town, recently bereaved of his father he has arrived with his mother to start a new life. He mucks in with Champ (Ryan Lee), a buck-toothed, wisecracking buddy from school, pretty girl next door Hannah (Odeya Rush), whose profoundly uptight old man, Mr Stine (Black) instantly warns Zach to keep his feet off a property he’s not standing on, and his hands off a daughter he hasn’t touched.

But Hannah has other ideas. Nor does Zach, a red-blooded 16 year-old, need much persuading. Before long a story unfolds, courtesy of passable chemistry between Minnette and Rush and dramatic tension from Black, who is pleasingly weird but manages not to explode (as he so often does). After a couple of decent jump-scares Zach and Champ find themselves deep inside Stine’s house looking to rescue what they have concluded is a damsel in distress.

Then Letterman puts his foot down. Monsters: it being R. L. Stine’s library, there are any number of them.

The device by which we meet R. L. Stine’s menagerie is clever, but it flat-out torpedoes the burgeoning coming-of-age melodrama. The lovebirds (and Champ) are suddenly confronted by a Yeti. From there things quickly – well, they snowball. Stine’s creatures leap from the page – literally – cuing pan-directional mayhem. As convention dictates it is the children’s job to get them back in the pen.

Here Letterman abandons his nascent character arcs and hands the steering wheel to the special effects guys. In a stroke, three kids with a manageable problem are facing zombie dawn, attack of the fifty-foot grasshopper, some aliens with a freeze-ray and a ventriloquist’s dummy with father-issues.

That’s a shame. Even ten years after Matrix Revolutions took digital wizardry to its pointless logical conclusion, animation studios still can’t help throwing in the kitchen sink. But, as Nigel Tufnel would say, once you’re at ten all the way up, where can you go?

Secondly, if you blow the budget at the end of Act I, however spectacular it may seem, your Armageddon has to be, functionally, a little half-baked. How else can there still be a story to tell? You can’t wipe out the good guys, since you need them for the last act. Thus we are treated to the unedifying spectacle of a werewolf haplessly chasing teenagers around a supermarket, but never quite catching them. Outside, a giant praying mantis lays waste to the countryside but can’t lay a finger (well, proboscis) on the dramatis personae. Nor can the Abominable Snowman, nor the Gnomes, and the zombies are just hopeless.

This is the curse of CGI. The story arc gets blown to smithereens by the overwhelming temptation to show off.

It isn’t all bad by any means. Jack Black is just the kind of big personality Letterman needs to stand out against that kind of mayhem. The three young leads never get buried. The picture never loses its wit. But the payoff, as surely it must be (for how are three kids meant to close Pandora’s Box?) is preposterous. So is the attempt to undo one of Stine’s famous twists to restore the necessary happy ending. But that hardly matters. It’s an entertaining hour and a half: This is no E.T., or Labyrinth, much less a Princess Bride, but it will keep the youngsters quiet.


The Big Short [DVD]
The Big Short [DVD]
Dvd ~ Brad Pitt
Price: £5.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inside the doomsday machine, 5 April 2016
This review is from: The Big Short [DVD] (DVD)
If the era of banker bashing is over, no one told Adam McKay. He has made a tremendous film out of a tremendous book, even if his target is a sitting duck.

Of all the books on the global financial crisis, Michael Lewis’ The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine was the savviest: uniquely it married an industry insider's ear with a canny eye for the underdog.

McKay has melded these natural features with great performances from a cast, all of whom are recognisable in a “surely that can't be Steve Carrell can it?” kind of a way. Carrell plays a grumpy portfolio manager with few social graces but his personal conviction; Christian Bale an autistic fund manager with a glass eye who cuts his own hair; Ryan Gosling a Deutsche Salesman with a really bad dye-job. Brad Pitt is a bearded tin-hat Wall Street refugee hiding in the Colorado mountains.

As, surely, you’d need to, McKay takes dramatic license here and there to tighten the narrative and keep up the pacing, but is witty enough to admit it: from time to time the actors break the fourth wall and drily point the conflations out.

Thus, though it’s a long film, The Big Short zips along: the editing is magnificent, and tedious details are covered with some neat devices. What's not to like about Margot Robbie in a bubble bath with a glass of champagne explaining Subprime?

Funny though they are, these teach-ins are my main reservation: while McKay captures the insouciant headiness of the era, he botches these technical explanations of mortgage backed securities, collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps.

This wouldn’t matter had he written the job lot off as “financial weapons of mass destruction” - good enough for Warren Buffett, after all - but he doesn't. He goes to some lengths not to patronise his audience, misses fundamental features and makes the whole thing sound like outright and systemic fraud and not the scarier phenomenon it actually was: crowd madness, with the odd bit of fraud thrown in.

Thereby McKay chooses the easy, populist explanation (greedy, fraudulent bankers playing a system systemically stacked in their favour) over the more interesting one: a market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent, because of an emergent property of the market for which Adam Smith’s model fails to account: people believe what they want to believe until they simply can't any more.

There are natural checks and balances in a financial market. There are plenty of structural shorts in the market: always have been; shorting is hardly new. These mechanisms ought to have worked. They didn’t. This is the interesting story and it can’t be explained by everyone being on the take or desperate to suck up to Goldman (however much that might be true).

But it isn't the place of a motion picture to make fine intellectual arguments. The Big Short captures a mood, it captures an era and I dare say it captures the zeitgeist. Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell, Christian Bale and Brad Pitt (what a cast, by the way!) have a whale of a time, and none of them oversteps his mark. However sympathetic you are to investment bankers, you'll find it hard not to feel righteously indignant as the credits roll.

Olly Buxton


The Martian
The Martian
Dvd
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Keep calm and Carry On Martian, 5 April 2016
This review is from: The Martian (Amazon Video)
Would you go see a two-and-a-half hour film about a man marooned on Mars if you thought he might not get back?

Nor me. So I hope you wouldn’t consider your viewing experience spoiled by the news that Mark Watney (Matt Damon) makes a better fist of life on Mars when left for dead during a gale force gravel storm than you or I might.

Watney gets caught in the storm and poleaxed by some loose roofing iron. He disappears like a rag doll into the howling blackness. His vital signs flatline.

Back on the module, fearing it will blow over, Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) makes an executive decision to scram. The crew come to terms with their loss. Long faces all round. Watney was A Good Man.

Twist: back on the Red Planet, Watney isn't dead. He comes to, shakes himself down, and whoa.

And here Ridley Scott makes a sensible choice. Instead of the threnody on loneliness and, well, alienation you might expect, Scott delivers a homily to A Good Man’s ability to keep calm and carry on. And he makes it funny.

As luck would have it, and in this picture Luck has quite a lot of things Watney has no real right to expect, the mission left a kind of astro-garden shed behind. Watney drags himself inside and powers up. It’s well stocked. It has everything a stranded botanist could ask for except a WiFi connection.

Watney gets to work, hoping on forlorn hope the folks at home haven’t given up on him.

They haven’t. At mission control in Houston, at the jet propulsion lab in Pasadena, in the People’s Glorious Revolutionary Space Centre in China, on board the homeward-bound spaceship and in public squares across the globe people come together to hope, pray for, and spare no expense in vouchsafing the rescue of a man who any sensible reckoning says should be dead already and certainly will be by the time a rescue mission can get to him.

Scant thought is given to whether a vanishingly remote chance of saving one American is really the best use of all those trillions of dollars – who knows? It is the future: perhaps the world has already figured out hunger, poverty and disease by then.

And to worry about it would be to miss the point. It’s not about the bike. There are few of the frosty intellectual ruminations that characterised comparable efforts like Moon, Sunshine, Interstellar or Gravity. Instead, Scott fills his screenplay with gently saccharine sermons about the importance of saving A Good Man by ignoring The Man. To rub these morals in he is obliged to drift ever further from the Sea of Plausibility as the film goes on. But it doesn’t matter, because Watney keeps laying down droll one-liners about Commander Miller’s taste for Disco. A well-stocked ensemble cast keeps the action and a little bit of low-level intrigue rolling along. Kirsten Wiig, Kate Mara and Sean Bean play it straight. Benedict Wong (a veteran of several space trips including Sunshine and Prometheus) offers a bit of light relief.

It must sound like I hated this film. I didn’t. I liked it a lot. In Scott’s soft hands it doesn’t feel the Bruckheimer potboiler it probably is. But it isn’t Alien and it sure isn’t 2001: A Space Odyssey. At its heart is Daruisz Wolski’s luscious cinematography – a rose-tinted Jordan is a wonderful stand-in for Mars – and Matt Damon dominates this beautiful screen real-estate, nailing a one-hander he was born for. He plays for — and gets — far more laughs than you’d expect from a man in a year’s alien solitary who has to eat potatoes he grew in his own poo.

We like Damon just as we like Watney. He’s A Good Man. He keeps calm. He carries on.

The ending felt a little bit down beat until the final punchline, for which you will have to wait till the camera pans to the heavens and the credits roll. It’s a peach.

Olly Buxton


Nexus 6P Armband, MoKo Silicone Armband for Google Nexus 6P by Huawei 5.7 Inch Smartphone 2015 - Key Holder Slot, well-rounded protection, Perfect Earphone Connection while Workout Running, BLACK
Nexus 6P Armband, MoKo Silicone Armband for Google Nexus 6P by Huawei 5.7 Inch Smartphone 2015 - Key Holder Slot, well-rounded protection, Perfect Earphone Connection while Workout Running, BLACK
Offered by BSCstore EU
Price: £5.99

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever design, but velcro strap lets it down a little bit., 1 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This product is *mostly* brilliant.

Instead of being a pouch you tuck your phone into, it's a rubberised protective case with an open face. You thread a Velcro strap through the back and strap that to your arm.

This means that access to the phone (including the all-important fingerprint unlock pad on the back) is unimpeded should you suddenly need to load your next DAN CARLIN HARDCORE HISTORY POCAST episode mid-stride (they go for four hours, though so, unless you're Eddie Izard this isn't that likely).

Also, once you take your strap out of the back, it is a perfectly functional protective case. Better, in fact that the dedicated one (a Nexus 6P Cimo Case I bought for this phone in the first place. So I binned that.

And there are two lengths of Velcro strapping: a short one for ladies and ninety-pound weaklings, and a long one for heavily muscled beefcakes such as I.

Only problem I can see is that Velcro strap could be wider. The eyelet the Velcro threads through gets easily pulled out of position, loosening the fit and encouraging your phone to slip down your arm. But as long as you do it up tightly enough in the first place it's fine.

Olly Buxton


ONX3® ( Grey ) Nexus 6P Case Protective Stylish Fitted Sports Armbands Running Bike Cycling Gym Jogging Ridding Arm Band Case Cover
ONX3® ( Grey ) Nexus 6P Case Protective Stylish Fitted Sports Armbands Running Bike Cycling Gym Jogging Ridding Arm Band Case Cover
Offered by ONX3
Price: £3.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Rubbish, 1 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Rubbish. The Velcro is of some budget variety which doesn't stick very hard so the damn thing falls off your arm at the slightest pressure - even the inadvertent flexing of a bicep can send it flying. If you have monstrous guns like I do, that's a problem, and a health hazard for the legions of ladies who can't help but stop to gawp at this Charles Atlas-like figure thundering past, and risk getting clocked by a flying Android phone for their trouble.

The case also encloses the whole phone which makes it harder to operate, and if, like me, you've used the Nexus 6P's ultra-cool fingerprint lock, you can't operate the phone at all. So if you want to change your podcast while you're running, you can't.

Avoid.

Instead, buy one of these beauties: MoKo Silicone Armband for Google Nexus 6P

Olly Buxton


AET FSC4GDIM40 400 W 10 A 4-Gang 2-Way Satin Chrome Flat Light Dimmer Switch
AET FSC4GDIM40 400 W 10 A 4-Gang 2-Way Satin Chrome Flat Light Dimmer Switch
Price: £21.90

1.0 out of 5 stars One Star, 1 April 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Product not as described. Dimmers were rated at 250W.


Slow West [DVD]
Slow West [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michael Fassbender
Offered by FREETIME
Price: £3.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Slow Western., 1 Feb. 2016
This review is from: Slow West [DVD] (DVD)
When he signed on to finance and star in this picture Michael Fassbender must have had in mind one of those slow-burning, lyrical westerns like Unforgiven. He might have imagined Clint Eastwood's grit: Fassbender's is a handsome, square-jawed face, his eyes are bright sapphires, but he is urbane: in outings to date there has been little of the wild frontier about him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olly Buxton
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 3, 2016 1:45 PM BST


Mad Max: Fury Road [DVD] [2015]
Mad Max: Fury Road [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Tom Hardy
Offered by Entertainment Direct
Price: £3.98

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, maybe, Tina Turner.

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


No Title Available

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


No Title Available

3.0 out of 5 stars Not much fun on hardpack; not much use in powder, 23 Feb. 2015
I have just spent a week in varying ski conditions with a premium hire package which means I got to try out as many different skis as I liked.

The snow started off hard-packed, we then got about 6 inches in one day day, that then got wind-blown, but by that stage I'd ditched these skis for a pair of Volkl Mantra 184s.

The first thing to note is when they handed over these Salamon X-Race skis the fascia was positively wrecked, particularly at the back: scuffed, scratched, scraped and dinged. Now looking good on the slopes is all part of the deal: I said, "hang about - these are supposed to be premium skis! What are you giving me these dungers for?"

The guy shrugged and said, "these were brand new two weeks ago".

And I can tell you why. The X-Racers aren't designed for people who, like me, like to keep their feet together. They were constantly clipping and climbing all over each other, especially (and unusually!) at the back. Now I know that ankle-kissing parallel turns are an unfashionable vestige of a bygone era, but so am I: it's an era I harken back to. Dammit that's how I ski, and how I like to ski. The X-Racers wouldn't let me do that. I had to plod down the mountain somewhat spreadeagled, like a man fighting off an attack of the trots.

At least, until the snow came. From nowhere, the weather gods deposited about 6 inches on the Jungfrau over the course of a morning. All of a sudden I was sinking under the snow rather than cutting through it or floating over it. I don't blame the X-Racers for making a meal of heavy snow conditions - they don't pretend to be an all-mountain ski and are designed for hardpack - but it was enough to bring the experiment to its conclusion. I wound up shortly afterwards skiing past the rental shop. I took the opportunity to give the X-Racers back. You can read about my happier experience with the (powder-snow-designed) Volkl Mantras here!

Later in the week the hard pack returned, but I wasn't persuaded to go back to the X-Racers. At this stage I was on a pair of Stoeckli Laser AX slalom skis. Now *they* were something special.

Olly Buxton


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