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Star Wars - The Complete Saga [Blu-ray] [1977] [Region Free]
Star Wars - The Complete Saga [Blu-ray] [1977] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Harrison Ford
Offered by Direct Entertainment Supplies
Price: £48.64

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More dark side than light ..., 7 Jun. 2016
My brothers bought me this as a present and I was delighted. Finally, I thought, I'll have a copy of the Star Wars movies with glorious HD visuals and sound! And I do. Sort of ...

There's really no point in reviewing the films themselves since everyone has seen them. Most of the extras contained on the discs have been released previously so there's not a huge amount to say about them. What I will concentrate on is the reason most people will buy this box set - they want the films on Blu-ray so they have the best picture and sound quality available to them.

The prequels (Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith) look and sound fantastic, and the Blu-ray format really works well for these films. Picture and sound quality are excellent, but this is not without its own set of problems. One of the issues you'll notice is that some of the CGI now looks a little dated, and when you're watching real-life characters in high resolution interacting with now-slightly-ropey computer generated characters, the experience is a bit grating. For whole sequences it is now much more obvious that the actors were standing in front of green screens. The colours, textures, and lighting of the CGI environments don't always appear quite right, and some of the CGI only parts (think Yoda climbing through ducting in Revenge of the Sith, or C3PO and R2-D2 moving through the droid factory in Attack of the Clones) are more obviously CGI. The experience is not unlike watching movies from the 80s, rolling your eyes at some shoddy rear projection, then wondering to yourself whether people were fooled by it. Nevertheless, what we get here is a high quality reproduction of those prequels, warts and all.

The original trilogy (New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) is where things started to go wrong for me. In fact, I got pretty annoyed with it all, hence my three stars. Firstly let me say that the actual picture and sound quality is generally great. But there are lots and lots of issues that are hard to overlook.

Each of these films has already had a makeover for a previous DVD release. During that makeover, some of the slightly dodgy optical effects of the original print were improved and/or some scenes were re-produced with CGI. For example, the X-wing scenes near the end of A New Hope were re-generated with CGI, and some of the optical effects used during the Hoth battle scene were cleaned up a bit. The problem is that scenes that were 'touched up' are great. Scenes that were reproduced now look a little cartoon-like because the CGI isn't quite up to the same detail level as the original models.

In previous versions, entirely new CGI shots were added. These include the infamous 'Han meets Jabba and steps on his tail' scene in A New Hope and extended scenes where the Millennium Falcon flies into Cloud City. Even though some of these have been enhanced since their original incarnation, most of them simply look awful.

And the point I'm making is that what we have on this high resolution format is a mash of versions that absolutely detracts from your viewing experience. Although the picture quality is great (except for a New Hope, which I'll come to in a minute), we're constantly moved between enhanced and beautiful scenes recapturing the awe and wonder you felt when seeing the films for the first time, to really ropey additional CGI scenes that look terrible in high definition, to CGI scenes based on the model originals that look ok but aren't quite in keeping with the rest of the film, to dodgy optical effects that still haven't been fixed.

To give you an example of what I mean, on Hoth there are re-worked scenes of a rebel transporter lifting off in the background and the Millennium Falcon taking off. All of which are great. There's also a scene in which a rebel transporter passes in front of a crippled star destroyer, and you can watch a square around the transporter advancing across the screen and discolouring the star destroyer behind it - it's a left over artifact of the optical compositing technique used to layer one effect on another. And this irritated me. Why add in Ewoks blinking when you have an optical effect that you could have fixed? Why fix some scenes and not others? Why add loads of CGI rubbish when you could have just tidied up the original films to give us a high definition experience? Why not just leave the optical effects and give us original cuts of the films?

In any case, A New Hope seems to have a few problems in terms of the quality of the transfer. A number of scenes on Tatooine look as though they were filmed with a mesh over the camera lens. I don't know if this is dirt or sand on the lens, but again, why not correct it if you've gone to the trouble of adding in a CGI Jabba? There's also a slightly strange look to some of this film - if I could hazard a guess, I would have to conclude that they applied some sort of digital filter to sharpen the image. Sometimes it appears as though there is a Moire pattern over the image, particularly when you look at the facial details of Luke, Han and Ben. In short, the picture quality of a New Hope looks a bit artificial when compared to ESB and ROTJ.

This should not be taken as some fan-boy criticism of George Lucas's decisions and re-workings. It should be taken as a criticism of this Blu-ray release. What you are paying for is a mash of versions that are disjointed and do not quite provide you with a viewing experience commensurate with the price you are paying for the product. It's good. But it could have been better.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
by Chris Hadfield
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting ..., 14 April 2016
I, like millions of other people, followed Commander Hadfield's exploits on social media, from his rendition of Space Oddity to his demonstrations of what happens when you wring out a wet cloth in zero-g. It was hard not to be fascinated. Hadfield, with his soft spoken Canadian accent, perpetual enthusiasm, and that moustache, came across as, well, Ned Flanders in space. A down-to-earth astronaut who seemed, for all intents and purposes, like your next-door neighbour - affable, friendly, and a genuinely nice guy. The problem I had with An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth is that it managed, quite quickly, to strip that impression away.

The book is divided into three sections. The first describes how Hadfield became an astronaut and trained for the ISS mission, and it is this part that I found quite difficult to read. It is really the story of his single-minded journey to try to be an astronaut. And, I hate to say it, it comes across as being a bit arrogant and egotistical. I couldn't help but think 'my goodness, he sounds like a truly awful person for dragging his wife and kids through this'. It almost sounds like someone bragging about how great they are. And it does grate somewhat.

I spoke to some friends who had also read the book and they agreed with this assessment. Some actually stopped reading at this point. But as you continue on through it, you start to place it in context. You start to see that, in fact, Hadfield is really talking about the training, about the the thousands of technicians and engineers who support the mission. You begin to understand that what came across as arrogance is in fact hard-earned competence. It is refreshing to read something so honest. And by the second part of the book, describing being on-board the ISS mission, you now understand. And for me, it was this aspect of how astronauts think, how they have to prepare for every eventuality, how they think on their feet, how they have to plan everything from toilet breaks to how to socially introduce a new crew onto a space station, that opened my eyes.

The last part of the book is quite touching. It describes the landing and aftermath of the mission. Hadfield describes the immense physical tolls long-duration space flight has on the body, and it's quite shocking. But by the end of the book, it's difficult not to feel immense pride. Pride that there are space missions. Pride that we, as a species, can build something like the ISS. And pride that members of our species, people like Chris Hadfield, go through hell and back to push the boundaries of our knowledge and exploration.

This is very personal book. It is not burdened down with page after page of technical details. It is about what it takes to be an astronaut, how they think, and how that thinking is applied. It is utterly fantastic and should be on the curriculum for secondary students to read.

Everest [DVD]
Everest [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jake Gyllenhaal
Offered by Entertainment Direct
Price: £3.76

21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Leaves you a bit cold ..., 8 Feb. 2016
This review is from: Everest [DVD] (DVD)
Everest is a visually impressive film based on the true story of Rob Hall, a climber who popularised guided ascents of Everest. The movie follows his ill-fated expedition with clients Beck Weathers, Doug Hansen, Yasuko Namba, and Jon Krakauer. Obviously, with a film in which the deaths of real people are portrayed, one must separate the film from the actual events. Heart-wrenching though those events are, I can't help but feel this film is not quite worthy enough of the story it tells.

The problem with Everest is that the main protagonists are portrayed as rather two-dimensional caricatures. The story itself is quite badly told - when you have multiple characters in big thermal jackets, it becomes quite difficult to tell who is who. Elements leading up to the tragedy are also poorly explained. It's as if the director wanted to tell the story but not attribute blame to certain characters which, I'm afraid, you can't really do and expect the film to work.

So, although I liked Everest for the ambition it strived for and the visuals, it left me feeling very little for the characters it portrayed. And when a movie is based on real events, that's probably not the outcome you'd want.

Two Days, One Night [DVD] [2014]
Two Days, One Night [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Marion Cotillard
Price: £5.99

6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's ok ..., 26 Sept. 2014
Two days, One Night is a interesting movie but I certainly cannot understand why some people have given it 5 stars. I would not rate it, nor have I, quite as highly as that.

The film follows Sandra (Marion Cotillard) who returns to work in a solar-panel factory after taking time off to deal with depression. While she's been away, her boss has realised that her absence has made absolutely no difference to the productivity of the remaining workforce and has therefore offered the staff a 1000 euro bonus each if they vote to continue without her. Sandra has the weekend to try to convince her work colleagues not to take the bonus so she can retain her job.

There's little doubt that the Dardenne brothers have come up with an interesting premise on which to base a film, but the problem with TDON is that it really doesn't go anywhere. What we end up with is one-and-a-half hours of:

Sandra: Will you vote for me instead of your bonus?
Work Colleague: I need the money / ok I'll not take the bonus
Sandra: I understand / Thanks

with Sandra either laughing or crying later depending on the answer. You might expect some harsh exchanges. You might expect Sandra to shout 'How can you live with yourself! I'm going to be out of job, on the dole, struggle with my rent, and all so you can take a holiday?' but no. A shrug of the shoulders and that's it. It's completely unbelievable, you never get the sense that the job actually means that much to her, and each and every conversation is played with such a resigned sense of defeat that very little happens throughout the film's running length.

The fact that Sandra is depressed is utterly pointless. It seems to have been added simply to reach the inevitable and contrived scene you know is going to come when you've watched a depressed character upping her medication throughout the proceedings. In fact, the film might have worked better if she wasn't depressed. Was potentially being unemployed not enough to get things moving in terms of the plot?

So no. Two days, one night is not great. It's not worth 5 stars. It is worth watching simply for some fine acting and an interesting premise. But I think many people will walk away and think 'was that it? Was that what all the glowing reviews were for?'. I know I did. I felt cheated out of a better, more interesting movie based on the same premise.

The Holographic Universe
The Holographic Universe
by Michael Talbot
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pseudo-scientific nonsense ..., 1 Sept. 2014
As a physicist, I was intrigued by this book and decided it might be worth a look. Unfortunately, after reading it and swearing at page after page of absolute drivel, I can honestly report that it isn't.

The 'holographic' theory of modern physics is an interesting idea. Basically what it suggests is that our three-dimensional universe, in which matter and energy can be viewed as information, could also be described as a two-dimensional representation of that information sitting on the boundary of our universe. This is consistent with many theories of quantum mechanics, including string theory. As a concept, holographic theory has also been applied to other areas, such as neuroscience and digital encryption. So, the point is that 'holographic' theories are ones of information storage, retrieval, distribution, etc.

What 'The Holographic Universe' tries to do is combine the cosmological and neurological 'holographic' concepts together. This makes no sense since the fact they are called 'holographic' is due to the similarity of the underlying maths used to describe these situations and not the cause. Once Michael Talbot has combined these two, he then goes off on a rather fantastical journey that suggests everything, from psychological disorders to paranormal events to the discovery of new particles in physics to the curing of illnesses, is all due to this makey-uppy 'holographic' theory. It's utter nonsense.

In the 1960s and 70s we saw the emergence of the New Age movement which began to introduce Eastern philosophical ideas into Western culture. What we began to get were beliefs that:

a) everything in our universe is interconnected
b) the universe contains many planes of existence
c) there are particular 'biological' forms of energy that contain our 'essence' that can become free of our body and wander through these planes
d) humans can manipulate the universe around us through the power of thought
e) the paranormal is simply a manifestation of the wider 'wholeness' of the universe, with a few gifted individuals able to see past the narrow confines of this plane

and so forth. Michael Talbot has started with the premise that these sorts of New Age/Eastern philosophical/metaphysical/paranormal ideas are true, and has then gone looking for a scientific theory he can misrepresent enough to give an 'explanation' that conforms to that initial premise. For example, he states (almost without question or real evidence) that some people can generate some sort of metaphysical/paranormal field around them powerful enough to protect them from fire, knives, sledgehammers, etc. He then goes on to suggest that, somehow, holographic theory provides an explanation for this, although that 'explanation' is never quite elaborated upon.

Anyone can do this sort of 'science'. I'll give it a go now. There are people out there who can levitate. They can. I've seen them. And that's all the proof you, the reader, needs. The reason they can do this is because gravity applies to 3 spatial dimensions. But holograms are 2D representations of the wider 3D universe. So people who are tuned into the holographic universe can temporarily phase themselves between our universe and the 2D hologram. This lowers the gravitational force on them. So the ability of mystics in India to levitate is direct evidence of the veracity of the holographic theory.

This book is nothing less than pseudo-science at its worst and most reprehensible.

By all means, if you believe in such things you will find yourself nodding your head at everything in this book because it will reinforce what you already believed, something known as confirmation bias. In any case, you will enjoy it. If, on the other hand, you're interested in actual science and the latest theories rather than pseudo-scientific guff, then avoid this like the plague and go read something by an actual scientist.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 9, 2017 1:03 PM BST

Prometheus [DVD] [2012]
Prometheus [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Noomi Rapace
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £4.64

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars In space, no one can hear you scream at how bad this is ..., 25 Nov. 2012
This review is from: Prometheus [DVD] [2012] (DVD)
I, like most people, was really looking forward to Prometheus. Finally, we all thought, we'll have a good 'Alien'-esque movie after that horrible Alien Vs Predator detour. No film, of course, could possibly live up to the massive expectation and hype that surrounded Prometheus before its release, but what is surprising is just how far off the mark the final film is. It's shockingly bad.

Ridley Scott is a top-tier director and, as you might expect from him of all people, Prometheus looks absolutely gorgeous. The visual effects, the camera angles, the sweeping vistas of alien worlds are breathtaking. And that's really all that is good about the film.

The bad things, on the other hand, are the story and script which, even in the 21st century, I contend are important. I really shouldn't have been suprised by this, Lost-writer Damon Lindelof was involved and he's made a career out of pretending poor story-telling, vagueness, and gaping plot holes are actually deep, intellectual, and allow the work to be open for interpretation. Nothing in Prometheus makes any sense, whatsoever.

We have characters who seem to gain knowledge about alien species by sucking it directly from the ether. We have scientists who do remarkably stupid things, people who get lost despite scene after scene showing us the use of their advanced mapping technology, aliens with a 100% DNA match to humans despite being heavily muscled, more than 10ft tall, and having black eyes ... and so on.

I'm afraid I'm not willing to overlook highly paid scriptwriters who seem to think we, the audience members who pay to watch their work, will let our intelligence be insulted in this manner. Prometheus, to me, is a giant two-fingers-up from Hollywood, a 'you're going to see what it's like, and it doesn't matter how bad it is because, by that stage, you'll already have paid' approach.

No. I won't have it. Prometheus is awful. If you buy it, you'll be disappointed and why put money into the hands of producers? Show Hollywood that we expect better for our cash or at least never to let anyone associated with Lost to go near a script again.

Tron Legacy [DVD]
Tron Legacy [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michael Sheen
Price: £2.10

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Look at the shiny shiny ..., 2 May 2011
This review is from: Tron Legacy [DVD] (DVD)
There are two reasons why you should watch this movie - fantastic visuals and a great Daft Punk soundtrack. And that, I'm afraid, is just about it.

Tron Legacy is big on technicals at the expense of plot and character development. It's also a little too long and should probably have had half an hour shaved off its running time. You'll watch it and think 'hmmm ... looks like a demo for some PC graphics card rather than a feature film', you'll be impressed for the first hour, and after that you'll come away feeling somewhat disappointed with it all. A little like the original Tron then.

I had a problem with the CGI used to create 'young' Jeff Bridges - it isn't always particularly convincing and, given the quality of the rest of the visuals, it somewhat niggles. Why didn't they just take old Jeff Bridges and remove the wrinkles as was done on X-Men for a young Dr. Xavier? Oh well ... that annoyed me and will probably annoy other people too.

Generally though Tron Legacy is worth watching, but could have been better. As long as you put your brain in magpie mode you'll enjoy it.

The Next Three Days [DVD] [2010]
The Next Three Days [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Russell Crowe
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £3.50

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Competent ... but not as good as it could have been ..., 1 May 2011
John Brennan's (Russell Crowe) world collapses when his wife Lara is arrested and convicted of murder, resulting in his slow descent into a shady underworld as he plans to break her out of prison. As a director you have lots of options with the subject material, which is based on the French film 'Pour Elle'. Is it a prison-break movie detailing the clever planning before the event? Does it focus on how a family is torn apart by the conviction of the mother? Does it examine the descent of a middle-class teacher into the criminal underworld? The problem with The Next Three Days is that director and co-screenwriter Paul Haggis attempts do to it all, and doesn't really succeed with any of it.

There are good performances by the cast and the film certainly has its tense moments. But it's a little thin and you get the impression that there were key sequences written, and the rest put there to flesh it out a bit. Although we see John's gradual 'toughening up' process through the action on screen, we're never really allowed to see that in terms of his psychology - it's as if he goes from wimp to world-class jail breaker in the blink of an eye. Although we see elements of the prison-break planning, a better director/script might have decided to show us those elements out of context, only for us to realise at the end how they all fit into the plan when the prison break takes place. There is a half-hearted attempt but it's quite poor.

All in all though, The Next Three Days is well worth watching. It definately has its moments, but when you look at the credentials of the people involved and weigh up the directions the subject matter could have gone you'll think, actually, that could have been Oscar material if they'd been a little more clever and delved a little deeper.

Machete [DVD] [2011]
Machete [DVD] [2011]
Dvd ~ Danny Trejo
Offered by The Happy Zombie
Price: £2.27

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another classic ..., 1 May 2011
This review is from: Machete [DVD] [2011] (DVD)
Machete is another addition to the 'harping back to the exploitation genre of yesteryear' flicks. And it's utter trash in the best possible way.

Danny Trejo is perfectly cast as a Mexican Federale seeking revenge against a vicious drug lord (Steven Seagal). But he also gets caught up in a plan to assassinate a power-mad anti-immigrant US politician (Robert De Niro) and is helped along the way by Mexican revolutionary 'She' (Michelle Rodriguez) and an immigration agent (Jessica Alba). Oh and Lindsay Lohan is in there as a drug addict too. Yes, it's as mad and deranged as it sounds.

As you might expect, the blood flows like claret and the violence is brutal, graphic and simultaneously hilarious. The composition of shots, the deliberate use of 'scratchy film' effects, the sometimes abrupt editing, are pure cinematic genius on the part of director Robert Rodriguez, all of which gives it that 70s grindhouse feel. In fact, it's better than both Planet Terror and Death Proof.

Sit back for one and half hours and watch this tribute to a bygone age. It's outrageous, ridiculous, hilarious, brutal, and very, very good.

Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus [DVD] [2009]
Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Deborah Gibson
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.55

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ha ha ... ha ha, 23 April 2011
This is sort of movie that does exactly what it says on the cover. If you buy, rent or borrow a film called 'Mega Shark VS Giant Octopus' and feel disappointed by the content, well, you only have yourself to blame. What did you expect? The Godfather?

MS VS GO is cheap, tacky, poorly scripted, poorly acted, and has woeful special effects. All of which just add to its appeal. It is rubbish of the highest order, a film of the genre 'so amazingly bad, it's worth watching'.

I loved it every minute of its cheesy goodness. Sit back with some mates, get a few cans, and watch this after some heavy gaming. It'll have you in stitches.

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