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Stokie Dave

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The Secret of Kells [DVD]
The Secret of Kells [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tomm Moore
Price: £6.00

45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpeice, and a refreshing change from marketing-driven animated features, 20 Nov. 2010
This review is from: The Secret of Kells [DVD] (DVD)
It's heart-warming to know that the British Isles can produce - in Tomm Moore - an animator with a vision that is undoubtedly set to rival the great Miyazaki. Amazingly, this stunning independent film was made for a mere £5 million - the catering bill for a modest Hollywood film - and was completely hand-drawn. Which doesn't mean it's crude or sketchy. It's as polished as a Ghibli or Pixar film. Every scene looks fabulous, and the film has audio and music to match. Yet surprisingly, even when it first opened in Ireland, the box-office was low and the film struggled with its American cinema distribution. Why? A few jaded early reviews probably didn't help - I vaguely remember reading gripes about the 'weak' plot, and other niggles, that put me off the film. How wrong they were, as the Oscar nomination proved. The story is fine, and the characters are well-delineated and engaging. The dialogue is crisp, well delivered, and the story moves along briskly. As for the DVD - the standard typography and choice of image for the DVD cover is not ideal - it wouldn't look out of place in the young kids' bargain bin. But I guess that it's the old Miyazake trick - lull the kids into a false sense of familiarity via the DVD cover and the starting few minutes, and then let the imagination rip later. While the film's visual panache will undoubtedly appeal to (and possibly frighten) 6-8 year olds, it's probably older intelligent children in the 9-12 range who will enjoy it the most - and possibly all the more after a look at the real Book of Kells in the online facsimile, and a read of the famous short poem "Pangur Ban". The DVD extras include two short 'making of' featurettes, and an apparently (I never listen to them) rather dry audio commentary. Overall, a gem.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 16, 2015 10:43 AM GMT

Coalescent: Destiny's Children Book One
Coalescent: Destiny's Children Book One
Price: £6.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Probably not the ideal starting point for the completist Xeelee-series reader, 16 Nov. 2010
If you're reading Baxter's Xeelee novels and stories in full 'reading order' chronology (see Baxter's website for the full list at 2009), then this is the first book you'll encounter. Be warned, though - it could be enough to put you off the whole series before you even start. About half of the book is a historical novel set in the early Dark Ages. I found the first 40 pages slow, dull, and the characters unsympathetic. Then I hit the Dark Ages, and I gave up. Sorry, Mr. Baxter, but slogging through 300 pages of Ancient Romans and Saxons was not the way I wanted to start the Xeelee time-line. So I decided to read the plot on Wikipedia (there's a detailed summary), and then skim-read the slog of the Roman / Dark Ages / Historical / Lucia sections. I still gained a good idea of the plot, and managed to pick up all the interesting ideas and the few references that make this book relevant to the Xeelee series. But then I found I was reading the final quarter of the book properly, and I found it gripping. The ideas certainly lingered. After finishing it I did a bit of research to try to determine exactly how much it ties in to the Xeelee series. It's only tied in through short sections and passing mentions, so far as I can tell: an alien artefact has been detected beyond Pluto; there's a possible detection of a 'photino bird' as it passes through the Earth; there are hints that the universe may be at war; George Poole is apparently an ancestor of a significant character later in the time-line; Poole meets his young nephew Michael Poole who narrates the next book in 2027 - Transcendent - that you'll read in the Xeelee sequence; and human hive societies are mentioned in some future books and stories.

The Time Ships
The Time Ships
by Stephen Baxter
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable romp, but some trimming would have been welcome., 11 Nov. 2010
Warning: plot spoilers! A strong sequel to the early Wells novelette _The Time Machine_, which is best read before _The Time Ships_. I found Baxter's book slow and ponderous at the start, when it explores the worlds of a Dyson sphere around the sun built in an alternative history in which the Morlocks became intelligent engineers. Up until the Time Traveller's journey back to confront his young self, I felt the author didn't really know where it was going with the story. After that point the plot becomes a lot more interesting and gains pace, with Baxter whisking us through a variety of novel and engaging scenarios that - although often rather improbable - build and weave together into a stunning idea-laden climax. After that, there is a further and rather flat ending of about thirty pages that feels 'tacked on'. This last section is very faithful to Wells's novel, in which the Time Traveller attempts a rescue of Weena - but it really doesn't add as much as several other faithful sequels have. The Time Traveller explores a bit more, teaches the Eloi some farming, then sets off underground in a rather foolish attempt to learn if there are any friendly Morlocks. _The Time Ships_ is certainly an enjoyable novel in terms of plot, ideas and characters - but I must say I skim-read chunks of it without feeling I was missing very much, and in the end I wondered if a carefully abridged version might not have been even more enjoyable. This is my first encounter with Baxter, and I'm impressed enough that I'm now planning to start on his Xeelee books - which (unlike this novel) are available on the Kindle.

The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar (PC DVD)
The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar (PC DVD)

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A review of the F2P UK Nov 2010 edition, 5 Nov. 2010
The official 10Gb F2P version was finally released in early November 2010 for Europe. I've played about ten hours of it. The download is now the best way to access LoTRO in UK, unless you're in a rural area and don't have broadband and need a DVD instead (but then, why would you want to play a MMO game with no broadband?). I'm coming to the game as a big fan of the books, and as a critical fan of the Extended Cut DVD movies. LoTRO doesn't yet feel like Middle Earth (either the Tolkien or Peter Jackson versions) to me - so far it's been more like a low-res generic fantasy combination of Oblivion and Titan Quest. The sign-up, install and log-on went fine, and I was able to get into the only UK English Role-Playing server several times with no waiting - this is two days after the game went F2P, and the substantial introductory areas are jumping (literally) with new people. The game never crashed or stuttered for me at 1920 x 1200 on Windows 7, with high graphics settings and the hi-res graphics pack installed. I'm used to quality single-player RPG PC games (Morrowind, Witcher, Oblivion, Nehrim, etc) and the graphics and models in LoTRO simply don't have the same believability as those games. I especially miss the beauty of the skies, wind/weather, grass and night-day cycles - LoTRO has cursory attempts at bits of these, but it's a very pale shadow of Oblivion with texture mods. LoTRO's animal animations are also basic compared to single-player games, perhaps even worse than those in the original Morrowind (2002). LoTRO has more of toy-set world feel to it, rather than trying to be a believably 'living' world like Oblivion. That said, there are many pretty touches. Can the story make up for it? Well it has to be said that many early quests are rather unimaginative and basic ("kill six wolves" and lots of running back and forth), but overall the first ten hours have been well-tuned in the three years since the game was first published - the starter set of stories are adequately woven together. I've so-far found no nasty game-stopping moments. Does the ability to interact with other players make the game? Sometimes. In the introductory quests and areas you are forced into places where you really have to co-operate with other players. And from those brief experiences, I can see how teaming up in Fellowships would be quite enjoyable. But it seems there's going to be a lot of "grind", as MMO veterans call it, to get there. That includes learning all the jargon and keyboard commands. I have to wonder if it's going to be worth it, but it's been sufficiently entertaining (not to mention free) that I'll keep going a little longer to find out.

The Time Machine (Classic Radio Sci-Fi)
The Time Machine (Classic Radio Sci-Fi)
by H. G. Wells
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £13.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brisk BBC adaptation, which adds a few new elements., 4 Nov. 2010
/Warning: this review contains plot-spoilers/ This new BBC adaptation is framed by a new narrative set in the London Blitz, in which an old H.G. Wells is fire-watching while talking to one of his young women-friends. He reveals that he was present at the original dinner-party of the Time Traveller, and that his novelette was a true account. There are several additions and changes to the original published novelette: i) there is no mention of the fourth dimension and the philosophical/scientific element has been entirely cut out; ii) the Time Traveller now carries with him the Victorian equivalent of a portable dictaphone to record his voice; iii) the brief section set 'at the end of the earth' is a re-combination and conflation of two different and longer sections that Wells decided to leave out of his final published book; iv) the presence of Wells at the dinner-party means that the BBC is able to hammer home the 'socialist' message of the story with its usual crude gusto; v) we're asked to believe that in the 800,000's a children's nursery rhyme will somehow have survived from 1899, and will be known to Weena; and vi) the prototype time-machine model returns from the far future, sent back by the Time Traveller with a note for Wells and some of the audio recordings. This is an adaptation that moves along with admirable briskness, but to the extent that it sometimes feels rushed in places. The audio clarity is all you'd expect from the experts at the BBC, although the Eloi language is really far too much like Spanish (possibly Esperanto?) to convince. The Morlocks, on the other hand, are very well voiced and convincingly menacing. Overall, this is a recommended audio adaptation that's probably best listened to after reading the original book. For those curious about what happened afterwards, there are good sequels by Baxter, Haden and Lake.

Brian Eno: 77 Million Paintings [DVD] [2007]
Brian Eno: 77 Million Paintings [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Brian Eno

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great, but won't run on Windows 7, 28 Oct. 2010
A very interesting piece of software, but Windows 7 users beware - it simply refuses to install on a Windows 7 PC.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 16, 2014 1:03 AM BST

The Time Machine [DVD] [1960]
The Time Machine [DVD] [1960]
Dvd ~ Rod Taylor
Offered by BlueStringMedia
Price: £22.98

5.0 out of 5 stars A classic, in a well-presented DVD with genuinely interesting extras., 20 Oct. 2010
This is the handsome DVD edition of the famous George Pal film. The film is a well-deserved classic, interestingly reflecting some of its late 1950s Cold War U.S. themes (e.g.: brainwashing, atomic war, listless teenagers) but there are also some subtle Christian hints in the script that the rationalist Wells would have raised an eyebrow at. Rod Taylor is thoroughly convincing as the Inventor, as is the then under-age (since she lied to get the job) Yvette Mimieux as Weena. The film has just enough of the thoughtfulness and ideas of the novel to convey some basic ideas to the target audience of its time. The opening scenes and initial time-travel are magical. The plot continues to develops well, and rather differently from the classic novel, but we do get another flavour of the novel in the Time Traveller's mix of certainly / uncertainty about what he's seeing. Yet mingled with this are solid plot twists, and more action that there is in the first two-thirds of Wells's novel. The later fight scenes in the over-lit Morlock cave, and the Morlocks themselves, are perhaps the weakest parts of the film. But having seen the awful 2002 version I can honestly say that their Morlocks looked _less_ convincing there than in this 1960 version! The DVD package does this classic film justice, with the original poster art and logo crisply printed on the box, the original trailer on the DVD menu, and a high-quality long featurette from a mid 1980s TV documentary (I'd guess), in which Rod Taylor explores the story of the main Time Machine prop once it was foolishly auctioned off by the studio - it ended up in a carnival side show, but was later found in a junk shop and painstakingly restored. This featurette also shows us rare original storyboards and has interviews with the original FX men. At the end of this featurette is a very well-made and well-scripted continuation of the 1960 movie using the original actors. It shows the Inventor making the machine in his laboratory - then the scene switches to 1916. Filby is locking up the place for the last time, when the Inventor comes back to try to persuade Filby to take a trip with him to the future. Picture quality is generally as crisp as we can probably expect for a film of this age, and the sound is fine on headphones.

The werewolf of Ponkert
The werewolf of Ponkert
by H. Warner Munn
Edition: Unknown Binding

5.0 out of 5 stars A genuine horror classic, 29 Sept. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The werewolf of Ponkert
One of the most impressive werewolf tales ever written. Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, these two horror novellas (The Werewolf of Ponkert and The Werewolf's Daughter) form a single novel of 40,000 words. 'The Essential Guide to Werewolf Literature' (2003) called it: "One of the grimmest werewolf stories ever to appear". The 'Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol. 2' (1983) described it as: "a panorama of human suffering, striving, and hope ... far above the level of most such horror tales". The guide to 'Discovering Classic Fantasy Fiction' (1996) said of it: "[With] "its fine detailing of horror" [and] "pulse of adventure" ... suddenly Munn's vision has expanded to encompass what we would know today as epic fantasy, more than ten years before Tolkien would publish the opening of his great saga".

Magix Music Maker 16 (PC DVD)
Magix Music Maker 16 (PC DVD)

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent value for money, but you'll need more Soundpool content packs, 18 Sept. 2010
Serious musicians no doubt sneer heartily at Magix, but for the rest of us it's a fairly easy sample-based music composition suite. The interface is slick in either Easy or Advanced mode. Samples are drag-and-drop, and if you buy Magix with three or four of its add-on Soundpool DVDs (i.e.: extra content packs) then you should have a decent range of samples to work creatively with. Be warned though, that Soundpool's so-called "Ambient" packs are not cool Eno-style ambient music, but some sort of horrible American elevator music. Samples suitable for Eno-style ambient music are there, but they tend to be scattered across a wide range of Soundpool packs. Indexing of around 25Gb of installed Soundpool content packs was quick, at just a couple of minutes. You can also import your own .wav and .mp3 files. Samples can be changed using FX or have their length altered. Manipulating and moving the samples once they're in the mix is easy. There's also a good deal of power under the hood, with all sorts ways to fine-tune samples and use drum machines and software synths. The Premium version provides more of these, and also includes an audio editor, support for VST / VSTi instruments, more sound packs as standard. There is also an XXL version of Magix, which actually comes with a real USB musical keyboard. I found the speed of sample preview and general playback were excellent on a Windows 7 quad-core PC with a dedicated Creative Audigy SE soundcard fitted. I'd guess that gripes about frequent crashes are probably coming from those trying to use Magix with puny "onboard" sound chips? The samples themselves are all high quality, and even the vocals are tolerably good (enough to give your real vocalist some ideas to work with). Export of the final song is simple. It seems the musical compositions you produce are royalty-free and can be used for commercial purposes (but obviously you can't resell the individual samples, or tracks that just have a sample playing over and over again) although I guess Magix might want a slice of the profits if you used music made with the Movie Soundtracks packs on a real $70m Hollywood movie or TV series. If I were buying this as a present, then for maximum enjoyment I'd slip at least three Soundpool content packs and a dedicated slot-in PC sound-card into the package.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 20, 2011 12:24 PM BST

Centurion [Blu-ray] [2010]
Centurion [Blu-ray] [2010]
Dvd ~ Michael Fassbender
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £4.50

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing. Too modern in sensibility, too gory, too silly., 30 Aug. 2010
A rather disappointing formula-film, but disappointing for reasons that are quite hard to put a finger on. I think perhaps it has to do firstly with the nature of the bad guys. For the purposes of the plot, the Picts are not small, scrawny, naked with blue woad patterns over their entire bodies, and ginger - instead they're huge brawny Gaulish types who ride big clean horses along good roads. They do daub their faces (very neatly) with woad, though. Then there are some gaping plot holes, such as the Picts keeping no dogs or geese in their main city, which could act as warning of infiltration at night. Nor any guards. I mean, these people are at war with the greatest fighting machine in the world, and they don't post guards at night? Ridiculous. So, forget historical accuracy. But if we're doing away with that, then why not introduce a very subtle touch of "is-it-supernatural-or-isn't-it?" to spice things up and make the film far more interesting. Or at least explain something in depth of the mystical beliefs of each side - this is attempted for about two seconds and falls flat, but the witch could easily have deepened this aspect of the film in a minute's dialogue, aided by some foreshadowing in the plot. As it is, we are very much in the human world of human actions and agencies, and there we firmly remain. Yet for these people the landscape was alive with gods and spirits. There are some other more basic silly plot points, as when someone falls and breaks their leg _just_ as the baddies find them. Ridiculous. The film is however extremely well photographed and costumed, and the Scottish scenery is magnificent. The colour-grading and slight bleaching of the film in places gives a certain bleakness at the right moments - but in that respect Centurion can't match the sheer beauty of a film such as Solomon Kane. There are a few unnatural wheeling helicopter shots, but most of the time the landscape is much more sensibly and beautifully portrayed from ground level and with cranes. The film's landscape was actually filmed in the Scottish Highlands, the national parks of England, and (so I read) the woods of Hampshire - not in some cheapie tax-dodge like Czechoslovakia. Which is presumably why the film got National Lottery funding. The music is very formulaic and just a touch heavy-handed - but usually doesn't get in the way. Overall, I think Centurion's main underlying flaw is that the plot is simply "too modern" to be believable. It starts with the allusions to the present-day Iraq War in the introduction, and from then on there's a continual dabbing-on of little hints and references to the contemporary. Which just continually drags the audience away from belief in the setting. It's like a schoolmaster looking up while reading a good story, to explain the relevance of the exciting bits to the class. But Centurion seems to be a film aimed at teenage lads, so I guess the director felt the need to slip in some jolts of propaganda. The intended audience of teen lads probably also explains why the female leads are both far too "glam" and modern-looking, like they've just stepped out of the centrefold of Busty Babes and thrown a few leaves in their mussed-up hair. I did rather like the believable performance of the witch, though. To sum up, Centurion is not a terrible film - although it is terribly gory and I might have snipped out a minute or three of the most gory frames. But by adding a few more dashes of intelligence and mystery to the story, and a genuine sense of the alien, it could have been so much more than a teen gore flick. It's British, so I'd love to be generous and give this three stars - but it really only deserves two.

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