Time for another of Evan’s video toy reviews. I’m not sure what accent he puts on when he’s doing these, but it’s certainly not his usual one. They say that the camera adds 10 pounds, but in his case it also appears that the camera add a private school education. I wonder if that’s why all the people on TV sound like they went to Oxford or Cambridge university (oh wait – that’s because all the people on TV did go to Oxford or Cambridge university).
Anyhow, many thanks to the nice people at Bandai for sending us a Poké Ball Twister Figure for us to take a look at. It’s been quite a hit with the big man, as usually he has a lot of trouble operating spinning top type toys as they can be a bit fiddly – but he took to this one like a duck to water.
As you can see by the video however, Evan is a bit disappointed by the fact that the Poké Ball can’t magically spin every other random toy or bit of rubbish that he crams in there. see if you can work on that guys.
According to Bandai Poké Ball Twister Figures are RRP £9.99 and are suitable for ages 4+ and available now from Argos, TRU, Tesco, Smyths, Entertainer, Toymaster and other good toy stores, and I see no reason to disbelieve them.
The Borrower series of books by Mary Norton were always a favourite of mine as a child. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to watch two movies based on the books – The Borrowers (1997) staring John Goodman, Jim Broadbent, and Mark Williams which I saw streaming on Picturebox, and also Arrietty (2010) which is a Japanese animated film Studio Ghibli which was showing in cinemas a few weeks ago.
Of the two movies Arrietty was by far the best. As with all the Studio Ghibli movies that I’ve seen so far, watching it was as much akin to a spiritual experience as a piece of entertainment. It was just so bloody beautifully drawn and animated. The storyline was much more faithful to the original source material too.
The characters of Arrietty were crafted just as expertly as the artwork was. I especially enjoyed the Borrower family – the feisty, brave, and intelligent Arrietty and her parents Pod and Homily. The film makers were able to capture a wonderful sort of sad claustrophobia to their lives as the sole Borrower family left in a big old house, unsure if there were any more of their kind anywhere else in the world.
I saw Arrietty alongside Amy and Evan, and they were as entranced by the film as I was. They both even commented on how wonderful the artwork was, which isn’t usually very high on the list of priorities for seven and four year olds.
I can’t recommend this movie highly enough, and that view is echoed over on Rotten Tomatoes where it currently has. a 100% fresh rating. Unfortunately it’s gone from the cinemas in the UK now, although in the USA it hasn’t been released yet (it’s coming out on the 17th of February 2012). Looking at Amazon however it looks like the DVD and Blu-ray will be out in November.
After seeing Arrietty Amy and Evan were hungry for some more Borrower action. Over the summer holidays Picturebox has been showcasing a lot of kids movies, the 1997 movie The Borrowers being one of them. So last night we sat down and gave it a whirl.
There is nothing actually wrong with The Borrowers. It’s a perfectly serviceable Hollywood kids movie with some good special effects for the time. It is very interestingly set in a sort of blended world of times and cultures which is never referenced or explained, but sits in the background. The TV’s are old style and black and white but have remote controls, the cars are 50′s style but there are mobile phones, and due to the 50/50 mixture of American and English actors you’re never actually sure which country the movie is set in. This mish-mash of worlds is very innocent and sweet, and I found it charming.
Also charming were the sets and props. One of the best thing about the Borrowers is the way they use everyday household items to their own purposes. Unfortunately for this film however is that I’ve recently seen Arrietty – and while The Borowers handles the concept well, Arrietty handled it superbly.
But it was the general plot and tone of The Borrowers that really let it down. It replaced the subtlety and beauty of Arrietty with bawdiness and Home alone style slapstick. Which is OK in itself, but as I say – I’ve been spoilt.
The Borrowers is an OK kids movie, and one that most adults will be able to find some enjoyment in. However Arrietty is a stunningly beautiful work of art that children will appreciate just as much as adults do. No contest really.
Picturebox is a an online service that streams movies to your PC, Mac, iPad (and even a Samsung Internet-connected smart TV, whatever the hell that is). They asked me if I’d like to test out their service for a year and review some of their movies on the blog. Usually picturebox costs £4.99 a month for access to a regularly rotating range of 28 movies. However I get it free, because I’m ace.
Last night while flailing around on Spotify I stumbled across a singer/songwriter called Leddra Chapman and promptly got lost in her 2009 album Telling Tales. Chapman writes beautiful folk melodies and has a stunning voice, although unfortunately I do find her RP accent a little grating on my thick Yorkshire cloth ears at times and she occasionally strays into the twee.
By far the standout track of the album is Story. I’m always a sucker for a bit of brass in a pop song.
You can listen to her entire album over on spotify should you have a mind to. Alternatively you can buy it on Amazon.
I don’t often find music that really strikes me these days. My tastes pretty much solidified when I was about 23 and I rarely venture beyond my comfortable little geek rock garden. At the grand old age of 35 I am already harumphing at 90% of the top 40 and feeling almost betrayed when I get in the car and find Kerry has tuned the radio to anything other than Radio 4, 2 or Classic FM.
Not that I can really claim to be blazing new ground with Ms Chapman to be honest. She was one of Terry Wogan’s featured artists back in 2009 – hardly the cutting edge of avant-guarde music. Still, let me indulge my fanatises of being John Peel for a little while.
I’m just that little bit too old to be able to benefit from the full force of the Harry Potter phenomenon.
I enjoyed the books of course, and to a lesser extent the movies. But the people most profoundly affected by the series are those who grew up alongside Potter. Who’s own childhoods ran in parallel to his. I was 21 when the first book came out, and as far as I can remember didn’t jump on the bandwagon until around book two or three. So I was a touch too old to be able to fully identify myself with the young wizard.
I bear the franchise or it’s fans no ill will however. They are nice little stories told with a lot of heart, albeit set in a world that doesn’t hold up to any kind of detailed ethical scrutinisation (I’m particularly uncomfortable with the status of “muggles” within the stories. These second class citizens are at worst despised or at best looked on with patronising fondness by the superior race of the wizards).
I, like everyone else, bought the hardcover books the week they were released. I’ve watched all the movies, and even listened to big chunks of the audio books. I’d probably draw the line at describing myself as a fan though, but I certainly have affection for the series.
Over the past four or five weeks Kerry and I have been slowly making our way through all 7 of the previous Harry Potter movies in order to get ourselves in the right frame of mind to properly enjoy the final movie.
This has been a pleasurable, although sometimes a little arduous task. Emma Watson’s acting in the first couple of films is so bad it makes my teeth shudder. And Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has a sort of none stop tedium to it that makes it very difficult to focus on. However on the whole it’s been a pleasurable experience, and it was nice to reacquaint myself with the various denizens of Hogwarts.
So, with my Potter-lore nice and refreshed I trotted off down to the cinema to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2.
And look. The film did it’s job. It told the story, tied up the loose ends, and wrapped it all up nicely. There were no points where I felt it was badly made or thought through. The cinematography was good, special effects were satisfactory, acting pretty reasonable considering some of the cast’s previous performances.
It was OK.
It wasn’t magical though. Not like the earlier movies. It didn’t feel special or wide eyed and wondrous. But that’s not a fault of the film – the issue there is in the source material. Over the course of the franchise wands, spells, and magic slowly turned from being a ingenious, imaginative and quirkyly creative way of enriching the Potterverse with a sense of wonder, into being a pretty box standard substitute for guns. I used to really enjoy some of the ludicrously laterally thought out solutions to everyday problems that magic entailed – but as the franchise progresses magic gradually becomes something that you just point at your enemies and shout ”BANG!”.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 isn’t a bad film. I’d even say it’s a pretty good film. But for a movie about wizards I feel it didn’t have much magic to it.
It’s true what they say – Transformers 3 isn’t half as bad as Transformers 2.
The main reason for this is that the action sequences are handled much better. First of all, you can tell what’s going on rather than Transformers 2′s blur of grey robot limbs flashing across the screen. Secondly there were some pretty damn impressive action set pieces – a whole scene set in a toppling building being a prime example. And thirdly, the majority of the action concentrated on the human good-guys vs the Decepticons, something which I know some view as a weakness but I quite liked.
So, it’s not as bad as Transformers 2. But that’s hardly a ringing endorsment. The real question is, is it worth going to see?
Well, no. Probably not.
Because unfortunately by the time you get to the admittedly great action sequences you’re soul has been crushed by the complete turgid shit that is this movies first hour and forty five minutes.
And the most turgid of all the shit is the “acting” by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. I have never, ever seen anything as bad as her performance as Shia LaBeouf’s love interest. Never. She is Awful. Bloody awful.
Yes yes, I’m sure a few will say “well I wasn’t looking at her acting, just look at that arse!” or something similarly laddish. And yes, she is attractive in that rather dull kind of FHM type of way.
But honestly, no amount of titillation is worth enduring two and a half hours of her on the screen. Trust me.
The only thing that kept me from walking out of the movie in the first hour was the appearance of two of my favorite comedy actors in the world Ken Jeong (Senor Chang from Community) and Alan Tudyk (Wash from Firefly). Their inclusion was completely pointless mind you and padded out the movie needlessly. But I appreciated it never the less, because for a short while I could pretend I was watching another movie. I also was amused by the appearance of Buzz Aldrin. How the mighty have fallen.
So, Transformers 3. Basically, I wouldn’t bother unless you’re willing to sit through nearly two hours of crap in return for some pretty decent explosions and giant robot battles at the end.
Amy and Evan have been shipped off to the grandparents tonight and so Kerry and I have the house to ourselves. We originally had plans of going out to see the Green Lantern movie, but the lackluster reviews have put us off paying Friday night prices for it – I’ll check it out on Tuesday when it’s nice and cheap instead.
To be honest despite the bad reviews I’ll probably end up enjoying it well enough. Not on the same level I did X-Men: First Class perhaps, but I’m a sucker for action movies and am more than willing to leave my remaining brain cells at the door. My expectations are nice and low and I’m happy to go along for the ride (just not at £8.50 per ticket levels, that’s all).
That’s not to say there isn’t a bit of Green Lantern mania going on in our house. Evan has been very excited by the trailers on TV, and has frequently asked to go and see it. Unfortunately it’s a 12A so I’m not sure how good an idea that would be.
But all is not lost! The very nice people over at Mattel have sent us a Green Lantern toy to have a look at. Free toys!! Bloody marvelous.
The toy ( a Green Lantern Parallax Final Showdown no less) comes in a massive box, which certainly sent Evan’s spider sense tingling
Actually, am I allowed to mention a marvel character in a post about a DC toy? Let’s forget I said anything.
Anyhow, the Green Lantern toy is pretty cool. For a start it wins points with me for being a) free and b) something that Lee and Jeff were annoyed to hear I was receiving. But lets hear a review from a real toy expert:
So in summary it’s a big monster thing that’s stomach explodes as a big hand bursts out of it to grab unwitting members of the Green Lantern Corpse and then envelops them back into their deadly bodily embrace. Which is nice.
This is a cool toy, and Evan’s been playing with for much of today very happily. If I have one criticism it’s like I’m not too keen on Green Lanterns costume – it looks like he has woodgrain all over him. I suspect that’s an issue that the movies to blame for though to be honest.
Actually, I very much enjoy the theatre and have done since my late teens. I used to be a rather regular attender and have yet to see a professional production I have not enjoyed (although must admit, there are a fair few armature ones that I’ve regretted showing up for). Since the kids were born my theatre consumption has reduced somewhat, but I still manage to get out and see the occasional play.
We received the tickets to see Avenue Q for Christmas from my parents-in-law. I’m not generally the biggest fan of musicals, but this one has been on my to-see list for a number of years, ever since I stumbled across the soundtrack in 2005 in fact. I’m not sure how they knew this, but they did. So thank you Archie and Jeanette.
For those who haven’t heard of it before, Avenue Q is quite hard to explain without doing it a disservice. It’s basically a coming of age story, social satire, and Seasame Street homage all combined into one. Half the characters are human, and the other half muppets operated by puppeteers (who are fully in view at all times). Oh, and one of the characters is Gary Coleman (not the real Gary Coleman of course – he’s dead).
In many ways Avenue Q is similar to South Park – in that it uses a medium traditionally reserved for children (in this case puppetry rather than animation) in order to make highly insightful points about normally socially taboo subjects. Avenue Q has a lot more heart than South Park however, which actually makes the social truths and breaking of taboos even more palatable to the audience.
Just a quick look at some of the songs in the show gives you an inclination of what’s going on here:
It Sucks To Be Me
If You Were Gay
Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist
The Internet is for Porn
And it’s all very very funny stuff. Very funny.
And the underlying message of the show is a very important one too, and it’s one that’s not often portrayed: Sometimes peoples dreams come true, but sometimes they don’t either. We’re not all the special unique individuals that kids TV told us we , and there is no one in this world who doesn’t hold a smidgen of emptiness within their sense of self somewhere. The best thing is just to roll up your sleeves and get on with it.
I’m a big proponent of that point of view, both personally and professionally. And don’t see it as a negative thing – just as a part of being human. Avenue Q is brave enough to carry that message and I applaud them for it. And even better, they do so in a bloody hilarious way.
My only criticism of the show is that the second half is slightly weaker than the first. But that’s only an issue because the first half is so damn strong.
So that’s two extremely enthusiastic thumbs up. I saw it at the Bradford Alhambra, where it’s going to be until next week. You’ll have to google where it goes after that if you fancy catching it (which you should).
Recently on the Midmoclub Podcast I mentioned that out of the dozens of superhero movies coming out this year I was looking forward to X-Men First Class the least. I said that the characters didn’t inspire me, I was unhappy with the inconsistancy of the X-Men in Marvels universe, and nothing I’d seen in the trailers for the movie had made me excited about it.
Well it’s time to eat my words. X-Men First Class was bloody awesome.
First of all, the characters were absolutely spot on. Michael Fassbender was fantastically intense as Magneto and James McAvoy suitably pompous as Professor Xavier. Like Jeff I had a few problems reconciling the movies version of Mystique with the character that appeared in the earlier films, but to be honest I much preferred this one and I make a point of fastidiously ignoring X-Men 3 anyway. The only person I found to be a bit dull was Emma Frost – but I’ve never really got her character anyway. She always seems to be wearing far too little clothes.
There were enough explosions in the film to keep me happy, but this film was far more than a mindless action flick. I very much enjoyed how they intertwined the plot with the real life events of the Cuban missile crisis; and the regular X-Men themes of prejudice and genocide reverberated throughout the movie and provided thinking material long after the closing credits had rolled.
There were some very amusing moments too, not least the fantastic cameo which was almost worth the price of admission itself.
Ian mentioned over on twitter that people had been talking about the movie as being comparable to Nolan’s Batman films. While I certainly wouldn’t go that far, I do understand where they are coming from. X-Men First Class is a superhero movie that works on both a popcorn and a cerebral level, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
I’m not sure if this video is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on YouTube, but it’s certainly the funniest one I’ve seen this year. Keep with it, it’s fantastic:
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time playing games over the past couple of weeks. My biggest passion has been Halo: Reach which, like all the other Halo games, is absolutely bloody awesome. Reach doesn’t have quite as sophisticated a storyline as Halos 1, 2, and 3, but that doesn’t particularly bother me. In fact I quite liked the ‘go here, shoot that, then go there and shoot this’ structure of the storyline. There is also a cumulative feeling of desperation and the odds stacking against you which ends in a rather bleak ending which I initially felt jarred, but on reflection was pretty much spot on.
Halo: Reach gets a hearty five out of five for me, and joins the rather sparse ranks of games that have held my attention all the way through to their completion.
Now I’ve finished Halo: Reach I’m moving on to Dragon Age: Origins – a game recommended to me by both my friend Craig and Kasey and Melanie over at the Fantasy Movie Podcast.
Rather foolishly I loaded it into the Xbox at 11:00pm last night, and only shifted from the front of the TV at 3:30am when Kerry came downstairs to see where the hell I was.
Ironically though I’m still not sure if I like it. There seems to be an awful lot of pointless unrealistic blood being splattered around all over the place which is more laughable than gruesome, and I’m struggling to work out how much I should be trying to control the various characters in my group.
The storyline is engaging however and I’m more than willing to keep going with it for a while yet until I make up my mind.
The other game I’ve been playing an awful lot of recently is Lego Batman on the Wii. I actually got this when it came out back in 2008 and have completed the majority of it. It’s had a bit of a resurgence in our house however as Evan and I have started playing it together,
And you know what? For a nearly five year old he’s not half bad. He’s not quite grasped the concept of the puzzles yet, but he can run, jump and throw a batarang with the best of them and is pretty handy in a fight against the penguins goons. We’ve made our way through all the hero missions now, and are onto the villains. Evan even gets into character with a damn fine Clayface impression.
I’d never really considered the possibility of console games providing a real father/child bonding experience, but that’s undoubtedly what’s happening and it’s fantastic. Amy’s also started showing enthusiasm too which is great.
So that’s our current gaming activities, what are yours?
Recently I was approached by PictureBox, an online service that streams movies to your PC, Mac, iPad (and even a Samsung Internet-connected smart TV, whatever the hell that is). They asked me if I’d like to test out their service for a year and review some of their movies on the blog.
I said yes, obviously.
I’ve said it before, but services like Picturebox are the future. For £4.99 a month you get access to a range of 28 movies. Every week they replace 7 of the available titles with 7 new ones, so there is a steady rotation of fresh movies to watch.
In an ideal world of course I personally would like a few more movies to choose from – like every single one that’s ever been made. But that level of service is not going to happen any time soon (although I remain convinced it will eventually) so £5 for a pretty well rounded section of movies is pretty good. You can check out what’s currently showing on their site here.
The quality of the streaming is pretty damn impressive too. I have my Mac Mini hooked up to my TV so I can watch stuff on the big screen – and there’s been absolutely no discernible difference in picture or sound from regular TV that I can see. And there was no juddering as the streaming caught up either. Technology has come a long way baby.
So for my inaugural venture into reviewing for PictureBox I thought I’d go all highbrow. I’m reviewing the SpongeBob Squarepants Movie.
We’ve never really watched SpongeBob here at Hughes towers. I’ve been aware of it of course, and know a fair few adults who love it more than their kids do. And as we all know, I’m not a man who shies away from a good cartoon.
My first impression was that SpongeBob obviously owes quite a lot to the Ren and Stimpy school of animation, but to be fair so do many modern cartoons. And far better to copy the post modern anarchic humor of Ren and Stimpy than the humdrum low production values of Hanna-Barbera. However Spongebob isn’t quite as dark or perverse as Ren and Stimpy, which is just fine with me.
The movie’s story, such as it is, concerns itself with SpongeBob and his friend Patrick’s efforts to recover King Neptune’s crown. It’s a perfectly serviceable plot, and even has a nice little message at the end of it about being yourself. However it’s not really the main strength of the movie – that lies in the deliciously silly set pieces scattered throughout the film.
My very favorite moment is the point when they use David Hasselhoff as a speedboat. Unfortunately I can’t find a video for it, so you’ll just have to take my word for it – It’s bloody genius. In fact I was giggling to myself throughout all the movie, and so was Kerry beside me.
My one criticism is that it did go on a fair bit, and I did begin to get a little tired of it towards the end. I suspect that the character suits 20 minute cartoons far better than feature length movies. But the director managed to hang onto the audiences interest by his fingernails and rounded it all off nicely.
So I admit it, I’m a SpongeBob convert. I may be late to the party, and all the cool kids have moved on somewhere else – but at least I turned up.