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Rob Brydon: Live
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I've been a fan of Rob Brydon ever since the excellent 'Marion & Geoff'. Correction, I've been a fan since he did some good voice work in the 1990's 'Discworld' adventure games. He's great presenting 'Would I Lie To You' too. (Haven't watched 'Gavin & Stacey' yet but have it on DVD at recommendation of a friend). Either way, I'd long considered getting this DVD but aren't really a fan of stand-up DVDs. But as I was home alone for a few days, I decided to finally order a copy and give it a try. I wasn't disappointed.
Brydon has a great stage presence, and while has a persona that is contemporary and relevant, at the same time gives off much of the air of the classic comedians who - without wanting to get all Daily Mail - didn't rely on the f word every two seconds to get an easy laugh.I won't say there is no bad language in this show, but it is few and far between, and is not over-the-top as with many of the current crop of comedians.
Brydon opens with a few rambling comedy tales, but by mid-way through the show is mostly made up of interaction with the audience, which he does very well indeed. There are also a nice selection of impressions mixed in; As well as mostly being spot on, these impressions thankfully don't seem forced, and fit in with the rest of the show well.
I wouldn't say this is Brydon's best ever performance, but that is a mark of his quality overall, and I found this show to be very good, and one big point is - while biting and cynical at times - he gives off a tremendous warmth that is lacking from so much of comedy nowadays.
Extras on the DVD include: Rob On Tour - a reasonable backstage look at Rob's tour; It's Hal Out There - a feature with Rob talking to his warm-up act, Hal Cruttenden (though frustratingly we don't get to see any of his act); and Rob's Road Cam - a potentially amusing short about various things Brydon has filmed on the road travelling to venues, but with very brief running time and shaky camera work, doesn't really amount to much. A mixed bag, but considering many stand-up DVDs only feature the bog-standard performance with no extras, the ones we get here are decent enough.
All-in-all, I really enjoyed this DVD. To give a balanced view, Brydon might not have the most cutting-edge material (here at least), but what he does do, is give a very warm and very humorous performance. This DVD is about a year old at time of writing, so should be available at a knock-down price; I personally found it very enjoyable.
Doctor Who: Carnival Of Monsters
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My slow by steady project of delving into vintage 'Doctor Who' tales continues with this fun Jon Pertwee adventure.
As a child, I collected many (in fact, most) of the tie-in Target novels, but for whatever reason I never had this one, meaning that I was mostly unfamiliar with the plot - but that turned out to be a plus point when, all these years later, I came to watch the DVD; I loved every minute of this great adventure unfolding, never knowing what would happen next.
Although a long-standing 'Doctor Who' fan (though my interest dipped a bit in those long barren years when it was off-air) I confess to having not watched a full Jon Pertwee adventure for some years now. Shame on me - I'd almost forgotten what fun he was; and I prefer his "dashing dandy" take on the character far more than some of the more "over excitable" leads who seem to have got all the attention in recent years.
Both Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning are on fine form in this story; they work well together and really bounce off of each other. The story is certainly a surreal one, but kudos to the ever reliable Robert Holmes for daring to try it - and for pulling it off! Of the guest cast, Leslie Dwyer is particularly fun as travelling showman Vorg.
I watched this story - and am writing this review - in the middle of the new Series 5 on Saturday nights (in which I am enjoying Matt Smith immensely more than David Tennant, and in which Amy Pond is by far the most modern 'Who' companion IMO, but that's for another site!)... so obviously I notice the difference in special effects with these old stories. But this does actually not bother me - the story is strong enough to excuse these limitations, and it actually reminds me of just how genuinely scared some of those old monsters could be!
The extras are as good as we've come to expect from a 'Doctor Who' release, featuring a number of interesting bonuses (including a terrible proposed update of the theme, which thankfully was never used). As is usually the case, my personally favourite extra is the in-episode trivia track.
I really enjoyed this story, it ranks just short of a solid 5 stars from me, but comes pretty damned close. If you're looking for a decent Third Doctor tale to check out, I highly recommend this one.
Doctor Who: Horror Of Fang Rock
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After being effectively reintroduced to vintage 'Doctor Who' when I picked up the excellent 'The Brain of Morbius' DVD almost on a whim a couple of months ago, I keenly bought more vintage 'Who' DVDs, of which 'Horror of Fang Rock' was one.
Seeing as '...Fang Rock' was actually a last minute replacement story (the originally planned script, which would eventually become 'State of Decay' in 1980, involved vampires, but was aborted due to feelings it would clash with the Beeb's production of 'Dracula'), it actually ends up as a really good 1970s-era story, with only Part 3 feeling slightly stretched.
While no doubt too slow for young audiences accustomed to watered down single "fifty minutes and it's over" modern 'Who' stories, I love these vintage tales for allowing more depth, and think that (generally) multi-part episodes work much better for this.
The alien of the story is the jelly-like Rutan (of which we see only one); these are actually (otherwise unseen) enemies of the Sontarans, although you do not need to be familiar with any of the Sontaran episodes to enjoy 'Fang Rock'.Naturally, coming from the tight budget, pre-CGI days of 1970s BBC, the Rutan looks very primitive by today's standards; the (many) sequences of it squelching up the lighthouse stairs are certainly a bit dodgy, but at the same time, it is not the worst '70s-era realisation of a monster, not by a long shot. Besides, as with all good vintage 'Who', the story is strong enough carry the weaker effects off.
The sound, considering it's from ancient 1970s mono, is extremely clear. The picture is mostly good, though I did notice some camera interference during Part 2, present on the original, which is still evident.
The one thing I was a little let down with regarding the DVD, was the features. Not with the quality of the features that ARE included, but typical 'Who' DVD releases at least feature a retrospective look back at the making of the particular story, but there is no such feature with 'Fang Rock'.We do get a nice (and deserving) 36 minute feature looking at the extensive work of story writer Terrance Dicks, though it only makes brief inclusion of 'Fang Rock'.The other main feature is with Paddy Russell, show runner for several 'Who' stories. This one goes into a bit more depth regarding 'Fang Rock', and interestingly she considers it a rather weak story.
While these two features are nice, I did feel they could have been easily at home on any number of other vintage 'Who' DVDs. The third main feature is an Antiques Roadshow-style short looking at some of the merchandise, made in 1993. This sounded very promising, but at just 4 minutes, I found it to be to be pointlessly short, and - with no direct connection to 'Fang Rock' - it seems to be included just as a filler.
There is the standard in-episode trivia track, which I always love, and audio commentary (which as per usual I've yet to listen to), but the only other feature is a bog-standard picture gallery. Bearing in mind some of the wonderful features on other 'Who' DVDs, I felt a bit let down by the ones of this release.
But all-in-all, this is a great 'Who' story. I'm not qute giving it a perfect 5 mostly due to the unusually disappointing extras, but even so, if you are a vintage 'Who' fan, I recommend 'Horror of Fang Rock' for your collection.
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I was reading up on the late, great Isaac Hayes after buying the 'Ultimate Isaac Hayes' double CD (which I purchased after his death). Anyway, reading up, I learned of this film, and out of curiosity - and as it was only 2.99 - I gave it ago. And I wasn't disappointed.
Hayes is perfect as the lead (bounty hunter Truck Turner of the title), and I immediately warmed to him. The movie is an enjoyable action thriller; the first half plays more like a comedy, with many wisecracks and amusing happenings, as Hayes and his partner Jerry track down a psychotic pimp.The second half almost plays like a sequel to the first (if that makes sense), as - with the pimp dead - a price is put on Truck's head, and there are numerous attempts on his life. The second half of the picture is far more serious than the first.
The supporting cast is very good, with many faces from various '70s blaxploitation movies appearing. (By the way Yaphet Kotto, the main villain of the picture, and first billed after Hayes, doesn't appear until almost an hour in).The first hour or so is great fun; the pacing does slightly let up midway through as things sag very slightly, but thankfully things soon pick up again, leading to a satisfying climax.
I was surprised to see Nichelle Nichols in a role, as the new head of the group of hookers that is central to the plot. Nichols is, of course, best known as Uhura from the original 'Star Trek', and it is quite a shock to see the same actress f-ing and jeffing here.(Incidentally, the inside of the DVD case has a picture of Hayes and Nichelle together, smiling, which is presumably an on-set photo, as the characters are adversaries in the actual movie.)
Unlike some of the old '70s blaxploitation pictures, production values are actually very good, with some nice action sequences (in particular, the lengthy car chase, as Turner and Jerry pursue the murderous pimp, is excellent).
The movie has many instances of both the 'f' word, and the 'n' word (which the black characters mockingly use about themselves). Although there are a couple of vaguely-gory shootout moments in the second half, I think it this film was released nowadays it might only get a 15 rating.
I was surprised that this movie never led to a follow-up of some kind, or even - as some of the 1970s blaxploitation movies were - tweaked and toned down for a TV series. The elements are all there and I think it would have been great, and I would have liked to have seen more of the Truck Turner character.
All-in-all, I really enjoyed this movie, and it has made me keen to check out some more of the 1970s blaxploitation movies. It's hardly cinema's greatest ever picture, but for what it is, it's well performed and well shot, with a terrific lead - and for 2.99, you can hardly go wrong!
The Taking Of Pelham 123 (2009)
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I always like to see the original of a film before the remake; In the case of 'The Taking of Pelham 123', I am familiar with the 1974 original - it turns up on TV late at night occasionally - but haven't seen it for a couple of years. On that basis, I'll try and rate this 2009 version on its own merit.
I've heard mixed reviews about this remake - it was generally derided by critics, yet some viewers love it. Personally I found myself falling between the two camps - it's not perfect, yet has some very good moments and at the end of the day is a decent enough thriller.
The saving grace of the movie is Denzel Washington, who puts in a wonderful performance as subway train dispatcher Walter Garber, an everyman who is easy to identify with.John Travolta is reasonable as head hijacker Ryder, but while he does nothing to damage the film, he felt to me to be playing the same character as we've seen him play in a dozen other movies.I liked the parallels between put-upon Garber and the New York city Mayor (James Gandolfini), neither of whom had complete say in their respective job positions.
I wasn't too keen on the camera style of the film - lots of shaky and jolty shots and various camera trickery. I found this much of the time to be distracting, and felt there was no need for it.
But one of the films main flaws is that - compared to the original - we never feel any real sense of danger or urgency to save the hijacked passengers. However, this is saved by the great interaction between Washington and Travolta, which this particular version chooses to focus on instead of the more than the actual hijacker/hostage element.
...And as such, I found the first two thirds of the movie to be very enjoyable. However, later on, it sadly decided to morph into an over-the-top action flick, which felt to be rather 'welded on'. I didn't mind the odd stunt or effect, but the countless cars flipping over and over or flying through the air just felt out of place to me; it's almost as if today's film makers feel contractually obliged to stick this sort of thing in for the sake of it.Without giving too many spoilers away, the last section of the film doesn't do what has gone before any justice, as Washington's everyman character suddenly morphs into an action hero, albeit an unwitting one. I felt this totally at odd with what had gone before, and this climatic section goes on for too long and is awkwardly paced in my opinion.
Regarding the DVD release, I find the back cover to immediately spoil the climax, as it shows Washington, with gun, in daylight, running along; surely a better, more representative shot could have been used (although the films trailers themselves give far too much from the ending away).
The DVD has two audio commentaries, but the only other feature 'Marketing of Pelham 123', just turns out to be the trailers used to promote the film, which I was disappointed in.
All-in-all, this is a mixed film, mostly good, but I found the climax to spoil it. However, at its best moments, with Travolta verbally sparring with Washington, I really enjoyed this story, enough to give it a very reasonable four stars.
Creative Audigy SE Surround Sound Card
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I have always bought Creative sound cards, ever since I put my first sound card into my ancient 486. After upgrading to my current system about a year and a half ago, I settled for the on-board sound, which was reasonable, but eventually decided that I wanted a dedicated sound card.Although not a heavy gamer, I do a lot of sound editing and suchlike, as well as watch a lot of DVDs on my computer, so wanted something decent, so again went for Creative as they are generally the leader in PC sound cards in my opinion.
For under thirty pounds (well, it was when I purchased it), this is a great value sound card. It's not top end, but mid-spec, and for what I want, does the job perfectly.
The card itself is very compact, and fits into a regular PCI slot. I found the installation software to be very user friendly and easy to run, as were the optional updates for the latest drivers and software after initial installation.
I've had the card installed for around a week now, and am very pleased with it. It comes with a good array of programmes to run with it, which I haven't delved that deep into yet, but from what I've seen, and going by my Creative products, appear to be very good.
I did find that I needed to tweak the sound settings - initially, the sound was very flat and distorted, but this is easy to do in the volume control panel, and is just a case of setting to what suits your personal preference and speaker arrangement. The advanced graphic equalizer settings in the control panel also have some useful pre-sets (classical, drum & bass, pop, etc.), although I did find it better to set these manually.
All-in-all, for a reasonable Sound Card, particularly if you're upgrading from basic on-board sound, I recommend this product.
Batman: The Dark Knight (2 Discs)
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Well, I'd had this DVD for over a year. I am a 'Batman' fan (on screen anyway, never really been into comics), so don't know why it too me so long to watch this one. Either way, I found it to be a breathtaking experience.This film has been out on DVD quite a long time now, so all there is to be said about it has pretty much already been said. Even so, I thought I'd add my comments.
I enjoyed 'Batman Begins', but confess that it wasn't a movie that I rushed to give repeat viewings. Maybe that is part of the reason I was so slow to view 'The Dark Knight'. I had hard varying reviews of 'Dark Knight' - some saying it wasn't as good, some saying it was better. Personally... I enjoyed 'The Dark Knight' immensely more than the first one.
Part of the film's strength is in its terrific main cast, and topping that is of course the late Heath Ledger as the Joker. I don't really think that Ledger's performance as the Joker can be compared to Jack Nicholson's 1989 incarnation, as they are very different interpretations. Either way, Ledger puts in a film-stealing performance.
The only thing I did find, as some others have commented, was that with such a colourful cast, Batman himself did seem a bit bland at times.
Part of what makes this film great is how it is startlingly realistic. Moving away from the gothic tones of the 1989 version, this version of the Batman universe is set in a bleak, realistic metropolis. And realism is another key element of the film overall: much of 'The Dark Knight' feels like it could possibly happen. Characters and plot points have more realistic origins than the fantasy of the comic books and previous films, and the gadgetry too is not that far removed from reality. In fact, at points, it feels to move more into the realms of (the more believable) days of James Bond.
There is no real humour in the film, save for the black humour that comes from the Joker's crimes - one of my favourite moments is as the Joker, dressed as a nurse, totters away from a hospital, before blowing it up.
If the film has any faults, it is maybe that it verges on being a little TOO long. I like that they went for something epic (in an age where all too many films are geared up towards "the yoof of today" with short attention span), but even so I did feel that they could have shaved a few minutes off here and there.
As good as the story is overall, part of me wishes that the movie had ended when the Joker is finally captured mid-way through. The second half of the film almost plays like a sequel to the first half, with the second wave of Joker's crimes, and the emergence of Two-Face (a villain that, only growing up on repeats of the classic 1960s series - I was never into the comics - I was never overly familiar with, but found the interpretation presented here better than Tommy Lee Jones's version in the disappointing 'Batman Forever' (1995)).
One thing I must mention is that this film is certainly not for children. It is extremely violent in places, and I am amazed that it only received a 12 certificate (I would have thought it merited a 15 at very least), and even beyond probably being too long and overpowering for younger viewers, I would personally deem it simply too dark, disturbing and violent for younger 'Batman' fans.
Of the features on the two-disk DVD, I thought I was going to enjoy the six episodes of 'Gotham Tonight', but found them wooden and dull; more interesting were the various versions of the trailers, and the art gallery.
All-in-all this is a breathtaking experience, and surely ranks as one of the best sequels of all time. At under 5 quid for the two-disk version, I recommend 'The Dark Knight' to any mature action thriller fan.
Doctor Who: The Web Planet
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After my effective reintroduction to vintage 'Doctor Who' with Tom Baker's 'The Brain of Morbius' (see separate review), I decided to go back to the black and white era, and chose 'The Web Planet' to start with.
First broadcast in 1965, 'The Web Planet' was heavily promoted at the time as the creative team tried to come up with a new alien race that would match the phenomenal success of the Daleks. And as such, it was generally met with huge disappointment, and has long been considered a weak story amongst 'Who' fans as a result.
The biggest gripe with many about this story, is the costumes - they are clearly people inside giant ant and moth costumes. But personally, I can live with this - at least they were aiming for something imaginative, and I rather like the concept of the ant-like Zarbi and war with the moth-like Menoptra, pulling off their wings (yes really!).That said, the underground, centipede-like Optera, introduced later in the story, admittedly ARE terrible - they look like home-made costumes for a children's fancy dress party, and rank amongst the worst and most unconvincing alien costumes ever seen in vintage 'Doctor Who'!
But costumes aside, I really like what this story was aiming for. The first episode, with the Doctor (William Hartnell on fine form) and Ian investigating the strange planet, has a wonderfully alien appeal. But I find that, as with many Hartnell-era 'Who' stories, whilst having great concepts, the storylines themselves aren't the best, and it is the shaky story more than the dodgy visuals that ultimately let this one down for me.Episodes 1-3 are reasonable, but I have to say that by episodes 4-6 the story was really being stretched, and much of the time I didn't have a clue what was going on. The story could have comfortably made a four-parter and still have room for padding; it is really stretched at six episodes.
Another problem is that all of the creature costumes look exactly the same, making it impossible for the viewer to tell any of them apart and engage with any of the alien characters. It was daring for them to try a story completely devoid of non-humanoid species, but they should have aimed to make each 'character' at least more distinct looking for sake of viewers trying to keep up with what was going on.
I should also mention an effect employed during production where Vaseline was smeared on the camera lens to try and give an 'alien' look. All this does is make the picture look horribly blurry and adds nothing; I really wish they hadn't bothered.
There are also some unintentionally amusing moments, such as one of the Zarbi running forwards and accidentally banging the camera as it goes past.
There are the usual array of extras on the DVD, including the in-episode trivia subtitle track, which are always my favourite features on 'Who' DVDs; cast and crew commentary, which I haven't had time to completely listen to but sounds to be the standard commentary fare; 'Tales of the Isop', a retrospective of the story; William 'Ian' Russell reading a Zarbi story from the first Doctor Who annual; and a PDF of said annual to view on your PC.
Although occasionally popping up in various other 'Who' media over the years, the Zarbi have never yet made a reappearance on-screen, and I would love to see what modern 'Who', with all of it's CGI effects, would make of them; it is a setting that I would really love to see revisited.
I'm not sure how to rate this one. I like what they were going for and that they dared try something different. I am quite willing to use my imagination to look past the dodgy costumes, but it is really the overall plotting that sadly stops this one from being as good as it should have been.
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I am a straight male in my early 30s, and I confess that I didn't know who Harvey Milk was before watching this film. I am into a wide variety of film genres (as my review history reflects), and picked this movie up not knowing what to expect, but went for it on the strength of the (deserved) critical praise is has received. In short, it is one of the best films I have seen in a long time.
Sean Penn gives a deservedly acclaimed performance as Milk, a charismatic, entertaining individual. The supporting cast - none of whom I personally was familiar with - also put in excellent performances.
Without meaning to brush over the important work and advancements Milk made on behalf of the LGBT community, this is a story that appeals far beyond the gay community, and a classic story about standing up for the downtrodden.
The film runs at two hours; in some movies, I find this a bit long and my attention starts to wander, but in the case of 'Milk' I found it the perfect length; it needs the full two hours to tell the story, and I can honestly say I did not feel it to sag at any point.
It's hard to accurately class this film - for its most part, it is a drama-biography, but it also has some nice moments of comedy, and is also very touching at points.
There is little I can find to gripe about with this movie. I did find that Harvey met the two big loves of the story (first the charming Scott, later the demanding Jack) and fell in love with (and was in bed with) barely after meeting them; I did wonder if this was tweaked to suit that pacing of the film.Some have commented that they felt the film concentrates on Harvey's love life too much, neglecting further detailing of his political career. I personally did not feel this at all - I found both elements to be well balanced, and think it was important to give an overview of Milk's whole life, not just political, to get a more rounded view of him.
Regarding the DVD release, extras are three deleted (and pretty inconsequential) deleted scenes, a 15 minute documentary looking profiling Harvey Milk, a 13 minute making of featurette, and a third looking at the recreation of the candlelight vigil (but which also strays into other areas). There are also international and UK versions of the film's trailer. Ordinarily I like to see an audio commentary on DVD releases, but maybe it was felt this film didn't need one.
All-in-all, this is a really enjoyable movie. You don't have to have gay interests to become engrossed in it, and I am glad that it is bringing the tale of Harvey Milk to a new generation, including myself. And at under a fiver, you can't go wrong. Highly recommended.
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This was another of several DVDs that I had on my 'to watch' pile but took ages getting around to it. Part of me expected it to just be another pulp, 'watch once' comedy with a few okay moments, but it turned out to be possibly - as the box blurb quotes - the best comedy of 2009.
One of my reasons for watching this film was to buff up on Bradley Cooper - who seems to be the breakout star of the moment - who in a few months will be seen playing Face in the big-screen version of 'The A-Team'. Cooper does very well, as does Ed Helms (from the American version of 'The Office'), but the standout for me is Zach Galigianakis, who I was unfamiliar with before this movie, who puts in a great performance as the weird, slightly creepy but strangely likable Alan. (For older viewers, Alan for some reason reminds me for the character Angel from 'The Rockford Files' - maybe it's just the beard!)
The basic plot is that four friends head to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, two days before the wedding of one of the group. But after a wild night that none of them can remember, the groom-to-be is missing, Helms has lost a tooth and gained a wife, there is a tiger in the gang's rented bathroom, and for some reason a Chinese gang are after them!It sounds like a screwball comedy, and it is - but it is excellently put together and extracts all the potential from the promising premise, turning what could have been a watch-once-and-forget movie into a terrific comedy with enough good moments to merit repeat viewings.
The strong cast is one of the things that really works for this film. Yes they are an eccentric bunch, but - unlike some similar screwball comedies - at the same time they are curiously likable, and you can't help but cheer them on. I also like that the characters react to the situations they're put in, without the smart-alec "aren't we funny" approach that puts me off of a lot of US comedies, especially TV ones.Of the secondary cast, Heather Graham (who Helms finds to now be his wife) is sadly underused, but Ken Jeong as the effeminate Chinese gangster is hilarious.
Regarding the DVD release, I think the Blu-Ray (or possibly R1 DVD) version may have more features, but on the R2 DVD version, I was disappointed that there was no audio commentary or deleted scenes included; there is just a 15 minute sort-of making featurette, a gag reel, and a version of the friends singing a song that appears in the movie anyway. But disappointing extras aside, it is still a good movie.
This isn't a movie for everyone - don't even considering watching if you are offended by raunchy humour and the f word being said every five seconds. (BTW, on the English version, a simulated sex act on the closing credits is blurred to secure the film's 15 rating). But if you do like your comedy with a bit of edge, then I recommend this film - it does well in it's aim to be an enjoyable screwball comedy, and the various threads of the story all slot together nicely and are satisfactorily explained in the end.