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This is a very well-put-together disc of a very unusual movie. It's a documentary about a typeface. It examines why Helvetica caught on, how it's become so ubiquitous, and interviews some of the leading lights of the design world to find out what they think about it, both good and bad: "You can't get annoyed about it. It's like getting angry about air."
Examining the world of print on film cries out for crisp, high-definition photography and the blu-ray doesn't disappoint. The picture looks immaculate. There's plenty of additional interview footage thrown in for good measure (and it's worth watching just for the interview with Professor Erik Spiekermann which ranges from typomania - "I won't read anything until I've identified the typeface" - to finding out why Microsoft software uses Arial instead of Helvetica.)
If you've got any interest in graphic design or typography you'll find the whole thing fascinating. Even if you haven't, you may find yourself thinking about the movie the next time you catch a bus, read a sign in a shop window, or see a company logo...
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I bought this when it was on offer at 17.99 after seeing the TV ads and liking the hand-drawn quality of the graphics. I didn't have particularly high expectations when I sat down on a Saturday afternoon and fired it up. I thought i'd just spend an hour or so noodling around shooting at things...
Then found it was 4am the next morning and the PS3 really needed to get some sleep. It's been years since I've played a game that I literally couldn't put down, one that gets the balance of challenge and reward just right, but I'd definitely found such a game here. It lets you keep moving forwards without sticking you in almost-impossible boss fights (I'm looking at you, Arkham Asylum) and there's usually an alternative way to finish just about any of the many missions - but you'll want to do things the hard way, because you level up faster.
It's taken me over a week of pretty heavy-duty gaming to finish the single player game, and I'm now on the (much harder) second playthrough with the same character. When I've finished that, there are three other player characters to choose from and over 19 million procedurally generated weapons to shoot the bad guys with. After that, there's the split screen multiplayer mode for when your friends come round, and then all the online play. That's months of fun, I reckon. Highly recommended.
Unreal Tournament III (3)
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The first FPS I played was Doom, and of all the frag-fests I've come across since, UT3 is still my favourite. It never fails to get the adrenaline racing, and that's what I want from a shoot-em-up. I'm surprised by a lot of the negative reviews here. To be fair, issues like lag aren't always the game's fault.
Bear in mind that once you've installed it, you can - no, you must - go online and download the free Titan expansion pack, which gives you trophies, handfuls of new maps, vehicles, new weapons and game play modes (and a mutator that'll turn your character into a fifteen-feet-tall juggernaut). There's also an online community that provides additional content to download, again all free.
UT3 for a tenner? Remember, you'd pay almost as much as that just to get an expansion map in Call of Duty 4! Bargain!
Ridge Racer 7 (PS3)
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Arcade racers are primarily aimed at over-caffeinated eight year olds, and if that's you then RR7 will tick all the right boxes. I appreciate that driving something here bears absolutely no relation to driving in the real world. But that's the point - when I'm driving something, I expect to be able to predict what it's going to do, rather than having it arbitrarily clunk against the often invisible limits of where the programmers decided the car would be allowed to steer. And the teeth-grindingly irritating DJ (which can at least be switched off), the apparently minimal effort in working out a driving physics model beyond "hit the brake, steer to the side and you'll drift" and the occasionally perverse AI used for the computer drivers results in a clunky, way-below-average game experience. The number of copies of this in the pre-owned bins in your local game store is probably the most damning criticism you'll get; as for me, I want more from a racing game.
A Matter Of Life And Death (Powell And Pressburger)
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"Just one problem, June: no parachute!"
David Niven is the archetypal stiff-upper-lip RAF pilot in this extraordinary film from Powell and Pressburger. He's alive and in love, and according to him this has got the heavenly forces rather upset, because he shouldn't be. Will he survive, and get the girl?
Everything about this film is an utter joy, and it's just as watchable today - over sixty years after it was made. It'll bring a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye, and it thoroughly deserves a place in your DVD collection.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Complete 1st GIG Box Set (7 Discs)
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It's unfortunate that animé has yet to gain widespread mainstream acceptance (even if, god help us, we're likely to have a US-based live-action version of AKIRA inflicted on us at some time in the not too distant future) because every now and again the genre produces something that is truly exceptional. First gig is a prime example, even if most of the folks you know have never heard of it.
This first series of GITS addresses complex societal and psychological issues, examines where the increasing use of technology is likely to take mankind, has a soundtrack by Yoko Kanno - one of the finest composers to ever come out of Japan - and delivers kick-ass action and the cutest robots ever to feature in a science fiction story. Quite why this series hasn't been given a prime time showing on British television is beyond me, as it outclasses pretty much everything else on the telly. It's that good. Buy it.
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I really enjoyed the Channel Four vampire series of the same name - but this turned out to be one of the most stupefyingly bad films I have ever seen. Not even Milla's luminous presence can save it, and that should tell you all you need to know. A complete lack of coherence in the plot, phoned-in performances by most of the cast (the usually reliable William Fichtner appears to have left all responsibility for his acting duties in charge of his teeth) and "special effects" that look like they've been put together by a team of interns using demonstration versions of 3D modelling software, and you're left with a movie that's only entertaining as an example of watching millions of dollars crash and burn.
Avoid at all costs.
Lost Highway: Original Soundtrack
Various (Angelo Badalamenti / Barry Adamson) - CD
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David Lynch is one of the most innovative forces in modern cinema, and Lost Highway is a twisted little mobius strip of a film that doesn't go for the soft option or the easy answer - rather like the man behind Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, who compiled the soundtrack that accompanies it.
As a result you get a combination of music that, frankly, boggles the mind every bit as much as the film does. David Bowie, Marilyn Manson and The Smashing Pumpkins rub shoulders with Lynch stalwart Angelo Badalementi and Lou Reed wanders in for good measure. Nine Inch Nails even got in the charts with a song from the album, "The Perfect Drug." The CD is worth getting just to hear the production on that track, but watch your speakers with those amazing bass sounds. I bought the album when the film came out and spent most of that year with the CD permanently stuck in my discman; the combination of music genres is spot-on. It was the first time I'd encountered the music of German metal superstars Rammstein, too. You don't forget that in a hurry.
"This is where mechanical excellence and one thousand four hundred horsepower pays off," says Mr Eddy. Oh yes. Happy days.
Against The Clock (2CD)
Allan Holdsworth - CD
You may never have heard of him, but Allan Holdsworth is one of the most influential guitarists of modern times. He's cited as hero or genius by the likes of Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, Joe Satriani, and Eddie Van Halen to name just a few. Many guitarists attempt to copy his sound and fluid style, but they seldom even come close. If you play guitar and want to find out what complete mastery sounds like, buy this CD. I can't recommend this album highly enough.
This collection presents two sides of his work with tracks selected by Holdworth himself; the first CD concentrates on music made with electric guitar, showing off his unique sound to full effect. It'll soon become clear that Holdsworth arrangements are something special, with a chordal approach that outclasses most other modern guitarists and a soloing style which rapidly leaves everyone else in the dust.
The second CD is a selection of his work using the Synthaxe - a guitar controller for MIDI synthesisers that he's since retired (because he admits it's now mainly held together with gaffa tape). The technology allowed him to create an amazing variety of sounds which enhance his music and make it something truly special.
Holdsworth completists will of course want to buy the album for the extra tracks which appear - "Let's throw shrimp" and "Shenandoah." They're worth the price of the album on their own. Click that "buy" button now!
Wide Open Spaces (Limited)
People Like Us/Wobbly/Matmos - CD
This collaboration between some of the leading lights in the experimental music scene - People Like Us (Vicki Bennett), Wobbly (Jon Leidecker) and Matmos (Drew Daniel and M C Schmidt) deserves far greater recognition than it's got so far. Mashing up clips from television adverts, phone calls, classical music, Hank Williams records, and episodes of Bonanza, the result is a classic recording full of creative, bouncy, entertaining and extremely funny music. Standout tracks for me are "Dolly Pardon" - the songstress's track "Butterflies" as you've never heard it before - and "Chicken Legs", which is possibly the most bizarre piece of music I've ever heard. If your sense of humour is in a decent state, you'll be giggling away well before it ends.
Hey Ben, play "Ponderosa" for us!