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since 31/08/2009


Wii Sports (Wii) 15/11/2009

Wii Sports - hours of fun

Wii Sports (Wii) For anyone who doesn't know, the Wii is a games console that uses the actual physical movement of the handsets to control the action on the screen - and Wii Sports is a collection of 5 sporting games, namely Tennis, Golf, Boxing, Ten-Pin Bowling and Baseball - all of which rely on a degree of hand-to-eye coordination and quick reflexes; skills that you enhance as you play the games. The Ten-Pin Bowling and Golf have been largely superceded by enhanced versions that come with the newer package called Wii Sports Resort - in which the Motion Plus device is plugged into the handset to detect and incorporate subtle wrist movements. Even so, both are enjoyable to play and are relatively undemanding if you are unfit (like me). Tennis is probably the most physically demanding game and you soon find yourself leaping around as you take part in a game of doubles (either controlling one or both of your players). This is not a game for confined spaces. Baseball requires keen timing when you are batting but the game pretty much plays itself when you are the pitcher and I found this part quite boring. Boxing incorporates the additional "nunchuck" control so that you can punch with both hands and soon makes you sweat, but is probably my least favourite of the activities as it doesn't seem to require much skill. All of the activities give you a rating after each game and this spurs you on to keep improving and makes the whole experience very addictive.

Nintendo Wii 15/11/2009

Wii love it - Nintendo Wii

Nintendo Wii When I bought the Wii console I didn't really know what to expect. I had seen the adverts on TV so I knew the concept, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it is - and how addictive it is. I got the Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort games with it and the secret intention was to get rid of a bit of weight without having to go out into the British winter to do it. To this end, it is ideal (it's too early to say if it's losing me weight but I am certainly spending hours in physical activity instead of sitting down). To personalise the experience you can create your own characters (called Mii) which then become your players or opponents in the games. You do need a lot of space around you to play the games and there have already been occassions where I have sent ornaments crashing off shelves with my flailing arms as I get immersed in the games. This should be considered if you are thinking about buying one. The system was easy to set up and doesn't require a great deal of technical know-how and the games are fun for all ages, incorporating gentler activities alongside the more vigorous ones. There are a couple of features that I haven't yet used but certainly will be doing in the near future. The ability to manipulate digital images and to download and play older Nintendo games (requires internet connection). The only downside I have noticed so far is that the batteries that were included with the handset ran out after four days - but I have ...

Lemmings (PSP) 21/10/2009

Lemmings - Bang goes another evening

Lemmings (PSP) The concept is simple, the possibilities are endless; the combination is highly addictive. The lemmings drop out of a hatch and walk - and without your intervention, that's all they do. Your job is to guide them towards their goal using a limited number of specialist skills. The skills are as follows: Climber: Once a lemming has been turned into a climber, he will climb any vertical face Floater: Once a lemming has been turned into a floater he will survive any fall by opening a little umbrella Bomber: A bomber will blow himself up after 5 seconds. This is useful for removing blockers and blowing through obstacles Blocker: A blocker will stand his ground and not let anyone past, forcing the lemmings to change direction Builder: A builder will build a diagonal staircase of 12 bricks in the direction he is walking Basher: A basher will bash his was through an adjacent vertical surface Miner: A miner will dig diagonally down through vertical or horizontal surfaces in the direction he is walking Digger: A digger will dig vertically down through any horizontal surface The trick is to work out how to use your limited skill set to get from start to finish, losing as few lemmings as possible. Each round has different scenery, posing a new set of challenges, and a different target number of lemmings to be saved. As well as being addictive, the game is educational and develops the lateral-thinking skills of the player as the rounds get harder and harder. ...

When A Man Loves A Woman (DVD) 21/10/2009

When A Man Loves A Woman - The Demon Drink

When A Man Loves A Woman (DVD) Set against a backdrop of near-idyllic family life, Michael Green (Andy Garcia) is a successful airline pilot who has married Alice (Meg Ryan), the woman of his dreams and taken on her oldest daughter as his own. They also have a younger daughter together and things seem to be all rosy. However, the pressures of work and motherhood are starting to tell on Alice and she turns to drink in order to cope. As her dependency on alcohol grows, she develops more and more cunning ways to hide it, feigning illness and exhaustion to disguise her often incoherent state. Things come to a head one day when she has an accident in the shower and ends up in hospital; it is only now that she has to face the fact that she has become an alcoholic. The film follows the family as they struggle to cope with her addiction. Alice learns a lot about herself through the people she meets in rehab and Michael learns a lot about Alice through the children and soon realises how little he actually knew his beloved wife and how blind he had been to her problems. It is a wonderfully touching story that will have you wailing into your popcorn in places, but at the same time, there is an inspiring sense of defiance that shines through in the way the family help each-other throughout. Ryan and Garcia are well cast in their parts but, in my opinion, they are guilty of a little overacting at times. Not so for the children, who are smart and funny and, without trying, become the focus of it all.

Leon (DVD) 20/10/2009

Leon - Not your average babysitter

Leon (DVD) Leon is not just an assassin; he's a loner and a perfectionist - and it is no coincidence that, when there's a "job" to be done in the Italian Quarter, he's the man they ask for. He lives a life of few possessions, flitting from one seedy apartment block to another with just the tools of his trade and his cherished pot-plant for company. Never settling, never mingling, keeping below the radar of both the establishment and the law, his only pleasure being the occasional cinema trip to see his idol, Gene Kelly. Matilda is a school-girl who, thanks to her dysfunctional family, spends very little time at school. She lives with her father, her step-mother, her half-sister and her beloved baby brother just down the hall from Leon's latest haunt, and when her father gets mixed up in a drug deal that goes wrong, their paths cross and the strangest of relationships is born. The story centres around Matilda's quest for revenge against a corrupt Drugs Enforcement Agency officer, Norman "Stan" Stansfield, and the bond she forms with Leon along the way. Reluctant at first, Leon accepts the girl into his lonely existence, not only learning to like her, but to love her. Of course, the film raises all sorts of ethical questions; not only on the subject of kids becoming killers, but also about the relationship between Leon and Matilda which is at best morally uncomfortable, and at worst, disturbing. There are some interesting sub-plots and Leon's relationship with his one-time ...

Rabid Death's Curse - Watain 12/10/2009

Tango In The Night - Gone are the blues

Rabid Death's Curse - Watain For some reason, Ciao displays the wrong graphic for this album... but here we go... Mention Fleetwood Mac to a lot of people and they still associate them with the original rock/blues combo started in the 60s by Peter Green; however, the band have come a long way since then and undergone many changes in both personnel and musical direction. The addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks to the line-up in the 1970s gave the band a distinctly hippy flavour, which mellowed further as the 70s turned into the 80s. Unfortunately, Buckingham and Nicks both focused on their own solo careers as the 80s progressed, but they reunited with the band in 1987 to produce the Tango In The Night, an album that typified their style at the time and stood out like a beacon against the monotonous background of late-80s electro-pop. Big Love – With its psychedelic video and heavy-breathing accompaniment, Big Love was unlike anything else around at the time. The first of six singles to be released in the UK from Tango In The Night, it reached number 9 in the charts in April 1987 (7/10) Seven Wonders – Very reminiscent of earlier songs like Gypsy and Dreams, and a wonderful example of the quality of Stevie Nicks’ vocals. Also charted as a single in 1987, only reaching number 56 in the UK charts (7/10) Everywhere – There are very few songs that stop you in your tracks and make you completely re-evaluate your taste in music, but for me, Everywhere is one of them. Musically and ...

Evita (DVD) 08/10/2009

Evita - Watch out Buenos Aires

Evita (DVD) A touching, if not altogether historically accurate, account of the life of Argentina’s saintly matriarch, conveyed somewhat quirkily via the music of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice. Narrated by a strangely omnipresent Che (Antonio Banderas) the film tells the story of Eva Duarte, the illegitimate daughter of a middle-class Argentine rancher, and her determination to make something of her life, from her lowly, almost impoverished childhood in the province of Junin, through her less-than-successful career as an actress, to her chance meeting with Colonel Juan Peron, an upcoming star of the Argentinean army and would-be president. Focusing mainly on the Argentine people’s affection for their first-lady and only touching briefly on the many corruption allegations that dogged her and her husband’s reign, the film does actually give you a sense of the unity she brought to a country that had, hitherto, been gripped by years of civil unrest and of the rankling she caused in the upper echelons of the country’s government when she announced that she would stand for vice-president. The characters are well cast and, more importantly for a musical, don’t sound bad when they are singing. Of course you wouldn’t expect anything less than musical brilliance from Madonna in the lead role, but Antonio Banderas himself and Jonathan Price (Juan Peron) add a lot to the richness of the music. Look out for Jimmy Nail as Agustine Magaldi too. Being the type of boring old stick that ...

Led Zeppelin IV (Digitally Remastered) - Led Zeppelin 06/10/2009

Led Zeppelin IV. A real classic

Led Zeppelin IV (Digitally Remastered) - Led Zeppelin Track listing: 1) Black Dog 2) Rock And Roll 3) The Battle Of Evermore 4) Stairway To Heaven 5) Misty Mountain Hop 6) Four Sticks 7) Going To California 8) When The Levee Breaks As the name suggests, this was the 4th Zeppelin album and the one that really illustrates the versatility of the band, encompassing elements of folk and blues as well as their trademark hippy rock. I have never quite worked out what Black Dog is all about - apart from lauding the merits of a skinny woman and warning that big-legged women ain't got no soul. It's a quirky tune with quirky lyrics but somehow it works (8/10) Rock And Roll could have been produced by Ronseal - it does exactly what it says on the tin. It is no more than a standard rock n roll riff with lyrics that have no real meaning but celebrate the rock n roll genre. Great party track (8/10) The Battle Of Evermore takes you back to a mystical Arthurian world and has a haunting, medieval feel to it. Perhaps not in-keeping with the rest of the album, but they do say that variety is the spice of life (7/10) Stairway To Heaven is, of course, a timeless classic. A wonderful 8-minute fusion of rock and folk, the sheet-music for which still outsells any other song in the world. Starting with a lazily picked acoustic guitar and one of the most recognisable opening riffs of any song ever, Robert Plant's unique voice takes us through a tale of one person's search for spiritual bliss. Indeed the vocals are so ...

Back To Bedlam - James Blunt 05/10/2009

Back To Bedlam. Bang goes my street-cred

Back To Bedlam - James Blunt Track listing: 1) High 2) You're Beautiful 3) Wiseman 4) Goodbye My Lover 5) Tears And Rain 6) Out Of My Mind 7) So Long Jimmy 8) Billy 9) Cry 10) No Bravery Once voted by British people as the second most annoying thing in the world (caravans came first) this much-maligned former Household Cavalryman seems to have a knack of polarising views to an extent that few before him have ever achieved - and his first album, Back To Bedlam - attracts opinions that are much more varied than the contents of the album itself. Personally, I think the album is ok - even bordering on good - but my main criticism of it would be the similarity of a lot of the songs. So much so that I find it impossible to give a track-by-track analysis and find enough to say about each song. Most people will be familiar with the album's signature track, You're Beautiful, and this is typical of what you will find on the rest of the album: strummy acoustic guitars, simple pleasing harmonies, well-written meaningful lyrics and that little-bit-posh, little-bit-whiney, little-bit-nasal voice that wouldn't sound out of place narrating a Famous Five story. A few of the songs do stir me emotionally (especially Goodbye My Lover) and, on the whole, it is an album that I ocassionally enjoy listening to from start to finish. I would guess that this opinion is secretly shared by a lot of people who would never admit it because of the bad press that Blunt himself has received.

Metallica - Metallica 05/10/2009

Metallica for the masses?

Metallica - Metallica Track listing: 1) Enter Sandman 2) Sad But True 3) Holier Than Thou 4) The Unforgiven 5) Wherever I May Roam 6) Don't Tread On Me 7) Through The Never 8) Nothing Else Matters 9) Of Wolf And Man 10) The God That Failed 11) My Friend Of Misery 12) The Struggle Within Purists might argue that this The Black Album, as it has become known, marked the beginning of the end for the original essence of Metallica. I'm not so sure but I would certainly agree that this was the album that took Metallica out of the thrash-metal niche and onto the CD racks of the mainstream masses. Of course, it is natural for a band to sound more polished after playing together for so many years - and there were hints of this refinement on the And Justice For All album - but The Black Album and the band's first offering, Kill Em All, are chalk and cheese. The album opens with the excellent Enter Sandman, a hard-hitting spin on the children's nursery rhyme which, with its heavily distorted guitars, prominent thumping beat and Hetfield's menacing vocals, is quite reminiscent of the song One from And Justice For All. Track 2, Sad But True, is slower in tempo but no less punchy in its delivery, telling a tale of an almost schizophrenic analysis of one's own life and character. Even slower still is track 4, The Unforgiven, which, along with track 8, Nothing Else Matters, provide a pleasant relief from the usual relentless barrage of hard-hitting rock, the latter of the ...

Use Your Illusion II (Parental Advisory) [PA] - Guns N' Roses 04/10/2009

Use Your Illusion 2 - better than Use Your Illusion 1

Use Your Illusion II (Parental Advisory) [PA] - Guns N' Roses It's a strange marketing ploy to release two albums at the same time - risking commercial suicide some might say - but for Guns n Roses and their Use Your Illusion 1 & 2 albums, it did seem to work. Of course the sales figures were never likely to match those of their debut album, Appetite For Destruction, but each of the Use Your Illusion offerings had successful single releases, proving their individual merits. The first four tracks, Civil War, 14 Years, Yesterdays and Knockin On Heaven's Door, are all pretty slow-tempo, thought-provoking and lyrically wonderful - although obviously Bob Dylan has to take the praise for Knockin On Heaven's Door, but I do think GnR have made a better job than Clapton ever did of covering it. Get In The Ring is a shocking outburst from Axl Rose to his critics in the media who had obviously upset him. This track is laced with expletives and is definitely not for innocent ears. Tracks 6 and 8, Shotgun Blues and Pretty Tied Up, would have been better suited to the Use Your Illusion 1 album, with its similarities to Appetite For Destruction. Tracks 7 and 9, Breakdown and Locomotive, are both over six minutes in length and both take you on a musical journey through their respective tales of morality. The instrumental work on both tracks is exquisite and the lyrics are genius. I found it hard to tell tracks 10 and 11, So Fine and Estranged, apart. They are both ballads and both very pleasant and emotional - if not too memorable. ...

Use Your Illusion I - Guns N' Roses 04/10/2009

Use Your Illusion 1 - Not as good as Use Your Illusion 2

Use Your Illusion I - Guns N' Roses It's a strange marketing ploy to release two albums at the same time - risking commercial suicide some might say - but for Guns n Roses and their Use Your Illusion 1 & 2 albums, it did seem to work. Of course the sales figures were never likely to match those of their debut album, Appetite For Destruction, but each of the Use Your Illusion offerings had successful single releases, proving their individual merits. The two opening tracks, Right Next Door To Hell and Dust N Bones, sound like they are trying to continue what was started in Appetite For Destruction, but neither quite matches the punchiness of Welcome To The Jungle or Mr Brownstone and, as a result, they are quite forgettable. There then follows an outstanding cover version of the Wings song Live And Let Die, which excellently demonstrates the versatility of Rose's voice. The fourth track, Don't Cry, is a touching love-song that, quite unusually, appears on the Use Your Illusion 2 album with a completely different set of lyrics. Tracks 5, 7, 8 and 9, Perfect Crime, Bad Obsession, Back Off Bitch and Double Talkin' Jive, all fall into the "typically sleazy but not very memorable" category but track 6, You Ain't The First, is notable for the casual "jam-session" sound that characterises GnR's unplugged albums. Track 10, November Rain, is a wonderfully touching ballad that first appeared in a very raw form on a promo disc called 44-Caliber Horticulture some years before. This was the most successful ...

Laundry Service - Shakira 04/10/2009

Laundry Service - Easily Shakira's best album to date

Laundry Service - Shakira It is an unfortunate fact of life for the many thousands of talented latin musicians that, if you want to make it on a worldwide scale, you have to learn to sing in English. This was powerfully illustrated in the late 1990s by Ricky Martin, and in 2001 when Shakira's third studio album - but only her first in the English language - expanded her appeal from the confines of the Spanish-speaking world and sent her global. Of course the fact that the album's signature track, Whenever, Wherever, is a catchy-enough song - coupled with the fact that Shakira herself is a multi-talented mega-babe, did her progression no harm at all. The album itself is an appealing mix of traditional latin beats, pop and ballads, with a number of tracks still sung in her native tongue - but not enough to make the album unlistenable to the monolingual masses (of which I am one). OBJECTION - Starting with a typical Tango-Argentino introduction, the song bursts into life with a lyrical tale of betrayal set to an energetic latin beat. UNDERNEATH YOUR CLOTHES - A beautifully delivered ballad that carries a sentiment that any man would be touched to receive. However, some of the translated lyrics sound contrived and detract from the romantic mood: "You're a song written by the hands of God. Don't get me wrong, this might sound to you a bit odd". WHENEVER, WHEREVER - The up-tempo signature track that is a mix of lively rhythm, South American pipes and quirky lyrics that somehow come together ...

Born in the U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen 04/10/2009

Bruce Springsteen - Born In The USA. The Boss at his best

Born in the U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen I suppose Bruce Springsteen is the Marmite of the music world - you either love him or you hate him - or, like many youngsters who encountered him at Glastonbury this year, you have never heard of him (shame on you). For me, any music that evokes memories of my mid-80s school discos, is automatically beyond any criticism, and the title track from this album is no exception. Of course, one track doesn't make an album, but it can very often be the sole reason for purchasing it. I have often thought that Springsteen's lyrics were a little suspect, but very often these take second place to the power and emotion of the music and the mood he creates - and this album is Bruce at his raw, belting best. BORN IN THE USA - The massively powerful title track that seems to have become a patriotic anthem despite its anti-establishment sentiment and its open criticism of the Vietnam War. Laced with Springsteen's trademark hints of frustration and pent-up anger, you have to go a long way to find a more memorable track from the 80s (9/10) COVER ME - A love song of sorts, with an underlying message of how hard life has become (5/10) DARLINGTON COUNTY - A relatively upbeat tale of two guys misbehaving on a road-trip (7/10) WORKING ON THE HIGHWAY - Paced halfway between Rockabilly and Line-dance, this is a foot-tapping account of the weekend antics of a road-working gang (8/10) DOWNBOUND TRAIN - A moving, heartfelt story of regret and despair that will touch all but ...

Epson SX200 15/09/2009

Epson Stylus SX200 - Not quite the bargain I first thought

Epson SX200 If you had asked me to review the Epson Stylus SX200 when I first got it, I may well have agreed with some of the other reviewers who rant about what good value for money it is. However, after owning one for about a year, my opinion has changed somewhat. The scanning and copying are first rate, I don't have a bad thing to say about them and, for the first six months, I would have said the print quality is ok for the price (you have to use the Best Photo setting to eliminate all banding but this does produce excellent prints). My problems started when I came to change the cartridges for about the 5th time. You could say it is my fault for not using genuine Epson inks but I am not one of the priveledged few that can afford to buy the genuine article every time they need replacing. Anyway, changing the cartridges very often resulted in prints with a purple or orange tint - so logically you clean the print-head. Unfortunately, cleaning the print head consumes ink and, by the time you have cleaned the print-head enough to remove any colour bias, the cartridges are being flagged as empty again (despite still having plenty of ink sloshing around in them) and the whole farcical cycle starts again. I have tried several different makes of cartridge from several different sources and the results are the same - although I have got it to work today and only wasted one set of cartridges in the process. Of course, with some printers, if one cartridge runs out, you can ...
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