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I'm Shaun Finnie, a freelance writer from Yorkshire. Please spare a moment to look me up on Amazon. Not that I'm short on book sales but....

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since 30/10/2014

181

Fitbit One 14/08/2016

Expensive Pedometer or Essential Exercise Encouragement?

Fitbit One The Introduction I'm a fat bloke. I've been so for years. Every so often I decide to do something about it though and now is one of those times. In the past I've played squash, American football and ran a 10k in the name of charity. Now though, being fat and in my fifties, I'm not confident to exert myself to anything on that level after a year or so of doing nothing more strenuous than sofa surfing. I'm not a born athlete but I am a natural statistician (AKA ubergeek). Maybe something that provides lots of stats and charts could help me get off my considerably-sized backside? The Concept The FitBit One is a fitness tracking device. During the daytime it tracks your steps, distance walked, calories burned and number of flights of stairs ascended / descended. At night time it records the length of time you slept and the number of times you were restless or woke up during the night. It synchs with mobile devices or computers and there is a free associated website and app where you can track your progress and enter other information for comparison, such as your weight, water intake, other exercise done etc. Note that the FitBit only records steps so any workouts on gym equipment, swimming or cycling won't be taken into account. You have to log that kind of thing manually via the app. The Contents of the Box Tracker The Fitbit One tracker is essentially a little smooth black plastic pebble approximately 4.5 cm long by 2 cm wide and less than a centimetre thick. It's not ...

Exists (DVD) 11/08/2016

Can filmmakers sue themselves for plagiarism?

Exists (DVD) The Introduction Every so often it's good to see a film "cold", having no prior knowledge of it whatsoever. I find that having no preconceptions makes my reaction more honest .That was my experience with Exists. I had been told that it was a horror / thriller movie of some kind but that was literally all I knew. I hadn't seen a plot summary, trailer, cast list, nothing. I hadn't even seen the poster. The moment that I sat down at a friend's house to view it was the first time that I even knew Exists existed. And that's when things began to go downhill. The Plot The film begins with an onscreen message saying how many Americans claim to see Bigfoot each year. From then we see the obligatory carful of young people (early twenties? It's hard to guess when you're as old as me) as they head into the deep dark woods in the middle of the night (as you do) to stay at a creepy, dilapidated wooden cottage that looks like it's been imported from of an episode of Scooby Doo. So far so standard straight-to-DVD horror cheapo fare. One of them sets up a batch of small video cameras around the place with the hopes of capturing "the best YouTube video ever". The others think that he means cycling through the woods or rope swinging out into the lake but he has a very different kind of filming in mind. (Cue spooky organ music). His uncle, who owns the cabin, claims to have seen Bigfoot, the legendary Sasquatch of North America, in the area and our boy is desperate to catch some film of the ...

Mattel Pictionary Card Game 01/08/2016

A fun twist on an old classic

Mattel Pictionary Card Game The Introduction School summer holidays. Don't you just love 'em? The little darlings are stuck at home every day for six weeks or so with only the telly, some gaming screen or a Pokémon hunt to keep them occupied, right? Wrong. Not on my watch, mister! If you're with me then you play by my rules and when I say play I mean Play! The Beloved and I don't have children of our own but we frequently babysit for our niece and nephew. I say "babysit". It's more like keeping them company these days as at the age of fifteen The Niece is well able to look after herself. I think we're just there to make sure that she doesn't kill her twelve-year-old brother. Amazingly (and very thankfully), for kids of their ages they still love spending time with us wrinklies. I suspect it's because The Beloved and I still act like kids even though we are both in our fifties now. I think we also give them much more leeway than their parents do and try our best to make their time with us fun. And if it all goes horribly wrong, well it's only for a day or so at a time. We have a tradition of playing a game together before we all cook together and then eat our meals together. "Quality time" is what I believe educated folks call it. To me it's just being a family. Today's game was a card game of sorts but it was nothing like Happy Families. Today we played Pictionary Card game. The Basics Pictionary Card game is a twist of the old favourite Pictionary. That's the game where you are given a key word ...

Ali (DVD) 29/07/2016

Take History Lessons Before Seeing This Film

Ali (DVD) The Introduction Given Muhammad Ali's recent passing I thought that it would be a good idea to finally watch Ali, Will Smith's biopic of the finest heavyweight boxer ever to step into the ring. I have to admit that I knew very little about the fighter before watching this film. I don't have any interest in boxing (if two guys hit each other like that outside a pub on a Saturday night, they'd end up in jail, why do "rules" make it any different?) and I'm just a little too young to have seen him in his heyday. Sure, I remember the loud mouthed clown on chat shows from my youth but that's about all. The only times I've seen him since then have been of the tragic victim of Parkinson's disease, ushered out to accept some award or other. So I was looking forwards to finding out about the man, his life story and a little of why he will forever be known as The Greatest. That wasn't quite what I watched. The Plot Cassius Clay is already a professional boxer by the time the film begins, on the verge of fighting Sonny Liston for the world title. There are no stories of his childhood, no struggles to make ends meet, no funny tales of fighting in fleapits on his way up to the big leagues. The filmmakers assume that the viewer already knows who their subject is and how he got to be in the public's eye. That's a big assumption. Ali follows the boxer through various title fights culminating in 'The Rumble in the Jungle' against George Foreman but the film also touches on his marriages ...

The Wicker Tree (DVD) 28/07/2016

Don't Sully the Memory of The Wicker Man

The Wicker Tree (DVD) The Introduction Some things just shouldn't be messed with. You wouldn't paint a moustache on the Mona Lisa and call it great art. You wouldn't just wander on to the pitch at Old Trafford and call yourself a Manchester United player. You wouldn't whistle along to Stairway to Heaven and call it a brand new version. And neither should you create a totally pointless sequel to / reworking of a much-loved film, especially if you were one of those responsible for the original. Unfortunately that's just what Robin Hardy's done with The Wicker Tree. The Wicker Man If there is any more effective British horror film than Hardy's 1973 classic The Wicker Man I've yet to see it. If you're one of the few people who haven't watched it and you're at all interested in the history of cinema or horror / suspense films, stop reading now and go find a copy. We'll wait for you… All done? Good. Magnificent isn't it? Full of suspense and glorious imagery with stunning visuals and note-perfect performances from all involved, even Britt Ekland and her infamous bottom-double. Robin Hardy's direction of Anthony Schaffer's script is magnificently imaginative and perfectly evokes the pagan rites of the lost and isolated Scottish community of Summer Isle. Sadly though time hasn't been too kind to Hardy's masterpiece. It's lost much of its power to shock these days, partly due to over-exposure and the fact that most people already know the terrifying (in its day) ending, but it's also been tainted by ...

While Flocks Last - Charlie Elder 26/07/2016

A fantastically entertaining book carrying an important message

While Flocks Last - Charlie Elder The Introduction I'm a birdwatcher. It could be worse. I could be a train spotter. We all love nature to some degree or other. Go on, admit it. You love to see rolling hills or a herd of deer, or hear a blackbird or robin singing away even if you've no idea what bird is making such a glorious sound. It's nothing to be embarrassed about. But what if it wasn't there? What if some of our beloved "nature" began to disappear, bit by bit like removing pieces from a completed jigsaw puzzle? Wouldn't you want one last chance to see the parts that are fading away? The Plot That's exactly the situation we find ourselves in at the moment. There are plenty of plants, animals and insects that are on the verge of disappearing. Some face worldwide extinction, some are just becoming ultra-rare in our dear United Kingdom. In this delightful non-fiction book Charlie Elder sets himself a challenge to see the forty birds that are on British ornithologists' Red List, all within one year. He travels the length and breadth of the land - including several islands - in search of birds great and small, some showily impressive and others depressingly dull and mundane. It's a treasure hunt which he gleefully undertakes, not knowing where he may be called to if a rarity is suddenly spotted miles from his home. In this respect is simply a funny travel book. Imagine Tony Hawkes travelling around Ireland not with a fridge but with a bird spotting guide and you've got the idea. While the basis of the ...

Herd of Sheffield The Trail 15/07/2016

Everybody's Heard About the Herd

Herd of Sheffield The Trail The Introduction Think of my home town of Sheffield you'll probably think of steel, the birthplace of several famous musicians, a couple of football teams… but I'm guessing that elephants wouldn't be the first think you'd associate with the city. I wouldn't have put them at the top of my list either but recently that's all changed. Sheffield now has more elephants on its streets than any other city in the UK. A veritable herd, in fact. Basics Following similar recent installations of animal statues in Bristol, Norwich and Birmingham, Sheffield now has its own art trail. The Herd of Sheffield is a series of 58 fibreglass pachyderm statues running through the city centre and beyond, all triumphantly trunks aloft. Each is just over five feet in height and they are all identical apart from their decorative paintwork. Local artists were invited to decorate the ellies as they saw fit before they were installed. They are all outdoors and in easily accessible public places so for example you can find them at the town hall, the botanical gardens, the city centre concert venue etc. The trail can be followed in any order, it doesn't have a particular sequence, and the statues are in place from 11 July to 5 October 2016. This, not surprisingly, covers the main school summer holiday period. Why Elephants During the First World War most of the horses in Britain were shipped off to help out on the battle fields. See the book/film/play War Horse for more harrowing details. That left a ...

Whistleblower - Tess Gerritsen 14/07/2016

An Average Thriller from a Better-Than-Average Writer

Whistleblower - Tess Gerritsen The Introduction All writers are primarily voracious readers. That's certainly true for me. The only reason I wrote my first non-fiction book was that I'd read everything available on that particular subject and there was a gap to be filled. I didn't particularly want to write a book to be sold, I wanted to write a book that I wanted to read. As nobody else had written it before then it just happened to be me. I read a lot, I always have, and one genre that I particularly love is that of crime thrillers. Not so much whodunnits (although their fine) but chase story thrillers. Think of things like The Thirty-Nine Steps, where someone is on the run for something that they haven't done. I've even written novels in that style myself. So when a friend suggested that I'd probably like Whistleblower I took their word for it and gave it a go. After all, if someone's committed six months or a year of there life to write a novel then surely I can give them the few hours that it will take to read it? The Author Tess Gerritsen is a best-selling American author who is most famous for her Rizzoli and Isles series of crime novels. As well as that series she has also written a number of standalone thrillers. Whistleblower falls into this latter category. You don't have to have read any of her other work to enjoy it and there's no sequel. She has written around thirty full length novels, many with a medical theme which reflects her previous career as a physician. The Plot Whistleblower ...

The Conversation (DVD) 11/07/2016

This Actor's No Hack, Man

The Conversation (DVD) The Introduction The 1970s. I loved them. Those childhood days of long summers were some of the happiest of my life. But that most colourful of decades wasn't just about far-out clothes, glam rock and much-loved public figures with (subsequently discovered) horrifying private lives. It was also a time of anxiety, financial depression and increasing distrust of authority figures. I guess it was much like today really only with proper music. The "decade that taste forgot" also gave us some of the greatest films ever to grace the silver screen. I recently revisited one of these so-called classics. Did The Conversation live up to the hallowed status that it has in my memory and that of many film critics? The Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of the twentieth century. Some of his work that you may have seen (and if you haven't, then you really should) includes Patton, The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Cotton Club and the hugely underrated Rumble Fish. The man is a cinematic genius but by the mid-seventies he had become somewhat frustrated by the restraints of the big studio Hollywood system. That's why he chose to write, produce, direct and completely self-finance his next project, The Conversation. That way, if it failed he had no one to blame but himself. What's It About? The plot is, on the surface, very simple. Harry Caul (played by gene Hackman) has his own private investigations company working in surveillance. He listens to ...

The Visit (DVD) 10/07/2016

Please, enough with the found footage!

The Visit (DVD) The Introduction I like creepy films. Not so much gore films but ones that are unsettling, ones that make you think and come up with unpleasant thoughts long after the final credits have rolled. Yeah, I know. What can I say, I'm weird. With that in mind I thought I'd give this "creepy mystery thriller" (as it said in the advert) a go. The Filmmaker Indian-American filmmaker Manoj Shyamalan (better known as M. Night Shyamalan) made his name with a couple of big hits; the who-saw-the-twist-coming The Sixth Sense and the post-modern superhero movie, Unbreakable. Both were absolute belters but since then it's been a case of diminishing returns for him with each successive film promising to be a return to form but never quite delivering the goods. Truth be told he's made some complete stinkers (Devil, After Earth ) so in my eyes at least he's very much trading on past glories. With The Visit, we are assured, Mr Night is supposedly back to his suspenseful best. Let's see. The Plot Two youngsters - a fifteen year old girl and her thirteen year old brother - are making a documentary film and the entire film is seen through their lens. Their mother wants to go on a cruise with her new boyfriend so she ships the kids off to stay with her parents in the middle of snowy nowhere for a week. Normally there would be nothing suspicious about this but for the fact that the kids have never met Granny and Grandpa before. Even their mother has had no contact with the old couple since before ...

Wentworth Castle Gardens, Stainborough 09/07/2016

Beautiful creatures in beautiful surroundings

Wentworth Castle Gardens, Stainborough The Introduction I'm a big fan of nature in all its forms. Plants, animals, insects; they're all beautiful to me. Except wasps. Wasps are just plain evil. So (wasps aside) what better day out than one where I get to wander around formal gardens, rolling fields and informal woodlands while having a very good chance of bumping into a herd of deer? And all this just a short drive from my home in South Yorkshire. Welcome to Wentworth Castle. The Location Wentworth Castle lies between junctions 36 and 37 of the M1, about three miles to the south-west of Barnsley. Despite the industrial revolution forever changing the landscape of the nearby mining area, the 500 acre grounds of Wentworth Castle are as green today as they ever were. Just to make things interesting though , Wentworth Castle has nothing to do with the nearby village of Wentworth. If you head there you're going the wrong way. I know, it's bizarre but what can I say? We're South Yorkshire people. We've always done thing a bit differently. The History Work began on Wentworth Castle in the mid seventeen-hundreds as a grand house for Thomas Wentworth, the first Earl of Strafford. The landscape was created in the style of Capability Brown and there have been many arguments over the years as to whether or not the great gardener was actually involved in this one. After many recent decades of decline in public ownership the entire estate came under the control of a charitable trust in 2002 and was opened to the public ...

Braun Series 340 Shaver 09/07/2016

The best electric shave I've ever had

Braun Series 340 Shaver The German company Braun have been making quality electrical products since 1921. They made their first electric shavers in 1950 and have become a major player in that market. This particular model, the 340 series three, has a recommended retail price of £100 but you should be able to find it for around £60 or so if you shop around. It’s a wet and dry shaver meaning that you can shave with it in the bath or shower as well as using it for a normal dry electric shave but you can also rinse it out after any use. I find that holding it under a running tap is a much more effective way of cleaning it than just brushing the blades as you do with most electric razors. It has a blue plastic outer shell which is enhanced with black rubber at the sides to provide a good grip. It has a gentle, natural curve to it so it fits nicely in the hand and is of a comfortable weight to make it feel as though this is a decent quality item, not cheap feeling at all. There’s a pop-off clear plastic cap to protect the cutting blades which comes off easily though I have occasionally found it a little fiddly to replace. There’s just one simple on/off button located precicely at the spot where your thumb falls naturally. It’s very comfortable to hold and use. Braun say that the 340 has a ‘triple action free float system’. To you and me that means that it has three cutting heads laying alongside each other but sprung so that each can move up and down independently of the others. It has two curved ...

Leger Holidays 03/07/2016

First Class Airline Comfort Without Leaving the Ground

Leger Holidays The Introduction As a family we've been taking coach holidays for decades. Whether it's Canada coast to coast or an overnight trip "daaarn saaarf" to see a London show, we've enjoyed them all. To us it's like going on a cruise (albeit much cheaper) in that you get to visit a few places for a night or two and find out if you like them before committing to a full holiday there. Sometimes (e.g. Helsinki) we've enjoyed the place so much that we've returned on our own for a proper little holiday. Others (e.g. Pisa) we've still appreciated but decided that in one little tour stop we've seen all there is to see. Been there, done that. So coach travel gives us a great way of sampling many places and meeting some new, interesting and friendly people too. But as we get a little older there's just one problem: the coach itself. It's fine when you're in your twenties to be zooming all over Europe on a bus that's not much better than the 265 service that I catch into Sheffield but when you're over fifty you crave a little more comfort. That's where the Leger Luxuria comes in. The Company Leger are a family run coach tour holiday firm based on the outskirts of Rotherham, South Yorkshire. They have been operating successfully for over thirty years and claim to be "The U.K.'s leading provider of escorted coach tours and cruises." That's a big boast and would be difficult to prove on a normal bus-by-bus basis. They're ABTA and ATOL protected as you'd expect from a reputable holiday company ...

Knock Knock (DVD) 30/06/2016

A Cat and Mouse Morality Tale

Knock Knock (DVD) The Introduction I'm not a great fan of Hollywood remakes. Since the turn of the century it seems that every horror film from the 'seventies and 'eighties has been reimagined or rebooted for a new generation. Halloween, Evil Dead, The Omen, The Hills Have Eyes and many more. But it's not only the well known twentieth century shockers that have received the fresh blood treatment. Even cheapy low-budget fright films have been remade in an attempt to grab a few bucks without the tedium of having to create an original plot. And so we come to Knock Knock, a little known 2015 remake of an even lesser known 1977 film called Death Game. In the world of shock movies, is new and more extreme necessarily better? The Plot Keanu Reeves stars as Evan, a mild-mannered architect who has a beautiful life with a beautiful wife, beautiful kids and a beautiful house. Everything is perfect until his family take a beach trip for a few days without him, leaving him home alone. He enjoys some Ferris Bueller time on his own but is interrupted when two young and incredibly good looking women appear on his doorstep, dripping wet with rain and claiming to be lost. Ever the gentleman, Evan allows them in to dry off and use his internet to search for where they are supposed to be going. Before you can say, "Party time! Excellent!" the damp duo have shed their clothes and are making very improper advances toward their host and each other. Keanu / Evan hesitates for at least half a nanosecond before ...

The Frankenstein Theory (DVD) 28/06/2016

It's The Blair Witch on Ice

The Frankenstein Theory (DVD) The Introduction In 1999 The Blair Witch Project was released on an unsuspecting world. It was a cultural phenomenon, not because it was a particularly well-made film but because (as the title implies) it was an entire project with a backstory and complex history all mapped out and available to viewers to devour with the film itself at its centre. The film-makers put just as much time and effort into this auxiliary information as they did with the actual film and it paid off. The Blair Witch Project was a huge worldwide hit, earning back many times its meagre production costs. It wasn't the first "found footage" film - where the entire movie is supposed to have been constructed from documentary footage made by people who have subsequently disappeared - but it was certainly the most successful. Sadly though the success of The Blair Witch Project has meant that many lesser young directors have decided to go down the same found footage route, seeing it as a cheap way to get into the film-making malarkey. Which brings us to this. The Frankenstein Theory. I loved Blair Witch for its originality but have grown really bored of the entire genre now. It's run out of steam. Would The Frankenstein Theory inject new life to the film form and deliver on its advertising promise to be "a boldly original vision of horror"? (Clue - it doesn't. Not even close.) The Plot Spoiler alert. Let's get this out of the way now. The Frankenstein Theory is awful. This film is so bad that I'm going to ...
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