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Friday, 30 April 2010

Cemetery Junction Review (5/5)

Every now and again, a "Cemetery Junction" appears: little-known and little-cared for, and yet from out of nowhere proving to be absolutely superb with a great unknown cast and a fabulously written story. This isn't to say that Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant's latest blockbuster effort is perfect- indeed, there are moments where "Cemetery Junction" simply fails to capitalise on its potential by skipping between scenes, but the overall ace cameos by such greats as Ralph Fiennes and Burn Gorman (of "Torchwood" fame as the late Owen Harper) more than make up for the flick's shortcomings, providing delicately-placed humour in what is essentially a coming-of-age tale that, while too violent for the kids, is so intelligently produced that anyone over 15 cannot fail to instantly fall in love with. Despite the writers' claims that "Cemetery Junction" would be filmed in Reading, most of the location settings are undeniably forgettable, as Gervais and Merchant seemed to have opted for the suburban take on life, centring the core plot mainly in the streets and not in well established Reading locations. Ah well, much as there could to be to complain about in this one-off effort, it's a testmaent to "Cemetery Junction"'s greatness that no shortcoming can fully befall it.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Doctor Who: Apollo 23 Review (4/5)

"Apollo 23" marks the first full "Who" novel starring the Eleventh Doctor (as portrayed ,to great acclaim by fans, by Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (played by Karen Gillian), and there's an obvious sense that author Justin Richards has gained an almost-immediate sense of familiarity with the time travellers. The plot is quite complex to keep up with, seeing several portals being opened between a modern space base on our Moon and various locations on the planet Earth, with the Doctor tasked with the hefty proposal of closing these wormholes, then working out which dastardly creatures opened them in the first place and attempting to put an end to their plans of destruction. This sounds like bog-standard "Doctor Who", and for the most part it is, however there are times where you simply want to skip a chapter for its general irrelevance to the main plot, and in several cases this approach won't harm your reading of the climax of "Apollo 23". All in all, though, this latest novel definitely impresses as a readable representation of one of the Time Lord's unseen adventures through time and space, and is worth a look should it ever appear on your local library's shelf or cheap in your local bookstore.

Avatar DVD Review (5/5)

Before I go into the stunning visuals, powerful characterisations and awe-inspiring plot-lines that join together seamlessly to make the immersive experience that is "Avatar", let's get one thing straight: that score above? That's my opinion of the film as a whole, not the DVD release. For reasons best known to mega-millionaire director James Cameron, neither the digital nor Blue-Ray release contain any extras whatsoever: yes, you read right, that's no commentaries; no in-depth Makings Of; not even the wealth of trails used in the mega-seller's huge promotional campaign, nowt. If, at the £10 asking price for the DVD, this seems a rip-off, then by all means hold off until this summer's cinema release of "Avatar: The 6 Minute Longer Director's Cut" (I'm not kidding) gets the inevitable disc treatment, where there will no doubt be a plethora of goodies for fans to feast upon. Until then: "Avatar". The sheer amount of cash this film grossed in Box Office over its December-February broadcast period should already be enough to prove that it's a definite hit, not to mention its recently acclaimed title of "Highest Grossing Film Ever". The story, while not perhaps as in-depth as Cameron might have previously claimed, is a heartfelt and ripping yarn, taking misguided Jake Sully out of his strangely outdated wheelchair and into a bright blue "avatar" built to withstand almost anything, and later sending him into inner turmoil as he decides between his loyalties to the human race or the near-unstoppable destruction of the Navi homeworld. Each actor (such as Sam Worthington) suits their role perfectly, and brings "Avatar" to life in a way that no other film has been rendered before. The lack of a 3-D option on this release is a foreseeable one (although no doubt it will be available to viewers with enabled tellies in later releases of the flick), but doesn't affect the 2-hour film in any way, and still allows for a wonderful romp which deserves to be seen by all.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Decide Your Destiny: The Coldest War/Claws Of The Macra (3.5/5)

Remember what I said about that flurry of "Who" novelised releases? Case in proof, two new "Decide Your Destiny" books, dubbed "The Coldest War" and "Claws Of The Macra". Both of these releases feature an old enemy from the Doctor's past (but only technically since the 2005 revamp), the former starring the Sycorax from David Tennant's first adventure as the Tenth Doctor, "The Christmas Invasion", and the latter obviously bringing about the revival of the Macra, who were previously in a Patrick Troughton story then were seen terrorising New Earth's underbelly in the Series 3 episode "Gridlock". While both books have the Doctor and Amy Pond as guides, it's you- the reader- who decides how the "episodes" play out, with dire consequences or brilliant outcomes (such as the offer to travel temporarily in the TARDIS with the pair) depending on your choices. Undoubtedly you'll have seen this sort of release before, and the "Decide Your Destiny" novels don't completely do the series justice, but none the less at just a fiver each this pair of books is well worth taking a look at, and will provide hours of fun in conjunction with the website (occasionaly you'll be asked to visit the website for an animated scene or game to continue the story, boasting replay value for each release)

LittleBigPlanet Move DLC Announced

"LittleBigPlanet" has proved one of the PlayStation 3's surprise hits since its release way back in 2007, and it seems its developers Sony Computer Entertainment want to cash in once more on its great success by releasing new downloadable content packs for the title featuring "PlayStation Move" compatibility. For those who haven't already heard, "Move" is Sony's "Natal", using the EyeToy camera and a special motion-sensing wand controller for a unique and incorporating experience. While it has its doubters (360 fans in particular are dubious- however, I'm interested to see how the PS3 makes use of the peripheral), the use of "Move" in "LBP" could greatly enhance what is already a diverse and fun title through motion-based controls and deeper level creation tools. As of yet, Sony haven't officially announced a sequel, and denied IGN's rumours of it being out before the end of 2010 and using "Move", but did say that "future DLC could [so probably will!] use Move", a fair indication that fans have something big to look forward to before the year is up.

Halo: Reach Editions Revealed

Can't get enough of "Halo"? Then the recently announced Limited and Legendary editions of Bungie's supposedly final entry in the sci-fi saga, "Reach", should whet your fanboy appetite that little bit more. The former, retailing at £50-60, will be packaged in a unique UNSC casing, with a different cover to the standard edition, and contain an extra disc with soundtrack, commentaries and featurettes regarding the making of the game. The latter, however, will retail at the phenomenally high price of £100-110, and be packaged in a large camoflague UNSC box, containing "Reach", all of the limited edition's extras, and a very limited statue of the Spartan III team in the title's campaign mode, Noble 6. These, along with the standard edition, which comes with the main plot, a wealth of multi-player modes, as well as "Halo 3"'s awesome Forge and Theatre modes, will be released (to, with any luck, huge sales) this autumn, exclusively on Xbox 360.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Doctor Who: The Time Of Angels Review (5/5)

Absolutely disgraceful. I'm not talking about the latest episode of "Who", "The Time Of Angels", oh no- for reasons I will explain I thought it was the best episode of Series 5 yet. No, what I'm talking about is Graham Norton hogging half the f***ing screen in a scene which could perhaps be argued as the most tense and exciting yet this season. Did you notice him, branding his irksome grin in the way of Matt's fabulous rendition of the Doctor finally deciding to take arms and fire a gun? Well, at least the repeats will iron this out, but still! Onto business: "The Time Of Angels" was very traditional "Doctor Who", and with Episodes 2 & 3 trying unsuccessfully to branch out from this type of story, Steven Moffat effortlessly made it work, while bringing back both his major hits (the Weeping Angels & River Song) without making them seem tired or misplaced. As the opening to a two-part, Episode 4 was simply amazing, incorporating humour, fear, thrills and general excitement towards "Flesh And Stone" in just 45 minutes. Despite the cliff-hanger being very different to what we're used to, it worked great, and leaves me with a more positive outlook on the rest of Series 5.

Split Second First Review Out Now

Haven't heard of "Split Second"? It's Disney's explosive new racer, due out this May on both the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 at the RRP of £40. Hands-on impressions by gaming sites such as IGN and Gamespot have been positive so far, but adding to these insights is an exclusive review by the UK GamesMaster magazine, with a % score for Graphics, Game-Play, Lifespan and Overall Quality. In terms of visuals, the title got 90%, its game-play earned 82%, and for lifespan "Split Second" earned 80%. For fear of plagiarism or copying work, I won't print quotes from the review here, so you'll have to head out to find out the full verdict, but I can say the game got a respectable 86% overall, with GamesMaster stating in the summary that "Split Second" boasts "an outstanding fireworks display on wheels but is not quite a Burnout beater". While this perhaps wasn't what some were hoping for, it's safe to say that if chaos and explosions are your thing over dead realism in driving games, then "Split Second" will be right up your rally (excuse the pun). Check out my impressions of the game when it hits stores on the 21st of May.

Doctor Who: The Runaway Train Review (4/5)

These past few days have seen an almighty flurry of releases based around the fifth season of "Doctor Who" since its return, starring Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillian as Amy Pond. One such release is an unprecedented one, but on that note a welcome inclusion too: an audio exclusive dubbed "The Runaway Train" is available with the Telegraph today, well ahead of its announced 3rd of February 2011 retail sale. Matt himself reads the story, focusing on the American Civil War and one of the first steam trains sent to Arizona in the 1800s, and featuring both the Eleventh Doctor and Amy. It will become immediately clear that Smith's origins are anything but American, as he attempts with haste to pull off a Wild West-style accent for several groups of cowboys on the time travellers' tails, however he flourishes as per usual in his own title role, and does his best to put some fun and bravado into Amy's dialogue (since later releases seem to include both Matt and Karen reading, this problem should easily be remedied). The plot itself doesn't require a heavy knowledge of the Civil War in the US, quite the contrary, keeping away from any major details as to where and when in the conflict this story takes place, but despite this there will definitely be times when listeners will struggle to keep up with the action, detracting from the overall positive effect "The Runaway Train" has. As a first "Who" audio effort, this is easily well above sub-par, and sets a decent standard for future voiced adventures in the TARDIS- well worth the £1.80 price of the Telegraph!

Torchwood: US Cancelled By Fox America

Having had a successful run of three seasons in the United Kingdom, "Doctor Who" spin-off "Torchwood" recently came to what seemed to be a close with the five-part story run over a week, "Children Of Earth", but with executive producers Russell T Davies and Julie Gardener headed to the United States, and a pilot US remake of the spin-off commissioned by Fox and BBC America, it looked as if a fourth season might start up. However, that eventuality has been closed off by the two corporations- for now at least. BBC America has reached a mutual agreement with Fox that a "13-part serial will not be commissioned", but co-producer Jane Tranter has said that the possiblilty of the remake is still "very much alive". For now, it seems fans must simply hope and wait.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Ashes To Ashes Ratings

What's "Ashes To Ashes", you say? Well, to be honest, I'm not completely sure: having not seen any of the BBC's hit "Life On Mars" saga so far, this third season of the spin-off seemed somewhat alien to me, although the first episode definitely had some creditable strengths about it. Four episodes have currently aired of Series 3 on BBC One, and the ratings (i.e. how many people watched them) are as follows: Episode 1 garnered a respectable 5.5 million viewers, Episode 2 5 million, and the third story dropped to just 4.86 million last week. A BARB rating has yet to be released for Episode 4, but if the series continues to drop by the thousands in ratings each week, then the finale (Episode 6) may only receive 3 million viewers at best. Compared to Saturday night ratings ("Ashes To Ashes" airs on Friday nights) on channel hits like BBC One's sci-fi "Doctor Who" and ITV's talent bonanza "Britain's Got Talent", both of which have recently had over 10 million watchers, "Ashes To Ashes" is hitting an all-time low, but perhaps if the storylines focus more on the original "Life On Mars" concept soon, then ratings could rise. Only time will tell!

Smallville: Tempest Review (5/5)

I have to admit, the first season of "Smallville" in its 21-episode entirety was beginning to tire somewhat for me as it began to reach its climax, but the series finale- "Tempest"- takes all elements of the vast plot and forces it to a brand new level, with adversary Whitney and potential love for Clark Kent Lana Lang worried as to her current bf's enrolment in the Armed Forces, and a twister set to hit the town of Smallville before story's end. And hit it does, causing a massive cliffhanger which threw me massively (the previous 20 episodes all having had closed endings). The acting on display here is superb, and while some of the CGI is a bit naff, there's been no better episode of the show for me so far...things can only go up from here.

Halo: Reach News & Beta Impressions

Fans of "Halo" are in for a treat on bank holiday May 3rd, as the beta version of the latest instalment- "Reach"-'s multi-player will launch in the early hours of the Monday morning, allowing players to get a glimpse into the new graphical engine and heartbreaking tale of the planet Reach before the full game's release this September. The beta will include four maps and four game modes, with Invasion rumoured to be the most diverse and unique, acting as the "Gold Rush" mode from "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" where up to 6 players control Spartans and up to 6 control Elites in an all-out war of infantry and vehicles, with more weapons and transport opening up to gamers as the Elites take more command points. There will be no cost to access the beta, but unless you were there on Bungie's final day of "Halo 2"'s Xbox Live, then you will require a copy of the mediocre (but fun) "Halo 3: ODST) to download the package. From what this writer has seen via YouTube videos and online previews, the beta is shaping up to be a worthwhile download for fans and naysayers alike, and will offer hours upon hours of thrills, while helping Bungie to find their multi-player's weaknesses and iron these flaws out before the autumn release date. Get on Xbox Live next week, then, to download the "Halo: Reach" beta, and I'll see you there!

Harry Potter: The Story Continues?

You'd think J.K Rowling might finally be content- her writing came to fruition in the final instalment of the "Harry Potter" saga, "The Deathly Hallows"; Warner Brothers are still currently adapting her climatic finale into a two-part epic, and a theme park- "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter"- is due to be opened this June at Universal Resort to phenomenal ticket sales...and yet, Rowling recently revealed to the press that she's considering an eighth novel in her million-dollar franchise, perhaps in under 10 years time. The author/millionaire did emphasize, however, that due to the plot strands of the series being partially resolved in "The Deathly Hallows", this eventuality certain would have to be taken into consideration before a final writing decision was made. Interesting, though, all the same...

Avatar Returns To Cinemas This Summer

2009's "Avatar" has proved to be one of the major blockbuster hits of recent times, becoming the top-grossing box office picture of all time over such greats as "Titanic" and "The Dark Knight", and it seems that James Cameron's epic will make a return to the big screen one last time this summer. News sites are currently reporting that "Avatar" will resurface in cinemas everywhere in an exclusive 3-D format in August, but instead of Cameron simply 'milking the cash cow' by showing the original film in its prime format, supposedly this will be the "Avatar: Director's Cut" that fans have been waiting for since, well, the flick left cinemas. An additional 6 minutes of story footage is expected to be added on to various scenes, furthering character depth through intense moments previously unavailable to viewers. Before that major return, however, look forward to "Avatar"'s release on DVD on Monday the 26th of April, and for a probable release of the Director's Cut this autumn.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Sarah Jane Adventures: Series Four News

"The Sarah Jane Adventures" has had a successful run on CBBC One for three consecutive seasons since its début on New Year's Day 2007, and in a recent press launch the writers of the show revealed that the British Broadcasting Corporation had commissioned it for a fourth and fifth series, announcing that the former would feature the "Nightmare Man" and "the gang's first trip to an alien planet", and that, as per usual, the 12-part Series 4 would air this Autumn, with Series 5 in late 2011. It was thought by several fans that no more news as to the new "Sarah Jane" stories due to air this year would be given by the writers until closer to the air-date, but on the 19th of April, a major announcement was made regarding the guest stars in a special edition episode and the writer of this 2-parter. The press release states that Sarah-Jane will be "reunited with another of the Doctor's former companions, Jo Grant". Jo- portrayed in the 1970s by Katie Manning- featured throughout the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) era as the Time Lord was exiled on the Earth by his own race, but Manning never expected to be asked back into the Whoniverse, saying that she was "gobsmacked when [the producers] told [her] and [she is] over the moon". In addition to this, "[Sarah-Jane] will be joined by the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), in a special episode penned by Russell T Davies". This story, featuring "a secret base beneath Snowdon; the Shansheeth plus a trip to an alien planet" will mark the first time Davies has written for Matt's Doctor, and the second cross-over with "Doctor Who" (the first, shown in Autumn 2009, titled "The Wedding Of Sarah-Jane Smith", saw David Tennant's Tenth Doctor aid Sarah in her toughest hours against the Trickster). Whether Karen Gillian- the Doctor's current companion- will appear as Amy Pond in this special remains to be seen, but expect an amazing romp when Matt and Katie join Elizabeth Sladen this October!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Doctor Who Ratings Released

The BARB have released an official rating (the amount of viewers who watched it) for Matt Smith's opening Doctor Who episode- "The Eleventh Hour"- on the BBC website. The episode, starring Smith; Karen Gillian and Caitlin Blackwood, saw the Eleventh Doctor crash to Earth, introducing a new companion, TARDIS, story arc and theme sequence (which has garnered much criticism from fans according to BBC News), achieved a rating of 10.03 million viewers, making it the most watched television programme of the night, and the sixth most-watched of the entire week. Also, overnight ratings have been released for both "The Beast Below" and "Victory Of The Daleks": the former, taking the time travellers into the distant future of the United Kingdom, received 6.7 million viewers, and the latter, setting up future returns for the Time Lord's deadliest adversaries and taking place in the powerful setting of World War II, received a rating of 6.2 million. While the drop in viewers may seem disconcerting to fans, bear in mind that the original overnight rating for "The Eleventh Hour" was only just over 8 million, so increased by a further 2 million when each of the week's showings were added together, meaning that Episodes 2 and 3 likely both gathered ratings of over 8 million viewers, still a staggering high for the revamped series. Roll on "The Time Of Angels" and "Flesh And Stone"...

Kick-Ass Review (4.5/5)

"Kick-Ass" has pretty much come out of nowhere- the comedic flick was only announced by Universal Studios and Marv in February, with only a short radio advertising campaign used to promote it before the release date of 1st April, but it's safe to say that it proves one of the most enjoyable watches of the year so far. The premise is simple: three unknowns with no supernatural abilities or powers to speak of attempt to become superheroes in a world that simply fantisices about them. The central leads, Aaron Johnson; Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicholas Cage, superbly enact small-scale battle scenes on the streets of New York with petty criminals, and Moretz in particular shines by resembling a contrast between conventional 11-year old girls and bitchy, violent heroines, uttering some of the most foul phrases on the big screen in a long time (the picture is rated 15 for a reason!). Some plot threads are, admittedly, never tied up, and considering the film lasts over two hours this is a bitter disappointment, and hold "Kick-Ass" back slightly, but- while clearly not in the same league as "Avatar" and "Sherlock Holmes"- this is definitely a movie which all teens deserve to see before it leaves box office.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Doctor Who: Victory Of The Daleks Review (4/5)

We haven't seen the Daleks proper in the Whoniverse for a while now, so it seems only right that- having convinced Russell T Davies not to use the Doctor's arch-enemies at the end of David Tennant's reign- show-runner Steven Moffat has decided to bring the "master-race" back early and with a bang, allowing for Mark Gatiss to create what is essentially a 45 minute war movie with spitfires facing off against Dalek saucers. Never could I have imagined such a brilliant computer generated spectacle taking place on the small screen sci-fi, but thankfully any dreams I might have had of this battle were realised fully in the 5 or so minutes it takes precedence on screen. The new multi-coloured Daleks themselves were impressive to look at, and ultimately reminded me more of the Peter Cushing movies than any other incarnation of the adversaries, although it will be a shame to see the end of the iconic Davies' versions, quite possibly the best designed form for the Daleks since their original début in 1963. "Victory of the Daleks" WW2 sub-plot was interesting to see develop, and once again those good old cracks in the universe reared their heads, as well as a disturbing hint as to just how different Amy could be from the rest of the human race, and just how much of an impact that could have on Series 5's finale. This betters upon "The Beast Below" completely, while not as such overthrowing Matt Smith's great opener "The Eleventh Hour"!

Smallville: Metamorphosis Review (3,5/5)

After a major set-up pilot, "Smallville" obviously felt the pressure to revert to a "traditional" format for its second episode. This time around, established dork Greg was possessed by an alien force and converted to an animal of tribal instincts, bent on finding a mate in Kent's crush Lana. This reversion to the old ways of drama meant that there were less visible plot threads for later stories, but the potential for the relationship between Clark, Lana and once-baddie Lex Luthor is huge judging by the developments made over the course of the 45 minute running time. Greg's story does tend to hog the limelight in "Metamorphosis", and the CGI through the final battle was disappointing to say the least, but it's worth noting that it's still early days for the drama (or at least the section I've been watching). Still interesting, though, and once again the concluding scenes were quite heartfelt and pose questions as to the evolution of the "Smallville" saga.

Smallville: Pilot Review (3.5/5)

For those who haven't heard, "Smallville" is an American-produced drama taking place in a parallel world where Superman's Clark Kent, having crashed to the planet via a meteor storm, doesn't know of his DC heritage and struggles to cope with teenage life as his potential love attempts to look deeper into him and supernatural villains threaten his very existence. Of course, those who have heard of the show will know it's been airing in the US for nearly ten years now, the pilot originally broadcast in 2001. This reviewer had never seen a story from the first season, and having been loaned the box-set, thought it a good time to take a look- wow. The stark differences between the iconic DC hero and this troubled protagonist make for a thrilling watch, with Tom Welling's Kent a diverse and secretive character who cooks up a storm in his home town. Kristen Kreuk's Lana clearly notes Clark's secrets, and the pilot definitely sets up some interesting plot threads which have lots of potential to develop as the series progresses (fans of course will already know how these play out- half of the fun of a new season is having the surprise). While some elements, such as the dance, were misused by the episode, it was well worth a watch, and was easily one of the best pilots I've seen in a while.

House: Black Hole Review (3.5/5)

This week's episode of "House" saw the team tackling a case involving a girl with dark secrets hidden amongst the stars, while also looking at the mysteriously complex love-life of Dr Christopher Taub (one of the lead protagonists). The latter sub-plot proved the more interesting to witness as the doctor found himself conflicted between a caring workmate and his ever-faithful wife, a conflict which certainly had no simple resolution in "Black Hole", and could have to be dealt with in later stories. Meanwhile the main case of the episode provided a decent, if not terribly exciting distraction from this surprisingly emotional and character-driven plot, but it's certain that, should Hugh Laurie want to provide us with the perfect "House" episode next week in his own-directed "Lockdown", then he will have to carefully balance the inevitable return of Cameron with the core case for the doctors to solve.

Auditorium Review (4.5/5)

"Auditorium" was originally a Flash-based video game only downloadable on the PC, but now it has seen a port to iPhone, and boy, is it great. The title, released by Electronic Arts' Netherlands branch, allows players to experiment with wavelengths of light in order to generate classical tunes in a seamless and smooth stream, using game-play techniques which are impossible not to love in some form. There are undoubtedly times when playing the same tune constantly (albeit in different streams and wavelengths) becomes repetitive, but it's worth noting that EA has just initiated a permanent price drop of "Auditorium", now allowing fans to purchase the title for free- now it's truly essential for all iTouch and iPhone users.

Hero Of Sparta Returning To iPhone

"Hero Of Sparta" proved one of the iPhone's biggest launch titles, enabling players to partake in a no-bars fistfight across the ancient lands of Sparta, defending your honour as a warrior who lost everything at sea. Now, it seems, developer Gameloft wants its fans to get another slice of the action: a sequel currently dubbed as "Hero Of Sparta 2" has been announced for release later in 2010. Much as this writer would love to claim this announcement as an exclusive, Pocket Gamer got there first; the website's article revealed that the new title would be playable at Gameloft's 10th Anniversary exhibition in Paris this summer, and would likely see a port to iPad at some point in 2011. Watch this blog for more news on "Hero Of Sparta 2" as it comes!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Splinter Cell: Conviction Co-Op Review (3/5)

"Splinter Cell: Conviction" has been waiting in the shadows for a blockbuster release for quite some time now, and while the overall release seems to have produced more a whimper than a bang, it's undoubtedly true that fans will be exhilarated to possess a copy of the new title today. I got the chance to briefly go hands-on with the co-op campaign segment of "Conviction", and can definitely say that the action-packed yet paced stealth game-play seen in the original demo carries through here, allowing for a fun and refined experience not usually found in video gaming. The story, taking place before "Conviction"'s main campaign, follows two covert agents on the trail of several nuclear warheads destined to reach America (destined, as we see them wreaking havoc in the Sam Fisher segment), but it is definitely the weakest element in this section of the game, lacking the emotion and finesse awaiting players in the core storyline. My time with the code was brief, but from what I saw it's an easy assumption that you'll get a lot more excitement from the mode if you put to good use traditionally silent-but-deadly weapons such as the silenced pistol and EMP grenade in contrast to simply blasting the living hell out of anything unlucky enough to move into your sights. Whether "Conviction" can truly amaze in its multi-player Deniable Ops modes and the core plot will determine if these fundamental flaws make or break the finished game. Note: the full review of "Conviction" will be posted next week

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Nanny McPhee And The Big Bang Review (4/5)

The original Nanny McPhee movie proved a hit with its target audience, pulling kids in their millions away from their dull British lives and into a world of pure fantasy where anything was possible, while gathering a mass of positive ratings from critics, so a return to that same fantastic world can only be welcomed by both audiences. "The Big Bang", a script written exclusively by Emma Thompson (unlike the original, adapted from a classic novel), moves forward from the serene and somewhat confined Elizabethan era to the frantic yet powerful setting of the Second World War, and for the most part this move works to the series' strengths, allowing Thompson to highlight the stark contrast between Blitz-torn London and the countryside- a popular destination for evacuees at the time, by constantly bringing elements of the rich city into the poorer and calmer region of Britain- one particular standout moment is the somewhat out of place race to London in order to discover whether the younguns' father (portrayed by good ol' Obi-Wan Ewan McGregor in a neat cameo) has been killed in action, or whether there are darker goings-ons. Simply put, while with a "U- Suitable For All" rating it cannot acheive some of the much-loved gore of current hits, "Nanny McPhee And The Big Bang" impresses on all levels, proving the perfect light-hearted film for kids and teens who haven't grown up just yet (and why should they?)!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Clash Of The Titans Review (3/5)

TITANS. WILL. CLASH! Sorry, I just can't get enough of saying that amazingly camp catchphrase. But, really, do they clash? Because from what this reviewer saw in this 105 minute "epic", they didn't clash so much as squabble. Sure, from time to time a hideously unremarkable CGI beast of Greek mythology would stand in the way of good old Avatar's Sam Worthington, but rest assured it would soon be slain in order for the flick to get back to needlessly fleshing out each and every character's sub-plot, only for the majority of Titans' excellent star cast to be wiped off the face of the surprisingly deserted Earth in its rushed climax. From the generous score I've awarded Titans above, you might wonder if I'm being more than a little harsh on the movie, but honestly there are so many potentially moving moments that are spoilt by the age restriction and 20th Century Fox's pathetic decision to turn it into a 3D flick meaning that virtually every setpiece must include some form of technical wizardry. One example is great Brit star Gemma Arterton's vicious death by the hands of a deformed maniac, which could have become one of film's most shocking and heartbreaking moments, if only Zeus hadn't felt the need to resurrect her in order to guarantee Arterton a return in the inevitable sequels to come. Ruined moments such as these take their toll on Titans, and make it only a decent romp, not the masterpiece it could and should have been.

Doctor Who: The Beast Below Review (4/5)

After a successful opener which drew in over 8 million viewers, it seemed a challenging task for Steven Moffat to build on the Eleventh Doctor's story in the second episode of Series 5, the Beast Below. For the most part the new head writer manages to up the drama considerably, establishing new rules and risks which the Time Lord will take to maintain what is right, but several elements of this episode simply fail to live up to our lofty expectations. Once again the special FX weren't up to the usual standard produced by Who, but perhaps having seen a London bus zoom through a wormhole and the Earth almost crushed by a war-torn Gallifrey has spoiled this reviewer somewhat, and he expects a little too much of the lower-budget new series. Ah well, the superb double act of Matt Smith and Karen Gillian more than makes up for this, with the former delivering one of the most shocking outbursts of anger we've seen in the titular character for a while, and the latter forming an investigative, witty and therefore loveable companion who will doubtless develop her role over time. It's a shame that the cast for Episode 2 struggle to maintain the high standard, as The Eleventh Hour's stars seemed to possess more enthusiasm during filming, but Ian McNeice's brief yet brilliant cameo as Churchill makes up for this loss, and for once actually gets this reviewer excited for a Dalek story (it's not often you can say that nowadays!)

Skulduggery Pleasant: Dark Days Review (4/5)

The title says it all: when Book 3 brought the Skulduggery series into violent yet dull new territory, the status of the next instalment seemed to indicate it would be too dark for any age group to truly enjoy. Thank goodness, then, that Derek Landy retreats here into well-trodden ground, quickly reuniting the central protagonists after their strange separation at the climax of the previous novel, and gangs together some of the deadliest and thus most dangerous remnants of previous baddie groups, preparing both sides for an all-out tussle in a football stadium. If all this sounds a bit unrealistic, then Dark Days certainly won't be your cup of tea, but Book 3 took itself far too seriously and was all the worse for it, so this change in believability makes for a higher standard. Overall, while as usual Landy fails to inject enough emotion or general power into his various plots (the so-called romance between Valkyrie and Fletcher is nigh-on painful to read at times), he certainly provides a decent romp with Dark Days, and leaves the series in good condition for September's Book 5.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

13 Things You Didn't Know About Who (CONTINUED)

8. Classic reptile/humanoid villians the Silurians (a menace from the Doctor's distant past) return in Episode 8, where Amy will have just made a huge choice...what repercussions could this have on her trip with the Doc to the year 2015, where a project to drill deep beneath the Earth is under way?
9. Of the early Weeping Angels story we also know that at some point the Doctor, Amy, some soldiers and River Song will find themselves in a trap, to which the Time Lord remarks "If you want to see tomorrow, there's one thing you never put in a trap...ME" and firing a gun for the first time since, well, The End Of Time...but at what?
10. We then head back to the time of Vincent Van Gogh, where so far we know Gogh will ask Amy (the Doc having said "DO NOT FOLLOW ME under any circumstances") "Will you go with him?" to which she replies "Of course!)
11. Before the climactic finale of Season 5, the Doctor and Amy need to sort out a disturbing block of flats in a local Earth village, and to do so the Doc must room with a character played by James Corden himself! This will be loosely based on an old DWM strip called "The Lodger". But why do people walk up the stairways and never down...?
12. This is where it all kicks off!
13. For the final two episodes of Series 1, 5 or 31, we currently know the Doc and Amy will team up with River Song once more, visit Stonehenge on a mission, witness silence fall, read a portent of doom on a cliff-face, and may just watch the Pandorica open as "the fates begin to close around the TARDIS". Steven Moffat asked in his mysterious synopsis for these episodes: "Is this the day the Doctor falls?"

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring Extended Edition Review (5/5)

The Lord of the Rings adaptations are to our generation what Star Wars was to the last: an unforgettable journey through vast worlds of both colour and darkness, with creatures beyond our very imagination and a central underlying plot designed primarily to keep viewers entertained at every turn. But since its release in 2001, The Fellowship of the Ring has faced staggering competition from an array of multi-award-winning hits, most recently Avatar, so the question is not so much as to whether the series opener is a good film (that fact had already been decided upon long before this review), but whether- on the release of the Blu-Ray versions- it can still hold its own against today's greats. If anyone who's reading this hasn't yet seen this epic, then they should simply stop reading and spend a few hours sitting through it. Back? Great, wasn't it? I can confirm that having watched Fellowship once more this weekend, it is most definitely still deserved of all its prizes and titles, as Peter Jackson has effortlessly brought to life the visions of J.R.R Tolkien originally portrayed in the books, installing a brilliant soundtrack with an overarching theme that can instantly switch from merry and calm to an ominous foreshadowing of things to come in the final instalments, while finding the perfect cast to bring the huge character list to the big screen, with even cameos from Andy Serkis (giving his all in his brief time as Gollum, a time which is indeed lengthened considerably in The Two Towers) and others impressing. The Extended DVD set is a marvel to behold, adding a great deal of scenes to deepen the story of each character, and featuring a host of documentaries chronicling the transition from book to script to motion picture, and is well worth the mere £10 or so asked by online sites for even minor fans of the flicks.

House: Private Lives Review (3/5)

Hugh Laurie's award winning medical drama House has been running to successful ratings for over five years now, constantly evolving as each of its lead cast do from the powerful storylines and meetings, but this particular episode of the new series, dubbed Private Lives, doesn't maintain the in-depth medical complexity or nearly as many interesting side-plots as normal, however it does still provide a decent hour's worth of entertainment. Laurie is on form as House is introduced to a fast dating service and manages to outwit all of his potential loves, causing havoc at the event, and Laura Prepron creates a believable blogging fanatic as she tries to decide her fate with the help of the hundreds who comment on her personal life online. As usual, if House isn't your cup of tea, then Private Lives won't convince you to join the fan-club. If it is, then Laurie's superb comedy will compensate for the simple and somewhat dull core story.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Great Movie Mistakes Review (3.5/5)

BBC Three aired Great Movie Mistakes on the 4th of April, with Robert Webb heading a project whereby hundreds of movie stars made supposedly unmissable errors while filming much-loved hits such as Star Wars; The Dark Knight; Lord of the Rings and even 2009's Sex in the City. At first, Webb picks some of the most comedic highlights, which will definitely get the whole family into a state of hysterics, but later in the programme the joker then continuously picks out mere continuity errors such as a shirt changing constantly in one scene without any sign of the character changing his clothes. These small but noticeable changes are at first humorously illustrated by Webb, but when eventually they seem to be all he can find in the blockbusters the programme as a whole begins to grate, and viewing ratings will likely prove that the second half of the 3-hour show started to become tired and irksome. Even Rob's jokes can't save Great Movie Mistakes from losing its touch after about an hour and a half, but when it does have that touch, it's an awesome watch.

Now: That's What I Call Music 75 Review (4/5)

The Now franchise has been running for decades now, reaching it's monumental 75th entry this month, and the CD producers have pulled out most of the stops to celebrate this landmark achievement. The song list includes "Meet Me Halfway"; "Bad Romance"; "Don't Stop Believing" (Don't Stop buying this album though, it's not the Glee version!); "Under Pressure" (Not the brilliant Queen version, instead the strange Jedward remix with "Ice Ice Baby"); Joe McElderry's "The Climb" and "Everybody Hurts", all of which have proved major hits in the last few months, and while countless replays on radio stations have made some tracks wear thin, all of the songs on offer still earn their worth on this volume, and will doubtless be played at parties and nightclubs aplenty after the album's release. There's not much to say of Now 75 that hasn't been said before: no music videos or sneaky extras have been included, so this is a pretty bog-standard release whose status of purchase depends on whether customers prefer to simply download their faves onto their MP3s and iPods.

Doctor Who: A Legend Reborn Review (3.5/5)

A Legend Reborn is supposedly the definitive audio guide to the revamped version of Doctor Who's superb rise to fame from 2005-2009, featuring various interviews with Chris Eccleston, David Tennant, Freema Agyeman and Devla Kirwin (to name but a few), as well as presentation by classic companion Elisabeth Sladen. Sadly, the claim of total Who coverage is somewhat misplaced: key points in the series such as Rose's arrival and departure, as well as the return of the Cyber-Men in Series 2 are merely skipped over to get to the next core event in the revamp's saga, with Catherine Tate shockingly not even receiving coverage of her role as Donna in The Runaway Bride bar a quick mention by Tennant. These omissions are startling to say the least, but certainly don't ruin the experience, although a few less "Who's your favourite Doctor?" "When are you leaving?" type questions would have been welcome by the dull interviewers. Overall, if you're a major fan of the series before 2010, then this is well worth a purchase, but be warned what this isn't is a full time-line of Eccleston's series to David's regeneration: that is still to come!

K-9: The Bounty Hunter Review (3/5)

Wait, before you get ready to go and buy the new and improved first season of the spin-off, just read this review: for its third episode K-9 does indeed build on the concept of the robot pup's memory loss and his previous travels through time and space by introducing an adversary who claims K-9 has committed murder on a galactic pacifist become coming to Earth in the future. This new twist in the dog's past does admittedly allow for a more in-depth storyline with multiple plots and arcs which could carry through to the upcoming finale, thus making "The Bounty Hunter" a far better episode than its predecessor. As I've said before though, it's easy to cringe at John Leeson's new K-9 and the lacklustre teen cast, so it's still by no means the perfect spin-off to Who, and fans will need to prepare themselves for something wholly different and less outrageous than the original source.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

K-9: The Korvan Review (1.5/5)

This is one step too far: Torchwood? Great; Sarah Jane? Decent but definitely watch-able; K-9? No. Just...no. As if the character hadn't been overused enough by the Who source material, now Australia have seen fit to give him his own show, completely separate from the Whoniverse, where he regenerates and solves crimes in a future Earth with a bunch of teens. If that didn't sound exciting enough, then just wait: the baddies are never created using FX, but instead using dreary and unbelievable costumes, uttering them completely laughable. John Leeson (who voiced the original K-9) returns here to voice the powerful pup, but gives the regenerated version a horrible attitude which fans will doubtless switch off to within seconds. Episode 2 (the first was never shown in the UK), "The Korvan", highlights all these problems and more, featuring a staggeringly simple plot and a lead cast that becomes more irritating by the minute. While everyone certainly tries their best to put on a good spin-off, this just isn't up to the high standards set by Who: avoid at all costs!

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour Review (4.5/5)

"There's no way he'll best Tennant" came the voices of thousands of Who fans as they witnessed Matt Smith's frantic arrival to the TARDIS on New Year's Day "no way in time and space". And yet, while it's too early to make bold assumptions of the Eleventh Doctor, in The Eleventh Hour Smith was truly on form, showcasing all the elements a great Doctor should possess, while highlighting the struggle in which his Time Lord faced to come to terms with how dramatic a change he had undergone. The 60 minute opener certainly boasted enough plot-lines and gags to keep fans and newcomers alike entertained, while its ominous hints that "silence will fall" and "the Pandorica will open" leave plenty to be revealed as Series 5 comes to an epic climax. Not much could be said of the plot, which- while a competent way of introducing the new leads- was frankly all over the place, undecided as to whether it wanted to be a horror, thriller or general action-adventure, meaning that this wasn't the perfect slice of Who some might have been expecting. However, judging by the superb enthusiasm maintained by the new protagonists throughout, things can only get better...

13 Things You Didn't Know About Doctor Who

The new series of Doctor Who is fast approaching, with hour-long première The Eleventh Hour due to air here in the UK tonight at 6.20pm. Below are just 13 trivial facts of note for fans regarding "Series 5":

1. Though it's technically Series 5 of the revamp, this season of Who is being promoted as Series 1, possibly as it's the start of a new era
2. After tonight's episode, you will never look at cracks in the wall the same way again!
3. Expect a new theme tune, title sequence, TARDIS (see picture) and even a flashback to all 10 previous Doctors tonight
4. In The Beast Below, someone who "knows the Doctor of old" will come to Matt Smith's incarnation and try to help him solve the mystery of Starship UK
5. Adding to this is the fact that the Doctor and Amy are summoned to Wartime London in Victory of the Daleks by an "old friend" of the Time Lord's
6. In the first two-parter of the series, we'll see River Song and the Weeping Angels, the former perhaps already having met a later version of the Doc, and the latter having powers which make people not safe if they simply don't blink
7. We then head to Venice, with the Doc, Amy and her boyfriend Rory- sparks will fly!
8. A 5 year time-gap will have passed between the Venice episode and Amy's Choice, where Amy must decide between her pregnancy and the Doctor


Merlin Series Two DVD Review (3.5/5)

Safe in the knowledge that their hit drama Robin Hood had come to a final climax the season before, BBC launched new medieval adventure series Merlin in 2008 to a decent-sized audience and respectable reviews, prompting a second season of magical happenings for the character to be produced then aired in 2009. Now, Series 2 has been released on DVD, and though it doesn't manage to top the original effort, it still retains the supernatural fun that made its predecessor so popular with the target audience (aged 8-10+). Coping with Michelle Ryan's departure as the lead foe was always going to be a hard one, but main protagonists Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Bradley Walsh (Arthur) manage to keep the standard at at a high, none more so than in the penultimate episode where the titular character is forced to decide between turning one of his oldest friends against him or destroying the kingdom of Camelot, with his final decision sure to have more than a few repercussions in later stories. Sadly, the finale is a bitter disappointment, ending with no epic battle but Merlin telling his enemy to leave Camelot on threat of death, and the aforementioned baddie doing as he's told. If it weren't for this, Merlin Season Two would score higher, but if you haven't met Morgan's interpretation yet then this is well worth a buy.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Apple iPad US Release Tomorrow

The iPad is set to be one of Apple's major releases for 2010, and it's about to get its US release tomorrow (April 3rd). Already an iPad App Store has been set up on the iTunes Store, although the apps will be far more expensive, averaging at around £5-7.50 per game. So far, a Mirror's Edge spin-off, a HD version of JellyCar and a new Command and Conquer game have been announced for release on the US date. If you're looking to buy an iPad, you can expect the console to be released in the UK in just a few short weeks for the price of £200. Look out for reviews online soon...

Thursday, 1 April 2010

How To Train Your Dragon Review (4/5)

How To Train Your Dragon represents a somewhat stop-gap for Dreamworks this year: with no feature films out so far by the studio in 2010, and a two-month wait until the final Shrek flick hits cinemas, it wouldn't be unexpected for this adaptation of a 2003 children's novel to be by-the-books and lacklustre; yet surprisingly Dragon manages to gain enough pace in its second half to prove a decent romp for kids and parents alike. The plot, centred around the time of the Vikings and seeing young Hiccup form an unlikely alliance with a Dragon (its race happening to be his clan's sworn enemies), is- as can only be expected with a PG- a predictable one with only a few twists providing even a hint of excitement, but the superb voice acting and (as per usual) brilliant animation manage to save Dragon from becoming yet another failed effort, with roles and cameos going to well-knowns Gerard Butler and David Tennant (almost gaining this a 5/5 from this reviewer, a huge Who fan), all of which are used to the story's advantage. At just under 2 hours, there's certainly enough to keep both generations entertained, and for once the addition of the third-dimension to the motion picture actually raises the overall score. I'd call this a must-watch, but the rating stands as Dragon will probably not withstand many second viewings.

Batman Arkham Asylum- Game Of The Year Edition Review (4.5/5)

Let's get one thing straight- Batman Arkham Asylum was named Game Of 2009 for good reason. The plot, focusing wholly on Batman's visit to the prison for loonies, was so well executed that you might as well have been playing through an extended blockbuster movie, and the accessible game-play meant that it was an amazingly crafted and enjoyable experience for anyone who played through it (and believe me, once you've started a new game, you will want to play it to the end). A Game Of The Year edition was announced late-February and is now available for Xbox 360 and PS3 in all game retailers, boasting a 3D version of the game and all of the challenge maps originally available as DLC, and selling for just £35- a bargain if you consider the original version had an RRP of £40. If you already own or have owned (since there isn't tons of room for replays) the first edition, then this definitely isn't worth trading that one in for- to my knowledge the 3d vision only helps to a certain degree and is not at all the next Avatar, and having played through all the challenge maps when they were DLC, I have to admit that they are not particularly game-enhancing challenges. All in all, if you're desperate for 3D Batman and didn't buy Arkham when it first came out, then go ahead and get this, but otherwise head for the cheaper original. This edition loses points from not being a truly special update, but the game itself still warrants a well-deserved 5/5.

Doctor Who- New Titles And Air Times

It's coming- the long awaited debut of Matt Smith in the role of the Doctor is just about upon us, and with The Eleventh Hour about to dawn upon UK viewers, the official Doctor Who Magazine has released some more information of Series 5. We now know that Episode 7 will be named Amy's Choice, and that the first episode will be aired from 6.20-7.20pm this Saturday (3rd of April), while the second episode (The Beast Below) will be aired the following Saturday from 6.15-7.00pm, facing opposition from a major Premier League match to be aired on ITV. Look below for a couple of minor spoilers revealed about upcoming episodes...

  • The Beast Below will see the Doctor and Amy (still in her pyjamas after being picked up late at night by the TARDIS) travel to the distant future, onto a spaceship full of humans trying to search the stars for a new home. Here, Amy encounters the terrifying Smilers (this is a Steven Moffat story so be very afraid) and the Doctor encounters someone from his past who claims to know what is happening on Starship UK, and needs help...
  • Amy's Choice will take place 5 years after the sixth episode of the series, Vampires of Venice, with Amy about to have her first baby, and all going well for the former-companion, until the Doctor appears, and she must make a heartbreaking choice- changing her life and the tone of this series forever...

Just Cause 2 Review (4/5)

After a flawed and frankly overblown first outing, Just Cause 2 has little expectation to live up to- so it's brilliant that the sequel will blow everyone away (literally in many cases)! Rico Rodriguez ventures to a new island in a simplified but all the more interesting plot featuring a host of annoying yet lovable voice actors, an island which- while smaller than the original's- is still 100 times the size of GTA IV's (reaching 1000 square kilometres) and has lots more things to do than its predecessor's did. To advance the storyline, you'll have to cause chaos- a lot of it- and that means destroying military bases, civilian villages, capital cities, and partaking in some simply awesome faction missions (one sees you commandeer a fully-armed jet in order to destroy a rocket before it does the same to the island). While in the original these tasks would have been mundane, now the tension and fun have been ramped up dramatically to provide an overall more refined experience for gamers. If you're a fan of free-roaming games without too much plot, then why are you still here and not at your local game retailers already? If not, Just Cause 2 is still worth at least a rental by anyone of the age!