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Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter Review: Part 3

Obviously the rides are the most important part of one's theme park experience, and thankfully in no respect do the attractions featured in The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter disappoint. In this section, I'll give a rough order to do the three adventures in, and reviews of each. First up on your list should be the Dragon's Challenge coaster, supposedly reminiscent of the first Tri-Wizard task in The Goblet Of Fire. This is a high-speed, no frills roller coaster which places you either in a Hungarian Horntail or Chinese Fireball hanging carriage, sends you up a near-endless lift hill, then throws you downwards towards the ground before spiralling and looping in the air on one of two pre-set tracks that almost collides with the other carriage (which by the way is going at the same time!). Truly, there is not a more exhilirating experience than this in Universal Islands Of Adventure, and though it seems daunting at first everyone in the family needs to give Dragon's Challenge a go. Having got that out of the way, you should head to the suitably more family-orientated Flight of the Hippogriff coaster, where you'll walk through a setting like the fields of Hogwarts, past Hagrid's Hut, be coached by Hagrid how to enter your hippogriff, bow to Buckbeak on the lift hill then go for a twisty, jolty ride that while fun is heartbreakingly short. Nevermind that, though, enjoy it while it lasts! Finally, head over to Hogwarts Castle (which may or may not have a line just to get inside) for a 30-60+ minute queue through its greenhouses, grounds, corridors and classrooms (though sadly not the Great Hall). I won't spoil the great exchanges that take place, but you'll be glad there's no Fast-Pass option on offer given the superb quality simply of the line experience. The ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, is amazing on so many levels, providing a mix between simulator and coaster not unlike the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, but one that will stun you all the way. I won't spoil the plot, but it's a great mish-mash of the best moments from films 1-4 (Dumbledore is still alive and well here- hooray!), and will keep you onto the edge of the seat. Coming tomorrow: the verdict on the park!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Doctor Who: Nuclear Time Review (3.5/5)

The second of the July Who novel releases, Nuclear Time sends the Doctor, Amy and Rory to 1980s America in a wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey plot not totally apart from Steven Moffat's recent season finale, only this is scribed by the excellent Oli Smith (who also wrote the Daily Express exclusive CD release The Runaway Train). We see the two human companions only for a brief time here as they are (spoiler of sorts) killed by a nuclear bomb set off in Appletown, and much like his attempt to keep his consciousness in Amy's memories by going back in his time-line and reminding her of his TARDIS, the Time Lord must go back in his time-line here and stop the bomb's detonation and/or Amy and Rory being in the vicinity. It sounds rather complex, but that's because it is. Often, you'll get lost amongst the intelligence of Smith's writing, and may just skip to the next chapter for the much used catch-up. The absence of our usual companions means that a couple of side characters are brought into the lime-light, and in many ways it's the story of forgotten professor Albert and disgraced corporal Geoff and not the Doctor himself- though we do get a better look into the alien's mind and the way it works. On the whole, Nuclear Time's use of in-media-res and plotlines similar to The Waters Of Mars (though not as emotional) are effective, but the characterisation is a bit off, and the final 100 pages drag a bit too much for readers to truly enjoy. Nevertheless, a fun, if too complex, read.

The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter Review: Part 2

Queues always form a tangible problem at theme parks, and given my visit just weeks after the official unveiling of The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, the queues even to get round the park were substantial. Ollivander's Wand Experience had a good hour-long line by the looks of it for a show that's 10 minutes, tops. Dervish & Banges seemed to have a line for products that nearly stretched out of the door (but given the barcodes didn't). Heck, even Honeydukes Sweet Shop had a queue! We endured the latter simply because we were hungry and the indoor design was fantastic, but you can see how this does form a drawback to the park. However, will The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter ever NOT be busy? Fans can't simply grab the nearest flying broomstick and their funds from Gringotts and head straight to Orlando, they'll have to save for months or years before coming, so Islands Of Adventure's extended appeal will live on, and it's unlikely this mini theme-park will ever be replaced or rethemed due to the franchise's sheer popularity. As well as obviously Honeydukes, The 3 Broomsticks offers a place to sit down and eat, along with some nice moving pictures of Quidditch matches, and the Hog's Head is the perfect chance to sit down and have a glass of Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice: while I didn't try the pumpkin-based beverage, the Butterbeer was soothingly cool (with a frozen option even available) and tasted like a mixture of vanilla ice cream and lemonade, yet not like any cocktail in pubs before it. Both locations are worth checking out simply for their Potter heritage, and if you want a good meal there's some of them available too. Once all that's done, though, it's time to move onto the rides...

The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter Review: Part 1

If you didn't already know, the Harry Potter franchise has possibly the largest cult following in modern history, with J.K Rowling's books inspiring millions and eventually leading to a series of eight films which jump-started the careers of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, which in turn brought upon Universal Islands Of Adventure the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter mini-theme-park, doubtless sure to bring millions more fans to Orlando in search of more wholesome Potty goodness. You'll notice I called it a mini theme-park: though the producers of the Wizarding World have claimed it to be a theme park unto itself, I'd advise a little bit of caution with regards to expectations, as it does essentially "only" form a land at Islands Of Adventure, and "only" features three rides. Don't let that deter you by any means though: this is the closest you'll get to being in the world of Harry bar sneaking on to the set of the films. EVER. As you enter via the Lost Continent land of Islands, you'll be greeted by the brilliantly realised village of Hogsmeade, looking just as dazzling even in the sun as it did with its snowy spires in The Prisoner Of Azkaban. Photo opportunities are immediately available with the Hogwarts Express billowing steam out of its funnel to your right, and shops such as Honeydukes (providing authentic sweets from the fictional universe) and Dervish & Banges (allowing true fans to get a Gryffindor or Slytherin uniform; wooden brooms & wooden wands- sadly, I'm not kidding, I saw two grown men walking around in these uniforms by the Hulk coaster). The Owl Post is also available as a chance to get your postcards stamped with a Hogwarts seal then dispatched to a chosen location, while Zonko's and Ollivander's respectively provide fun experiences in their joke and wand based shows on every 20 minutes. However, it's in Hogsmeade that one of the park's biggest self-inflicted shortcomings begins to show...

RipSaw Falls & Bilge Rat Barges Review (4/5)

These two water-based rides at Islands Of Adventure are based around the classic Dudley Do-Right animated series (no, I haven't heard of it either!), RipSaw Falls presenting you with some steep and soaking drops admist a fun log flume romp and Bilge Rat Barges allowing 8 riders to hurtle down a twisty, wet canyon of rapids via a large circular raft. Both attractions offer light-hearted fun provided its a hot day (luckily, in Orlando, these are very common!), with RipSaw Falls in particular having a massively steep drop which culminates in big splashes and likely groans for previously dry goers. It's easy to criticise the queue corridors for not making as much use of the comic theme of Dudley Do-Right as other rides at Universal always do (see Harry Potter and Marvel Super Hero Land for evidence of this, amongst others), and there's not even a hint of storyline present in either attraction, but other than this both of these will cool you off in the baking heat, and so be welcome intervals in the long days at Islands Of Adventure.

Jurassic Park: River Adventure Review (4/5)

George Lucas' Jurassic Park flicks proved major hits with their audiences of the '80s and '90s, inspiring a wealth of rides at the Universal theme parks positioned across America. One such attraction is Jurassic Park: River Adventure, a water-based coaster taking 25 riders in a large boat across the famed dinosaur island on a leisurely tour, which later gets interrupted by a 'saur sending the vehicle off course towards a massive 85ft drop where every goer is sure (or 'saur, sorry couldn't resist) to get a good soaking and an exhilarating thrill along the way down. The animatronics of the dinosaurs you'll see on the ride are superbly realistic, and really the only complaint I can level is that you don't get to see enough of the fabled extinct race before your climb to the aformentioned scares beyond, so if you end up queuing a while you might feel somewhat short-changed. However, River Adventure is, as its title suggests, adventurous in its approach and should definitely get a look while you visit Universal's Islands Of Adventure!

Storm Force Accelatron (2/5)

If you didn't already know, Storm is one of the X-Men (and is a woman- talk about juxtaposition), and so this teacup-like ride is based around her character, with no immediate plot present other than helping her stop Magneto by spinning around constantly. Sounds pretty silly, right? Right. The ride itself moves at a fairly slow speed, and it's very unlikely your carraige will even spin around itself that much, only moving with the circular plates underneath each triplet and not on its own. If that weren't bad enough, the ride only lasts 1 minute, so the probably 10-20 minute wait feels wholly wasted on it. Overall, Storm Force Accelatron isn't worth taking time for, and the only redeeming feature is the superb Marvel theming.

The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man Review (5/5)

Universal Islands Of Adventure has one of the widest ranges of rides in Orlando, and one of the most surprising ones on offer is The Amazing Adventures Of Spider-Man. This is a mix of simulator and roller-coaster, placing you inside a news-gathering vehicle that moves through scenery, fog and large 3-D screens, heading upwards; downwards; left and right in rapid succession unpredictably. Considering the general simplicity of most simulators, this attention to sheer fun will take riders aback, and even the narrow but decent tale of the Daily Bugle trying to get good shots of Spidey via the vehicles as he fights six of his old adversaries is exciting to watch play out, making this ride essential for fans of thrills, Spidey or both!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Doctor Who: The Glamour Chase Review (2.5/5)

Ever since this season of Doctor Who ended, it seemed as if there would be a huge gap in continuity for fans of each episode, with the Christmas Special months away. They needn't have worried though, as DVDs; BBC Proms; hard-back behind the scenes titles and even a special edition novel are on their way in the coming months. One novel that's been released is The Glamour Chase: it stars the Doctor, Amy and Rory, however somewhat sadly it takes place in between Amy's Choice and The Hungry Earth (Arthur Darvill's character mentions trying to get to Rio, which I suspect was Amy's eventual "choice"!) and not after the events of The Big Bang. Ah well, this doesn't affect it much, so we can see it as a somewhat light-hearted take on their travels with some predictable twists and easy-to-grasp characterisations. Given it's his first time writing for Doctor 11, Gary Russell seems to struggle with Matt Smith's essence, casting him like Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton instead of his own seperate Time Lord. This often plagues the book, as does a not-very-compelling story which doesn't dare you to read on with exciting cliff-hangers so can't overly impress. In the end, while it provides a nice look at Amy and Rory's relationship before the latter's death in the dreary Silurian two-parter, The Glamour Chase is by no means essential, doing nothing to advance our knowledge of any of the main characters or side inclusions.

Twister: Ride It Out Review (3.5/5)

Twister was a popular film in both the US and UK, recreating the atmosphere of a hurricane in America brilliantly and providing some genuinely horrific thrills for viewers. Twister: Ride It Out is a somewhat exhilirating adaptation of the movie at Universal Studios Florida, tasking the unlucky few destined to walk through the ruined streets of the hurricane with surviving explosions, vehicles being flung at them, and even the odd flying cow! Bar a short wait outside "Stage 50", you'll be immersed the whole time, with the actors guiding you through their experiences and keeping you interested all the while. The actual ride experience is where the fun is at, though, providing heat, sudden bangs and even a quick drop of the floor at the end. It's hard to describe why it's fun, it just IS! The major problem I had with this attraction was that it was over far too soon, and that there could have been more elaboration into the actual plot of the film (though it will convince many of you to watch Twister) to draw riders in, and overall while it's a fun attraction, it's another in the queue of "watch if you've seen all the big stuff".

Men In Black: Alien Attack Review (4/5)

Remember the Men In Black movies? Well, you should: Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith provided dead-on adaptations of Agents J & K in two superb comic-based efforts focusing on alien interventions, memories and mysteries, while maintaining humour between the two protagonists and also a likeable bunch of intergalactic beings. Smith returns for this laser-shooter ride, Men In Black: Alien Attack at Universal Studios Florida, where riders are challenged with becoming MIB aliens by shooting cosmic targets and racking up high scores, then gaining an Agent Ranking at the end. There's little to no tale to follow here, but the way the carraige thrusts you around, sometimes even rotating continuously in full circles for ambushes, is an exciting addition to an essentially more adult Buzz-Lightyear shooting range attraction. The corridors leading to the vehicles are futuristic and as with the rest of Universal maintain their themes realistically- the standard of detail in every ride at both parks is phenomenal and deserves to be seen by all. Overall, while it's still a bit static as a ride experience, Alien Attack is fun to go on and has a good queue to boot. If you ever saw the movies, this is an absolute must.

Shrek 4-D Review (4/5)

Having seen the four movies, played some of the video-game versions and even recounted many of its not-so-famous puns to friends, I'd say I'm a fair fan of the Shrek franchise despite its undeniable drop in movie quality in its third film, so seeing the Shrek 4-D experience at Universal Studios Florida was pretty much a must this summer. Some deja vu will hit riders when they realise the attraction was designed as a bridge between the first and second film, so sees Shrek and Fiona on their honeymoon before meeting the latter's parents, going off to find the future King Arthur or being thrust into an alternate reality by Rumpelstiltskin. The plot here is fairly thin, seeing Fiona captured by a resurrected Lord Farquad (with no reasoning as to his survival or his sudden change of heart with regards to Fiona's ogre form) and Shrek and Donkey attempting to rescue her before she joins the short villian in the underworld. Much of the series' likeable humour between Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy is still present, making for a immersive Shrek viewing. The only problem comes with the fact it's still simply a show with some simulator elements, so you're not totally engaged, but that doesn't stop this prelude being worth a visit.

Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast (3.5/5)

Having ridden the excellent Simpsons ride and Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rock-It, and had a nice meal in a pub based on Irish cuisine, while heading out of Universal Studios Florida I tried the Jimmy Neutron ride. Dubbed NickToon Blast, it was in fact another simulator, this time trying to emulate an aerial chase through popular Nickelodeon cartoons such as Spongebob and Rugrats. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't rode The Simpsons ride earlier, which made stunning use of simulation and realism and all-out humour along the way, but the safety precautions, queue (simply featuring clips from the shows and little in the way of scenery) and general ride weren't that compelling, even if meeting all your favourite characters from television is exhilirating to you (I used to love these icons, now not so much). Thankfully, the Chicken Dance you're forced to do at the end, thrusting your carraige left right then up and down repeatedly was hilarious to watch and partake in (though not so much considering we'd just had dinner, but that wasn't the ride's fault). I think the biggest shortcoming for Nick-Toon Blast was having to contend with Shrek 4-D and the Simpsons ride especially, but it was still worth the 10 minute queue and is easily worth your spare time if you've seen all the other big attractions in the park!

The Simpsons Ride Review (5/5)

The Simpsons is a phenomenally popular television franchise, and has now branched out into action figures, DVDs, films and even a theme park ride. The attraction, stationed at Universal Studios Orlando, is a high-tech simulator which sends you to Krustyland on a mission to help the titular family stop Sideshow Bob from killing Springfield's residents. As per usual, the on-screen storyline is hilarious to watch play out, and even safety videos are made funny by the inclusion of Itchy and Scratchy. Clips of theme park episodes are played throughout the queue, making for a light-hearted and easy to bear waiting experience. The simulator itself places you inside a mock roller-coaster cart, lifting you up to a huge IMAX screen then thrusting you down an animated adventure with disturbing similarity to an actual high-speed rollercoaster. Every part of the ride reeks quality, and overall it's one of (if not the) my top attractions ever in Orlando and in general, so is worth trying despite the hour-long (at least) waits, when you come to Universal Studios!

Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rock-It Review (4.5/5)

Universal Studios Orlando has for a while now left the roller-coaster duties to Islands Of Adventure, only containing the mild-mannered Revenge Of The Mummy adaptation, so clearly the ride developers thought it was time for that to change: Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rock-It is a no-bars thriller featuring a soundtrack of your choice blaring out from speakers behind your head and drops which will make gravity seem to disappear. The queue is outdoors, filled with red and yellow psychedelic colours but bar instructions how to enter the ride (get on an escalator, sit down, pull the lap bar over you, choose a music genre and song, then sit back and go to a right angle vertical rise, all in 30 seconds!) there isn't much to see or do, so hope for short lines. The experience itself is unforgettable: having gone at 90 degrees up a huge rise, you drop steeply down at 65mph (faster than Dragon Challenge and The Incredible Hulk!) then enter a loop where you only go upside down for brief moments but it feels totally genuine. Over the 2 minutes or so you're on, there are dives through buildings, under and over them, and it goes at a good enough pace that your waiting in line feels worth it. Overall, Rip Ride Rock-It is a totally unique experience thanks to its fearful speedy antics and excellent use of music.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Doctor Who: Series 5 Boxset Revealed

This year's season of Doctor Who, helmed by Matt Smith, Karen Gillian and Steven Moffat, came to an end over a month ago now, but that doesn't mean the team are sitting back and relaxing: a Christmas Special confirmed to 'provide a merry twist on Dickens' A Christmas Carol' is being filmed this August, with Michael Gambon (Dumbledore in HP 3-6) and popular opera singer Catherine Jenkins signed on as guest stars in the festive 60 (or more) minute episode set to air on the 25th of December 2010. Meanwhile, four volumes containing each of Series 5's 13 episodes are being released up till early September, each featuring simply the stories and Monster Files detailing the Doctor's new adversaries. All of these have now been confirmed to star on the Series 5 box-set, which has a lenticular cover (above, left), and a limited edition (which won't be cost anymore but you'll have to pre-order) metal casing featuring a crack in space and time. All 13 Doctor Who Confidential episodes will also be included in the 6-disc set, along with exciting new scenes starring Matt and Karen called "Meanwhile, in the TARDIS" which will bridge the gaps between several adventures. Get ready to start saving, as the box-sets tend to release for around £50, but given the superb standard set this year, that'll be well worth it!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Toy Story 3: The Movie Review (5/5)

With such a legacy riding on its back, you wouldn't be shunned for thinking Pixar would just produce a lackluster finale to its Toy Story film franchise: but as we now know and I know having seen this motion picture, that isn't how this animation studio works. Toy Story 3 is a tale of growing up, of a child who's too old for playtime anymore, and who has to find a way to let his toys go as he ventures into the future. Despite this, as the title suggests this flick is all about the play-things themselves, so it's great that Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and company return to lend their vocal talents and that Pixar have stepped up the animation quality (as with Bolt, Wall-E and Up) in both characters and locations. This is only added to by the superb use of the third dimension- simply put, Toy Story 3 has to be seen to be believed in 3-D, and unless you can't bear wearing the glasses, it's the only format you should view it in (seeing in 2-D just wouldn't be the same, honestly!). Having had a year of fairly emotionless 'blockbusters', it's also nice to have a film that in many ways is so dark, powerful and ultimately moving (the ending had me in tears with its moral-like close). All I have left to summarise Toy Story 3 with is that it's this year's Avatar- only it will appeal to all ages and cinema-goers, and is far less predictable. You owe it to yourself to watch it!

Film Clash: Animation Wars

Shrek has had a lot of time to make his mark on the animation movie world whilst the Toy Story flicks have been away: eleven years, in fact. This summer, however, that's all changing: Toy Story 3 (5/5) has just hit cinemas, and as you'll see in my review, it's pretty much the Avatar of animations for 2010 and indeed for the last decade. Given this, how does Shrek: Forever After hold up in comparison? To be fair, it puts up a darn good fight: its premise, taken from 'It's A Wonderful Life', sees our fave ogre sent to an alternate reality, trying to get true love's first kiss with Fiona before midnight and defeat Rumpelstiltskin. Does the first part sound familiar with regards to the original film? That's because it is, though Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz provide a suitably different approach to their ogres' relationship here which keeps things fresh. Nevertheless, often the acting feels sub-par, as if the central cast are getting a little tired of the constant sequels, which detracts (albeit minorily) from the experience. Thus, Toy Story 3 has the upper hand: its story is realistic, dark and at times moving, and the vocal cast hit an all time high as the series comes to an end. 3-D wise, Toy Story also trumps Shrek, in that the imagery is already so beautiful the third dimension actually gives it so much more depth and makes it feel even closer, whereas though the imagery is nice on Shrek 4, it's not good enough that the extra dimension adds to the experience (it simply tries to have some in-your-face moments). In the end, when choosing between these two seemingly age-old franchises, I'd recommend seeing the fourth Shrek film for cheap-ish when it's out on DVD, but for now head to cinemas before it's too late and watch Toy Story 3: you won't regret it!

Game Clash: Animation Wars

While both the Shrek and Toy Story franchises are set to battle it out for Top Animation Flick in cinemas this Summer, two film tie-ins have been released as video games for home consoles and handhelds, and it's time to see whether either or both of them are worth buying. Shrek Forever After: The Game follows closely the same plot as the titular film, seeing the loveable ogre enter an alternate reality to return to his roots and fight Rumpelstiltskin, but in general is just a repetitive fighter with a few dumb platforming sections. As usual, the combat is pretty easy to master as it revolves around button-bashing, but that doesn't make it the least bit fun to engage in, and basically only detracts from an already too short game. Meanwhile, as I said in my review Toy Story 3: The Video Game is a very loose companion to the film, featuring a few worthy setpieces from both the second and third films such as the Buzz Lightyear Video Game and Woody's attempt to rescue orphans from a runaway train in the desert. Once again, its combat is not at all intelligent, which is why the game tries to introduce new mechanics each level so that the other areas of the game are varied and little combat is involved. Sadly, this does give Toy Story 3 an uneven feeling at times, as it can feel then like a mini-game compliation. Ah well, the graphics are excellently true to the Pixar series even on the Wii, DS and PSP, and its story, while short and strange, does maintain my interest. Both games would probably tie were it not for the Toy Box mode of TS3, which extends its life-span by a good 5-10-even 20 hours. Bottom line: Forever After is decent but nothing better than that, while Toy Story 3 will provide a lengthy and interesting continuation of the film for fans and newcomers, and is well worth it if you're looking for something to buy in this summer of few releases!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Inception Review (4.5/5)

What the...? Why end it there? What relevance is that supposed to hold? I could easily level these pressing questions at director Christopher Nolan (who also helmed the excellent dark remake of Batman and is set to do so with the final in that trilogy) of the mind-boggingly inconclusive ending to his new sci-fi action/thriller Inception. Most of the time, such an open-ended climax (or anti-climax, rather) would make a film of this calibre lose marks, but it's the journey to that finish that counts, and Inception sends viewers on one heck of a 150-minute journey. The premise hasn't been clearly laid out in the trailers, and with good reason- many of the sub-plots and cameos included are central to the motion picture and would have been spoilt had they been shown beforehand: basically, Inception revolves around a man, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio)- who can steal secrets from people's dreams by "sharing" them- tasked with planting a crucial idea into a millionaire mind so that an empire can crumble, and a girl, Ariadne (Juno's Ellen Page), who must comfort and aid Dom while discovering his dark secrets and helping him confront them. Sounds like a lot to handle, right? Right, but wait: only if you go into the cinema unprepared. There are tons of twists and powerful revelations to be found here, some which will make you chuckle, and some you may find darn disturbing if you don't do action films usually, so you'll want to enter bearing this in mind. Ellen Page has fabulous chemistry with DiCaprio, and is far more likeable as an intelligent budding architect than her irritating pregnant teenager. Truly, Inception refuses to let up the pace at any point, and despite its irksomely vague ending, manages to be one of the best hits of 2010 so far: if any action film can top this, it'll be pretty near perfect.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

James Bond Games: Why To Be Excited...

James Bond isn't going through good times right now: the sequel to "Quantum Of Solace" with no current name has been practically cancelled until 2012 or '13, meaning we won't be able to update our DVD collections anytime soon. To compensate for this, Activision are releasing two new adventures as video games this Winter. At E3 2010, Nintendo announced a Wii-exclusive remake of the classic "Golden-Eye 007", now made into a full Daniel Craig story-line which will inevitably take place after "Quantum" and/or "Casino Royale". The title, boasting single and multi-player modes, will see Bond face off against new enemies such as Golden-Eye and his villianous organisation across the world in locations true to both the movie and the Nintendo 64 original, and is currently set for release in November. Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 and PS3 are getting a wholly different Bond experience, albeit in high-definition: "Blood Stone 007" will also star Daniel Craig (and Judi Dench!) alongside new Bond girl Joss Stone in an adventure taking Craig's Bond to exotic real-life locations in an attempt to stop a dastardly terrorist organisation taking control of the Earth's military defense systems- all in stunning HD! Simply put, anymore James Bond is always welcome, but two games in one year is nothing short of amazing- and look forward to reading my reviews to help you choose which one (or two?) to get this November!

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood: Why To Be Excited...

The "Assassin's Creed" franchise has gone from strength to strength: since its lacklustre first release of "Assassin's Creed 1" (2.5/5) in 2007, Ubisoft Montreal has bucked up the ante by providing a fully-improved sequel in "Assassin's Creed 2" (4.5/5), while releasing companion efforts such as "Altair's Chronicles" (3/5); "Bloodlines" and "Discovery" (3/5) on the PSP, DS and iPhone respectively. This year, for the first time, Ubisoft are offering a full semi-sequel to the second game- dubbed "Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood", it will continue the story of Ezio Auditore in Renaissance Italy, sending the Assassin to Rome in order to 'strike at the heart of Templar territory' and discover the true meaning to the ending of "AC2". That means he's going to need more than a one-man army, so Ezio will recruit a team of assassins to help him take down key targets, and in a real-time-strategy-like move, Ubisoft have allowed players to tell their fellow Assassins what to do. If that weren't great enough, we're also getting a fully fledged online multi-player mode to mess about with, featuring hunting and last man standing modes aplenty. "Brotherhood" is going to be the last entry in the series until at least 2012, so fans should buy it simply because there'll be no more "Assassin's Creed" for a good while now!

Be Excited For Spiderman: Dimensions Because...

Ever since "Spider-Man 2" rocked the gaming world in 2004 on PS2, GameCube and Xbox, no game based on the web-slinging hero has managed to top that excellent experience of casting cobwebs as grappling lines throughout New York (though some efforts like "Web Of Shadows" have come close). Somewhat predictably, then, Beenox Studios have decided to take the Spidey-verse to new places, giving us not one Spider-Man story to play through in "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions", but four. Thankfully we won't have to choose simply between four different titles on the menu screen: the experiences are intertwined between four 'dimensions', three of which have already been revealed. The first and most obvious is that of "Amazing Spider-Man", starring the classic red and blue tights-clad web-slinger we all know and love in recognisably comic environments like jungles and urban cities: here we can expect a normal Spidey experience of swinging and fighting, but with 1st-person boss battles against classic enemies like Kraven. Next is "Spider-Man Noir", an experience not unlike "Batman: Arkham Asylum" in that it will see our web-slinger using the shadows to strike fear in enemies and ultimately take them out, with stealth heavily needed to take down fearsome gun-slingers such as Hammerhead. Finally for the revealed dimensions, there's "Spider-Man 2099": set in the future, this will mostly revolve around air combat, with fights against Scorpion and the Green Goblin already confirmed to take place while falling from a skyscraper. So far, we don't know how deep each experience will be, but nonetheless expect greatness from at least one dimension in this game coming out September, and look out for the fourth dimension reveal next Monday!

Hellboy: The Golden Army Review (4/5)

The original "Hellboy" comic-film adaptation was one of my favourite action-thrillers of all time (the 5/5 proves that) and definitely the best in 2005, and try as it might "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army" can't live up to its predecessor's premise and strong overall plot with regards to the popular comic book. This time around, we see Hellboy- a demon sent to Earth to conquer who decides to get it on with a fiery babe and work as part of a crime-busting team- on the verge of anarchy as the magical and human worlds threaten to colide when the evil Prince Nuada tries to resurrect an ancient army (the titular shiny one). In comparison to the brilliant establishing-the-hero plot of "Hellboy", the sequel's merely pales, especially with the lack of a formidable and scary adversary to fight (Nuada just doesn't cut it for this reviewer). Ron Pearlman and co certainly try their best to give their all in making the film, but the loss of John from the team really seems to have taken a hit for the chemistry of the cast as a whole, which detracts from the experience. If you look at "Hellboy 2" as a film on its own, it's funny, dark in places, well-written and highly intelligent, but as part of an already brilliant franchise, "The Golden Army" lets the side down a bit. At just £3-5 in stores, however, it's well worth your cash!

Rabbids Go Home Review (4.5/5)

It's safe to say that Wii owners often get the short end of the stick in multi-platform releases, often boasting worse graphics and tacky motion controls, and though there are exceptions to this rule like Toy Story 3 and Call Of Duty: World At War, Nintendo fans can now safely state that it's the exclusives Wiivians should get excited about. Proof of this comes with Rabbids Go Home, a Wii-exclusive (bar a rubbish DS companion edition) title based solely around the "Rabbids" that have been terrorising Rayman in party games for years now. The plot, like most Rayman and indeed Mario games (I'm coming to why I mentioned the latter!), is wafer-thin: apparently, the Rabbids are bored of having no home on Earth, so decide to build a giant junk pile to reach and inhabit the Moon. As I said, not very deep, but the game-play more than complements this approach. Basically, you'll go around several modern buildings and playgrounds etc trying to collect junk for the pile, and while this seems a simple task at first, after the lame tutorials "Rabbids Go Home" kicks it up a notch and makes reaching the Moon a distant and challenging target even for hardcore gamers. Casuals shouldn't worry though, as each level boasts tons of character, mocking satirically many human assets of today in a stereo-typical American city in visibly hilarious cutscenes (it's subtitled 'A Comedy Adventure' for a reason- you will laugh A LOT). Once again, the Rabbids add to this insane humour, making for a funny, challenging, diverse and utmost strong Wii exclusive which stands at a neat fifth place below (in my opinion) "Super Mario Galaxy 2"; "Super Mario Galaxy"; "Zelda Twilight Princess" and "Metroid Prime Trilogy". At just £10-15, this is one of the best casual Wii purchases any gamer could want!

Be Excited For Guitar Hero 6 Because...

Wait, don't leave yet! Though last year's "Guitar Hero 5" revitalised the genre for many, it does seem quite a push for Activision to be releasing their sixth-year-in-a-row new effort "Guitar Hero: Warriors Of Rock" this Autumn- how much further can the series be taken? Apparently, quite a lot: the new Quest mode will allow players the chance to rock their way through an extensive list of rock-based songs (as many complained no 5's setlist was too family-orientated) and fight an ancient demon by becoming super-monster type rockers. It does seem weird, but if it's taken in the right direction, it could send music-rhythm games back out of the tedious pit they've been in for so long now. PS3 and 360 Avatars can still be implemented, and its rumoured that one Challenge mode will task you with playing through the majority of Hero's songs since its first release in 2004. Get ready to rock this September the 28th, because Activision might just be putting the fun back into music games (MIGHT!)

Be Excited For Force Unleashed 2 Because...

Do you really need to ask? "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" happened to be the best non-LEGO Star Wars game since, well, ever, and now the developers have got together and created a better-looking and feeling sequel; no small feat considering the original got a 4.5/5 here. If you're wondering just how Starkiller can be alive given his (SPOILERS!) sacrifice to build the Rebel Alliance in the canonical ending of the original, don't worry: the sequel's protagonist isn't so sure why he's alive either. Darth Vader is back, too, and claims that this version of Starkiller is a failed clone, but another returnee, General Rahm Kota, claims that it's impossible to clone a warrior as powerful as "The Apprentice". Unsure about his past or the reason for his revival, Starkiller goes on a hunt to find out the truth and seek his love, Juno Eclipse, and will travel to cloning facilites, Imperial bars, Dagobah (yes, we're going to see Yoda before Luke does in Episode 5!) and darker places still to go about his goals. Game-play wise, targeting and the general camera angle are being improved for a more refined (and hopefully 5/5) Star Wars experience, plus you'll be given new powers like an enhanced Force Push/Pull and Jedi Mind Trick (these are not the droids you're looking for), and the chance to pilot vehicles like a Tie Fighter and engage in some epic boss battles (but less than the 1st game, as they became rather overpowering later on). "Force Unleashed II" is out on October 28th, and is simply begging for approval by critics and fans given its improved graphics, game-play and (we hope) lifespan.

Film Ratings At On Screen

0/5- It's very rare a film will get this, but sometimes film-makers simply want you to come and see this rubbish. I've never awarded such a low ranking, but at this point I'd pretty much want to ask for my money back at the cinema.
1/5- A predictable plot, terrible acting and/or sequelitis will often cause this score, but once again it's very uncommon. I'd rate Alvin & The Chipmunks 2 this because it wasn't worth seeing, but here you have to avoid it at all costs.
2/5- Another rare one, this basically means that unless its a sequel and you're a die-hard fanatic of that franchise who has to see everything to do with it, it's not worth watching (unless you find it for about £3 on DVD). Shrek The Third might be an example of this, as it was a useless addition.
3 or 3.5/5- At 3, I'm saying it doesn't live up to the hype (e.g. Predators), and at 3.5 it will basically depend on how much you want to see it as to whether it's worth it. For example, I gave Shrek Forever After a 3.5 due to its lack of originality, but my fan side loved seeing a decent Shrek movie again with the cast back at their best.
4 or 4.5/5- Things heat up here: 4 moves into the category of seeing it if you've been looking for something to go and watch and/or have been following the trailers, and 4.5 constitutes a nigh-on must-see film with a couple of flaws (e.g. too short or too long, dragged out scenes, wasted cameos)
5/5- Film masterclass: only certain epics get this such as Avatar, or hilarious comedies such as Get Him To The Greek, or even out of the blues like Sherlock Holmes and Cemetry Junction. These you have to watch at some point!

Game Ratings At On Screen

A quick guide to what each of our game ratings mean:

0/5- Some developers are just sick- it feels like no effort has been put in here.
1 or 1.5/5- Features brief moments of fun, but swimming in mediocrity and so not even worth a rental.
2 or 2.5/5- Simply doesn't impress highly on any level, though there are times where you can have some (restricted) fun. Only buy these titles if you're desperate.
3 or 3.5/5- Doesn't live up to the hype given, but if you're willing to accept this and look at games for their accomplishments, you might get some enjoyment here.
4 or 4.5/5- If you've even considered buying these heavily at any point, either of these ratings mean they are definitely worth it. A 4/5 means it's either a great standalone game or amazing fan service (such as Toy Story 3), but a 4.5/5 means its near-perfect, and only one or two flaws stop it from being the perfect game.
5/5- Essential games come here (though 4s and 4.5s are worth it too), and are basically worth full price no matter what.
5.5/5- When a game goes all out to impress, has no visible flaws and will last you a while, bringing gaming into the decade with a bang, they get this. Mario Galaxy 2 & Grand Theft Auto IV are examples of this massive achievement.

Toy Story 3: The Video-Game Review (4/5)

"Toy Story 3" is a rare beast: though the established norm for movie tie-ins is that they are generally dull, repetitive, lacking in the graphics department and for the most part short, this brand new title boasts some brilliantly inventive design, a cast of actors who do a remarkable job of mimicking the film characters (though neither Hanks nor Allen contribute, they're barely missed), and on the whole a real sense of staying true to this age-old franchise. Two main modes are available here, one loosely following the new film's plot (but don't expect many spoilers here- it's incohesive and gives near nothing away) and the other-dubbed "Toy Box Mode"-acting as a free-roaming world not too disimilar to "Red Dead: Redemption"'s brilliant Wild West (no, really!). The former takes you on a rag-tag mission to reach Andy before he gets to college, but features none of the emotional segments or character-driven moments I'm told the film has (check for a review of that very soon!). Don't let that deter you however, since there are plenty of exciting set-pieces in place here- from playing that great-looking Buzz video game in "Toy Story 2"'s opening to skating along a sandwich as Woody and trying to find the AA battery to put an end to an evil baker's plans, there's certainly something for everyone to love here. The story mode will only provide about 5-9 (10 at most) hours of play, and the camera may sometimes irritate, meaning that if it had been that alone, this release would have got 2.5 or 3 out of 5. What brings it back from bad movie tie-in depths is its Toy Box mode, and on the Wii (the version I bought) there are tons of customisation options and interesting locations to visit in the open world of Woody's Roundup (sadly all fictional, the story is where you venture to the real world), which like I said feels a bit like "Red Dead" (5/5), and features a few heartwarming references to other Pixar films like "Finding Nemo" and "A Bug's Life". Graphically, this release for Wii is decent but sometimes blurred, but the cutscenes look just like watching one of the movies, and the motion-based controls are 9 times out of 10 excellent. In short, if you're a fan of Pixar or Toy Story, this is well worth a purchase, with well over 20 hours of game-play time. If not, it's still the best movie tie-in ever (yes, really).

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Be Excited About Toy Story 3 Because...

It's been a good decade since "Toy Story 2" rocked fans' worlds with a new, Woody-centralised plot taking place in a variety of locations and with a likeable bunch of new characters, and this summer's "Toy Story 3" looks to continue that trend by dispatching our favourite team of play-things to a care centre for toddlers as Andy heads to college without them. Sounds pretty average, right? Wrong. This is Pixar we're talking about, who brought us the hugely funny "Bolt" and the equally emotional "Up" in the last two years of motion picture, so we can expect jokes and tears aplenty as the flick brings to an end (probably) what has been one of the most successful animated series of all time, hopefully with a touch more style than "Shrek Forever After" did (3.5/5). The film is out next Monday, July 19th, while a video game tie-in is coming this Friday, July 16th. The game, out for all consoles at an RRP of £40, will feature 8 detailed story missions,4 taking place in real-world events from the trilogy, and the others taking place in Andy's mind with loveable scenarios such as the Buzz Lightyear video-game sequence Rex played through unsuccessfully at the beginning of the second film. In addition, there's a "Toy Box" mode, allowing for "GTA"-like antics as you roam a Wild West-esque world with aliens and missions to complete aplenty. Look for reviews of both very soon!

Be Excited About Halo: Reach Because...

The "Halo" franchise has spawned an uprising of followers in its reign on both the Xbox, with "Halo" and "Halo 2" proving megamoths of the FPS genre and defining multi-player shooters forever; and the Xbox 360, which has already seen the amazing end to the FPS trilogy, "Halo 3", sell millions of copies, a great expansion to the storyline (and the addition of Firefight) in "Halo 3: ODST" and even a real-time-strategy title in the form of "Halo Wars". Now, Bungie are returning for their final entry in the series, "Halo: Reach", which focuses on just how the Spartan-IIs and IIIs were eliminated by the Covenant on the planet Reach moments before the original "Halo" opened and Master Chief began his journey into space. Full details of "Reach"'s plot are scarce right now, but Bungie have assured us that the new squad of Spartans will be great characters to play as, that we will see battles of a huge war-based magnitude never seen before in "Halo", and that ultimately the rag-tag squadron will head into space above Reach in order to secure the Chief's freedom. Sadly, as the trailers state, "From the beginning, you know the end". This will be a tale of sorrow, loss and destruction right to its climax, and you'll be living through those emotions on Reach this September 14th. And if that isn't enough, the multi-player modes such as Conquer The Flag and Firefight that we know and love will return on one all-encompassing disc. Get ready to reach for the stars this autumn (couldn't resist!)

Friday, 9 July 2010

Predators Review (3/5)

I never saw Predator; nor Predator 2; nor Alien; nor...well, you get the picture. In short, I expected Robert Rodiguez's 2010 series contuation Predators to throw me a leash- it didn't, not once, and that's where the problems began. Two friends accompanied me to the flick, one of whom had to explain each of the Predator's abilities to me as they were displayed; the film didn't do so whatsoever, merely assuming I knew about them and thus would be swept up in a wave of nostalgia (not the case). "Predators"' plot tasks a group of elite warriors with surviving an onslaught of alien manhunters in a deadly planet until they can find a way out, but as all sci-fi action films go, not everyone will survive. This is a 15, remember, so things get VERY gory at times, and often dips into the horror genre using tension and make-you-jump moments, though these are few inbetween several action sequences and cameos from Laurence Fishborne. Where "Predators" really suffered, though, was in its pacing and storyline: it was too darn predictable. Many twists are age-old and easy to spot before they happen, and each warrior seems to be some sort of stereotype (a Russian with a minigun? Like we've never seen that before), adding to the cheesy nature of the motion picture. Still, despite what I've said, if your a fan of the "AVP" franchise, this will reignite an age-old passion lost by the terrible "Alien VS Predator" semi-sequels. Just bear in mind if you're not, a lot of the references, cameos and (impressive) CGI creations will be lost on you.

Avatar Returns This August

If you didn't see "Avatar" last Winter, where were you? The sci-fi/fantasy flick starring Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver, fast became one of the top grossing films ever made, eventually eclipsing director James Cameron's own "Titanic" film from the '70s (starring Leonardo DiCaprio in his award-winning role which set him on course for recent hits like Shutter Island & Inception, see reviews next week!) to become the world's top-ever grossing motion picture. But, in case you missed it, "Avatar" is being re-released with 8 minutes of new footage in cinemas worldwide this August the 27th. Dubbed "Avatar: Special Edition", the new version will include never-before-seen scenes adding depth to characters and locations previously only skimmed upon, and thus setting up the inevitable DVD and BluRay re-release this Christmas. The original version of "Avatar" went down a hit in the UK, with myself giving it a 5/5 on the site, but whether 8 minutes of extra sci-fi goodness will detract from or add to the main experience (in 3-D only, it seems, this time) remains to be seen. Look for my review in early September!

Iron Man 2: The Video Game Review (0/5)

Truth be said, I don't think any of us thought it could get any worse than 2008's "Iron Man" (2/5): based around the first movie in the Marvel franchise, it featured some dull flight mechanics and dumb combat, along with some sub-par graphics and little replay value to match. How, then, "Iron Man 2" has managed to "achieve" even worse, looking like something you'd find in a low-end PlayStation 2 title or even a decent Nintendo 64 title instead of next-gen graphics (deserts look like yellow and brown flat landscapes) and with next-to-no replay value due to its cumbersome combat that manages to decrease on the first game's quality. The storyline bears no relevance whatsoever to May's excellent sequel (4/5), instead focusing on our titular hero and War Machine after the film taking on an evil metallic force called Ultimo (yes, really), and though it features the vocal talents of Samuel L Jackson and Scarlet Johnasson (cue dozens of teen boys rushing out to get it, then realising her character model looks rubbish), the soundtrack accompanying the game is repetitive and will often force you to press mute on your remote! We all associate movie-games with tiresome, dull gameplay, and this title showcases that to the limit. Though the developers claim otherwise, it feels like Activision put no effort in here, unlike good film titles such as Avatar (to an extent, 3/5) and Kung Fu Panda (4/5). Maybe this is a clear indication that Iron Man doesn't work well in games; maybe it's an indication the team should take a different approach into his armour; either way, this is not worth £40 by any shot: IT'S BARELY WORTH 5.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Video Game Charts News

"Red Dead: Redemption" and "Super Mario Galaxy 2" dominated the UK charts of video gaming in May and June: the revamped version of 2005 Western shooter "Red Dead: Revolver" for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sold over 1.5 million copies, trumping both Remedy's sci-fi horror "Alan Wake" (5/5), which got just 186,000 sales, and even Black Rock's great racing title "Split-Second: Velocity" (3.5/5), gaining just 90,000copies. While both games recieved immense acclaim from gaming critics, "Red Dead" had a large adverising campaign through TV and cinema trails, setting it high above its competitors on launch day, where many stores quickly sold out of the shooter. "Super Mario Galaxy 2" has also sold excellently, getting over 1.8 million sales (just below the phenomenally popular "New Super Mario Bros Wii" of last Christmas), and scoring just below "Red Dead" in the weekly UK charts. However, "LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4" has finally manageed to beat "Redemption" in this week's charts, due to its heavy advertising on children's TV channels and in cinema flicks such as "Shrek" and "Toy Story"- take a look at our review for the full reasons why the new Potter game is so satisfying to play!

Shrek: Forever After Review (3.5/5)

The subtitle "The Final Chapter" given by the trailers is thankfully accurate: "Shrek: Forever After" feels suitably climactic in the scheme of the franchise, showing the titular protagonist the error of his ways as he makes a deal with the tricky Rumpelstiltskin to (unknowingly) remove the day he was born in order for some good ol' village-terrorising like the days before the first movie. Mike Myers and co seem to be getting somewhat tired this time around of providing their vocal talents, but nonetheless surprise with unique takes on their characters in this alternate reality-style romp. Previous entries have enlisted stars such as Justin Timberlake and John Cleese, whereas bar Jane Lynch and Eddie Murphy this instalment is a little light on Hollywood cameos, but since it proved the downfall of "Shrek The Third", this is for the better. I saw the 3-D version of "Forever After", which served mostly to add some dimensional depth to the Shrekverse (and in some ways the trailers included with the film showcased just how much more could be done with the tech than Shrek 4 managed), but wasn't really as essential as "Avatar". Despite this, "Forever After" was so much better than its predecessor (1/5) and "Shrek 2" (2.5/5), and though it certainly didn't acheive what the original film (4.5/5) did, it ends the series on a high. But please, DreamWorks: continue the "Ice Age", "How To Train" and "Madagascar" franchises by all means in the future, just don't go ruining the awesome "Shrek" legacy by spoiling just how well the series seems to have finished. Hilarious at times, decent all the way through!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Review (4/5)

Make no mistake, the rating I've given "Eclipse" above isn't one of disliking, shame or disappointment, quite the opposite: the third film in the "Twilight" franchise makes up totally for its terrible predecessor, and reaches the heights of the first film with a solid balance of (thin but believable) romance and vampire/werewolf action, combined with a few references as to what is to come in 2011-12's two-part "Breaking Dawn". Trouble is, even "Twilight" wasn't perfect, with R Patt's acting coming off as downright weird most of the time, and Taylor Lautner simply in place to show off his abs frequently at inappropriate times, and both these shortcomings carry through here and stop "Eclipse" becoming something truly special. What would have really helped is if this series was not one of adaptations, but completely new stories to the world, as the many surprises found here would've captivated viewers that bit more than them saying "wow, but I read that in the book so knew it was coming". Here, the plot picks up from the horrible "New Moon", with Bella Swan torn between a marriage to love Edward Cullen and a human life with old friend Jacob, and coming to terms with this as a Vampire War looms. Sounds interesting, right? For the most part, it is, only some scenes are too drawn out (hence the 120 minute running time) and make for boring viewing, which means "Eclipse" won't see many repeats for me. Oh well, considering the tragedy "New Moon" was, Summit Entertainment have more than made up for wasted space now, and leave me eager to see how the large final book is dealt with come next Winter.

Friday, 2 July 2010

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Review (5/5)

The "LEGO" video-game franchise rocket-started back in 2005 with "LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game", a title providing a fresh glance at the prequel trilogy and also many subtle and outright parodies of each film, then gave us three more SW entries (the third, "LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars", due for release this Autumn), two Indiana Jones-based titles, a Batman makeover and even a venture into the "Rock Band" world. Now, we get the best incarnation yet in the form of "LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4", and believe me when I say that those words come as a surprise even to this series fan. Recently, the formula for Traveller's Tales' games has become stale and dull, but the wizarding world of Potter makes for an exciting locale, providing spells, new characters and puzzles aplenty for players in the form of Harry's first four adventures. Though the books obviously came first, the influence of the films here is profound in the sense that Harry looks somewhat like Daniel Radcliffe's younger self, as does Hermionie to Emma Watson (not so much Ron though, prepare to cringe). Also, the story cut-scenes that move from iconic setpiece to iconic setpiece quickly but pleasurably are both beautiful and hilarious to watch, so thank goodness the Leaky Cauldron has a theatre where you can replay them. Which reminds me: this time around the hub is huge,even bigger perhaps than the one found in "LEGO Indiana Jones 2", but thankfully much less confusing to navigate due to Nearly Headless Nick guiding your characters around. Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade and more all become your playground as time progresses, and a lot of time will progress in that each "Year" takes about 3-5 hours to complete, meaning a good 12-20 hours can be lost just playing through the main story-line, all of which will be miles of fun. Writing this review actually makes me quite happy, as after 2009's Indiana travesty of a sequel I thought the franchise would never recover. Here's hoping Autumn's Star Wars effort can keep up the good work and reinvigorate the terrible TV series its based on!

Doctor Who: Volume 3 DVD Review (3/5)

This run of episodes makes the latest "Who" DVD release a little harder to justify than its predecessors given there will be a box-set in November, but hardcore fans already suffering from withdrawal symptoms now Season 5 is over may still want to pick this up at a cheap price of only £10-15. "Amy's Choice" (4/5) sees the Doctor, Amy and Rory switching between realities as they try to work out just why the 'Dream Lord' wants to suspend their disbelief and choose a life, and although this concept seems rather intriguing, the final outcome is a little dreary overall, with writer Simon Nye spending not much time on the 'Dream Lord's true identity and its central relevance to the show, and the director setting a rather dull tone in both realities (despite only Leadworth meaning to do so), while "The Hungry Earth" (4.5/5) manages to harken back to 1970s "Who" by reintroducing the barrier closing in a likeable cast of protagonists and a not-so-likeable group of Silurians (an old enemy from the '70s and '80s) and mysteries to be solved, along with a cliff-hanger that will intrigue rather than shock viewers, and some plot-holes/continuity errors that are too noticeable to forgive at times. "Cold Blood" (4/5) closes the set with a fairly political romp as Amy tries to negotiate a human-Silurian alliance in centuries to come, only to suffer losses on both sides of this so-called coalition, including the harrowing demise of Rory Williams (luckily, the brilliant Arthur Darvill returned in this year's finale, and should be with us for some time afterwards), which is paced just as dramatically as Adric's death in Cyberman story "Earthshock" two decades ago, and eventually sees Rory consumed by a crack, supposedly erased from time forever...My main gripe with this release is that despite the high-ish ratings I initially gave these stories, each one loses its oomph with repeated viewings, unlike the rest of this year's run, and so will eventually become quite boring to look at and review in the future, which means that my ratings would probably dropped if I examined each one seperately now. Add to this that the Silurian Monster Files feature likely won't be anything more than how the race were brought back to life rather than looking into their "Who" heritage, and you get a release which isn't justified as much as Volumes 1 & 2, and begs the question when you simply wait for the box-set.

Doctor Who: Volume 2 DVD Review (4.5/5)

With Series 5 of "Doctor Who" having just ended (with a bang! sorry, couldn't resist), returning to earlier episodes in the season actually helps shed some light on many of the twists found in Episode 13, not least the rewinding Doctor's venture into the Weeping Angels story to remind Amy of her dreams, but as stand-alone episodes, every one on offer here is a gem. "The Time Of Angels" (5/5) is to Steven Moffat's first Weeping Angels story "Blink" what "Aliens" is to "Alien": a solid expansion of an already-terrifying adversary, providing a horror-like experience as the Doctor, Amy and River climb through a Maze Of The Dead in search of a lone Angel in the crashed Byzantium (and thus another slot in the Doctor-River saga clicks into place), while "Flesh & Stone" (5/5) turns the story on its head by pretty much giving the Doctor a chance to notice the persistent cracks in time and space that are following Amy, not to mention discovering lots more about River's role in his future (with the final revelation of who she is coming next year!). Some may consider "The Vampires Of Venice" (5/5) to be a Marmite episode, but as a story where newcomers could simply jump in, I thought it was near-perfect, boasting uncommon humour in Rory's arrival on the TARDIS and a gripping yarn featuring fish creatures who had done nothing wrong expelled to Earth by a pesky crack, and a fantastic guest star in Helen McRoy as Lady Isabella. So, if each of these stories are worth top marks, why does this DVD release not achieve top status overall? Put simply, the lone extra of a Monster Files featurette based around the Weeping Angels is pretty lacklustre new material given the pricing of £15 for this set, and does once again make me wonder if it isn't worth waiting for the Series 5 box-set in November (note: I haven't bought this release, merely watched the Monster Files on YouTube). On the plus side, again the cover art is dazzling to look at (as is the back), some rather nice menu screens accompany the episodes, and the removal of the "Next Time" trailers does little to dampen the viewing experience, but be warned that you may prefer the full box-set.

Get Him To The Greek Review (5/5)

"Get Him To The Greek" shines in so many ways it's hard to count, boasting a simple yet hilarious story and a cast simply reeking of quality, both of which combine to form a superb spin-off (and overall better film) to 2008's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall". The premise here is deceptively easy to grasp: Russell Brand's rocker Aldous Snow (only gaining a side role in the original "Marshall" film) steps into the limelight, as his latest hit "African Child" is slated by critics (with many humorously calling it the worst thing to happen to Africa since apartheid) and his drug habits re-emerge to the point where he's basically alone and self-obsessed. Cue Jonah Hill's Aaron Green, a worker at a record label in the US who's keen to get Snow's band, Infant Sorrow, to play for their 10 year anniversary at the Greek Theatre. The comedy that ensues in Green's race to do the task set by the title isn't emotional, doesn't provide a different outlook on drugs, and doesn't make you care much for the protagonists; what it does do, however, is provide two hours of ball-bustingly funny jokes and gimmicks, ranging from simple cameos by Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in the "Potter" flicks), where in a bar Green tries out some Quidditch jokes (much to Felton's distaste), to a frantic chase by Green's boss, Sergio, who utters an all-manner of racist and somewhat disturbing quips down a seemingly-endless hotel corridor. "Get Him To The Greek" is one of those films that can't be explained by text, but basically deserves to be seen as soon as possible. Like 2009's "The Hangover", I can't wait to watch it again on DVD, and judging by the first viewing, you won't easily get bored of this feel-good (yet raunchy) film!

Doctor Who: The Big Bang Review (5/5)

Never has there been a harder finale to rate than : after serving up an apocalyptic cliff-hanger last week, Steven Moffat then pulled a cat out of the bag, quickly establishing a fine wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-esque story involving the Doctor (portrayed by the ever-amazing Matt Smith) teleporting throughout the universe to send messages back to his companions in 108AD and free himself from the Pandorica, while also confronting the explosion of the TARDIS on 26-06-10 and finding the reason for Amy's house having so many empty rooms. Admittedly, many of the revelations were thrown in at such a rate that it was hard to keep up and/or catch a breath at times, but the acting and writing were of such superb quality that it's an easy shortcoming to forgive (and one that can be remedied with repeat viewings). Moffat also proved here that not every series has to end on a downer with a main cast member leaving the TARDIS, instead posing a romantic wedding and climax to the Amy-Rory love story then sending the pair off with our favourite Time Lord for more adventures, but with the tense promise that River, the mentioned-but-not-dealt-with silence, and whoever caused the finale's events to occur would be dealed with in the sixth season (2011). The media seem to have adored this episode, and for unexpected surprises the first viewing is truly special, although its frantic pace and low-key action (bar the immensely satisfying CGI flight of the Pandorica towards the end) did seem to put some off. Ah well, a brilliant way to end Series 5 nevertheless, even if it wasn't done in quite the way some expected.