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September, 2008:

BBC Merlin Review

Merlin is the new primetime BBC series, that takes the Arthurian legend into the kind of territory that was used for the channels Robin Hood and others.

So yes, it’s a “re-imagining” of the classic. It concerns a young Merlin and a young Arthur. In this series, Uther is on the throne of Camelot, and has banned magic from the kingdom. The dragons have been defeated, apart from one he keeps in his dungeons, and so Merlin must learn to keep his burgeoning talents quiet.

Don’t expect a strong story here, as it’s very much standalone episodes with a challenge-of-the-week format (so far). The first episode concerned Merlin’s arrival in Camelot and a plot against the young prince by a vengeful sorceress. The second episode was about a Tournament for the kingdoms knights. In each, Merlin has to surreptitiously use his magic to defeat these perils.

The cast is pretty good. Merlin is played with conviction by Colin Morgan. ( My Merlin will always be Nicol Williamson in Excalibur πŸ™‚ ) You’ll also find Richard Wilson (One Foot in The Grave) as the good doctor Gaius, Merlins guardian – and Anthony Head (Buffy, Gold Blend…) as King Uther Pendragon. Somehow, John Hurt is involved as the voice of the dragon. There are also guest stars in each episode: Will Melor (from Two Pints Of Lager) is the Knight Valiant (really…) in the second episode, and Eve Myles (from Torchwood) in the first. In fact, there’s very much a Torchwood/Doctor Who feel to the enterprise.

This is perfect weekend family TV. There is impressive attention to detail for this kind of thing – the Knights fight realistically, and the armour and weapons look the part, and the locations also fit well. The special effects are mainly CGI fare and again, are not to shabby.

Looking at reviews across the web it seems people find this too modern, and don’t like the fact that this isn’t true to the myth – but hey, it’s a children’s TV show. What do you expect?

Rating: 7.5 / 10

IMDB | BBC Homepage | Watch on iPlayer (UK Only)

The Incredible Hulk

After the apparent disaster that was Ang Lee’s take on the Hulk (personally, I quite liked it) Marvel must have thought there was more mileage in the character, so here we have The Incredible Hulk.

And they’ve raised the bar with this one. For a start, their intentions are made clear by casting Ed Norton as Dr Bruce Banner and William Hurt as the General. All in, this is an excellent cast.

This version of the Hulk is almost two distinct movies in one. And it pays homage to both the TV Series and the comic books – and does it well. This is a fans movie and it’s how these things should be adapted.

The first half of the movie is like the TV series. We have Bruce Banner, on the run from the military and from himself. He’s seeking a cure to the radiation poisoning while trying to keep a low profile – and above all, not get angry. In fact – due to his dodgy language skills – he proclaims “Don’t make me hungry – you won’t like me when I’m hungry!” to some bullying tormentors early on πŸ™‚ Classic Hulk line!

These are reminiscent of the best parts of the original TV series. The sense of loss and pain experienced by Banner, and the general feeling of pathos. We even hear a snippet of the excellent TV theme tune. And later on, see Lou Feringo in a small bit part as a security guard, looking as physical as ever.

Banner is of course soon found by the General, and then we move to the middle part of the movie – a chase sequence where he contacts his girlfriend, ably played by Liv Tyler, and he seeks his mysterious “Dr Blue” who promises a cure.

The Hulk sequences themselves in these first parts are handled well. There are mere hints of his power, before we see the whole thing. The graphics have noticably improved since Ang Lee’s – the animation really stands out, especially in fast action scenes.

All this comes to a head during the last half hour of the movie. Tim Roth, playing Blonsky, a psycopathic soldier, gets his own taste of power. He’s a genuinely slimy, creepy character – another stand out casting choice. And when he eventually forces the doctor to experiment on him you’ll see his own transformation into the Abomination – that’s truly something to see.

This last half hour is a tour de force of Hulk vs Abomination. It’s like an updated version of classic monster movies such as Godzilla vs Whoever, or even the more recent Cloverfield. The short first-person sequence as the soldiers track the Abomination increases the tension until the actual fight.

And what a fight! This is where the comic book really comes to life. Hulk uses cars as boxing gloves, flings his way up buildings, throws punches like there’s no tomorrow. You can feel every hit. He even says “Hulk… Smash!” πŸ˜€

This was a very enjoyable movie that strikes the right balance between seriousness and all out comic book excess. It ticks the right boxes in the acting and special effects boxes.

There’s a fair bit of product placement – I even spotted Norton 360 booting up on a Dell computer lol. And, of course, Stan Lee get’s his cameo.

And the very end? Wow – what a geek moment. Robert Downey Jr pops up as Stark to meet the General… I guess this has been debated in the forums. I’d love to see a Marvel mash-up of sorts, where all their characters band together, as long as they keep their superstar actors in their roles.

Marvel have proved they made a good choice by taking direct control of their franchises. While the Hulk doesn’t reach the heights of Iron Man or perhaps the Dark Knight, it certainly makes the grade. It currentl has a IMDB rating of 7.5 and I would give it:

Rating: 8 / 10

IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes | Official Site

Another View of America

Do you, like most, hold a stereotypical view of America? Do you think Texas is full of “rednecks”, the cuisine is mainly McDonalds, that “trailer parks” are full of the down-and-out?

Jon Kelly – a BBC reporter taking a special election bus across America – has been stopping in some unusual places to show the real america. He’s keeping a blog to show where he’s been.

It’s the comments that make this blog. Of course, there’s dissenting views about what constitutes an “american” and where he should have visited, but I love it. You can’t please everyone, and he can’t go everywhere, but he’s made some astute choices on what he’s reported about.

Visit the blog here: Jon Kelly’s American Election Bus

Reapers Gale – The Malazan Book Of The Fallen 7

I’ve already posted a brief rundown of the Malazan Empire series up to this novel, so it makes sense to continue. If you haven’t started reading it yet… maybe there’s hope here πŸ™‚

Reapers Gale is the seventh massive novel in the Malazan Books Of The Fallen by Steven Erikson. It continues the story set out in Midnight Tides and The Bonehunters, and brings us back to Letheras and the Letherii Empire.

I’m happy to announce that Erikson has not run out of steam. The beautifully realised world of this series is unparalleled in it’s richness, from it’s characters and races through to the geography and settings. I had my doubts starting the series whether the momentum could continue. Well… it hasn’t flagged yet πŸ˜€

The novel will take you on a rollecoaster of emotions. Excitement, horror, dismay, sadness – these characters have been through a lot by now. You will really connect with them, and share every moment with them.

Sometimes there seems to be a lot of setup, then not much of a payoff, but in fact this suits the story even though the reader might be dissapointed. And other times the author seems to spend too long in other areas, but again… it fits. Erikson even changes his style as needed (the Toblakai passage in previous books is one well discussed example).

I cannot write any more without spoilers, so mouse over below to read more. I’ve installed a cool spoiler plugin into WordPress (WP_Censor) so this should work better than over reviews I’ve posted!

The Letherii empire has won the war. The Tiste Edur king Rhulad sits on the throne, but he is little more than a figurehead – slowly eaten away by madness. The Letherii way of life of is smothering the Edur.

Tehol Beddict plots from within, setting up companies with his co-conspirator Bugg to take in all the wealth of the empire.

And the Patriots roam the streets, attacking any dissenting voice and locking away and torturing innocent civilians.

Into this sad situation comes Adjunct Tavore and the remains of Malazan Army she runs. The last time we seen her she had a showdown with Empress Laseen and abandoned the empire, taking with her some important allies.

The main plot lines in this novel concern the advance of the Malazans on Letheras. This takes up a fair part of the novel, with long passages following seperate detachments of marines – including those commanded by Fiddler, onto the empire. Unfortunately, Tavore misunderstood the situation. She expected the Letherii to help the marines, and defeat their invading force.

One moving part of this section of the story concerns the mage Beak. An extremely powerful, self-tought sorceror yet plagued by doubt and a simple need to be loved. Needless to say he saves the day, but at the sad cost of his own life. Even Hood welcomed him to the gate.

We also have the story of Fear Sendur, Silchas Ruin, Udinass and others who seak to find Silchas’s nemesis and betrayer: Scabandari Bloodeye. This turns out unexpectedly, and no – I didn’t see it coming!

We also see Karsa Orlong and Icarium Lifestealer transported to fight Rhulad – the undead emperor who seeks to find he that can defeat him. Again, this has an unexpected conclusion, though this time not one I’m sure I liked. There was a lot of setup to this final confrontation – but the meeting does fit the story. And who knows, perhaps Karsa and Icarium will meat again.

And thrown into this mix we have another invading force attacking from the other side of the Letherii Empire, with a story concerning that of the Awl. But even that is not the end, for yet another army arrives at the end – old friends from the previous novels.

It’s worth noting the return of Toc The Younger – he has a smaller part in this novel yet his story is moving, and a classic tale of his saviors arriving too late.

As you can see Reapers Gale has a lot going on. The rich plot continues to twist and turn, and Eriksons style of multiple story arcs pays off. The next novel – Toll The Hounds – is the series as published so far. I’ve started reading it, it brings us back to Darujistan, and rather enticingly the cover notes suggest that Hood has major part to play.

The only problem with reading long running series as they are written is the fact you have to wait for the next to be published. Luckily, I’ve got this far – and if you’re starting the series now maybe you’ll even stretch to the next novel πŸ™‚

Android Phone Revealed

So, the first Google Android based phone has been shown. Here in the UK it will be offered by T-Mobile and is a HTC/Google model.

Looking at this video I must say I’m a little underwhelmed. It doesn’t seem to do anything special at all, and it doesn’t have the wow-factor of the iPhone. The only interesting part seems to the developer network that Google is fostering. I’m not sure we need another phone OS, I’m happy with Windows Mobile and Symbian is fine, too.

Although I must say T-Mobile is a good choice here. I used to use a HTC TyTnII (T-Mobile Vario 2 branded) with it’s touchscreen, windows mobile, and slide-out keyboard. On T-Mobile all web access was free, and the phone did everything I wanted to: Telephony, Texting, Camera, Internet (3G and WiFi). And the best part was a wealth of software – Games, Audio, Graphics, Emulation… which was cool πŸ™‚

Now I have a HTC Touch Dual, and I hate it πŸ™ It’s a slimmer, better, model than the TyTn, but I miss the keyboard and WiFI (even though it has HDPSA), and the Orange network it is on sucks, big time.Β  They charge a fortune for web access though it’s free in the rather useless 7pm – 7am period.

No more 18 month contracts for me – even though I did get a laptop thrown in. Todays PDA based phone has more power than my first computers but I don’t want to be tied to a monthly charge.

Heroes Season 3 Ep01 and 02

So… Heroes is back!

And, I’m glad to say, it’s as brilliant as ever πŸ™‚

Unlike, say, Prison Break Heroes has me hooked right from the start. After a sadly shortened second season due to the writers strike it seems the best has been kept until now.

Like Lost, Heroes has a continuing storyline constantly referencing events from the future and the past. In part, this new season – called “Villains” – continues the plots concerning Sylar, Mohinder, and the Petrellis, but it’s also a reboot of sorts, starting afresh. You don’t have to have seen the previous series to enjoy it.

Heroes has a rich mythology of modern “super heroes” and the shadowy concerns that help and hinder them. It’s also a commentary on human potential, of the power within each of us, and how the ordinary man can become extraordinary under the right circumstances.

Spoilers below. Highlight to view! (Ctrl+A)

This new series starts where the last finished. Who shot Nathan Petrelli? What happened to Nikki in the burning house? What becomes of Sylar? Some of these questions are answered in the first couple of episodes.

It turns out that Peter Petrelli, from the future, shot his brother to prevent events turning out as he experienced. His future is a time of persecution against the humans with extra abilities. Any series that uses Time Travel as a major plot device can become confusing and improbable, so I hope Heroes doesn’t follow this route too heavily – or at least does something new with it.

Sylar is still on the hunt for fresh powers. He eventually gets to Claire, and absorbs her power to regenerate – mentioning that she can never die in the process, and hinting towards something special in her particular power.

Hiro, at a loose end as the new boss of his fathers company, receives a DVD from his deceased parent. He learns of a secret formula that must be guarded at all costs in a humorous scene where his father instructs him “never to open the safe”. Unfortunately, he loses the formula immediately to a new character who can travel at the speed of sound / light. He also learns his best friend Ando betrays him in the future, and that Ando himself has, or gains, super powers.

And Mohinder isolates the genetic secret behind the Heroes power – and injects himself. He enjoys his new found super strength and vitality at first, but in episode 2 we see some unexpected side effects.

Then there’s the fact that some super villains who were locked up on Level 5 of the containment facility have escaped – Peter Petrelli (trapped in the image of another) among them. And Nathan Petrelli appears to have been saved by Linderman – excent no-one else can see him, and Nikki also appears to be someone else…

This is shaping up to an excellent series with plenty or surprises, twists and turns in store πŸ™‚

Four Second Games

At Armor Games you’ll find a few titles in the Four Second series. These are a series of mini-games, all to be completed in 4 seconds, that are thrown at you at a frantic rate. Every one is played with the arrow keys and the space bar so no excuses that your mouse reactions just aint good enough πŸ™‚

How long can you last? I’m finding these ridculously addictive but I’m not giving up yet!

You need fast reactions and an even faster brain! As you get the feel for the games you’ll do better but this is a quickfire gaming session like none other.

Four Second Fury

Four Second Frenzy (the most popular)

Four Second Firestorm (14mb so the flash may take a while)

Psychological Experiment

A lot of web-savvy people will have already seen this, but if not watch this youtube clip below, and follow what the presenter says. It’s not too long and let’s just say it was very interesting!

If You Like It So Much Why Don’t You Go Live There

That my friends is the actual URL of a very funny blog:

A.K.A. “spEak You’re bRanes” πŸ™‚

The entire premise of that website is to poke fun at the people who post at the BBC’s ” Have Your Say “, which is the feedback section of the BBC News website.

In other words, it takes the mickey out of the ignorant and the disturbed who collectively (and worryingly) represent a cross-section of the Great British Public.

It’s probably not fair making fun of their beliefs, policitcal stance and their inability to type, but it is funny. Some of the posts I feel are probably trolls but if someone can claim that nuclear weapons don’t exist they deserve to be mocked.

Just look at the categories for a taste of what this site offers: Armchair Generals, Curtain Twitchers, Self-Appointed Sages and Unfocused Rage to name but a few…

To be fair the HYS section at the Beeb does have it fair share of intelligent and witty replies itself, but that’s not the reason this site exists.

It’s the replies to the original comments that make the site. I don’t know who writes it, but bravo! Made my day πŸ™‚

Alan Moore on the Watchmen Movie

So, Alan Moore is still not happy about the new Watchmen movie?

That is no surprise. The author / warlock / northampton residentΒ  is well known for his views on comic-book adaptions, and the movie industry in general. Of course he has a right to this view. This is after all his story, and his characters.

Personally, I love comic book films. I enjoyed Constantine, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta whether or not they stay true to the comics (or graphic novels, if you prefer that term). They’re just another way to tell the same (or similar) story.

And I also love Moore. He’s witty, well read, and ever so slightly bonkers πŸ™‚

I’m looking forward to the Watchmen movie. And yes, I do own and have read the book. You won’t get the multi-layered story and the wealth of allusion and visual clues in the movie but you’re almost certain to get an intelligent, rip-roaring adventure. It’s helmed by Zak Snyder (of `300` fame) so I’d be very dissapointed if it wasn’t.

Watchmen is often selected to represent how powerful the comic book format can be – it was famously selected as one of Times 100 Best Books. So do yourself a favour, grab a copy and familiarise yourself with The Comedian, Nite Owl and the rest before the movie hits these shores.

Alan Moore Telegraph Article

Alan Moore Videos – Youtube Channel