Film: Review – Thor

It's Hammer time...A great weight rests on Thor‘s shoulders. Not a super-man, but a god, Thor is easily the most unbelievable hero in Marvel’s arsenal. The studio has an uphill climb on their hands to make sure audiences get sucked in to this mystical, mythological universe.

Luckily, its fate was left in the hands of respected Thespian Kenneth Branagh who directs a tale which could be straight from the pages of Shakespeare: a sibling rivalry, a hopeless love story and a fierce battle – both physical and emotional.

It would be a mistake to think of this as ‘another comic book film’. Based on an immediately iconic character, few have not heard of the God of Thunder and his un-pronounceable hammer Mjöllnir – not least because he lends his name to a day of the week (Thursday/Thor’s Day).

The role of the hammer man falls to relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth, last seen playing Captain Kirk’s dad in Star Trek, and he comfortably bears the air of the arrogant warrior.

Even as a child Thor displays a keenness for battle, lavishing in the prospect of bringing his homeland of Asguard to war against bitter enemies the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. All grown up, Thor’s character soon gets the better of him and he finds himself banished to Earth where he meets Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, a scientist chasing strange electrical storms which, it turns out, are caused when someone crosses over to Earth from another realm.

Theatrical poster - 12AThe film isn’t afraid to poke fun at Thor‘s ridiculous attitudes and values, as he finds himself in a place very different from the golden wonderment of Asguard – New Mexico. Back in Asguard, Thor‘s mischievous younger brother Loki quickly takes advantage of his brother’s, making it clear Thor‘s dominance was the only thing holding him back. The balance between the peril of the destruction of Asguard and the comedic results of Thor in the modern day is brilliantly executed.

Branagh manages to hold back the appearance of the SHIELD organisation, which will bring Thor together with other comic book heroes next year for The Avengers, meaning that aside from the odd passing comment to Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, the film is able to keep the focus on the relationships which bring the characters to life.

Anthony Hopkins, as Odin, oozes regal authority as he keeps the rival brothers in check, and you genuinely feel his sorrow as he is forced to banish his eldest son.

The only mis-step is that the relationship between Portman and Hemsworth fails to convince, making you long for the plot to return to Asguard.

For young boys though – surely the film’s target audience – the film is a triumph. Thor delivers action by the hammer throw, and the engaging characters mean there’s something for adults to latch onto as well.

This build in momentum towards The Avengers bodes well for the superhero superteam, and in the meantime we get to enjoy another a-typical hero’s journey as he learns that it takes more to lead a kingdom that muscles and might.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

Technology: Does the shiny new HTC Desire S beat Apple’s iPhone?

There are two types of handheld technology these days: that made by Apple, and that made by a company Apple is putting out of business. With iPads, iPhones, iTouches (sp?) as well as the device which launched Apple into the mainstream consumer electronics market – the iPod.

Now I’m not a fan of Apple (a fact which I’ve made very clear in this previous post in particular), but there’s no denying its dominance on the phone market. The question is, can HTC’s latest effort – the Desire S – compete, particularly with a new iPhone already in the works.

As far as iPhone 5 rumours go, this article from TechRadar is a very good place to start. The gist of it is that there are tentative rumours of its arrival in July, but no concrete details have been announced. There are likely upgrades such as better graphics (1080p even?), better proccessor – reportedly the one in the iPad 2 – and longer battery life.

All of these things are speculation of course, but with the masses due an upgrade on their contracts in June and July, HTC has only a few months to make the most of its advantage.

HTC Desire SSo, to the phone. The technical advantages over the original Desire include a front facing camera, a beefier processor and HD video. The real icing on the cake is the latest version of HTC Sense, which links all your contacts from countless different places together, so unless people have random nicknames on their Facebook profile, you will find their phone, email, Facebook and Twitter all knitted together in one entry. It makes you realise just how many people you are connected to, and an even bigger surprise is how many people have their mobile numbers on their profile and they don’t even realise.

Sense makes an easy task of porting everything from you’re old phone though, no matter what make and model, and also keeps you up to date with everything effortlessly – just keep an eye on how much updating you want to avoid those pesky data charges though.

The phone’s design is slimmer than the Desire, but not as giant (and iPhone-like) as the Desire HD. The weight is enough so that you know it’s there and aren’t left checking your pockets every 30 seconds and the latest version of Android (2.3 – Gingerbread) makes it run like a dream.

One thing you should be careful of is messing around with the battery compartment. The phone is very robust, for the most part a single piece of material, but the drawback is that to keep the design solid the battery compartment is incredibly difficult to get off, so don’t plan on changing SIM, battery or Micro SD very often – though the phone does support a cool 32GB (not) removable storage.

The biggest gripe for me is the fact that during phone calls the speaker is reasonable, but as soon as there’s a fair amount of background noise it becomes very difficult to hear, though often you’re distracted by the fact that as you call someone you are greeted with their Facebook profile picture and latest update, which you spend your time reading instead of listening to the other person pick up. Otherwise there are the usual issues which come with all smartphones such as limited battery life – though the Desire S manages to comfortably make a day with backlight and WiFi on, I wouldn’t push it.

The phone comes pre-loaded with some fancy apps, and the integration of Twitter and Facebook through Sense is seamless, though you do find a few things repeated due to the battle between hardware and software, such as their being both an HTC and Android calendar available.

The home screen, of which there are seven, can be populated with all manner of widgets, shortcuts and feeds, and pinching the screen displays them all in an easy to navigate radial pattern, which actually feels like it’s breaking the fourth wall the first time you see it.

Internet browsing is simple and the Adobe Flash and PDF support is very welcome, putting all out-of-date PC browsers to shame (looking at you internet explorer), and the general interface is very quick, I haven’t noticed any hanging or slowdown so far and I’ve fiddled with most of the features at the same time.

Out in sunlight the phone struggles with glare somewhat, due to the lack of a AMOLED screen, which the original sported, but are you really ever going to be in full sun for that long in England?

A nifty tool, hidden on the micro SD shipped with the phone, is HTC Sync, which does exactly what you might expect – though if you (sensibly) have your contacts on Google in any case it mostly helps with photos and the like.

In summary then the HTC Desire S is a worthwhile upgrade and certainly the best phone HTC have brought out to date. The ingenuity of HTC sense is what will push the device into must-have status, but whether that will be enough to challenge Apple’s dominance on the market is anyone’s guess.

The bottom line this is a fantastic phone and unless you’re head-over-heels in love with Apple you’d be foolish not to choose it over an iPhone 4, once the iPhone 5 comes out however, the tables may turn once again.

James Michael Parry

Film: Review – Unknown

“Do you know what it feels like to be insane, Doctor?” This is the question Dr Martin Harris asks in the new hit film UNKNOWN which provides a thrilling, action packed experience which leaves you sitting on the edge of your seat until the very end.

The film stars Liam Neeson as an American man who awakens from a four day coma in Berlin and discovers that somebody has stolen his identity, or have they? Even his wife, played by January Jones, won’t believe who he is…he has to find out what is going on. Who is he?

When the screen started to roll I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it wasn’t long before we had been introduced to the main character and he was plunging into a river in the back of a taxi…there weren’t many moments where car chases, fights, fire, killings and clues weren’t part of the scene.

The film written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell has so many twists in the plot, it is definitely not one of those predictable films so can even be enjoyed with those annoying film watchers who constantly guess what is happening next – because believe me, even they won’t know!

The impressive camera angles were another feature that kept me on tender hooks throughout the film, we were able to join Liam Neeson, playing Dr Martin Harris as he awoke from a coma, fainted, was drugged and was in a lot of car chases! It was enough to make you feel dizzy and was actually like you were there in Berlin with him, I’ve never seen anything filmed so much in detail and depth with the actors.

Neeson, who has also starred in films such as Schindlers List, Star Wars and Batman Begins, is fantastic from beginning to end along with Diane Kruger who plays Gina, a taxi driver who tries to help him find out the truth. However, even he must have been confused at what character he was playing during filming!

It is definitely one of those films that you need to pay attention to keep up with though and packed full of close up shots of needles, strangulations, shootings and violent fighting, it is not something for the faint hearted!

When I found out the twist at the end, I was glad because I think it would have killed me to have not known any longer! This film will definitely be on my shopping list when the DVD is released…especially now that I will be able to watch it with somebody who hasn’t seen it and revel in the fact that I know the outcome!

 

Guest post courtesy Gillian Lambie

Music: It Adds Up: The Life and Times of Sum 41

Few bands can claim to be consistently good. After 15 years of punk-rocking Sum 41 are at the top of their game, having just released fifth studio album Screaming Bloody Murder.

Who’d have thought the group responsible for pop-punk anthem In Too Deep with it’s random video, complete with guitar solo rising from a swimming pool, would go on to become heavyweights of the genre.

While Green Day sold out and Offspring fell from grace (obscure pun intended), the Sum 41 crew have held firm, trying new things with every album.

Their beginnings with the likes of Fat Lip and In Too Deep on All Killer No Filler are pure pop-punk, but with follow up Does This Look Infected? their heavier side began to show with Over My Head and Thanks For Nothing.

By the time Chuck rolled around there were tracks verging on metal with some screamo influences filtering through as well in tracks like The Bitter End and We’re All to Blame, but the band never lost their catchy-pop-ness, epitomised by Pieces and Some Say.

Once Chuck was done the most significant change in the band’s history occurred: the departure of Dave Baksh. Long-time lead guitarist and vocalist, Baksh drove the metal influence for Chuck and left citing ‘musical differences’ to continue his more metal-esque side project Brownsound.

Next album Underclass Hero marked a ‘return to roots’ move for the band, functioning as effectively a three piece, only using a tour guitarist as a filler. The leadership of leading man Deryck Whibley managed to keep the bands momentum going and produced a fantastic album, and the band’s most commercially successful to date. Tracks like Pull The Curtain and the title track bristle with enthusiasm and passion of a band starting anew.

After a relentless touring schedule, a habit of the band, they began work on their current album, eventually titled Screaming Bloody Murder. The most obvious change is a departure from the gritty punk look of Underclass Hero to a more gothic look for the band from the front cover, but fitting since the album brings in new influences from new lead guitarist Tom Thacker in the form of a more traditional rock album.

Immediately as the Terminator theme sounding intro to album opener Reason to Believe rings out, you get the sense this a very different album to anything the band have done before. In fact though, perhaps after a few listens, you realise that this album is the sum (ahem) of their previous work, with everything in perfect balance. There are catchy choruses (Sick of Everyone), blistering guitar solos (Screaming Bloody Murder), ballads (Crash) – featuring Deryck at his most melodic – and good old fashioned punk attitude (Skumfuk).

To say that Sum 41 have never sounded better might sound like an exaggeration, but put it this way; with the wealth of material they’ve got under their belts now, there’s never been a better time to check out their tour schedule.

 

James Michael Parry