Category Archives: 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review | Film | This Is Entertainment

The HobbitIt must be fun being short (or ‘vertically challenged’ if you want to go for the overly PC term). There’s no low ceilings or door frames to be contended with, hide and seek is a doddle and most exciting of all you are perfectly suited for an epic adventure.

At least that’s what The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey would have us believe. On this latest foray into the Lord of the Rings universe, everyone’s second (or third…or more, delete as appropriate) hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is joined by a cohort of 13 dwarves and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), or rather he finds himself swept off on an adventure before you can say Gollum.

The story begins as something of an intro to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, setting up events before Bilbo’s long-expected 111th birthday party. Here the weight of the franchise falls heaviest, with a somewhat unnecessary cameo from Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, and the entire section seems to drag on too long, as much as you have to love Ian Holm as old Bilbo.

The fun really begins as Gandalf quizzes young Bilbo about the exact meaning of ‘Good day’, immediately cementing Freeman in the audience’s mind as the Bilbo from here on in.

Freeman, who was sought after to the point that Peter Jackson put a break in filming specifically so he could take the lead, shines as the reluctant hero, showing all the traits of the character we know and a whole lot more.

The dwarves are a rag tag bunch of personalities, too numerous to be able to pick out every one (or even remember specific names…), but the obvious stand out is Thorin Oakenshield, played by Richard Armitage of Spooks and Captain America fame.

This film itself is driven by Thorin’s need to reclaim his grandfather’s realm from the great dragon Smaug, whose lust for gold drew him to take the fortress and leave it’s inhabitants running for their lives. Thorin’s tale is well told, and there is a real sense of pity for the character, while at the same time being intimidated by him, despite his stature, just as Bilbo is.

The other dwarves serve their purpose but only James Nesbitt as Bofur is really memorable, serving as effective comic relief. In fact you can spend much of the film working out who is playing each one and where you have seen them before.

Gandalf the Grey and Radagast the Brown in The HobbitThe tale takes us to familiar locations such as Rivendell and we meet characters such as Saruman, who we immediately do not trust, knowing of his later betrayal. There are also new faces such as Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), a fellow great, but rag tag, wizard who spends his time in the forest with animals, including rabbits which pull his slay, like a cross between Father Christmas and Worzel Gummidge.

Gollum’s return is a welcome one and Andy Serkis puts 10 years of advancement in technology to good use in making him look more scarily real than ever. The chemistry between Freeman and Serkis on screen makes for some tense moments, but you do worry whether this card has been played too early, with the real meat of the adventure still to come, and how can the film top the tales of Gollum in LOTR?

The epic camera sweeps across beautiful New Zealand return, but don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a mere retread of LOTR. The quest and the story are both much more personal, character-driven affairs, which make for a more intimate feature. Of course there are grand moments, such as a chase sequence when the gang try to escape a goblin stronghold, but there are more dialogue driven scenes.

Leaps of faith are necessary in some areas, particularly when Gandalf uses his old ‘summon the giant eagles’ trick, prompting much eye-rolling followed by “Why did they drop them off there rather than at the lonely mountain?” Luckily the story itself is interesting enough for you to want to see the journey just as much as the destination.

Music and cinematography are top quality, something you would expect from a team led by Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson who filmed the previous films, but in order to hold audience’s attention for a further two films, he will need to give more. Many things which are forgiveable about this instalment of The Hobbit won’t be overlooked in part two: The Desolation of Smaug.

In all, the film is a solid effort which is a must for existing fans of the universe, but unlikely to sway those put off by the initial trilogy.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

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The Game Pad explained: what, where, when, why and how? | Gaming | This Is Entertainment

The Game PadTroubled high street retailer Game is poised to make an unusual new assault on the gaming market in 2013 with the launch of ‘The Game Pad’, a rent-your-own gaming hideaway featuring the market’s shiniest new titles.

Bespoke services are nothing new in retail, but such an intimate, personal offering is immediately an intriguing step for such a mainstream store. Located in Staybridge Suites near London’s Westfield Stratford City Shopping centre, the Pad is a customised room kitted out with enough consoles, games, snacks, pizzas and beer to keep a group of gaming enthusiasts occupied for an entire evening in secluded luxury.

Costing a shade under £200, the set up may sound like a pricey night out, but a hotel in London is hardly peanuts by itself, and the suites are a far cry from your local Travelodge in terms of quality – not to mention you can cram in as many people as you like.

The suite comes with a king-sized bed and all three main games consoles: Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii U, plus the latest off-the-shelf titles – unfortunately no secret previews of Grand Theft Auto V to be found here. Unsurprising perhaps, but it would have been a great feature if you could get a couple of days head start on other gamers with 2013’s big-name releases.

Grab your friends, controllers and beer.The company boasts the Pad is “the ultimate gaming experience”, but for such a hefty price tag, you would expect a suitably top-of-the-line experience. At present there is no customisation available for the suite, meaning if you fancy an eight-way Halo 4 party then you are out of luck, plus the inability to take your save game with you when you leave (unless, possibly, you have a handy USB stick), could prove to be a turn off for some serious players.

The Pad does have high speed internet and a really chilled-out feel though, so it might be an attractive prospect for a geeky bachelor party or a music game marathon – with no parents to tell you to keep the noise down or neighbours to complain, the fun could easily carry on through the night, just in time to be perked up by the complimentary breakfast.

Whether the package is for you or not is down to personal choice, and for those who are fanatical enough to be excited about something like this, a lot of the games on show will be featuring on people’s Christmas lists anyway.

If you do want to make a social occasion of it and you have a diverse group of friends though, there’s more than enough room to have all three of the consoles on at the same time – all it needs is an iPod friendly music system to tap into and you’re set for an evening of Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale while listening to soundtracks of your favourite 90s classics.

The current so-so popularity of HMV‘s Gamerbase and a past failed wandering into the realm of specialist gamer-pampering in the form of Virgin’s Gamestore, not to mention dwindling boxed-game sales, are hardly an encouraging starting point, but something bold like this may prove to be a game-changer (ahem…) if pushed in the right way.

What could be even more successful is if Game made it possible for you to have any combination of consoles you wanted from the past 15 years or so, meaning you could follow your Super Mario Kart Grand Prix on the SNES with a winner-stays-on run of Goldeneye, rounding things off with some classic Tomb Raider. Surely something as individual as that would, undoubtedly, be a gamer’s paradise?

James Michael Parry

If you want to check it out, take a look at their official site.

Windows 8 Review: Is it really worth upgrading? | Technology | This Is Entertainment

Look how colourful and right-angle-y it is...Fans of sweeping curves and a sleek, minimalist, colour scheme might think twice about Windows 8 – but that’s the point.

Apple has dominated the ‘cool’ factor in the computer industry for years, and Microsoft is well aware it can’t compete directly, so what it has done with 8 (and the Xbox 360 dashboard and Windows phones, lest we forget), is make a visual statement of its own.

Right angles are nothing new – think back to Windows 95 and remember the blockiness of edges – but to follow a design concept all the way through has taken courage on Microsoft’s part. The result is ‘Metro’, or what was referred to as ‘Metro’ until they decided to do away with a name altogether, a regimented yet customisable layout in bold colours.

Of course, appearances are always just the tip of the iceberg, and since consumers willing to give 8 a closer look are not likely to be convinced by style over substance, the OS needs to have the talk to accompany its fancy new trousers.

The functionality of how the system works changes from the outset, with an immediate link to your Windows Live ID or Hotmail login (though local logins are still available, if you can find them). From here the first thing desktop fans will notice is the missing start menu.

The multi-coloured and multi-tiled start screen stands proudly in its place, luckily still connected to that Windows key on your keyboard which you may be fond of. The first few hours spent with Windows 8 will most likely be spent getting to grips with where the start menu items you know and love have run off too.

At first the logic is frustrating, but soon you find yourself being able to combine the functionality of multiple programs with ease and the benefits of 8 start to shine. Menus are hidden on virtually on every side of the screen, with the most useful being the ‘Charms’ menu on the right, which gives you instant access to Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings, most of which adapt and change depending on what you can see on the main window.

Fancy pictures I know...A handy example of the functionality is that you can set a picture as your lock screen and in the same breath share it with your admirers online. Depending on how connected you are with your online world makes a massive difference to how helpful you will find many features of 8.

What 8 really gives you is a strong starting point. At present, the App Store is limited – particularly for third party sites and software, Facebook and Google are conspicuous by their near-absence. Also Microsoft’s own services are still struggling to pull together, in the long run the ‘live’ brand will cease to be and the consistency of the own-brand offerings will mean they all tie together seamlessly.

Admittedly, the first party apps on show so far, whose instant updates make up many of the almost uncomfortably transfixing ‘Live Tiles’, are impressive, and the system itself is quick and responsive.

That said, it’s clear that the interface was designed for touch input. Navigating around with the mouse can be clunky, occasionally needing pinpoint accuracy to make something appear and then not immediately sink into the background once more.

After the initial setting up, customising, and getting used to not having the one-stop-shop of a start menu, you quickly find things begin to make sense. The programs which you would have used on the desktop before are still there, but the Windows 8 interface mops up all the other bits and pieces which can take time like checking email, messaging, or stalking people on Facebook (now you can do Facebook, Twitter and others all from one screen).

At the current upgrade price of £25 from Microsoft it’s difficult to say no. Make full use of the compatibility program on offer, which automatically determined if programs will need to be re-installed, to minimise fuss, and perform a full back up – just in case.

The infrastructure which Microsoft has put in place is one which strives on its simplicity, and provides a platform to build on with more of a lean towards user-friendly operation than ever before. Once more big names get on board with apps of their own it will undoubtedly be a far more flexible experience, but right now is the perfect time to give it a try and get used to it before you have too many complicated new toys to play about with.

James Michael Parry

And now for a nonsensical trailer…

Vans Warped Tour UK 2012 Review | Music | This Is Entertainment

Scream your heart out

The fact that America has the Warped Tour every summer might seem unfair (and it is), but what it does mean that on the odd occasion it does make it to the UK you know you are in for something special.

The 2012 Warped Tour saw a host of bands, and some extreme sports stars, take over the iconic Alexandra Palace in north London – and the building scarcely lived to tell the tale.

For hours before the doors were even opened, a motley crew of punk rockers, metal heads, trendies and outcasts flocked around the venue like strung out rock ‘n’ roll junkies – which obviously NONE were…- waiting for their fix.

After navigating a queue which would put any Apple store to shame, the crowd were greeted by an elaborate entrance hall quite out of tone with the ‘hardcore’ happenings within (and, unfortunately, a bit of a bottle-necked navigation nightmare).

Vans Warped Tour_001

Entering the West Hall is the first moment the event really begins to fit like a glove. A huge vert ramp for skateboarding and BMXing stands proudly next to the bright orange Jagermeister Stage, home to bands who weren’t necessarily smaller names, but took things a little less seriously.

Through the grand doors at the far end is the main hall. Filled with two stages, East and West, joined at the hip like Siamese twins, the set up proved to be a stunningly simple way to pack more music into an already tightly-packed afternoon.

The first band to catch this reviewers attention were It Boys, whose enthusiastic pop/punk stylings included an impromptu rendition of internet sensation Gangnam Style. The spirit of fun continued throughout the day and the likes of Family Force 5, Breathe Carolina and 3OH!3 all successfully getting the crowd into gear. 3OH!3 pushed the envelope the most, showing off the range in their musical repertoire without alienating fans of any one song.

Music policy for the day largely held together, with a few jarring juxtapositions between heavy bands like Architects and pop/punk legends New Found Glory, though this did give time to scope out the hustle and bustle of the merch market.

NFG themselves were well below form. The band tried hard but leading man Jordan seemed strained throughout the set, far from the stellar performances of even just a few years ago.

Thunderous acquiesce

Luckily the rest of the big names were unanimously true to form, with Funeral For a Friend swelling the Jager crowd to almost bone-crushing proportions before making way for the ska punk Warped Tour Veterans from Gainesville, Florida: Less Than Jake.

As the years have passed LTJ have lost none of their fun and enthusiasm, and the crowd were instantly behind them. From there the punk-tastic vibe was carried on by Bowling for Soup who stuck to the formula (some old, some new) but kept the crowd entertained throughout.

On the main stage the scale was a lot more stadium rock than intimate pub gig as Lostprophets kicked off the final act of the night with ‘The New Transmission’. Vocalist Ian Watkins seemed increasingly frustrated with the crowd (perhaps overly familiar with a ‘prophets only crowd after a UK tour?), calling them out to shout, scream and sing louder after almost every song, but still the hits kept coming.

In all this year’s Warped Tour, the first in the UK since 1999, was an undoubted success. A sold out crowd packed into a venue which, while it may not have been the number one choice in practicalities (people traffic at times was unbearable and rooms had to be closed off to avoid over-occupancy), it definitely had character – something which has always been the driving force of the tour itself.

Fingers crossed it will find its way back to Blighty next year.

If you bring a gun, we'll bring an arsenal

View all the best pictures from the show here.

James Michael Parry

50 years of Bond, James Bond: Just the same old story? | Film | This Is Entertainment

With half a century and 23 films (or so) under his belt, some might say the world’s most famous secret agent has had his day.

So if MGM were to turn their back on what is arguably the most profitable film franchise in history, which is rather unlikely what with the records being smashed by the day by latest outing Skyfall, then what would James Bond leave behind?

It all begins with creator Ian Fleming’s books, written at a very different time from the touchscreen-enabled, information rich world we live in today. To watch through the Bond flicks in sequence (as, in fact, I have been doing) is something of a lesson in social history, conveying the tone and nuances of each passing decade.

The Sean Connery years begin with Dr. No, and a very literary figure of Bond. The racial undertones of the 60s themselves show through here with the occasional comment such as when Bond says “Fetch my shoes” so local CIA contact, and African American, Quarrel (John Kitzmiller).

By From Russia With Love the themes are far more beneath the surface, but it’s interesting how suddenly aware the series becomes, only to go a completely different direction in a few films time.

Connery is quintessentially British in the role (despite being Scottish) and this sets the blueprint against which all other screen Bonds are tested.It’s unlikely the camp 70s era owned by Roger Moore would have got away with having Bond dress up as a Japanese man, complete with wig and eye prosthetics, in what could be the least convincing disguise of Bond’s career.

Bond is best when hiding in plain sight, and this is where the classic Bonds differ from his latest incarnation, played by Daniel Craig. Though the character always loves to say his signature line, by Craig’s era, the world is small and a simple background check can be done with a handy smartphone.

When the likes of Moore and Connery played the spy game they had the benefit of audience’s willingness to buy in. By the time Bond’s car became invisible in 2002’s Die Another Day, the secret agent bubble burst, and Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was hastily retired.

While the re-boot in 2006 with Casino Royale may have claimed to go back to the source material, the film-makers couldn’t resist the odd one-liner or cheeky moment. Bond is undoubtedly resilient, any character would have to be to last half a century on the big screen, but his character has gained and lost more traits than he’s had vodka Martinis.

At the character’s core is a balance of ruthlessness and love.

For Connery some of his best moments come from the juxtaposition of the two, such as electrocuting a goon with a heat lamp just seconds after being distracted by a woman, finally remarking: “Shocking, positively shocking.”

It’s sometimes a struggle to take Moore seriously (hovercraft gondolas and double-take pigeons don’t help), but look again and you’ll see him almost breaking a woman’s arm for a name, kicking an unarmed man off a cliff in a car and ejecting a supervillain into space.

Timothy Dalton, often overlooked due to his short stretch (though not as much as Lazenby, who fails to make any impression), represents the first attempt at taking Bond to the gritty edge, as he sees long-term ally Felix Lighter killed by a shark. By the end of the film his love for the only friend who truly understands him, leads him to possibly the most ruthless murder of a Bond villain – lighting petrol-soaked Franz Sanchez (Robert Duval) on fire with Felix’s wedding gift, a lighter.

For Brosnan his most personal story is also his first, pitted against the sublime Sean Bean as former double ‘O’ Alec Trevalyan. This hits home as he lets him fall to his death not because it’s his job, but for revenge.

In this way, Craig has hit the mark in all three of his films so far, with a strong connection to first Vespa and then M (Judy Dench), interspersed with less casual violence, more determined eliminations than random killings.

For Bond to continue to be relevant for the next 50 years, there will – no doubt – need to be changes, but the base set up at the end of Skyfall sets the scene with the best of both worlds, the romantic past and the realistic present, all Bond needs now is an adversary who has a very real chance of taking him down.

James Michael Parry

Looper Review | Film | This Is Entertainment

courtesy loopermovie.comTime travel: singly responsible for some of the biggest noodle-scratchers on film. Looper gets the topic out of the way in one 30-second conversation between Bruce Willis (Joe) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (erm…also Joe…we’ll get to that…), in a scene in a coffee shop which recalls the tension of a similar sequence in Heat. Willis quickly puts a stop to Levitt’s pondering about changing his – and therefore Willis’ own – future, dismissing the idea as a waste of time.

This exchange sums up Looper in that it is an action film, a sci-fi film, and even a love story, but it doesn’t fall into the trappings or self-indulgence of any of the three. Instead the film moves at a pace, with only an intermittent voice-over to explain a few choice pieces of terminology.

courtesy scifimoviepage.comAccording to the film, time travel is invented some time in the 2070s, and is immediately out-lawed. With movement restrictions and 24/7 surveillance at their peak, an easy nod to the present’s increasing ‘Big Brother’ culture, there is no way to dispose of a body in 2072, so organised crime decides to send their victims back in time to be taken out, meaning they never existed.

Joe is a ‘looper’, a hit-man who takes out these time-travelled targets for bars of silver with a trusty blunderbus. If the whole thing sounds like piracy, then it is. This is sci-fi piracy in the most tightly controlled and regulated way possible. The looper is given a specific time to be ready and waiting and the target appears in front of them, hands tied and face covered.

Both Willis and Levitt are the same character, 30 years apart, and as a result the character arc is immediately both interesting and confusing. The story begins with young Joe carrying out his day job with precision, this is a guy at the top of his game – think a more talkative Ryan Gosling in Drive – and as always, everything seems to be going well.

Of course, it doesn’t last, and the audience is treated to a massive helping of foreboding when one of Joe’s friends fails to complete the final task of any looper – ‘closing their loop’. As you can imagine, running a serious crime operation 30 years in the past leaves a lot of loose ends, so when your time as a looper is up they find your 30 years-older self and send them back as your final hit, leaving you to have relaxed three decades of retirement.

courtesy loopermovie.comKnowing that Bruce Willis is in the film, it’s fairly obvious what happens next, and often this film doesn’t push the envelope enough in terms of story, but the chase movie we are presented with does succeed on being more than meets the eye.

Levitt is a triumph at being a younger, cockier Joe compared to Willis’ usual gruff old man, and the interplay between the pair is fun to watch – it’s almost a shame that they don’t spend more screen time together. The wider world of Looper pokes its head in now and again with a few subtle touches such as solar panels clumsily bolted onto every car and families living in an abandoned school bus, painting a picture of a world where the loopers’ type of killing could easily fit in unnoticed.

Emily Blunt is the only female part, save blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances from Piper Perabo and (Summer) Qing Xu, and surprisingly manages to give depth to Sara, who is, on paper, just a single mother who lives on a farm. Unfortunately the obligatory lovey-dovey scene forces the character to take a step back toward cliché territory.

It’s Sara’s ten-year-old son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) who really steals the show though, delivering matter-of-fact lines with conviction rarely seen (even in many adult actors), but with the inherent charm of a child.

Looper is a film riding on a wave of hype, and at times it struggles to keep up with itself, but largely it delivers on what it promises. With any film which has multiple actors playing one role, the chemistry and natural delivery of the stars is key, and luckily Levitt and Willis have the skills to make the concept convince. Though there have been some ‘touch-ups’ to Levitt to make him look more like Willis, it’s the performance which really convinces, and cements the idea in the audiences’ mind before Willis even appears on screen.

In the world of time-travel films, Looper sits comfortably alongside Willis’ own Twelve Monkeys as an example of how to do it well. A few snags prevent the film from achieving its fullest potential, but it does give far more than you might expect at first glance, and the performances quickly hook you in until the credits roll.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

Images courtesy: loopermovie.com, scifimoviepage.com

Muse – The 2nd Law Review | Music | This Is Entertainment

Muse's new albumVariety can divide people. For almost 20 years Muse have been steadily growing in popularity, culminating this summer by being asked to contribute the official song for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, not to mention selling out the London O2 Arena.

In what could well be the height of their career, you might expect the band to play it safe and give chart-lovers what they want to continue their ascent into legendary status. The 2nd Law however, is not afraid to buck the trend and give fans something different to what they’ve heard before.

From the outset the album is unmistakeably Muse, with the signature crunchy guitar and operatic vocals introducing opener ‘Supremacy’. All the things fans have come to know and love about the band are present and correct, including the slightly hypnotic vocal style of leading man Matt Bellamy, in a tune which wouldn’t sound out of place as a theme song for a new James Bond film.

Almost immediately though, the band shake things up with second single ‘Madness’ a track stripped bare and back-to-basics, it could just as easily have been an acoustic number. ‘Panic Station’ takes a completely different tack altogether, sounding like a lost gem from the early years of Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Throughout the album the band continue to change things up with every track, making an eclectic mix which just barely hangs together as one album. In interviews the boys have said they wanted to write songs for this album which couldn’t have appeared on any other Muse album – and they have undoubtedly succeeded.

The influences shown with previous effort The Resistance have moved on again this time around. There are clear elements of Queen in ‘Madness’ and ‘Survival’, but that couldn’t be further from the likes of album tease ‘Unsustainable’, which has a glimmer of dubstep akin to the likes of Skrillex.

Carrying the torchIn many ways the Muse DNA shown in their previous album has been pushed to its limits here, reflected in the contrast between the geometric technicolour of its cover art, to that of The 2nd Law, which is a mass of sprawling strands of colour, almost fighting to escape.

If it’s ‘normal’ Muse songs you are looking for, then there is still something here for you to enjoy. ‘Big Freeze’, ‘Animals’ and ‘Follow Me’ all stick closest to the ‘traditional’ formula, but still each offer something new.

The band’s knack for a deceptive slow number continues with ‘Explorers’, which seems to be the spiritual successor to tracks such as ‘Invincible’, ‘Guiding Light’ and even ‘Sing for Absolution’.

The real unexpected pleasure on the disc is the much-discussed debut of songs penned by bassist Chris Wolstenholme: ‘Save Me’ and ‘Liquid State’. As well as writing, Chris also takes lead vocal duty, and the songs really give a completely different vibe to not only the rest of the album, but the entirety of Muse’s back catalogue.

Luckily both tracks are a triumph. Chris’ voice is similar to Francis Healy from soft pop-rock outfit Travis, and the effect of combining it with Muse’s style is excellent. ‘Save Me’ is a calmly flowing plea for help, while ‘Liquid State’ is more familiar waters musically, but has a refreshing tone to it. The most enjoyable part of the songs is that Matt remains almost completely silent and lets Chris steal the show, no easy task for a musician with such distinctive talent – though since he still remains timid at live shows he may well have enjoyed sinking into the background.

This album is not out to prove anything to anyone but the band itself. It takes a while to get used to and doesn’t necessarily give the first impression you might expect, but it rewards perseverance in a way no other album in Muse’s back catalogue does.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry

Image courtesy: brookegoesharvey.tumblr.com