Thursday, 27 December 2012

Movie: Submarine

Submarine: A charming coming of age story.


Submarine tells the story of fifteen year old Oliver Tate (played by Craig Roberts) growing up in the eighties who has to cope with the stress of sorting out his parents’ relationship problems and at the same time juggle the responsibilities of his own relationship with his girlfriend Jordana.

Technically speaking, Submarine is split into three parts, Part 1: Jordana Bevan, Part 2: Graham Purvis (Oliver’s new neighbour and his mother’s first love) and Part 3: Showdown, but all the parts are interconnected and they all form part of the same overall story.

Submarine has been expertly cast and features excellent acting performances, with superb performances in particular from Craig Roberts as lead character Oliver and Yasmin Paige as his love interest Jordana.  Noah Taylor as the dull and depressed Lloyd (Oliver’s dad) is also brilliant and he plays the unintentionally amusing aspects of Lloyd’s personality exceptionally well indeed.  To be fair though, the entire cast put in perfect performances and were helped by a very well-written script.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Books: Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

Skipping Christmas:  An easy and enjoyable read.


Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
Given that this is technically a blog devoted to featuring underrated books, movies, albums, etc, which some potential fans may have overlooked, it probably seems a bit out of place to be covering a book by that little known undiscovered author by the name of John Grisham.

However, although Skipping Christmas is written by multi-million selling John Grisham, it’s nevertheless not the first book that springs to mind when you mention his name and is arguably far less famous than some of his more well-known books such as The Pelican Brief, A Time To Kill or The Runaway Jury.  And secondly, as it’s only a few days until Christmas, it therefore seemed appropriate to include a suitably Christmas themed review. 

I generally prefer Grisham’s legal stuff and more action orientated plots, so for a long time a seemingly throwaway story about Christmas didn’t really hold much appeal.  Many other John Grisham fans may also have overlooked it, and that’s a shame because although Skipping Christmas is not really in the same typical style as some of Grisham’s more usual novels, it’s nonetheless a lovely book. 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Music: Six B Sides Worth Checking Out

Or ‘bonus tracks’ as they’re known nowadays.


With the way music is packaged and sold nowadays B sides are becoming a dying concept, with downloads meaning that the necessity for a B side (or bonus track) to go with a single has been greatly diminished.  Many artists do still include B sides/bonus tracks as part of a single bundle, but they often simply include a few remixes or live versions of a previous song and the bonus tracks sometimes feel as if they are simply there to make the numbers up.  This is a shame as if you go back a few years, there were some excellent B sides to be found accompanying the ‘A’ sides on many singles.

So to highlight that point, here are six of my favourite B sides which I recommend checking out…

Never Want To See You Cry, found as one of
the bonus tracks to The Verve's Lucky Man.
1) The Verve – Never Want To See You Cry
Never Want To See You Cry featured as the second track on The Verve’s three track Lucky Man CD single, sandwiched between the brilliant ‘Lucky Man’ and ‘History’.  Between such illustrious company you would expect most songs to be well and truly put in the shade, but although Never Want To See You Cry is not quite in the very same league as Lucky Man and History it nevertheless comfortably holds its own.

It opens up with a simple but hauntingly beautiful violin melody before the acoustic guitar kicks in and like most songs by The Verve from that era it’s a song filled with emotion.  The whole song has a happy vibe to it but this is especially so when the violin riff plays during the chorus.  Never Want To See You Cry would fit in perfectly on The Verve’s Urban Hymns album and therefore it goes without saying that it’s definitely worth tracking down.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Graphic Novel: The Clockwork Girl

The Clockwork Girl: A magical story and beautiful artwork.


The Clockwork Girl from the creative team
of Kevin Hanna and Sean O'Reilly.
The Clockwork Girl tells the story of a clockwork girl and a mutant wolfboy from warring families who see past their fathers' differences and quickly become friends.  It’s a warm and touching story, and one which will appeal to kids and adults alike.

The opening sequence quotes Nikola Tesla when it reads, ‘I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart, like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success.  Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends … everything.’  I can imagine that on completion of this graphic novel, the thrill felt by the creators KevinHanna and Sean O’Reilly must have been something quite akin to that described by Nikola Tesla, as The Clockwork Girl is undoubtedly a book which its creators will be extremely proud of.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Travel: The Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

The Ngorongoro Crater: An essential destination for any traveller lucky enough to visit Tanzania.


It’s quite a few years now since I visited the Ngorongoro Crater but it still remains one of the most memorable travel experiences of my life.  I love travelling and saw so many amazing sights during my three months in East and Central Africa, but the Ngorongoro Crater would comfortably make my top three of places to visit.  Given the long list of unique and memorable places to visit in Africa, that’s quite a bold claim to make, but there’s no other way to describe it.  The Ngorongoro Crater is literally like a different world.

A panoramic view of the Ngorongoro Crater.

The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest unbroken collapsed volcano with a diameter of 18 kilometres and its very own eco-system, and this makes it the ideal location for thousands of animals to make it their home.  This in turn makes the crater an absolutely amazing place to visit for any backpacker or tourist who loves wildlife.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

iPod App: Super Stickman Golf

Super Stickman Golf: A golf game with its own personality...


Super Stickman Golf features weird and wacky power-ups.
There have been literally hundreds of golf games over the years and yet with Super Stickman Golf developers NoodleCake have still succeeded in producing a golf game with its own personality and a game which features enough original twists to make this worth a look in the overcrowded golf game genre.

Things start off looking fairly typical with Super Stickman Golf featuring a side on 2D view of each hole and following the basic formula of many golf games with the familiar power meter and angle control for each shot.  However, this is where the similarity with golf simulations ends as the creators behind Super Stickman Golf have gone for a more fun arcadey style of game rather than an accurate recreation of the game of golf.  The design of each hole is far removed from a traditional golf course so it would probably be more accurate to describe this as a 2D side-on golf game loosely in the spirit of crazy golf.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Music: High Violet by The National

High Violet is an album you’ll still be coming back to years down the line...


High Violet by The National. It may take a few listens
before you appreciate its true musical quality.
The National are one of those bands who are very successful, critically acclaimed and have a passionate and dedicated following, and yet there still seems to be a large number of people who haven’t yet heard of them.

That’s possibly because High Violet is by no means a collection of radio friendly mainstream chart songs.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s an album of exceptionally brilliant music, but you may find like I did that it takes a few listens before you start to appreciate the true depth of musical quality contained on High Violet. 

I personally found that the opening track Terrible Love and also Little Faith were songs which became favourites fairly quickly, but it took a few more listens before the genius of the rest of the album emerged.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Website: QuidCo.com

QuidCo: A great way to save a few pounds in the run up to Christmas...


I love Quidco
If you’re someone who does a lot of internet shopping then you may already know about Quidco, but if you don’t then you would be strongly advised to check it out immediately to start saving money in the form of cashback from your online purchases.  I’m by no means an obsessive online shopper and yet I’ve still earned over £100 in cashback, so as you can see even for the casual shopper it’s still worth signing up.

For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t come across cashback websites yet, this is how it works.  Rather than going directly to a retailers website, you instead first visit QuidCo and select the category of shopping you want, such as insurance, mobile phones, travel, fashion, electricals, etc.  QuidCo then brings up a list of retailers listed under that category who currently offer cashback deals on online purchases.  You can then click the links and check out a few of these websites for the item you’re looking for and if you make a purchase you then qualify for cashback.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Apps: Moviestorm

A very professional package capable of producing impressive results.


A scene from a 3D video created using Moviestorm.
Anyone who has ever been impressed by the 3D cut scenes featured in many video games nowadays and fancied having a go at creating similar scenes themselves, should definitely take a look at the excellent Moviestorm app.  It's an impressive piece of software which allows you to create your own 3D CGI movie scenes.

When you first open up the application the plethora of options all seem a bit daunting but the menu system is very well set out and easy to pick up, so it doesn’t take long at all before you’re soon getting the hang of things and creating your own 3D CGI movies.

To give you an idea of the sort of scenes you can create, here’s a short 3D video I created using characters from my book How To Save The World: An Alien Comedy:

Thursday, 8 November 2012

TV: Fool Britannia

More hilarious pranks and comic creations from Dom Joly.


Fool Britannia featuring Dom Joly as the asbo vicar
and many other great new characters.
I have to admit that although I enjoyed the first episode of Fool Britannia, overall I was still left feeling ever so slightly disappointed.  The trouble was that I had been expecting an exact replica of Dom Joly’s first hidden camera prank show, Trigger Happy, and although there are a lot of obvious similarities between the two shows, Fool Britannia is nevertheless its own show.

It would be fair to say that Fool Britannia is kind of an ITV-ified version of Trigger Happy.  It takes the same general formula and then tinkers with it slightly to produce a more mainstream friendly show.  For example, whereas Trigger Happy would link sketches together with cool indie tunes, Fool Britannia instead features voice-overs to introduce some of the sketches.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Radio: Too School For Cool

‘Bringing you all the very best music from the best decade.’ …DJ Steve Watson


DJ Steve Watson ... the King of the 80s!
Most of the album reviews and music features on this blog focus on relatively recent music from the last few years, so to ensure I’m not leaving out any fans of older music I thought it was time to redress the balance and turn the spotlight over to a radio show which features music from an era with no doubt many nostalgic memories for a lot of people … the 80s!

The radio show in question is Too School For Cool which to quote DJ Steve Watson ‘brings you all the very best music from the best decade’ and has become a key feature of the Stroud FM line-up.

The music charts nowadays don’t seem to be quite as big a deal as they were in decades gone by, but back when the tunes featured on Too School For Cool were first released, I can remember tuning in excitedly every Sunday evening to Radio 1 to find out the latest chart rankings.  The DJs of the time would happily rattle off a dazzling array of stats such as climbers and fallers, number of new entries, weeks on the chart, etc. as they informed us of the latest week’s charts.  Too School For Cool DJ Steve Watson is more than a match for the DJs of that era and recreates the ‘80s feel’ perfectly by providing an array of background information on the tunes he plays, such as highest chart position in various countries around the world, weeks on the chart and other little snippets of related information.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Movie: Frozen

Ideal material for a suspense movie...


Frozen: Not for the faint-hearted.
Frozen tells the story of three friends, Parker O’Neil (played by Emma Bell), Joe Lynch (played by Shawn Ashmore) and Dan Walker (played by Kevin Zegers), who get stranded up a ski lift and forgotten about after a ski centre closes for the weekend.  The only choices available to them are therefore to either stay put and wait until they freeze to death or pursue some more extreme courses of action in an attempt to survive.  It’s a simple idea, but also a frightening scenario and one which therefore provides ideal material for a suspense movie.

Given that this is a movie with a story which can be summarised in one sentence, you might think there’s not a lot of potential for plot development but in actual fact once the predicament begins, Frozen features almost constant action and numerous plot twists along the way.  Although you could argue that artistic licence has been used with one or two of the twists that the characters face, their reaction to these twists always come across as plausible and an accurate portrayal of how you might react in such a situation. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Books: Blockbuster by Tom Shone

Blockbuster is a book written by a fan of blockbusters for readers who love blockbusters.


Blockbuster by Tom Shone.
From the opening few pages of Blockbuster it is clear that Tom Shone is a writer who is not afraid to celebrate success and he has obviously chosen his subject matter based on a topic which he visibly has a great deal of positive enthusiasm for.  To put it simply, Blockbuster is a book written by someone who loves blockbusters for readers who love blockbusters.

And that’s perhaps one of the main reasons why I enjoyed this book so much.  Right from the start it becomes apparent that Tom Shone is an author who much prefers to praise some of the brilliant and memorable moments in movie history, rather than criticise the occasional failures.  He is also someone who clearly takes pleasure when deserving movies are a commercial success as well as a critical success, and he doesn’t see ‘money’ as a dirty word.  All in all these factors make him the perfect choice to write this book.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Graphic Novel: Pride Of Baghdad

Pride Of Baghdad: "...cleverly written and thought-provoking."


Pride Of Baghdad, inspired by true events
Pride Of Baghdad is inspired by the true story of a pride of lions living in Baghdad Zoo, which, during the Iraq War was partially destroyed by a bomb and thus granted the lions their opportunity for freedom.  Initially hungry and confused, the lions embarked on a search for food and a struggle for their lives.  As you might have already guessed writer Brian K.Vaughan cleverly uses the lions to make parallels between the war going on around them at that time and he also investigates the true meaning and price of freedom and the struggles faced in the quest for that freedom.

One of the reasons why Pride Of Baghdad works so well is down to the story being told from the point of view of the animals.  The lions debate their fate and their options at every step of their journey and each of the lions has been given a distinctive personality which makes for an interesting cast of characters. 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Music: The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man On Earth

More people need to know about this album.


The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man On Earth ... deserves to
reach an audience just as big as Bob Dylan's.
The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man On Earth (stage name of Kristian Matsson) is an absolutely beautiful collection of feel-good songs which every time you listen to it will remind you how powerful music can be and how strongly it can touch your emotions.

Kristian Matsson’s chosen performing name of The Tallest Man On Earth should already be a clue to this, but his musical inspiration obviously owes more than a great deal to Bob Dylan (The Tallest Man On Earth being the name of a Bob Dylan song).  Both his vocals and his guitar playing style are clearly heavily influenced by presumably one of Kristian’s musical heroes and although this might be a controversial thing to say, in my opinion The Tallest Man On Earth and specifically The Wild Hunt deserves to reach an audience just as big as Dylan’s.  I realise that’s quite a big statement to make, but I seriously can’t understand how The Tallest Man On Earth isn’t much bigger than he is.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

iPod Apps: Amazing Breaker by Dekovir Entertainment

Amazing Breaker for iPod: Slick graphics and atmospheric sound effects add to the overall enjoyment of the playing experience.


Amazing Breaker by Dekovir Entertainment.
Like many of the most successful iPod games, Amazing Breaker by Dekovir Entertainment takes a simple idea and implements it extremely well.  Each level sees you having to destroy a beautifully rendered ice sculpture with only a limited number of bombs to launch from your catapult.  Destroy over ninety percent and you progress to the next level, with the exact destruction percentage also determining how many gold stars you are awarded.  To earn a perfect three gold stars you have to destroy the entire ice sculpture, which on some of the later levels can be quite a challenge.

That’s the basic premise behind Amazing Breaker but there are of course extra features which give the game added depth.  Firstly, your bombs come in many various forms, from the most basic red coloured spike bomb which simply explodes when it makes contact with an ice sculpture, to the more versatile green coloured split bomb which splits into three separate explosive mines if you touch the screen while the bomb is in flight.  Keep these mines within close enough range of each other and they stay linked together and therefore detonating one of the bombs will trigger a chain reaction detonating all of the linked mines.  A similar bomb is the purple coloured helicopter bomb which allows you to place three separate mines with more precision and which again if kept within range of each other can link up for an explosive chain reaction.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

TV: Derren Brown - Svengali

Svengali features Derren at his predictably unpredictable best!


Derren Brown's Svengali.
Derren Brown’s most recent stage tour*, Svengali, was named after an early automaton (or robot-like doll) built in 1760 by a Hungarian called Hugo Von Levascht who modelled the doll in the likeness of his own dead son.

* At the time of writing.

When the doll originally performed, people at the performances believed that the doll had possessed them, leaving many of them terrified.  This was a belief that Levascht himself encouraged and in fact people became so convinced by the powers of Levascht’s act that at one stage the Catholic church actually exorcised the Svengali doll.

As you can imagine this is just the type of back-story which would appeal to Derren Brown and so when an anonymous bidder bought the doll at an auction a few years ago it should come as no surprise to work out who that mystery bidder might have been.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Website: Freerice.com

To quote from the freerice.com website:

“Every night one out of seven people go to bed hungry.”


Freerice.com is an excellent website run by the UN World Food Programme where you can put your general knowledge to good use.  It’s basically an online quiz but with the added bonus that for every question you get right the website’s sponsors pledge to donate funds to buy ten grains of rice for needy communities around the world.  Some of the places where rice has already been donated include Haiti, Nepal, Cambodia and Bangladesh and as the website is non-profit and run by the UN you can be sure that your efforts will make a difference.

At first glance ten grains of rice doesn’t sound like much, but it doesn’t take very long to answer a question, so it all adds up pretty quickly.  The questions take the form of multiple choice and start off fairly easy, so if you go for a straight-forward category then it’s possible to earn five hundred grains of rice in less than five minutes.  For the website to make an even bigger difference though, it needs as many people as possible to get involved, so this is one website definitely worth spreading the word about and encouraging your friends to give it a go.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Music: Pomme Fritz by The Orb

An interesting diversion from the predictable treadmill of mainstream music.


Pomme Fritz by The Orb.
An album to wash away the tensions and stresses of the day.
I should probably say straight away that some people – in fact most people – will probably listen to this album and think, ‘What the **** is this!?’  It’s not an album that was ever going to plant itself at the top end of the album charts for months on end.  But having said that it is an album that more people should check out and an album that deserves praise for trying something a bit different.  Actually, something a lot different.

A friend of mine listened to Pomme Fritz a few years ago and just didn’t get it at all.  To his unappreciative non-comprehending ears, some parts of it, in particular the third track ‘We’re Pastie To Be Grill You,’ were just crazy random nonsense.  I would argue that the problem was that he wasn’t listening to it properly.  If you go into this expecting a typical MTV friendly chart album of regular music you’re going to more than a little shocked, not to mention disappointed.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Travel: Koh Phi Phi, Andaman Coast, Southern Thailand

Koh Phi Phi: One of my favourite places in the world.


Maya Bay, the real life location of The Beach.
If I had to write a one sentence review of Koh Phi Phi it would simply be this, ‘Koh Phi Phi is one of my favourite places in the world.’  Given how big the world is and all the amazing places to be found, that’s quite a big compliment, but it’s totally deserved.  With Koh Phi Phi, it’s as if someone has read my mind and discovered all the ingredients necessary to create my perfect travel destination, and then used those ingredients to create Koh Phi Phi.

To go into more detail, Koh Phi Phi is a tropical island off the coast of Southern Thailand, and when travellers refer to Koh Phi Phi they’re generally meaning Phi Phi Don, the larger of the two main islands that make up Koh Phi Phi and also where all the accommodation is located, but technically speaking Koh Phi Phi also includes several other smaller islands.  Phi Phi Leh is the smaller of the two main islands and is where the movie The Beach was filmed (with Maya Bay providing the famous beach setting) and although there is no permanent accommodation on Phi Phi Leh (to help protect its natural beauty), it is easily accessible on a half day or full day boat trip from the main island of Phi Phi Don which you can book from any of the numerous tour agents situated around town.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Movie: Cube

Cube is a movie full of originality, suspense and twists.


Cube, an original sci-fi mystery.
The premise behind Cube is an original one - a group of strangers wake up inside a series of interconnected cubes, some of which are booby trapped, and they must work together to find a way out.  Each of the group has their own unique skills which are useful to their escape attempt, with the group initially comprising a doctor, a policeman, an escaped prisoner, a school girl, and a mysterious no-hoper.  As well as all coming from different professions or backgrounds, there are also a few varied attitudes and outlooks on life found within the group.

After a fairly gruesome start Cube quickly has you asking a lot of questions and within only a few minutes you’re already well and truly sucked into this movie.  It can be quite grisly at times, but that only adds to the suspense as you nervously wonder on the fate of the characters.  For the majority of the movie you’re on edge and unable to relax, and like all good suspense movies it is the anticipation of a potential shocking event which has you gripped, rather than such events frequently occurring.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

TV: Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is intense viewing and a show which quickly draws you in.


Breaking Bad, a show with a dark sense of humour.
Breaking Bad tells the story of Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston), a regular chemistry teacher who seems well and truly stuck on the everyday treadmill of working life.  Then one day his life starts heading down a dramatically different road when first his DEA agent brother-in-law makes a big methamphetamine bust, confiscating drugs with a street value of over seven hundred thousands dollars, and this implants the seed of an idea in Walter’s head.  When Walter then discovers that he has inoperable lung cancer this seed of an idea progresses into something more and Walter makes the decision to put his expert knowledge of chemistry to illegal use.

As you can imagine a life of crime is not without its complications, and Walter’s attempts at pursuing a shortcut to making cash take him on quite a complicated and stressful adventure with things quickly spiralling out of control.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Music: Six Remixes Worth Checking Out

My first memory of ever coming across a remix was many years ago on the 12” single of We Take Mystery (To Bed) by Gary Numan.  The B side featured an extended remix and it was basically just the original version of the song with an extra two choruses stuck onto the end, but nevertheless the idea of having two different versions of a song was a concept which seemed quite radical at the time and greatly appealed to me.

Thankfully, remixes have come a long way since those days so nowadays I love remixes even more and love searching out reworkings of songs which have been given a fresh perspective.  So on that theme here are six remixes I recommend checking out.

1) Austere (The Naked And Famous Remix) by The Joy Formidable
Any track combining the talents of the brilliant The Joy Formidable and the excellent The Naked And Famous is a pretty safe guarantee for success and as you’d expect this track produces the goods.  There’s something about this remix which just makes me feel happy every time I listen to it.  To be fair, that’s also true of the original but with the original there was more of a motivating vibe to the song, whereas this remix leaves you simply wanting to lay back and enjoy the moment.

Find it on The Joy Formidable’s cleverly titled Roarities EP.


Thursday, 30 August 2012

Books: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

If you’re a fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy then it’s a safe bet that you will also love this book.


Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency has that unmistakably
unique Douglas Adams sense of brilliant weirdness about it.
Usually when reviewing a book it’s normally quite a simple task to provide a brief one chapter summary at the start of the review to summarise the basic plot of the story, but with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency the brilliantly unique quirkiness of the story make it a somewhat more difficult task to sum it all up in one paragraph.

So instead I’ll quote from Douglas Adams himself when he describes it as, “A thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic.”  There are so many elements to this book that it’s extremely hard to categorise, but that comment from Douglas Adams sums it up as accurately as it’s possible to do in one sentence.


And although the title might suggest that Dirk Gently is the one man star of the show, in actual fact there are several interesting characters in this book with Dirk himself not actually making a first appearance until a few chapters into the story.  In actual fact Richard MacDuff, a computer programmer who’s creations include software to convert company accounts into music and a 3D computer model to attempt to work out how to remove the sofa stuck halfway up his stairs, is perhaps closer to what you would usually describe as the main character than Dirk.


Saturday, 25 August 2012

Website: Pinterest.com

A social network with an image based theme.


Organise your Pinterest boards by themes of interest such as Pugs.
For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t discovered Pinterest yet, to sum it up in one paragraph, Pinterest is basically an online photo pinboard which allows you to ‘pin’ cool or interesting images you come across as you surf the net onto themed boards.  Other users can then follow your boards and the images you pin will show up in their photo streams.

For example my Pinterest boards include themes such as Cartoons, Wisdom, Star Wars, Books By Indie Authors, iPhone / iPod Wallpapers and the Charles Fudgemuffin Blog (the blog I run to promote my comedy novel 'How To Save The World: An Alien Comedy') to name but a few.  Other Pinterest users could therefore decide to follow all my boards or just the boards that appeal to them.  You tend to find that most users have boards covering a wide variety of interests and not all these interests will be of interest to you, so I’m generally quite selective in the boards which I follow.


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Graphic Novel: It's A Bird

An original take on the Superman legend.


It's A Bird, from the creative team of
Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen.
My only memory of ever reading a Superman comic was when I was really young.  My recollections are vague, so this account of the comic I read may not be one hundred percent accurate, but from what I remember Superman had to defeat a band of Superboy impostors and he did so not through brute force, but through superior wisdom and devious sneakiness.  The story involved Superman leading the impostors on a journey through the heart of the sun and this appealed to me as I’ve always been a fan of space-born adventures.  The intelligence of the story also appealed to me, but for whatever reason I never took any further interest in Superman ... until now.

It’s Bird by Vertigo Comics is a Superman themed graphic novel with a twist.  Rather than present another regular Superman tale, it instead tells the story of troubled comic book writer Steve who is offered the job as writer on one of the Superman comics produced by DC.  Despite this being arguably the top job in comics, Steve however shows an apparent indifference towards the job and in fact tells his editor he is not interested.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Music: The Big Roar by The Joy Formidable

Keeps getting better and better with every listen.


The Big Roar featuring the passion and energy of a live performance.
From the moment I heard the first chorus of The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie I knew I was going to like this album.  I just never realised quite how much.  Within a few listens it was obvious that this was one of those albums which just gets better and better with every listen.  By approximately the tenth listen I had realised it was going to be one of my favourite albums of the year, and by approximately the twentieth listen I realised it was possibly one of my favourite albums of all time.

Such is the strength of the songs that The Big Roar could easily pass for a collection of singles.  In fact if someone had told me this was a Greatest Hits collection I wouldn’t have doubted them for a second.

Not satisfied with simply creating an album’s worth of excellent tunes, however, The Joy Formidable have really thrown themselves into every song with the result being that many of the songs have the passion and energy of a live performance, whilst maintaining the quality production of a studio recording.  The end result is that you get the best of both worlds and you could say ‘The Big Roar’ sums it up perfectly.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Travel: Bako National Park (Sarawak, Malysian Borneo)

If you're a lover of nature then Borneo's Bako National Park is well worth checking out.


Mangrove swamps at Bako National Park.
Anyone who’s ever been lucky enough to visit Borneo will know that it’s an island filled with many amazing travel destinations and lots of cool things to see and do.  However, one destination which many visitors to Borneo sometimes overlook is the excellent Bako National Park situated on the northern coast of Sarawak only a short journey from Kuching.

The only way into the park, however, is via the official visitor centre entrance situated at Bako village, so after paying the warden for your ticket you then have a further twenty minute speedboat ride before you’re actually at the park proper.  The cost for the journey is per boat, but if you’re travelling on your own you might find, like I did, that you meet other backpackers at the entrance and can split the costs.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Movie: Catfish

Keeps you on your toes as the story unravels.

 
Catfish, a clever idea and an absorbing story.
Catfish tells the story of photographer Nev Schulman and his relationship with eight year old Abby, a talented artist who sends him paintings of his published photos in the mail.  Things then progress as before long Nev has started up an online relationship with Abby’s attractive older sister, Megan, and the ‘documentary’ then switches its attention to how that develops.

Right from the start Catfish has you asking questions and just as you start to formulate a hypothesis as to how all the pieces and clues fit together, the movie then reveals a new twist which has you changing your theory once again.  It really sucks you in and gets inside your head, and even the day after watching it my thoughts kept returning to this movie.

I won’t go into the plot in any greater depth other than to say Catfish provides a powerful lesson regarding the emotional risks of trusting someone you meet on the internet and especially of forming an ‘electronic’ relationship with them.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Website: Travellerspoint.com


 
A friendly, helpful and active community of travellers make this a great travel site.


Travellerspoint.com is a highly recommended travel website which is equally ideal for a travel beginner planning their first backpacking trip or an experienced traveller.  The website features a number of sections covering almost everything you could want from a travel website including detailed travel guides, travel blogs, a photography section and the section I personally use the most, the forums.

Niagara Falls ... just one of hundreds of travel photos on
the travellerspoint.com website.
These are organised into three categories (general travel forums, destination forums and community forums) with each category then being split into further sub-forums, so pretty much every subject you could want to discuss is covered.  For example the destination category includes a sub-forum for every continent (except Antarctica!) and the general travel category includes sub-forums for such topics as travel companions and travel photography, so it’s all very easy to navigate.

It’s also a very friendly community and new members are made to feel welcome.  I’ve come across other forums where if you deviate even slightly from some of the draconian forum rules you will instantly be hit with a stream of criticism from high-maintenance forum members informing you that you’ve contravened ‘article 4(ii) sub-section 7(a) of the forum regulations’ or whatever.  However, the travellerspoint community has a friendly welcoming vibe to it, and the more experienced forum members will generally try to answer any questions as helpfully as they can.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Music: Proof Of Youth by The Go! Team

Proof Of Youth: Infectiously groovaphonic!


Proof Of Youth by The Go! Team ... infectiously groovaphonic!
I’m the type of person who usually needs to listen to an album at least five times before I can tell if I’m going to like it or not, so it was quite uncharacteristic when I heard a brief snippet of The Wrath Of Marcie on TV one morning and instantly loved it.  It’s the perfect early morning song to grab you by the scruff of the neck and fill you full of enthusiasm for the day.

The rest of The Go! Team's Proof Of Youth album is similar in style and has an early seventies hippie vibe to it, but repackaged for a modern audience.  I don’t know if the following analogy only rings true in my head, but if you took the music from Sesame Street and crossed it with Fatboy Slim then I imagine that you would end up with an album somewhat like this.  Doing It Right, Fake ID and I Never Needed It So Much Right Now in particular fit this analogy of sounding like they’ve been swiped from Sesame Street and given the Fatboy Slim remix treatment.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

iPod App: Babbel Swedish by Babbel

Can’t Recommend This Highly Enough.


Match the word with the correct photo.
If Babbel decided to make this a paid app it would still be brilliant value when you consider the amount of content it features.  The fact that it is actually free therefore makes it an absolute must have app for anyone currently learning Swedish or who would like to learn Swedish.  Twenty seven categories of vocabulary, each with a further twelve sub-categories (split between six basic and six advanced sub-categories) means there’s enough content to keep the Swedish student going for quite a considerable length of time.

To add even further to the depth of content, once you have selected your vocabulary category and sub-category, you then have three sections within each sub-category to work through and help you learn.

Section one is ‘Learn And Remember.’  This breaks you in gently and involves basic tasks such as matching a Swedish word to the correct photo or simply identifying the correct first letter of the Swedish translation of a selected word.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

TV: Alan Partridge, Welcome To The Places Of My Life

One Of The Funniest Characters On TV...


Alan Partridge, as hilarious as ever.
He’s back, and once again he’s at his brilliant best.  In Welcome To The Places Of My Life, Alan Partridge is as unintentionally hilarious as ever.
 
In the show Alan introduces us to some of the key places in Norfolk and if like me your immediate thought was ‘surely Norfolk doesn’t have enough places of significance to fill an extended special,’ then you’d be right.  Even before the halfway point Alan is introducing us to his local newsagent, but the great thing about Alan is that he can make even the most mundane location or event sound incredibly dramatic.  For example at one point in the show he guides us around Norwich City Hall and reveals with the unmistakably over-the-top sense of drama that is his trademark, “It’s incredible to think so few people know how close this city came to a blanket imposition of night-time parking fees.”

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Graphic Novel: I Kill Giants

If you've never read a graphic novel, then I Kill Giants is an excellent place to start.


Despite the title, I Kill Giants has
a modern day setting.
I Kill Giants tells the story of Barbara Thorson, a young girl who talks about killing giants and generally behaves quite weird at school and as a result gets labelled a freak by one of her less than charitable peers in particular.  As the story develops you eventually learn the reason behind Barbara’s strange behaviour and you also can’t help but admire her bravery and courage.

Ken Niimura, the artist on I Kill Giants, has gone for a cool distinctive look rather than outright realism, and I have to admit it took me a few pages to get used to the style of art, but once I did I realised that it fitted with the story very well.  Despite its characterised style, or perhaps because of it, Ken manages to squeeze a massive amount of emotion and personality into some of the frames.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Music: Six Cover Versions Worth Checking Out

In my opinion there’s not much point in covering another artist’s song if you’re just going to reproduce a perfect recreation of the original.  For a cover version to be worthwhile the cover artists should add their own personality to it, so for this selection of cover versions I’ve tried to include covers which do just that.

Tori Amos' version of Smells Like Teen Spirit
can be found on the US version of her Crucify EP.

1) Smells Like Teen Spirit by Tori Amos
(Originally by Nirvana)
The first cover on this list unarguably ticks that box and is Tori Amos’ version of the Nirvana classic Smells Like Teen Spirit.  Although no-one will ever be able to recreate the brilliance of the original, Tori has nevertheless produced her own unique version which is excellent in its own way.  It’s a beautiful rendition but with a touch of bleakness thrown in and as you’d expect from Tori it’s dripping with emotion.  Find it tucked away as one of the bonus tracks on the US version of Tori’s Crucify EP.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Books: The Half Life Of Stars by Louise Wener

Filled with some very touching human moments.


The Half Life Of Stars featuring an
attention grabbing opening chapter.

The Half Life Of Stars immediately grabs your attention as it opens by focusing on the Challenger space shuttle disaster as told from the point of view of Daniel (main character Claire’s older brother) and his father, and then goes on to relate their family's own traumatic events on that day.  Once this is dealt with the story then jumps to the present day and the interest level drops off slightly as Daniel goes missing and the focus turns to how his family deal with his disappearance.  Within a few chapters though, Claire makes a significant discovery in her quest to find her brother and things start to get interesting again, although even then it’s not until the second half of the book that it really hits its stride.

The story deals with the sudden and unexpected disappearance of Claire’s older brother Daniel in the run up to Christmas, and when dealing with a serious subject like this, the first half of the book is as you’d expect quite heavy and weighted at times.  Once Claire’s search gains momentum, however, and Claire and her ex-husband meet up with Huey and Tess there is a sudden and welcome injection of humour which was probably necessary to avoid the reader becoming constantly weighed down in doom and gloom.  Tess in particular is a very entertaining and amusing character, and one who would make an excellent lead character for future books by Louise Wener.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Movies: Changeling

Disturbing But Powerful


Changeling is set in 1920s L.A. and deals with the story of Christine Collins and her son Walter who goes missing only for the police search to return the wrong boy.  When Christine points out this blatantly obvious mistake to the police, rather than admit their mistake they go to extreme lengths to avoid the embarrassment of their mistake going public.

The story is told with an unusual choice of focus because although it deals with Christine Collins’ son going missing, rather than concentrate on those directly responsible for his disappearance, it instead focuses on the actions of the police and how they see the whole thing as a PR opportunity, rather than a missing child and a distraught mother.  The fact that Changeling is based on a true story only makes the way the police deal with Walter Collins’ disappearance, firstly with initial indifference, and then subsequently in an increasingly corrupt and ruthless manner, all the more shocking and disturbing.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Music: Singing From The Grave by Anna Von Hausswolff

Brilliant And Beautiful


Singing From The Grave by Anna Von Hausswolff
At the time of writing Singing From The Grave is currently ranked at number 305,298 in the Amazon UK music sales chart.  I can absolutely guarantee that there are not 305,297 albums out there which are better than Singing From The Grave, so I’m on fairly safe ground when I state that Anna Von Hauswollf’s debut album is without doubt thoroughly worthy of a bigger audience.

I should point out straight away, however, that Singing From The Grave won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  The album has a classical sound to it, so by no means is it a typically commercial album and it may therefore appeal to perhaps an older listening audience.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Graphic Novel: Groo And Rufferto

Another amusingly daft tale from Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier.


Groo And Rufferto, originally published as a
four issue mini series, then later reprinted
as a graphic novel.
In Groo And Rufferto, Groo (an extremely dumb but highly skilled warrior from times gone by) and his faithful canine companion wander into the land of King Ravenus, a gold-worshipping ruler who loves wealth so much that he spends all his time either gazing upon his hoards of treasure or dreaming up new taxes to impose on his people.  So paranoid is he that he will one day encounter someone who wants to steal his gold, that King Ravenus sets his wizard, Anakrony, the task of discovering the means to transport him to a safe and faraway land.

Anakrony decides that the safest place would be to disappear somewhere where his enemies can’t follow him … the future.  More specifically the present day.  Unfortunately for Groo and Rufferto, it is Rufferto that Anakrony uses to test his time travel formula and that sets up the story-line as Groo then refuses to let anyone cross the bridge into King Ravenus’ land until he gets his dog back.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

TV: Parks And Recreation

Parks And Recreation: Criminally overlooked in the UK


Lesley Knope flanked by Tom and Ann.
For those who have never heard of Parks And Recreation (which in the UK might be quite a few), this is how the programme was first described to me:

"It's like The American Office but better."


To be fair to The Office, the mate who recommended it to me isn't a massive Office fan like myself, but I would still put Parks And Rec on a par with it.  That only makes it all the more a shame that a show as good as this remains largely undiscovered to a UK audience who would no doubt love it if they only knew about it.

To put the figures into perspective, at the time of writing the Season One DVD currently has 2,502 likes on amazon.com versus only 25 likes on amazon.co.uk.  The English sense of humour surely isn't that much different from the American sense of humour, so the difference can only be explained by the fact that virtually no-one in the UK has heard of Parks And Rec.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

iPod App: Tiny Tower by Nimblebit Games

Tiny Tower: Simple But Addictive Fun


Your Tiny Tower 'bitizens' going
about their daily business.
The basic idea behind Tiny Tower is a very simple concept - build a tower, earn money, build extra floors - and in truth there's not that much more to it, but it's still nevertheless a very well implemented and a very addictive game.  It’s the simplicity which makes Tiny Tower very easy to jump into, but then in order to keep you interested Nimbit have also added various features which give the game lasting appeal.

The currency used in the game is TowerBux and these can be earned by various methods such as fully stocking a floor, fulfilling a request to find a specific resident or ‘bitizen’ as they are known, or completing one of the weekly missions.  The missions involve collecting specific items with a connected theme.  For example the ‘A Baby Is Born!’ mission involves collecting 2,700 family portraits from the Photo Studio and 270 toy blocks from the Toy Store.

Once you have accumulated enough Towerbux you can then spend them on practical uses, such as upgrading your floors so they can hold more stock, or on more frivolous goals such as buying fun outfits for your bitizens, for example chicken, robot or caveman costumes among many others.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Movie: Super

Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page as
The Crimson Bolt and Boltie.

"Shut Up, Crime!"


Super tells the story of Frank Darbo who on discovering his wife has left him for a local drug baron, decides to put on his hero costume and adopt the persona of The Crimson Bolt as he takes to the streets to fight crime, at times in an extremely violent manner.

I suspect the extremeness of the violence is probably meant to be a parody of comic book violence but whatever the motivation behind it, it’s still approaching gruesome at times and therefore the humour is for the most part quite dark.  It would be fair to say that Frank’s methods of dealing with crime are closer to those of The Punisher rather than the likes of Spiderman or a similarly more family friendly super hero.

I’m a massive fan of The Office and so it was Rainn Wilson’s presence that first brought Super to my attention.  However, in some ways the character of Frank Darbo is the very opposite of Dwight Schrute, although there are some similarities.  For example Frank is a similarly dorky character, but unlike Dwight he is well aware of this fact and suffers from major self-confidence issues.  Frank’s behaviour is extremely unhinged at times, and some of his more severe actions even make Dwight look the model of sensibility and normality.