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.