Friday, 29 December 2006

Ultimate Avengers DVD Review

Santa was obviously wearing his geek hat this year; under my festive tree I found a brand spanking new laptop, all manner off comic bookery and the Ultimate Avengers movie DVD. So I was a very happy bunny. I quickly booted up my new computermotron, searched for a wireless network and promptly failed, so instead I shoved in the Avengers DVD and watched the whole thing, unfortunately I came away with very mixed feelings, let me explain why…

The film is roughly based on the first couple of story of story arcs from the Ultimates comic book, “Super-Human” and “Homeland security”, but for the sake of the film instead of having them run one after each other the stories are mixed up and intertwined. Which leads to an interesting combination of elements where we see Captain America stop a nuclear bomb during WWII then get frozen for 60 years, only to be unfrozen and then form the new super army “the Avengers”, an alien race attacking earth and Bruce Banner battling his inner Hulky demons. There is more too it than that, but I don’t want to spoil it too much for you now do I?

The voice acting and general story line are ok, but there is definitely room for a number of improvements. While I don’t mind the fact that two stories have been combined here, and actually think it makes quite a bit of sense to do so, there are a number of other changes that I’ not too pleased with.

The main issue I have is a general one, it seems that, while inspired by the Ultimates, a whole heap off this film is either watered down from the sources material of based more on the regular Avengers form the 616 universe. Tony Stark’s heart condition, the down playing of the violent relationship between Henry Pym (Giant-Man) and his wife the Wasp, and the smaller alien battle amongst many other changes may not be important to everyone, but if you know the Ultimates and Ultimate universe they will definitely bug you. I cant see the point of making this film specifically Ultimate, but then taking so much from elsewhere.
But as I said, there is a lot of room for improvement, but standing by itself the film is a fun if short little romp (always wanted to use that word, and it kind of works there. Hurray for me!!)

The animation and art style is in a similar situation to the story, good for most but with definite room for improvement. The general style is obviously that of the Ultimates, but with a cartoon network style sheen to it, this doesn’t really surprise me as literally animating the comic book would have not been easy at all, but a little more similarity to the book would not have been a bad thing at all. Also more time and effort and maybe even more should have been invested into the project as it seems to be lacking that extra quality you get from a lot of modern cartoons

Extras on the DVD come in the form of a trivia track running over the film, a doc on the making of the film and history of the Avengers feature, a brief look at the sequel and a reasonably funny look at some fan auditions for parts in the film. So not a bucket load by any stretch but what you get is good, interesting and quite informative.

So overall the DVD is quite good, not great but most definitely not terrible. it’s a good launching point for the series on DVD and hopefully things can only get better from here on out. The sequel is already out in America so I think I may have to use this inter-web thingy to try and dig out a copy.

Thanks to our Matt!

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Xmas Hell Part 3! - Must Have DVDs

There are only 4 days to Christmas and what better last minute gift than a DVD and so here is part , and this time I’m going too be taking a gander at some of the BETTER DVDs available this merry Christmas season. So that means none of the horrible animal computer animation films that have been doing the rounds or even POTC, their all too obvious, these are much more interesting!!

∑ Ren and Stimpy Season 1 and 2
For some reason my dad never liked me watching this as a kid, so the chance to own in a lovely DVD set is oh so very enticing!!! On three discs you get all of season 1&2, which means that there is over 400 minutes of cartoon fun. However; the extras are slightly lacking, with only a few commentaries included and a featurette or two. So not the great “collector’s box set” it could have been, but the cartoon is just so damn good you must buy it for everyone!!

∑ Serenity and Firefly
I’ll put this simply, if George Lucas had put the spirit that goes into these two wonderful things, I wouldn’t hate the new trilogy like I do!!!!
From the great mind of Joss Wheddon (he’s the guys who did Buffy, you might have heard of it?), comes what can only be described as a western in space. But add to that a level of wit, subtle comedy and emotion and you get a genuinely fantastic thing.
Get Firefly first and then Serenity, its just better that way, and the film tends to tie up a few loose ends from the series.

∑ Spaced series One or Two
This is what the guys who brought you Shaun of the Dead brought you before they brought you Shaun of the Dead. It’s the tale of two losers who, cast out on to the street, join forces to find somewhere to live. Which they quickly do and the “hilarity ensues”!!!
Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson are Tim Bisley and Daisy Steiner - two hopeless twentysomethings sharing a flat and pretending to be a couple. Joining them on their urban adventures are wine-swilling landlady Marsha, the rather intense artist who lives downstairs Brian, Tim's best friend and would-be TA soldier Mike, and Daisy's best friend, the air-headed Twist. Together they tackle the big questions that the 21st century poses: who are they, what they mean to each other and who should switch on the kettle?

∑ Black Books series 1-3
More comedy, this time from the crazy mind of Dylan Moran. Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) owns a small second hand book store, but there is a small problem with this situation of his; he hates the people, the customers and even the books, and so spend most of the time drinking wine and shouting abuse, and Bill Bailey, great performances and whole host of cameos and you get one of the best British comedies in recent times.

∑ The Ultimate Avengers Movie
The Ultimates is one of my favourite comics at the moment (when they release them that is), and this straight to DVD movie follows, roughly, the first season of this comic book.

Thanks to Matt Thomas for the last minute guide.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Xmas Hell Part 2: Book Ideas

If you can’t think of anything interesting to give to people during this festive period, a great but traditionally uninspiring backup plan is some kind off written word type literary fare, but usually that’s a big and dull silly idea. So I bring forth some GOOD ideas for books this Christmas-

• The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear; by Walter Mayer
Bluebear is a blue bear, but I’m sure that’s pretty obvious to you, and this book tells the tale of his first 13 ½ lives (he has 27 you see). Set in the mysterious world of Zamonia the tale marries all manner of different genres including fantasy, Sci-Fi and classic fairy tales. Despite weighing in at over 700 hundreds pages the book is about as easy to read as you could wish for and is beautifully illustrated throughout.
I randomly came across this when my mother brought home a big pile of books from the library, being a simple fellow it was the pictures that enticed me. Of course this lead to me reading the actual words, and they are, well, very good. It was one of those very rare books in this world that I couldn’t stop reading, any spare time I had would see me with my nose wedged firmly between its pages. So therefore I recommend it to you.
If you do like this, Moers wrote a second book, set in the same universe. Rumo is the tale of a Wolperting (it’s a bit like a dog), who armed with Dandelion (it’s a talking sword) will one day become the greatest hero in Zamonia. I am in the middle of reading it as we speak, and I have to say it’s a whole load of good.

• The Walking Dead v1-5, written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Tony Moore
Zombies are cool; everyone loves them at the moment, and rightly so. But one thing oft lacking with thee whole zombie hoopla is a good story to back it up. That’s where The Walking Dead comes in. The story is centred on a small-town police officer named Rick Grimes who, at the start of vol. 1, gets shot. We rejoin him sometime later in a hospital bed; he is alone, confused and for some reason in a world over run with those loveable scamps, the “un-dead”.
Now I know what you thinking, that sounds like a million other Zombie filled romps, however, what sets this apart from pretty much all the other stories out there is that this one concentrates more on the people involved and the lives that’s they lead, the human interaction. This allows the stories to be much deeper than it could have been, and therefore when the zombies do actually get involved it’s a much more shocking, as you generally care (or dislike) the characters involved.
The book is drawn by Tony Moore, and is black and white throughout, and to put it simply is quite beautiful, albeit beautiful in a “world full of flesh eating zombies” kind of way.

As it stands there are 5 (soon to be 6) trade paperbacks available, collecting up to issue 36 of the comic book. Obviously, start with vol.1 if you’re buying for someone who hasn’t read the books yet. Or if you’re feeling fancy a hardcover collecting issue 1-24 is also available.

• The Halo Graphic Novel (HGN), written/draw by various artists.
This is one, I have to say, that I haven’t actually had the pleasure of reading yet, but as it’s on my Christmas list, I think ill be allowed to write about it here.
The HGN is composed of 4 separate stories based in and around the Halo universe, and four completely different stories at that, ranging from a tale of armour testing to the story of how the people of New Mombasa fought against those evil folk the Covenant.
Each different story is presented in a completely different artistic style and looks incredible throughout,. Also the book comes complete with a gallery section with comprises of images from the halo universe from all manner of Marvel/ Bungie artists.

OK so that’s the three main ideas I have for you, but here are a few extra that might tickle your fancy.
• Marvel Zombies; Trade paper back/hardcover.
The title kind of gives it away, all your marvel favourites are hear in zombie form, and there hungry, so much carnage ensues. It’s silly but fun, and looks fantastic.
• Any thing by Edward Monkton.
Whether you plump for the Penguin of Death, the Pig of Happiness or even the Madness Hamsters you know you’ll be getting a small hardback book of sheer random greatness. Go here to learn more.
• The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and other Stories; written/illustrated Tim Burton.
A selection of poems telling the tale of a selection of rather “interesting” children, ranging from Roy the toxic boy and Junk Girl too Oyster boy and my personal favourite Jimmy, the Hideous penguin boy. The tales vary from being deeply the depressing to highly hilarious, but usually flit between the two. Oh and the illustrations are fantastic too.

Ok, I think that will be enough suggestions for you for now, if you still cant decide what too get your loved ones, I shall return shortly with some DVD suggestions.

Thanks again to the ever inspiring Matt Thomas

Monday, 4 December 2006

Xmas Hell Part 1! Game Help!

With the Christmas season now officially upon us, I was given the idea of writing a Festive Gift ideas list. Now there are two ways I could do this; I could either just copy what the big retailers out there think you should buy because it will make them lots off easy money, or I could do it the more fun way and point out loads off cool shit you have probably never heard but will make your life full off happy smiles if you listen to my pearls of wisdom and buy them all. In a Shaun of the Dead style….the second one.

Everyone loves playing games at Christmas, if you don’t your probably a Nazi or dead, so I think ill start there.

•Ticket to Ride: Ill start with one off the things I doubt you’ll have heard about. Ticket to ride (or “the Train Game” as it has affectionately become known as in my circle of friends). Basically the point off the game is to score as many points as you can this is done by collecting train cards and then using them to claim train routes across North America, the longer the route the more points you get. As well as that you also need to try and connect specific cities, which are usually stupidly far apart. The joy of this game come from its sheer simplicity, it’s the classic formula of taking only minutes to learn, but you’ll then constantly develop and change your strategy every time you play. Add to that the look your opponents give you when you build on a piece of track they desperately need, and you’ll soon see why this game has won all manner of game of the year awards and sold around half a million copies in around 2 years.RRP £29.99

•Munchkin: This couldn’t be more different to Ticket if it tried. It’s basically a card game where your character is battling through a dungeon inhabited with all manner of lovely creatures, and its your job to swiftly kill them with a big sword and then move on to try and kill more things until you reach the all important Level 10, when this happens you win. Doesn’t sound that interesting I hear you say? Well I did also forget to tell you its kinda crazy, the weapons range from your common all garden sword to the slightly more interesting rat on a stick and boots of butt kicking, you could end up fighting a potted plant with a chicken on your head and trust me never pick up a duck in a dungeon. I have played this game for hours on end, usually with the odd can of alcohol in easy reach, and can’t recommend it highly enough.

It’s not the easiest thing to pick up but when you do you’ll be throwing curses at each other, stabbing people in the back and generally acting like complete git to make sure you win in the most humiliating way possible.
RRP £14.99

•Villa Paletti: If I start by simply saying Jenga, you will get a vague idea of what sort of game this is. You use bits of wood to make a tower, but unlike Jenga, this game is actually pretty good.
In the tradition of a Jengaesque, you simply have to take the wooden poles from the lower levels and move them higher, making sure you don’t send the whole thing crashing. It’s a fantastic party game, and I know this after hours of rigorous testing in the many pubs of Cheltenham, usually with quite a few people staring at me as I search for a piece that can actually be taken out safely; of course once that happens you have to try and find a new home for it which is equally nerve shattering. You don’t know what fear is until you see the most ungainly, yet some how spectacular, tower nearly keel over in front of you as you take out a piece and then realise you now have to find a home for it. But of course that’s what makes it fun, so ignore Jenga and Tumba and all manner of other buildy type games this Christmas and buy Villa Paletti right now!!! Please?
RRP £19.99

So those are the three I would most recommend to you but there a few more I want to mention.

•Apples to Apples- Essentially the point of this game is to argue the toss with everyone until the dealer agrees with your opinion, and its great fun. I scientifically proved this on Boxing Day last year.
•Polarity- Make magnets balance in mid air and score lots of points, just won the first ever Science Museum Toy Award.
•Zombies- It’s got zombies in it, what more do you need to know about it!!!!! OK, a little more I suppose, you go round shooting lots of little plastic zombies while trying not to die. It’s basically every Zombie film you have ever seen but you control it, which is nice!

OK so that’s my game recommendations done, hopefully soon ill give you some Toy/Action figure ideas, a List of DVDS you must buy people this Christmas and then a random array of other stuff.

All Hail Matt Thomas

A Creepy Fairytale Review of Pans Labyrinth

Pans Labyrinth- It’s basically a grown up fairy tale!

I went into this film knowing very little about it; I had seen a trailer on my spangly new mobile phone but obviously that doesn’t give too much away, and I knew that a few of my very good friends were saying very good things about it, so when I went to see this film I was basically going in blind. I didn’t even know it was subtitled until I spoke to the ticket guy before we sat down (no ticket was actually involved though, just one of the perks of having friends working in a cinema!), and trust me subtitles are not a fun prospect with a hung-over head.

Anyway, onto more important things, the small matter of the film itself. Set at the end of the Spanish Civil War the story follows young Ofelia as she moves with her heavily pregnant mother to live with her new adoptive father in a remote part of the Spanish country side. Of course while there her father, Captain Vidal, is fighting off a whole bunch of rebels who refuse to give up on the war. To escape this side of her life Ofelia wanders the grounds of her new home and comes across an ancient labyrinth, at the centre of which she comes across a faun. This faun proceeds to tell off how Ofeila is actually a princess and that to regain her rightful status she must complete a number a fantastical tasks, and from here we enter a world of fairies and extraordinary creatures and events. While all this is going her father, and to counteract the fantasy world, the Captain is fighting a brutal war with the guerrillas. Obviously thats not quite all the story, but i'm going to try not to spoil too much of it for you, but if I do, I wholeheartedly apologise.

This is easily one off the best film I have ever had the pleasure off watching, it manages to be both genuinely beautiful, and darkly disturbing while marrying the two completely different worlds seamlessly. The horror of the war, which is often brutally portrayed, is then juxtaposed with the gloriously realised fantasy world into which Ofelia descends.

The acting is outstanding, especially the young Ivana Baquero who plays the lead. Sergi Lopez, who plays Ofelias’ father, Captain Vidal, is also excellent and is a very threatening presence when on screen. Special mention must also go to Doug Jones, who plays the Faun and the Pale Man; he spends all of his time on screen trapped in his two costumes, and gives such life and believability to the characters.

Its not easy to work out who this film is actually aimed at, but in many ways this is to the films credit, any film that is to be considered truly great avoids following cliches and stereotypes and therefore fits into no one specific hole, and that is a true sign of when something can be considered true art.

Another great review by Matt Thomas