Monday, January 30, 2006

Underworld: Evolution

Underworld Evolution is the sequel to the 2003 movie Underworld, a tale of the war between vampires and werewolves, sorry Lycans. Anyway, the war rages on and...

The story goes back to the beginnings of the two races and both Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman), fleeing possible retribution for having killed Victor, must work together to try to discover the secrets of their bloodlines.

Meanwhile Marcus (Tony Curran), the last remaining elder vampire, has been awakened and now seeks to release his demonic Lycan brother William from his imprisonment - an act guaranteed to wreak death and destruction across the world as William is an uncontrollable monster.

As sequels go this was actually quite good. Having just stuffed myself on a pizza beforehand, I'm sometimes prone to dozing off in the cinema for a few minutes during slower scenes but there was enough action going on here to keep me awake throughout.

So basically there's loads of action and some very well done CGI effects. Kate Beckinsake dons her skin-tight black leather costume, takes it off for the steamy scene, and visits mayhem on just about anyone in her path. The story starts with a flashback to around six hundred years earlier when William was captured and imprisoned and then picks up where the first movie left off - Victor is dead, Selene and Michael are on the run and Craven is about to get the shock of his life.

Definitely worth seeing if you like vampire/werewolf movies and if you've seen the original!

Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy, Horror
My Rating: 7/10

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Another Day At The Beach!

Another dry Sunday - amazing! Anyway, after mentioning last week's foray to Irvine beach, I had mentioned it to one of the lads in the office and he suggested we try just north of Ardrossan as the beaches were better, he thought. So we got the map out and it looked promising, a lick of yellow at Ardneil Bay, along the coast north of Ardrossan between Seasmill and Portencross.

So off we went, heading down the road to Irvine again but this time we turned off at Dalry and headed for West Kilbride and then on to Farland Head at Portencross along a very tight wee road. There's a decent sized car park at Farland Head and we parked there but that meant a plod back into the bay, through a field full of cows, to get to anything resembling sand. We did notice a fair few cars parked off the side of the road farther back and in hindsight, that would have a been a better place to park as it was the start of the beach proper.

As for the beach - to be honest, it's difficult to tell. I think it might be nice in summer, or at least parts of it, but it wasn't very impressive as beaches go and I think we both agreed that Irvine would make a better venue for picnicing, etc.

Sunset Over ArranWe walked all the way back to Seamill and back again and got a few photographs along the way. We even waited for the sun to go down to get a few shots as it sank behind Arran. Spotted a grey heron on the beach along with the usual gulls, terns and oystercatchers and even glimpsed what certainly looked like a wren at the side of the path on the way back.

We'll probably go back in the summer to see if it's any better but the lack of any facilities (I like my tea and a scone) is a definite drawback.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Family Guy presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story

I haven't done a DVD review in ages, had a bit of a burn out, but when this one about Stewie, the megalomaniacal and matricidal baby genius from the cult animated TV show Family Guy, turned up on offer I just had to try and get back into it again...

When Stewie has a near-death experience, while trying to off a rival at the local swimming pool, his plans for world domination and killing Lois are set aside and he embarks on a new life dedicated to doing good. This isn't easy for our foul-mouthed little maniac but he is ably assisted by Brian, the alcoholic family dog and all round bon-viveur, and Quagmire, the neighbourhood pervert.

If you want more in-depth information, screenshots, etc., then you can read my full review on DVD Lard.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Fantasy
My Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Falling Down

Remember the movie Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas, where this guy gets out of his car in the middle of a traffic jam and just walks away? Well...

Lorna and I had just parked the car near work as usual and the street we park in is one of those where it gets parked on both sides of the road so there's only enough room for one vehicle to pass up the middle. On the whole, there's never that many problems as most drivers tend to either slip into a space or just hold back until the way is clear but not this morning.

One car was coming along the road from one direction and another one started in from the opposite end. He must have seen the other car and there were spaces he could have pulled into but no, he kept going so they inevitably met head to head. Now normally one would have admitted defeat and reversed but when they both just sat there staring at each other through the windscreens, we had to stop and see what was going to happen.

A few minutes passed and then the second guy gets out of his car and has words with the first bloke, who didn't open his window or seem to respond. We thought "This is getting interesting, might be a fight!"

He gets back into his car and again, they sit there for a few minutes (while we're standing there laughing) and stare at each other. Then bloke number one, gets out of his car and we think "Definitely looking like a fight now or he's going to do a Basil Fawlty on the other guy!" but no he ceremonially waves his keys, remote locks the car and walks away. By this time I'm knotting myself but thinking "Hah, he's going to stand around the corner until the other one reverses off" but no, he casually plods off down the street leaving the road completely blocked.

Maybe, like William 'D-Fens' Foster, he was just having a very bad start to the day and that was the last straw! We had to get into work so missed the conclusion but there was a bin lorry just exiting our drive and heading that way so chaos was about to ensue. Wonder if anyone called the police as the driver could have been arrested for wilfully obstructing, without lawful authority or excuse, free passage along the highway, contrary to s 137 of the Highways Act 1980 (got that from one of the lads in the office who used to be a copper).

Wish I'd had a camera or camcorder!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Day At The Beach

It being the first dry Sunday we've had for a while, we drove down to Irvine for walk on the beach. The beach stretches all way down to Troon in a big long curve so it's ideal for a long walk.

It's not bad as Scottish beaches go and always seems busy, even outwith the summer, with folk walking dogs or kids on quad bikes roaring up and down. It's much better in the summer and it does get pretty busy then with groups of people along the dunes.

Bleak Day On Irvine BeachBleak Day On Irvine Beach

The weather on Sunday was okay but only just - dry but a bit breezy and it wasn't that warm so we had to wrap up for our stroll. We had a walk along the river bank and up to the Magnum Leisure Centre and had a cup of tea and a scone in the cafe there.

On a sadder note, we noticed that The Big Idea was closed, or at least the bridge leading over to it was closed off and rolled open so you couldn't get there but further investigations led to the discovery that it's closed for good. Pity as it was something novel for kids and was built on the site of Alfred Nobel's dynamite factory.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Market Forces - by Richard Morgan

From the author of the excellent Takeshi Kovacs novel Altered Carbon and Broken Angels, Market Forces is a tale of a future where corporate greed rules...

In a world where business tenders, contracts and promotions are won by battling and killing your competitors either on the road or in the arena, conflict investment is the pinnacle of an executive career. It comes with wealth, power along with a license to drive and to kill.

When Chris Faulkner is offered a job with Shorn Associates, the market leaders in the conflict investment business, he's overjoyed. Shorn expect results and with a high-profile kill to his name already, he has a lot to live up to and there are those that don't think he's up to the job.

Frankly I found this hard to get into. It's well written and the story is kept going at a decent pace but none of the characters are particularly likeable and some are just plain nasty. The "hero" of the piece makes his living on top of the suffering of others and is happy to kill business rivals or even clients if it suits his purposes and when he's offered a way out of this lifestyle even that has to meet his price.

There were several times where I thought about giving up reading this one and, given the usatisfactory ending, I'm sorry I didn't. Hopefully, Morgan will drop this storyline and we'll see no more of Chris Faulkner and we'll get some more Takeshi Kovacs tales.

Genre: Actiom, Drama, Science-Fiction
ISBN: 0-575-07584-8
My Rating: 5/10

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Chronicles Of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe

Finally got to see The Chronicles Of Narnia last night and going by the size of the audience it won't be too long before it's gone from the cinemas. It's based on the classic children's novel by C.S. Lewis so here's a brief summary...

When four London children are evacuated to a country house during World War II, they find a magic portal inside an old wardrobe that leads to the mystical land of Narnia. Narnia is populated by all manner of mythical creatures such as fauns, centaurs, unicorns, minotaurs, cyclops, griffins, etc. but it is also ruled by the evil White Witch who keeps the land in perpetual Winter but never Christmas.

However, an ancient prophecy talks of the coming four humans, two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve, who will defeat the Witch, breaking the spell holding the land in Winter so, when the four appear in Narnia, their presence is noted by both the good and evil sides. While the forces of good, led by Aslan the true ruler of the land, begin building an army to defeat the witch and so fulfill the prophecy, she is also scheming to do everything in her power to stop it. So the stage is set for a battle bewteen the two.

I read the book years ago, not as a child but older, and quite enjoyed it even with all the talking animals, etc. That aside, the translation to film is excellent and any fans of the book will probably love it. Aslan, voiced by Liam Neeson, is a huge and imposing figure as expected and the witch, played by Tilda Swinton, is cold and evil looking. Jim Broadbent has a small part as the professor who own the house the kids move to and James Cosmo turns up as Father Christmas.

The quality of the CGI effects is awesome. The landscapes look amazing and the creature effects are incredibly well done. The faun Mr. Tumblus, played by James McAvoy, walks around quite convincingly on the hind quarters of a deer and the centaurs are extremely good too. Funniest though are the beavers, totally animated but with the voices of Ray Winstone and Dawn French. A couple of other well-known voices in there are Michael Madsen as Maugrim and Rupert Everett as the Fox.

It's all pretty well done and I'd thoroughly recommend it for kids old and young.

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
My Rating: 7/10

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The One Kingdom - by Sean Russell

The One Kingdom is the first book in The Swans' War trilogy, a fantasy tale of adventure, political upheaval and family rivalries...

While a group of Renné lords are plotting the assassination of their cousin at the upcoming Westbrook fair, three young men from the Vale of Lakes set out on a journey down the river for a chance of some adventure and to make their fortune. When they cross paths with a stranger called Alaan they suddenly find themselves embroiled in the power games of the great houses and running for their lives.

When the Lady Elise Wills finds out that she is to betrothed to the son of the Prince of Innes, which will further her evil uncle's plans to bring about a war to decide who sits on the throne, she escapes down the river posing as a minstrel. But far older powers are afoot with darker plans of their own and when the lads from the Vale and Elise meet up on the river, their fates become inextricably entwined and they find themselves both heading for the Westbrook fair, where things will get much more interesting.

Fantasy series are pretty much standard fare these days and I tend to be reading several at once. You know what I mean, you read volume one from one series then volume one from another as volume two from the first isn't out yet and so on until you have a several on the go all at once. Anyway, I'm trying to cut down on this a bit but I'd bought this some time ago and thought I'd better get started on it.

To be honest, at first I was a bit worried that it wasn't going to be very good as the writing seemed a little amateurish, a bit overly descriptive and flowery, but it soon settles into a decent tale with enough to catch your interest and keep you wanting to read on. The plot revolves around the river, which has it's own magical properties and hidden branches, and slowly draws the two main storylines of the three Vale lads and Elise together until they both end up at the fair just as the conspiracy hatched at the start comes to fruition. However, there's more to it than this as there are older powers at work, again tied to the river, so it's not as simple as it would appear. Even the boys have an unknown history that should prove interesting later on.

It's not the greatest work of fantasy I've ever read but it is worth getting into and I'll definitely be getting book two, The Isle Of Battle.

Genre: Action Adventure, Fantasy
ISBN: 1-84149-088-1
My Rating: 7/10

Friday, January 06, 2006

Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II

Set in the very popular Forgotten Realms Dungeons and Dragons world, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II is the sequel to the very popular Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance game released back in 2001 for the Playstation 2. I've been looking forward to this as I'd finished the original Dark Alliance some time ago and have been looking for the sequel, at a decent price, for absolutely ages but with no luck at all.

Anyway, the kids got me this for Christmas and it's been seriously eating into my waking hours over the break. Taking off where Dark Alliance I finished, The three heroes from the first game: Vahn the Arcane Archer, Kromlech the Dwarven Fighter and Adrianna the Elven Sorceress come out of the portal, having defeated Eldrith the Betrayer in the Onyx Tower, surrounded by strange creatures. Leading these creatures is someoned named Mordoc SeLanmere. As Vahn, Kromlech and Adrianna are captured, the game begins as a new group of adventurers make their way south, along the Trade Way, towards Baldur's Gate...

The gameplay follows the usual RPG format of fighting and exploring your way through a series of missions while collecting loot and weapons and gaining experience to make you characters stronger and more powerful. Nothing really new in this but it's simply done and is pretty addictive. There are lots of weapons, armour, magic, artefacts and monsters, etc. to keep you engrossed for ages. The main new feature in this version is the ability to manufacture your own magic weapons, armour and artefacts. Basically you combine good quality equipment with rune stones and gems to create a magically endowed version of it. Adds a bit of depth and variety to the game. The graphics are very nicely done as well and the game is played on a well-detailed 3D/isometric map. It all adds up to a fairly rewarding experience.

There are four main acts to the game and each act contains various missions and there are over 40 levels involved in all of this. I'm still on the first act so there's a long way to go yet...

Platform: Sony Playstation 2
Genre: Adventure, RPG
My Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

My Life: F'it Like Loon?

Continuing the tales of holidays from my youth...

Fishing, Butteries and The Doric!

That would mean going up to Keith during Show time to stay with some of dad's side of the family and that was always good fun. We sometimes sayed with mum's Aunt Jean and Uncle Alec as well as they lived in Keith as well. We usually got into the show free as we usually had relations working on the gates or as stewards.

Keith is also where I caught the fishing bug as mum bought me my first rod and reel from the tackle shop in the town and I spent many an hour trying to catch brown trout on the Brandy Burn and River Isla. Caught quite a few as well! I've been fishing ever since although not so much these last few years. I'll need to get back into it again as it's a great thing to get out for the day and into the hills or onto a rocky shoreline.

It's is also where I discovered Butteries, which are the most delicious salty rolls on earth. Mind you they're not for the diet concious being almost 50% fat. You can get them in lots of supermarkets these days as Aberdeen Rolls but these are a pale imitation of the real thing, purchased from almost any small bakery in the north east. There's also a softer, flourier variation called Softies, more like baps, and these are nice too.

Most local folk up there speak Doric, which is a very old Scots dialect and when we'd first arrive, it'd take a day or two to get used to it well enough to hold a conversation. It's all "Fi't Like?, loons and quines" but Of course, dad had no bother and fell into it right away but mum and I took a bit longer. Then, you'd get the opposite effect when we got home, having to relearn Glaswegian again!


When my Aunt Jean bought a house in Blackburn in Lancashire, that was another potential holiday destination. It was somwhere near Cherry Tree Station but that's all I remember, other than it backed onto fields and you can see that from the photo to the right. That's us in the garden with me, mum, cousins and neighbours and Aunt Jean.

I spent a few summers down there and made friends with a few of the local kids. From there we could venture out for day trips to places like Blackpool and Southport. The photo on the left is mum, myself and two cousins, who's names elude for the moment, on Blackpool Beach. I must ask my mum to remind me who they are as I don't think I'veseen them since those photos were taken.

Camping Around

When I got a bit older, I joined the local Scout troop and that opened up opportunities to go camping under canvas.

We had a fair few camping holidays at Auchengillan, which is pretty close to Glasgow and handy for short breaks, and a couple of weeks on the banks of the River Tweed near Berwick-upon-Tweed. That was great fun as we were pitched right beside a serious salmon fishing run and we spent hours watching the men working with little boats and a net to catch the silvery salmon and sea trout.

With the camping craze well and truly in effect I got a small tent, one of those little white one man jobs. It was great for taking away fishing and I remember having to use it earnest one day when four of us decided to trek from Loch Lomond over to Garelochhead via Glen Fruin one crisp winter's day. We'd been dropped off by one of my friend's dads and off we went into the hills only to be hit by a blizzard a few hours in. We couldn't see two feet ahead and the snow was getting thicker on the ground so we put up my wee tent and all crammed into it, hoping to wait it out. We'd brought a wee gas stove with us as well so it was hot soup and sandwiches all round and no worries that we could be in any danger. Luckily, an hour or so later the snow stopped and we dug ourselves and the tent out and headed back towards civilization.

We've still got a tent, a much better one, and still occasionally go camping. However, I'm not as young as I used to be and a night lying on the ground plays murder with my back so I've got a wee folding camp bed thingy that seems to do the trick. It's either that or a couple of lilos inflated under the sleeping bags.