Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Cars is Walt Disney and Pixar's latest animated tale. It's set in a world where there are no people but where the machines like cars and planes are all alive. It's all about a cocky stock car called Lightning McQueen and his coming to realize what's really important in life. Here's a brief summary of the plot…

Up and coming rookie of the year Lightning McQueen has his sights set on winning the Piston Cup and a lucrative sponsorship deal with Dinoco. However, the final ends in a three way tie with his two main rivals, Chick "Hicks" Murphy and Strip "The King" Weathers and so a tie-breaker race is scheduled.

However, on the way to the race track, a series of mishaps befalls him. First his crew walk out on him after his usual arrogant behaviour and then, when asleep in his transporter, it's nudged off the road and he ends up stranded on a back road in the desert. While trying to find his way back to the Interstate, he goes out of control and crashes through the small town of Radiator Springs, doing a great deal of damage on the way. Of course the local judge doesn't take too kindly to this and he ends up being sentenced to community service and has to repair all the damage he's done before they'll let him continue on his way to the big race.

Though he really wants to avoid the work and escape from the hick town and it's motley inhabitants, he eventually learns that there are more important things in both life and racing than winning trophies.

Based on the American NASCAR racing theme, Pixar have again come up with an amazingly well animated feature. The graphics and art work are top notch and the sound is amazing - think Days Of Thunder and you're right in there, amidst the deafening roar of dozens of high powered muscle cars whizzing around the track.

The voice talent is as good as ever with Owen Wilson as Lightning McQueen and Paul Newman as Doc Hudson being the two main characters but with excellent support from Larry The Cable guy as Mater, Bonnie Hunt as Sallie, Michael Keaton as Chick Hicks and the Disney/Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger voicing four different characters. There are even cameos from real NASCAR stars Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Bob Costas as well as some other notables like Jay Leno, Michael Schumacher and Mario Andretti. Oh, and Jeremy Clarkson gets his oar in on the British version as McQueen's agent, Harv.

The storyline is very similar to Doc Hollywood in that an up and coming wannabe gets stuck in a small town and learns to appreciate the slower things in life, to value friendship and even finds love. It works very well in that the characters are all pretty well developed and the attention to detail is as good as ever. I really liked this movie and would love to see it again but I'm not sure some of the messages in there would be picked up by children but there's enough humour in there to keep them amused. Stay right to the end of the credits as they're pretty funny in themselves.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family, Sport
My Rating 8/10

Monday, August 28, 2006

O'Sole Mio, Bath Street, Glasgow

Still on our wanderings for food around the centre of Glasgow, we drifted into O'Sole Mio on Bath Street. It's one of those restaurants that's been there for as long as I can remember and whenever we've looked in it's always been a bit on the busy side so we've always passed it by.

Now, being busy is a good sign that the food is likely to be good and we'd already just walked past Toni's on Renfield Street because it was completely empty. The menu looked reasonable but the tumbleweeds were rollin through and we just kept walking up the road. So, O'Sole Mio it was and, busy as it was, in we went.

It certainly was busy but we got a table quickly enough and the staff were all friendly and helpful so we were soon downing a couple of beers while we ordered. We started off with some good, hefty Italian bread, soaked in garlic butter and coated with pesto. There's nothing worse than getting a bit of French loaf spread thinly with garlic butter like you get in some places but this was the real stuff.

Main courses were Rigatoni for me but, I hate to admit it, I can't remember what it was called. It was very nice though and had a tomatoey sauce with lots of spicy Italian sausage in it - yummy. Lorna had Ravioli, again it was really tasty but what it was, I have no recollection other than it had lots of cream and peas. Both went pretty well with the house red and the plates were pretty well clean by the time we were done.

The whole lot came to just over £30 but with wine and beers too, that was pretty good. Highly recommended!

Cuisine: Italian
My Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Straken - by Terry Brooks

This is the third and final volume in the High Druid Of Shannara series by Terry Brooks and it finishes off the tale begun in Jarka Ruus and continued in Tanequil. Here's a brief summary of the storyline…

Grianne Ohmsford is stranded in the demon world of the Forbidding and her only thread of hope is the prophecy, told to her by the shade of the Warlock Lord, that a boy will come to her rescue. It's a thin hope but it's all she has, that and the unlikely companionship of one of the denizens of this dire realm, who sees her a means of escaping with her to the Four Lands.

Pen Ohmsford has succeeded in obtaining the darkwand from the Tanequil but at a price he didn't bank on paying. Now his only means of getting his aunt back is to return to Paranor and use the darkwand to enter the Forbidding but to do that he must enter the lair of those that would see all of the Ohmsfords dead - Shadea a'Ru and the rebel Druids.

Meanwhile the shape-shifting demon called the Moric that tranferred over when Grianne was transported into the Forbidding, furthers its plans to bring down the barrier holding back the Forbidding and releasing demonkind back upon the world by destroying the Ellcrys, the sacred tree of the elves.

It's always sad to get to the end of what has been a pretty entertaining series of books and this is no different. The story follows on at much the same pace and mastery of writing as the first two installments and I enjoyed it. As before, Brooks weaves the multi-threaded storylines of Grianne, Pen, Bek and Rhu, the trolls, the Druids and the war on the Prekkendoran together very well and leads them all into a climactic conclusion.

The only thing that niggles me about it is the feeling that the ending was a bit rushed and there were a few loose ends not tied off. I don't want to include any spoilers here so you'll only see what I mean by reading the entire three books.

Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction.
ISBN: 0-7434-8396-0
My Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Time For A Camera Upgrade

I've just ordered a new camera. After much deliberation, I decided on a nearly dSLR instead of a full dSLR as I really didn't want the hassle of lugging one of those heavyweights around and all the paraphenalia that goes with it.

Anyway, I settled on the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-H2 as the best of the bunch in the six megapixel, super-zoom range. Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-H2
The other contenders were the Panasonic Lumix DMC-F7EB and the Canon PowerShot S3 IS, and all three are basically very close in specification - six megapixels, 12x optical zoom, optical image stabiliser, etc. but the H2 comes out as the better choice in online reviews. See the reviews for all three on the excellent Digital Photography Review site and check out the comparisons sections…

Luckily, the Sony is also the cheapest of three. The Panasonic is only a little more expensive but the Canon is almost £50 more.

Hope it gets here soon!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Superman Returns

Another week and another movie knocked off our backlog. This time it was the much anticipated Superman Returns and we were keen to see if Brandon Routh could fill Christopher Reeve's spandex suit as the Man of Steel. Here's a short summary of the plot…

When astronomers discovered the location of Superman's home planet of Krypton, or at least where it used to be, he left Earth to discovery if anything remained of his race. Five years have passed and now the Man of Steel has returned to find a world where much has changed. Returned to find that his arch-enemy Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) has been released from prison because he wasn't there to testify at his trial. Returned to find that his foster father Jonathan Kent has passed away. Returned to find that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has had a child and is engaged to Perry White's nephew.

Now Lex Luthor has a new scheme for world domination. Taking advantage of our hero's absence, he's returned to Superman's Arctic fortress and has stolen the Kryptonian crystals that were used to create it. He plans to use them to raise a new continent in the Atlantic, which will wipe out most of North America leaving Lex with a monopoly on real estate in the area, regardless of the millions that will perish in the catastrophe. Can Superman regain the people's trust after deserting them for so long, thwart Luthor's dastardly plans and save America and can he win back the love of Lois Lane?

Well, after the dross we were served up with Superman III and IV, this one gets the franchise back on a decent footing. The story follows on from the plot of Superman II where General Zod and Luthor are defeated in Superman's Arctic fortress so a certain knowledge of what has gone before is expected of the audience, especially regarding the love interest between Superman and Lois Lane.

Kevin Spacey is excellent as arch-villain Luthor although the role is much darker here and there's not nearly so comic a bent as Gene Hackman gave to it. Kate Bosworth does a reasonable job as Lois Lane but not nearly as well as Margot Kidder did but as for Brandon Routh, he was pretty good but I didn't feel that he got into the character well enough, especially that of Clark Kent. Christopher Reeve simply was the transition from comic book to big screen as both the mild mannered reporter and the indestructable super-hero. Maybe Routh will develop if he plays him again and make no bones about it, there will be a sequel but for the moment he's got a way to go.

Is it worth going to see? Yes definitely! Fans of Superman, and I read the comics as a kid, will lap it up. If you haven't seen Superman II (where have you been), then it's definitely worth a rental first to catch up on the story. As for the sequel, I seriously hope we don't get another Lex Luthor tale. There's loads of other villains to choose from so how about something with Brainiac, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Bizarro, Metallo or one of the many others.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction.
My Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Walkabout, Renfield Street, Glasgow

We were going to the movies so thought we may as well grab a bite to eat in town. It's a fair walk up to the Cineworld from Argyll Street so we eventually went into the Filling Station in Bath Street as we'd been in before and the food was okay, if nothing special. Anyway after twiddling our thumbs for over ten minutes waiting on someone, anyone coming and even taking a drinks order, we gave up and left. The staff seemed more interested in chatting among themselves than serving anyone!

Anyway, we ended up going into Ozzie theme bar and diner Walkabout as it's on the same block as the cinema and we'd fancied trying it out anyway. First impressions are that it's a big pub and fairly popular so it looked promising. It's pretty free form inside but there's a tabled section for those wanting to eat and we grabbed one of the few left.

It might be Australian in appearance but the only Ozzie beers on the menu were Toohey's New or Extra dry. Not that Toohey's is bad, and I drank a fair amount of it when we were over there some years ago, but I'd have thought thye'd have a few more on offer. As for food, that's a different story and, as well as the usual American/Mexican barbecue burger bar fare, you can choose from Outback Pie, Kangaroo Fillet or even Springbok (I know it's South African) for something a bit different.

We're not that adventurous so I had a Sydneysider Beef Burger (Awesomed up) and Lorna had a Classic Club Sandwich. That and some beers came to under £20 and they'll do it even cheaper if you get in earleir than eight so it pretty reasonably priced. The only thing the place lacked was some decent rock music and it'd have been spot on.

Cuisine: Australian, American, Tex-Mex
My Rating: 8/10

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Over The Hedge

Over The Hedge PosterAnother good animated movie from DreamWorks to take the kids and us grown up ones to this Summer. This is a comic strip adaptation with the voice talents of Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes, William Shatner and Nick Nolte. It's the tale of a group of forest animals and their struggle to survive against nature, their own kind and us. here's a brief summary…

It's Spring in the forest and when Verne and his mixed family of animals wake up from hibernation, their main thought is to start collecting food to see them through the next Winter. But they soon find out that, while they were sleeping, most of their forest has disappeared and a huge hedge has sprung up around them.

Worried that they won't be able to collect enough food, Verne suggests they adapt and try eating other things, like bark, but they don't seem convinced. Luckily, who should turn up but RJ, a street wise racoon who offers to show them the world beyond then hedge, where humans leave food lying all over the place and how, if they stick with him, they'll be able to collect enough food for next Winter in a single week. But RJ has his own agenda and the local home-owners association don't exactly take kindly to having their world invaded by forest critters on the scrounge for food so it won't be as easy as they think.

I quite enjoyed this, okay the storyline was the usual schmaltzy family values kind of thing and the very thought of a group of animals like a turtle, a skunk and some possums and porcupines sharing a hibernation den is extremely unlikely but it works well. The animation is very good and there are loads of comic moments in there that'll have you laughing out loud. The star of the piece for me was Hammy the hyperactive squirrel (Steve Carell). Take the kids, they'll love it.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family
My Rating: 8/10

Friday, August 11, 2006

Rawalpindi Tandoori, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

We fancied a curry in town and our wanderings took us all the way up Sauchiehall Street where we found the Rawalpindi Tandoori. It's been around for a long time but for reason or another, we've never gone in before now.

Anyway, first impressions were reasonable - the decor wasn't bad although the tables looked a bit bargain basement on closer inspection but the general ambience was good and it was quite busy, usually a good sign. The menu was extensive and one of the largest I've seen in an Indian restaurant so there should be something for everyone on there.

We started off with the usual vegetable pakora and chana chat and then followed with a Special Punjabi Bhuna Lamb and a huge mixed tandoori lamb and chicken biryani dish, the name of which I can't remember, and a great big garlic nan bread. Everything was very nice indeed - the Bhuna was nice and thick and this version had some green peppers in for some crunch too. The biryani was nice and tasty too and there seemed to be loads of it.

The only negative I can think of was that it was a little rushed and we didn't get very long to choose from the menu before the waiter was over and looking for our choices. Okay it was busy and they were probably firing on all cylinders but we could have done with another couple of minutes. As it was they took our drinks and starters order and then came back for the main courses as we weren't going to be rushed into choosing. The staff were pretty friendly and attentive though so it wasn't really a problem, it just felt a wee bit hurried.

Cuisine: Indian
My Rating: 8/10

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Scattered Suns - by Kevin J. Anderson

This is book four in Kevin J. Anderson's excellent series, The Saga Of Seven Suns, and it continues to be a masterful piece of storytelling. It's a serious epic of space adventure and has it all - mysterious alien races, killer robots, space battles, the lost technology of a dead alien race, political manoevering, kidnapping, secret genetic breeding experiments, piracy and love affairs. If you're not familiar with the story, you can read a brief introduction to the series and the story so far in my post on book three, Horizon Storms.

Here's where we were when we left the story at the end of Horizon Storms…

  • the Hydrogues had attacked and badly damaged the sentient worldtrees, the Verdani, on Theroc.
  • the Faeros, the mysterious aliens that live in the heart of stars, have begun their own war with the Hydrogues.
  • The sinister Klikiss robots are in league with the Hydrogues and have begun their own scheme to destroy both the human and Ildiran races.
  • the EDF has built a fleet a rammer ship crewed by Klikiss robot controlled soldier compies.
  • Jess Tamblyn has returned from his wanderings, in an amazing new shop and infused with the energy of yet another alien race, the Wentals, powerful water beings.
  • the Ildiran Hyrillka Designate Rusa'h has started a rebellion against Jora'h, his nephew and the Ildiran Mage Imperator.
  • the green priest, Nira Kali, has escaped her island prison on Dobro.
  • Sullivan Gold has restarted skymining for ekti in the clouds of the gas giant Qronha 3, as have the Ildirans.
  • the EDF has openly attacked the Roamer capital, Rendezvous.
Without giving too much away, here's a brief summary of Scattered Suns…
The gas-giant dwelling Hydrogues continue their war against the Faeros and humanity, destroying planets and extinguishing suns across the galactic arm in the process. The newly crowned Ildiran Mage Imperator Jora'h struggles with the knowledge of a bargain struck 10,000 years ago that could affect his people's survival against the Hydrogues while his treacherous uncle Rusa'h has begun extending his shiing fueled rebellion outwards from Hyrillka.

The Therons are rebuilding their shattered world with the help of the Roamer clans but expect another attack by the fearsome Hydrogue Warglobes soon and have begun sending their green priest out to spread the worldtree saplings to all the planets they can. Osira'h, Jora'h's half-breed daughter by Nira Kali is ready to present the Ildiran case for peace to the Hydrogues while the EDF continue to prosecute their offensive against the Roamers and are preparing to attack the Hydrogues with their soldier compy crewed rammers.

Meawhile, Anton Colicos discovers that the Klikiss robots are more than just the enigmatic servants of a lost race and the Klikiss robots continue with their plans to destroy all biological life and to free all friendly compies from their human bondage. Jess Tamblyn and the Roamers continue to spread the Wentals to water planets while his uncles make a discovery on Plumas, one that has serious implications for all of them.

Another thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining installment in what is definitely one of the best space operas written to date. Hopefully book five, Of Fire And Night, won't take too long to be released.

Genre: Science-Fiction
ISBN: 1-4165-0290-4
My Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's ChestWe've been aching to go and see this follow up to the highly successful first installment, The Curse Of The Black Pearl, but the weather has been just too good lately. I mean, who wants to go and sit in a dark and steamy cinema when it's sunny out?

Anyway, the weather cooled down enough to make a foray out to the local multiplex worth a shot but we waited until late evening just in case. So, armed with a couple of tubs of Moose Tracks ice cream (just to keep us cool okay), we entered the darkness. Here's a short summary of the plot…
When the first movie ended, Barbossa and his band of undead pirates were defeated and Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) escaped the hangman's noose. That left Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) with thoughts of romance and marriage.

Now, just when Will and Elizabeth are to be married, they're arrested by the villainous Lord Cutler-Beckett for helping Jack escape and now face the death penalty themselves. Jack, on the other hand, has a bigger problem. Years ago, he made a deal with the legendary Davy Jones, captain of the Flying Dutchman, to raise the Black Pearl. Now Jones is calling in the debt and expects Jack to make good on his promise of the servitude of his soul on the Dutchman. So Jack's been marked with the Black Spot and Jones has released the Kraken, an enormous underwater monster, to track him down.

However, Cutler-Beckett's real motive for arresting the couple soon becomes clear. He wants Jack's magic compass, the one that always points to what you really, really want. If he gets that, then he can locate Davy Jones' Locker, the Dead Man's Chest, as it contains the means to control Jones, the Flying Dutchman and the Kraken. With such a power on the high seas, then his East India Trading Company can control the trade routes and make a fortune.

Will is offered the chance to find Jack and get the compass in order to save Elizabeth from the gallows, unaware the Jack is also after the Dead Man's Chest or at least the key to it, which is held close by Davy Jones himself. So, can Will get the compass from Jack and save Elizabeth and can Jack get the key to the chest and save himself or will all three end up in a watery grave?

As sequels go, this doesn't trade on the success of its predecessor for plain old Hollywood greed but it is in fact an absolute cracker. Depp is in excellent form again as "Captain" Jack Sparrow and I think this movie was even funnier than the first. There are just so many comic scenes in there, we were rolling around in tears most of the time. Okay, it's a bit predictable but that's part of the fun and when the action starts it hardly stops. There's a scene where Will and Norrington are swordfighting on top of a rolling mill wheel as it trundles through the undergrowth while Jack is inside it, running like a hamster and trying to catch the key - sorry the tears are starting again just thinking about it. Then there the bit where they're tied up in a ball of bones and trying to climb a cliff face - no stop it, I can't go on.

But seriously, if you liked The Curse Of The Black Pearl, then this is a must see - you won't be disappointed!

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror.
My Rating: 9/10