Movie Review – Rogue One


So the short and sweet here: much, much better than The Force Awakens, and easily the best of the bunch since Empire.

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Everyone involved in this movie faced a very difficult task: how do make interesting a story that everyone knows the ending to? We all know that the rebels got the Death Star plans and used them to find a weakness in the design that enabled them to blow it up.We know there’s a backstory there, but is it enough to base a whole movie on?

Well, it is if you do it right, and the people involved here certainly did.

The movie tells the story of a young girl, made effectively orphan when her father, who had a hand in the first designs of the Death Star, is captured by the Imperials and sent to finish the job. The girl eventually gets dragged into the fight against the Empire, meets up with several other people, and goes off to try and find her father.

It’s a pretty basic story, but it works well. It’s nice to have proper Imperial villains to sneer at once more, like Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin (even if the CGI on him isn’t quite there just yet), and it’s fun seeing old heroes, like Mon Mothma and Bail Organa. One gets a whole lot of other wonderful cameos, and little Easter eggs referring to the larger universe.

But at its heart, the movie is about our heroes and their efforts to stop the Death Star, and I have to say that the movie did a great job of making me actually care about all of them, even the droid, and what many people are speculating might be a gay couple.I felt genuinely invested in these characters in a way that I haven’t since the original trilogy.

The movie isn’t perfect. The CGI Tarkin probably should have only been used very sparingly, James Earl Jones sounds a bit “off” as Vader, and the music, except where it harkens back to the original score, was very forgettable. But otherwise, if this is a sign of things to come with the Star Wars universe, than I am very happy indeed. The “main” story may have gone off the rails since 1983, but at least the sub-stories can be great.

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Toy Review – Transformers Masterpiece Soundwave – Platinum “Year of the Goat” Edition


What to do, I wondered. What to do? I really wanted Masterpiece Soundwave. Would it be better to grit my teeth and pay hundreds of dollars for it with the cassettes? Or perhaps pay slightly less for a version with only one cassette and then add the others? Or just give up, because WOW, was it ever expensive!

But there was a different path that awaited me. A goat trail to success!

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This is the American version of the Masterpiece Soundwave toy. He comes with all the cassettes, except Ratbat, and all the Soundwave accessories. It’s quite an excellent piece, if you can get past the fact that instead of shades of blue and black, we have a character who is alternately transparent and dark orange.

Now I was able to rationalize away that coloration problem. To me the toy itself is so amazing, and this was the only way I was going to own it (seriously, you can buy three or four of these for the price of one standard Masterpiece Soundwave), so the colors don’t matter too much to me. But they might to you.

Colors aside, the toy is great in both robot and alt-mode. It transforms quite smoothly, though in a way very different from the G1 toy from back in the day. You can fit three cassettes in him at once, just like with the other version of this toy (though don’t put Rumble or Frenzy in there), and all the accessories look great, and blend well with the toy.

As far as the aforementioned cassettes…well, they all look great, and transform wonderfully, with the birds and Ravage having built-in weapons rather than ones you have to attach. Rumble and Frenzy have the attachable ones, but those work well for them. I do have one complaint, however, and that complaint is why there’s less than five stars here.

You see, the toy comes with Rumble, Frenzy, Ravage, Laserbeak and Buzzsaw. In every other toy, Buzzsaw is yellow or gold, and Laserbeak is red. This toy, however, gives two different bird tapes. One is yellow, and one is gold. So which is which? That’s a bit of a disappointment.

Still, other than that, this is a great toy, and I highly recommend buying it if you want an MP Soundwave and don’t mind the colors.

How to Get My Attention


Not more than a day goes by without me getting an email from someone who has an item they want me to review. I’m one of the top 1000 reviewers on Amazon and that gets a bit of attention. The product might be a book, some kitchen gadget, an iAccessory, electronics, or some Bluetooth speakers (of which I now have about a billion sets). Sometimes I accept these. Sometimes I don’t. Often I delete the email without even replying. If you have something you want someone to review, here are some tips for you.

1. If you’re offering up a book, especially if it is self-published, make damn sure your email has no typos, has correct grammar, and a decent summary of the book itself. That’s all that is needed. I don’t need your personal history. I don’t need the history of your family, unless it is extremely relevant to your book.

2. Seriously, make sure everything in your email is perfect! I can’t emphasize this enough, especially the self-published variety. There is already a stigma against self-published books (rightly so, most often). If I get an email that is incoherent or badly-written, you can be sure I’m assuming the book is the same. I will therefore delete it without bothering to reply.

3. Don’t send an attachment or a link to Google Docs with a message of, “Go here and tell us what you want!” While I’m sure that’s well-meaning, and generally not a problem, people like me tend to be wary of mysterious links that show up in our emails. Offer a list of what products you have in the body of the email, and ask us to tell you what we want to receive.

4. Make sure you provide excellent customer service if you send someone an electronic device or gadget of some sort. A while ago I received a portable DVD player that was riddled with problems. I emailed the customer service in box was given a bit of a runaround for a couple of emails. It was also very clear that the person I was emailing with didn’t speak English as a first language. You can be sure that when I do review something, I’ll be including an evaluation of the customer service experience, if any.

5. Try for some variety! As mentioned, I have about a billion Bluetooth speaker sets. I literally cannot give them away as quickly as I get offered sets to review. I have no particular objection to these products, but I get offered them very frequently. If you’re trying to get a review for some $20 piece of consumer electronics like that, tell me in the first email what makes it unique compared with the others I have.

I really do enjoy getting offered the things I get offered, and I enjoy writing reviews. But please, make it as easy as possible for me to accept what you want reviewed! It will make everyone’s life easier.

Big Finish Review – Jago and Litefoot Series Five


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(special thanks to Big Finish for providing me with a review copy!)

After travelling through time and space with the Doctor, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot are back in London starting brand new lives. Jago has become a huge celebrity and Litefoot the quiet owner of a bookshop, but in all other respects it is business as usual.

As they investigate a wealth of new cases – including a restaurant where the food eats the people, and a book with dangerous powers – a long game is playing out. A figure from their past is back, and this time he means to destroy them…

STARRING: Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor Litefoot), Lisa Bowerman (Ellie), Duncan Wisbey (Sacker), Raquel Cassidy (Guinevere Godiva), Ben Willbond (Timothy Vee), Jamie Newall (Aubrey), Chook Sibtain (Guru Sanjaya Starr), Ken Bones (Dreislav), Anna Tolputt (Summer), Alex Mallinson (Doctor Evans)

I’ll be honest. When I first began listening to the Jago and Litefoot series, I hadn’t any real high expectations. I liked the characters well enough in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, but anything more than that seemed excessive and kind of silly.

Fortunately, I was very, very wrong in this outlook. The series has, thus far, been one of Big Finish’s standout productions, and hasn’t just had the title characters. We’ve also had Leela and the Sixth Doctor turn up, and that last one ended up being important, since they went on two adventures with the Sixth Doctor and when he dropped them off, it wasn’t in Victorian England. No, he left them, by accident, in 1968.

There are four stories in this set, each one chronicling the successes and setback of Jago and Litefoot as they try to navigate a London very different from the one they are familiar with. For Jago, this involves going on TV and creating his own variety show. For Litefoot, this involves opening up an antique bookstore. They aren’t completely alone, however, as their friend Ellie, aging slowly due to contact with a vampire a few seasons ago, is still around and helping them out.

Of the four stories, I feel that “The Age of Revolution”, the first, is the strongest. It does an excellent job of setting the tone for the rest of the series, and introduces us to the 1960s-style version of the J&L theme. It also shows us exactly how well our heroes are adapting to this strange new world.

By contrast, the second story, “The Case of the Gluttonous Guru”, just didn’t really engage me. Introducing the whole Indian vibe was a good idea, and certainly fits what I know of 1960s London, but the execution was rather flawed. Definitely the weakest of the set, and one of the rare misfires as a whole for the series.

As for the third and fourth stories, “The Bloodchild Codex” and “The Final Act”, both were quite good. I Feel that they tied up the series nicely, did a great job of setting the stage for the next series, and really did a wonderful job of mixing in elements of “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”. A good conclusion to an overall wonderful set of stories.

What does the future hold for J&L? Season six isn’t too far off, so we shall find out soon!

Blu Ray Review – Jackson 5ive The Complete Animated Series


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(special thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy!)

In theory I remember watching The Jackson 5ive. It began airing around the time I was born, so I’m sure that at some point when I was a wee lad, I caught it in syndication. I had to have. But I don’t actually remember seeing it before, so maybe I missed it. The good thing is that lets me approach this set without any nostalgia. The bad thing is that it lets me approach this set without any nostalgia.

In this set, you get, on four discs, both the blu ray and DVD version of the complete series. You get every episode with 46 different songs, and a helpful book that helps you locate exactly where each song is, so if you want to watch a specific one, you know where to go for it. This is a good thing, since the music is definitely the highlight of this series.

I will say that the songs on these discs sound just great, and likely sound better than they did when they were first broadcast. The video quality is also excellent, even if the images themselves…well, look, it was the 1970s, ok? Most of us understand that it wasn’t a great time for certain forms of art, and animation is one of those. The whole thing looks exceptionally psychedelic, and not in a good way. Go to YouTube and look at some clips and you’ll see what I mean.

Beyond the animation, the stories are also really strange. In the first episode, for example, we have the boys trying to keep Michael’s pink snake from terrorizing Dianna Ross. And by “pink snake” I mean a snake that is pink, because of course. Michael Jackson also has a pair of pet mice named Ray and Charles because why not. Oh, and the whole thing has a laugh track, because, you know, that makes sense.

What you don’t get, sadly, is anything in the way of special features. Now I’m sure there weren’t a lot of things they could have done in the way of special features here, but surely a commentary or two would have been nice, or perhaps some interviews. As it stands, this creates a package that’s great for kids and hardcore Jackson 5 fans, but not so much for other people.

And I suppose ultimately, that’s how I’ll describe this. It’s for the hardcore Jackson 5 fans for those people who have kids and want to give them something safe and harmless that has a good soundtrack. If you’re looking for anything deeper than that, you’ll be severely disappointed. But if that’s what you want, I’m sure you’ll be happy!

Movie Review – Les Miserables


Hide the razor blades, it's time for some Les Mis!

Hide the razor blades, it’s time for some Les Mis!

This is the first time I’ve ever seen the musical version of Les Miserables. This is something of a surprise, because around 21 years ago I listened to the full soundtrack. I just never had the chance to actually see a performance. During that time, for personal reasons, it became a very important story to me. Now I’ve finally had the chance to watch this movie. Was it worth the 21 year wait?

In a word, yes. This was absolutely everything that I’d hoped for in a movie version of the famed musical. Visually stunning, with such a memorable soundtrack and incredible performances, especially by Anne Hathaway who, goodness me, may well have sewn up an Oscar with her singing of “I Dreamed a Dream”, something that put even the Susan Boyle version to shame.

The story is by turns basic and complex. Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a man convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. During that time, he tried to escape, but was caught, and ends up having fourteen years added to his sentence. Now after 19 years, he’s released on a parole, but, as many released from prison discover even now, he can’t find a job and can’t find a place to live. He’s taken in by a kindly bishop (Colm Wilkinson, who originated the Valjean role on stage), and then repays the bishop’s kindness by stealing silver plates and the like. When he’s caught, he claims the silver was a gift, and is astounded when the bishop not only backs him up, but offers him more. Valjean, who had been on the verge of turning into a villain, instead becomes a hero and sets out to return to being an honest man. Meantime, police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe, who really has an incredible singing voice), sets off in pursuit of Valjean, while around them France seethes with revolutionary fervor.

That is, mind you, just scratching the surface. It doesn’t touch on the romance, the comedy relief, the violence, the death, the other death, the many, many, many deaths. Some of these deaths are truly heart-wrenching, and I’m only half joking when I comment about hiding the razors before watching.

The music is everything I’d expected and the sets are wonderful. But the real gem here are the performances. Jackman, Crowe, Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bohnam Carter are all exceptionally good in their roles, but it is Hathaway who walks off with the best performance on film. If you can sit through her final song and not want to start crying like a child, you might well need to have emotions.exe installed. In fact the only complaint I have about casting is that of Eddie Redmayne, a normally fine actor, but someone with a singing voice that sounds like what someone who wanted to parody a stage singing voice would sound like. It’s not bad, really, but very stylized and odd.

While I don’t think this movie will or should win Best Picture at the Oscars, it still has a great deal to recommend it. I highly recommend it, the highlight soundtrack, currently available for fifteen bucks from Amazon, and even, if you feel brave enough, reading the original book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in any of the above.

Blu-Ray Review – Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol


Bonus features include razzleberry dressing. Possibly.

(special thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy!)

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol was the first animated Christmas special to be produced. It predates pretty much any other Christmas special you can think of, really, and it is…surprisingly good.

You know the basic story, I should hope. A miserly man is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve night (well, technically four, and it’s more like Christmas morning in the very, very wee hours), these spirits remind him of what his past was, show him the present and give him a glimpse of the future. This has a salutary effect on the man, who vows to be a better person and is soon beloved by all.

Now, then. This is an animated version of this classic Dickens tale and features Mr. Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus), in the Scrooge role. Beyond that, it is a surprisingly straightforward and faithful adaptation of the story. We don’t have (many) scenes of Scrooge bumping into things and apologizing to them (which wouldn’t work for his character anyhow), and while there are songs, there aren’t that many, though one of them did remind me that I probably saw this as a little kid back in the 1970s.

In addition to the show, you get a raft of bonus features, including a bit on the making of and a bit of audio commentary. Not bad for a TV program that could predate the birth of the grandparents of some of the children likely to view this.

Overall I found this a charming, entertaining program. It was far better than I expected, and I really think it’s worth picking up if you want a friendly, sweet, good adaptation of the Dickens story.