Archive for the ‘features’ Category

Advertorial, features

From Grannies-Only Nostalgia-fest to a Fast ‘n’ Fun Night Out: How Jackpotjoy Turned Bingo’s Image Around

By shinychris on August 16th, 2013

Jackpot BingoPromotional feature

You don’t need to be a bingo fan to have noticed that Britain’s bingo-ing mad. It seems that whenever you turn on the telly or get online there’s a ladylike pink or purple-backdropped ad out there espousing the virtues of the nation’s latest favourite online game.

It’s no small thanks to Jackpotjoy, now the UK’s favourite online bingo destination, that a game once seen as fuddy-duddy and dull has undergone a full makeover that’s truly turned bingo’s fortunes around.

When Jackpotjoy arrived on the scene in 2004 its only competition was the old-fashioned world of traditional bingo halls, full to the brim with chain-smoking grannies and comatose bingo callers. There were a handful of other bingo sites out there in the UK, but it was Jackpotjoy’s ad campaigns that really packed a punch, netting the site a whopping 4 million registered UK members.

Part of the site’s success has been in transforming the uptight image of bingo into one that’s bubbly and fun, and one that still appeals to the game’s traditional core players – women. Their targeted ad campaigns, featuring the bubbliest British soap icon of them all, Barbara Windsor, have used a good dose of cheeky humour (and scantily-clad hunks if the one below is anything to by) to emphasise the fun element of the game, as well as its cheap ticket prices, round-the-clock convenience, online community spirit, and hen-night atmosphere.

Bingo’s makeover hasn’t been entirely carried out by those clever marketing men though. Jackpotjoy has changed the game of bingo itself to adapt to the modern player – one who’s tech-savvy, and looking for games that are fast-paced. Shorter bingo variants like Bingo 75 and Speedy Bingo popped up on the site to satisfy younger players’ need for speed.

And the social element of bingo, traditionally the heart and soul of the game, has not only been retained online, it’s been strengthened too. When online bingo made its debut, old-timey fans bemoaned the fact that the only point of playing bingo was to go out, socialise and catch up with friends. Thanks to online chat facilities at sites like Jackpotjoy, players can do that from the comfort of their own homes – in fact, because they’re positively encouraged to chat during games, rather than being shushed and tutted at for doing so in real bingo halls, they can actually chat more in the online environment.

It’s good news for the high street punters too. While good old fashioned bricks and mortar bingo halls may have shut down up and down the country – some blaming online competition, others the smoking ban – it’s left the remaining halls in a stronger stead. Forced to compete with the lower tickets prices, higher prizes, and convenience of the online game, traditional bingo halls have had to return to their roots, and make their venues true hubs of evening entertainment.

So rather than the fag smoke-filled, silent halls of gloom they sadly became, they’re now being tarted up and transformed, offering players far more bang for their buck – from cocktails and slap-up meals to live bands and entertainment into the wee small hours.

So whether you’re playing online or in a traditional bingo hall these days, it seems that the success of the online game has been a win-win for bingo fans – and it’s created plenty of new ones along the way.

features, festivals, music

Opening bands of the greatest music festivals of all time – Glastonbury, Woodstock

By Stefano on August 15th, 2013

Ever wondered who were the very first band to play your favourite music festival? Who kicked off the shenanigans at Glastonbury back in 1970, or who preceded all the greats at Monterey and Woodstock? And what ever happened to them? Did they achieve greatness or become a musical footnote just dragged out in features like this? Here are your answers.

1 Glastonbury – Stackridge

The first Glasto was back in 1970 and kicking off the proceedings (and ending it too) were an eclectic bunch of art school rockers Stackridge. Resolutely English sounding but incorporating all kinds of other weird elements including music hall, progressive jazz and even a touch of reggae, the band sounded like no one else at the time. The first track they played that day was Teatime from their second album and fortunately it is corker. A lovely swirling piece of psychedelic/progressive rock whimsy with a gorgeous extended solo. They went on to make some great albums, briefly morphed in to 80s hit makers The Korgis and then reformed, to considerable acclaim, in the 90s.

2 Monterey – The Association

Monetery pop festival back in 1967 might have become infamous for its drug addled rock star escapades, but the band that opened the Friday of the festival were the clean cut popsters The Association. The band, who went on to have a load of hits including Never My Love, Cherish and Windy appropriately enough started their set with the anthemic Enter the Young. If you like a bit of easy listening/sunshine pop their albums are highly recommended especially Birthday. Here’s how they sounded that day.

3 Coachella – A Perfect Circle

The first ever Coachella in 1999 boasted a stellar line up that included such pop luminaries as Beck and Morrissey. But kicking off the weekend’s festivities were A Perfect Circle, alt rockers with links to acts like Tool and The Smashing Pumpkins. Had they not turned up then history would have recorded that first act to ever play Coachella were Scottish indie curiosities Bis – now that would have been cool.

4 Donnington Monsters of Rock – Touch

The first Monsters Of Rock fest was in 1980 and the very first band to take the speakers to eleven were New York based rockers Touch. They managed a couple of albums which are apparently great if you like a touch of melodic rock. A live version of “Don’t You Know What Love Is” appeared on the compilation LP Monsters of Rock, documenting performances at the festival.

5 V festival – Edge Park

No, we had to look them up. Apparently the first V Festival in 1996 was opened by obscure New Yorkers Edge Park, a band so below the radar they don’t even have an entry on Wikipedia. They were followed by The Longpigs – featuring a certain Mr Richard Hawley and easy listening pop sensations Mike Flowers Pops.

6 Woodstock – Richie Havens

The US singer songwriter opened Woodstock and for his troubles got to play for nearly three hours. It certainly did his career no harm. Sadly Havens died earlier this year.

7 The Isle of Wight – Halcyon Order

The first IOW festival in 1968 was an absolute corker with the likes of The Pretty Things, T Rex and The Move supporting hot US psych rockers Jefferson Airplane. The festival’s openers are utterly obscure. Halcyon Order were apparently a local band and one festival goer recalls – ‘unfortunately the bass drum broke in the first number, and the resulting hold up seemed to take the edge of their set. This band had a lot of talent and some of the members are still gigging on the island scene.’ There’s more about them here.

8 Latitude – Vega 4

The East Anglian festival feels as if it has been around for ever but in reality its inaugural weekend was back in 2006 when the main stage’s first act were Vega 4 a London indie band who had just released their second album You and Others. Not many people know that the year before Henham Park had hosted the Latitude dress rehearsal, the Southwold Pop Festival, so in reality the fest’s first ever act were probably some pop and soul covers band from Lowestoft.

9 Benicassim – Athlete

The Spanish festival opened in 2005 with British band Athlete on the mainstage, the band recently finished touring their debut album Vehicles & Animals which was issued ten years ago.

10 Hyde Park – Jethro Tull

Long before Blur, Bruce and JLS invaded the park the inaugural concert in 1968 was headlined by the underground’s signature band The Pink Floyd. Before them though the day had started with the weird prog folk stylings of the slightly barmy Ian Anderson and his band Jethro Tull.

And if you have a spare few hours this history of British music festivals is loads of fun.

features, music

One of 2013′s most influential bands – The Status Quo – yes really

By Stefano on July 25th, 2013


I have been listening a fair bit to the new album Inventions from the ultra cool Nashville psych band The Sufis and been scratching my head to work out what their key influences are. Sure there’s plenty of Revolver era Beatles, and they have obviously mastered all the key elements of the Syd Barrett songbook. There’s also a whiff of The Kinks, The Pretty Things and 80s psych popsters like The Three O’Clock.

And then it suddenly struck me – they have clearly been listening to the first two Status Quo albums. In fact there’s a fair bit of new music around at the moment that owes quite a lot to the Quo. Not so much to their later 70s and 80s stuff where the band became a parody of themselves/the only rock and roll band worthy of that moniker depending on your point of view. But their 60s psych recordings.

But back to The Sufis, and also it should be said Paperhead, The Dolly Rocker Movement, Temples, Beaulieu Porch and Jacco Gardner. I’d been astonished if they weren’t on nodding terms with the first two Quo albums – Picturesque Matchstickable Messages from the Status Quo and Spare Parts.

Both are massively under rated British psych pop albums – out in the cold because of what the band went on to become, yet both of the long players are packed with some wonderful melodies taken to the edge by some very groovy psych trappings.

The track that totally does it for me is Mr Mind Detector from Spare Parts. I had this on a compilation cassette once and didn’t know who it was by. I listened to the slow chugging guitar build up, droney verse and clever use of brass and its assumed its was a one-off single taken from an obscure British Psych compilation. It is the Quo, and if you have only ever heard the boogie stuff it will be revelation. Much of Spare Parts is almost as good. It is heavily orchestrated, phased psychedelia but with striking Macca-esque melodies. What is not to like?

If anything the tracks on the first albums are even closer to what is happening now. Elisabeth Dreams, Sunny Cellophane skies and When My Mind Is Not Live are just as trippy as their titles suggest and fit seamlessly next to anything from The Sufis. And that’s without a nod to their two hits from the era – Pictures Of Matchstick Men and Ice In The Sun.

By the time the third album arrived – Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon in 1970, the Quo had ditched the psych and gone for an anglicised version of Creedence/Canned Heat’s back to basics boogie. Yet it is still a highly under rated album. Down The Dustpipe which heralds from the same era is a guilty pleasure of mine and is just ripe for someone to cover.

Btw I think is was probably The Quo who provided the inspiration for Spinal Tap’s Flower Children. Camply dressed psych pop band who went all rawk – it has to be them.

Here then are The Quo and The Sufis and The Tap – now that would be one amazing gig! Spotify has all the band’s psych recordings – embedded below.

features, music, top ten

The ten best Psych albums of 2013 – so far… Sufis, Hidden Masters, Foxygen

By Stefano on July 24th, 2013

If you like a Beatley melody, some twangy guitar, a smidgen of sitar and the odd bonkers middle eight 2013 has been a vintage year so far. The rush of new psych bands that emerged in 2012 has blossomed into a worldwide movement. And it isn’t all about 60 re-treads. Some of the new bands are clearly inspired by this mob and at the same time borrow as much from 80s bands like these and these as they are from the 60s originals.

Here then are my ten favourite psych albums of the year so far. The superb Bed Rugs and Morgan Delt don’t make the cut as their offerings are more EPs than albums. I also have thing for the new albums from Suede, Bill Ryder Jones, Still Corners and Jagwar Ma, but none are really psych enough to make the cut. And as for the new Darren Hayman album - well that is something else…

There’s loads to come too with The Soundcarriers, Len Price 3, Morgan Delt, Balduin and others all promising new albums by the end of the year. You lucky people!

10 Maston - Shadows

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Bonkers debut album from one Frank Maston who attempts to re-create the kind of quirkiness that Van Dyke Parks and Brian Wilson were cooking up in the late 60s, except that it takes the odd Transatlantic detour too and on tracks like Strange Rituals ends up sounding like the kind of wonderful instrumentals that Blur ended up knocking out after listening to too many Specials albums. A genius pop record.

features, Shoes, Style, Style Safari

Summer is here! Here are our top Loafers and Deck Shoes for men

By Stefano on July 3rd, 2013

With temperatures nudging the early 20s – exciting I know – it finally seems like summer time has arrived. Actually the weather needs to get on the case as we are now less then sixty days until September.

Anyhow it is time to slip yourself into what are the ultimate stylish, classic, always cool summer shoes – Loafers. Here is our selection of the best of the season.

Connery by Peter Werth Mod Loafers £65

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Shertainly a shade of shand schuede that goes well with casual mod clothing.... These slip on style lightweight loafer shoes have a mod twin tassel detail to tab apron. Moulded driving shoe inspired outsole with wrap round heel detail. Contrast retro stitch finish. Atom Retro

Accessories, Clothing, features, Gallery, hats, Shoes, Sports, Sportswear, Style, Style Safari

Style – Cricket Chic – how to look good when watching The Ashes

By Stefano on June 19th, 2013

We are now just a month away from the first game in The Ashes series as the under achieving Aussies face the mighty England team at Trent Bridge in Nottingham. If all goes to plan it will be business as usual with the England team notching up their third Ashes series win in a row. But then again when has it ever gone to plan?

Oddly enough there’s a bit of trend in cricketing garb at the moment. Maybe it is just our penchant for white canvas style shoes or possibly the revival of Great Gatsby era flannels, but there is plenty of cricket influenced fashion in both indie stores and on the high street as well as specialist cricket emporiums.

Here then is what to wear this fabulous cricketing summer. Howzat!

John Smedley Bart Retro 60’s Cricket Jumper £150

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The cricket jumper isn't just for sporty types. It is a Mod wardrobe staple. This 'Bart' Mens V-Neck cricket jumper by John Smedley comes in a cool Vintage ice cream (beige) colour way. Chunky Retro tipping to the low V-neck in purple and Vintage plum. Sixties Mod style fine cable knit detailing throughout. Made from Sea Island Cotton. Atom Retro

features, music

The best parody of The Smiths ever – from, err, Horrible Histories

By Stefano on June 12th, 2013

The BBC’s Horrible Histories has had some wonderful musical parodies in the past (the theory of evolution set to Bowie’s Changes springs to mind) but this one is something else. A chronological account of the life of Charles Dickens set to the music of The Smiths. It is spot on too. The level of detail is superb, the Morrissey style vocal mannerisms, the occasional sudden break, the funky Marr-esque guitar, they are all there.

It is about four Smiths songs in one but Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Know and This Charming Man feature prominently.

And don’t miss its excellent finale- and what is he doing with that Gladioli?

Oh, and isn’t that Al Murray on drums. Now that is what the licence fee is for.

More fantastic TV kids shows for adults here.

features, Shirts, Style, Style Safari

From Paisley to Geometric – this season’s best Patterned Shirts

By Stefano on June 11th, 2013

Don’t be a wallflower when it comes to choosing what shirt to wear this season, as patterned shirts are this summers de rigueur wardrobe staple (so we’re told by those that know such important things..). There’s an infinite amount of patterns to choose no matter how bold you want to be, from: Birds to flowers; Geometrics to computer abstract; And not forgetting the evergreen polka dot and paisley print.

Go pick your favourite patterned prints out of these numbers.

Asos Solid Short Sleeve Shirt With Allover Print £30

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Shirt with all-over print and button down collar. Patch pocket to chest and shaped hem. Made from 100% cotton. Asos

Accessories, features, music

The 11 hottest new psych bands – Hidden Masters, Hounds Tooth, Magnetic Mind…

By Stefano on June 5th, 2013

Barely a day seems to go by at the moment without some great new psych music arriving on Spotify, Bandcamp, YouTube or (gosh) vinyl. So I have rounded up 10 of the best recent releases (plus one bonus one) and included videos, embeds or links if they exist.

So without further ado – here you go.

The Sudden Death Of Stars – I’ll Be There - One of the stand out tracks from the French psychsters ace new album Getting Up, Going Down which is out on June 10 via Ample Play. Love the subtle strings and the Rupert’s People vintage 60s organ.

Hounds Tooth – Canary Island - Lovely summery slice of floaty psych from the Portland US based band. Love that extended guitar coda. Their album Ride Out The Dark” will be out in July on No Quarter Records

The Magnetic Mind – Maybe The Stars, Maybe The Sun – Really exciting new North London band whose debut single is the nearest thing anyone has ever come to The Peanut Butter Conspiracy in four decades. Bet they are amazing live.

The Shadow Kabinet – Nostalgia For The Future – Lovely floaty psych from the always superb Shadow Kabinet. The Camden band’s new album – this is the title track – is out on high quality download is already gaining some amazing reviews.

The Young Sinclairs – Engineer Man – The Virginia based folk rockers have made a series of great albums and singles. On Engineer Man they add a Who/Powder power pop undercurrent. It is available as a vinyl single with the equally excellent Problems – very soon

The Parlour Flames – Manchester Rain - The new band of Vinny Peculiar (who was responsible for the third best ever song with Louise in the title - which is a massive compliment) and Bonehead once of Oasis. This is one of many 60s influenced tracks on the pair’s inspired debut album.

Morgan Delt – Barbarian Kings – Syd Barrett/Electric Prunes influenced dreamy psych with a killer chorus from the mysterious Morgan Delt. The band’s six track mini album Psychic Death Hole is a hugely trippy affair.

West Coast Gnome – As Real As Real - Inspired cover of The Three O’Clock’s 80s classic As Real As Real by the paisley shirted gnome from America’s west coast. There are some great tunes on his Soundcloud page that hover somewhere between The Searchers and British 80s jangle pop.

Heaven’s Gateway Drugs – Black Lady - A key track from another album that a lot of psych fans seem very excited about. Heaven’s Gateway Drugs certainly know a thing or two about making the most of The Brian Jonestown Massacre songbook. The album, which you can hear on Spotify, is very strong and has a hint of British 80s bands Like The Stone Roses too.

The Solar System – Surveillance Cam - Chris Oliver has been making some intriguing lo-fi psych for a while now. With this new release he has a proper band in tow and has delivered his best selection of tunes so far. The title track mixes an uplifting melody with some lovely Beach Boys style harmonies and a bonkers guitar.

and finally…

Hidden Masters – Nobody Knows That We’re Here - Very fine Scottish band who may have just issued the best psych album so far this year in Of This & Other Worlds. You never know quite what will happen in a Masters song. This one has a whiff of both Dantalion’s Chariot and The Mike Stuart Span.

No embeds but you can listen to the song here.


Accessories, features, Gallery, hats, Style

Style – Summer Hats round up – Zara, Fred Perry, Ted Baker and more

By Stefano on June 5th, 2013

Grey tape striped flat cap £22

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With navy tape style trim and contrasting centre stripes. Metal logo detail to the side. Debenhams

In case you hadn’t noticed the sun has suddenly decide to grace us with its presence which is great news for everyone, except for those of us who are folically challenged.

It is now the time of year when hat wearing shifts from begin a quirky affectation to a necessity.

Fortunately there’s a pretty good selection in the stores at the moment ranging from classic flat caps to straw boaters and Fedoras for those lounging by the river pretending to be an extra in Brideshead type moments – oh that’s just me then…

Accessories, features, Style

Style Safari – Retro Sunglasses guide

By Stefano on May 20th, 2013

With summer fast approaching (- or due to make an appearance any time now) your look is not complete without a set of shades. With so many different styles to choose from and plenty of good High Street versions at a fraction of the cost, some of the coolest ones right now have got to be retro inspired ones. Sunglasses have become iconic items in fashion terms, with certain styles becoming synonymous with particular famous people in history; From James Dean, Gregory Peck, to Roy Orbison and Karl Lagerfeld (- and not forgetting Tom Cruise in Top Gun, if we have to…) here’s our top 12 cool retro picks…

Jeepers Peepers Sunglasses £18

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Jeepers Peepers black plastic flat brow frame sunglasses with silver pips. Top Man


features, music

Eurovision Psych Contest – vote for the continent’s best space rockers

By Stefano on May 16th, 2013

Well I think I can safely declare Spain and The Chemistry Set as winners of the inagural Eurovision Psych Contest. They finished well clear of Beaulieu Porch – flying the Union Jack – in second and The Sudden Death of Stars from France who finished third just ahead of Switzerland’s Balduin.

Thanks to everyone who voted. All the bands are great – unlike the real thing…

As you are very probably aware Eurovision hits our screens yet again this weekend and after of hours of listening to fluffy, camp pop drivel the continent’s nations then try outdo each other in some fantastic politically motivated polling.

In my book Sweden should pretty much always win. Not only because they have the best tunes, but every one loves those Swedes don’t they?

Anyway much more fun is this year’s inaugural Eurovision Psych Contest where space rockers, shoegazers and lysergic pop gymnasts from across the continent battle each other for this year’s award.

So without further ado here are the entrants for this year. I realty don’t give a fig if you vote for your own country, or even the one next to you. It is all down to you.

**Update** This is just a bit of fun and all the bands featured are excellent, so support them all. I will announce a winner on Saturday at about 10PM GMT. So you can vote until then.

Belgium - Bed Rugs – This is their new single Yawn from the excellent newly released album Rapids.

FranceThe Sudden Death Of Stars - Supernovae . Heavy on the sitar and smelly cheese from the Rennes based psychsters whose debut album soon on Ample Play is a wonderful stew of all things 60s.

GermanyRockandys - Jungle In The Sky – Scary sounding gothic Psych from the Anton Newcombe approved band. I know they don’t all come from Germany, but do you really think this woman came from Luxembourg?

The NetherlandsJacco Gardner – Chameleon – The Dutch Boy Wonder with one of many gems from his Cabinet Of Curiosities album

SpainThe Chemistry Set - Come Kiss Me Vibrate And Smile – Fine new-ish single from the Barcelona-based Anglo-Catalan band

Sweden – The Greek Theatre – Lost Out At Sea -Overprotection Doesn’t Work From the ace new album Lost Out At Sea

SwitzerlandBalduin - My Love Soon – Gorgeous Symphonic pop from the Swiss fella.

UKBeaulieu Porch – Anno Domini. The stand out track from Salisbury’s very own Mark Wirtz.


features, music

Why Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish is one of the most special albums ever

By Stefano on May 10th, 2013

Today we are celebrating Blur’s Modern life Is Rubbish – you’ll find out why in mo – one of the most brilliant and influential albums of the 90s. Here’s ten reasons why you should give it a spin tonight (and every night).

1 It has the most amazing image on the cover


That’s The Mallard, the art deco-esque train, coughs, Class A4 Locomotive, that was the fastest in the world at the time

2 It really was the album that made started to make Britain, and especially London, an incredible place to be in the 90s.


The early days of Brit Pop were incredible. And this album’s success inevitably made it easier for Pulp, Oasis, Elastica and, err Menswe@r to break through.

3 The brilliant B sides

This beautiful song inexplicably didn’t make the cut and ended up as the B side to Chemical World.

4 Those group photos


Remember this was a time when no one was wearing British clobber. No one else dressed like this in the early 90s.

5 It is partly responsible for finishing Grunge’s popularity in the UK


Grunge by then was well past its sell by date. Nirvana was one thing, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden were another..

6 It kicked off the trend for those bonkers instrumentals that Blur are so good at

Intermission and Commercial Break were just the start

7 Without Modern Life there would be no Parklife

The fantastic reception the albums got was the catalyst for Blur to create Parklife, End Of A Century and especially this tune

8 It brought classic British songwriting back to the fore


This lot. But also The Jam, XTC, Teardrop Explodes, The Kinks, Bowie and this fella.

9 For Tomorrow’s video captures a moment in 1993 when to be young and living in London was like winning life’s lottery.

I am not sure if Damon intended it to be taken that way but it just exudes optimism.

10 It is 20 years old today

Modern Life

Now don’t you feel old

features, music, top ten

10 reasons why you should stop being so cynical about U2

By Stefano on May 9th, 2013

Ok, so I know that some of you rate Bono as the most annoying man on the planet, that you thought that U2′s Glasto performance sucked and that their last few albums have been a little on the dull side. Here though are 10 reasons why you should stop being so cynical about U2.

1 The debut album Boy is brilliant

It is like Joy Division, but with stronger melodies. Peter Hook has even suggested that New Order would have sounded like U2 had the Irishmen not got there first.

2 They have worked with some interesting and influential people


Brian Eno, BB King, Daniel Lanois, even Frank Sinatra have worked with the band.

3 They re-invented the stadium rock gig


Their set designer Willie Williams is a genius. The set for the Zoo TV tour from 1992 was bonkers

4 That Live Aid gig

Admit it, they were among the best, if not the best band to pay in London that day. Yet even though they had a worldwide audience in the palm of their hand Bono still chose to spend much of their allotted slot pulling a girl from the audience. Their record company were probably having kittens

5 They are massive influence on a lot of your favourite bands

Hate U2, but love the atmospheric guitar and subtle melodies of Coldplay, The Arcade Fire and even The National. Well that lot all cribbed it from the band’s Unforgettable Fire album.

6 The Edge’s guitar sound


You hear it and you instantly know it is him. You can’t say that for many other guitarists.

7 They embraced American culture at a time when it was very uncool to do so


Calling an album the Joshua Tree and championing country music, was such a no no for European guitar bands in the 80s – U2 broke the mould.

8 Being a positive force in Ireland in the 80s


Let’s not forget that this was a band who had death threats from Republicans and abuse from Loyalists yet promoted messages of peace and reconciliation in a very difficult time

9 Bono did save the world – sort of


Lots of good things came out of the Gleneagles summit and Live 8 and Bono, along with Bob Geldof and Tony Blair, can take some of the credit. How can this not be a good thing?

10 This

There have been a few good songs about Heroin, but this is one of the very best.


10 things we love/hate about the new Star Trek Into Darkness movie….

By shinychris on May 9th, 2013

Star Trek Into DarknessWith the new Star Trek Into Darkness movie out in UK cinemas today, we look at what’s great and what’s not so great about the latest Trek saga (warning contains mild spoilers)…..

5 things we love about Star Trek Into Darkness 

1)    Sparkling performances

It’s difficult to pick out a stand alone performance (apart from, perhaps, Benedict Cumberbatch’s – see below) as they are all so good.  What’s great is that their characters have certain similarities with the original Star Trek characters but without slavishly copying them. I love the almost brotherly relationship between Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) which is really central to the film’s success. But Scotty, Bones, Uhura and Chekov are all good too.

2) Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan

As baddies go, you really don’t get much better than Benedict Cumberbatch. Obviously he’s British (aren’t they always?) but he’s also extraordinarily menacing. Think Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs but without the mask. There’s even a sequence on board the USS Enterprise where he’s held in captivity that seems almost an homage to Silence of the Lambs.

3)    Spock and Uhura bickering like an old married couple

I’m glad the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and the sequence where Spock and Uhura are travelling to capture Khan from Klingon homeland Kronos and she is having a go at him for being so cold hearted is priceless.

4)    Fantastic looking opening sequence

I think it’s compulsory that sci-fi movies have a blow-your-socks off opening sequence before the credits and this one doesn’t disappoint. As well as volcanoes blowing their tops, as Spock abseils into molten lava, the indigenous ancient tribe with their bright white faces, black eyes and yellow robes look amazing. When they see a spaceship emerging out of the sea they really can’t believe their eyes.

Alice Eve strips to inspect a torpedo. Yes, it's all perfectly essential to the plot.

Alice Eve strips to inspect a torpedo. Yes, it’s all perfectly essential to the plot.

5)    Alice Eve
The daughter of Eddie Shoestring actor Trevor Eve, Alice Eve, is really very beautiful indeed. At first her role as the Enterprise’s Science Officer or some such made up title seems like more of an excuse to provide a bit more eye candy to the largely male line up, especially when we see her early on stripped to her underwear to inspect a torpedo (fnarr, fnarr). But thankfully there is a little more substance to her role as Admiral Marcus’ daughter. Not much more though.

And 5 things we aren’t so sure about…

1)    The old guys

I don’t wish to be rude about old people, but why is it that the old fellas in the film remind of me of intergalactic cowboys.  If they weren’t smartly dressed Federation chiefs Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) and Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) would probably be riding around on horseback like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood.  Maybe that’s the point – that these guys are free frontier spirits exploring space, but it’s all a bit of a cliché.

2)    Occasional dodgy lines

Now most of the dialogue is OK (not Shakespeare admittedly). However, when the old guys (see above) are lecturing Kirk on being such a headstrong upstart it does all get a bit hammy. I half expect one of them to say ‘you can’t handle the truth’ like Jack Nicholson to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men.

3)    3D

Is it just me or does 3D seem completely pointless? I’ve only ever seen one film that looks better in 3D than without (Avatar which also stars Uhuru actress Zoe Saldana) and this one isn’t an exception. Sure space debris coming towards your face is kind of exciting at first (the sequence where Kirk and Khan fly through space to invade another ship is good) but mostly the 3D is all just a little pointless.

4)    Suspension of Disbelief

OK I know we are not supposed to believe that spaceships that can travel through space and time are real, but some of the action sequences are a little far fetched. Sure Khan is supposed to be stronger than the average guy, and Spock is uncharacteristically mad with him for various reasons, but the fight sequences on top of two planes are ridiculous in the extreme.

5)    Simon Pegg’s Scottish accent

Now I do think Simon Pegg is outstanding as Scotty. There is a wit and a warmth about him, especially when drowning his sorrows in a bar after resigning his role (albeit temporarily) on the USS Enterprise. And there’s even a sequence where he sprints across the deck of a spaceship quicker than Usain Bolt (surely a body double?) What isn’t there to like? But his Scottish accent sucks. Come to think of it though so did James Doohan’s so who really cares.

Verdict: Really Star Trek has something for everyone. If you like special effects, brilliant city scapes and high octane action then this is definitely the film for you. But at the heart of Star Trek Into Darkness is also a story about family and relationships. Central is the relationship between Kirk and Spock and their mutual admiration and respect for one another, despite being very different personalities.

Star Trek Into Darkness is out in UK cinemas today, May 9th. Thanks to Dolby Laboratories for the advance screening. 

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