Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day Eight - Pool and Shop

After a late start we decided to head out for breakfast at Dennys. This was excellent, great service and much better than the hotel breakfast. Then we went back to the hotel and in the pool.

In the acternoon we headed to Festival Bay for some shopping and then to Prime again. Hannah bought another pin for the colection and she got some shoes. Then back on the i-ride to Walgreens for more suncream before trying to get into the Golden Corral. There was a big queue though and we'd had enough of queues so instead we headed to Perkins. Busy and service not great. Bit still full bellies! BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Day Seven - Epcot

Epcot today. We got the the busy bus at 9.25 which was packed again and went around the houses before heading to Disney. By the time we got there it was mid morning so we decided to stay a little later.

Good job we did because Epcot was busy. Still, with a couple of good uses of fastpasses we got on Soaring and Test Track - both good. We also did Mission Earth, the Sea place, Figments imagination doodah and most of Future World and the lands. We missed out Ellens Energy adventure and one or two other things but we'll do that another day...

...Partially because we didnt really do the World Showcase area other than Mexico and Norway. Hannah did get given a pin to add to her small collection from a CM and we also bought a Figment one. Then at 8pm we headed back to the hotel before going to CiCis pizza for dinner. Now Im stuffed with pizza and ready for bed.

Day off again tomorrow I think. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Friday, October 29, 2010

Day Six - Seaworld

After a late start - which means a busy breakfast in the hotel lobby - we went and got the I-ride down to Seaworld. The I-ride bus was very busy and very slow - it took us about 50mins to get there.

Once at Seaworld we headed first to Wild Artic to cool off and then to the Shamu show. This wasn't as good as we remember but still entertaining. Best show was probably the dolphin show, followed closely by the cats and dogs show. Hannah liked the little Shamu coaster. It did feel all a bit of a rush though.

Heading on the green line I-ride we then went to the IHOP for dinner. Burger for me, some sort of vegetable crepe for Michelle and a kids breakfast for Hannah. After looking around a few tacky gift shops we headed back to the hotel. Blimey it was hot and humid again today though. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day Five - Magic Kingdom

After the "rest" yesterday, today we headed out to Magic Kingdom. Early. Which is a bit of a rush to get the 7.25am bus. However we do get there when parks are emptyish and in time for the opening ceremony (which tbh is ok but not wonderful).

From there we went straight to Big Thunder Mountain - 3 times. Then we head around the park anticlockwise and do most of it, Hannah getting another pin for her little collection as we go. I even get to be Mike Wachoski (or however you spell it) in the Monsters Inc Laugh thingy.

At 6 we headed back on the old bus which went round the houses and had a burger and beer at the hotel abd a doughnut from Dunkin' Donuts. We may have to do MK later some other time to do the paradea and evening shows. But very hot and humid today. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day Four - Pool and Shopping

Today we gave the theme parks a miss and instead had the hotel pool to ourselves in the morning, had a bite to eat for lunch in our room and then went to the Prime outlets at the north end of Intl drive to do some shopping. Daughter bought a lanyard and pin at the Disney outlet, wife bought some smellies from the Bath and Body Works and we also bought a few gifts (plus a very large icecream and brownie). Prime outlets has been done up since we were last here but although it looks better we don't think its improved.

For dinner we headed to good ol' Dennys and had a lovely meal. I had chopped steak, smothered in bbq sauce, onions, peppers whilst the other two had big breakfasts. Yum.

Tomorrow we might try Magic Kingdom. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day Three - IoA

Today was Islands of Adventure. The shuttle bus was again a bit of a drama again. God knows how it made it it looked so old. And it was packed. Anyway the park to begin with seemed quite quiet but then it got busier. Harry Potter world was very busy.

This evening my daughter was feeling a bit worse for wear and ill. So we just had a small bite to eat in our room. Tomorrow we'll have a more restful day. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day Two - Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom today.

We had got up early and were planning on getting the early shuttle bus but breakfast didn't start until 7am so we missed it. So we walked around the area a bit. By 9am I was worn out.

Shuttle bus was a bit of a farce. But eventually we got there. Did Expedition Everest for the first time (not sure about the backwards bit) as well as Primeval Whirl, Finding nemo, and the safari tours thing. Now just back from some dinner at Perkins and very tired.

Who knows what for tomorrow. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Day one - flight

I can see that my spelling isnt going to be up to much on this iPod. :)

Anyway after about 5 hrs restless sleep its now the start of our first "proper" day of our hols. But first more about yesterday. We got to the airport at 9am and were thru checkin and security in half an hour! Flight was sort of on time and generally ok. However after watching a movie, eating a meal and reading a little, you realise only 3 hrs has gone by with 6 left. My it takes ages!

We were then thru immigration and collected our luggage quickly. But then had to wait nearly an hour for our bus transport. First impressions of the hotel was that the lobby area was small - it reminded me of those dodgy motels you see in movies. Still the man behind the front desk seems friendly and our room is spacious and nice.

Not sure what we'll do today - Animal kingdom, go to the rep meeting thingy at Universal or collapse in a heap due to lack of sleep? BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

We're here in the US of A

We've made it to Florida! Very tired now as its 9:30pm here which is like after 2am. Everything ok, floght generally fine. More tomorrow ( maybe).
BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Friday, October 22, 2010

I'm off...

Well, from tomorrow I'm off on my jolly holidays to Florida for two weeks! I may post some rough, typo-filled notes whilst over there - if I have wi-fi access that is! I shall warn you now though that these notes may make very little sense other than to myself and may not appear at all if I'm busy trekking around the theme parks or stuffing myself with American portions of food. Hmmm, burgers...

I have ensured that I've set my BT Vision+ box to record the Sarah Jane Adventures next week as it stars the Doctor and a weird looking Jo Grant (or does Katy Manning look a little strange only to me?). And, of course, I'll be recording Merlin.


Busted Flush (edited by George R.R. Martin)

I loved the first series of Wild Cards books, a series of anthology/mosaic books edited by George R.R. Martin and published in the late 80s and early 90s. Being a big fan of superheroes, the idea of dark tales about people who gain powers (Aces), or bizarre disfigurements (Jokers), due to an alien virus released in Earth's atmosphere sounded brilliant. And generally it was. The Wild Card series is probably in my top five series of books, together with the Discworld, Dragonlance, Dresden Files (hmm, series starting with 'D' seem a favourite) books.

However, this new series - and especially Busted Flush, the second in the trilogy - seems to have lost some of the magic. The Wild Cards series was always an attempt at doing superheroes realistically. Often that meant sacrificing brightly-coloured, exciting action and replacing it with personal conflicts peppered with sex and violence. Which is fine if you have intriguing characters. And that's the problem here. Most of the main characters are just not that interesting once you get past the initial introduction. There are some exceptions - Cameo springs to mind and even Hoodoo Mama - but these tends to be relegated to the background. Even Billy Ray (aka Carnifex), now a SCARE agent, is more intriguing that some of the main characters.

Story-wise, it's an odd modern day tale of superheroes getting involved in political conflicts. The first book in this new series - Inside Straight - introduced this next generation of aces as contestants on the reality TV show American Heroes (a superpowered version of American Idol). This was interesting and a reflection of the modern day's fixation on these overhyped talent shows. At the end of the last book, some of those superpowered contestants were formed into a UN superteam with the (frankly boring) name of the Committee. This second book sees this Committee in action.

To be honest, I got lost and my interest waned somewhere in the middle of the book. Part of the team went to Africa to help fight against - or was it for? (and that's part of the confusing bit) - the newly formed PPA (People's Paradise of Africa) as well as assisting in New Orleans to stop the Katrina-like hurricane-inflicted destruction. Some interesting tit-bits are introduced - the Radical reappears fighting for the PPA and the cliched idea of armies of voodoo zombies in New Orleans seemed intriguing and potentially fun. But that potential of aces battling legions of zombies didn't really surface. A pity.

After dragging its feet for much of the book, the action picks up towards the end as ace fights ace, agencies betray the characters and one or two twists are uncovered. It perhaps comes a little too late though. Although this book was far from one of the highlights of series and struggles from being the middle book in a trilogy, it's still a mildly interesting read. And it won't stop me from reading the third book in this trilogy - Suicide Kings - nor future Wild Card books such as the forthcoming Fort Freak. So, recommended - but only for fans of the Wild Card series.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Smallville: Salvation (s9 ep21)

And so ends another series of Smallville here in the UK (the US are already watching Season 10, the final season). Again frustratingly, though somewhat comfortingly expected, this season ends on a cliffhanger.

With the Book of Rao (or Rau as the subtitles kept calling it) in hand, Clark decides that he'll use it to send all the Kryptonians, himself included, off to another world and a new home. This means it's time for an emotional goodbye with Lois, though Clark still can't tell her that he's the Blur. Everyone else around him knows - Oliver, Chloe, even Tess - but for some reason Clark thinks it wouldn't be a good idea to tell the most recent love of his life (kinda similar to when he was with Lana in the first few seasons). Anyway, eventually Lois figures it out when the Blur kisses her, which - let's face it - was a bit risky anyway. It wasn't so dark that Lois wouldn't see something of his features, even without the kiss.

Meanwhile, Zod and his cronies are going around blasting the Z-symbol into lots of well-known landmarks around the world. The reason for this - other than stamping their mark on the world - is to lure all the other Justice League / Justice Society superheroes away from Clark so they can't help him. Then Zod confronts Clark just as he's using the Book of Rao to open up the portal. And he's brandishing a dagger of blue kryptonite, which temporarily turns Zod and Clark human.

After a thrilling slow-mo battle on the Watchtower's rooftop, Zod stabs Clark and then Clark falls from the building. This takes the blue kryptonite away from Zod, and consequently he reverts back to being an alien and gets sucked up into the portal and away from the Earth. Clark falls to the ground... fade to black and cue "To Be Continued".

During all this Oliver is attacked by numerous unknown people who are apparently not Kryptonians (!?) and Tess is burnt and killed by Zod. However some strange old woman goes to visit Tess in hospital as she dies. Perhaps, to fit in with the villains to come in the next season, this is Granny Goodness?

Overall, a very good episode with some nice fight scenes and effects plus the shadowing of what is to come - and perhaps a very brief flash of Superman himself - in the initial couple of minutes. This season has improved on previous seasons, mainly due to the addition of various DC characters and lore. Zod, the main bad guy, was a little poor and the general storyline a bit muddled (as always) but, on the whole, still very enjoyable.

Now I just have to wait until next year for season 10 to appear on E4 when, hopefully, we'll finally see Clark stop moping around and become Superman. I won't hold my breath. ;)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Merlin: The Changeling

Although at first sight this appeared to be yet another average episode full of infantile humour - a sort of cross between Sweet Dreams, The Gates of Avalon and Beauty and the Beast - it was actually more enjoyable than the other two filler episodes this season. Yes, there were a few burp/fart jokes together with comedic moments as Miriam Margoyles' Grunhilda tried to "seduce" Gaius. However, this episode also highlighted and pushed forward the blossoming romance between Arthur and Gwen which, in turn, led to Morgana discovering this secret affair. Her new knowledge looks like it plays a crucial part in next weeks episode and hence provides a welcome feeling of a continuing storyline. It's an effective way of having a standalone episode whilst still progressing the background plot.

Of course, the appearance of Lord Godwyn and his daughter Princess Elena plus Uther insistance that Arthur marry the princess was a little sudden. This need to cement the friendship between the two kingdoms seemed to be introduced very quickly with no prior set-up. By sheer coincidence, of course, the princess is a 'changeling' - her body houses the essense of a fairy or Sidhe - which is part of an evil Sidhe plan hatched decades ago when Elena was a baby to get one of the fairy onto the throne and thus control all of Camelot.

Of course, Merlin finds out about Elena's fairy infestation and the fact that Grunhilda, Elena's nanny, is actually a pixie in disguise. He then uses the staff we haven't seen since the end of The Gates of Avalon to (eventually) blast Grunhilda to dust, whilst Gaius concocts a potion to remove the Sidhe from the princess. Funny that we haven't seen that powerful, crystal-topped staff for some time - perhaps it only works on fairies and the like?

Although this appeared to be the main plot, it was the other storyline which was probably the most interesting. Arthur is placed in the tricky position of doing what is required of him by his father, the King, in order to ensure Camelot's prosperity. The problem here, of course, is that he doesn't love the princess but instead has feelings for Gwen, a mere commoner. In the end, Arthur emerges out of the shadow of blind duty and realises that Camelot will be stronger (and he'll be happier!) if he marries someone he loves and who loves him in return. Aaah.

All in all, a well-played episode by the cast. There are some funny moments as well as emotional scenes in here, all peppered with a few decent bits of action. Surprisingly I enjoyed it, though I'd say it wasn't as fulfilling and dramatic as last week's. The episode next week looks to be a good one from the brief preview though.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Smallville: Hostage (s9 ep20)

A strange but interesting episode this week (well, last week now) that strangely paused the Zod & his Kryptonian storyline - I can only assume they felt they needed a holiday after destroying the Checkmate mountain fortress last week. Instead, everyone was looking for the "Book" of Rao and we found out who the Red Queen was. Until last week, I don't remember the Book of Rao being mentioned before, but maybe I'm just forgetting. Seems like a convenient macguffin to me - "Ooh, we've got a bunch of Kryptonians on the planet and here's something that can handily get rid of them all".

Whilst Clark is trying to find this "book" (which isn't a book at all - it's one of those brushed steel octagonal disks), Lois is left feeling unwanted, her career seemingly in ruins. Then along comes the welcome return of Martha Kent, who has hooked up with Perry White. Soon it becomes apparent that both Lois and Perry are hounding the same story about aliens hidden in Metropolis, demolished secret government facilities and a familiar-looking octagonal artefact. So, except for Zod (who must be having a well-deserved rest somewhere), everyone's looking for this Book of Rao, it seems.

Even Martha!

Who, as it turns out (spoiler warning folks), is actually the Red Queen. She's got Maxwell Lord to telepathically interrogate Tess to try and discover the whereabouts of the Book. Tess soon twigs that it's all mind games and breaks out. Stupidly though, she immediately goes to the place where she's kept the Book hidden and, of course, the Red Queen follows her.

Meanwhile, Perry and Lois have been chasing the story, gone to uncover the Red Queen's identity but instead end up in a spot of bother whilst climbing up the side of a building(!). Lois saves Perry, realises something or other and then Perry puts in a good word for her and Clark at the Daily Planet and then get their jobs back.

It was great to see Martha again and good that, as the Red Queen, she remained ruthlessly effective to the end, retrieving the Book of Rao, kicking Tess' ass, and so on. It makes sense that she'd use her political power and resources to help protect Clark, even if she had hidden her agenda from Clark as well as kryptonited him to keep him off her tail. Weirdly, this week, Clark seems to do very little other than figure out who the Red Queen is by using leaps of logic that could bound over tall buildings.

Overall a good episode, even if - pace-wise - it seemed an odd placement in the season, coming just before the finale next week (well, tomorrow actually).

Friday, October 15, 2010


It was with some trepidation that I picked up a copy of Ultimatum TPB by Jeph Loeb and David Finch from my local library and decided to check it out. I'd read a number of scathing reviews on the internet and knew it wasn't well received so was expecting the worse. I was, in fact, pleasantly surprised!

The book certainly isn't going to win any awards but it is entertaining nonetheless. Loeb's story is one of those mindless world-shaking multi-title crossover events that doesn't so much indicate an end to the Ultimate Universe as just clear away (i.e. kill off) some unrequired characters.

It starts with Manhattan being hit by a huge tidal wave that, at least temporarily, leaves the US city under several meters of water. We also get to hear about other disasters - such as the temperature in Latveria suddenly dropping, freezing all of its inhabitants except Doom - although these are just part of the background. Perhaps they were explored more in the other Ultimate titles, however not reading those I wouldn't know. Anyway, whilst some heroes help the public others are drowned with barely the briefest of screen time.

Sue Storm manages to push back the water and Professor X then telepathically emails everyone to say that it was Magneto - distraught over the apparent deaths of his children, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver - who caused the destruction by altering Earth's magnetic poles. The rest of the book describes various heroes heading off to confront Magneto in his sky fortress whilst a small band seeks out the Ultimate Nick Fury, who may hold the key to stopping the Master of Magnetism.

One of my main faults with the story is that there isn't much to it. It's very slight and could be compressed into about two issues instead of five. It's also very simple and requires little to no brainpower to follow. Although this makes it a light, easy read, it also means it's generally an entertaining read. It's just that there's not much of it.

The characterisation of the heroes is also somewhat lacking. Of the Ultimate Universe books, I've only really read the Ultimates, but here the members of the UU's version of the Avengers seem somewhat bland and without any obvious differences or personality.

Of course, the other problem that has been widely expressed is the graphic violence. It is overly violent although, other than one or two scenes, not as bad as people make out. However, scenes such as that depicting the Blob eating the dead body of the Wasp are disgusting and perhaps a step too far. I think it's made worse by Finch's art which can be detailed and grotesque.

Regarding the art, I liked it. The line work by David Finch is fine and detailed but perhaps a little too 90s. It looks a little Jim Lee-like but not quite so accomplished. There is a tendency of drawing muscles upon muscles for the men and large breasts and curvy rears for the women that just seems like 90s overkill. However, it does look suitably impressive if you're a fan of this type of art.

The main problem is Finch's frequent use of splash pages and double-page spreads. There just aren't many panels of art in this book. Every third page is a splash page and even for those pages that aren't, the number of panels is small. Yes, it might look nice, but it just adds to the feeling that the book could be much, much smaller than it is and still tell the same story. You find yourself flipping over pages at a fair rate of knots, entertained by the story (at least when not being grossed out), and finding yourself at the end before you know it with a slight feeling of "Is that it?"

There are also a few pencil sketches at the back which look very good and again highlights the detail Finch puts into his work. But these are just pencil version of panels in the actual book so don't really add anything.

Overall, it's an entertaining read and I enjoyed it more than I thought it was. In fact, I would say I thought it was slightly better than Final Crisis, which I read before this. Perhaps that reflects on my current mood for easily digestable entertainment? It is spoilt by a few violently graphic scenes, somewhat poor characterisation and an unfortunately short story. And all it really serves is to kill off an extremely large number of characters. But it does look pretty and is a page turner.

Grade: Very Good.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Legoland Discovery Centre at the Trafford Centre

Being fans of Legoland park in Windsor and Lego in general, this weekend my wife, daughter (aged 8) and I all decided to check out the Legoland Discovery Centre at the Trafford Centre in Manchester.

It seems they encourage online booking, where you can book a particular timeslot for arrival, and we've been on their website and seen that times can get booked up and become unavailable. However, they also do various vouchers - we have several - and these can only be used on the door. So, forgoing an online booking (all the timeslots were still free when we looked just before leaving) we decided to risk it and pay the reduced amount.

The Barton Square car park and shopping area of the Trafford Centre was very quiet when we arrived at 10am, the opening time for this attraction. However, as we got to the Discovery Centre there was, of course, already a queue. Three queues actually! One was for the pre-booked tickets, one for those paying on the door (like ourselves) and also there was another random queue for others who came in via the shop. I think some of these were here for a birthday party but it did seem somewhat haphazard.

We had hoped that we could get in, buy some tickets for a later timeslot and then look around the nearby shops for a while but it seems you just have to queue and then go in. And the queues would be the main criticism of this attraction. It all seemed a bit vague and, for about 10 minutes, the staff stopped admitting people and deserted the tills. I think this was because of the party I mentioned above, letting them get in and through the "factory" tour, but there was no reason given. Just a general sense of disorganisation.

Lego Factory

Anyway, after a 25 minutes wait, we got in, walked down a short corridor and to a couple of lifts. This takes you to the disappointing "factory" tour. Perhaps I was expecting too much - such as actual machines making real lego blocks - but the reality was that it was just a couple of small rooms with some colourful animatronics. A member of staff would vaguely explain the construction process whilst getting children to turn pretend valves and push play buttons whilst the adults would chant things to encourage them. At the end, we all got a lego brick to take home. Woo!

Kingdom Quest

After exiting this, next was the Kingdom Quest ride which was much more entertaining. Here you sit in a car, which trundles around and you have to fire at Lego trolls, skeletons, bats and so on with an infra-red gun amassing points as you "hit" things. Some of the targets are shown projected on screens whilst others are part of Lego dioramas. Shooting bats, for instance, causes them to emit a little squeak and makes their eyes flash. The idea is to help a Lego princess save a dragon's eggs from the evil trolls and skeletons. Or something like that. To be honest I was too busy shooting at things!

I managed to score 5055 points. Which I thought was decent until I saw that my wife had scored 5700. Beaten!


Following on from this, you head to a Mini-World area where familiar buildings and scenes from around England (especially the north-west) are rendered in Lego bricks. There are Lego versions of Blackpool (including the tower, one of the piers, and the illuminations), Alton Towers, Liverpool (with its own Cavern Club), Chester and the Trafford Centre itself. And many more. This was probably my favourite part of the centre - I love looking at all the little features, spotting tiny scenes and hidden figures (like the ghost on top of Blackpool tower).

Main Hall

Exiting that, you enter into the large main room. This is, quite frankly, a bit chaotic at times. There are various sections dotted around to build models - a Duplo area, a pink princess area, a tower building table which has moving bases to test your construction against "earthquakes", and a race-car construction section where you can build wheeled vehicles (if you can find the right pieces, such as axles!) and test them on ramps and slopes. My daughter liked this latter section the most and loved rolling her "car" (I use the word loosely as it was mostly just 4 wheels) down the slopes again and again.

Master Builder Workshop

To one side of this main area is the Master Builder Workshop, which is something of a misnomer. Essentially, a small group of people sit on some small seats whilst a member of staff stands at the front showing them how to make a very simple model - in our case, a halloween pumpkin. However, the model is so simple - whilst the "master builder" so poor - that you might as well do it yourself. We also thought you'd get to keep the small model you constructed but, alas, this was not the case and you have to hand the pieces back at the end.

Lego Studio

On the other side, is the 4-D cinema showing 3-D films with added effects. This is quite entertaining. Two short films, around 15 to 20 mins each, are shown throughout the day alternating between one another. We saw the Spellbreaker film - there's also a film starring Bob the Builder. The added effects are quite good - things like "snow", light water sprays, smoke and wind - and the 3-D effects were impressive. However, young children might get scared at some of the scenes in the Spellbreaker show; perhaps the Bob the Builder film would be better for them?

Fire Academy and Cafe

In the middle of the hall is a small version of one of those padded play-centre places, where shoeless kids can climb up and then slide down a twisty slide. Near to this, there is also a cafe that sells hot'n'cold drinks, sandwiches, and snacks at reasonable prices. The little snacky cakes were quite yummy.


When we first entered, the main hallway wasn't too busy but by lunchtime it had become quite hectic. It wasn't packed, but was busy enough to be a little off-putting. A weekday during term time would no doubt be quieter.  After spending lunchtime there and playing around a bit more, we headed to the Lego Universe area - which was a disappointing step on lights to make sounds area - and then back down the lift to the extensive shop. Loving Lego, we did purchase a few small bits before heading out at about 2:30pm.

Overall, the place is reasonably entertaining (though aimed more at kids than adults) and we managed to spend 4 hours in there quite easily. Highlights would be the Kingdom Quest ride, the 4-D cinema and the Mini-world, but if your kids love building things with Lego then you could spend all day in there. And you can go in the 4-D cinema and on the ride as many times as you want. Full price admission is on the expensive side but if you have a voucher then it is worth it. My main faults would be with the bored, unenthusiastic and young staff, the somewhat chaotic nature of the queues and the hectic main hall area. Otherwise, worth a visit.

(Although, now done, I don't think we'll be rushing back for a while).

Merlin: The Crystal Caves

After a couple of average episodes things improved significantly this week. The Crystal Cave was a very tense and atmospheric episode, though slow in parts and lacking any real action. Still, it helped push this season's theme of Morgana's fall and her plans to murder Uther.

Arthur and Merlin find themselves being chased into a wonderfully realised (and quite LotR-ish) Valley of the Fallen Kings. Arthur is shot by an arrow and lies near to death and Merlin is unable to help him. Luckily, a mysterious old man called Taliesin appears, heals Arthur and, whilst the prince sleeps, shows Merlin the crystal cave - the root of all magic. In here, Merlin sees various visions of the future, one of which shows Uther apparently being stabbed in his sleep by Morgana. Leaving the caves, Merlin and Arthur head back to Camelot where the young wizard finds out that Taliesin has been dead for many years and his future visions appear to be coming true!

Of course, Merlin tries to stop Morgana but finds that fate will not be thwarted. By the middle of the episode, it appears that he has succeeded in stopping - and in the process almost killing - Morgana (who actually wasn't out to kill Uther at that time) only to find that his actions lead to the murderous visions he had seen.

In this episode, we - and Morgana - discover that Uther is her father and not just her guardian. This explains why Uther has been so protective of, and concerned about, her this season. In fact, he is so desperate to ensure that she does not die in this episode that he even begs Gaius to use sorcerous means to heal her.

This, I felt, was a little out of character - Uther knows directly the dire consequences of using magic to keep another from dying (it's the reason he's so set against magic in the first place). Perhaps though, the fact that he abandons his own draconian rule when desperation looms, shows us that he inwardly knows that magic is not univerally evil. It also helps cement his vast love for Morgana, which I'm sure will play a further part in future episodes.

Overall, a very entertaining episode - close but perhaps not quite as good as the first story of this season - which gives me hope that Merlin can continue to deliver the goods. Unfortunately though, next week's trailer looks like we're in for another filler on Saturday.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Smallville: Sacrifice (s9 ep19)

It was also a better epsiode this week in Smallville as things start to kick off. You can tell it's getting close to the end of the season as storylines begin to get resolved and the action starts to ramp up ready for the season final.

This week started with the Watchtower going into lockdown when Checkmate starts to hack its computer systems. Can someone tell me why? It's being hacked from outside (using a device in Tess' body) so what good will sealing the place do? Other than nearly killing Chloe and Tess, that is?

Actually, Tess does die. Chloe kills her in order to shut down the router device inside Tess. Later, Chloe is able to bring Tess back to life because, of course, she's a skilled medical professional and is able to get those defribrillator shock paddles to work through Tess' top. And, miraculously, Tess gets up immediately with no brain damage due to being dead for an hour (or however long it was).

Meanwhile, Green Arrow fights Zod. Luckily GA has a handy kryptonite arrow in his arsenal (handy that) but ultimately it does no good. At first, I thought Zod (and Smallville's writers) had killed Oliver and burnt his face off, but that was just some other guy. Instead, it seems GA is going to have to change his codename to Zenith or something - what with that big Z burnt into his chest!

Slight aside but I'm not thrilled by Smallville's Zod. Callum Blue doesn't seem to have the right presence for one of Superman's main enemies. And his accent just sticks out like a sore thumb.

Anyway, elsewhere Checkmate kidnaps the Kandorians but then Clark rescues them. In retaliation Zod attacks Checkmate's base causing mucho destructiono. In the end, Zod and all of the Kandorians gather at the Fortress of non-Solitude - well, all except the pregnant Faora (or whatever her name is) who Zod had strangled earlier, hence the title of this episode I guess. We then find out that Zod has very quickly given the rest of the Kandorians a blood transfusion because they then all flew off.

Which again highlights a problem with Smallville - how come Clark hasn't learnt to fly yet? Kara (Supergirl) could. Zod can. The poor Kandorians, who have been sat around doing nothing for weeks, pick it up in no time at all. Heck, even evil Clark could fly. But not bland Clark. SFX-wise, you could just say that when Clark runs away at superspeed he's actually flying away at superspeed, so it can't be that. It just seems like a silly restriction (there are lots of those in Smallville).

Only two more episodes to go...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Merlin: Gwaine

Well, this week's episode was a step up from last week but still didn't achieve the excitement of the first two epsiodes of Season 3. It was suitably dramatic with a couple of nice fight scenes - the beginning bar-room brawl and the armoured sword fight at the end - but still felt somewhat average. However, I did thoroughly enjoy the character of Gwaine (I always thought it was spelt Gawain - or is that another knight?) and thought Eoin Macken played him in a wonderfully rough but charming manner.

The story seemed somewhat familiar though - a sort of conglomoration of the attempted assasination at a tournament (like season 1's "Valiant" or season's 2's "The Once and Future Queen") with the introduction of one of the knights of the Round Table (like "Lancelot", again from season 1). The bad guys must've had one heck of a grudge against Arthur because they went to a lot of trouble to kill him. Why not just pretend to be a knight and live the high life at Camelot or elsewhere? Also, it was kinda handy for the tournament that they got hold of some magical 'blunt' swords.

In a way, although this week was better, part of me enjoyed last week's episode more for some reason. That earlier episode was lighter, I guess. Still, "Gwaine" was enjoyable just nothing to get excited about. And, again, it did nothing to further any ongoing storyline as at the end we saw Gwaine being sent away from Camelot probably never to be seen again. Pity.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Final Crisis

The third and (supposedly, but doubtful) Final Crisis - written by Grant Morrison with art by J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Doug Mahnke plus others - was inflicted on DC's multiverse back in 2008 but I've only just got around to reading it in trade-paperback form. This collects Final Crisis #1 to #7 plus FC: Superman Beyond #1 & 2, FC: Submit and a small number of pencil sketches at the back.

I find Grant Morrison's writing to be something of a mixed bag. There's obviously elements of brilliance in his work but it sometimes seems camoflaged by minimist storytelling ability and weird dialogue peppered with pseudoscientific twaddle. Some of the stuff he's done - Earth 2, We3 and in fact most of the stuff he's done with Frank Quitely - is very good but then other work - such as some of the JLA stuff he did - left me cold and wondering what the heck it was all about. Unfortunately, Final Crisis falls more in the latter camp.

Not that it's terrible - I've read much worse in my 30+ years of comic reading. It's pretty entertaining, especially the middle part once you get into it. However, I think it might have helped if I've read some of the other DC comics before Final Crisis - things like Seven Soldiers or Countdown - and knew more about the preceding fate of the New Gods and about characters like the Super Young Team and others. Morrison doesn't seem to be a fan of exposition and explaining what's gone before nor even what's going on in the book itself. I think he leaves it to the artist to tell the story, which can work with someone like Quitely but not here.

This lack of explanation means that sometimes you'll read a page or two and wonder what the heck actually happened. Questions like 'Who did what to who?' and 'Who's that and why are they there?' occur at times making this not an easy read. Some have said it's complex but it's more the case that Morrison doesn't make it easy to read. Books can be both complex and easy to read, you know, but this book isn't one of those.

Couple this with Morrison's strange dialogue, which sometimes seems to come out of order. Sometimes it felt like the word balloons should be read in reverse - which would be quite fitting given that the story contains a bullet that is fired backwards in time. Seriously - I actually read some of the pages in reverse and it made just as much sense as reading them the normal way.

Talking of the time-defying bullet - why? How does a bullet, even one that's fired backwards in time, kill Orion (a New god)? And why was Orion shot in some back alley on Earth? Why a bullet and not Darkseid's Omega Beams?

I can only think that Morrison wanted to start this series with a New God found dead in some alley somewhere (vague similarities to Watchman come to mind here) and thought a time-travelling bullet would be 'fun'. Morrison just makes it more complicated than it really needs to be.

Then there's the final issue and the final showdown. This, quite frankly, I found to be a mess. By this point, Batman has already suddenly popped up for about two pages (after being missing for much of the book) shoots Darkseid and promptly dies. Don't worry, we soon find out he's only been sent back in time. The shot doesn't kill Darkseid so Superman confronts him. But also seems to go off and build a Miracle Machine that does, erm, nothing over than provide a "happy ending". He also sings the frequencies to cancel out Darkseid - or maybe the Multiverse. And it seems that Woman Woman binds Darkseid with her lasso for some reason. Plus a bunch of other stuff. Not that the artist shows any of this because it is all just told to us using captions.

It's like Morrison ran out of room, had a bunch of great ideas and threw them all in, one page after another with no narrative to explain it. Instead he relied on the old favourite of having the (vague) tale told after the fact to some gathered people, a bit like the "Previously on..." bit at the beginning of some TV shows. This works at the beginning but not at the end of a story! So, yeah, the finale was a little disappointing.

Anyway, enough bashing of Morrison's strange storytelling and onto the art.

J. G. Jones starts the book and is a pretty good artist. His lines are clean, hinting at a realistic approach whilst still being comic-booky. He's sort of a cross between Bryan Hitch and Alan Davis, which isn't a bad cross to be - even if he isn't quite as good as either of those two. Here, his work is similar to that on Wanted, but actually better in my opinion. Unfortunately, very occasionally his art looks rushed in this book. And indeed, it seems, he couldn't keep up with the schedule and Carlos Pacheco, and later Doug Mahnke, had to be brought in to help out.

Now, usually Pacheco is a very good artist. I loved his stuff on Avengers Forever and JLA/JSA Virtue and Vice. But here it looks like he wasn't given much time and so his usual quality slipped. It suffers when compared to Jones' panels. And, I'm sorry to say, I'm not much of a fan of Mahnke grimacing, weirdly-proportioned artwork. His art put me off JLA some years ago (though it didn't help that Judd Winick was the writer at the time either) and here, although it is better, for me it still doesn't compare to the art that precedes it.

So, overall, a mixed bag. The book seems difficult to get into and suffers from the old crossover problem where not all the story is represented in the mini-series itself. However, the middle third picks up considerably but then it is hampered by the changing art and that messy ending. For me, of the three Crises up to now, this one is the least satisfying. Entertaining but not excellent. Perhaps more for fans of Morrison's other DC work?

Grade: Good.