30 June 2013

Danio Yoghurt - Food Review

Frequent visitors to this blog can all agree that food reviewing here is a very rare occurrence. However, when something truly surprising or lovely is tasted, sometimes you just have to write about it.

The subject of this momentous blog is a yogurt. Usually they are gloopy concoctions of dubious flavour and rather too much sugar, fat and calories. Danio is a little different; a low fat, creamy pot of deliciousness with a fruit compote at the bottom.

Despite them being a little bit on the pricey side (88p a pot at Tesco, with no multi-packs to save on), they taste so good that it kind of cancels out the extra pound or two spent. There was also a deal to get 3 pots for £2.00, so naturally I leaped on that.

Initially these were free giveaways from a nice lady who was stationed outside Tesco, and nothing tastes better than free food. These, however, didn't just taste nice because they were free. They are thick (due to the amount of milk used in them, which also means they have more calcium), making them feel indulgent, and the compote is tasty, whether it is mixed in or on its own. They would actually make a lovely breakfast with a bit of granola mixed through it (don't miss that trick, Danone, you'll make a ton of money).

The compote itsself is great. The flavour is spot on for the fruit (possibly because it is made with real fruit and not flavouring. Does anyone else hate flavourings that don't even taste like the fresh fruit version? One thing that may split opinions is that the fruit compote does keep the seeds in (not the cherry stones though). While this does not make much of a difference in many of the flavours, the passion fruit one does notice as there is a crunch and a different taste there.

Now for the facts and figures. The 160g yogurt is high protein, containing 13g of the stuff, and low fat (0.2g) with 0.1g being saturates. It is 125 calories, which is a little more than your Muller lights but around the same as the low-fat Tesco yogurts. It contains no preservatives, no artificial flavours or sweeteners and is suitable for vegetarians. Flavours come in Strawberry, Cherry, Raspberry, Blueberry, Passion fruit and Peach.

These yogurts are delicious and really fill you up, so please give them a try if you're sick of swallowing tasteless food. A 9 out of 10, simply because some people may not like the seeds.

Own image

29 June 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters - Film

Another take on a fairy tale.. anyone noticing a theme with these last posts? The story of Hansel and Gretel continues from the tale we all know so well; The two children are left in the woods and find a house made of sweets, inside they find a witch who fattens Hansel up and makes Gretel work like a slave for her. Before she eats Hansel, though, Gretal frees herself and together they push the witch into her own oven, burning her alive. In Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, they got the taste of witch blood, and soon it was their mission to destroy the witches. With their parents gone, they go from place to place, saving children and killing witches with a multitude of weapons.

The film chucks us headfirst into the story. A town has had an abnormally large amount of children go missing, and they are in the process of trying to burn a woman for witchcraft. This is when Hansel and Gretel show up, introducing themselves with a string of swears and lethal-looking weaponry. They have been hired by the mayor to find the witch/witches and bring the children back. But it isn't that simple. It turns out that the witch in charge has bigger and better plans than just to eat some children. Her plot is much closer to home for the siblings.

As a warning, the film has a lot of gore and blood. But if you've ever seen Saw, you have nothing to worry about, it's nowhere near that bad. It does not take itself seriously in the slightest. It is more of a darkly comic action movie; the two protagonists get beaten up so much, but still manage to kill witches. It is probably best not to take it seriously too, or you will be able to point out a whole load of flaws with the action sequences (like Hansel being able to run at superhuman speed) and the realisation that  the plot is not as complex as perhaps you would like it to be.

As characters go, Hansel and Gretel are good ones. They are amusing, especially Hansel, who seems to really hate talking to people other than his sister. They have a nice relationship as siblings and clearly care about each other. As for the acting, there was not too much that Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner could do to inject much more personality into their roles. Since it was mostly action, they had to make do with the limited scenes during the beginning to really get a feel for them as people. Jeremy Renner did quite well in this, although there was that headbutting scene which made Gretel go up in my estimation by some way.

As effects go, it is pretty impressive. The witches makeup is great and there are so many different designs for them; I would love to see more. The creative input to the film is incredible and the designs of weapons and costumes alike are beautifully detailed. The landscapes and sets are truly great; the witches house at the beginning is a personal favourite.

In general, the film is enjoyable. It is fairly short and so can fit in rather well to limited time periods.  I think the word to describe it is cool. It does the job of entertaining, but it would take a huge fan of darkly comic fairytale takes to love the film. It's worth watch, but probably borrow it or rent it out. It's not one of those films that you would watch again and again. A 5 out of 10.

Image from comingsoon.net

27 June 2013

The Prisoner of Heaven - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

We devoured the twisting, dark tales of The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game, and now we can finally see them both linked expertly in this companion book The Prisoner of Heaven.

Following the events of The Shadow of the Wind, we find ourselves back at the Sempere and Sons bookshop in Barcelona, where everyone is worried about Fermin, who we met in the last book. He is supposed to be getting married and should be ecstatic, but instead he has slipped into a deep melancholy. When Daniel finally makes him open up about it, he gets a lot more information than he bargains for. Fermin reveals the harsh realities of his life before he met Daniel, and also that he knows far more about the Semperes than he lets on.

The book is in a first person narrative, that of Daniel Sempere, but where it switched to the past (Fermins flashbacks) it becomes a third person narrative. This is quite effective as you can tell whether you are in the past or the present without reading the year in the chapter title (something which many of us choose to entirely ignore when we are wrapped up in a good book). Instead, you simply look for the 'I' for the present.

The Prisoner of Heaven is a quick read; much shorter and easier to read than its predecessors. The writing style tends to flow more and the information in the book is quite easily absorbed. Zafon has clearly got used to writing for his YA stories, but here we see that style being taken into an adult book and being adapted.

A couple of points which may cause issues; the book ends fairly quickly, with the climax amounting to a scuffle and major decisions made. But the real issue is that the book ends clearly on a 'this is not over' type note; there is clear intent for a continuation on the storyline. The other point is that although there is a huge amount of back-story and the initial chapter or two shoves you right into the mystery, nothing much actually happen in the present tense. There are a few worries, niggling problems and weddings to attend to, but the real story lies in Fermin's past. It makes you wonder whether the book wouldn't have been better written in Fermin's viewpoint as it was all happening.

All in all, though, it was a good read. You must, must, read The Shadow of the Wind before this one, however with The Angel's Game, you can read it at any point. For added interest when it comes to reading the book, I would read it last. This book is rather more like something designed to pave the way for a new story, rather than a story in itself, but it is still worth the read regardless. Good writing, as always, lovely descriptions, very enjoyable but was a little bit of an anti-climax. An 8 out of 10.

Image from thebooksmugglers.com

24 June 2013

Rise of the Guardians - Film

I am hugely aware that this film came out aaages ago, however, I have just seen it and want to tell you all about it..

This Dreamworks animation is the story of the Guardians (ie; Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman) fighting evil. This particular evil is the Boogeymen (otherwise known as Pitch Black), and he has a really nasty plan to get rid of the Guardians forever. What he doesn't know is that the moon has chosen a new Guardian, and quite an unlikely one at that; Jack Frost.

Jack is the protagonist in the story, and he is very unwilling to become a Guardian. But as time passes and he teams up with the slapdash band of make-believe characters, he finds that he is actually enjoying himself. Each character has had a bit of a makeover to how they usually appear: The Tooth Fairy is based upon a hummingbird, and her fairies look even more like them, Santa has tattoos and a |Russian accent, the Sandman appears to be entirely made out of golden sand and the Easter Bunny is an Australian, complete with boomerang... and he's about 6 feet tall. Jack Frost is a white-haired man-boy; it is almost impossible to guess his age.

The plot is fast-going, full of action and amusement, which is just perfect for its intended audience (children). However, this is a family film, and so even adults will be able to enjoy the amusing parts. They may even be more amused than the kids! What is actually quite nice about the story is that there is a sub-plot going on. Jack Frost has no memories of his life before he became magical, and he has always wanted to know whether he was loved, or if he had a family. He also has a fear of never being seen. Here's the thing about the Guardians; kids believe in them and so they can see them, but no-one believes that there is a Jack Frost.

Not only does it have a good plot, but the voice acting isn't half bad either. It boasts the vocal talents of Chris Pine (Jack Frost), Alec Baldwin (Santa), Hugh Jackman (our Australian Easter Bunny), Isla Fisher (Tooth Fairy) and Jude Law (Pitch). Together that have created some memorable personalities and some brilliant rapport. They bounce off eachother to great effect.

This is a really lovely film that has a powerful feeling of hope, belief and fun about it. It is very enjoyable to watch and well worth the money if you want to see your kids smile and laugh. 10/10, seriously. It is difficult to find a fault.

You can find Rise of the Guardians for £7.00 at Tesco.

17 June 2013

Sweetly - Jackson Pearce

Hansel and Gretel gets a teen makeover in Jackson Pearce's Sweetly, the second book of her fairytale retellings. Gretchen and Ansel have just been kicked out of the house by their stepmother and are road-tripping it across the state when they break down in Live Oak. They end up doing odd jobs for the town's Chocolatier, Sophia Kelly, and before they know it, they're living in her shop. Live Oak residents. But Sophia hides dark secrets, and Gretchen knows it has something to do with the eight missing Live Oak girls. Will she be able to figure it all out before more girls disappear?

This book has some great ideas; missing girls, witches, a lovely young woman who everyone either despises or loves, a ghost town and a chocolate shop in the middle of the woods. It all flows together seamlessly into an intriguing and thoroughly readable plot. The mystery, the sense of 'I just want to know what's going on!' is intense, but sadly you can figure out most of the plot as the book goes along, before the big reveal. Being fair though, this is a book for Young Adults, and being 22, I don't really think I fit the bill. I am sure that teenagers will love this story and it will keep them guessing, but for me the end was inevitable and the reveal came a little too late.

However, character-wise, it really gave you a lot of humanity. Gretchen, our first-person narrator, took us through a wonderful character arc. Her fears had a real background, and her friendship with Samuel was quite touching. Sophia, ever the enigma, was confusing, interesting and yet you were never sure who she was, what she really felt until right at the end. The way the characters were drawn was therefore very well executed. They had many layers, and were quite well-rounded as people, each with their own flaws.

The book was short (is 'short and sweet' too much of a cliche?) and was a quick read. It was devoured (sorry for the puns, they keep coming out) in just two days, despite being fairly put-downable. However, it was a nice read; something easy and enjoyable. Some YA is great for adults, but not this one. Teens with a penchant for fairy tales will love it. It wasn't weak, but it wasn't striking in the way that Harry Potter and The Hunger Games are. I guess that's fairy tales for you. 5 out of 10. Nice cover too:

Image from readnowsleeplater.com
Sweetly is the second companion book of Jackson Pearce's fairytale retellings, for the first, Sisters Red, please visit http://jackson-pearce.com/sisters-red/. She has also written a retelling of The Little Mermaid called Fathomless, and The Snow Queen, called Cold Spell.

14 June 2013

Angelmaker - Nick Harkaway

Joe Spork is a normal guy. He fixes clocks for a living, he stays out of trouble, he's nice to everyone. Then he fixes something for a client, something he really shouldn't have fixed, and his whole world goes to pot. He soon finds himself in the middle of a worldwide crisis, having unwittingly turned on a device, named the Apprehension Engine, that could devastate the planet. It doesn't end there, either, the plot actually starts years earlier.

Nick Harkaway is a genius. He has created a plot that intertwines beautifully, like a Dan Brown novel, only a little bit more intricate. His protagonist is easy to understand, easy to like and you can place yourself almost entirely in his shoes. His growth throughout the book is brilliant, and you end up really rooting for him by the end. The other main characters are great too, showing multi-faceted personalities and having interesting back-stories. Perhaps the best character is Edie Bannister, a feisty old lady who owns an ugly dog and a few guns. I found the flashbacks to her younger days very entertaining and highly intriguing. The way that the plot then blends all this in in expertly done.

The only down point is that it took a while to really get into it. However, as soon as Edie's flashbacks started, I was hooked. The verbose language and the complexity of the sentences may make your head ache at first, but give it time, keep a dictionary on hand and keep reading. The best is yet to come. And the finale? Well, lets just say that Joe Spork isn't such a normal guy after all.

This is a tiny review, but if too much of the plot is revealed, the story will get ruined for all of you, and no-one wants that! The book is a fairly long read, especially if you have to keep looking up words (thank god for Kindle dictionary, is all I can say), but it's worth it! 8 out of 10.

9 June 2013

Wreck-It Ralph - Film

Disney's 51st animated classic is the story of a video game villain trying to earn his place with the good guys. Ralph is sick of being treated like the bad guy. He's just got a job to do and he does it well; he's great at wrecking stuff, especially buildings. But Ralph has had enough, so he hitches a ride to Hero's Duty, the new first person shooter, in search of a medal to bring home. True to his name, he wrecks the place, and then escapes into Sugar Rush (a candy-coated racing game) to wreak more havoc.

As you would expect from any Disney movie, kids will love it. There are funny moments, and the introduction of Vanellope Von Schweetz gives a little bit more lightness to the weighty subject of what it means to be good. The video game idea is a good one, and the setting of an arcade means that the creators had a lot of scope for which character they could put in. This is the good part for adults, too. You can spot so many different game characters that your kids probably won't even know about. (Warning, this part gets geeky). You can see characters like Pac-man, Bowser (from Mario), Sonic the Hedgehog and Dr Eggman, a cyborg from Mortal Kombat (he even performs a fatality) and a few others from games like Streetfighter.

There are tons of other references too. Maybe the most obvious is the game Hero's Duty, the name and shooter style being taken from Call of Duty. King Candy, the monarch of Sugar Rush has the characteristics and voice style of the Mad Hatter from Disney's Alice in Wonderland. As with Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Disney decided to do an 8-bit scene at the beginning. This time it was the Steamboat Willie scene that got a makeover. 8-bits and pixels feature quite heavily in the beginning of the film where the main action was in the game Fix-It Felix Jr (that's Ralph's eponymous good guy). The character all moved jerkily and their surroundings were mostly squared off like pixels. These touches really brought some reality to the film.

The film could be seen as taking an idea from Toy Story, as the games seem to really come to life when the arcade closes. However, there are rules, and when they get broken, there are some serious consequences for the characters. But hey, this concept is so entertaining, who cares?

As for the voices, we've got a good few famous faces (the four main characters even look like their human counterparts, which is cool); John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer and Alan Tudyk all lend their voices to characters. Jane Lynch actually adds something really nice to her character. her lines are fast with lots of puns and amusing name-calling. She's a tough cookie with a sweet underside. Maybe she should race in Sugar Rush?

The verdict? I want to play Sugar Rush, and I want to see the film again soon. It was very funny in places and had a nice plot. There were even a couple of twists, which is pretty unexpected for a Disney film. Although not quite as funny as the Emperor's New Groove, and with none of the songs of Aladdin, it's a solid film and I'm glad I bought it. 8 out of 10.

8 June 2013

After Earth - Film

Spoiler Warning - Many plot points have been discussed in this review

In the distant future, a commanding officer and his son are stranded on Earth after their spaceship crash lands from an accident. They are the only survivors, and Earth is a far deadlier place than it is today. Their only hope of survival is to find a beacon which will lead to their rescue. The problem is that the beacon is 100km away in the tail section of the ship and Earth's air is no longer breathable.

Sounds good, right? A futuristic version of Earth where everything has evolved to be giant killing machines, the idea that this used to be their home planet thousands of years ago, trekking across the great unknown and looking at how the world has changed so drastically.. Well, yes, in theory. But here comes the awful truth; the story merely follows the boy, Kitai, on his journey (both emotional and physical) to retrieve the beacon. Does he grow? Yes. Is he much of a character to begin with? Not really, but at least we get a good back-story. We don't really get the appreciation of the fact that this world was once theirs, we get a glimpse of the world as it became uninhabitable, and as for the animals? We see three resident species, and the most dangerous animal in the whole thing comes from the world that the humans escaped to. It was, quite frankly, disappointing on an intellectual level.

As for the story, it was entertaining. A boy journeys into a big scary jungle for a few days and encounters all sorts of danger and peril. His dad is injured and he has to save him, but he's giving him advice with futuristic gadgetry (which, by the way, was pretty cool and very nicely thought through. Liquid to help you breathe in difficult conditions? Genius). Oh yeah, and an evil fear-smelling creature has escaped and will probably find that boy because he has panic attacks every time he thinks about the amount of danger he is in. There is a lovely human element that is sometimes missed out in other films of the action-type genre, where the main plot is about blowing things up rather than turning into a better person (I realise that this may be more of a sci-fi film, but there was an awful lot of running in it, and the same idea applies anyway).

There was character growth for both protagonists, but Will Smith's character, Cypher, seemed to grow early on, and then suffered an injury that left him boringly chair-bound for the remainder of the film. His facial expressions were great, but lets face it, Will didn't have an awful lot to work with to bring his character to life. Speaking of the characters, they weren't particularly likeable either; they are from a military background, and so they are very rigid, at least to begin with. Jayden's character was very flawed (which did leave room for his growth), and was a little bit dim, to be honest. Characters who tend not to do what you're shouting at them to do, in my book, are ones which you should put in the bin and not look back on. Maybe that's just me.

One other nice thing about the film was the flashbacks that brought the background into perspective. It gave reasons as to why Kitai was so afraid of everything, and how Cypher became a commander in the armed forces. At the beginning, it starts with Kitai in serious trouble, and then flashes back three days. This was really nice as it hooks the viewer from the first scene, making them wonder what happened. The only downfall on that was that the circumstances leading to his predicament weren't quite as thrilling as you imagine them to be.

In all, the film is worth a watch for the idea alone. The creatures were realistic and the landscape was so wildly beautiful that it wasn't hard to believe that this was Earth, untouched for a thousand years. But unfortunately the plot wasn't up to scratch. It felt quite inevitable and could have done with a twist or two to keep us guessing. For that reason, and for the others mentioned above, it gets a 4 out of 10.