Sunday, 29 November 2009

Christmas Tips (and Alistair)

This year I thought I'd help you, my dear internet consumers, to enhance your festive shopping with some tips for great presents and some discounts to go with them.

Here are a few items from that I think can recommend. Also, if you head over here then you'll find some discount codes to save you a bit of cash (£5 off if you spend £50 can't be sniffed at) so you can buy presents for yourself. Not that I've done that...

First up is the entire run of The Wire. At just under £50 it works out at £10 per season. There's a lot of critical hype for this show so I won't add to it, other than to say that I thought it was pretty damn good.

Football Manager 2010
is only £17.99 right now. I love managing small men and making them run up and down whilst violently kicking a sphere, if that sounds like your kind of thing then check it out.

My favourite film of the year was Crank 2. Shut up. It was very, very silly and I loved it. It's now only £5.95. You'll believe a man can not only survive without a heart but will, in fact, prosper without one.

Borderlands is a game that crosses the compulsiveness of the RPG with the intense twitch play of the FPS. The resulting effect is a form of crack that can't be easily resisted by certain gamers. Only Dragon Age: Origins weened me off it. I've linked to the PC version (the gentleman's gaming format) but I believe the other formats are also reduced.

The Inbetweeners is a guilty pleasure of mine, it's crude and vile at times but it makes me laugh and I guess that's all that matters. It's only £10 for the first two series.

Hey look, it's the good Star Wars films. Before the dark times, before the prequels.

I once watched all of the extended Lord of the Rings movies back to back over the course of one day. I haven't watched those movies since. Still, before I overdosed on Tolkien I thought that Peter Jackson's adaptation improved on a series of books that I thought were pretty dull. Sean Bean gets a dramatic slow motion moment, Viggo Mortensen became a credible action hero and Elijah Wood found a role that suited him perfectly. It's £17.99 for about 6000 hours of DVD footage.

You know who will always be cool? Indiana Jones. Forever.

Marty McFly used to be cool when I was 8. His style may have dated but Back to the Future is still a fantastic movie and a great example of how to make time travel fun without being confusing. The trilogy can be had for £12.99.

Do you have to buy a present for someone you hate? Someone that you are forced to buy a present for and hand over to them with a smile painted on your face? Well may I direct you toward the Resident Evil boxed set? It's doubly evil as another movie is due soon so the boxset is not only terrible, it'll be out of date within 12 months. Mwahahahaha.

Zombies. Yawn. Played out. Here are the original Romero movies. Y'know, if you still like zombies despite geekdom's attempt to completely run them into the ground (ho ho).

I love Blade Runner. I love it so much that I bought this special edition which contains multiple versions of the same movie. Tons of extras and it comes in a tin which means it's extra special.

Bill Bailey is great. Here are all his stand up shows for those that love the long haired musician's surreal take on Kraftwerk and trouser presses.

30 Rock is brilliant and season one only costs £7.99. A sitcom about the writing team behind a sketch show. Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan give fantastic comedy performances but it's Alec Baldwin (yes, Alec Baldwin, I was suprised too) who steals the show. Season two is £9.99. You can buy them both as a boxset but that costs £29.99.

The Venture Brothers is an animated series that is consistently fantastic. It parodies the old Hanna Barbera action cartoons of the 60s while delivering scripts that are intelligent and very well voiced by the cast. It's only £7.99 and it's well worth a look. If you don't like it we can't be friends.

I'll leave it at that, I'm sure you all have your own ideas for presents but I hope my tips will save you some cash or prod you in the right direction.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

TV Snark - Merlin: The Witchfinder OR She Turned Me Into a Newt!

It's another recap. Another one! Twice in one week! I've decided to power through the backlog of episodes in an attempt to at least not be so many episodes behind the schedule. This episode spends all its money on Charles Dance and the Expensive-CGI-Dragon. Is it money well spent?

The episode begins with Merlin collecting wood in the forest. He soon becomes bored with this menial task and decides to sit and amuse himself by manipulating smoke from a nearby fire into a horse shape. Unfortunately Merlin has once again failed to check if anyone is nearby (like last episode when he failed to check if anyone was in a room before he started snooping around) and his horse cloud is spotted by a hysterical peasant. Luckily for Merlin she didn't see him casting the magic but the smoky cloud horse is enough to terrify her into running to Uther and declaring that a sorcerer is running amok. ARGH! It's a non-threatening cloud that looks like a horse! AIEEEE!

The peasant woman regales the court with her incredibly lame tale of petty magic and cites Merlin as a witness but he obviously, but not convincingly, plays dumb. Uther reacts with his usual calm and grace under pressure and summons a ruthless Withfinder. It should be Vincent Price but as he's quite dead we get Hollywood star Charles Dance instead. He has a duster and a hat just like in the movie Van Helsing.

Oh dear.

His name sounds like Rhydian.

Oh dear.

Arthur asks when he will begin his search for sorcery and I guess straight away what he's going to say and say it simultaneously, "I have already begun." After a triumphant air grab, I once again think, "Oh dear."

Charles Dance (Aredian is a stupid name, so I either call him Rhydian or use his real name) begins his investigation. He interviews Merlin first as he was at the scene of the crime and hasn't exactly smooth talked his way out of trouble so far. At this point I notice that Charles Dance is so evil, he uses a human skull as an inkwell.

That's pure evil. Also handy for completing tax returns.

Merlin manages to make a mess of things and incriminate himself further by not backing up the peasant's story or calling her a hallucinating mental. He tries to be Mr Nice Guy and ends up neither lying or telling the truth. Charles Dance is not impressed.

Charles Dance later brings forth more witnesses to witchcraft and sorcery and they give testimony before the king. Their tales of magic are chilling:

Peasant1: "I was drawing water from the well, sire when I saw them. Faces. In the water, sire. Terrible faces. Like people who were drowned. Screaming. Screaming. *sob*

So she saw her own reflection and had an anxiety attack when presented with her own sobbing, peasant face? Charles Dance is pleased with this unconvincing tale of TERRIFYING MAGIC and moves on to the next witness.

Charles Dance: "Tell them what you saw."
Peasant2: "A goblin. Dancing on the coles, it was dancing in the flames and it spoke, sire. My heart near stopped for fear of it!"

So she got drunk and sang Blackadder's goblin song?

Another witness is offered forth.

Peasant3: "There was a sorcerer, sire. In the square, there were creatures jumping right out of his mouth."
Charles Dance: "And what manner of creaturrrrre?" (He said creature in a very silly fashion)
Peasant3: "Oh toads, sire. Great, green, slimy things as big as your fist!"

Wait a minute, what? The picture that this evidence paints is of a sorcerer with the mental age of a 3 year old. He seems harmless enough, he just casts minor illusions and likes to lick toads for fun. Let him live, I say.

Uther finds the testimonies truly, truly, terrifying. Charles Dance finishes his presentation by accusing Merlin despite having no real evidence. Uther decides that the crappy peasant stories are enough to allow Charles Dance to search Gaius's chambers to look for actual evidence.

The Camelot guards trash Gaius Meldrew's quarters in an effort to find evidence of sorcery. Merlin is locked away in the cells while this happens. Charles Dance directs the ransacking, "You there, upend that stool!" That's my favourite dialogue from this show, ever. Eventually Charles Dance finds an ordinary amulet in a jar of dust. Apparently it's magic despite the fact that it doesn't do anything vaguely magicky throughout the entire episode. Gaius decides to take a bullet and says that the amulet is his. Merlin is freed from jail whilst Gaius is thrown into a new cell.

Uther remembers that Gaius always solves the monster of the week dilemma and is worried about his loyalty. Charles Dance suggests torture to determine the truth and Uther considers it for a couple of seconds before endorsing the Jack Bauer treatment. Why do people serve Uther?

Luckily for Gaius, Charles Dance's torture is family friendly and just seems to consist of using a bucket of cold water, asking questions in a montage, and refusing to give Gaius a glass of water when he claims he's thirsty.

Merlin decides to ask the John Hurt-CGI-Dragon for advice but the dragon has become as snarky as I have and basically insults Merlin and states that Gaius doesn't matter to him. The dragon offers no help because it would be a short episode if he gave Merlin a spell called, Dismiss Charges of Witchcraft (Greater). Maybe Merlin should actually do some investigative snooping instead of looking for a quick fix.

During questioning Gaius slightly incriminates Morgana when he talks of the treatment he's offered to the royal court. Charles Dance questions Morgana briefly, allowing her to have a few lines in the episode. Very gracious of the writers, that.

Charles Dance then convinces Gaius that he should confess to witchcraft to save Merlin and Morgana from being burned at the stake. Gaius is a gullible fool and makes a confession before the court and is sentenced to burn to death. Oh well, it shows Gaius is all lovable and noble and shit, yeah?

Charles Dance later rubs it in by saying that he's going to burn Merlin and Morgana soon anyway. MWAHAHAHA!

Gaius and Merlin meet in the cell and compare notes, it seems the amulet didn't belong to either of them. Shock. Now Merlin can finally get around to figuring out that Charles Dance is corrupt. Merlin enlists the aid of Gwen because, well she hasn't got anything else to do in this episode.

Here's a picture of the skull inkwell again. METAL.

Merlin breaks into Charles Dance's room and discovers a quantity of belladonna amongst his possessions. Merlin figures out that belladonna is used as make-up and can be used to cause hallucinations, which leads him and Gwen to the only cosmetic shop in Camelot. The make-up salesman folds under the intense whining of Merlin and Gwen and admits that Charles Dance gave him some belladonna eyedrops to sell to the peasant women.

Merlin thinks that he has enough evidence to incriminate Charles Dance and stop the Gaius burning but Gwen points out that they may need something a bit more compelling. Merlin doesn't have any other evidence so he sneaks into Charles Dance's room and uses magic to cheat, he casts a spell on a cupboard and on Charles Dance himself. Quincy never used magic to cheat. I miss Quincy.

Gwen manages to delay the burning of Gaius by totally guilt tripping Arthur about executing her innocent father last season (ooo - continuity, Merlin fans!). The court is hastily reconvened while Merlin presents the belladonna evidence. Uther decides to search Charles Dance's room to find any other signs of cheating and then things go a bit mad.

It seems that Merlin has used a duplication spell on the 'magic' amulet as when the guards open Charles Dance's cupboard, it's full of amulets. Charles Dance is mortified but as he tries to explain a toad comes out of his mouth. Charles Dance then takes Morgana hostage but Merlin somehow manages to cast a spell (without anyone noticing) and heat up Charles' knife, which causes him to stumble backwards out of a window to his doom.

Later on, Uther visits Gaius and basically says, "So, we cool now? About the torture and burning thing? No one got hurt so no harm, no foul, right?"
"Sir, we are NOT cool."

Don't worry though, Merlin and Gaius are still best friends and laugh over the frame job that Merlin put on Charles Dance. The morale of the story is, if someone is cheating you - outcheat them. Hahahaha.

NEXT EPISODE: Arthur's mum. Blah, blah. Someone tries to kill Uther. Again.

Monday, 23 November 2009

TV Snark - Merlin: Beauty and the Beast OR Uther Dates a Troll

You know how this works by now, the BBC air an episode of Merlin and I take about a month to actually recap it. This time I’m recapping two episodes in one post as this story was a two parter. Let’s get on with it shall we?

In a dank cave somewhere mysterious and er… dank, a pointed eared tramp is brewing a mysterious potion. The concoction complete, he hands it over to his mistress – an ugly troll. She drinks the potion and becomes a beautiful lady. Chris De Burgh would not approve:

The troll and her pointy eared servant make a beeline for Camelot where she claims to be the last surviving member of a lost noble family – Lady Catrina. Uther and Catrina were childhood friends and he is happy to see her seemingly alive and well. Merlin has a little crush on her but Gaius Meldrew is suspicious…

The troll maintains the charade for a while but soon returns to her newly appointed quarters to enjoy a meal of rotten fruit (which she creates by breathing magic green mist onto fresh fruit) and conspire with her servant Jonas. There’s some great comedy work from Sarah Parish as she gurns and shambles her way through the scene. It seems the troll’s plan is to marry Uther and then gain power and then err… profit?

Gaius informs Merlin about his suspicions and they decide to test ‘Lady Catrina’ by offering her medicine. Gaius knows that this medicine is essential for Catrina as he treated her as a child and knows that she has a painful bone condition in her leg parts. Gaius was tipped off because Catrina didn’t have a funny walk and neither did she ask him for any painkillers.

Merlin decides to investigate in his usual bumbling fashion as he decides to search Catrina's quarters without making sure that no one is already there. The room isn't that big but Merlin somehow manages to miss Jonas standing in a corner. Merlin makes a crap excuse and leaves but not before noticing that Jonas has a tail. It is never revealed why he has a tail or exactly what Jonas is. It's a mystery that will go unsolved.

I'm sure that, when confronted by Gaius's suspicions, Uther will take him seriously and investigate Lady Catrina's story closely. Hold on, no, he decides to ignore Gaius as usual and persists with romancing the troll woman. Uther ignores Gaius because he doesn't want to be impolite to the woman he's trying to get with. I also think it's because otherwise the episode would run very short if Uther actually listened to Gaius WHO IS ALWAYS RIGHT ABOUT MAGIC AND MONSTERS.

To be fair to Uther he does ask Catrina about her bone condition but she claims that her bones healed themselves via a miraculous recovery. Uther accepts this because he has the same IQ as a peanut.

Merlin then ventures into Arthur's chamber at night so that the ladies can get a shot of Arthur's naked chest. Merlin steals Arthur's mirror so he can peek into Catrina's room and he sees her in full troll form. Arthur catches Merlin standing in his room staring into a lady's bed chamber and naturally assumes that Merlin is a peeping tom. Arthur also decides to ignore Merlin's concerns because it's easier for the plot.

Merlin then wanders off and finds Catrina sleeping in the stables in troll form. There's a lot of farting. Kids love farting. Gaius explains that trolls love money and power so that's why this one is trying to woo Uther. Gaius makes one last attempt to talk sense into Uther and informs him that Catrina is a troll in disguise. Uther ignores Gaius because there's another twenty minutes to go in the episode. LISTEN TO GAIUS, HE IS A WALKING DUNGEON MASTER'S GUIDE.

Catrina Troll decides to take a shortcut in her wooing and crafts a magic mind controlling amulet to dominate Uther's brain. Under the influence of the magic amulet, Uther agrees to marry Catrina the next day. They kiss but it's gross because Catrina has a troll hand.

Gaius decides that Merlin needs to use magic to reveal Catrina's troll form to everyone. Merlin isn't keen because he'd have to use magic in front of everyone and he kind of likes not being burned alive. As usual Merlin reads through a ton of magical grimoires that Gaius has lying around his chambers and finds the spell he seeks. Merlin tries to use the spell while Uther is announcing his impending marriage to everyone but Merlin's spell doesn't work as Catrina fights off the effects. Unfortunately for Merlin, Jonas spotted him attempting to reveal Catrina's disguise and so he and Catrina plot to rid themselves of Merlin.

Merlin decides to let Arthur in on the secret but, because this is a two part story, Arthur refuses to believe him and acts like a jerk. Merlin then bumps into Jonas who pretends to be an abused slave in thrall to the troll. Jonas then makes a mistake by informing Merlin about the potion that Catrina the troll must take to maintain her appearance (I'm sure this won't come back to bite him in the tail). Jonas tells Merlin that the potion is kept in a chamber beneath Camelot so Merlin wanders off to investigate without telling anyone. Unsurprisingly it's a trap and Catrina appears to seal Merlin underground with a ceiling collapsing spell. Maybe that'll teach Merlin to trust floppy eared strangers with troll mistresses.

Merlin eventually manages to escape by shouting his magic words and using his telekinesis. Well, that was a disappointing and obvious escape method. Merlin tries to stop the wedding which is now in progress. He is cut off by Jonas on the way and they indulge in a bout of unconvincing combat. Merlin finally stops repeatedly running at Jonas and uses his telekinesis to knock him out.

Unfortunately Merlin has taken too long and he appears at the wedding ceremony just in time to see it completed. Noooooo! Hilariously Gaius sat through the entire ceremony without saying or doing anything. Presumably because there's another episode to fill.


Urgh, the marathon continues. This episode becomes a Children's BBC classic, there's more farting, gurning and hot king on troll sexytime.

Oh yeah, remember Morgana and Gwen? Well it seems the writers didn't. Morgana had about two lines last episode and Gwen gets to say something in this one. Watch out for her two scenes!

Catrina has had enough of Merlin's ineffectual attempts to spoil her plans and she decides to frame Merlin for theft. Uther responds with his usual subtlety by having every single member of his army search for Merlin. Luckily for Merlin, Arthur has decided to stop being a jerk and warns Merlin so he can escape from the guards. Uther and his new wife are mean to Arthur because he let Merlin escape. It's all part of the troll's grand scheme to discredit Arthur and replace him as heir. Then Catrina wanders off to eat some horse dung in private.

Merlin loses Uther's army by setting up a fake trail in the forest. Gwen then appears and speaks two lines to Gaius as she worries about Merlin. Gaius, just like the writers, brushes her off and leaves her to worry. Merlin has in fact doubled back to the castle and hidden himself in Gaius's room.

To fill some time, Uther and Catrina declare that there is a new SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM STYLE EVIL TAX designed to piss off everyone in Camelot. Arthur is entrusted with enforcing this new tax despite his protests.

Later that night, Merlin sneaks into Jonas's room and steals the potion that Catrina uses to maintain her disguise. Merlin actually has a good idea and asks Gaius to make a dummy potion that tastes the same so he can switch the potions.

Meanwhile Catrina uses her magic troll breath to knock out Uther so she doesn't have to sleep with him. At first I thought this was a way of annulling the marriage as it won't be consummated. Unfortunately the episode decides to go down a more disgusting route later on...

The next day the guards of Camelot start enforcing the EVIL TAX but Arthur puts a stop to it. Uther and Arthur argue about the nature and responsibilities of monarchistic rule in an enligthening fashion and then come to an amicable agreement. Nah, just kidding, Uther snarls at Arthur and insists that the tax be enforced. After Arthur has left Catrina offers to help Uther with the burden of rule and Uther eventually decides to declare her as heir later that day. Money making schemes are so much easier when you have a mind controlling amulet. Uther then tries to kiss his wife but she uses her magic troll breath on him again.

Gwen gets another scene as she visits Arthur to congratulate him on sticking up for the peasants. Arthur seems to have forgotten being dropped for Lancelot and doesn't act awkward or sulky around her. Gwen's grand total of dialogue is approximately four lines. Thanks for visiting the show, Gwen!

Gaius completes the fake potion and Merlin makes the switch. Uther summons everyone to announce that Arthur is now disinherited and Catrina will take his place as heir. Fortunately for Uther, Arhtur doesn't immediately lead a rebellion of loyal men to take Camelot from his obviously insane father.

At the heir naming ceremony Catrina is revealed as a troll to the entire court as her disguise potion expires. Uther is still enchanted by the mind controlling amulet so he doesn't mind, despite everybody's revolted reaction and the obvious evidence that she's a supernatural creature. Morgana gets two lines in this scene so yay for her.

Uther comforts his troll wife and then well, I don't know how to say this but I'm pretty sure he goes ahead and bangs a troll.

Gaius once again attempts to reason with Uther but this obviously doesn't work because:

A) Uther is enchanted
B) Uther never listens to Gaius anyway

Uther threatens to execute anyone who insults Catrina by calling her a troll. So that went as well as it usually does when Uther is involved.

Merlin visits the expensive CGI dragon who presumably fills his time between episodes by completing crosswords. The dragon finds the current situation hilarious but reluctantly agrees to help Merlin because Uther's marriage will prevent Arthur from becoming king. The dragon informs Merlin that the only way to break the mind control is for Uther to weep tears of remorse. Then the dragon reminds Merlin that he still hasn't freed him from his underground prison after one and a half seasons. Merlin ignores the meta plot and leaves.

Merlin brings Arthur into his confidence and tells him that he needs to fake Arthur's death in order to save Uther. Gaius concocts a poison that will shut down Arthur's body but it requires the administration of an antidore within 30 minutes of being ingested. Arthur doesn't fancy his chances but plays along with the crazy scheme in order to liberate Camelot.

Gaius tells Uther about Arthur's sudden and suspicious death while Merlin gets knocked out by Jonas and drops Arthur's poison antidote. I have no idea why Gaius couldn't administer the antidote seeing as he's the court physician. Anyway, Uther cries over Arthur's body and the spell is broken. Then Uther realises that he's slept with a troll and makes this face:

Merlin arrives as the troll fights off various red shirt Camelot guards, he managed to mop up the antidote with a rag and squeezes out a drop into Arthur's mouth. Conveniently the poison can be cured by one tiny drop of antidote. Arthur eventually kills Jonas and the troll with his rudimentary sword play. Hurrah. The threat is over.

The episode ends as Arthur points out once again that Uther has totally knocked boots with a troll. This will probably never be mentioned again so I can see why Arthur would want to get the most out of it. I just wish I could erase the image from my mind...

NEXT EPISODE - Charles Dance - Witch Hunter!