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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season 1 (DVD)

Starring: Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker & Summer Glau.

Rated: 15.

Story: Forget Terminator 3 ever happened. A few years after Terminator 2, Sarah Connor (Headey) and her teenage son, John (Dekker), take a jump through time to the present day. They're fugitives from the law and hunted by murderous cyborgs from the future who are intent on killing John before he grows up to lead resistance against Skynet - the computer system still destined to obliterate humanity with nuclear weapons.

Aided by Cameron, a re-programmed cyborg (Glau), Sarah and John attempt to prevent Skynet being created. This tends to involve moral dilemmas and explosives...

Comments: You're not going to get far with this if you haven't seen the first couple of Terminator movies. That said, if you haven't seen the first couple of Terminator movies, why not? Cyborgs, big fights, time travel and Linda Hamilton - the only thing missing is ninjas. Go watch them now.

The TV series is obviously working on a smaller budget, so involves fewer big fights and more tense situations and sneaking about. Thanks to some excellent editing and pacing this works well. Some of the attempts at lightening the mood aren't so great, though, with too many of the jokes centred around cyborgs not understanding human idioms and behaviour.

It would have been easy for The Sarah Connor Chronicles to follow a 'Terminator of the Week' formula but, thankfully, this is avoided. Each episode concentrates on a new lead in stopping Skynet, with the hunt for Sarah and John forming a backdrop to the whole series. The episodes are more self-contained than in Heroes but not as much as in Battlestar Galactica. Unfortunately, this is sometimes unsatisfying, providing neither closure nor much overall plot advancement. Despite there only being nine episodes, they quickly blend together. There aren't any duffers but, then again, none really stand out.

All in all, this first season is definitely worth watching if you enjoyed the films. Whether there's enough going on for the show to maintain momentum through a full second season is another question.

Oh, and Lena Headey with an American accent is just wrong.

Conclusion: Good but is it going anywhere?

Explosions: Regular.
Tension: High.
Slightly clunky humour: Occasional.
Psycho cyborgs who just won't die: Frequent.
Ninjas: Not enough.

Rating: 4/5.


Rambo (DVD)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Darla from Angel, Chappelle from 24 and a whole load of Burmese people dying violently.

Rated: 18.

Story: A group of American missionaries sneak into Burma to bring aid to those being mistreated by the military government. They get captured. Luckily, the taciturn bloke with the big muscles they picked as their boatman has something of a history of mounting single-handed rescues.

Lots and lots of people who can't speak English die...

Comments: I was fourteen when the last Rambo film was released, so I was hugely aware of it but never actually got to see the movie. Having watched this, however, I'm not exactly going to be rushing to find out what I missed. The plot is thin, the dialogue is dreadful and there's vast amounts of gore for the sake of it.

Most of the film is merely a justification for the extended carnage in the final scenes. The Burmese military is portrayed as simply evil, with every soldier deserving to be splattered to a fine red mist by automatic fire. Peaceful attempts to ease the situation are obliterated; controlled aggression fails. Only a homicidal pensioner on steroids can get the job done.

There's no denying that Burma can be a pretty horrible place to be. I'm not entirely comfortable that the answer is to send in Sylvester Stallone with a very big gun, though. Mixing a dumb action film with real world suffering produces a movie that's just unpleasant to watch.

Conclusion: Let's hope this isn't the future of edutainment.

Explosions: Not that many (unless you count people being vaporised by a hail of bullets...)
Stallone's performance: Surprisingly solid.
Stallone's muscles: Surprisingly large.
Stallone's top speed: Surprisingly fast.
Stallone's age: Just plain surprising.

Rating: 2/5.


Lullaby Gloworm

Lullaby Gloworm

Cost: £7.99.

Contents: An eight inch long cuddly toy with an electronic gizmo in the middle. Squeezing the Gloworm makes a lullaby play and its face glow. There are a number of tunes and three modes:

  • Demo - Shorter tunes but extra loud.
  • Normal.
  • Light only - The face glows for a brief period of time.
The Gloworm requires 3 AA batteries.

Age: From birth, up until three weeks after your child leaves home. (At which point you pile all the junk they've refused to part with over the years into bin bags, take it round to their flat, dump it in the middle of their new lounge and then announce how you need the space to turn their old room into a cinema.)

New Lullaby Gloworm.
A recent version of the Gloworm.

Comments: There are many ways to tell new parents from seasoned hands. These involve everything from competence to tiredness to, most obviously, the size of child they have lurking around whining for attention. Should they have suffered a forgetful moment and left their offspring somewhere else, however, you can always get them to leaf through a catalogue of baby stuff and see how they react. New parents will scour every page and marvel at the cuteness and practicality of everything on offer. The pros will do a quick flick, muttering things like 'Too big', 'Too small', 'Tat', 'Too fragile' and 'Dry clean! I don't think so...'

The Gloworm is one of those toys that looks great and many people have fond memories of having as children themselves. New parents will snap one up on sight.

In practice, it has some issues:

Most noticeably, its collection of nursery rhymes is quite loud. Should you find yourself sharing a room (or worse, a bed) with the Gloworm and its owner, you'll find your sleep disturbed every hour by the kid rolling over and triggering an electronic rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Of course, if your child has a selection of toys available, this may be followed by rustling, tinkling, the noises of assorted farmyard animals, a breathless cry of 'Big Hug!' and a thud. (The last being the kid falling out of bed because there's not enough space. Even then, she may not wake up but you certainly will.)

The Gloworm has no off switch. When put in a bag and taken somewhere, it activates every minute or so and then runs out of batteries just as you reach your destination. Switching it to 'Light Only' helps a little and cuts down on embarrassment but changing the mode is fiddly. Taking the batteries out entirely requires a screwdriver.

Lullaby Gloworm innards.
The electronic bit.

Additionally, the Gloworm is surface washable only. Which is just daft. Fortunately, this is standard toy manufacturer speak for, 'If this item should somehow get covered in poo and you put it in a pillowcase and wash it on a gentle cycle with lots of other stuff for extra padding, you do so at your own risk.' (The electronics are tied in place with ribbon and can be removed fairly easily by an adult.)

These are all things that will give experienced parents reason to avoid buying the Gloworm for their children. Kids love it, though. A toy that's cuddly, noisy and glows in the dark - what more could a two-year-old ask for?

Conclusion: The perfect gift for other people's children.


  • Cuddly.
  • Plays tunes.
  • Glows.
  • Cute.
  • Will make you popular with any nieces, nephews or grandchildren you give it to.

  • Goes through batteries quickly.
  • Hard to clean.
  • Loud.
  • Will make you unpopular with other travellers if left in a fully-functional state at the bottom of a rucksack for the entire length of a juddery, five-hour train journey.
Rating: 4/5.

Ellen Whitaker's Horse Life (DS)

Rated: 3+ but that's really just a warning that under-threes might try to eat the cartridge. There's plenty of text, so players will need to be able to read well.

Story: Your grandfather owns a stud farm and has given you a horse. Care for it, train it, earn riding diplomas and then compete in show jumping, dressage and cross-country events.

Gameplay: During each day of the game you can choose to perform a number of activities such as clean your horse, take it for a ride, stroke it or train it to do different manoeuvres and jumps. These activities all affect the horse's happiness, fitness and cleanliness. Do enough training and you can take a test to earn a riding diploma. Gaining diplomas unlocks competitions.

The game is controlled entirely with the stylus. Cleaning and brushing is handled in an obvious fashion by rubbing the stylus over your horse. Controlling the horse as it moves around uses a somewhat less obvious technique. You views events from a position behind the horse and slightly to the side. Tapping the horse's rear speeds it up and tapping its head slows it down as it follows a set path through the countryside or round an arena. The gameplay comes from pulling off jumps, turns and tricks. These involve tapping dots and tracing lines on the touchscreen at the correct speed as they appear.

It's like a sedate, equestrian version of Elite Beat Agents.

Winning competitions brings cash and the chance to buy new outfits, gear and better feed.

Save System: Autosave after every event.

Comments: There's no escaping that this is clearly a game aimed at ten-year-old girls who like ponies. I am not a ten-year-old girl nor have I ever been one. I don't have a ten-year-old daughter to fob this off on and have write the review for me. I don't even like ponies.

Given these issues and the post-traumatic stress I received from Baby Life, I wasn't entirely enthusiastic about the thought of playing Horse Life. I didn't feel there was much chance of it going well. Eventually, however, I slipped the cartridge into my DS and muddled my way through the pony creation process and some interminable text-based dialogue involving chats with old men and vets, before taking on the persona of a teenage girl and heading off into the woods on a horse.

Then the weirdest thing happened. Slowly, and against my better judgement, I started to enjoy myself...

Amazingly, Horse Life isn't merely tat cobbled together to throw onto the bandwagon of non-games, sims and casual titles for the DS. It's got gameplay to go with the horse-owning simulation. It has pretty graphics, a generally decent interface, plenty to do and there's even a bit of story involving teen rivalry and a spot of horse-nobbling. Quite honestly, this is probably more than ten-year-old girls who like ponies have grown to expect from DS games.

The mechanics of riding the horses is similar to the tried-and-tested controls used in recent rhythm action games. It's just as much fun but doesn't involve as much rhythm. Being unable to follow a beat, I like this twist a lot. Also, while there's quite a challenge to be had performing a perfect run, the game is pretty lenient when you mess up, cutting down on frustration.

On the downside, having to train and muck-out stables when you simply want to get on with show jumping can get tedious. This is possibly quite realistic, though, and actually a reason to give it to any offspring you have who want their own pony. If they complain it's dull, remind them that at least it's not risking injury or bankruptcy, and they're not having to get up at six in the morning to traipse to the stables in the rain.

Once they appreciate this, you might be able to bargain them down from the pony to a pet gerbil.

Conclusion: If you need to buy a gift for a girl who's around ten years old, likes ponies and has a DS, then this might be exactly what you're looking for. As a bonus, you can get her to do all the hard work training and cleaning a horse, then you can sneak a few goes at three-day-eventing without having to touch a virtual shovel full of horse poo.

Graphics: Surprisingly good. Many of the cross-country tracks are very pleasant to look at and the horse animation is excellent. Only Ellen Whitaker fans are liable to be disappointed, since she doesn't really feature and it appears suspiciously as if her name was added to the game at the last moment.

Length: Decent. There are plenty of competitions to unlock. High score tables for each event would have been good to increase longevity, though.

Rating: 4/5.


Hancock (DVD)

Starring: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman and one of the most ill-conceived plot twists in cinematic history.

Rated: 12.

Story: Hancock (Smith) is immortal, invulnerable, super strong and able to fly. He's also an irritable drunk who's quick to take offence and who doesn't care if he creates a big hole in the road every time he lands. His attempts to help people always end in disaster and swearing.

Then he saves the life of a philanthropic PR man (Bateman) who offers to clean up his image. After a little amusing rehab, everything goes downhill...

Comments: Hancock starts out in a promising fashion. It completely breaks from the Spider-Man superhero movie template of girlfriend trouble -> superpower -> little fight -> angst-ridden girlfriend trouble -> big fight -> pose-striking finish. There's no sitting around for half an hour waiting for Hancock to gain his powers and master them - it's straight to car-smashing chaos. Hurrah!

Sadly, it doesn't last. The idea is great but the execution has no conviction. You'd imagine there'd be plenty of comic potential in the concept of a superhero who's lacking in self control, manners and personal hygiene, but the laughs quickly die out. All too soon, Hancock evolves from scumbag to X-Man wannabe and there's half an hour of sitting around as he masters his powers and we learn how he gained them.

The change of tack almost exactly coincides with a cataclysmic plot twist which destroys the movie entirely. Suddenly the film goes from mildly entertaining superhero comedy to straight superhero action flick. It's not even a good superhero action flick. There seems to be an attempt to fit every mistake possible into forty-five minutes - there's angst, a dull CGI fight, nonsensical limitations to Hancock's power, tiresome brooding, a lack of a proper villain and a schmaltzy happy ending (with posing). Gah!

For once, a sequel stands little chance of redeeming matters. It would be Superman with added Will Smith, wisecracks and swearing. Not a hugely enticing prospect...

Conclusion: You've already seen the good bits in the trailer.

Explosions: Not many. Stuff tends to get smashed rather than going boom.
Jokes: Essentially one (and even the writers give up on it halfway through).
Missed opportunities: Several.
For the kids?: Totally not.
For anyone?: Maybe... but there's probably something better on TV.

Rating: 2/5.



Dragonology box.

Cost: £25.

Box contents:
  • Large game board.
  • 15 painted plastic figures (6 people, 9 dragons).
  • One 12-sided dice.
  • 81 Bit of Knowledge cards.
  • 30 Transportation tickets.
  • A very fiddly storage tray that's designed to show off the figures in the shop more than anything else.
  • Plenty of empty space.
Gameplay: Players roll the dice in order to move across the board, choosing their path round the world in order to collect 'Bits of Knowledge' and travel tickets. Once they have three cards featuring information about the same type of dragon (or two specific cards and a wild card), they can go to that dragon's home square and claim it.

Land, sea and air transport tickets allow players to travel across a continent, along an ocean route or to anywhere on the board, respectively. Rolling the dragon's eye on the dice grants immediate travel to the home of a dragon of their choice.

Some Bit of Knowledge cards feature spells to do such things as steal other player's cards or take an extra go. The two Master Claw spells enable a player to purloin someone else's dragon by taking a matching piece of knowledge to the dragon's home.

If a player lands on the same space as another player, they may gamble cards in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Players may also trade cards rather than taking a normal turn.

Once a player has three dragons they must travel to the Island of Winged Serpents in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At this point they become immune to attacks and merely need to travel exactly seven more spaces to reach the Dragon's Eye.

Dragonology contents.

Object: First player to the Dragon's Eye wins.

Game length: Around 45 minutes to an hour for a three player game.

Number of players: 2-6. Remember, however, that there are only nine dragons, three are required to win and there are only two cards in the deck that allow dragons to be stolen. This being the case, playing with more than 4 players is asking for tedious stalemate. Playing with 2 players, meanwhile, essentially nullifies the possibility of trading and means that Confusion spells (which shuffle the opposing players' cards) are pointless. This doesn't knacker the game completely but does make it less fun.

So, ideally, 3-4 players then.

Age: 8+. The spell cards don't have any instructions on them, making the game slightly confusing to begin with because everyone has to memorise their effects or keep checking the rule book. This does mean, though, that children don't have to be able to read particularly well to play once they've seen the game in action a couple of times and have picked up what's going on. Any child who can reliably and quickly count eleven spaces on a board can join in.

Dragonology figures.

Comments: Playing this certainly beats Snakes and Ladders. Unfortunately, not by as much as you might expect.

Since each player only starts with one card and landing on spaces to obtain more is a matter of luck, it can take twenty minutes of dice rolling and laborious counting to accumulate enough resources to achieve anything. Of course, everyone tends to reach that point at roughly the same time and there's a frantic scramble for dragons. This is where the game really takes off, with vindictive use of spells and desperate pleas to trade.

Sadly, as soon as someone has three dragons, they tend to fly straight to the Island of Winged Serpents and they're stuck doing nothing other than rolling the dice each turn until they get the exact number required. Sometimes the other players can rush to catch up, other times there's no real hope and it's merely a case of plodding on until the player with the dragons finally throws a flipping 1.

Having said that, Sprog1 (8) totally loves the game. I'm hoping to persuade him that it would be better if each player started with five cards but he's not having any of it. Ho well, maybe this is the first step to getting him playing something a little more interesting at least.

Overall, most of the development time seems to have been spent on how the game looks rather than on how it plays. Some of the rules are a little unclear. Vast swathes of the board are unused, while certain areas are overly cluttered. The Bit of Knowledge cards are oddly shaped and one edge has spikes - this is all very well but makes them awkward to shuffle and ensures they become dog-eared quickly. On top of that, one of the player figures is poorly balanced and falls over constantly. (Handily, this is the one that children are always drawn to on first sight and want to be...) The main problem, though, is that much of the time there's just not a lot to do other than roll and move.

Conclusion: Ironically, while the box is twice as deep as it needs to be, the game has only half the depth it should have.

  • Beautiful miniatures.
  • Better than Monopoly, Scrabble and most of the other tat that eight-year-olds are liable to force you to play.
  • The middle section of the game is pretty competitive and entertaining.
  • Involves dragons.
  • Not many pieces to be knocked out of place by a passing younger child flailing about for no reason.
  • Slow to get going.
  • Sometimes agonisingly slow to finish.
  • Doesn't feel thoroughly play-tested.
  • Involves too much luck.
  • The dice and playing pieces are rather lightweight.
  • May cause arguments about how to pronounce 'cockatrice'.
Rating: 3/5.

Mamma Mia! (DVD)

Starring: Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Julie Walters.

Rated: PG.

Story: A pretty girl is getting married at her mother's rustic hotel on an isolated Greek island. She invites three of her mum's old boyfriends to the wedding in an effort to find out which one is her dad. This leads to embarrassing misunderstandings, plenty of soul-searching and lots of Abba.

Comments: There's every chance you were forced to watch this by your mum at Christmas. (Serves you right for giving it to her.) In case you managed to escape on this occasion, however, I thought I'd better give you a heads up so that you're prepared for next year.

Most of the movie is quite bearable. There's plenty of sea and sunshine, some great choreography and an excellent performance by Julie Walters. You'll obviously need to enjoy Abba music at least a little but it's not essential to be a huge fan - despite having been a teenager at a time when Abba was hopelessly uncool, I found nearly all the songs familiar and pleasant enough. I even occasionally paused the game I was playing on my DS so I could pay a little more attention to the dancing.

The three dads struggle with singing, though. They just about pull it off but you can tell that Pierce Brosnan in particular is having to try really, really hard.

And then there's the plot...

The scenery and music manage to keep things going for at least the first half of the film but then the story reaches a critical mass of awfulness that's impossible to ignore. At the very moment I realised this, my wife said, "This is where it turns into the kind of film you really hate." Sure enough, a series of half overheard conversations, 'white' lies and miscommunications ensued, reminiscent of especially cringeworthy episodes of Friends. (You know, the ones where Ross is at his most annoying.)

Luckily, I still had my DS handy and managed to phase most of the horror out by whacking orcs over the head with a large axe. Phew...

To top it all, the film presents a very odd view of marriage. Getting married and then travelling the world together constitutes being tied down, apparently, while taking the same trip as an unmarried couple doesn't. Or something... I suppose you shouldn't expect much from a story that's a Swedish version of Frankenstein's monster, constructed entirely of Abba songs...

Conclusion: You really wouldn't want to have to give this your full attention.

Explosions: None.
Cast members who can sing: Most.
Cast members who can barely sing: Three.
Cast members who can't both sing and move at the same time: Colin Firth.
Abba songs spliced together in a desperate attempt to make a coherent story: Lots.

Rating: 2/5.


DadsDinner Awards for 2008

Welcome to a low-down on the best and worst that's been released in 2008. Well, actually, not all of this stuff was released in 2008 - it's more a low-down on the best and worst stuff reviewed by DadsDinner in the last year.

Er, hang on, I haven't got round to reviewing all this yet. And I've probably forgotten stuff. Oh, and if I gave a list of the worst stuff, it would be full of obvious tat for the Wii and DS and I can't be bothered with that.


Welcome to a low-down on some of the best and most disappointing stuff that DadsDinner may or may not have reviewed in 2008.

Hmmm... I think I may have to hire a second-rate comedian and an X-Factor runner-up to present this next year and add an extra touch of professionalism...

Now, without further ado, here are the categories:


The Best

The Dark Knight - As I keep saying, all superhero franchises should somehow start with a sequel. This second film in the new era is markedly better than Batman Begins and is packed full of action, mayhem and moral deliberation. Would you press the button?

Stardust - A sparkling, witty, hugely imaginative adventure that's the best thing since The Princess Bride.
The Disappointing

Hellboy 2 - Then again, maybe I'm wrong about the superhero sequels. This is a disastrous mix of lacklustre humour and out-of-place special effects. It's like the first film got spliced with Labyrinth. I kept expecting a bunch of muppets to turn up.

Battlestar Galactica Season 4 - The plot went pear-shaped in the last episode of Season 3 and things never entirely recover. It's still good but just not great.

WALL-E - Dull, dull, dull. Shoot me now.
Computer Games

The Best

Civilization Revolution - A turn-based strategy game that's accessible enough to just pick up and play but complicated enough to be entirely engrossing. Experimentally proven to be better than beer.

Fallout 3 - A post-apocalyptic adventure in the nuked remains of Washington DC. Sure, the combat is sometimes a little ropey and scavenging for supplies can get annoying, but how many other games can serve up totally fresh situations and experiences after thirty-five hours? Fallout 3 has the most fully-realised world in gaming.

Dead Space - It doesn't offer anything much new but this is the best survival horror game in a while. The graphics are excellent and there are any number of scares. If the sequel has better puzzles, it will be superb.
The Disappointing

GTA IV - Over-familiar, bloated and squint-inducing. Oh dear...
Card and Board Games

The Best

UNO - A simple card game that requires a little strategy and a whole heap of concentration. It can keep the entire family occupied for hours.

Cadoo - Pictionary, Charades and a couple of quiz games all rolled into one. Most importantly, it even works with two players.
Actually the worst

Junior Scrabble - Dull, dull, dull. Hit me over the head with a copy of WALL-E now.
Other stuff

The Best

Iceland chopped onions and peppers - I stopped buying fresh onions because I always discovered them turning blue at the back of the fridge a few weeks later. I hardly ever got round to chopping them. Now I can just rummage around in the freezer and pull out all the diced onion I could possibly want. It's an instant way to add flavour and vitamins to almost any meal.

Aveeno - Moisturising cream with the power of oatmeal! Fantastic on eczema and almost any other minor skin complaint.

Battery converters - They magically turn AA batteries into C and D batteries. This is very, very useful.

LOVEFiLM - Unlimited DVDs and games delivered to your door. Vast choice, excellent service, a great price and you get exciting post! Go on, you know you want to...
The Disappointing

Bath toys - Liable to go manky if combined with bath water. This is something of a design flaw... Rinse out some plastic bottles and give them to the kids instead.
Well there we have it. Give a big round of applause to the winners and shake your head sorrowfully as the losers shuffle off in shame. Feel free to add your own suggestions if I've missed anything.

And that's it for 2008. We're back to whatever random tack I can lay my hands on next time. Happy New Year!