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Outlander (DVD)

Starring: James Caviezel, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, Ron Perlman and John Hurt.

Rated: 15.

Story: An astronaut from another world crash-lands his spaceship in eighth century Scandinavia. Unfortunately, he brings a fire-breathing lizard monster with big teeth along for the ride.

He's forced to earn the trust of the local Vikings and then they all go dragon hunting...

Comments: Daft. The whole set-up of Outlander is just plain daft. If you can get past that, though, it's a passable action flick which is more fantasy than science fiction. Plenty of care and attention has been applied to the sets and costumes, and the combat is authentically swift and bloody. The 'dragon' itself gives the impression that the computer graphics guys got a little carried away but at least it's an excuse for some fire and explosions.

The cast generally seem as if they'd rather be elsewhere. Caviezel spends most of the time looking like he's just bitten into a lemon, John Hurt is John Hurt, Jack Huston weirdly gives the impression of playing Russell Brand playing a Viking (or maybe that's just me) and Perlman, for some inexplicable reason, appears to think he's in Braveheart 2. Myles' character is lumbered with every cliché going - she's the pretty (but tough and headstrong) princess who is promised to an arrogant prince but is strangely drawn to the mysterious stranger... and winds up needing saved from a dragon. Sigh.

Despite everything, however, Outlander is a likeable adventure tale. Sure it's stupid and predictable but it's also slick, full of action and looks good. You could do worse.

Conclusion: The Lord of the Rings meets Alien on a weekend break to Norway. Lots of guys with swords fight heroically, then get eaten.

If that sounds mildly entertaining, then you'll be mildly entertained...

Explosions: Occasional.
Unlikely plot developments: Several.
Spirited shield maidens: One.
Crazy guys with swords: Tasty.
Things not to do when hunting dragons: Split up and look for clues...

Rating: 3/5


Delfinware 3-Tier Plate Rack

Three-tier plate rack.

Cost: £36 for the version coated in white plastic. £60 for stainless steel.


  • A three-tier plate rack. (Size: 525 x 412 x 250mm.) The top tier takes side plates and bowls, the middle tier takes plates, and bottom shelf takes mugs, etc.

  • Slide-out tray for catching drips.

  • Three-compartment cutlery holder.
Comments: I've never really been sold on the idea of having an automatic dishwasher. When I was growing up, my mum always seemed to be loading or unloading hers. Stuff needed rinsed before it went in, there was usually some sort of Tetris-style challenge to make everything fit and she still had to do a load of washing-up herself to deal with large or delicate items or things which she needed in a hurry. Putting the machine on after tea left a fun load for her (or me!) to put away before bed. Even when I helped fill it, she quite often seemed to have to entirely re-arrange the contents afterwards. The machine simply didn't seem to save much time overall and occasionally broke down in spectacular fashion. (Although the same could possibly be said of my dad now she's finally taught him to help but at least he's company...)

I just haven't had much desire to own one myself. Then again, that's maybe because for the last ten years I've been using one of these dish racks. It can hold a day's worth of crockery from a family five, so I seldom have to do much drying. This halves the time it takes to do the washing-up by hand. The rack is so strong and accessible, I don't even have to bother unloading half the stuff - I remove things as I need them and only put away what's left when it's time to wash-up again. It's tempting to buy a second one and use them in rotation so when it comes to washing-up time, one's empty and the other's full of dry stuff to use.

(Actually... Our local ironmongers is closing so I've already panic-bought a spare one and put it in the loft, just in case anything happens to the first. Perhaps I should go get it...)

The manufacturer's photo above is all very well at showing the sort of thing the rack will hold but it doesn't give much idea of quantity. They clearly weren't trying:

Three-tier drainer loaded with stuff.

Honestly, it's great. The only downside is that if anyone offers to help with the washing-up there won't be much for them to do except stand around getting in the way. Get them to go clean the shower or something.

Conclusion: The best dish drainer ever.


  • Almost eliminates the need for dish cloths.

  • Holds twice as much as other dish racks while taking up half the space.

  • Sturdy.

  • Durable.

  • Suitable for using to store crockery as well as as a dish drainer.

  • If you have cupboards above your worktop, the rack won't fit underneath.

  • Stuff on the bottom can take a while to dry.

  • You'll have to find a stockist.

  • Doesn't cope with every type of bowl (notably including those brightly-coloured ones from Ikea everyone has).

  • So good that you may find yourself buying an extra one for emergencies...
Rating: 5/5.

Army of Two: The 40th Day (Xbox 360)

Rated: 18.

Story: You are a mercenary hired to do a simple piece of infiltration work in Shanghai. As soon as you pull it off, however, the whole city goes up in flames. You and your partner are left to fight your way to safety through a lawless disaster zone overrun by the private army of a lunatic.

That said, you still find time for witty banter about pandas...

Gameplay: The 40th Day is a shooter where you view the action from over the shoulder of one of a pair of mercenaries. It's essentially a case of working forwards through each level, moving from cover to cover and taking out the enemy soldiers with a selection of sniper rifles, machine guns, grenades and pistols.

In the single-player game, you can order your partner with a tap of a button to advance, stay close or defend their position. A second tap makes them more aggressive, dealing out greater punishment but drawing heavier fire on themselves. While they're busy distracting the enemy, you can flank armoured positions or snipe from hiding.

On occasion, the pace is broken up by opportunities to rescue hostages or steal supplies. This requires a little more stealth and subtlety. You're also given a few situations where you must choose whether to help others or simply look out for yourself.

The game can be played cooperatively by two players (either on the same console or over Xbox LIVE).

Save System: Automatic saving on a regular basis. Checkpoints are only a few minutes apart.

Comments: I wasn't sure what to expect from The 40th Day. I didn't play the original Army of Two but I don't recall the reviews being particularly flattering. It also promised to be a similar ordeal to Gears of War 2 which I got bored with long before the end. I imagined an endless slog through a succession of brown corridors, interrupted only by an occasional irritating boss battle...

I was amazed to discover a colourful and well-paced game involving plenty of blasting and explosions combined with just enough strategy to keep it interesting but not overly taxing.

The game is obviously going to be most fun played with a friend but it's still very enjoyable played solo. The artificial intelligence of your partner is good enough to pull off satisfying pincer movements and gives a genuine illusion of working as a team. An 'Aggro' meter, showing which of you is attracting the most attention, makes enemy behaviour easily understandable. The result is a single-player campaign which is effortlessly more entertaining than either Gears 2 or Resident Evil 5.

The experience is helped by the fact that someone appears to have finally realised that there are a few simple things to avoid when creating a computer game. Joyously, The 40th Day has a lack of pointless padding, irritating alarms and superfluous story. The save system is friendly, you can see what's going on and it's possible to select the difficulty level each time you play. Even better, there are no frustrating, tedious boss battles - only some extra-tough grunts who turn up every so often to force a change in tactics.

From the level design to stage content, there just seems to have been more thought than usual applied to The 40th Day. The hostage rescues and some gung-ho shoot-out sections make a refreshing change from the vehicle and turret interludes that are almost obligatory in the genre. Even the cover system works differently from most other games. Instead of pressing a button to 'stick' to cover, you simply stand or crouch behind it. You then control which way you peer out from behind it by switching your view from one shoulder to another. This takes getting used to but it quickly becomes a very natural way of doing things.

All the care which has gone into the game does make the few minor niggles all the more baffling, though. Why aren't there options for balancing the sound volume between speech, effects and music, for instance? What about subtitles? These are oddly basic omissions. I also encountered a bug in the controls menu. Inverting the y-axis (i.e. making it so that pushing the thumbstick up made me look down) failed to work first time. I was unable to shoot straight until I'd restarted the game and briefly tried the left-handed control setting. After that, inverting worked fine but I'd almost given up on being able to play the game by then.

I'm glad I persevered, though. As a spectacle, Army of Two: The 40th Day has more explosions than most action films and yet still contains more to think about. As a game, it's a linear third-person shooter without many new ideas. Nonetheless, some clever tweaks to the formula make it vibrant and engaging. How often do you get to ponder the failings of modern society while sneakily shooting bad guys in the head from behind a dead hippo?

Conclusion: Explosive, cathartic and really rather good.

Graphics: Technically competent and frequently artistically striking. It may not have the detail of some other similar games but it's a lot more interesting to look at. I kept having to stop to gaze at the scenery.

Length: Short (although the 6 or 7 hours it takes to play through the single-player campaign has become pretty much standard for this kind of thing). Getting to see the outcome of different moral choices encourages a replay.

Rating: 4/5.



Buckaroo! box.

Cost: £13.

  • One bucking mule with base and blanket.
  • 12 assorted plastic items of cowboy equipment/baggage.
Gameplay: The first player puts the saddle on the mule and then the next player attempts to hang or place an item of baggage on the saddle. Play continues round in a circle with players taking turns to load further items onto the mule. Anyone dropping an item, knocking one off or causing the mule to buck is out of the game.

Object: To place the final object on the mule without making him buck or to be the last player still in the game.

Game length: Often under a minute.

Number of players: 2-4.

Age: 4+.

Comments: When I was a kid, I had a Jaws game which involved fishing pieces of junk out of the spring-loaded mouth of a model shark using a crochet hook. The weight of the junk was the only thing which kept the mouth open and so the shark was bound to bite eventually. The trick was in knowing when to take a large item and leave everyone else in the lurch, and when to play it safe and take the smallest object going. The game was tense, fun and always ended with someone getting their fingers snapped at.

And yet...

Jaws was clearly inspired by Buckaroo!. Buckaroo! was the game everyone knew about, that had the TV ads and that flung stuff across the room. In short, it was the game the cool kids had. As a result, I felt somewhat short-changed.

That said, I never played Buckaroo! as a kid and I had no idea what it was really like. As it turns out, I had the better game all along...

This new version of Buckaroo! has three sensitivity settings for the mule but it's pretty hard to make the thing buck even on the twitchiest option. In contrast, hanging multiple items off the saddle is pretty awkward. Players are vastly more likely to be out through having something slip off as they put it on than through the mule bucking. This is something of an anti-climax.

After a little practice, older children will have little difficulty piling on all the items, making the winner dependent on when the objects are depleted. In a two-player game, if no one is knocked out, the person who goes second will always win. Bearing this in mind, it's crazy that the rules specifically state that the youngest player is supposed to go first - it puts them at a huge disadvantage. (And that's before taking into account that placing the saddle correctly is the hardest part of the game.)

Things can be improved slightly by changing the rules so that each player starts with a share of the objects to load and gets to add anything they drop to their pile. The winner is the first person to get rid of all their stuff. The lack of bucking means the game still isn't that fun, though.

You'd be much better off with the very similar Bounce Bounce Tigger Game. Personally, I'm off to search my parents' loft for Jaws.

Conclusion: Unsatisfying and very short.

  • Bright and colourful.
  • Simple.
  • Short set-up time.
  • It's probably still what all the cool kids have.
  • Doesn't really work.
  • The rules haven't been thought through.
  • Won't keep anyone occupied for more than ten minutes.
  • Might make playing Mouse Trap seem like a fun alternative.
Rating: 2/5.

Crank 2 - High Voltage (DVD)

Starring: Jason Statham, Amy Smart and a granny in a cardigan made of synthetic fibres.

Rated: 18.

Story: Chev Chelios wakes up from a coma to discover his heart has been stolen and replaced by an artificial one. He sets out on a rampage of destruction to get the original back before his batteries run out. Along the way, he finds every daft method possible to give himself a quick recharge.

Mmmmmmm... Friction.

Comments: Despite all its gore and violence, the original Crank was actually quite a thoughtful metaphor on hedonism and the transitory nature of life. Coupled with non-stop action, this made it rather good. At the end, however, I was disappointed to discover that it left absolutely no room for a sequel. Then again, upon thinking about it, I realised a sequel would entirely undermine the very nature of Crank. It's simply a headlong thrill ride towards death without time to pause or think, poking fun at the ultimate emptiness of a life of self-gratification.

Of course, it's also possible that the whole thing was just an excuse for a frantic sequence of fights and chases...

It doesn't matter, though. Either way, the ending of Crash is as emphatic as Titanic or Hamlet - pretty much everyone is dead. Any sequel was always going to be something of a stretch.

Enter High Voltage.

Oh dear. After Chev gets better from being dead in the first five minutes, the writers simply know no shame. The rest really is merely an excuse for a frantic sequence of fights and chases, tied together by coincidence and attempts to shock (sometimes in the eletrical sense, sometimes in the 'Eugh!' sense). It's like they put together a focus group of sixteen-year-old boys and asked them what they wanted. It probably says something that easily the funniest joke involves a guy with Full Body Tourettes.

The action isn't even that great. The pace helps keep it all relatively diverting but there's nothing very spectacular.

The only conceivable reason anyone thought creating Crank 2 was a good idea was to make a fast buck off the success of the original. The one consolation is that the movie is mercifully short, stopping pretty much randomly at the point the makers got bored.

Conclusion: Like a reel of scenes deleted from the original for being too daft and puerile.

Explosions: Occasional.
Strippers and hookers: Everywhere.
Mutilation: Unpleasant.
Violence: Extreme.
Foul-mouthed old lady: One.
Happy sixteen-year-olds: Probably many.

Rating: 2/5.