GOBBLE MONKEY

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Monday, 29 August 2011

Rubik’s Cube

Did you know that the Rubik’s Cube was invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Ernő Rubik?

He sounds like he’d be fun at a dinner party doesn’t he? Well he wasn’t – he was probably in the corner twisting a white, red, blue, orange, green, and yellow box around instead of commenting politely on the pavlova.

In the 80s, EVERYONE had a Rubik’s Cube, whether you wanted one or not. It was the law.


For anyone not around in the 80s, it was a small plastic puzzle with 54 different coloured blocks making up a six sided cube. To win, you had to make each of the six sides the same colour by rotating each face.

SOUNDS EASY RIGHT?

Well, did you ALSO know there are exactly 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 permutations of the Rubik’s Cube – that’s approximately forty-three quintillion.

And this is a present they gave to ten-year-olds. That’s the equivalent of being a forty-three quintillion piece jigsaw – and at least you get a pretty picture of a dinosaur when you finish that. With the Rubik’s Cube, all you got was a cube with six coloured sides – completely useless except for throwing at the cat.

To me, this was just a gift designed to make you feel stupid, angry and bored – in exactly that order – then go back to watching your Ghostbusters VHS.

Anyone who told you they could complete the Rubik’s Cube was lying. Nobody could do the Rubik’s Cube – unless they did it the way I did: peel off all the coloured stickers and re-stick them so all the sides match up. Then take it into the playground the next day and look smug.

(One man who could do it was Feliks Zemdegs, who holds the world record for completing the cube in 6.65 seconds)

An even easier way to solve the cube was merely to twist off the smaller individual cubes, then shove them back on in the correct order. I reckon I could do that in 6 seconds. EAT THAT FELIKS ZEMDEGS.


Poor Professor Rubik could never quite match the success of his multi-coloured cube – but I did own his follow up, Rubik’s Magic. Bored of squares, he’d come up with an exciting new innovation – circles. Basically you wibble-wobbled connected titles around ‘til you made a picture of a circle. This one was more annoying than the Cube because there was no way of dismantling it and cheating.

(BONUS FACT: Yuxan Wang holds the world record for completing Rubik’s Magic in 0.71 seconds.)

The Cube, however, remains an iconic image of the 80s. Every household really did have one, even though 99 per cent of them would just use it as a paperweight. Somehow Prof Ernő managed to convince the world to buy his useless plastic puzzle even though few had the brains to solve it. Now that’s real genius

Thursday, 28 July 2011

THE SPECTRUM

The first computer I ever saw, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum was about the size of a large paperback book, jet black (save the rainbow flash of colours zipping across the bottom corner) with tiny grey rubber keys.


Invented by balding scientist Sir Clive Sinclair in 1984, the Spectrum was one of the first home computers. Plugged into the telly, you could play games in your own front room! Granted, they were all rubbish, but I wasn’t allowed in arcades, so to me, they were like stepping into TRON.

If you could go back in time to visit the eight-year-old me, and swap my Spectrum for an XBOX, it would be like giving a caveman a Cornetto. I’d love it for five minutes and then throw up, my body unable to comprehend the assault of colours, music and hard-core violence. (That is exactly what would happen if you gave a caveman a Cornetto)

For one, all the games for the Spectrum were on cassette tapes.

While this made copying your mate’s games pretty easy (all you needed was a tape-to-tape HiFi) it did mean that most Spectrum games took at least eight minutes to load. EIGHT MINUTES. Can you imagine any child today waiting eight minutes for Call of Duty to load? No, they’d be off spray-painting the library.

I found those eight minutes quite handy – you could pop downstairs for some toast and cup of tea and be back before the game had loaded. That way, you also avoided the EXCRUCIATING loading noises. Like scraping a cat’s claws down a blackboard while simultaneously putting its tail in a George Foreman grill. No one who owned a Spectrum will ever forget that noise – and it lasted EIGHT MINUTES.

(Later, when the games became more complicated, you often had to inset ANOTHER cassette tape and wait AGAIN. Even then around 75 per cent of the time, you’d just get an ERROR message and have to start over.)

However, if you were patient, you were rewarded with an embarrassment of riches.

Take the game Horace Goes Skiing for example. Check out these state of the art graphics. And the gameplay! You could move Horace left AND right!

HORACE GOES SKIING (1982)

Another staple of the Spectrum was the text based adventure game. These dispensed with graphics and moving characters completely, opting instead for descriptions of what was happening. The player would simply type instructions such as ‘go north’ to move to the next location.

But the rubbish nature of the graphics eventually forced programmers to be wildly creative with gameplay resulting in some of the cleverest, most inventive games ever made.


Sinclair brought out a 128k memory version, allowing software companies to make games like Chaos (chess with wizards), Laser Squad, (vast tactical warfare) and Elite (a never-ending space trading game). Soon, the Spectrum had become the most popular home computer in Europe. Kids at school that had the rival Commodore 64 were losers – the ‘Speccy’ was king.

Back then, you didn’t need 72 programmers, voice-artists, musicians and script-writers to make a game. Anyone could learn to code games on their own machine, meaning there was no end to the bizarre titles that came out. If a programmer had an idea, they could make a game out of it.


Want a somersaulting egg that solves puzzles? No problem, you had Dizzy – a sort of Indiana Jones with a yoke. Then there was Paperboy (you just had to deliver papers), Marble Madness (you were a marble), School Daze (you were a naughty schoolboy who had to terrorise fellow pupils without getting detention) and Jet Set Willy (not too sure what happened in that one…)

I loved my Spectrum more than it was normal to love a stupid noisy box of wires. It became more than a hobby – hunting down second hand games at car boot sales and devouring both monthly fan magazines, Sinclair User and Your Sinclair.

Even when Amiga’s, Mega Drive and Nintendo arrived, I stuck with my old Speccy. The new games dried up, but there was still a hardcore fan base still programming their own. I still remember the last ever issue of Your Sinclair – a massive double edition that paid tribute over a decade of Sir Clive’s revolutionary home computer. It was like Michael Jackson had died.

Now, the entire concept of the Spectrum is so alien to today’s youth, it’s hard to believe they even existed. But they did, and I’ve still got mine in the loft somewhere to prove it. I’ve got an XBOX now, and while the games look like Hollywood movies and you can spend hours recreating World Cup finals against 12 year-olds on the other side of the world, I’d still rather sit through eight minutes of screeching and play a two-dimensional black and white game featuring a somersaulting egg every time.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Gladiators

Before X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, before even Stephen Mulhern’s Animals Do The Funniest Things, Saturday nights on ITV were ruled by one show – Gladiators.

Every Saturday evening, families across the nation would sit down with a plate of oven chips and watch the lycra-clad likes of Hunter, Falcon, Jet and Panther slug it out with members of the public at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.


The show comprised of a series of challenges, undertaken by fitness fanatics from around the UK. So you’d have Greg, an IT consultant from Milton Keynes battling Rhino – a man actually wider than he was tall – by bouncing around on giant elastic bungee ropes, smashing each other offer pedestals with massive foam sticks or racing up climbing walls.

The best Gladiator was Wolf. Wolf was in fact a 57 year old homeless man pulled off the streets at the last minute by London Weekend Television producers, desperate for someone to play the bad guy. Wolf was a pantomime villain, all straggly hair and crazy eyes.


Supposed to be terrifying, he was by far the least frightening Gladiator, and you could see the contestants visibly draw a sigh of relief if he was their chosen opponent. Only Shadow actually looked like he might actually be taking the whole thing completely seriously and could possibly kill a contestant

The whole thing was hosted perkily by Ulrika Johnson and John ‘Fash’ Fashanu, but referee John Anderson had the catchphrase– shouting ‘Contestant, Ready! Gladiator, Ready!’ in his broad Scottish accent before blowing his whistle loudly.

The big finale was a race between the two contestants through the ominously named The Eliminator– basically a big assault course over various crash mats and monkey bars. The Eliminator ended with possibly the most tortuous device ever created – The Travelator. Essentially one of those moving walkways you get at the airport, only risen by 45 degrees and going backwards, it had the power to sap any remaining ounce of remaining energy from an already exhausted contestant. Every week, you could guarantee at least three minutes of joy, laughing as a contestant tried in vain to jog up it, their legs going nine to the dozen, but getting nowhere. If someone did manage to run up the Travelator, their reward was getting to jump spectacularly through a piece of paper and have a sweaty chat with Ulrika. There must have been some sort of prize, but I can’t remember what it was. Perhaps a sweaty chat with Ulrika was enough.


The show was incredibly popular, turning the phrase ‘pugel sticks’ a household phrase and catapulting the muscle-bound Gladiators into superstars. Kids would watch for the sub-WWF style pantomime, while the Dads could enjoy the glamorous delights of female Gladiators like Jet and Lightning. Sky1 re-made Gladiators a couple of years ago, but it’s time had passed. It’s real successor is the BBC’s Total Wipeout – essentially Gladiators without the Gladiators – and that, my friends, is what is called missing the point.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Transformers

Picture the scene. A school assembly circa 1986. One sentence is whispered across the hall.

“Megatron is dead.”

No.

You are joking.

But how? He’s too powerful! It CAN’T be true.

But it was true. Megatron, evil leader of the Decepticons, had finally been defeated by his nemesis Optimus Prime.*

In the world of Transformers, this was like JR getting shot, Dirty Den divorcing Angie or Simon Groom leaving Blue Peter. In other words, it was MASSIVE.


Remember the boardroom scene in Big when Tom Hanks comes up with the idea of a robot that turns into a giant bug? Somewhere, sometime in the Eighties, in some Hasbro office in California, that happened for real. Some genius came up with an idea so devastatingly simple, it changed toys forever:

Kids like robots. Kids like cars. SO WHAT ABOUT A ROBOT THAT IS ALSO A CAR?

It’s probably the best idea of all time. Better than the egg cup, better than chocolate covered pretzels and much better than boring rubbish like Action Man (not a robot, couldn’t change into a car) and Star Wars figures. (Some robots, no cars).

And so in 1984 Transformers were born. Plastic cars that with a flick of the thumb would become robotic warriors from the planet Cybertron. What kid wouldn’t want to play with that? Okay, so while the vehicles looked alright, you’d usually end up with a slightly dodgy looking robot with a tyre for a head and a hubcab for an arm. That didn’t matter though. The sheer concept of a robot that was also a car was so brilliant that it was hard to believe such a thing could really exist.

But now they did exist and you could buy them for less than a tenner.

While Megatron had by far the best name of all the Transformers, he had the worst transformation. He transformed into a gun. Bear in mind that Megatron could fire lasers out of his hands when in robot form, but he still chose to bizarrely transform into a gigantic Walther P38 pistol. (In the cartoon, the gun would magically shrink so one of the other transformers (who could also shoot lasers anyway!!!) could hold it.)


So basically Megatron was completely useless, but that didn’t matter cos as well as cars and robots, kids also liked playing with toy guns.

The Autobots had leader Optimus Prime, a big red truck, and his buddy Bumblebee, a little yellow Beetle. The Decepticons had Megatron of course, and others like StarScream (a jet) and Soundwave (a cassette tape (below). YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT - A CASSETTE TAPE. He wasn’t so fun to play with as the big gun). However, showing the popularity of the show still to this day, a few years ago Hasbro reissued Soundwave in an updated Mp3 player version!

The idea was that they could wage their war in secret by disguising themselves as ‘earth vehicles’. Except they were transforming pretty much all the time into giant massive robots and beating the crap out of each other.

Once the cartoon spin-off started on telly, Transformers was all anyone ever talked about ever. It was the only TV show ever where the opening titles seemed longer than the actual cartoon itself. In it, the robots constantly shot lasers at each other for a good two minutes while a scary robot sings the theme tune. It’s like a horrible Haribo-induced nightmare and must have terrified parents across the country.

Of course now, 25 odd years later, we have the big budget live action films that have already grossed 27 billion dollars, and a new load of Transformer toys.

It just goes to prove that good ideas last.

*Don’t panic robot fans – it turned out Megatron didn’t actually die, he was merely ‘upgraded’ into the equally evil Galvatron by the all-powerful Unicorn. Phew!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Green Lantern

Superhero movies are like sharks – if they stop moving, they die. Ok, maybe not exactly like sharks. But in a movie like Green Lantern, if the audience is given too much time to realise quite how silly what they’re watching is, then they’ll give up.

Despite having fighting purple aliens, making giant fists out of magic rings and a phobia of the colour yellow, everything in Green Lantern feels flat.

An adaptation of the DC comic, Green Lantern is the story of jet fighter pilot Hal Jordan, who reluctantly takes the place of Earth's protector as part of the Green Lantern Corps, a team of intergalactic space cops.

After a good set up, Green Lantern seems like it has all the ingredients, but ultimately spends too much time faffing about with Jordan's dull love life and boring baddies.

Ryan Reynolds is likeable enough as the man in the horrible CGI green tights, but his slacker superhero seems as bored with the whole thing as we are. Basically Top Gun’s Maverick in Space, he’s no different than cinema's countless other lovable rogues who come good in the end.

The one thing that does set Green Lantern apart from say, Superman or Thor, is his power-ring's unique ability to create whatever objects he can imagine - a race car to rescue an out of control helicopter, water to soften the landing of a falling damsel in distress or a brick wall to hide behind. This means Green Lantern has to out think his enemies, rather than just BIFF POW his way out of danger.

But sequences like this, and Hal's Green Lantern training on their home planet, which should have been fun are cut short in favour of lengthy chats between his tough guy boss Sinestro and six funny blue people who sit on massive pillars.

Add to this a very ineffectual villain in Peter Sarsgaard's mutated mad scientist Hector Hammond, and you've got a bona fide snooze-fest.


Green Lantern always never rises above ordinary, and seems satisified with that, almost as if it’s bored with itself. It has the audience in its grasp, but never goes in for the kill.

And that's something you could never say about a shark.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Dungeons and Dragons

The opening titles of Dungeons & Dragons were genuinely terrifying.

As eerie fairground music tinkles in the background, a group of kids take a ride on a ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ rollercoaster. Suddenly, they’re whisked into a nightmarish dimension where they’re immediately charged by a fire breathing five headed dragon.

Luckily, they’re quickly assisted by the Dungeon Master – imagine a sort of squashed Ross Kemp with Jimmy Saville’s hair – who gives each of them a magical weapon and a new job title.

There’s Hank, the Ranger and the gang’s leader, Shelia, who had a cloak that made her invisible, and a massive crush on Hank, and her kid brother, Bobby, the Barbarian. Then there was Presto, the rubbish Magician and Diana, the Acrobat, whose magically super weapon was basically, a stick. And not forgetting the best character, Eric, the Cavalier – a total sh*t, but also the only one who echoed what we were all thinking watching at home, that the whole thing was completely unfair.

Each episode would see the gang try to locate a portal that would take them back to the real world. Invariably, they’d battle their arch foe, the demon-like Venger, before getting within inches of a portal that offered a tantalising but unreachable glimpse of the theme park, filled with sunshine and happy children eating candyfloss.
Of course, they never made it through.

Usually this was thanks to Uni, Bobby’s squeaking pet unicorn and probably the single most annoying cute sidekick in a cartoon series ever. Almost every episode the gang’s attempt to get back home was ruined by Uni getting her horn stuck in a bush or something.

Most episodes found the group trying their best to put on a brave face as they climbed some impossibly harsh rock face or trekking across a never-ending ice-field before Dungeon Master popped up to set them their task.


You could almost hear a nation of kids screaming as he delivered his infuriatingly ambiguous riddle that was supposed to lead the gang home. In fact, this feeling was, once again, regularly voiced by super-cynical Eric, who was the only character who seemed to recognise how ridiculous the situation was.

Most of us were just praying for the episode where Eric finally lost it and spent the remaining 15 minutes of the show repeatedly punching Dungeon Master in the face while shouting ‘JUST TELL US WHERE THE *$%^$% PORTAL IS YOU BALD HEADED LITTLE S@*T’ and then drop-kicking Uni off a cliff.


The sense of hopelessness I felt as a child watching Dungeons & Dragons has never left me. There weren’t many cartoons where the lead characters were almost exclusively miserable – hounded around an inhospitable landscape by a one-horned bastard and continually ridiculed by a wizened old man with a potato face.
So genuinely did I want those poor kids to get home to their parents, I would have gladly accepted that it meant the end of the show. The saddest thing of all though, is that they never did get back home. The show was cancelled in the middle of its third series, leaving the kids stranded forever. (If they ever did get back though, they could’ve sued that theme park for millions…)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

KNIGHT RIDER

Imagine this day at the office – you’re an undercover cop, just going about your business when you’re shot in the face by a ne’er-do-well. When you wake up, some bastard has reconstructed your face so you look like David Hasselhoff. Then, while you’ll still reeling from that horrible news, they give you a talking car.

So, you’ve got a super intelligent car that can drive itself, but you also have David Hasselhoff’s face. Swings and Roundabouts.

Anyway, that’s the set-up for Knight Rider (1982-1986). The aforementioned bastard was Wilton Knight, founded of FLAG (Foundation for Law and Government) and after he pops his clogs in the pilot episode, it’s up to Irish smoothie Devon Miles to send Michael (Hasselhoff) and KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) on crime-busting missions.


In the days before SatNav, a talking car was something of a novelty, and someone thought it might be a good idea to base a whole TV show on one. But KITT (effeminately voiced by William Daniels, later to become Mr Feany from Boy Meets World) did more than direct you the wrong way off the A11 – he was a crime fighting car! A jet-black Pontiac Trans Am with a red pulsating scanner at the front, KITT was every man’s dream car.

Meanwhile, Michael Knight was every woman’s dream man. Leather jacket, perm, a way with the ladies. That’s why FLAG had to give him a gay car, just to temper his extreme manliness a bit. (KITT and Michael always had some affectionate banter going on in-between missions – they were definitely flirting.)

Wow. So many questions. How does the car drive himself? Could anyone just put the handbrake on and render him useless? What sort of a name is Wilton?
Don’t worry, everything was explained in the opening narration. It went like this:

A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in the world of criminals who operate above the law…Michael Knight. A lone crusader in a dangerous world. The world… of the Knight Rider.



Sounds exciting doesn’t it? It was a pity then, that every episode pretty much followed the same basic formula of similar 80s shows like Street Hawk, Airwolf and the A-Team.



In Knight Rider, Devon would send Michael to help out a poor community that was being bothered by hoodlums/mobsters/evil business men. A car chase would be shoe-horned in, and Michael would have a fist fight with somebody. (The community would also include at least one attractive twenty something woman for Michael to snog/save from certain death.)

There were some exceptions to the formula though, like when Michael’s evil twin Gareth turned up in a big truck. (Also played by Hasselhoff, he looked exactly the same as Michael but with a moustache – all evil people have moustaches.) And sometimes, if you were lucky, the episode would feature a bit where Michael put KITT into TURBO BOOST mode. This basically meant KITT went a bit faster, but it was very exciting.
The producers obviously had fun trying to get the word ‘Knight’ into as many episode titles as possible. Over four seasons, they included: Knight Moves, Knightmares, Knight in Shining Armour, A Good Knight’s Work, Halloween Knight, Knight of the and Chameleon, Knight of the Rising Sun, Fright Knight and my favourite, Deadly Knightshade (which has nothing whatsoever to do with nightshade, it was just another chance to shoe-horn their favourite pun into a meaningless phrase)

There were some rubbish Nineties versions of Knight Rider – something called Knight Rider 2000 and Team Knight Rider, but they were even more boring that the original and no one liked them. Hasselhoff went on to be a pervy lifeguard before becoming the second worst judge on Britain’s Got Talent. KITT ended up dispensing wise advice to Cory and Tapanga.

But Knight Rider remains fondly remembered by all who saw it. And be honest, who hasn’t shouted ‘Let’s go KITT!’ to their dashboard, pressed the air con button and pretended it’s a TURBO BOOST while no one’s looking?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

X MEN: FIRST CLASS

Ever wondered what Professor X and Magento were like when they were young? No me neither.

Well they've made X-Men: First Class anyway - it's a prequel to the X-Men movies of the 2000s, set in the 1960s during the Cuban missile crisis.

Young Charles (Professor X) is a little toff who goes off to Oxford, while young Erik (Magneto) is really angry about an evil Nazi (Kevin Bacon) who killed his mum. At one point he's so angry he throws a coin at a terrible pencil drawing of Kevin Bacon's face. I don't know where he got the drawing from, but it looks like he paid one of those rubbish caricaturists in Leicester Square 10 euros for it

(Charles can read minds - BUT only when he puts two fingers on his left temple.
In one part of the film he had to read someone's mind secretly so has to pretend to be putting his head in hands - that fools them! However, this means you could easily defeat Prof X - the world's most powerful psychic remember - by just tying his hands behind his back.)



They're brought together by the C.I.A. who co-opt the gang to help round up some more mutants and then go after Kevin Bacon.

Somehow Kevin had become young and American and changed his name to Sebastian Shaw. He's got nice hair and is the leader of the Hellfire Club - a bunch of bad mutants who want to trick the US and Russia into starting a nuclear war and wiping out human life. Then Kevin can rule over the world! Sadly the world will then be a pile of radioactive rubbish and not really worth ruling. BUT DON'T WORRY ABOUT THAT.

Luckily Kevin has got a special metal hat that stops anyone reading his brain, so again Charles' power is rendered completely useless.

There are two excellent montage sequences in X-Men: First Class. One where Charles and Erik ponce around the world rounding up mutants for their team to the sound of some Sixties jazz-funk. They are:

Darwin
- his body will adapt to any envirnoment. He uses it to stick his head in a fish tank and to turn into rock when someone hits him with a stick. THEN HE DIES.

Angel
- she's got a magic tatoo that turns into butterfly wings so she can fly(And she can also spit balls of fire from her mouth)

Havoc - fires boring energy from his chest. Mostly useless. When will they learn that energy based mutant powers ARE BORING.
Mystique - can change her appearance to look like anything. She uses this power ONCE in the film against the bad guys. The rest of the time she just turns blue, then fleshy, then blue again.

Banshee - he can scream loudly - and fly too but only when wearing his flappy costume. If it gets ripped, then he just goes back to screaming loudly again. LIKE A BIG BABY.

Beast - got big feet. At one point Beast actually says the immortal line: 'But will the world ever be able to accept my big feet?'. Listen, his big feet are pretty big and not very attractive, but I reckon the world probably would accept his big feet. One of his mates can turn into a fish, but he's more worried about having big feet.

In the second montage, Charles trains all the X-Men to use their powers. Beast runs round the block, Havoc sets fire to a mannequin, Mystique just turns blue again and Magneto makes a satalitte dish turn round. Great for getting a better reception for Sky Sports but quite useless for preventing WWIII.

In the end all the good mutants and the evil mutants and the US/Russian armies have a big stand-off. Erik nicks Kevin Bacon's special hat, ditches Charles and buggers off with all the best mutants. THE END. (Or is it?)

So basically First Class is a bit like a remake of the first X-Men film, if you subsitute Wolverine (the angry, revenge seeking mutant that's hard to control) for Erik, and Sebastian Shaw (the evil, human-hating mutant with designs on world domination) for Magneto. Add in Mystique as the Rogue analouge, and it's pretty much the same film but this time they only spent 2p on the special effects.

X-Men: First Class is alright - I will award it 4 out of 7.

Monday, 25 April 2011

HE-MAN

He-Man was the perfect man – big muscles, tall and healthy with lovely long blond hair. That’s what every 80s schoolboy looked for in their heroes right? Oh, no sorry, that was Hitler.


(There’s an urban myth that He-Man started life as a toy-range spun off from the then forthcoming Conan the Barbarian film. When Conan turned out to be a violent 18 certificate, Mattel re-jigged the concept into kid friendly He-Man. With the toy moulds already cast, they simply changed the lead figure’s brown hair to blond. This at least goes someway in explaining He-Man’s revolting golden mullet.)

Masters of the Universe was basically a half hour commercial for the Mattel toy-line - rubbish animation and repetitive plots designed to trick kids into buying the plastic dolls like Ram-Man (whose special power was head butting things), MekaNeck (special power – extra long neck) and best of all Buzz-Off (special power – he was a bee).

Every episode began with Prince Adam, (AKA He-Man), explaining the premise of the show: Basically, he had been gifted magical powers by a woman dressed as a bird in order to defend a big castle that looked like a skeleton for his arch-enemy, Skeletor. (Why does He-Man’s house looked exactly like his worst enemy? If I was Skeletor, I’d take one look at Castle Grayskull and think I had a pretty good claim to it.)

He-Man made even less effort to hide his secret identity than Superman. I’m amazed no one on Eternia ever figured it out. Here are three tell-tale signs that He-Man is really cowardly Prince Adam.

1.Prince Adam looks exactly the same as He Man. At least Clark Kent had the decency to take his glasses off, Adam just whips off his shirt. Lazy.
(NOTE THE MOST CUNNING PART OF PRINCE ADAM'S DISGUISE HERE - HIS PENCHANT FOR PASTEL COLOURS - FURRY LILAC PANTS WITH A NATTY PINK WAISTCOAT - NO ONE WOULD SUSPECT HE-MAN OF EVER WEARING THESE CLOTHES)

2.Price Adam has a massive yellow and green striped pet tiger. He-Man has a massive yellow and green striped tiger. Just how many massive green and yellow striped tigers are there on Eternia? I never saw anyone else with one. At least when Cringer changed into Battlecat he bothered to put on a mask.

3.As explained in the intro, Adam has entrusted his true identity to just a few selected people – first, his mystical guide the Sorceress, then his trustworthy best friend Man-At-Arms. But why stop there? Why not let it slip to Orko, a bungling idiot-wizard from the planet Trolla? He sounds like the type to keep a secret. Good thinking He-Man.


Never the less, Skeletor remained clueless as to He-Man’s true identity. Maybe that was because Skeletor DIDN’T HAVE ANY EYES. Or really even a proper face for that matter.

One of the scariest children’s cartoon characters ever created (followed by Mumm-Ra the Ever Living and the gay skeleton out of SuperTed), Skeletor’s hooded skull-face was genuinely terrifying. Like He-Man, he surrounded himself with various hench-men such as the vaguely rude sounding Fisto, Stinkor and Fakor, and his horrifying face didn’t stop him having a girlfriend either – the glamorous Evil-Lyn. (He'd just broken up with Slightly-naughty-Janet).


Almost every single episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe featured Skeletor trying to capture Castle Grayskull and/or He-Man’s Power Sword. Then, at the end of every show, He-Man would pop up again to share a moral completely unrelated to the story, such as ‘don’t eat too many sweets’ or ‘be nice to your mum’. This was hard to take from a man in red furry pants who’d just spent the previous 25 minutes beating up a man with a terrible wasting disease.

He-Man was sadly cancelled after two series, and over the years various re-imaginings, including a live-action movie starring Dolph Lundgren in 1987, failed to capture the magic of the original.

But perhaps Masters of the Universe’s greatest legacy was the phenomenal rise of televised wrestling that followed its demise in the late 80s. He Man’s young audience found slightly more realistic successors in the equally muscle bound stars of WWF and Wrestlemania. And after all, if you shaved off a certain 80's wrestler's moustache at his peak, doesn’t he sort of remind you of someone…?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

NEW X-FACTOR JUDGES REVEALED

FINALLY, the new hosts of ITV1's X-FACTOR have been announced, putting an end to 25 years of exciting speculation.

Simon Cowell will appear, but only as a gigantic CGI puppet, created by ITV bosses at a cost of £22 million. Cowell has pre-recorded eight selected phrases including 'Yes', 'No', 'Maybe' and 'Totally wrong song choice'

The line up is completed by:


PETER STRINGFELLOW
Stepping into Louis Walsh's still-warm shoes is 82 year old Peter Stringfellow. 15 years Louis's junior, Stringfellow has promised to adopt American Idol judge Randy Jackson's catchphrase "Dog!", which he is contractually obliged to say 32 times per show.



ETHAN MINOGUE
With both Minogue sisters now out of ITV1's price range, producers have signed baby Ethan to an exclusive 3 season deal. (Danni Minogue will appear with Ethan during Judges Houses.)


GAMU
Having experienced extreme rejection to the point of extradition, no one is better placed to destroy the dreams of this year's hopefuls than pop sensation Gamu. (Will only appear via video link)


EDDIE OUT OF CHARLES AND EDDIE
Taking over from Cowell as the 'mean' judge, Eddie, from 1990s pop duo Charles and Eddie, hates all forms of popular song - including and especially Would I Lie To You. Eddie is reported to be have agreed a fee of £1billion per episode.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Resident

Mobile phones have changed horror films. While the Scream series used them in new and frightening ways, for most others they present a big problem - being chased by a psychotic murderer is less scary if you can just pull out your iPhone and dial 999.

New Hammer horror The Resident has a brilliant and unique way of getting round this problem: It is CLEARLY STATED in the first 10 minutes that mobile phones don't work in the block of flats where the film is set. PROBLEM SOLVED.



Anyway - imagine you had a stalker - and NOW imagine if that stalker lived in your house!

That's exactly what happens to poor Juliet (Hilary Swank)

Here's what we know about Juliet:
1) she likes jogging and taking baths (toned and likely to take her clothes off often)
2) she's an E.R. doctor (she may like taking her clothes off, but she's intelligent and important too)

But which of Juliet's two new landlords do you think is the crazy stalker obsessed with her?

Could it be the strange lonely old August, peering through th door cracks with his spooky eyes, OR is it his grandson Max, who has a lovely beard and a nice smile?

For people who've never watched Scooby Doo / or have a brain, the revelation that is is, in fact, the seemingly charming Max, may have been an exciting development - for everyone else, it's utterly boring. (August dies quietly a few minutes after this 'twist' and, having served his purpose, is never mentioned again.)

Jeffery Dean Morgan plays Max - a sort of sexier but slightly less mad Dave Lee Travis - who's psychotic tendancies are never satisfactorily explained. All we know about himm is this:
1) he likes drinking wine and hiding in cupboards (cultured but a bit evil)
2) he's good at DIY (useful for putting two-way mirrors into your tenants' flats)

His stalking kicks off quite innocently with a quick visit to Juliet's flat to brush his teeth her electric toothbrush, his face contorting with ecstacy as he works those back molars. Then, it's time to pop fully clothed into the empty bath and pleasure himself. However, his obsession with Juliet quickly esculates into hiding under her bed and licking her fingers while she's taking a nap.

When Juliet finds out, they have a big fight and she shoots Max in the brain.

If only her mobile had worked then she could have just called the police and had him arrested instead of brutally murdering him with a nail gun.


Still, he did love DIY so I'm sure that's the way he would have wanted to go.

The Resident is perhaps the most unorginial, linear film I have ever seen. With no surprises and no scares, it commits the ultimate sin for any horror film - it's dull.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

There's no point in actually reviewing G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - just look at this poster and imagine it -


It's exactly like that. Would-be reviewers might as well just write 'G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. Watch it if you like that sort of thing.' (In fact, I would suggest replacing EVERY film review with this simple phrase.)

Based on the 80's toy-line/cartoon show, GI Joe's are a bit like the SAS - some super-hard nutbags, a couple of ninjas and a token IT consultant - all saved for the extra hard missions the army can't handle.

There's Snake Eyes, a quiet ninja
Scarlett, an emotionally retarted super-brain
Heavy Duty, a gruff cockney with a soft centre
General Hawk, the team's leader who's not afraid to break the rules
and Breaker, the resident computer expert.

The film follows new recruits Duke and Rip-Cord as they try and save the world from a terrorist group lead by evil Scotsman Christopher Ecceleston.

(At the end, both Christopher Eccelston and side-kick Joseph Gordon-Levitt are given almost identical special metal faces. I think this is primarily so if there's a sequel, Christopher and Joseph don't have to turn up, and their parts can be played by any old cheap actor with a CGI metal face. In future this should be done at the end of all films. All the most famous actors will suddenly put a paper bag over their heads.)

Anyway, it's all very exciting and a bit like James Bond but completely de-sexulized and with no on-screen violence.

Sound rubbish? Well, despite having special effects only marginally better than these...

...G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra is probably the most perfect film ever made (for a 13 year old boy) - lots of guns, some sexy ladies -but nothing too saucy Mums!- and the complete destruction of the Eiffel Tower.

In fact, If you could project the contents of a child's mind as s/he played with the toys in the 1980s, it would probably look EXACTLY like this film - shit CGI and all.

But NO child's mind, no matter how twisted, could ever imagine anything as horribly wrong as Christopher Ecceleston's Scottish accent.

That's GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Watch it if you like that sort of thing.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Dark Knight Rises


Ooooh what's going to happen in the new Batman film? Will Robin be in it? Will the bat-suits have nipples on this time? Will it be as boring as Inception? Will Christian Bale speak in a less-growly voice this time so we might actually understand some of Batman's dialogue?

CALM DOWN BAT-FANS. The answers are all contained in this out-of-print graphic novel (right). I guarantee this is exactly what will more-or-less probably happen in The Dark Knight Rises, out next year:

Batman is on the run, with the Gotham Police Department charged with bringing him in. Reluctantly, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) heads up the Anti-Batman task force.

Second in command is Max Cort, (Tom Hardy), a cop set on hunting down and unmasking Batman.

When Cort goes to police psychiatrist Prof Hugo Strange (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) for treatment for his growing hatred of costumed vigilantes, Strange injects him with his 'Venom' drug, turning him into a costumed vigilante himself - Bane.

A prowler, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), is sighted on the streets of Gotham. Thinking she's an associate of Batman, Bane attacks Catwoman, who is saved by Batman. (NOTE: BATMAN AND CATWOMAN MAY OR MAY NOT KISS AT THIS POINT. IF THIS DOES HAPPEN, BATMAN WILL QUICKLY PULL AWAY AND LOOK ANGRY)


Strange orders Bane/Cort to kidnap the Mayor's daughter to frame Batman. While trying to save her, Batman is injected with Strange's Venom drug and flashback to the murder of his parents. This causes him to question the nature of his vigilantism. Rescued by Alfred (Michael Caine), he rationalizes that being Batman represents an act of sanity and order that defies the madness and chaos represented by crime, he goes after Strange and Bane.

Meanwhile, with the help of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) Batman creates a new streamlined 'bat-mobile'.

In a final battle Batman defeats Bane with the help of Catwoman and reveals Cort and Strange's evil plan.

Batman is exonerated, but Gordon tells him there will always be those who seek to destroy him.

THE END. There you go, you now owe me £12, a massive box of weakly flavoured popcorn and 3hrs of your life.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Deadly Premonition

Rising Star Games, XBOX 360

Deadly Premonition has a pretty straight forward premise: F.B.I. agent Francis York Morgan is sent to the sleepy town of Greenvale to investigate the murder of a teenage girl.

So far, so ordinary. THEN IT GOES COMPLETELY BONKERS.

You play the part of York's imaginary friend Zach. Throughout, York chats happily to you about 80's movies and punk bands, seemingly unbothered by the mysterious 'Raincoat Killer' who's picking off the women of Greenvale one by one.

Your investigations around town interrogating the locals are sandwiched in between mind numbingly boring combat sections, picking up such vital clues as 'Sugared Doughnut' and 'Root Beer' and avoiding zombies who kill you by climbing into your mouth.

(These zombies are never properly explained and no other character in the game mentions them. Oh, and also, if York holds his breath, they can't see him. Obviously.)

Your F.B.I. duties also include giving an old woman a lift so her cooking pot doesn't get cold and going fishing.

Deadly Premonition surprises at every turn, and just when you think it can't get anymore ridiculous, it will have you laughing out loud at the screen.

Suddenly, in one level, you're not York anymore but playing the killer - IN THE 1950s. FOR NO REASON. Then, you're taking advice from a cup of coffee. Then, you're following a dog. Then, you're discussing sandwiches with a man in a gas mask to a soundtrack of terrible acid jazz.

The whole thing ends with your love-interest being abused and committing suicide, but not before York has failed to work out the identity of the killer (he's the mutated leader of a cross-dressing sex cult) and allowed 90% of Greenvale to be brutally killed. Hang on, two levels ago we were chatting to Zach about Kevin Bacon movies!

Despite the crushingly dull end-of-game bosses, tedious loading times and awkward controls, Deadly Premonition succeeds as a game because the sheer joy it's programmers put into it shines through. Even though the Twin Peaks inspired story is bizarre, it stays just the right side of nonsensical, always working within the game's own logic. This isn't just a collection of self consciously weird set-pieces - it does actually make sense (sort of). And by the time it's all over, you'll be so acclimatized to Deadly Premonition's world, you'll find yourself craving for obscure jazz and psychic coffee.

This is an ACTUAL GAME and you can buy it here

It's amazing.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Dancing on Ice



In this series of Dancing on Ice, the live shows are so long that they actually overlap with the next episode, creating a never-ending loop of ice dance where the only way of discerning between episodes is whether Holly Willoughby has got her boobs on display or not.

BUT Dancing on Ice uses a brilliant formula - take a boring show (Strictly Come Dancing) and make it 2x more exciting by putting it on ice.

GENIUS

But why stop there? Many rubbish shows could be infinetly improved by simply moving the exisiting format to a more dangerous location.

FOR EXAMPLE:

MasterChef - ON STILTS
All contestants - plus judge John Turrode - are forced to cook whilst balanced on stilts, equipped with extra-long cooking utensils and cutlery. Only Greg is allowed to sit on a giant high chair.

The X Factor - IN LIMBO
Singers voted out are sent directly to Hell, while winner's are granted a place in Heaven. This would explain why beautiful angel Matt Cardle was crowned winner and evil Gamu was dispatched as soon as possible.

Loose Women - ON THE M6
Self explanatory.

Cash in the Attic... IN AN ATTIC
The whole show takes place in presenter Angela Rippon's own attic. Minimum lighting adds to the atmosphere while Angela controls the sole torch. No one is allowed to leave the attic for the duration of the program. The logo would look exactly like this: