Top 5 Top Gear Specials

31 12 2013

It is Christmas time once again (Yes I Know It Was Last Week), and it is the year for terrible TV. It is no mystery that TV at Christmas is bad. There may be a Doctor Who Special for Christmas, but given what those specials have been like since that Cybermen one (or that boring one with the fish), I might not bother. There are of course some Films to be watched, but given this time of year it is usually a good idea to avoid any films related to Christmas (so avoid Movies 24 (or Christmas 24 as it is known this time of year) in that case).

While most of TV is bound to be bad, let us not forget that there is one show that says ‘NO’ to bad TV at Christmas; Top Gear. For the last few years they have produced a wide and enjoyable selection of specials where the trio travel to a different country and look around and get up to some funny japes in a bunch of cars. So in celebration to these great men, here are my Top 5 Top Gear Specials.

Top Gear Botswana Special

5. Botswana Special – The Botswana special set up the core format for how all the future specials would turn out. While there had been previous specials, this one did the opposite of going somewhere other than America. It starts off nice and simple with the trio showing off the cars they bought (which were not allowed to off-road vehicles) and start the journey off with James May accidently driving into Zimbabwe. Over the course of the episode Richard Hammond grows rather fond of his Opel Cadet (even naming it Oliver) and becomes a bit too overly attached with it. One of the shows main points saw them driving through the Makgadikgadi Pan with some heavy modifications to Jeremy’s Lancia Beta Coupe and James’s Mercedes-Benz 230E. Another point of the show was that of the trio driving through the Okavango Delta, after modifying their cars again. Throughout the whole program all three cars had major (but also very funny) problems and were also followed round what would be a standard for all future specials, the backup car, in this case The VW Beetle.

Top Gear Vietnam Special

4. Vietnam Special – A very interesting episode as well as entertaining. The show began with them getting a lot of money to buy wheels, but discovered that despite having 15 Million Dong (The Vietnam Currency), it was not enough to buy wheels with, until they realized they could, but the form they did get, did not please Jeremy all that much, they bought bikes. This is an episode that I think about every now and again. I am not fond of Bikes also, and I try to think about what I would do in that position.  The early stages of the episode sees Jeremy struggle greatly with Richard and James drive off and not see him again until lunch and supper of the first day. As the episode progresses, they buy suits, buy ridiculous presents over and over again, fail a driving test, paint Richard’s bike pink, catch a train and turn their bikes into jet skis. They are also followed by a backup bike, but on this occasion it is not a great idea because it has an American Flag and American Flag decor and plays the Bruce Springsteen classic ‘Born in the U.S.A.’, not a great idea to do while in Vietnam. One of the more enjoyable bits though is when they go in search of their cars and discover how hard it was going to be and what they would go through in the hope of buying a car. But despite all the comedy and silliness involved, the whole episode is overshadowed by the Amazing country that it is set in. The shots of the cities, countryside as well as the weather is incredible to watch.


3. Bolivia Special – Simple plan initially, buy 3 off-road vehicles and travel to the Pacific Ocean, the start point however is in the middle of a jungle. The Bolivia Special has one if not the best opening for a top gear special. It initially starts out with the trio waiting for their vehicles, point out everything that is wrong with the vehicles and then try to get them off a raft. Jeremy goes for a Range Rover which is consistently referenced as the most unreliable car in the world, which throughout the episode turns out to be the most reliable car of the three. James buys a Suzuki SJ413 which was apparently blue in the catalogue he ordered it from, but turned out to be red. Richard meanwhile lands for a Toyota Land Cruiser which in the end does not make it. Much like the Vietnam special, part of this episode features an interesting country as well as journey which starts in the jungle and ends up in a desert where there is no life at all. The jungle section is really good and even as that part goes, the episode does not let up, even when driving on the most dangerous road in the world on one of the highest roads in the world to the eventual end of driving the two remaining cars down some dunes. The trios experience through these points is brilliant also such as how much they suffered at high altitudes, and Hammond’s experience at taking caramelized drugs. Very enjoyable and memorable episode, definitely a highlight for the show.


2. Africa Special – The first Two Part special, the trio go in search of the true source of the River Nile. Travelling in Estate cars, the trio are trying to be explorers to look for the real source of the river Nile, something that has been queried and argued for a long time (apparently). The episodes start off as normal but as the first episode goes on, they discover more and more of the country and for a time it turns in similar fashion to the Vietnam Special. As it progresses they boys modify their cars to sleep inside them instead of Richard’s Favourite past time and drive through a town named Jezza. As it becomes clear they have been going in the wrong direction, and become rather despondent, they go in a different direction which leads to them sailing across Lake Victoria in a short, but rather interesting few moments which leads to Hammond losing a lot of food from his car, even though he can only cook baked beans. In the second episode they get closer to their destination, after stealing bits and bobs off each other’s cars they build a car ferry to get across a river. They then arrive on a very perilous road which causes them nothing but problems before a mad dash finish to find the source which James does. While these Episodes are great, I do feel like the second episode lets the first one down, especially with the whole car ferry moment, if that was shorter, and had more stuff on where they were as well as what they got up to, it would be number 1. But I do wait with much anticipation towards any future double episodes, it works, it really does.


1. India Special – The India Special had it all, Good Cars, Great Challenges, Silly Incidents and an Amazing Country. Thinking it would be a great idea to get some trade going for the UK by visiting India, the trio go there on a trade mission in a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, Jaguar XJS and Mini Cooper. They try to use their cars in a way that might be able to get India to trade with England such as delivering hot food instead of the train, hosting Motorsport and decorating them in an Indian way including a painted flag that is not Indian. The trio do other things also such as putting banners on the side of trains which in the end leave rude messages, host a trade reception which ends with an accident with a homemade firework as well as a runaway Lawn Mower. The trio also improve a couple of British Made products also by making a far better version of the pointless Paul McCartney Song ‘Hey Jude’ and greatly improve the most boring sport in the world; Cricket. The episode is also filled with funny incidents including James taking revenge on Jeremy and Richard for messing with his car, and repeated fun at Richard’s expense by playing a Genesis song over and over again. Much like the Vietnam episode also, it is a great representation of an amazing country and culture revealed as the show goes on. Even after the great African Special, this remains my Favourite Top Gear Special.


The Thai Warrior – Ong-Bak

26 12 2013

Ong-Bak (2003 - Baa-ram-ewe)

I love world Cinema. In HMV (when Lancaster had one) there is a whole section dedicated to films from countries other than the UK and USA. In more recent years a whole load of films have been produced by those other countries that have been met with great critical acclaim. Film’s like 13 Assassins, Troll Hunter, The Host, Pan’s Labyrinth and Ong-Bak. I was surprised when I first watched Ong-Bak to see that it was from Thailand. I knew it was from that area when I began to watch it, but I thought it was more of an Indian based film; however, as the film becomes more apparent of where it is, it begins to grow on you.


Released in 2003 and Directed by Prachya Pinkaew, Ong-Bak tells the story of Ting (Tony Jaa) who has spent his life in his village, where he has been trained in Muay Thai. After succeeding in a village competition, he is chosen to become a monk in the village where the villagers praise an ancient Buddha statue named Ong-Bak. One night thieves steal the head of the statue. Ting declares that he will get the head back. He arrives in Bangkok and meets his cousin Humlae (Petchtai Wongkamlao), who along with his friend Muay Lek (Pumwaree Yodkamol) are street bike racers who make their living as simple con artists. Humlae, who is in trouble from a drug dealer, steals Ting’s money and goes to a Fight Club to bet the money on someone. Ting Arrives and tries to get his money back, but accidently steps up to a fight with the club champion, who he knocks out with one hit, making Ting the new champion, despite not wanting to fight anyone. This gets the attention of local crime lord Komtuan (Suchao Pongwilai) who needs to speak with an Electrolarynx. Don (Wannakit Sirioput), the man who stole the head, brings it to Komtuan, who is not interested.


The following day, Humlae, Muay and Ting are chased through the streets of Bangkok, ting Rescues them both in exchange for them helping him to find Don. They return to the Fight Club where Ting, unwilling to fight, does, only to save the life of someone. He takes on three challengers and dispatches them all with relative ease, gaining respect from the crowd who toss money to him. The trio finds Don’s hideout, who has just forced Muay’s sister Ngek (Rungrawee Barijindakul) to take an overdose. While Muay stays with her sister, Ting and Humlae chase after Don in a couple of Tuk-Tuk’s. The chase ends with Ting discovering Komtuan’s underwater cache of stolen Buddha heads.


After the heads are recovered by police, Komtuan has Muay kidnapped and orders Humlae to tell Ting that he will get the head of Ong-Bak and Muay back if he faces his Bodyguard Saming (Chattapong Pantana-Angkul) in a fight near the border. Ting loses the fight thanks to a drug fuelled Saming and Komtuan orders the deaths of the trio. Ting manages to save his own life as well as those of Muay and Humlae. Ting, along with Humlae travel to a mountain cave where Komtuan’s men are stealing another Buddha head. Ting manages to subdue Komtuan’s men before defeating Saming.  Komtuan tries to smash the head of Ong-Bak but Humlae steps in to take the blow of the sledgehammer. The Giant Buddha head, rolls off the full statue crushing Komtuan, Humlae dies of his injuries, but not before asking Muay to go with Ting and get her degree. Back at the village, Ong-Bak’s head is restored and Ting is ordained as a monk with Muay celebrating along with the whole village.


Tony Jaa is terrific in the lead role, great representation of the characters skill as well as what he as a person is really like. When he is taunted into fighting at the club, as he truly doesn’t want to do it, he just does the right thing by ignoring them. It’s only when he feels like there is no option but to fight that he does. He is a very caring person also and while he may have a somewhat cold exterior, he does have a good heart. Humlae meanwhile is a fool, but a good one. He is constantly in debt and looks to steal and con people where he can, add the fact that he is also a coward and then you have the major set up for him. But he does eventually show his worth by learning from his mistakes towards the end and sacrifices himself for the pride of his village. I really like the Character of Muay Lek, while her friend is both a fool and a coward; she is strong in personality and believes in doing the right thing. She is also a very caring person, and while you only see little bits of who she is here and there, from the moment you are introduced to her fully, she grows on you and you get this warm feeling when she is around. Her strong personality also is a sign of the power of human will as those around her are all living in a horrible way, but she is determined to do better in life despite those who have pretty much given up.

Tony Jaa, Pumwaree Yodkamol and Mum Jokmok

Komtuan is an interesting and well thought out villain. As you don’t know his dealings until later on, you just assume he is a drug lord, but then you realize he is a relic thief and that brings out more in him, as he is a man of special, acquired taste. The Electrolarynx he uses also adds to his cruel side as it gives him a hook, something that makes his villain that extra bit interesting, but as a voice tool, it’s a lot like a real world Darth Vader.


As a martial arts film, Ong-Bak is beautifully choreographed with many beautiful scenes of both the use of Muay Thai and athleticism. When you take the street chase early on in the film, the athleticism is not that of some Chinese films where people can be depicted as flying, these are more shown off as in reality terms. So when Ting needs to Jump over or through something, he does not take off into the air, however it seems fortunate that those obstacles are there and you begin to think that just a few occasions would be ok and a lot more realistic instead of a showcase of Tony Jaa’s talents. When it comes to the fighting though, that’s where the real skill lies and you can see a wide variety of skill throughout these scenes. But for all the well-choreographed skills the film represents, there are occasions where it just goes over the top. While as an audience member I can see what he is doing with relative ease, you don’t need to repeat certain little bits. While it may show a little more action, when the film does do those repeats, it feels unnecessary and slows the film down just that little bit.

For part of the film, Ong-Bak takes the look of some kind of Caper. While you do have comedy scenes from Humlae, there are bits which would just look silly, but it gives Ong-Bak a more down to earth feel about it. The high speed Tuk-Tuk chase is one such example where it looks silly because of the use of Tuk-Tuk’s but, not forgetting the location of the film, it shows some of the culture of the country but also does something which no other normal film does. The mad Caper variety is also included in the street chase also mostly due to Humlae as well as the fortunate obstacles that happen to be in the area, however, this is not necessarily a bad thing as a lot of it is funny in a good taste sense, but also great to watch.


Ong-Bak also shows the more twisted and shady underside of a culture. The film is wrapped up in its crime world with themes being shown such as Illegal Fight Clubs, Gambling, Relic Stealing as well as drugs which becomes one of the earliest forms of crime. I do think though that the use of drugs as a necessity and crime is also used as a tease, making you think more towards that instead of the real truth, allowing for a surprise. But the fact that these form of what to the rest and more privileged side of the world represent to many what their life consists of as well as the possible lack of real opportunities that is represented by Muay Lek, especially as her sister is taking and using drugs, which leads to her overdose despite the fact that she is dealing as well for the benefit of paying for Muay’s education.


Ong-Bak is a superb film, while it was the first time I had seen a film from Thailand, I was greatly impressed. While the film did start out quite slow with the Village scenes seemingly trying to fill in large holes in the subtext to quicken up the pace, it is sort of worth it once Ting arrives in Bangkok. That is where the films true blood and spirit lay and while it may not be a big action epic from a more western culture, it integrates its own culture to provide an experience that is both worth watching and should be watched, even if it is just to experience it. The trio of characters are great showing their own unique look on the world they live in, but also ones that you can connect with also. While you may not be a fan of World Cinema, I do recommend you see Ong-Bak, it is a terrific film all the way and you won’t be disappointed, even if you are trying something new.


Dragon Haikus

18 12 2013


Aeon – The Eye of the Dragon

Beauty of a rose

Trapped in a puzzle of blue

The Dragon’s eye looms


Hermit Dragon

A guide of the night

A protector of the light

A creature to trust


Lunar Dragon

Terror of the night

The flying beast haunts the skies

Looking for its prey


Dragon in the Mist

A watcher of time

With a beauty long since gone

Flying misty skies


Olympus Dragon

The king on his throne

With wings of glory and might

Ruler of his kind

GENEPOOL (All poems based on Artwork by Peter Pracownik)

Godzilla News – Trailer

11 12 2013

Godzilla 2014 (Legendary Pictures - 2014)

“His power is unequalled. His battles are Legendary. His return is near”

Godzilla 2000 Trailer.

It has been almost 4 years now since the announcement that Legendary Pictures had received the rights from Toho to produce a new American Godzilla film. When the announcement was first made, statements were also made stating how this Godzilla was going to be more true to the Japanese Monster than to that American Impersonator. Well after almost 4 years of brief pieces of news here and footage and news exclusively at ComicCon, the first trailer to the new film has just been launched. Take a look:

The trailer has an odd premise as you’d expect it to be like most trailers in its buildup however this one involves, for most of the trailer, one scene. a scene of paratroopers falling from the sky. As they descend they eventually arrive just above what appears to be San Francisco, which seems to be engulfed in flames. Through the mask of one of these paratroopers a faint outline of a Titanic Monster can be seen. The trailer then shows some bits here and there of the film including shots of some of the films actors including Ken Watanabe (Inception, The Last Samurai) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad). the trailer then returns to a smoky, dusty image with something big black and dark moving behind it before seeing a better look of the creature and then hearing its roar.


The most important aspect of this new film of course is the big lizard himself. From what I could see from the trailer, the scale is there as in he appears to be as Gigantic as he is portrayed in the original series. His trademark scales are there, looking imposing as well as terrifying but then when we see the creature in a much better outline, he looks amazing. Only time will really tell what the overall creature looks like, but already, he looks like the Great Monster that we have all come to know and love.

With the release of Pacific Rim (Also by Legendary Pictures) taking part earlier this year, with the amount of scale of the great robotic and monstrous hulks in that film, we can rest assured that for the time at least, things are looking up and while the new Godzilla film is not due out for another 6 months, this has given us plenty of opportunities to wet our appetites in anticipation, and as we get closer to the launch date, there is sure to be a more comprehensive trailer as well as possibly what the final design of the creature.


GENEPOOL (The trailer does make me somewhat think of the trailer for Godzilla 2000 as well as a level in Battlefield 3).

MotorStorm: Pacific Rift

4 12 2013


When the PS3 was launched, it started that age-old school tiffle taffle about which console people were going to get. By this time I already had a Wii, but most people’s attentions were drawn towards the successor to the highly successful PlayStation 2. When the launch games were first revealed, I got the distinct impression that it was all the same and that despite the consoles extreme power, nothing would live up to it, and none of them had me interested in the least bit, except for one, the one that everyone had an eye on as it was the only game that as yet showed what the new console was capable of, that game being MotorStorm. While at the time I did not want a PS3, I did want to play MotorStorm, and I did, at a branch of Curry’s. A couple of years or so later, a sequel game was Launched in the form of MotorStorm: Pacific Rift. About less than a year or so later, I bought my PS3 and about a month later, got MotorStorm: Pacific Rift.

MotorStorm Pacific Rift (produced by British Studio Evolution Studios) in Essence is a Racing game, but is different than any other. The game’s setting follows on from the previous game where an annual motor rock festival takes place and drivers from all around the world come to celebrate. You play one of these drivers as you race across the landscape in a variety of vehicles on a variety of courses. The gameplay is different to that of other racing games as others such as Gran Turismo, Project Gotham Racing, Need For Speed or Forza Motorsport usually take place in a city or on a track in a stadium. In MotorStorm the racing takes place on a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean, an island with many hazards including, abandoned buildings, volcanoes, rivers and trees. So as the player is racing on this island, he has several different elements to look out for and avoid, but it’s not as easy as that.


There are 8 vehicle classes to choose from when in a race. Motor Bikes, ATV’s, Buggies, Rally Cars, Racing Trucks, Mud Pluggers, Big Rigs and Monster Trucks. While it is technically possible to use your vehicle anywhere on the course, different vehicles prefer different areas of the track, and there are usually 3 type areas that most vehicles prefer. The lower areas such as large amounts of water and mud suit the bigger vehicles such as Big Rigs and Monster Trucks while the higher areas of the course such as hard ground and less room between obstacles suit the smaller vehicles such as Bikes, ATVs and Buggies, while the areas in between those are more suited for vehicles that need fewer obstacles so they can go faster such as Rally Cars, Racing Trucks and Mud Pluggers.


Each vehicle has other particular strengths and weaknesses. Smaller vehicles are very fast, but are very easily bullied by vehicles such as Monster Trucks (And also, ATV and Bike Drivers can punch each other off their vehicles). Rally Car’s are also very fast, if not the fastest cars, but are very fragile and if they took a hit, it would be game over pretty much for them (If it wasn’t for the re-spawn tool in the game where your car magically is restored and can continue in the race). Racing Trucks are possibly the best all-rounder, strong body so it can take a beating, but is also very nippy. Big Rigs and Monster Trucks meanwhile are pretty much unstoppable, while not being the fastest vehicles on the circuit, nothing gets in their way and can easily, just run over the competition.


Tactics in racing is always important and in Pacific Rift, it’s the same. You need to know what land is best for the vehicle you have chosen, but you need to remember a few other things also. You get a nitrous booster on your vehicle allowing you to speed up, but if you use it too much, you will blow up. If you are on a course with a lot of lava, the booster will heat up quicker and you could blow up sooner, or if not watching the road clearly, accidently drive into the lava, don’t worry, you’ll re-spawn (But I can not help think that there must be some cloning conspiracy behind this whole festival). If you drive through water though, you can cool yourself down, and the boost will last longer, however it is not advisable that you drive through water if you are a bike or ATV (please do so if you want to, but you won’t win the race).


MotorStorm: Pacific Rift is amazing fun. It is great to play a racing game that does something different. Instead of being on a track it is in the wild or in the middle of a lava flow or torrential river. Instead of being tied down to certain classes (at least not for the most part) you can choose a whole load of vehicles. You can drive really fast and dodge all others, or you can just drive right up and over them. It’s also a great multiplayer experience as you don’t need all that skill to play it, compared to other racing franchises. Much like ModNation Racers and Mario Kart, MotorStorm is very easy to pick up and play. Give it a go, its brilliant fun.


%d bloggers like this: