|Thor||Red Riding Hood|
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Now that was both better than I expected and not as good as I was hoping. Seems like a strange thing to say, eh? Well it’s true, but what exactly do I mean?
I had high hopes for the film when Kenneth Branagh was brought on board to direct. I thought he would add gravitas to the superhero genre (not that it worked with Ang Lee, though). I had also been told by friends that the film was brilliant. I wasn’t sure, though, if Thor would translate well onto the big screen. The trailers looked terrific, but I had this little nagging voice at the back of my head telling me I was going to be disappointed.
Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) is all set to become king of Asgard, the proud son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), when Ice Giants invade the city to steal back a power doodah, confiscated by Odin during a great battle ages earlier. Fortunately, they fail in their attempt. Thor wants to invade Jotunheim (home of the Ice Giants) and teach them that Asgard is not weak. Odin disagrees.
So Thor and his band of merry men, which includes his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), use a Stargate-like device to travel to Jotunheim and, basically, kick off. Just as it looks like they are going to get their asses handed to them, Odin arrives and saves the day. Odin is bitterly disappointed in Thor and banishes him to Earth, stripped of his powers and his mighty hammer, Mjolnir, which lands in a crater in the New Mexico desert.
Enter the lovely Natalie Portman as astrophysicist, Jane Foster, and her own band of merry, er, people, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard in a pivotal role, it turns out – watch it to the end!). They befriend Thor (after knocking him down with their car and then tazing him). Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents find Mjolnir and, unable to move it, set up an impromptu base around it.
Thor tries to get his hammer back, but it seems he is unworthy, being all vain, proud and that. Meanwhile, there are mentions for the various other Avengers that we’ll see in Joss Whedon’s movie later: Hulk (seems Erik knew Bruce Banner), Iron Man (one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. asks if the Destroyer is ‘one of Starks’) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) also has a cameo.
Anyway, back on Asgard, Loki seizes power when Odin has a funny turn and despatches a Destroyer to Earth to kill Thor and his band (who have arrived in New Mexico, all backslappy and jolly merriment to be reunited with Thor). The Destroyer, a big robot (which appears to have been rendered as an homage to Ray Harryhausen, which is cool) with a laser beam face, causes all sorts of trouble in the small town, until Thor sacrifices himself and thus regains Mjolnir and his superhero costume.
So that’s it. Thor. Really good. It lasts almost two hours, yet it finishes before you know it, which is a good sign, isn’t it? That said, you get the feeling that either there’s too much going on or not enough. It’s hard to explain. It’s terrifically exciting with all the actors delivering their lines as though they’re having a great time, yet it ends with you feeling a little dissatisfied. Or maybe that’s just me. Perhaps that’s a good sign, that Branagh has left me wanting more.
So, next up is Captain America and then The Avengers. I’m almost unable to contain myself!
© Steve JC Johnson - 2011
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I have never seen any of the Twilight films, so I am unfamiliar with Catherine Hardwicke’s directorial body of work. A friend warned me against seeing Red Riding Hood, telling me that it was rubbish. I thought, ‘What the hell,’ and gave it a whirl anyway.
I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed it.
The story is familiar to anybody who knows their fairytales. Red Riding Hood (called Valerie in this incarnation and played by Amanda (Jennifer’s Body) Seyfried) lives in a small, medieval village, which is literally in the middle of nowhere. The village is plagued by a werewolf and people are being torn apart by the ferocious, supernatural fiend.
When Valeria is born, the attacks subside until she grows up and then they start again. Enter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman using a watered-down version of his Dracula accent), a man driven to kill werewolves because one slaughtered his family.
There are some terrific set-pieces, with the werewolf attacking soldiers and villagers, and there’s a shock in store when the beast comes face-to-face with Valerie. There is also a nice dream sequence so they can use the “Grandma, what big eyes you have…” dialogue. There is also the obligatory love triangle, between Valerie, her childhood sweetheart and the young man she is expected to marry. It could be argued that this is the core of the movie, and I suppose it is, but I found neither of the lads appealing, particularly Peter, her childhood beau, played by Shiloh Fernandez, who just comes across as a moody, brooding teen (maybe that’s why I’ve not seen Twilight, eh?).
There are some familiar faces for sci-fi fans, as Michael (Stargate: SG-1) Shanks and Michael (Battlestar Galactica) Hogan ably perform their small roles. Julie Christie also glows as Valerie’s grandmother. Overall, it is an interesting take on the Little Red Riding Hood, with a feel somewhere between The Company of Wolves and The Village. Give it a whirl and you might be surprised how much you like it.
Oh, and Virginia Madsen as Valerie’s mother is hot!
© Steve JC Johnson - 2011
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Okay, let’s get this out of the way right at the start. There is a brilliant cameo in X-Men: First Class. It’s so good, it’s worth the price of admission alone. Well, maybe not, but it is a high point of the film.
Right, then, what about the rest of the film?
X-Men: First Class is an origins story, telling us how Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) first meet and the genesis of the X-Men and Brotherhood of Mutants. Along the way, we meet some familiar friends, such as Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), as well as some new faces in the forms of Angel (Zoe Kravitz and not to be confused with the Angel seen in X-Men: The Last Stand), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Darwin (Edi Gathegi) and Havok (Lucas Till) on the side of good. The baddies are in the forms of Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), Emma Frost (January Jones), Azazel (an unrecognisable Jason Flemyng) and Riptide (Álex González).
Each of these mutants has their own, unique powers, as we have come to expect from these films, and some work better than others. Not being a fan of the comics, I have no idea how close to canon these characters are, but, to be honest, most of them are forgettable. Of the newcomers, only Emma Frost and Havok were memorable, in my opinion, and for different reasons (ahem).
Erik Lehnsherr is in a concentration camp in 1944 (the opening scene from X-Men is recreated) and Sebastian Shaw is a Nazi geneticist wanting to tap the potential of the mutant genes. Needless to say, Erik hates the ruthless scientist. At the same time, a young Charles Xavier and Mystique (called Raven in her youth) meet and become firm friends, with Xavier regarding her as his sister.
Cut to the early Sixties.
The USA and the Soviet Union stand on a knife edge. Due to the machinations of a still youthful Sebastian Shaw (I still can’t help thinking of the actor who played Anakin Skywalker in Return of the Jedi!) and his mutant cohorts, the Soviets are shipping nuclear missiles to Cuba. Sound familiar?
Enter spunky CIA agent, Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne). She enlists the aid of Xavier and Raven and they head off to find Shaw. Little do they know that Erik Lehnsherr is also closing in on the evil mutant with revenge on his mind.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, mutants are recruited, alliances switch, the world is in peril for a while, then it isn’t. Promises and hearts are broken and we see the birth of Xavier’s school.
I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class. It’s a rip-roaring, high-octane adventure, with some great effects and a decent cast and script. As I said earlier, though, of the new mutants we meet, most of them are forgettable (I actually had to look them up on iMDB!) and Hank McCoy’s make-up just makes him look like Teen Wolf!
The real stars, of course, are McAvoy and Fassbender as best friends who become arch-enemies. Erik’s rage towards Shaw is the driving force behind his actions and when he sees mutants being viewed as freaks and a threat to humans, he acts, with devastating results, becoming Magneto. Xavier, the calm heart of the movie, can do nothing as his friend turns his back on him (although they must reunite at some point, as Cerebro is yet to be built at Westchester and they are clearly friends when they meet Jean Grey some years later – or is this a reboot rather than a prequel?).
It is also difficult to accept that Mystique leaves Xavier, just when he needs her most. This must be to show us how they have grown apart, but it’s still a little hard to swallow, even with Charles telling her to go with Magneto.
Anyway, apart from a few niggles, I can recommend X-Men: First Class. It’s not the best superhero movie out there, but it is a worthy addition to Marvel’s continuing cinematic output.
© Steve JC Johnson - 2011
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Expectations for Super 8 have been high since the first teaser trailer emerged last year. Directed by JJ Abrams (Star Trek) and produced by somebody called Steven Spielberg, it looked like we were going to get something very special indeed.
Unfortunately, we didn’t. Perhaps I am letting my deflated expectations colour this review, but sod it.
While Super 8 is a good, enjoyable movie, with terrific action, it is nothing new. I don’t want to spoil the plot, as the producers have worked so hard to keep a lid on it, but here are the basics:
Set in 1979, a group of Ohio schoolchildren are making an amateur zombie film. As they roll their Super 8 cine camera, they are caught up in a terrifying train wreck (which actually goes on a bit too long). It turns out that this was an Air Force train and that it was carrying an aggressive, extraterrestrial life form.
As people begin disappearing, the military arrives and sets about evacuating the area. Our heroic gang of kids get into all sorts of scrapes and learn the true nature of the creature that is terrorising their hometown.
As I mentioned, we begin with a train crash that goes on for absolutely ages. I was actually saying, “Come on, then, stop crashing!” to the screen. This is just the first of a series of set-pieces that include a war zone in the town, a bus crash and a finale that utilises a water tower. All of these are well-staged, if a little over-the-top.
The acting from kids and adults alike is reasonable, but there isn’t a single stand-out performance. This is no ET or Stand By Me. Even the creature is nothing to write home about. In fact, [spoiler - highlight to see the following text] it looks a lot like the Cloverfield beast, if a lot smaller.
We were told that this was something of an homage to movies from the Seventies and Eighties, such as ET, Close Encounter of the Third Kind and The Goonies. It does feel like one of those films and Spielberg’s fingerprints are all over the movie. In fact, it’s this that makes the film enjoyable to watch. It has that sense of nostalgia soaked deep into its emulsion.
Recently, we had another film featuring an alien. In my opinion, Paul is a better movie than Super 8. It was a lot more fun, at any rate. I am not sure why this film was actually called Super 8 anyway, as the fact that the kids captured the train crash and a fleeting glimpse of the creature (which is pretty much all you get for the entire movie) isn’t even central to the story.
So while I enjoyed the film, I expected more and, therefore, I was disappointed because it didn’t live up to the expectations raised by the advertising campaign.
© Steve SJ Johnson
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First off, is he really the First Avenger? I mean, isn’t Thor thousands of years old? Or something?
It doesn’t matter. Captain America: The First Avenger is a wonderful, Boys’ Own adventure movie, very much in the vein of the Saturday morning serials. At several points during the movie, I was reminded of Raiders of the Lost Ark, be it the bad guy Nazis or the music. It was fantastic!
Yes, this film has everything for the big kid at heart: a great superhero, Nazis, ray guns, bonkers Nazi inventions, huge explosions and actors that appear to be having a ball making the film – and ‘getting it’.
But let’s look at the story first of all. WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a small, yet brave, young man who desperately wants to fight for his country in World War II. His various ailments and diminutive stature mean he always gets rejected when he volunteers again and again.
One day, he encounters a former German scientist, Doctor Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who gives him a chance and allows him to join a project on which he is working. Along the way, he falls for young English agent, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).
Rogers is training with a bunch of much larger, fitter men, but it is clear that he is much smarter and Erskine seems very fond of the likeable young man.
The upshot is that Rogers is pumped with some ‘stuff’ and zapped in a device built by Howard Stark (yep, Iron Man’s dad and played here by Dominic Cooper). He pops out all bulked up and sweaty. Just then, an agent of baddie, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving – sounding oddly like Sam Neill!), sets off a bomb, killing Erskine. Rogers catches him after some exciting chase scenes through the streets of New York, but the goon kills himself with cyanide.
With Erskine dead, the super soldier project is over and Rogers ends up portraying a character for publicity. Called Captain America, he is loved by the public, but scorned by other soldiers, who laugh at his red, white and blue outfit.
When he learns that the platoon of his dearest friend has been captured by Schmidt’s forces, he disobeys orders and goes behind enemy lines, with the help of Peggy and Stark. Another brilliant action sequence ensues, which ends with a Bond-esque destruction of the baddies’ lair. Here, we see Schmidt’s alter-ego, The Red Skull. To be honest, I thought he was scarier before he ripped of his face!
Rogers frees his buddy, along with four hundred other prisoners and is an instant hero. He is given a squad of his own choosing and tasked with seeking out the Red Skull (who escaped earlier, obviously). It is learned that Schmidt is using advanced technology to wipe out everybody who threatens him. He is using a device that appeared at the end of Thor as a power source - the Cosmic Cube.
After several more terrific sequences (trains, bunkers, forests, mountains… you name it, it’s in here) it all comes down to Rogers and Schmidt duking it out in a huge aircraft. Schmidt is thought destroyed when he tries to use the Cosmic Cube, although, to me, it appeared as though he was transported somewhere. Asgard?
Rogers is forced to crash the plane into an icy wasteland and is thought lost. He is found almost seventy years later by agents of SHIELD and the task of acclimatising him to the 21st Century begins.
I thoroughly enjoyed Captain America and feel it’s the most satisfying superhero film to come out of the Marvel stable since, perhaps, X-Men 2. It has been accused of being simplistic, but I find that completely missing the point. Sure, I have problems with a weedy kid wanting to fight being turned into a muscle-bound jock, but the point is that despite the change, he remained a good man and uses his powers selflessly.
The important thing to remember is that this film has a story and characters you care about. Sure, the story isn’t the most complex, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a fantasy World War II film. Where Eagles Dare with a superhero. Evans is perfect as Rogers and I have no idea how they did his body. He is genuinely weedy and then muscle-bound. Which is the real Evans? I dunno! Tommy Lee Jones is, well, Tommy Lee Jones and that’s a good thing. Hayley Atwell keeps Rogers on the straight and narrow, while his friends are loyal and brave. Hugo Weaving is the only character that doesn’t really click. He seems to be only giving half of a performance and fails to generate any real menace.
That doesn’t really matter, though. As there are scores of other bad guys for Cap and his chums to shoot, punch and blow up. In fact, you almost feel like cheering every time a bad guy is taken out. It’s that kind of film.
Loved it. Go see it. Stare at the screen and grin a lot.
© Steve JC Johnson - 2011
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What the hell were they thinking of with that title? God knows. Anyway, don’t let that mouthful put you off, Rise of the… Apes (better title, in my opinion and the one they should have gone with) is a remarkable film.
I had viewed the trailer for Apes with quite a bit of scepticism. While the CGI apes looked very well done, they still just looked like CGI apes. I found myself longing for the days of Roddy McDowell in a chimp costume.
My fears were not realised, however and the movie was a lot better than I expected it to be.
The story revolves around a young chimp called Caesar. He is born to a female lab ape after she is exposed to an experimental drug designed to enable brain cells to replicate. After a presentation goes awry, the experiments are shelved and the head of the program, Will Rodman (James Franco), is ordered to destroy the remaining chimps. He saves Caesar and takes him home.
Over the next few years, Caesar grows up and it is clear that he has inherited the drug’s properties from his mother. He is highly intelligent and operates at the level of a human child.
Of course, it all goes pear-shaped and Caesar is taken away from Rodman when the chimp defends Rodman’s father (John Lithgow) from their obnoxious neighbour (David Hewllett). Forced into a ‘detention centre’ for apes, Caesar grows resentful of humans and hatches a plot to free his brethren.
Escaping the centre, Caesar steals a new form of the drug (in aerosol form, handily) and exposes all of the apes at the ‘sanctuary’. They wake up the next day with enhanced intelligence.
In a spine-tingling scene, Caesar has a showdown with the centre’s cruel handler. After a brief fight with a shock-stick, Caesar grabs the man’s wrist. “Get your stinkin’ paw off me, you damn dirty ape!” yells the terrified bloke.
“NO!” screams Caesar and the rebellion is on. It’s amazing stuff. There are quite a few nods to the other Apes films and it’s quite fun to spot them, from the orang-utan called Maurice (after Maurice Evans, who played Dr Zaius in the original 1968 film) to Caesar riding a horse near the climax).
Anyway, the apes escape the centre and immediately head for the zoo and the drug laboratory to free the apes held in those places. There are some exciting scenes as the apes take on the San Francisco Police Department and it should be noted that they try not to harm any humans as they make their way across the city, heading towards the redwood forests across the Golden Gate Bridge.
It all comes to a head on the bridge, though, as the police set up a road block and begin gunning down the fleeing apes and charging them with mounted police. Of course, Caesar and his simian comrades are grossly underestimated and the right people come to a sticky end.
Rodman finds Caesar in the forest and pleads with him to come home, to which Caesar replies that he is home. Another spine-tingling moment.
There is no single actor that shines in the film. The human stars are all adequate, but this is Caesar’s movie. Therefore it is Andy Serkis’ movie, as he performed Caesar for motion-capture. He is astounding and you genuinely end up rooting for him and his gorilla, chimp and orang-utan comrades (I wonder why there are no gibbons in the Planet of the Apes franchise?).
I cannot recommend this film highly enough and coming off my glowing review of Captain America, I’m hoping I can make this a trilogy of top marks when I see Cowboys and Aliens very soon.
© Steve JC Johnson - 2011
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I went into this movie with reasonably high expectations, but after the disappointment (and you may disagree) of Super 8, I was expecting the worst. Luckily, I was happily surprised – if not blown away.
Cowboys & Aliens does exactly what it says on the tin. It has cowboys and it has aliens. That’s about it really, but that’s not actually a bad thing.
Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert with no memory, an abdominal wound and no memory. He also has some kind of device on his wrist that he cannot remove. Stumbling into the home of Meacher (Clancy Brown), a tough, yet kind-hearted preacher, he gets patched up and introduced to the town of Absolution.
Unfortunately, it turns out that Lonergan is a wanted man (particularly by powerful rancher, Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), from whom Lonergan stole some gold) and soon ends up in jail. Before he can be sent for trial in Santa Fe, alien spacecraft appear and begin abducting the townsfolk!
So, freed from captivity, Lonergan, Dolarhyde and the remains of the local folk team up and head out to retrieve their missing people. Accompanying them is Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), a mysterious woman who becomes pivotal later on.
Along the way, the band encounter Lonergan’s former gang and a tribe of Native Americans, who help Jake retrieve his memories. Jake, you see, was abducted by the aliens and saw his wife killed by one of them in a gruesome, extraterrestrial laboratory. Enraged, he escaped, accidentally picking up the device (which is a super-duper alien gun, by the way) and scarring his captor’s face.
He also remembers where the aliens are and the small army sets off and finds a huge spacecraft partly embedded in the ground. Apparently, they’re here for our gold and use there ship as a mining tool.
A huge battle ensues, with cowboys and aliens fighting inside and outside the ship. Lonergan goes inside and faces his scarred foe, beating the thing, with the help of Dolarhyde, while Ella takes the wrist gun from Jake and heads off by herself.
The abducted townsfolk are found and rescued and the aliens try to leave, the ship blasting off from the New Mexico desert.
Unfortunately, Ella (who is another alien from a race wiped out by these baddies) gets to the core of the ship and detonates the wrist gun, destroying the ship and sacrificing herself in the process.
All is well in the Wild West once more. Dolarhyde is nice all of a sudden, Lonergan is given a second chance and the town of Absolution becomes a bustling, lively place.
That’s about it. Not much of a story, as you can tell, but it is a fun movie with terrific special effects and engaging characters (although Craig looks like he’s biting down hard on something for most of the movie). Ford seems to be becoming America’s default, grizzled, growling, angry old man, while Olivia Wilde pulls off her role quite well, genuinely being beautiful, yet somehow out of place.
I enjoyed Cowboys & Aliens, but I didn’t love it in the same way that I was recently bowled over by Captain America and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. That said, it is still well worth seeing and I recommend it for a fun evening out. Yeehaww, pardner! Zap!
© Steve JC Johnson - 2011
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I’m a big fan of the original Fright Night, directed by Tom Holland, and think it was one of the best mainstream horror movies of the Eighties. It managed to retain an old-fashioned horror feel, while utilising state-of-the-art (at the time) visual effects.
I didn’t particularly expect much from the remake, despite starring roles from Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots. On seeing the film, I got pretty much what I was expecting, but it was still quite good.
As with the original, Jerry Dandridge, a 400 year-old vampire, moves next door to Charlie Brewster. In a departure to the original, though, it is Charlie’s friend, ‘Evil’ Ed (played by Kick-Ass’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who first susses out Jerry’s true nature and who falls prey early on.
Now, unlike the original, the vampires in this movie cannot shape-shift, bar a bit of facial morphing. The 1985 version had them turning into bats and wolves, but here they don’t do any of that, which is a huge shame, I think.
Anyway, once Charlie understands that Jerry’s a vampire, all hell breaks loose and we end up in a chase movie. Charlie’s house ends up ablaze and Jerry is hunting down Charlie, his mom (Toni Colette) and Amy (Poots) as they race towards Las Vegas and Peter Vincent, Vampire Killer (Tennant).
For me, Tennant was the true star of this movie. His take on Peter Vincent (this time a Criss Angel-type illusionist rather than the ageing TV host portrayed so wonderfully by Roddy McDowell in the original) is deliciously foul-mouthed and eccentric. He comes across as a bizarre mixture of Captain Jack Sparrow and Dr Who, a role, of course, he played so well and for which he is most famous.
Anyway, after battling against Jerry on a lonely highway, the gang arrive in Vegas and the penthouse of Vincent, after dropping off Charlie’s mum at the hospital. She collapsed on the road, possibly due to shock or something. It wasn’t made entirely clear… unless I missed that bit. It turns out that Jerry has not been killing his victims, but transforming them into vampires because, as Vincent explains, he comes from a Mediterranean species that is tribal. I have no idea why that level of detail was important. Whatever, Ed turns up and he’s a pretty pissed off vampire. He and Charlie fight until Ed is dustified by a stake through the heart. While this is going on, Vincent locks himself in his panic room.
Jerry turns up and kidnaps Amy. Charlie heads of in hot pursuit back to their little collection of houses in the middle of the Nevada desert. Vincent shows up, all kitted out for a vamp fight and we have a pretty exciting climax in the basement area of Jerry’s house where his new tribe dwells. Of course, Jerry is defeated (I won’t spoil how) and those he turned into vampires revert back to human form.
While I still prefer the original movie, I quite enjoyed this remake. It was different enough to be interesting, but had enough nods to the original to make you smile. Colin Farrell played Jerry Dandridge well and gave him and air of ancient depravity. He’s been around so long and has seen so much that he doesn’t care what he says to people. Yelchin is a decent Charlie Brewster, although a little unlikable early in the film, but that’s deliberate as we are supposed to see his journey from a geek who became ‘normal’ i.e. a dick, to becoming his natural self again by the end. Imogen Poots is a more active Amy than in the original movie and she has her fair share of action. As I said earlier, Tennant’s Peter Vincent is a revelation. It’s a wonderful character and he has some great lines. My favourite was when Charlie suggested that the stage magician believed in vampires. He replied: “You think I hang out with Dracula? The Easter Bunny? F**k off!” You have to see it, I suppose.
The film is well-made with good effects. Not sure about the 3D. I missed the vampires changing into other forms. Remember that the original ended with the suggestion that Ed was still around (Vincent stupidly pulled the stake out of him), but here we aren’t given that, as once staked, the vampires burn up, Buffy style, which is a shame.
So, there we have it. Fright Night is a decent teen horror flick. Not as good as the original, but not far off. Give it a go.
© Steve JC Johnson - 2011
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Updated 30th August, 2011