Category Archives: Leisure

69 with Alice Cooper?

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It was Alice Cooper’s (who’s real name is Vincent, by the way) birthday recently. Hilariously, he turned 69. I didn’t do a blog about it then because, well, I had more important stuff to do. Now, though, I have a small gap he can fill. Ahem. To me he’s always been a bit of a parody, something that’s reflected in his image and OTT stage theatrics. It also comes across in his lyrics and song titles, some of which are cheesy, some derivative, some pervy, some borderline disturbing, and some just plain funny, whether intentionally or not.

I didn’t want to do just another tribute. I wanted to do something different and fun, which maybe hasn’t been done before. So here it is…

Top 10 Most Ridiculous Alice Cooper Song Titles Ever!

(and where you can find them)

10: Muscle of Love (Muscle of Love, 1973)

9: Earwigs to Eternity (Pretties for You, 1969)

8: Every Woman has a Name (Dragontown, 2001)

7: I’m the Coolest (Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, 1976)

6: You Look Good in Rags (Special Forces, 1981)

5: Mr. and Misdemeanor (Easy Action, 1970

4: I’ll Bite Your Face Off (Welcome 2 My Nightmare, 2011)

3: Take it Like a Woman (Brutal Planet, 2000)

2: I Never Wrote Those Songs (Lace & Whiskey, 1977)

1: Thrill my Gorilla (Constrictor, 1986)

Most Ridiculous Alice Cooper Album Title:

Zipper Catches Skin (1982)

What I Learned whilst Writing this Post:

1: Alice Cooper’s career didn’t end after 1989’s Trash, but probably should have.

2: He and Steve Carrel might actually be the same person.

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Time for a New Six Nations?

So the Six Nations tournament is in full swing. This always gets me thinking about rugby, and in particular, the competition’s format. Rugby fans might find what I am going to say controversial, whilst nobody else will give much of a shit. But as a rugby fan, I want to make my feelings heard. And before we go any further no, this blog isn’t about the self-destructing Wales team.

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You see, I don’t think the Six Nations should be six nations. Not any more. Frankly, Italy (wooden spoon winners in two of the past three seasons and odds on for a hat-trick) are not strong enough to contest and do themselves no favours by continuing to slug it out with the big boys of European rugby. From the 85 games they’d played up to the start of the current championship, they’d lost 72 and their overall points difference stood at an alarming -1553. That’s more than twice as many as the second worst team, Scotland.

It’s nothing personal. I admire the way Italy stick to their guns, often in the face of overwhelming odds. They are a strong, powerful team, and have produced a couple of top players. But this season really should spell the end of their involvement in the Six Nations tournament. Who needs it? They were effectively out of the reckoning after just two games, having been on the end of two home thrashings at the hands of Wales and Ireland (7-33 and 10-63 respectively). They usually have one good game a year, and that came last week at Twickers. They gave England a scare, more through clever exploitation of the rules than any real skill, but still ended up losing by double digits. All the evidence suggests that Italy are getting worse at this rugby lark, not better. It could be time to go. And you know what? They can take France with them.

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Controversial? Let me explain…

At several points in it’s long history (the first comparable tournament was played way back in 1883) the Six Nations was known as the Home Nations, and consisted of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Then in came the French and it became the Five Nations. Then Italy made it six. Where’s it going to end? Shall we just invite every rugby-playing nation in Europe and call it the 17 Nations? Of course not, that would be impractical. But then you have to wonder why Italy deserve a place. Georgia are actually above them in the world rankings and Romania and Russia aren’t far behind.

I want a return to the old days. But not because I’m some Neanderthal racist who hates Italians and Frenchies. Nope, I have a plan. The tournament should return to its roots, but I think we should do it differently this time. I want the home nations to play every other home nation twice a season, for a total of six games. And lets mix up the draw each year, pulling the fixtures at random, instead of having the format and fixtures set in stone. That gets boring. The draw for the next tournament can be made at the end of the previous one to give fans time to make arrangements, and thereby amping up the drama even more. Put it on live TV, make a spectacle out of it like the FA Cup draw.

Let’s be honest, nobody really likes playing the French. Not because anyone is afraid of them (though they do have a nasty habit of running in good tries), but because they bring nothing to the tournament, especially the way the team is at the moment. They currently stand at 8th in the latest World Rugby rankings, lower than any of the home nations, and haven’t been serious contenders for years. They were fortunate to beat Italy last season. If they’d lost, they would have suffered a second whitewash in four years. Not good enough, sorry.

There’s long been talk of introducing a two-tier system into the Six Nations, with promotion and relegation. If that ever happened, Italy would undoubtedly be the first team relegated. And there’s a decent chance France could follow. I suggest we take the initiative and cull them now, then put them in a separate European group with two of Georgia, Romania and Russia. Maybe even Spain, Germany or Portugal. All are emerging nations ranked in the world top 25. Playing each other (along with France and Italy) on a regular basis would improve their game immeasurably, which can only be good for the sport. The European group of four (even five or six would be manageable as these teams play less games per year than the elite) can also play each home and away, then face the winners of the British group in a grand final every year at a neutral venue. Obviously France would dominate for the first couple of years, but I the other teams would soon catch up with them.

There, sorted. Think about it. This proposed new format would benefit everyone involved. The British teams would only have to play one (or two, if they get to the grand final) more games a season, there would be more opportunity for sponsors and TV revenue, the fans would get more of what they really want (Wales v Scotland, England v Anybody), the smaller rugby-playing nations would have a framework and a chance to develop, and there would be a huge showpiece final every year to rival the (football) European Championship.

Who’s with me?


Boss Blogs #1: Meet Me in the City Tonight

For many people, seeing Bruce Springsteen live, especially with the E Street Band, is akin to a religious experience. His epic three-hour plus live shows are the stuff of legend. The vast majority of artists have their carefully arranged 16-song set consisting of a smattering of tracks from their latest sub-par album, closing the show with a few hits from when they were more popular to send the crowd home happy. They play the same songs, in the same order, every night. Even their salutations are hollow. “Thank you (INSERT NAME OF LATEST STOP ON THE TOUR)! This has been the greatest night of our lives!”

Of course it has, pal.

Springsteen doesn’t just go through the motions. Every show, every note of every song, is shot through with energy, emotion and intensity. Virtually every night the set list is different. Sometimes there are minor tweaks, sometimes there a radical overhaul. He usually does something special, making it unique for those lucky enough to be in attendance. He might dust off a rare deep cut, a non-album track, a new arrangement of an old classic, or an unexpected cover. He has an extensive repertoire to draw from, and nothing is off-limits. After Prince died last year he played Purple Rain as a tribute, in London he played the Clash song Clampdown in homage to Joe Strummer, and in Australia he played the relatively obscure INXS track Don’t Change as a nod to Michael Hutchence. It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to witness him tackle a George Michael or Motorhead standard at some point. The first time he ever played in Wales on the Magic tour in 2008 he started the show with From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), in reference to the size and stature of the country.

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I’m not as fanatical as some Springsteen aficionados. I’ve met people who have seen him live literally hundreds of times, making my six gigs in four countries over twenty years seem pretty fucking weak. Still, I do have some good stories. Like the time I was on a coach coming back from Rotterdam and French border police decided to take us in a room one-by-one and strip search us all. I’d never had that treatment before, so that was an experience. As was travelling all the way from Wales to Philadelphia for the reunion tour in 1999 only to arrive at the venue to find the show had been cancelled because of a hurricane. After being shut in the hotel bar for the night, we eventually got to see another show later in the week so the trip wasn’t completely wasted. Unlike me that night in the hotel bar. At the actual gig, my then-girlfriend went out for a cigarette halfway through the show and security wouldn’t let her back in, so she had to stand in a car park by herself in downtown Philly for two hours. No, I didn’t go out to find her. A man has to get his priorities right. Besides, I didn’t know what had happened until later. There were no mobiles in 1999.

Thinking about it, my Boss gigging history has been dogged by drama. I was also at the infamous Hyde Park gig in 2012, when the council pulled the plug in the middle of a historic duet with Paul McCartney. Hilariously, the Boss started the next gig in Dublin in the middle of Twist & Shout and had a fake policeman drag him from the stage at the end. The first time I ever saw the him live was as a starry-eyed 18-year old at Wembley Arena in 1992. By some fluke, my friend and I had great seats, just a few rows from the front. But probably my favourite ever Boss gig was at the San Siro, Milan in the summer of 2003. I’ve always thought the music spoke to me on some weirdly personal level, and that show seemed to prove it. I still worked in a factory in Wales at the time. I had a car, a steady girlfriend and a PlayStation. All the things that are supposed to make you content. But man, I was so fucking miserable. I was beginning to realize it’s a big world out there, and I was frustrated at only being allowed to experience a tiny part of it. My first book had just been released and, I knew big changes were coming in my life. He sang ‘Follow That Dream,’ a song he doesn’t do often, and it almost sent me over the edge. It certainly put things in perspective. I decided to roll the dice and risk everything to pursue a career in writing. Within a few months, I’d split up with my girlfriend, sold my car, laid my PlayStation to rest (which I still think is the biggest loss) and moved to Southampton to study journalism. Strange how things turn out. I look back on that San Siro gig as some kind of tipping point.

When Bruce & the E Street Band began this latest tour, they were playing The River album in it’s entirety from start to finish, then a handful of oldies at the end. Everyone knew it wouldn’t last. It was too rigid, too predictable. The handful of oldies at the end soon stretched to a dozen, then 15 or 16, and by the time he got to Europe the ‘whole album’ format had been discarded altogether in favour of a career-spanning mash-up. What’s even better is EVERY show is being recorded and released via his website. I used to collect live bootlegs. Over the year I amassed hundreds of them. I’ve always been aware that the studio albums, even taking into account the 4-CD retrospective set Tracks, only tell half the story. But they were expensive and the sound quality was hit or miss. Normally miss, to be fair. These new releases are absolutely flawless, and at $9.95 (MP3 format) for four hours of music, reasonably priced. There’s a bit of polishing and mixing going on, but if it enhances the sound quality I’m not against it like some purists are. Incidentally, if you want my opinion, I don’t think you can go far wrong by investing in the Washington National Park show.

After a few months off following the last US leg, the River tour found it’s way to Australia last month. Because, bizarrely, it’s summer there. And winds up next week in New Zealand. I’m envious of all you Australasians who were lucky enough to get tickets but I’m not that put out. I’ll just get the MP3s.

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The Bookshelf 2016

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Every year I keep a list of all the books I read, and post it here. Yep, that’s how anal I am about books. If you’re interested, you can find last year’s riveting instalment HERE. The weird thing is, these posts are usually among my most popular, which suggests that either my other posts are even more boring or perhaps I’m not the only one obsessed with books and lists.

As you can see, I tend to lean toward contemporary horror fiction, for obvious reasons, but I try to read widely. Promise. I love a good autobiography, the odd debauched rock tale, and the occasional peak into history. The only rule is I have to actually finish the book in order for it to qualify. So without further a-do, here is a complete list of the books I read in 2016.

The Mannequin by Darcy Coates (2014)

Welsh Murders Volume I (1770 – 1918) by Peter Fuller & Brian Knapp (1986)

Bazar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (2015)

The Haunting of Blackwood house by Darcy Coates (2015)

Community by Graham Masterton (2012)

Death’s Sweet Echo by Maynard Sims (2015)

The Wind-up Toy by David Owain Hughes (2016)

Alfred Hitchcock & The Three Investigators: The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur, Jnr (1964)

Nails by Fiona Dodwell (2015)

Tales From the Lake 2 by various authors (2016)

The Supernatural Murders: Classic True Crime Stories, edited by Jonathan Goodman (1992)

Dead Harvest: A Collection of Dark Tales Vol I by Various (2013)

War Letters 1914-18, Vol I by Mark Tanner (2014)

Mind Fuck by Renee Miller (2016)

Rayhven House by Frank E. Bittinger (2016)

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel (1975)

Pictures of You by T.J Alexian (2014)

Last Words by Jackson Lear (2016)

The Hidden by Fiona Dodwell (2016)

Auto-Rewind by Jason Arnopp (2015)

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin (2012)

I Can Taste the Blood by Various Authors (2016)

The Scariest Reddit Stories by Hannah J Tidy (2016)

Mistrel Bed and Breakfast by Darcy Coates (2016)

The Films of Danny Dyer by Jonathan Sothcott & James Mullinger (2013)

Revival by Stephen King (2014)

Surviving the Evacuation, Book 1: London by Frank Tayell (2013)

The Christmas Spirit by Brian James Freeman (2016)


The Forsaken (2016) – film review

K, lets get one thing straight right off the bat. This isn’t the 2015 western starring Kiefer Sutherland and Demi Moore. Neither is it the 2001 Australian vampire movie starring, well, nobody you will have heard of. It is, in fact, a brand-spanking new release from Justin Price, best known for last year’s Dark Moon Rising. You might say it’s a new film with an old title, but let’s try not to get judgemental. Not yet, anyway. They had to call it something. On review sites and message boards it has been drawing comments like ‘Completely unwatchable,’ and ‘Worst movie ever!’ which kinda piqued my interest a little. Surely it can’t be that bad? Folk on the internet can be really mean sometimes. I thought at the very least, it might fall into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category.

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As a rule I’m not a big fan of possession films. Boring. Every single one of them follows the Exorcist blueprint – Person gets possessed, someone calls a priest, priest unpossesses person. They usually have a touch of difficulty along the way, just to fill the paper-thin plot out a little. There is invariably some swearing, vomiting, flying Bibles, and more often that not, some walking backwards up walls and shit. But in the end, good triumphs over evil, you breathe a sigh of relief, and move on with your life.

This latest Forsaken stars David E Cazares as a priest with jowls and sad puppy-dog eyes, a rebellious daughter, and a gravely ill wife who may or may not be possessed. I know, just what you need, right? I mean, the guy comes home one day and finds his missus cooking pieces of her arms in a frying pan for dinner. Obviously, something has to be done. But this is where the priest gets it completely wrong and starts looking for help in some of the sketchiest places imaginable. There are a few jumpy moments, and for a low-budget flick the make-up and effects are pretty impressive. However, even for one so simple, the plot is a bit muddled. All the flashbacks and dream sequences are distracting and worst of all, sad, puppy-dog eyed priest insists on fumbling around in the dark, whispering all his dialogue and crying all the time. Come on, dude! Put the damn light on, have a shit, shower and a shave, sort yourself out and man the fuck up. In days of old this would be a straight-to-video release. Now it’s probably going straight to your nearest streaming device, where it will no doubt stay, neglected and Forsaken.

This review originally appeared in the FREE Morpheus Tales supplement


FM17 – First Play

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The wait is over. Nope, not the new season of the Walking Dead (shocking premier, by the way) I’m talking about the latest edition of the greatest manager sim in the world. Before we go any further, let’s address the big hulking elephant in the room. By their definition, a lot of these kinds of games get jaded and boring after a while. Sega games, the developers of Football Manager, put a great onus on keeping things as realistic as possible, and also take great delight in throwing the odd curve ball. The latest version of the game is probably the first computer game in the world to incorporate Brexit. Three possible scenarios are built into the gameplay involving varying levels of fuckery, and you have no option but to wait and accept your fate. You voted for it, you got it. The knowledge that the effects of Brexit loom large influence your decision-making right from the start. I was wary of being caught in a position somewhere down the line where half my squad would be unable to gain work permits, so immediately began focusing my efforts on scouting British, and in particular, Welsh players, as my chosen team was Cardiff City. I don’t know why because in all my years of playing this game I’ve never achieved anything with them, except the odd promotion. This is coming from a man who spent his university years making Carlisle United the undisputed kings of Europe. Finding good players within such a limited scope is a challenge. I kept having flashbacks to the time when City qualified for the Cup Winners Cup every year (courtesy of winning the Welsh Cup) then got royally spanked by the European elite because, on top of being a lower-division team, they were only permitted to play a handful of non-Welsh players.

A couple of new features are evident immediately: You are able to use a photo of yourself to generate your manager likeness (I look awful) and you are given a handy breakdown of your team’s strengths and weaknesses right off the bat. Other new additions include a medical department overhauled to include sports scientists, a revised contract system, and tweet displays helping you gauge how supporters feel about potential new signings and other developments. Innovative stuff. The gameplay, constantly improving, is smooth and hitch free. You might want to change to a darker skin, though. The light one can be hard on the eyes.

So, on to team-building. One of the most overlooked aspects of the game is the coaching and training set-up. I invariably have to fire at least one coach to make way for improvements, and the same goes for the scouts. My tip is to bring in specialist coaches for key areas (defence, attack, tactics) and draft in some scouts from different countries. They bring their knowledge with them.

The Cardiff squad circa 2016/17 is decidedly average. And with barely any room to manoeuvre in the wage budget and just £1.2m in the kitty, it’s going to be tough, especially with a glaring weakness between the sticks which needs to be addressed. £650k got me Adam Smith from Northampton Town. Admittedly not the biggest name, but an improvement on my existing goalkeeping options and plenty of potential and sell-on value. I also managed to draft in centre-back Yohan Tavares and defensive midfielder Diego Poyet on free transfers. That’s almost £6m worth of talent. Incidentally, a few other very good Championship-level players knocking around on frees at the start of the game are Jordan Spence (CB) Ivan Bandalovski (RB), Wiljan Pluim (CM), Roland Lamah (AM), Federico Macheda (ST) and Ivan Bolado (ST).

To raise some capital and make room in the squad I sold Bruno Manga to Sassuolo for £4m. That was a gamble, Manga was one of my better players, but he was on massive wages and in the last year of his contract so the transfer made financial sense. Besides, he wasn’t THAT good and Tavares is a more than adequate replacement. I also shipped-out squad players Kadeem Harris and Lee Peltier for a combined £600k, sent loanee Ben Amos back to Bolton, and loaned out a bunch of youngsters. With some money in the bank I was able to splash out on a marquee signing. Enter Raphael Holzhauser. What do you mean ‘who?’ He’s a 23-year old central midfielder available for about £1.7m from Austria Vienna. There are cheaper options around in his position and my squad was already reasonably strong in that area with Joe Ralls, Emyr Hughes, and Aron Gunnarsson, but Holzhauser’s passing and dead ball ability made him an attractive option.

I started with a 4-4-1-1 formation, and had an undefeated pre-season leading into the Championship fixtures. I scraped a win at Birmingham in the first game then knocked Newport County out of the EFL Cup, but scoring goals was proving a problem. I only managed two in the first five games, not enough for a board who demanded ‘attacking football.’ After that I switched to a 4-2-3-1 with two deep holding midfielders, and promptly lost 6-2 at Norwich. Thrashed Preston 4-1 in the next game, though, and at least the games were less turgid. Then, disaster struck. Rickie Lambert, my talismanic top scorer with eight goals in ten games, broke his foot. I have a lot of strikers on my books. Problem is, none of them are any good. Marouane Chamakh is decent, but he threw his toys out when I refused to play him every game so I banished him to the reserves where he ran out his contract which, luckily, expired in January. That left me with limited options, and results suffered accordingly. I did manage to pick up enough points to be in 6th place mid-way through the season, which was better than expected.

I spent a bit of time scouting Europe for the answer to my goalscoring problems, and the January transfer window gave me an opportunity to put my plans into action. In came Danish international striker Marcus Pedersen and Hungarian winger Lucacs Bole for a combined £600k. Pretty good business, even if I do say so myself. I also picked up Marius Lundemo on a free as a replacement for Lex Immers who I sold to PAOK for £1.1m. He just wasn’t cutting it and at 31 his value was only going to depreciate. Rickie Lambert was also back from injury so I was optimistic of pushing for a play-off place. However, it wasn’t to be, and my team capitulated in the last third of the season, winning only one game out of the last 12, finishing in 13th position with 60 points. My top scorer was Anthony Pilkington, a midfielder, with 12, and perhaps the only positive was Emyr Hughes winning Championship Goal of the Season. Apart from that, the biggest shock of the season was Sam Allardyce finding gainful employment again at Everton.

On that showing, I was a bit surprised to be offered a new contract, with the modest proviso of finishing in the top half of the table. The board also handed me an £8 million transfer kitty, which was nice of them. The main issue at Cardiff was the fact that there were too many average players on the books. My weekly wage bill was well in excess of £440k a week, so the first thing I had to do was trim the squad with the aim of sacrificing quantity for quality. Out went Joe Bennett, Tom Adeyami, Stuart O’Keefe, Raphael Holzauser, Deli Oshilaja, Idriss Saidi and nine youth/U23 players. My biggest signing was Welsh international left-back Paul Dummett from Newcastle for £2.7 million, and young centre-back Alfie Mawson, who was a steel at £1 million from Swansea, the signing given extra bite as I would be playing the Jacks in the Championship following their relegation from the Premier League (yay!). My only other cash signing was Romanian striker Denis Alibec (600k for a £3.5 million player), while midfielders Jota (valued at over £9 million) and Yasir Kasim (2.6m) came in on frees to fill out the squad.

I cruised through pre-season, then got decent results in my first few fixtures, replicating the achievements of the previous season. But then, the moment the transfer window closed, came the first murmurings of dissent. The team started complaining about ‘broken promises,’ specifically, that I hadn’t strengthened the team. But I had! Okay, it was missing Gareth Bale or Lionel Messi, but the squad I built had 13 full internationals, for fuck’s sake. AND Peter Whittingham and Sean Morrison. The grumblers didn’t seem to realize that if I’d signed more players, their own places in the team would come under threat. Some people just don’t think. With the dressing room in disarray, straight defeats to Hull, Wolves, Villa and Leeds followed, and before I knew it I was in the relegation zone. I’m still in a job, for now. But only because I’ve been afraid to play any more games for the past two days. I know I’m probably getting sacked in the morning. I won’t even keep my job long enough to experience the Brexit shenanigans. Sigh.

Nobody said being a football manager is easy.

Football Manager 17 is out November 4.

Thanks to Sega Games for the sneak preview.


Spring – Film Review

How on earth have I not seen this movie before? The Internet says it’s been around since debuting at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2014. It did have a very limited theatrical release, then went direct to streaming, though, which is where a lot of things tend to get lost. More’s the pity, because it’s an exceptional piece of work. Part of the attraction is that it’s so many things, and yet at the same time none of them. At it’s core it’s a love story, but it’s also a sci-fi flick, a monster movie, a mystery, a comedy, and one of those meaningful coming-of-age dramas like The Beach. It’s a huge risk trying to do so much within the confines of a single movie. So much can go wrong. But the directing team of Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson (who also wrote it) have done a magnificent job of crossing boundaries and meshing those genres together into something that is captivating, original and truly unique.

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A directionless young American, Evan Russell (Lou Taylor Pucci, who starred in the recent Evil Dead remake) loses his mother and his job within days of each other. He also gets in a spot of bother with da police and some local hoodlums, so decides to skip town and use his inheritance to fund a voyage of discovery to Italy. Once there, he meets two hilarious Englishmen in a hostel, and hooks up with a local hottie called Louise (Nadia Hilker). And that’s where the fun begins. Louise slowly reveals herself to be a 2000-year old murderous genetic freak, who gets herself pregnant every twenty years so her body can ingest the cells in her embryo and keep her young. Yup. She regales Evan with tales of 17th Century witch trials, erupting volcanoes, and surviving the Great Plague that swept Europe, all of which Evan takes remarkably well (“At least you have the same back-story as Harry Potter. That’s pretty cool”). Such is the power of love, I guess. Louise then reveals that she can only return to anything resembling a normal state if she falls in love. But does she really want to and risk giving up the life to which she has become accustomed?

The dialogue is sharp and witty, the plot compelling, and the Italian setting stunning. Spring is much more than a mere comedic sci-fi flick. The subtext throws up some interesting existential questions and addresses some pretty fundamental moral dilemmas. Overall, this is a supremely creative, entertaining and imaginative movie. Go watch it right now.

The original version of this review appears in the latest Morpheus Tales supplement. Available FREE.


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