Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd J Depp

Based on the stage musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street stars Johnny Depp as Benjamin Baker, who returns to 19th century London after fifteen years in exile, seeking revenge against Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who imprisoned Barker and stole his wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) and infant daughter.

Renaming himself as Sweeney Todd, Benjamin sets himself up as a barber, above a grotesque pie shop run by Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who has always secretly loved him.When Todd kills a blackmailing rival barber (Sacha Baron Cohen), he finds himself with a body on his bloody hands, until Mrs Lovett hits upon an innovative solution that soon sees her pie shop transformed into a roaring success. Meanwhile, as Todd plots his vengeance against Turpin, a young sailor (Jamie Campbell Bower) falls in love with Todd’s imprisoned daughter (Jayne Wisener) and vows to rescue her.

This sixth collaboration with director Tim Burton, Johnny Depp delivers an exceptional performance in the leading role that combines the gothic horror, black comedy and heartache similar to his previous hit in Edward Scissorhands.

As for his singing, Depp’s vocal performance was full of passion with a nod to David Bowie. He may not be a great singer, but his voice was both distinctive and perfectly suited to the part as the demon barber.

Helena Bonham Carter was terrific as Mrs Lovett providing some laughs thanks to her sharp wit. She can also sing well with the dreamy summer sequence the highlight.

As for the supporting cast, Alan Rickman brings a crafty charisma to Judge Turpin alongside the creepy Timothy Spall as Beadle Bamford. As for Sacha Baron Cohen – better known as Ali G and Borat – his short appearance was memorable thanks to his humour as Signor Adolfo Pirelli.

Despite the gory factor, Sweeney Todd is a beautifully directed, superbly designed and suitably bloodthirsty musical. Entertaining with a sense of dark comical moments make this a movie to remember.

Autosport International 2008

Autosport Show 2008

A new year means another visit to the Birmingham’s NEC for the annual trip to the biggest motor racing show, the Autosport International.

The main highlight was the 50th anniversary of the British Touring Car Championship. Seeing the many ‘tin top’ racing cars up close was a real treat, especially the dominate Vauxhalls of the late 90s but I was slightly disappointed not to see the sinister black Ford Sierra that dominate the series in the mid 80s.

Another high point was the Colin McRae tribute stand, featuring an impressive collection of rally cars. Observing all these vehicles that the 1995 World Rally Champion drove throughout his career was highly emotional and it is still a shock that the popular Scot is no longer with us.

The Live Action Arena was extended with more racing action from the likes of Formula Palmer Audis, stockcars and new to the show, dragsters. These straight-line accelerating monsters sounded great in particular the 1953 Studebaker. I was amazed how much tire smoke it produces as the whole arena vibrated to its powerful engine (not to mention going deaf)!

As for the Formula One grid, it was fascinating to see the 2007 single-seater cars up close and personal. The chrome McLaren is simply gorgeous while the ‘earth’ theme Honda didn’t… This year’s Autosport International also included an extra feature, the Pistol Head performance car show and to be honest, I wasn’t a fan, Sure it was nice to see exotic supercars from the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche, but it felt like I stepped into Max Power world… And it didn’t help that the promo girls were wearing less (on second thoughts, that’s a good thing!).

At the end of an exhausting and long day, we left with a range of photographs stored on our digital cameras and fantastic memories of racing cars and stars.

Hamilton to strike back with new McLaren MP4-23

McLaren MP4/23

This is the new Mercedes-powered race car that Lewis Hamilton hopes to win this year’s drivers’ title after narrowly missing out in the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix. The MP4-23 will mark ten years since the British team achieve the double (drivers and constructors) and will be desperate to bounce back after a difficult and controversial season in 2007.

The chrome-themed racing car will carry the unusually high numbers of 22 and 23, due to the team officially classified last in the standings – after being thrown out of the championship due to the latest series of spy scandals. Its a pure coincident that the 2008’s chassis is designated as the MP4-23 and that the unveiling in Stuttgart happens to be the same day as Lewis celebrates his 23rd birthday!

The designation ‘23′ holds further resonance for the squad. The McLaren M23 of the pre-Ron Dennis years appeared in 80 Grands Prix from 1974-78; a total of 177 individual car appearances. It won sixteen races, taking Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi to the drivers’ title in 1974 and Britain’s James Hunt in 1976. The M23 was the last title-winning car produced under the direction of Teddy Mayer before Ron Dennis took over the team in 1980.

Can the MP-23 enjoy the same success and make a champion out of Lewis Hamilton or new signing Heikki Kovalainen? Ron Dennis hopes so and he added that the team is focused to move on from that spying controversy that overshadowed last season.

“This is a year of forward thinking for us, we are looking forward,” Dennis said. “We are not spending any time dwelling on the past. We are intent with everyone in the company in producing a competitive racing car, a car that is constantly evolving and will look radically different by the time we get to the first Grand Prix.”

As for Lewis Hamilton, the championship runner-up says he will be a lot stronger in 2008 following a stunning debut season with McLaren last year.

“It gives me great pleasure to be here today on my birthday,” said Hamilton, turning 23 today. “After such a great season in 2007 I think the approach will be very, very similar to last year.

“We have a better car, a new team-mate and as a team are stronger and as a driver I have developed so much over one season that I will be a lot stronger next season than last year. So with the same mentality, approach and determination we can do well.”

Finn Heikki Kovalainen, who has joined McLaren after making his Grand Prix debut with Renault in 2007, will partner Hamilton. Kovalainen admits he has already been impressed with the team and is hopeful he will enjoy a strong season at McLaren.

“Of course for me it is a fantastic opportunity,” said the Finn. “It is a big step forward in my career to join McLaren. So far I have been impressed with what I have seen at the factory in Woking, meeting engineers, meeting people.

“Everyone is determined to return to the top and I will do the maximum I can before the first race, to start the season well in Melbourne and hopefully have some good results.”

Prepare for another battle royale between McLaren and Ferrari in 2008!

Raikkonen’s new Ferrari racer

Ferrari F2008

It’s that time of the season and with the first Grand Prix at Melbourne coming up in two months time, the first 2008-spec Formula One racing car is launch and to set the ball rolling, this is the car in which the 2007 Formula One World Champion Kimi Raikkonen will defend his drivers’ title for this year’s championship season.

The new Ferrari F2008 looks similar to last season’s title-winning chassis but with a new standard ECU and some new aerodynamics. The car, codenamed internally as the 659, has been designed for the new sporting regulations in 2008, with no driving aids allowed.

Raikkonen hopes the F2008 – designed under the guidance of technical director Aldo Costa – will again bring title success for the Maranello-based squad. In fact, the Iceman is looking forward to driving without traction control though the potential for more crashes is the biggest issue for the world champions ahead of the first race in Melbourne on March 16th.

“Now traction control is not going to help you but for me it will be a lot more fun. I think there will be an easier chance to overtake as people will make more mistakes,” Raikkonen told a news conference.

“The sport is dangerous anyway. It doesn’t matter if you have traction control or not. If you think it is too dangerous you probably shouldn’t be in the sport. It is more tricky for sure, you need to be awake more of the time.”

The Finn’s team-mate Felipe Massa was less positive about the changes and said drivers had asked for safety assurances from the FIA, Formula One’s governing body.

“We had an email exchange but we haven’t tested the car yet. The GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers’ Association) has for sure been trying to increase safety levels. This is a very important change. It will have to be a smoother driving style,” said the Brazilian, who was still enamoured with the new Ferrari.

“My expectations are very high. When you first look at the car it is a special moment. It is like seeing a child being born. Now we have to let this child grow and grow as quickly as possible.”

Both drivers said it was too early to tell who their main challengers would be this year given the new rules and that Fernando Alonso has returned back to Renault. The Finn believes that Ferrari and rival McLaren will again be the main protagonists in 2008.

“Ferrari and McLaren will be there,” he added. “Renault had a difficult year last year but it might be a completely different story this year but nobody really knows after the first couple of tests and we get some kind of idea where everybody is. And then there’s BMW.

“It will be a difficult year. It’s my second year at Ferrari. I can feel that everything is going really well. I know the people I am working with and I really like the team.

“We need to always look at what others are doing but the main thing is that we keep pushing hard as a team and we keep improving we should be in good shape.”

Let’s see how good the world champions will be during the all-important testing as Formula One 2008 gears up for a new season of racing.

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

Guitar Hero III Slash

After playing both version of Guitar Hero II on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 to death, it’s nice to experience a new set list of rockin’ tracks with the latest instalment of the popular music rhythm game.

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock has been developed by Neversoft after Activision decided to focus its attention on creating a brand new music game – the quite superb Rock Band (which is currently available in the States). Even though the game play to Guitar Hero III is identical to the previous titles, it some how feels different…

Yes, you still need to play through the different tracks by pressing the five colour fret buttons with the unique guitar controller but new to Guitar Hero III is the boss battle mode. To be honest, I really despise this new game play element as the balance between winning and losing is so random…

Okay its great to face-off legendary guitarists like Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave), Slash (of Guns N’ Roses/Slash’s Snakepit/Velvet Revolver) and Bret Michaels (of Poison) but you have to rely on sheer good fortune to take victory.

To defeat your opponent, you will need to pick up Battle Power (which replaces Star Power) to earn attacks. By using this special ability, you can strike against your fellow competitor just by tilting the guitar upwards. It may seem fun to keep on attacking but they can fight back – causing missed notes, increase in difficulty and even amp overload!

As for the visuals, the set designs and animation of the band members feels more realistic. In fact the lip sync on the singer matches the voices coming out of his mouth!

The track listing is now full of master recording from the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Smashing Pumpkins, Muse, Metallica and The Sex Pistols. It all sounds fantastic, a massive improvement over the cover versions that were featured in the previous Guitar Heroes.

And with the new wireless guitar – based on a real Gibson Les Paul model – playing the tracks is a more rewarding experience. What a shame that the boss battle seems misplace after all the fun playing encores… At least the new controller has a better responding whammy bar and is a lot more comfortable compare to X-plorer…