My Life in Film: Why I Love Movies

Ever since I was a kid I loved movies. When I was really young I loved Disney movies. The delightful animation and catchy songs with a dollop of lovable characters captured (along with a whole host of pre-schoolers) my imagination. I remember proudly proclaiming that ‘Ariel had turned into a fewman’ when I was about 3 years old. Though I would say that Alice in Wonderland was my ultimate favourite.

alice in wonderlandThe story of a girl who is not interested in what the grown ups want her to do, who retreats into her own fantasy world populated by white rabbits, dodos, smoking caterpillars, and ruddy faced queens spoke to me. I wanted to retreat into that world and away from the one where I was constantly told what to do, and how to behave. I found it hard to understand the world in which I lived, and so Wonderland with it’s bright colours and nonsensical ways made much more sense to me. It was a world where anything could happen and was not constrained by convention, something I never really got along with.

As the years progressed so did my knowledge and taste in movies. I bawled my eyes out when Littlefoot thinks his mother’s returned, only to find out it was his shadow all along. As I grew up in the 90s there was a lot of classics from the times, Cool Runnings was always popular. I think my grandmother can still recite the entire scripts of Home Alone II, Look Who’s Talking 2, Three Men and a Little Lady and Sister Act II: Back in the Habit from them being on repeat whenever my brother and I were at her house. I used to make her watch Mr Nanny with the brilliant acting skills of Hulk Hogan, right until the end when I would get scared and make her turn it off. I think she’s still annoyed about that.

During this time my parents were getting a divorce, and as would become a pattern in my life during tough times it was to films that I turned for comfort and support.

mrs-doubtfire-1993Mrs Doubtfire was timed just right for this maelstrom in my life. Like everybody else I was entertained by the antics of Robin Williams drag act, the scene where he has to seamlessly switch between himself and Mrs Doubtfire for an inspection from the comically dour Mrs Selna in particularly entertaining and a great example of the physical performance Robin Williams became famous for.

Seeing a story about other kids going through the same heartbreak that I was brought a great comfort in the sadness that I was feeling in that time. At a time when I felt along in the world with no one to turn to, Robin Williams, Sally Field, and Mara Wilson were there for me to let me know that I wasn’t alone and there are others out there who have experienced similar emotions.

As the 90s gave way to the 00s and adolescence started rearing it’s head the movies I was watching also started to mature a little. Along with the usual teen fare of the time like American Pie, She’s All That, and Mean Girls. It was at this time however that my tastes starting diverting away from the mainstream. I had an old television in my room, so I was able to easily sneak up late at night and watch all manner of movies I was far too young to be watching. I saw Stand by Me at 11 and cried like the little girl I was. It was these late night television sessions that I credit with really helping to shape my view of the world. I was able to explore the worlds of the weirdos, the strangers, the eccentrics. People like me.

On the night of my 13th birthday Channel 4 screened Trainspotting, the second feature film from Danny Boyle who would go on to be an Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire.

This was the first ‘grown up’ film I really, truly loved. I watched it at least once a week for at least a year.

As I have previously mentioned on this blog, Trainspotting is a story of outsiders, not just that, but outsiders who don’t care about and actively reject the mainstream ‘ I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you’ve got heroin?’. As a teenager who from a young age had struggled to fit into the tiny town where I was raised this spoke to me. I’m not saying that I rushed out and tried heroin (to this day I have never stuck a needle in my arm, that bit seemed kinda yucky) but it was here that I learnt that it was OK to go against the grain and choose your own life with it’s own rules.

trainspotting

When I was eighteen I packed up my bindle and waved goodbye to my mother as I set off to find my fortune in Sunderland. After quickly finding out this is not possible in Sunderland I settled on plan B and decided to study media production. Though I watched many new movies, studied them and was even a member of the film soc. I began to feel my love of movies wane a little. I still watched as many as possible, but I found that they were being used for as a distraction or something to have on in the background as I did work or looked at cat pictures on the internet (this was the naughties, it was still funny back then). This movie slump lasted through graduation and taking my first tentative steps in full time employment. I thought my movie spark was gone.

Then one night, when I was in my mid 20s I decided to watch Tommy, the rock opera penned by The Who about a deaf dumb and blind kid, who can sure play a mean pinball.

I don’t know what it was, it could have been the blindingly brilliant visual feast, it could have been the wonderful songs, it could have been any number of things. Whatever it was something clicked inside of me and my love of cinema came back with avengeance.

I had seen Tommy before as a teenager, and though I always enjoyed it, it was not until the viewing on this fateful night that I well and truly understood what I was looking at. It was genius in movie form.

Thus began a renaissance  for my love of movies, I was able to enjoy movies even more than I had when I was younger and on a much deeper level.

tommy

As well as being amazing for so many reasons Tommy will always have a special place in my heart for reigniting my passion for movies. Before I was very selective about what I would watch, and would randomly take against certain genres but now I’ll watch and (mostly) enjoy everything and anything.

So, why do I love movies? I love them because they’ve brought me worlds I can get lost in, they’ve brought me characters that have helped me through tough times. They have helped me to bring more of an understanding of our world through the stories they bring. We all have that one form of art that speaks to us, that we can turn to when we need it. It can be used to express yourself in ways you never thought possible. For some this is artworks, for others music. For me, it’s movies.

Highlander: A Love Story

Anyone who has known me longer than five minutes will know that i have a pure and absolute love for Highlander. I’m not one of those nostalgia fiends who merely declares a like for a film in order to score some cool points (I don’t even think Highlander would score any cool points in any era of time to be honest). My love for this film transcends space and time, dimensions even. So transcendent it is that I once bid on Ebay for a replica of Connor MacLeod’s sword when I had too much time and not enough sense. Alas, I lost the bid so we will never know what a 19 year old university student would have done with a fake Scottish broadsword.

 

My Highlander journey started on a dark and chilly evening in 1995. I, a mere youthful scamp of 7 at the time, took an opportunity to sneak downstairs and turn the television on after my parent’s had retired to their bedroom for the night. Flicking through the glorious four channels (remember when we only had 4!) that were on offer, I came across a strange vision. A vision that grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and never let me go.

 

Two men, one old, one young, one clad in trainers and dad jeans, the other in swish glasses and suit, were trying to hoof the shit out of the each other in a soggy underground car park with swords. There was the echo of clanging metal, sparks flying as they clashed their weaponry off various pillars, posts and cars, backflips were performed, and there was I,eyes wide, mouth agape, drinking it all in. For the next 110 minutes I was transfixed by the strange and bizarre spectacle of sword fights, bagpipe based flashbacks, and loud excessive noise, until it ended in a blaze of shattered glass and Christopher Lambert howling like a banshee. I’ll never understand how my parents slept through the entire thing (I had the television on loud enough) but i am so thankful that they did because if they hadn’t then maybe I would have never enjoyed Highlander in the way that i did on that very cold evening in 1995.

Connor_Macleod_Katana_highlander Sword3

It’s not The Godfather Part II, I’ll give you that. It’s not ahead of its field in special effects, the script is nifty but oddly paced, the direction a little too on the wrong side of fast and furious, and the acting is over the top on many of the actors behalf, though enjoyably so, but for giving you that euphoric feeling of joy, Highlander cannot be challenged.

 

As soon as the credits begin, and Brian May strikes that heavy opening chord of Princes of The Universe, you find yourself balling your fist tightly, and then Roger Taylor’s drums kick in and everything is alright with the world. Admittedly, the credits are a ridiculously underwhelming show of red writing over a black screen, but that music, oh that sweet music, gets you so bloody pumped up that it’s hard to stifle an aggressive declaration of ‘YEAH!’ as it rolls out between your clenched teeth.

 

Queen had done soundtracks before, Flash Gordon most notably, but the music they provided for Highlander is without a doubt one of the greatest gifts to humanity itself. Their 1986 release A Kind of Magic is essentially the Highlander soundtrack, unofficially i might add, and shows Queen returning to their heavier roots (Princes of the Universe and Gimme The Prize are almost heavy metal-esque) while also batting out some bona fide hits in One Vision and A Kind of Magic. It’s not an understatement to say that A Kind of Magic is one of my favourite albums, it’s link with Highlander is probably part of that love, and I listen to it on frequent rotation which then makes me want to watch the film which then makes me want to listen to the album which makes me want to watch the film…… repeat ad infinitum.

 

If you can’t get your tiny mind mind past the fact we have a Swiss-French-American playing a Scotsman and a Scotsman playing a Spanish-Egyptian then Highlander is definitely not for you. If you enjoy spotting random British actors in early roles (Terry from Emmerdale and Celia Imrie being two familiar faces that pop up with Scottish accents) or if you want to see what Mr Krabs from Spongebob Squarepants was doing a decade before he decided to make Krabby Patties then you might actually want to give it a whirl. Lambert is perfectly not perfect as MacLeod, his attempt at a Scottish accent being more wonky than one of my old bras, yet I genuinely can’t think of anyone else playing Connor. He plays some of the more comedic scenes (the drunken duel and the underwater sword swishing) with quite a deft touch and as we get further into the flashbacks showing his life pre-New York he manages to bring something more as we start to understand the loneliness and isolation or being an immortal (the bloke is 450 years old .. THINK OF ALL THE DEATH HE HAS SEEN), and we don’t just see Connor as some powerful bloke with a sword, but an actual person struggling with the negatives of the ‘condition’ that he is. Yes, he is an immortal, but look at the human and emotional cost of that.

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Connery plays Connery in hosiery like no one else could. He also gets a fantastically cheesy fantasy film opening monologue which he reads with gleeful gusto like he knows what he is reading is hokum but he’s getting paid a big fat £2 million or so to do it. He and Lambert strike a decent chemistry as his character Ramirez gallops in on his steed and offers to train Connor in order to defeat the nasty piece of work that is the Kurgan. There were only two characters that gave me nightmares as a child, one of them was Ursula from The Little Mermaid and the other was Kurgan. With his pale skin, hollow blue eyes, jet black hair, scars across his neck and face and low, rumbling voice like a cryptkeeper gargling gravel, Kurgan (Clancy Brown or Mr Krabs or every horrible army general on television) is absolute nightmare fuel. He beheads without guilt or fear, skewers one man and lifts him off the ground, he stalks through the night intent on tracking down Connor and separating his head from his shoulders, leaving carnage in his wake. He is wonderfully awful, a foe that you genuinely believe can defeat your hero, and that is a rare thing indeed.

Highlander-Kurgan

Mythology wise, Highlander is the strongest film of the lot. Before they started mucking about with the extra-terrestrial angle in the subsequent and increasingly shitty sequels, the mythology was of a far purer nature. Immortals had been fighting for centuries, whittling the numbers down until there were only a handful left who were then drawn to one particular place (which so happened to be New York City) and this was called The Gathering. When an immortal kills another immortal they absorb their energies and this is called The Quickening. Immortals can only be killed by decapitation. Immortals can sense each other’s presence hence the seemingly random opening sword fight in the underground car park. Some nit-picky questions such as ‘why? are amusingly side stepped. Ramirez dismisses the entire ‘why’ question in three lines ending with ‘Who knows?’ You either embrace this mythology or you can spend your sad time trying to pull it apart. Believe me, it’s far better when you just embrace it.

 

I’ve watched Highlander three times already this year and the returns it produces are not diminishing. It remains, for me, a true high water mark of the swords and sorcery fantasy genre that gets sullied by so much lazy rubbish (by some of its own sequels nonetheless). It’s fun, unashamedly daft in parts but with real heart and soul and i reckon i could get at least another 5 or 6 watches out of it by the time the year is out.

P.S…. if you’ve never seen it, what are you doing with your life….

Book review – The Lunar Chronicles (Marissa Meyer)

This review contains spoilers. You have been warned.

I’ve been avoiding doing this review for a while because the series became so big and so popular that I worried if I reviewed it then I wouldn’t do it justice. Today I’m slightly hungover and I already feel like crap so if everyone hates this then it’ll just add to my sad hungover day but people MIGHT like it and if so it could make my day so much better.Cinder_book_cover

I should start off by saying that this is about the four main books; Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter. I own Fairest and Stars Above but I haven’t yet got round to actually reading them.

The books kick off with Cinder, a cyborg girl who lives with her step mother and two sisters. Sound familiar? Well it should do, each book is a retelling of a classic fairy tale. Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella, Scarlet retells Little Red Riding Hood, Cress is about Rapunzel and Winter is based on Snow White and to be honest this as the reason I even picked up the books in the first place.

Cinder is loathes by her step mother and one of her sisters but unlike the classic story, she actually has a great relationship with her sister Peony. After her father’s death and loss of fortune, it falls on Cinder to make money for the family by becoming a mechanic in the market place. As there is a plague killing half the country, working in the market place isn’t the safest place to work. Luckily one day Prince Kai walks into Cinder’s workshop needing his android fixed and he takes a shine to Cinder instantly. As Cinder is a cyborg she is generally thought of as a lower class and Kai doesn’t realise Cinder is a cyborg so she has to hide her metal arm and leg from him, only falling and revealing her true self in front of him and the queen of Luna at the royal ball at the end of the book.download (1)

In the second book we meet Scarlet, a feisty redhead who lives and works on a farm with her grandmother. On the same day that Scarlet meets a sexy stranger, she gets home only to realise her grandmother is missing and Scarlet just knows that her grandmother didn’t leave at free will. With the help of the stranger from earlier, Wolf, Scarlet sets out to find her grandmother and save her.

Next we meet Cress. Cress has spent her entire life locked up in a satellite working as a top hacker work for the evil queen of Luna. By this book the queen is trying to find Cinder and wants her dead so knowing that Cress is the best hacker, she sets her the challenge of finding Cinder who is now on the run. Luckily Cress isn’t evil like the queen and she decides to become a double agent, making out that she is helping the queen but in reality she is helping hide Cinder and it helps that Cinder has teamed up with Captain Thorne who Cress is madly in love with.

After a rescue mission which finds Cress and Thorne together on earth, we meet Winter, our final hero. Winter is the step daughter to Levana, the evil queen, and Winter has slowly been going crazy because she refuses to use her magic gift in order to make life easier and look more beautiful. Winter is known to be beautiful but she’s also a beautiful person inside but feels alone on Luna, her only real friends are her guard and childhood friend, Jacin, and the animals in her menagerie. Winter hears of Cinder’s rebellion and her plan to take Levana’s throne and decides to team up with the group now made up of Cinder, Prince Kai, Scarlet, Wolf, Cress, Thorne and Cinder’s faithful android Iko.13206828

I love this book series for a number of different reasons but primarily for the kick ass women portrayed in them. Yes there is romance throughout each book and quite quickly it’s established that the protagonist of each book will fall in love but romance isn’t the main feature of the books. The girls are all portrayed as strong minded women who stand up for themselves and the love interests simply help them along the way and help them become better versions of themselves. I loved this idea because I read so many young adult books that portray unrealistic relationship goals and the idea that you can find a man who will help you with your goals and love you for who you are is the message I felt was portrayed in the Luna Chronicles and that to me is a realistic goal and one that people should be aiming towards.

My favourite character changes constantly but at the minute I think Scarlett is my favourite. I love that she remains strong and her relationship with Wolf is only strengthened by the fact that she is strong minded and independent. Scarlet is the only 100% human character out of the lead female characters and can therefore be controlled by people from Luna, due to this she is put through a lot and she comes out at the end stronger than ever because of it.

Queen Levana was an interesting character for me because ii felt she was more than your typical evil queen. I felt that by the end of the books I felt for her and was upset in the end because it became clear why she ended up as bitter and horrible as she did. I felt by the end that she wasn’t just annoyed that she wasn’t the most beautiful person in the end, I felt more that she was simply someone with real issues who let those issues get the better of her and with this she became much more real to me.41SSIYbE2LL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

The guys in the book are amazing. They’re not my favourite love interests that I’ve ever read but they’re written so well. I genuinely found myself really concerned that something was going to happen to one of them but they were such perfect fits for their female counterpart that I couldn’t even imagine one being without the other. When the main guys and women made it through the end I was overjoyed and cried a little bit because I loved Wolf so much.

I can’t recommend the Luna Chronicles enough. They’re exactly my cup of tea, fairy tale retellings with really cool women who fight for the throne and don’t ever give up no matter what is thrown at them? Yes please.

Jake’s Top 5 Worst Cartoons Based on Video Games

Cartoons and video games are are like the only two things I cared about as a kid. I’ve always loved animation, when it’s great it can take you to fantastical worlds that you can’t experience with live action shows. That’s one of the same reasons I love video games too. So surely if you combine the two things it can only get exponentially better right?… right?!

Well no, not always. So let me take you on a journey through my wasted youth in this top 5 worst cartoon shows based on beloved video game franchises.

5. Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the realm 


Now this isn’t an automatically bad idea. Mortal Kombat is a game series so violent that they had to create an entire rating system for video games just for them. The problem was kids loved it, so they created this show to be a Mortal Kombat product that parents could let their kids experience guilt free. 

Unfortunately they forgot the part about actually making a quality cartoon. The character designs are pretty good even though they’re from the less successful Mortal Kombat 3 but the animation is just cheap. Characters routinely stand around with weird expressions on their faces and appear in front of objects they should be standing behind because the animators messed up with the layers. 

The fights end in some extremely unsatisfying ways usually with one punch or kick sending a person flying back 50 feet or someone just dodges and lets the bad guy fall off a cliff. My favourite part is where Reptile and Sonya square off and he just runs up and kicks her in the butt, then does it again 4 more times while she tries to get up… MORTAL KOMBAT!
All the characters act really immature. Sonya is the whiny teen of the group and takes every opportunity to shout her catchphrase “Kombat Time!”. Raiden at one point calls the group “Mortal Butts” as an insult that only a 5 yr old would find funny. And we find out that Jax was a fat kid in school and teasing still hurts his feelings awwwwwww. 

It was an awful show but when you’re a kid that just wanted more MK it was all we had, sadly. Here’s a montage of some bad moments if you want to check it out yourself.

4. Super Mario Bros. Super Show!

Yay! Mario, the most famous video game character in the world! There’s no way they could mess this up.
Now I know what you’re all asking, “who’re those old creepy dudes?” why it’s mildly successful pro-wrestler Capt. Lou Albano and Canadian television actor Danny Wells playing Mario and Luigi of course! 

The creators decided to bookend the episodes of this cartoon with boring improvised live action segments that usually involve trotting out some “celebrity guest” from the network’s other TV shows. I don’t know about you but I always wanted to know what the Mario Bros got up to in their plumbers workshop in front of a fake studio audience.

That’s not to say the cartoon was any better though, instead of exploring the world of the Mario video games or referencing any of his in game adventures they went with scintillating storylines such as: While trying to catch Koopa in Jungleland Mario suffers from amnesia and is convinced by an ape couple that he is their child, Posing as Judge Koopa he sentences Mario and Co to the prison of Koopatraz where he is also the warden, Mario and Luigi take to the skies to stop Koopa and Lakitu from taking over Pastaland with the help of a used magic carpet salesman, Koopa kidnaps Santa Claus in order to ruin Christmas, Koopa’s road gang has stolen all the spaghetti sauce in Car Land so Mario’s group must work to get it back and many more horrible ideas!

Almost every episode was a bad movie or tv show parody and the ones that weren’t had a bad cover song in the episode. Probably so they didn’t have to write any dialogue for a few minutes. The only good part of any episode was the end credits because you knew you were free of this abysmal show but also because you get the live action Mario Bros awkwardly dancing in front of a green screen. Come on everybody! Do the Mario!

3. Street Fighter (The Animated Series)


This show is hilarious for all the wrong reasons. It’s horrible looking animation and stupid dialogue all combine into a deliciously bad mixture and I kinda love it. 

Looking back at footage of this show I just have no idea what’s going on. They were so cheap with the cartoon you can see the individual frames of animation a lot of the time, which should never happen. It suffers from similar problems as the MK cartoon except it takes them to a ridiculous level. Characters will show ridiculous feats of strength and agility only to be swatted aside by whoever they’re fighting and there are multiple times characters just fall over for no reason. 

This show also has the most animation mistakes I’ve ever seen in a cartoon. The characters randomly grow and shrink in size to such a noticeable degree that you’re left unsure if it was intentional. It constantly breaks the laws of physics in it’s own world. 
I feel like if you watch too much of this show you might go literally insane. Just see for yourself:

The only thing it gets right is that characters all have the right costumes and special moves so I guess one person working on the show knew their stuff.

2. Captain N: The Game Master


A 90s kid and his dog get sucked through the TV into Video Land which is apparently where all our favourite obscure Nintendo characters live:

This show’s worst offence is that it’s boring. It shouldn’t be hard to make a story about a kid getting sucked into a video game considering that’s probably the dream of their target audience. I think one of the reasons it failed was they clearly couldn’t get any of the famous characters to accompany our hero. He gets lumped with Kid Icarus, Simon Belmont and Mega Man (who inexplicably sounds like he smokes 100 packs a day). Three characters that I never heard anyone my age mention until I started reading about games on the internet. 

The villains are even more perplexing and obscure. For henchmen we’ve got Eggplant Wizard who is an enemy from the game Kid Icarus that turns you into an eggplant (or aubergine to the UK crowd) and King Hippo who is one of the boxers from the Punch-Out!! Games. But our main attraction here is their leader Mother Brain from the Metroid series. In the game Mother Brain is an evil sentient bio organic computer that shoots lasers at you. It doesn’t really have any characteristics or personality till later games. So for the show they decided to give it a face and have it sound like Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. It even has heavy lipstick and eye makeup which just makes me think of Frank N. Furter too!

But despite these wacky characters to work with they still managed to make something boring. Looking back I think they ignored the source material a little too much and their own interpretations were just plain weird.

1. The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog 


This was one of those cartoons that I genuinely thought would hold up until I revisited it and learned how wrong I was. This show is one of the messiest and obnoxious things I’ve ever seen. I can deal with intentional chaos in comedy, I’m a big Tim and Eric fan but this Sonic cartoon is just disgusting. It’s a complete assault on all 5 senses and a few more that I didn’t even know I had.

The characters are repulsive in every way, just look at this vomit:

I think they were going for a Ren and Stimpy sort of vibe with the art style but they didn’t have the talent to pull it off so it came out more like Worker and Parasite.

Every character’s voice is shrill and annoying, especially Scratch the chicken robot henchmen who punctuates every sentence with an ear piercing high pitched “AHA HAHAAAAAAAA”. Most episodes involve Scratch and Grounder (out resident Bozos) setting traps for Sonic to run into that even Wile E. Coyote would be embarrassed by. They don’t even have any real motivation, Dr. Robotnik just stamps around saying “I hate that hedgehog!” whenever Sonic escapes one of his traps.

I’m surprised I came out of my childhood with any brain cells left after watching this abomination. Luckily for us the show had to succumb to the Children’s Television Act which meant the episodes had to contain a portion of educational content which is where we get this gem from:

Yep! That was Sonic telling kids what to do if someone touches them inappropriately. Unquestionably good advice but such a hard pivot considering the pointless cartoon trainwreck that came before it.

So that’s it for this dark window into how I spent my time as a child in the 90s. If you want to watch any of this junk they’re pretty much all on YouTube in their entirety because not even the creators care about these shows anymore.

My Favourite Childhood Books

I’ve loved reading from a young age and as a child my most prized possession was my library ticket so I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite books and book series from my childhood.

Each Peach Pear Plumdownload

I still have my very worn copy of this book and at twenty-eight I can still recite the entire book from memory. Before I could read, this was my go to book. Every day I would ask my parents to read this to me and I eventually learned the poem of by heart so I would then ‘read’ the book to my parents.

The Chronicles of Narnia

You’ll most likely all know the sorties of Narnia, the books follow a group of children who find a magical world where they meet Aslan the lion who helps them fight evil in the land and claim the throne. I say I love the series but I mostly loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A group of kick ass kids fighting queens and talking to animals? Yes please.

Goosebumps

Around the age of eight I was getting better at reading and Goosebumps came into my life. goosebumps-featI can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved these books. It was my first glimpse into the world of horror and shortly after I (and the rest of my school) started reading them, the TV show was aired in the UK. It soon became ritual for my friends and I to read a book then watch the episode and discuss if we preferred the book or TV episode better. Goosebumps are a collection of horror books, each with an individual story, written by R.L. Stein. My favourite books include Say Cheese and Die, Let’s Get Invisible, What Lies Beneath the Sink and Be Careful What You Wish For. These books lead to a love of mystery and it was the first time I realised that not every story has a happy ending.

Point Horror41viZadC1VL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

Staying in the same category as Goosebumps, Point Horror fiction were horror books written by various authors, my favourites being R.L. Stein and Linda Cargill.
These books were a step up from Goosebumps, horror for a slightly older audience. I would have been around thirteen or fourteen when I started reading these books and the fact that they included some romance (sometimes it didn’t end well) made me feel like I was reading more grown up fiction. My favourite books included The Boyfriend, The Snowman and The Lifeguard.

Sweet Valley High

1758847Now it’s time to admit a slightly more embarrassing collection of books I loved. I turned thirteen and suddenly realised that boys existed and took to the world of books to understand how they worked. Sweet Valley High follows the lives of identical twins, Jessica and Elizabeth, as they made their way through high school. If I’m honest, I don’t remember too much about individual stories in this series, I just remember feeling really grown up reading about high school relationships.

The Babysitter Club

BSC_Logo_(book_series)These books followed a group of friends who run a ‘Babysitters club’, each book is written in first person by the person named in the title (Kirsty wrote ‘Kirsty’s Great Idea’ and Claudia wrote ‘Claudia and the Little Liar.’) Claudia was my favourite character to follow; she was vice president of the club and always described as creative and arty. I basically wanted to be Claudia. The books basically told the story of children growing up facing normal childhood problems such as their parents going through divorce, sibling rivalry and friendship issues. They helped me with whatever issue I faced at the time.

Harry Potter

downloadI’ve spoken about Harry Potter time and time again so I won’t go too in depth but I could never have written this post without including the book series because from the age of around twelve, there was no book series that I enjoyed more. Harry Potter is the reason I still love reading so much, they made me understand just how amazing it is to get completely lost inside a fictional world.

The Naff Nic Season: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

(95 Minutes, Rating 12A)

 

I remember a time when I had hope in my life. A time where I would feel the sun beating down on my face, a cool breeze rustle through the trees, delicately brushing against my skin, and I would feel joy and elation at a bright new day. But after wading my way through the dank swamp of Nicolas Cage’s worst films, I now feel devoid of a soul, which is now something i have in common with Johnny Blaze, the protagonist (and a bit of a wanker to be honest) of our final film in the Naff Nic Season, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

 

Ghost Rider is not something I really had an opinion about when the first film was released back in 2007. The comics were something that had passed me by like light mist in the distance as I was too busy trawling through the various Punisher volumes and anything Ed Brubaker or Garth Ennis pumped out. The film adaptation of Ghost Rider was derided by the fans of the comics on release and mauled by critics. I, on the other hand, found it a mildly diverting couple of hours in between handfuls of cold chicken nuggets.and reheated chips. It wasn’t the best film I had ever seen nor was it certainly the worst (hello Beaches), so when I was tasked with watching the sequel for this particular challenge I was neither fearful nor elated.

 

In hindsight, I probably should have been a bit more apprehensive as thus far most of the films I have seen for this challenge can easily have dual use as items of torture or to incite riots (put Deadfall on constant loop in Durham prison and i can guarantee it will cause some ructions). But I trundled on in, like a blind man stumbling into a cheese shop, feeling for a strong cheddar only to find a rotten, leaking camembert.

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Cage returns as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, the stupid idiot who made a deal with a demon and ended up with a flaming skull of a head as some sort of benefit, but this time we find him in hiding as his Ghost Rider persona has become increasingly difficult to control. He’s offered a possible way out of his problem by some foisty monk called Moreau (Idris Elba), who promises him freedom if he is able to save a young boy called Danny from the hands of Mephistopheles, who we saw in the first film as Peter Fonda but is now inexplicably played by Ciaran Hinds even though Fonda was interested in reprising his role. As you can see the plot is so thin it borders on anorexic, rehashing the old ‘save the boy, save yourself’ trope from countless other heroic Hollywood films.

 

It’s no surprise to see that one of the writers involved in Spirit of Vengeance is David S. Goyer who, when on form can crack out a decent screenplay i.e. Dark City, The Dark Knight Rises, but somehow manages to puncture these moments of greatness with great big pins of solid shit i.e. Zig Zag, The Unborn. Spirit of Vengeance is one of his glorious fecal points. The script is weaker than my gran’s knees, messy to point of incoherence, which is easy to understand when you discover there are three (three!) screenwriters who had their paws on this screenplay, and there are some truly weak attempts at Schwarzenegger-esque humour smattered around the action sequences, that may have worked if Ahhhnold had been involved but instead are just embarrassing and at odds with the darker nature of the plot.

 

Cage’s performance is on the milder side of crazy. Not as googly as Vampire’s Kiss, not as dead behind the eyes as Left Behind, however, it feels oddly predictable. As we watch him scene to scene, you can almost see where he is going and what he is trying to do before he has even done it which is a massive shame as a big draw of watching a Cage is his sheer unpredictability. His fervent declaration post-Spirit of Vengeance that he wasn’t interested in doing any more Ghost Rider films may hint that he wasn’t having all that much fun filming the sequel. The rest of the cast are perfunctory, though it was nice to see Christopher Lambert pop up for a few minutes with a bald head and a sword (anyone involved in the first Highlander film are tops in my opinion and deserve endless cameos in all films), and Ciaran Hinds makes a fair fist of replacing Fonda, giving Mephistopheles/Roarke a more booming presence. For some reason, Idris Elba agreed to be in this, maybe to facilitate the purchase of a new Lexus or maybe to make a film that pushes The Reaping close to being the worst thing on his reasonably varied c.v, either way he does his bit, running about in a robe looking attractive.

 

For a film with a budget hovering around the 60 million dollar mark, the special effects and CGI in this film are laughable. The rendering of Ghost Rider’s skull is like something from a Playstation 2 game, and the achingly sad scenes of CGI usage in the stunts is enraging. I hope the special effects creators and technicians got a box of chocolates with ‘You tried’ written on the underside.

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I genuinely don’t think Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance seeks to be a good film in the true sense of the word. For me, it seems to aim to fill that ‘entertaining trash’ tick box but unfortunately it only succeeds in being shockingly shite (in the true sense of the word). If you thought the first Ghost Rider was an affront to the comics then you really should not see the second one. While the first film had its moments with some nice spiky exchanges, especially between Cage and Eva Mendes’ characters, and some decent action set pieces, the sequel is hollow, devoid of fun and bogged down by its hackneyed attempts at exposition. Nobody is having fun here, the audience included.

 

IMDB Rating: 4.3

My Rating ★✩✩✩✩

PlayStation NEO and the Future of our Consoles

As you may have heard, GiantBomb.com broke a story last week about Sony getting ready to annouce a new model of the PS4 which could be out as early as this holiday season.

Codenamed NEO it would essentially be an upgraded version of the PS4 we have in stores now. We can expect it to load games faster, be able to display slightly better graphics and hopefully have games run a little smoother. However in the leaked documents Sony states that the NEO is not intended to outright replace the PS4. 

Starting in October all new games will be required to have a “NEO Mode” and a “Base Mode”. NEO Mode games will be allowed to have improved visuals and performance but are not allowed to have additional gameplay features. So they couldn’t do something like exclusively offer 2 player co-op play only to NEO owners. It’s good to see that Sony are taking steps to stop the base PS4 becoming obsolete as soon as the NEO hits but it’s still a bit worrying.

This is the first time one of the big companies in video games has proposed anything like this. Sure there have been console redesigns to make them smaller and have bigger hard drives. but we’ve never had an update that would change the way games are developed for the system. The only example that’s close to this is the New Nintendo 3DS which released last year but unfortunately there have been some problems with games not running as well on the older hardware version. As I mentioned above Sony seems to be setting guidelines to specifically avoid this problem but it’s still something to think about.

Also yet to be announced is whether the NEO will help improve Sony’s Virtual Reality headset when that launches later in the year too. The PS4 is a lot less powerful than the minimum spec PCs needed for the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive VR headsets. Performance is very important for VR games, any stuttering or drop in the frame rate for visuals can be the difference between motion sickness and a truly immersive experience. Depending on how this is handled PlayStation VR might only be worth having if you can run the games in NEO mode. 

Microsoft have also expressed some interest in upgradable hardware but they seem to be going down a more PC-like upgrade structure. Where you would have options to purchase separate pieces of hardware much like PC owners do now. Microsoft have been going big on Windows 10 as a gaming platform so they probably want to have a unified experience on the Xbox and PC. Whether or not Sony’s plans spur them into action on this earlier than planned remains to be seen.

Nintendo are more than likely going to be announcing their next console in June at E3. All we’ve heard so far is that it is codenamed The NX and may be some kind of handheld/console hybrid. Where you would be able to take your games with you and play them on the go then continue on your TV when you get home. Nintendo haven’t been the leader in graphics and hardware since the Super Nintendo days so it will be interesting to see if they try and match the PS4 and Xbox One in terms of power. And if that was Nintendo’s plan then has the PS NEO thrown a spanner in their works in terms of bragging rights?

It looks like we might be shelling out cash on some new consoles earlier than we all thought. Like every year, all we can do is wait for E3 which is June 14-16. Typically this is the place all the big companies unveil their new toys so we’ll know for sure then.

The Costner Change Around

Because I don’t have that much going on with my life, I have recently discovered, much to my confusion, that I quite like most of Kevin Costner’s films. This would not have been a cool thing to admit 10 or so years ago where he was mainly a mocked man; that bloke that everyone pointed at and mumbled ‘he did Waterworld ya know.’ Most of the talk around Costner was about his various flops (The Postman, 3000 Miles To Graceland, Dragonfly) and his main claim to fame in the UK was playing Robin Hood with a pretty naff accent. He became a byword for mawkish sentimentality and box office losses even though this is the same man whose c.v. included The Untouchables and JFK.

 

In the past few years, Costner seems to have had a small resurgence, whether it be by taking small but effective roles (Man of Steel) or slipping in television and being ridiculously good (Hatfield & McCoys). Either way, it’s a good thing to see, even if he is still puncturing his good work with dirge on occasion (3 Days To Kill was an abomination). I could sit here and tell you all to go and watch JFK or Bull Durham to remind yourself or to understand that Costner is actually a fucking good actor, but I wouldn’t insult your intelligence as such because you should have watched those already (you really should). Instead, I give you a handful of lesser known cuts from Costner’s c.v. that deserve to be seen more.

 

  1. Thirteen Days

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Okay, okay, okay…. This films takes a hell of a lot of dramatic license with many things, in particular the size of the role that Costner’s character, Kenneth O’Donnell, had within the whole Cuban Missile Crisis itself, however Thirteen Days is a really solid political drama. Bruce Greenwood (who really should be President now he has played two US Presidents in his varied film career – which is more practice than most nominees get) is JFK who, after seeing surveillance showing the Soviets placing nuclear weapons in Cuba has to make a plan of action that won’t end in an all out nuclear war. It’s a film with very few action sequences (Pearl Harbour this is not and thank bugger it isn’t) and a whole lot of scenes of men talking with furrowed brows in various nicely furnished rooms. But this low key approach is extremely effective. Costner, however much a lie the size of his character’s role in the crisis was, imbues O’Donnell with a sense of control, the calm in the eye of the storm, and becomes the relatable locus for us gather around.

 

  1. The Company Men

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Before The Big Short blustered its way into cinemas, The Company Men, along with Margin Call, was probably the best film out there tackling the thorny issue of the 2008 financial crisis. While Margin Call took the more technical, real time approach, The Company Men took a more human route, focussing on the life altering effects of the collapsing institutions and downsizing. Costner plays the blue-collar, straight talking drywaller who takes his brother-in-law (Ben Affleck) in for work after Affleck’s white collar, corporate stooge is let go from his job. Five years ago, the combination of Affleck and Costner would have made me sellotape my eyes closed and place a bin on my head but alas time has passed and tastes have changed. Costner is wonderful in The Company Men, anchoring his and Affleck’s portion of the story with his typical understated gravitas. His role isn’t a big one, most of the heavy hitting is done by Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper, but The Company Men was one of the more intriguing stepping stones in Costner’s journey in leaving his insipid late 90s film career behind.

 

  1. No Way Out

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No Way Out is a proper taut and tense homage to those twisty political thrillers of the 40s and 50s. It’s far more well regarded in the USA than it is here in the UK and gave Costner his big Hollywood break a few years after The Big Chill was meant to do the same before his scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Costner plays a naive Navy Intelligence officer brought into help the delightfully bolshy and desperate Gene Hackman to cover up a murder of a young woman that both of them happened to be sleeping with. It’s easy to see why this broke Costner into the big time, he pretty much carries this film on his shoulders with consummate ease, that youthful faced freshness of his comes good making you see how truly out of depth his character is. As the manipulations and plot turns pile up, No Way Out turns into a guessing game of who is playing who and then the twist at the end turns absolutely everything on its head. It’s refreshing to find a thriller that is over 25 years old and that still makes you go ‘oh shit’ at the end. See. It.

 

  1. A Perfect World

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A convict with a heart story… yaaay. But before you snort derisively and pooh pooh with vigour, I’m going to put it out there that this is one of my favourite Clint Eastwood films along with Unforgiven and Absolute Power. The story is a deceptively simple one. Costner plays an escaped convict Butch who takes a young boy as a hostage as he tries to flee the state. Eastwood is the Texas Ranger who has a past with Butch and, after learning of his escape, is determined to set things right. When I write this plot down it sounds absolutely ridiculous and mawkish to the hilt but Eastwood (who also directs) handles the material with such respect and care it’s so bloody difficult to not get drawn in and i’m not afraid to admit that I nearly cried at the conclusion. This is also one of Costner’s best performances in my very humble opinion, his Butch is a subtle and nuanced piece of acting, there is no massive grandstanding or lengthy monologuing; there is just great scene after great scene.

 

  1. Mr Brooks

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When you read the synopsis of this film and see that Costner is playing a serial killer you immediately think that you have another The Postman-esque flop on your hands. Costner is too All-American, blonde hair and twinkly blue eyed to pull off such a grotesque human being. However, the reasons as to why it shouldn’t work are the exacts reasons why it does. Costner subverts our expectations of him as an actor, and the type of character we usually see him portraying. We expect him to be a hard-working Joe with a nice family and a nice white picket fence around his house, and technically speaking that is what we get but with a seriously big difference. Costner is Earl Brooks, a massively successful, well liked businessman who has a secret life as the ‘Thumbprint Killer’. For the past two years, he has managed to keep his murderous urges at bay by attending twelve step addiction meetings under the guise of being a substance abuser, but his urges are becoming more intense as his id (played with relish by William Hurt) becomes more and more insistent that they take a victim. I can’t emphasis enough how much of a grim delight it is to see Costner take a massive step away from his comfort zone and play a frighteningly homicidal yet seemingly normal man. Yes, Hurt does have the more intensely manic role as the id, but Costner is the one doing the killing and you can see how much Earl enjoys it no matter how hard he has been trying to quell his urges. There are some silly little plot turns which threaten to veer Mr Brooks off in hokey territory, however, the presence that Costner and Hurt bring to the proceedings keeps the film on an even footing. Rumours of a sequel were floating around a few years back but have seemed to have fizzled into nothing, which is a massive shame as Brooks is a character i would have happily watched more of. So make the most of this one, and if you haven’t already seen it then get your life sorted out.

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn (Book Review)

I can honestly say that I’m slightly worried about Gillian Flynn.

After being totally overwhelmed by Gone Girl, I was desperate to read another of Flynn’s books to find out if they were just as twisted and just as hard to put down. I certainly found that with Dark Places.

Dark Places follows Libby Day who, at seven years old, witnessed her brother murder her mother and two sisters. Libby testifies against her brother Ben and spends the rest of her life trying to forget that morning. Twenty five years later Libby is running out of money and agrees to attend the ‘Kill Club’ – a group run by people who are interested in murderers and who want to find out more about them.  After her first meeting, everything she has been trying to hide from is brought back up and she starts to doubt if her brother actually did commit the crime, aftdownload (6)er all she never actually saw him do it, she was hiding from it the whole time.

I would say that I loved this book but I just don’t know how I actually feel about it. I couldn’t stop reading and strived to find out the truth in the same way that Libby did but in all honesty, at times, I found the book really hard to read.

The Day family are not wealthy, before the murders they lived on a rundown farm and were constantly in fear of the place being repossessed. Because of his families poverty, Ben feels hard done to and acts out against his family making him the perfect fit for the murderer as he is always angry at his family and lifestyle and he gets in with the wrong crowd.

For me, Ben’s chapters were the hardest to read. There were some subjects that were completely new to me in terms of reading. The book graphically describes killing animals and sexual feelings that are more than a little inappropriate. While I appreciate that the author was willing to go there and write about something that a lot of authors would be scared to touch (don’t quote me on this, I really haven’t read that many thriller/horror novels to know)I just didn’t enjoy reading it.

Although there are a few chapters that aren’t easy to get through, it does give you a good idea of what life was like for the Day family. Ben is constantly pressured into doing things he doesn’t want to and reading his reactions to these situations could at times be eye opening realising just how these things happen.

One issue that I did have with the book was that I found there are no likable characters. Although I sympathised with Libby and what she went through, I didn’t like her as an adult. As an adult she was living off the death of her family, hoping that sympathetic strangers would donate money in order to help her build a future. I never quite got over the fact that Libby was so lazy and refused to ever get a job and stick to it. Other than Libby I just didn’t care about the characters, by the end I quite honestly couldn’t have cared less if Ben got out of jail or not because I simply didn’t like him and although the rest of the family were dead, I was never particularly sad about it. I found the book more about finding the truth rather than actually building any likable characters.

The only person that I would say I liked was Lyle, the guy who first takes Libby to the Kill Club, I found it rather sweet that he was trying to help Libby out but even still, at the back of my head I kept remembering that he only ever connected with Libby because he was obsessed with her families murders.

Overall the book wasn’t half full of suspense as Gone Girl but it was still a page turner and I would certainly recommend reading it if you like the ‘who done it’ type of read. The ending was clever and each chapter leading up to the ending was crucial to the story and how it all wrapped up. Just be warned that if you do pick up Dark Places you may be slightly grossed out and it may make you ask the question of how twisted Gillian Flynn’s brain is to come up with these ideas.

3.5/5 stars.

Is Better Call Saul Better Than Breaking Bad?

Breaking Bad was one of the greatest and most popular TV series of the 21st century According to this study people lie about seeing cause they’re so fed up of being told to do so.

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When it’s season finale aired in 2013 there was a void in many people’s lives. So, there was a collective cheer of excitement when it was announced there would be a spin off.

Instead of it being a sequel, like Frasier or Joey it was going to be a prequel, following the lawyer of questionable morals Saul Goodman.

I must admit whilst I did love Saul in the show, I was really dubious as to whether he would be strong enough to give an origin story to. Imagining a ‘case of the week’ type plot with a bit of overarching story thrown in. Somewhat similar to Buffy and co.

Boy was I wrong.

BCS has proven itself to be an amazing show worthy of accolades in it’s own right. Like Frasier before it BCS will be remembered on it’s own terms and not just as ‘that spin off from that other show’. The characters and riveting plot have made it a must see

On to the main question. Has it surpassed it’s predecessor?

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Characters

Breaking Bad was highly praised at the time for it’s characters, especially the main character, Walter White. Over the course of the series’ five seasons we see Walter turn from mild mannered school chemistry teacher to ultimate drug lord.  

It was seen as revolutionary for showing the evolution of a character into someone unrecognisable from the first episode.

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However, I often felt that some of the secondary characters were kind of forgotten about, the female characters, Skylar and Marie in particular felt a little underdeveloped. Even Walter’s right hand man Jesse could feel like he was flip flopping over what was happening to him at times.

Being a prequel for one of the smaller characters Better Call Saul had a lot of scope for creating all new characters, which it does with aplomb. We see Saul start out life as plain ol’ Jimmy McGill. A struggling lawyer practising out the back office of a beauty salon and taking care of his ill brother, Chuck.

BCS is much more character based rather than Breaking Bad. The venture with Netflix has given Vince Gilligan (both the series’ creator) more time to breath and to fully explore the characters without the network television constraints of ratings chasing.

Saul’s best friend (and lover), Kim is also a vast improvement on some of the female characters featured in Breaking Bad. Whilst sometimes it felt a little like the writers didn’t really know what to do with Skylar in Breaking Bad, Kim is as complex as they come, she can be unsure of her decisions, at the same time as being kind of a badass and sticking up for what she feels is right.

Furthermore, in Breaking Bad most of the characters are terrible people.  This can make for some entertaining viewing you never truly love Walter, or Jesse, or even Saul at this point. BCS though makes you fall in love with Jimmy, he might be up to some dodgy dealings, but he has a heart of gold deep down and you’re with him every step of the way, cheering him on.

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Breaking Bad was full of twists and turns. It kept us all on the edge of our seats for five whole seasons. It was gripping from start to finish. It was great at cliff hangers and always left you wanting more. You needed to know what happened.

Breaking Bad was one of the first series’ to make it big on Netflix, and was the king of ‘just one more episode before bed’ because you just couldn’t leave it not knowing how this week’s caper resolved itself.

BCS, whilst in keeping with a feel for it’s parent series is a very different kettle of fish in this regard. As I stated before this is a joint venture between AMC and Netflix, and I think it’s this partnership with Netflix that has really  helped to make BCS what it is. As Netflix is a streaming service it doesn’t need to worry about ratings. This means that there are no mid-season opinion polls on what audiences want to see more of, no pressure from the Network to stick in as many short term hooks as possible. This has allowed to show to plant many more long term hooks that keep you coming back for more.

This means that BCS is a lot more slow paced, it really takes it’s time to reveal back-story and plot points, even the twists the plot takes can take a whole episode to reveal itself. It opens up so many questions and really takes it’s time to resolve them. It drip feeds you the information slowly, over the course of several episodes  Allowing those characters to build up slowly, allowing the questions from episode one to linger on. At the start of each season there has been a black and white scene from clearly set post Breaking Bad, so from the go you’re invested in Jimmy.

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I loved Breaking Bad, I was a little late to the game, only starting to watch just before the last series. Luckily this meant that I could binge watch it all and only had to endure the agony of waiting for the next week and the next fix of meth induced television.

BCS I have watched since the beginning, and despite the Netflix production it has only been put up one episode a week due to the collaboration with AMC, and the sweet agony of waiting for the next instalment has been there all along. For a generation that’s gotten used to just consuming entire seasons within a couple of days this takes some patience to get used to. It is, however worth every second of waiting to follow the adventures of Jimmy McGill.