A weekend to remember


I wouldn’t say I’m a massively outgoing person as far as venturing far and wide, but in recent years I’ve tried to broaden my horizons, at least when opportunities arise.  Two such opportunities arrived the weekend just gone, not entirely planned as such but I jumped at the chance to go and see my favourite band once again … and then another opportunity came around to see a personal favourite TV sketch show’s live tour.

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Probably over a year ago I booked tickets to see Garbage again in London as well as meet up with a friend I’d made last time I went.  Some months later VIP meet & Greets were announced, and so yeah, once again I was going to meet the band and get a photo taken.  The whole experience this time around was even better than I’d experienced in 2016 at The Troxy.  For starters at Brixton Academy, the meet & greet q&a part of the VIP experience was in the same room where the photos were to be taken and it was a small, intimate affair with me sitting amongst 50+ fans within touching distance of the band (!!).  It was so surreal as it wasn’t as if I was sitting before my favourite band, but almost like old friends … it all felt so nice and relaxed and really f’ing cool.  I didn’t say much, as I knew I’d clam up (again) but did get a chance to say how fantastic I thought they were and that Version 2.0 (of which the tour was celebrating it’s 20th anniversary) was my favourite album of all time, by any artist.  I got my photo taken which turned out to be more of a fun thing, with me posing with the band and all pretending to be zombies, with outstretched arms etc. lol.

The VIP experience also meant early entry so I was pretty much at the front (one short girl in front of me, so I had an awesome view) and what was the actual concert like?  In short Garbage (Shirley Manson, Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker) were on electrifying form, belting out the hits as well as more obscure b-sides both word-perfect and with an energetic response from a sold-out Brixton Academy crowd.  It was intense, heart-pounding, utterly feel good and the best I’ve seen them perform.  Garbage are such a skilled and talented band and once again delivered an evening of rockin’ good entertainment that didn’t disappoint.

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Two night’s later I was heading off to Liverpool to see The League of Gentlemen at the Echo Arena and this British sketch comedy four-piece that started out on radio before creating a cult TV show of the same name were utterly brilliant.  They went through a plethora of their most famous sketches and iconic characters to deliver a 2hr+ show of bonkers humour, one-liners, political satire and toilet humour with no end of imagination and charisma.  Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gattis and (behind the scenes / co-writer) Jeremy Dyson are one of the best comedy groups Britain has spawned since Monty Python and that … is not said lightly.  Translating the sketch-based comedy of the show worked well on stage and the sets and costumes were all very well done and seemed to go off without a hitch, aided by what appeared to be some funny ad-libbing and natural glimpses of the guy’s personalities.  This show was partly a celebration of their 20th anniversary as well as a hinted at farewell to the characters unless this talented four-piece find a way to work together again at some stage … we’ll see.  For now though, me and a couple of friends as well as the sold out crowd had a ball.

As far as my usual weekends go, this was pretty intense, rather exhausting but utterly fulfilling, creating memories I’ll look back on for years to come.  So a big shout-out to Garbage and to The League of Gentlemen for making the past few days so very special.

Craig.

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2015 – a look back


2015

I usually like to do a blog post looking back at the year and the highlights it’s held both for me personally and on this blog as far as entertainment is concerned.  For a good portion of the year, from about March onwards I was all excited and geared up to see my favourite band, ‘Garbage’ of which I’ve already reported on here how it went seeing them at Brixton Academy in London in November – so the lead up to that was a big focus to my year.  However I did try and distract myself from this by playing various videogames and watching plenty of movies … reaching about 60 movies in total in the last twelve months (phew).  During this time my job and various other activities have kept me busy and of course I’ve enjoyed writing this blog as well.  So I’ll take a look back now and give my thoughts over the year that was 2015.

January – March

I started off the year with the enjoyable but not amazing ‘Maleficent’, enjoying Angelina Jolie’s turn as the iconic evil sorceress.  The first high point though for me was ‘True Detective’, which I’d borrowed off a friend … season one with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson which turned out to be riveting.  For some reason however I didn’t get around to season 2.  Then we came to the very impressive ‘Ex_Machina’ … my first taste of true science fiction this year that would turn out to be a great year for the genre.  I also very much loved ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and found it a breath of fresh air and endlessly inventive.  The Oscar’s overshadowed much of February and it was good to see Eddie Redmayne picking up a statue for his turn as Stephen Hawkins in ‘The Theory of Everything’.  Also Birdman picking up best picture was it would turn out, marvellous considering it’s one of my favourite movies of the year.

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I borrowed the much hyped but beyond the gorgeous visuals, disappointing ‘The Order 1886’ for the PS4 and thought it was a fun game that failed to reach it’s full potential.  Still worth it for the story and the graphics, especially if you can rent it or get it cheap …just don’t pay full price.  Then I experienced the underwhelming cash-grab that was ‘The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part One’ … which I’m hoping proves a better experience when I finally see Part Two.  A pleasant surprise however was the Sean Penn thriller ‘Gunman’, coming from the creators of Taken I was half expecting another poorly conceived rip-off of that classic movie … but no, this was hard-hitting action packed and well acted.

April – June

One of my major highlights for the year as far as games was concerned was the indie title ‘Ori and the Blind Forest’ …a superb, fiendish old school puzzle-platformer that was really addictive, had a beautiful Studio Ghibli-like art style and a large world to explore and get lost in.  I also enjoyed the comedy road movie ‘Identity Thief’, discovering the entertaining Melissa McCarthy for the first time.

Around this time I noticed I had reached a milestone, that of writing this blog for 8 years…wow.  I wrote a post reflecting on this and how I was feeling at the time.  I went through various observations of my life, work, dealing with depression that comes and goes to this day, and of the satisfaction this blog and my hobbies have given me when times haven’t been ideal.  I do venting and such from time to time as readers on here will be aware and hope you can excuse some of the more negative ponderings in between the movie reviews and gaming impressions.  Anyway on with the show…

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‘John Wick’ turned out to be nearly everything I could want in a John Woo inspired action thriller and Keanu Reeves was back on blistering form.  Kevin Costner’s thriller ‘3 Days To Kill’ turned out rather poor and finally getting around to seeing ‘Donnie Brasco’, mob drama with Al Pacino and Johnny Depp was equally underwhelming.  Garbage’s new single and collaboration with singer Brian Aubert ‘The Chemicals’ left me with mixed feelings for a long while, and although I don’t consider the track amongst the band’s best work – it’s really grown on me over the last few months.  Nicholas Cage vehicle ‘Joe’ proved very interesting however and was one of his better recent performances, and Tim Burton’s subdued ‘Big Eyes’ proved decent if fairly lightweight for that particular director.

Also during April I was gifted with finally seeing the remarkable ‘Birdman’, from the increasingly impressive director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, The Revenant) and also proved a unique return for Michael Keaton.  On the gaming front I got my teeth into the PS4 version of ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ and the much hyped ‘The Witcher 3’ on Xbox One …er, two games I still haven’t finished.  TV offered up the Breaking Bad spin-off ‘Better Call Saul’ which proved highly entertaining and I can’t wait for season 2.  The biggest disappointment around this time however was the news that ‘The Following’, one of my favourite shows was to be cancelled after the current season ended.  I was gutted but at least the final season 3 turned out to be excellent.

The summer blockbuster season kicked off in fine form in June with the exhilarating ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ which despite me not loving as much as some of my friends, I still got a kick out of.  E3 also dominated the gaming calendar around this time with plenty of exciting announcements for both the PS4 and the Xbox One.  Brit spy-spoof ‘Kingsmen: The Secret Service’ had it’s moments but didn’t impress me all that much … and Project Almanac was a fun yet forgettable time travel drama.

July – September

‘Terminator Genisys’ was one of the most purely ‘fun’ movies of the year and ticked many of my Terminator fan-boy boxes.  I don’t really care what others think of that movie.  ‘The Babadook’ also proved a refreshing horror movie that dealt with psychological trauma and the stresses of being a single mother with intelligence.  Around that time I also checked out ‘It Follows’ which was probably one of my horror movie highlights of the year.  Studio Ghibli animation ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’ also proved heart warming, magical and captivating just how a Studio Ghibli movie should be … and ‘Chappie’ was a highly enjoyable sci-fi actioner that once again made me a big fan of director Neil Blomkamp.   ‘Still Alice’ was a powerful story of one woman’s battle with Alzheimer’s and Julianne Moore rightly deserved her Oscar nod.

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As I rolled into August I got around to seeing some very good movies such as ‘American Sniper’ which proved very powerful, and ‘Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’ which was again another very exciting entry in the franchise.  Then we came to another great sci-fi drama in the name of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ which although at times confusing was full of wonder and amazing ideas backed up by amazing visuals.  ‘The Gift’ also turned out to be a surprising and very well acted psychological drama with a brilliantly complex Jason Bateman, whilst Iranian vampire drama ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’ proved visually striking but lacking in pretty much everything else.  Liam Neeson vehicle  ‘Run All Night’ also sadly showed that this gifted actor had found himself stuck in a rut of forgettable thrillers.

Although late to the party, I thought ‘The Conjuring’ was one of the best horrors I had seen in a long while, and Disney remake ‘Cinderella’ proved suitably enchanting whilst offering little new.  Crime thriller ‘The Drop’ seemed a suitable swansong for the late James Gondolfini (sob) whilst ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’ was fun but lacked that special ‘something’ to stand out in a crowded superhero market place.

October – December

As autumn and winter rolled around, disaster flick ‘San Andreas’ turned out to be a very enjoyable CGI-packed vehicle for Dwayne ‘the rock’ Johnson, and on TV some of my favourite shows came back, namely ‘Homeland’, ‘The Returned’, ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Fargo’, which have all proved excellent this season.  Dinosaur sequel ‘Jurassic World’ was a lot of fun and one of the better entries in the popular franchise, whilst Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous looking ‘Crimson Peak’ was one of my biggest disappointments of 2015 as I had hoped it would be another masterpiece by this talented director rather than the uninvolving style over substance it turned out as.  Thankfully Kevin Bacon thriller ‘Cop Car’ turned out quite the breath of fresh air and is well worth checking out.

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November was for me, dominated by both seeing ‘Garbage’ and turning 40 (!!).  They were amazing live and I highly recommend you check them out for yourself if you get the chance.  I also visited London with my brother and pretty much that whole week will stay with me for a long time to come.  I hope to see the band again next year but don’t know if that will happen for sure yet.  Fingers crossed!  Yet I did get around to seeing a couple of movies as well, such as the intense, Oscar winning drama ‘Whiplash’ and entertaining animation ‘Minions’.  Yet one of the major highlights and probably my gaming experience of the year was finally getting my hands on ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ which was sheer gaming joy from start to finish and one of the best looking games yet on Xbox One.

So we come to December and much of this was focused on the imminent release of ‘Star Wars The Force Awakens’ which thankfully turned out a fantastic experience.  However aside from this movie I checked out comedy spy spoof ‘Spy’ with an again enjoyable Melissa McCarthy and ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ which proved enjoyable and visually impressive, but let down by a confusing plot.  I also finally managed to see Pixar animation ‘Inside Out’ which blew me away and was one of their best efforts yet.  Other than that ‘Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’ is one of the best entries in the franchise yet, with Victorian London a great setting full of atmosphere.


So there you have it, 2015 all done and dusted.  So what is left to say?  My end of Year Top Ten will be revealed on New Year’s Eve (this Thursday) and I’m already looking forward to compiling it.  There have been some amazing movies this year with some pleasant surprises.  My gaming calendar has been a bit underwhelming with only a small handful of titles truly impressing, but I am hoping 2016 fairs better.

For now though I’ll leave you waiting in anticipation for what I’ll crown my favourite movie of the year…

Garbage and a dream realised


garbagebrixtondatesWell, it was a long time coming but on Monday the 9th of November 2015, I finally got to see my favourite band Garbage in concert at Brixton Academy, London.  The near-sold out show was such an incredible experience that putting it into words isn’t easy.  I had a long wait, queuing up for a few hours before finally finding my seat and waiting again.  There was a long wait until the support act The Dutch Uncles came on, who were enjoyable even if their music seemed a bit ‘samey’.  However it was a good indication of the decibels I was about to be assaulted with.

Video courtesy of Youtuber eStorm

Following this was a really cool intro, that involved a white sheet dropping to cover the stage and surrounding area entirely, then an archival video to the tune of Garbage b-side Alien Sex Fiend showed footage of the band back in ’95 along with a commentary on their origins in Madison, Wisconsin along with news footage of Princess Diana, OJ Simpson and the beginnings of the Internet.  This all then built up to the four members being presented in tall large images one after the other.  Then it was time for the first song, Subhuman which was performed entirely behind the sheet with the members only visible as silhouettes.  Very bold and utterly ingenious.  As this occurred I recalled actually shaking with excitement, an overload of emotions and feelings that I’ll admit brought tears to my eyes.

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A picture taken by my brother from where we were seated

I won’t go into too much detail of the show which spanned almost two hours and covered approximately 23 tracks spanning the entire first album and nine b-sides – topped off with an encore that threw in a couple of tracks off other albums which were Cherry Lips and Push It.  Throughout the guys and Shirley were on fine form – for a 49 year old Shirley Manson’s energy was intoxicating – she jumped and danced and head-banged around the stage like a woman half her age, and it was incredible to witness.  In between some songs she told stories, such as her strong feelings regarding the LGBT community as well as funny anecdotes like how cold she was walking to Smart studios to do some recording, and the frozen hairs in her nose inspired her to write the song Driving Lesson (because she wished at that moment she could drive).  Little moments like that and the rather emotional story of Kick My Ass detailing the tragic suicide of song writer Vic Chestnut made the night even more special.

garbage-by-frank-mojica-08Highlights for me musically were performances of Not My Idea (really got the crowd going that one), Fix Me Now (sounded amazing), Only Happy When It Rains, Stupid Girl (excellent light show), Kick My Ass (a beautiful song that again got me very emotional) and also Cherry Lips (a real crowd participation anthem).  Less effective, due to the immense sound and volume were As Heaven Is Wide (Shirley seemed to get drowned out by the guitars and drums) and to an extent Vow which felt too harsh and intense to completely appreciate.    But I’m a concert novice and it probably was too loud and over-powering at times for me … yet the good seriously outweighed the not so good, and the high production values, that glorious intro, Shirley’s sheer exuberance and various brilliantly delivered songs overshadowed any quibbles.

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Garbage blew the roof off Brixton on Monday and the whole event won’t be something I’ll get over for a very long time.  So thank you Garbage – you made this long-time fan very happy indeed.

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An update and stuff


So what have I been up to lately?  Well I managed to complete Assassin’s Creed Unity on the PS4, the first AC game I have ever kept interested in until the end.  Why?  I think setting was key.  Of the previous games in the series I have played, most have been set either in medieval (AC 1 & 2) or around the time of the crusades (AC 3) and well, the pirating of AC4 never appealed so I didn’t play that one.  However this one was set in Paris, during the revolution, the time of Napoleon etc. and it was a brilliantly atmospheric setting I personally have plenty of interest in. 

Secondly I have been playing Grand Theft Auto V.  Now eagle-eyed readers of this blog may recall me posting about it a while back when I got it on the Xbox 360.  Well, for one reason or another I didn’t play it all that much of it, and since jumping to the next-generation with the PS4 and Xbox One, I thought it was high time I took a second look following it’s revamped re-release on these consoles.  I picked it up on PS4, and must say for what is technically a last-gen title, the detail (with improved textures, lighting, effects as well as an enhanced array of music on the various radio stations) it’s one of the best looking games I have played to date.  GTA V is a fantastic game following the exploits of three characters; Michael the former gangster now in witness protection, Franklin the stereotypical gang-banger hoodlum and Trevor the meth-dealing lunatic.  The missions are cinematic and the world is alive and complex and massive.  There are a ton of things to see and do and it never feels boring.  I’m loving it.  Check out a few screenshots I took with the PS4 to show off how damn gorgeous this next-gen version looks in the flesh:

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On the gaming horizon (next Tuesday to be specific) is The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt.  A heavily hyped and very well reviewed game that I have pre-ordered for my Xbox One.  From everything I have read and seen, it’s sounding like it will be a mammoth RPG adventure to rival the likes of The Elder Scrolls and Final Fantasy, with you as a bad-ass monster hunter known as Garalt, who inhabits a huge world that is one of the biggest apparently ever made and full of detail, missions, characters and true next-gen visuals.  I have watched some gameplay and read several reviews, and suffice to say I am VERY excited.  Roll on May 19th … I’ll do an early impressions some time in the week.

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In other news, I’ve sadly not managed to secure a trip to the cinema to see The Avengers: Age Of Ultron yet and can see it being a Blu-ray review later in the year.  The same might go for Mad Max Fury Road, but I’m still optimistic about getting to see that one, so watch this space (and no, going by myself doesn’t appeal all that much).  I have a few movies on the agenda however, the names of which I’ll keep to myself for now and let you be surprised when I post the reviews.  Yeah, I’m all about the tease.

On the TV watching front I have been pretty addicted to Better Call Saul, that breaking Bad spin-off starring everyone’s favourite crooked attorney Saul Goodman (or Jimmy Magill as he’s currently known).  It seems to have all the polish and great writing of Breaking Bad (well, it is by Vince Gilligan after all) and just keeps getting better and better.  I’m also watching The Following season 3 (yeah, yeah I know…we’re not getting a season 4…boo hiss) which has again been brilliant this year.  Clearly there is no accounting for taste, so another show hits the skids.  Talking of TV, I’m also looking forward to season 3 of Orange Is The New Black, a show at first I wasn’t entirely sure was me … the first series was good but a little lightweight, but with an excellent and gripping season 2, I am now officially a fan.  Damn Netflix just keeps on giving, doesn’t it?  I am also watching Brit drama Luther on it at the moment which stars popular actor Idris Elba as a tough Police detective who specialises in catching serial killers – right up my alley.

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So other than the above, and getting over some man-flu and a tickly cough that just won’t quit … it’s been all about work, which is going very well.  I am learning some new stuff to do more with secretarial tasks and finding it challenging and educational.  Love it when my job gives me those opportunities to learn new skills and I think it helps build a real profile and shape me for the future.  I’m also of course still looking forward to finally seeing my favourite band Garbage in November when they appear at Brixton Academy in London.  It’s going to be such a once in a life time experience for me, someone who doesn’t really get such opportunities.  I have my big brother to thank for making this happen and with my 40th birthday very much right after, November is looking to be a real belter.

Well, enough from me for now.  Hope you’re all having fun in whatever you’re all up to and continue to check in on me and this blog regularly for more updates, reviews and gaming impressions.

Craig.