My 2017 – a look back (part two)


As I learnt writing the last look-back, 2017 has been a pretty packed year as far as entertainment is concerned, and there’s been plenty of highlights over the months.  So continuing this little bit of nostalgia, I thought I’d give a portion of this to my music highlights of the year, of which there have been many.

In the summer, Garbage made a return to the stage going on the road with the iconic Blondie for their co-headlining ‘Rage and Rapture’ tour which over 20+ dates travelled the United States and from what I hear was a roaring success.  During the tour Garbage released a stand alone single, the politically charged ‘No Horses’ accompanied by a powerful, hard-hitting video (see below).  It was another belter of a track from my favourite band, but wasn’t the only highlight of the year for me…

PVRISIndie electro-rock band PVRIS returned with their second album ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell’, and it was a step up from their impressive debut and cemented them as a new, unique voice in my music landscape.  Add to this British four piece Wolf Alice also delivered their second album ‘Visions Of Life’, and like PVRIS it was an improvement over their debut and a haunting, artistic experience full of emotion and effective songs that has made them one of my favourites.  A couple of more veteran artist also released new material and although I don’t listen to everything out there, I am glad to have discovered Paramour with their fun, energetic album ‘After Laughter’ proving worthwhile.  I was also happy to see the return of possible my favourite female solo artist Kelly Clarkson and her latest release ‘Meaning of Life’ really impressed and proved this singer still had it after her previous, otherwise forgettable ‘Piece by Piece’ album.

Well back to the movies and such…

July to December

As the blockbuster season continued, I didn’t get around to all the big hitters but was pleased to see the latest of one of the best franchises around right now, War For The Planet Of The Apes which again proved powerful and exciting with stunning effects.  Less engrossing but still fun was the rather hypoed but run-of-the-mill Baby Driver.  Adding to the disappointment was the surprisingly un-engaging Christopher Nolan WWII drama Dunkirk which for a war movie directed by one of the best around, proved strangely boring and lacking in character or spectacle.  It sure was ‘pretty’ though.

war-planet-apes

Get Out was a rather unsettling thriller and an interesting take on the racial tension subject, and hyped book adaptation Girl On The Train was an enthralling mystery with a great central performance from Emily Blunt.  One of my favourite directors, Park-chan Wook returned with The Handmaiden, an erotic period movie that although a tad drawn out was an engrossing love-triangle thriller.  Mark Wahlberg’s based on true events thriller Patriots Day was also powerful and gripping, whilst Jake Gyllenhaal sci-fi thriller Life was particularly effective and scarily-relevant.  August finished up with one of my personal horror highlights of the year, the far better than it should have been sequel Annabelle Creation.

Twin Peaks

Around this time I also watched the highly anticipated and very long awaited new season of Twin Peaks.  This was probably one of my most perplexing, strangely gratifying and definitely unique experiences of the year.  David Lynch’s magnificently bizarre and utterly surreal 18 episode ‘TV event’ is still something I am trying to piece together in my head even months after finishing it.  I had the box set for Christmas so may well be diving back in.  That ending though….yeesh.

French cannibal horror / coming of age drama Raw  proved effective if disturbing and distasteful but has certainly stuck in my head.  However, the latest entry in a once beloved saga, Alien Covenant was very underwhelming, having more in common with the tiresome Prometheus than the Alien movies.  Then I stumbled upon Netflix movie Gerald’s Game, a surprising, engrossing and creepy-as-hell Stephen King Adaptation.

I finished (at least the story) of the highly acclaimed and heavily hyped The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and as if testament to just how much fun and appealing that game was and still is to me, I still find myself going back to finish every shrine, find every weapon and do at least the majority of side-quests.  I even recently purchased the season pass.  Yeah I can’t get enough of this game.

Super Mario Odyssey CappyThe highly anticipated Blade Runner 2049 disappointed, with a plodding pace, forgettable visuals and was only marginally saved by a good turn from Harrison Ford.  However all was not lost as November rolled around and the much anticipated Super Mario Odyssey was finally released … and proved to be everything I had hoped it would be.  Add to this I finally got my hands on the highly acclaimed Japanese animation Your Name which proved to be a decidedly clever and thought-provoking body-swap drama.

So we come to December and particular stand-outs were Despicable Me 3 and the otherwise maligned Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  Bigger name movies like Spider-Man Homecoming and even Star Wars The Last Jedi didn’t fair as well for me but still had their moments.  With Christmas upon us again, I always enjoy writing these look backs and considering the movies that will eventually make up my Top Ten.  I’ll have that particular post out on New Years Eve, so please drop by then and check it out.

I also managed to get my hands on a new phone.  Previously and for about 3 years I’ve had the Samsung S6.  However now I have the recently released iPhone 8, which I’m loving so far and along with my iPad, that’s me all Apple’d-up going into the year ahead.

So there we have it.  That was my 2017 in two big entertainment nutshells.

Roll on 2018.

Craig.

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My 2017 – a look back (part one)


I think at least as far as entertainment is concerned its been a pretty good year.  There’s been ups and downs as there is every year, disappointments and resounding successes.  So I thought I’d do a look back and therefore have decided to split this into two posts over the next week or so … leading up top my annual Top Ten of the Year on 31 December (please check back for that).

January to June

The year started off rather interestingly, with the absolutely nutty The Greasy Strangler … a movie I had heard a lot about.  The eventual experience was a bit ‘wtf?’ and remains probably the oddest, most out-there movie I’ve seen all year, and not in a good way.  The biggest let down though of the month (and year) was undeniably Trainspotting 2.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but this trapped-in-the-past, albeit entertianing sequel delivered nothing to either repeat the gritty cool of the original or offer anything new.  It’s not a terrible movie but it just had very little to warrant it’s existence.

iPadAir2One of my favourite gadgets this year has been my iPad Air 2 which I picked up in January, and use regularly for so many things…other than my phone (which I’ll get to in party two) it’s been my go to gadget of choice.  Hell or High-water was a particular highlight and a solid robbers on the lam sort-of western with two great performances from Chris Pine and Ben Foster, even if I thought Jeff Bridges was a little over-hyped.

Deepwater Horizon was a great disaster movie based on real events with a stand out turn from the always enjoyable Mark Wahlberg.  February was also when I played the return-to-form latest entry in one of my favourite gaming franchises:  Resident Evil 7.  One of the few games this year I saw through to the end, but this gripping, at times genuinely frightening and action-packed game truly put the franchise back on track.   Around this time I began to deep dive further into music having subscribed to Apple Music and I have discovered some really great artists this past year, which started out with Tegan and Sara as well as Chvrches, PVRIS, Royal Blood and many more (I’ll be covering my music highlights more in part two).

Train to Busan

March delivered one of my firm favourite movies of the year, the Korean zombie horror Train to Busan, which was a brilliantly executed thrill-ride with great characterisation and top-notch production values.  Look out for it in my end of year Top Ten.  March also delivered more highlights in the form of the enjoyable if a tad over-hypoed Doctor Strange, as well as the charming and touching A Street Cat Named Bob.  However the good times had to come to an abrupt stop in the surprisingly poor Kong: Skull Island which offered some truly awful characters, only saved slightly by some fun monster smack down action.  What Tom Hiddleston was doing in this is anyone’s guess though.  Thankfully it was only a short-lived blip as I then got to see another favourite of the year, Logan – with a career defining performance by the often underrated Hugh Jackman.  If you haven’t seen this one yet … remedy that immediately – it’s really that good.

Nintendo_Switch

The end of March also saw me pick up what has been a really worthwhile purchase this year, the Nintendo Switch!  As with any Nintendo console, it was a bit of a risk.  Gamecube failed after only a short run, the Wii was a major success but lacked games, and well I didn’t bother with the Wii U.  Thankfully with games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Steamworld Dig 2 and Super Mario Odyssey it’s been the games console I’ve played the most in 2017 without a doubt. 

April was the month this blog reached it’s 10 year anniversary.  Wow…had it really been that long?  I’m not popular, what I discuss on here is a crowded field to say the least, and standing out is difficult.  However let it be said I still very much enjoy expressing myself on here and appreciate every visitor, every like and every comment when I get them.  Thank you to all who stop by!

Despite being one of my favourite actresses, Scarlett Johansson’s much anticipated Ghost in the Shell, whilst entraining didn’t turn out to be all that it could have been despite some great visuals.  However Tom Hanks delivered a solid performance as always in the based on true events Sully.  I also recently started getting back into the highly-imaginative world of Persona 5 (released in April) which is unique and cleverly done, despite some typical Jap-RPG gameplay trappings.  Suppose all that Switch goodness proved a distraction this year and there’s many games I need to also go back to.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-2

In May I saw more highlights of the year, firstly the highly entertaining (if not quite as refreshing) Guardians of the Galaxy 2 boasting some great turns especially from Kurt Russell.  Then the Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle Nocturnal Animals was also an interesting take on a relationship drama that struck a cord and proved powerful and clever.  Yet the over-hyped and generally rather tiresome La La Land was a huge disappointment with a lack of memorable songs for a musical and bland characterisation despite featuring a great cast.

As June rolled around I finally managed to see the highly acclaimed Hacksaw Ridge and came away humbled and suitably impressed.  It was a very different approach for a war movie but director Mel Gibson and star Andrew Garfield nailed it.  Following this possibly the best comic book movie of the year was released; Wonder WomanGal Gadot was born to play this roll and with a great dirty-dozen meets fish out of water storyline I really had a great time with this one.  I also got around to watching bullet fest sequel John Wick: Chapter 2 which although simply more of the same was still pretty damn good and well, who doesn’t enjoy Keanu Reeves obliterating bad-guys?

Xbox One X

June also saw the annual videogame convention ‘E3’ arrive which promised a great deal from the three big gaming giants Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo and highlights included the reveal of the Xbox One X, more footage of the highly-anticipated Super Mario Odyssey and Sony’s God of War amongst many more.  It was a pretty exciting time to be a gamer and 2017 was only to prove itself as a classic year in gaming history.

Well, that’s it for part one of this look back.  Phew, it’s been a pretty packed year when looking back and there’s plenty more to come.  Look out for Part Two this time next week!

Embarking on an Odyssey


Super Mario Odyssey CappyWell of course I purchased Super Mario Odyssey as a Nintendo Switch owner.  Probably the game I’ve been most hyped about all year.  So what’s it like?  I wouldn’t say I have the vastest experience with Mario games and haven’t owned all of Nintendo’s systems.  However I enjoyed Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube and dabbled in Super Mario World from time to time in it’s various incarnations although always found that particular entry overly difficult.  Odyssey however is the first fully free roaming Mario game in a while and on picking up the controller I was pleased at how fluid and natural the controls felt (helped I’m guessing by the game’s 60fps).  Graphically it’s varied, colourful and highly-detailed even if the worlds don’t quite have the wow-factor of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, that other AAA Nintendo Switch game this will inevitably get compared to, which is unfair as the games couldn’t be more different.  Odyssey’s main plot is simplistic and typical Mario-fair.  Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach and this time is planning a wedding.  It’s Mario’s job to rescue her and prevent the wedding by chasing Bowser’s flying ship across various kingdoms dotted around the globe.  In each kingdom there are a number of ‘moons’ to find to power your hat-shaped space ship known as the ‘Odyssey’ and this is where the game delivers it’s inspired gimmick. 

Mario Odyssey

A talking hat named ‘Cappy’ befriends Mario after Bowser wrecks it’s home, and chooses to help Mario in his quest because his own sweetheart, a tiara has also been kidnapped.  Cappy can be used during the game in a variety of ways, to either break boxes, platform to higher levels or possess in-game characters to help solve puzzles and further traverse the environments.  It’s a great addition to the Mario-formula and makes for endless gameplay opportunities, but does come at a cost.  You feel slightly over-powered with it and your ability to possess enemies can make the game rather easy, meaning it’s quite possible to breeze through the entire game despite how huge the various kingdoms can be.  Yet that would do the game a disservice as exploration, finding the moons and all the secrets, collecting outfits or souvenirs for your ship is where the meat is and the game greatly rewards players who go off the beaten track and search every nook and cranny.

I’m enjoying my time with Super Mario Odyssey but at this stage, a fair portion into the game I don’t feel it has the depth of Zelda to clock in 100hrs plus, but realise this is a very different but equally polished experience that will keep me coming back for a good while yet.  Does it deserve the wealth of accolades it’s had, the myriad of 10/10s?  Maybe not but it’s still a brilliant game that, if you have a Switch is an essential purchase.

Gaming perfection?


Yesterday I finished one of the most talked about and acclaimed videogames of the year… The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  Not for a long time has a game captivated me as much as this did.  It was a game I could walk away from for a week or two, and then come back and instantly feel appealed and at home in it’s world.  It made simply walking around and exploring as much fun as actually playing the game for it’s story or missions or quests.  It’s also a game I shall still come back to even post-credits, as the world is so huge and full of wonder, I just can’t stop exploring and simply enjoying being part of it all.

Breath-of-the-Wild

It’s filled to over-flowing with fun characters, interesting, awe-inspiring and varied environments and many many fun things to do and see.  The main quest involves eventually restoring peace to the world of Hyrule, by rescuing Princess Zelda from the clutches of the malevolent force ‘Ganon’, who not only has shrouded the magnificent castle Hyrule in an impenetrable force of evil, but also taken over four ‘divine beasts’ who once were guardians of the world but now drench the world in fear and danger.  Once you reclaim said guardians by climbing aboard their bodies and defeating a boss in each, only then can you attempt to defeat Ganon.  It’s a vast under-taking but one I always felt compelled to persevere with despite the wealth of distractions available (the endless amount of ‘shrines’ to discover, the myriad of countless quests given to you by various characters) which is something the likes of Grand Theft Auto doesn’t seem to be as good at – keeping the player focused on the main quest and not just the side stuff.

Add to this a ridiculous attention to detail in every aspect of the game.  The amount to see and do is crazy, the detail in the cartoon world presented is like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before…it has an atmosphere, personality and beauty to it that taking pictures and just standing looking around at stuff, the life, the wild-life and plants, the trees, the realistic weather … is just so fulfilling.  It is definitely what you’d call the complete package, and probably a game that such like we may not see again this generation.

breathofthewildLink

It’s gameplay and difficulty seemed very well implemented, with a gradual learning curve and increase in difficulty that works seamlessly with character progression, discovering new abilities, new armour and skills or weapons, that not once did I feel the game was unfair or that I couldn’t get past something without some perseverance.  That’s not to say it was easy – at times it was very tough, but it was a toughness that I felt my failings were my own fault and not that of the game, and as I learnt and developed my own ability, I’d triumph just when I was meant to and not before.

So I honour this game with my highest recommendation.  If you have a Nintendo Switch or even Wii U … it’s a must play.

What I’ve been up to


Destiny_2

I haven’t posted on here for a while.  Well, apart from going away on holiday for a long weekend last week, I haven’t been watching any movies and have more been concentrating on a combination of work and in my leisure time, playing some games.  Currently I’m playing Destiny 2 on Xbox One which I had pre-ordered a while back.  Short impressions?  I’m really digging it.  It’s not exactly far removed from Destiny 1, bar some improvements and polish to the formula, such as now being able to travel to different locations without returning to orbit.  I put many hours into Destiny 1 and can see me putting just as much time into this sequel.  The advent of clans and easier to be a part of fire teams seems an added incentive also.  Graphically it’s no slouch either, with varied planets to explore and great effects and atmosphere.  The core combat is also as satisfying as it ever was.  The game could greatly do with some new enemy types however but apart from that I’m having a great time.

Steam World Dig 2

Another game I’m enjoying is Steam World Dig 2 on the Nintendo Switch.  I liked the look of this game from footage I’d seen a while back and it’s as fun and interesting an experience as I’d hoped.  What can I say – platform exploration mixed with mining / digging is like gaming crack, and I find it very appealing that I want to rush back to the game time and time again.  It may be a 2D platformer but it has colourful, vibrant graphics with a charming art-style and plenty of detail.  I don’t have much else to say other than give it a try if curious.

I also got my hands on the highly anticipated Sonic Mania.  I have the Switch version and boy, I’d forgot how difficult Sonic used to be.  It’s sort of a celebration / re-imagining of the first 3 Sonic The Hedgehog games from waaaay back on the Sega Megadrive, with a few new stages added in for good measure.  Although I’m enjoying it and it’s still a great deal of addictive fun, it’s reliance on old-school pixel graphics is a little disappointing – a bit of refinement here and there would’ve been nice – and a few new animations only adds so much.  Overall for a Switch game it’s at times a bit ugly.  Yet as a celebration of a famed videogame character, I guess it does it’s job well enough.

twin-peaks

I finished watching Twin Peaks Season 3 also, and have come away somewhat disheartened.  The ending, without spoiling just left me thinking ‘wtf?’ and many plot threads (if they can be called that – this was not your usual show) failed to go anywhere.  I’m leaving my final verdict until after I’ve re-watched the whole season on Blu-ray where I can really study it … not that I’m really expecting to come away all that wiser.  We’ll see.  Yet I will say this:  as a purely artistic, utterly surreal ‘vision’ and as a return to film-making by acclaimed director David Lynch it was still effective, and at times amazing – but satisfying?  The jury’s still out on that one.

I have some movie reviews in the pipe line and a few other ideas for this blog, so keep an eye out for further updates soon.

Craig.