Monday, July 31, 2017

Films I've seen of late (July)

#34 Galaxy Quest (1999)
This Star Trek spoof perfectly hits the mark as it lampoons the classic show and its obsessive fan following. There are a couple of plot holes that don't really work if you think too hard about it, but ignoring that, Galaxy Quest is a fun story.

#35 RIPD (2013)
Nowhere near as bad as what I was expecting. Essentially Men In Black with demons/undead ghosts: two dead cops (Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds) on the case of a baddie played by Kevin Bacon. Bridges' mumbly cowboy dialogue is not the easiest to follow but Ryan Reynolds does a good turn as the rookie. Popcorn-pleasing fun.

#36 Bridget Jones' Baby (2016)
Bridget Jones returns, and this time she's having a baby, except she doesn't know who the father is. This sequel feels slightly forced and unnecessary (especially after over a decade's hiatus) but is enjoyable in places and has its moments.

#37 Despicable Me 3 (2017)
Another effort to cash in on the Minions / Gru phenomenon, D3 is a reasonable sequel. Gru learns he has a twin brother and takes him on a mission to rescue a stolen diamond from an ex-80s-child-TV-star-turned-villain. Contains heaps of 80s references and in-jokes to keep the parents of the target audience happy (I know exactly what you're doing, Universal).

#38 A Million Ways To Die In The West (2015)
Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane is the loser sheep farmer unlucky in love who, through a chance encounter, ends up falling in love with the local psycho bandit's wife. Plenty of crude humour abounds in this goofy western that manages to strike the right balance between comedy and period love story (of sorts).

#39 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Sequel to the Apes franchise reboot that lives up to its predecessor, with impressive CGI and action pieces. The simian flu has wiped out most of humanity, leaving the genetically engineered apes to live in relative peace in the mountains outside a post-apocalyptic San Francisco. A chance encounter between the apes and surviving humans is the catalyst for a bitter struggle for supremacy. We know how it's going to pan out, but the story keeps you hooked all the same (plus it's got an ape weilding machine guns atop a horse - you can't beat that!).

#40 Baby Driver (2017)
Edgar Wright is clearly having a blast in this ultra-cool bank heist 'action musical'. Weirdly, it has a bit of an unsteady start but soon turns up the revs with spectacular action sequences all to the tune and rhythm of an excellent soundtrack.

#41 Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Kingsman is an attempt to reinvent the spy actioner with plenty of tongue-in-cheek antics and over the top violence. It does the job fairly well, but everything still seems all to familiar. Some good scenes and witty one liners just about save the day.

#42 Nocturnal Animals (2016)
A wealthy art dealer regains contact with her ex-husband in this dark and moody tale of revenge and betrayal, with events playing out between the story of a novel and the real world. Nocturnal Animals is not easy watching but the acting and cinematography keeps you engaged.

#43 Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
I really wanted to see this when I was a kid, but I'm glad I didn't. In some ways, not as bad as everyone says (especially considering its miniscule budget and the fact that most of it was filmed in Milton Keynes of all places), but still an awful film. The set up seems to work OK but then it rushes to the end, presumably to put the viewer out of his or her misery.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The wonder of Toffifee

I've recently rediscovered the magnificent treat that is Toffifee (weirdly marketed under the name 'Toffifay' in the US) - a caramel/chocolate/hazelnut combo that is truly yummy.

I have a childhood memory of Toffifee always featuring in the 'hamper' section of Christmas catalogues. Whilst it falls into the same confectionary category as 'Quality Street' and 'Celebrations' I don't think Toffifee has ever been regarded as an equal - and yet they taste just as good as anything Cadbury or Mars can make. For some reason, I wasn't all too sure how to regard Toffifee when I was younger. Were they chocolates or some other category of sweet? I could never tell. Sadly, for decades my weird brain regarded Toffifee with a mild distrust for no logical reason.

Until now.

I recieved these little pods of joy for Father's day and I am determined to no longer treat these treats as second-class citizens.

Don't pass them by - give them a chance. I know you won't regret it (unless you have nut allergies of course).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

My current TV viewing

Thanks to the wonder of streaming, Wifey and I are now plugged in to a plethora of TV shows all waiting to be rabidly consumed. Here's what we've been watching:


- Stranger Things
The perfect blend of horror, mystery and 80s nostalgia, Stanger Things is probably the first show we have properly binge-watched (at least, for a while). Can't wait for series two in the autumn.

- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
The hopelessly optimistic Kimmy is the ultimate antidote to modern life. We're onto Season 2 and it's doing OK so far. Not as hilarious as the first series, but maybe it's because I'm used to the surreal humour.

- Designated Survivor
A slow burn conspiracy thriller, Kiefer Sutherland is perfect as the lowly cabinet member thrust into the highest office in the land after a terrorist attack on Capitol Hill. Makes me wish Kiefer was president instead of that bumbling orange moronic man-child.

- Master of None
Aziz Anzari's comedy is full of observational wit surrounding the highs and lows of being a millennial / thirtysomething. Throws in some scathing commentary on racial prejudice in America too.

- Archer
I've not watched much of this, but Archer's idiotic spy is a great take on the genre (and hilarious too).

- The Handmaid's Tale (Channel 4)
HBO's adaptation of the acclaimed novel about a dystopian America is more poignant and timely than the book itself. Scarily the premise doesn't seem too far fetched in this post-Obama world.

- Mad Men (DVD)
We're finally onto the last series after several years of watching it on and off. Even though not much seems to happen in an episode, it's still compelling viewing. I will miss Jon Hamm's deeply flawed anti-hero Don Draper (though not much - he's a misogynistic jerk, after all).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Kneel before your insect overlords

Since my little ones were given some pets for last Christmas, I have become the primary carer of 'new' little ones in the shape of Eurocantha Calcaratha 'spiny devil' stick insects. They have steadily grown from little critters to fearsome looking mini-beasts.

Thankfully, they are vegetarian through and through, so won't be swarming the family home looking to devour pesky humans anytime soon.

Or at least that's what I'm hoping.

I'm dreading the day when the female gets clucky and decides to breed. I'm not sure what we'll do when that happens...

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The thirteenth Doctor is a woman!

So the next Doctor is going to be female!

I must admit, I was initially cautious about the idea a while back after I'd heard rumours, but actually it makes a whole lot of sense. Of course, there has been a backlash from idiots decrying 'political correctness' etc but what they fail to realise is that the Doctor is a) an alien b) doesn't adhere to human gender norms c) is a bl**dy fictional character!!!

I'd be sympathetic to anyone who didn't like the idea of, say, James Bond being re-cast as a woman. That would seem a bit odd (and forced), but making the Doctor a female is totally what the show – and the character – needs.

Not only had Steven Moffat and co been carefully sowing the seeds for some time now (dropping lots of hints along the way), but really and truly the show is ready for a decent injection of 'new'.

I've never been a die-hard fan of Who, just a casual watcher, but the recent series have seemed tired and lacking a certain something. I've felt all of the actors who took on the role to be very good at bringing their respective interpretation to life, but the scripts were always hit and miss for me.

For a fifty-year-old show that's not surprising. I think there's really only so much you can do with a TV series - Who has it's revolving formulas that are wheeled out regularly: monster of the week, trapped on a spacestation, it-was-all-a-dream etc. so you need to do things to keep it fresh.

I was thinking that the best thing for Who was for it to just give up already. Time for something else ... but, Jodie Whittaker is a brilliantly talented actress and I reckon she's got what it takes to breathe new life into the (very) old timelord.

I am genuinely excited to see what comes of the Doctor in the Christmas special, so roll on December!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Coldplay - A Head full of Dreams Tour (Cardiff, 10th July 2017)

I've been following Coldplay since their Parachutes album came out almost two decades ago. They have steadily grown from plucky indie band to global phenomenon - currently touring the world with a vibrant, impressive stage show equal to other big bands. I know it's not 'cool' to like Coldplay, which is always the way with successful bands. No doubt the hipsters look upon them with great disdain, but I actually do like their music (there, I said it!) and I've liked the way their sound has evolved over the years.

I must admit I wasn't overly excited about seeing them, though. I was looking forward to it, don't get me wrong, just not in the way an obsessive fan might have been. I saw it as a 'fun night out' rather than an 'experience' to tell my grandchildren.

Once things got going, however, I was really glad I came (despite the horrible rain and the lengthy queues). We were up in the gods, literally the last row in the back at the top. A good vantage to see the whole spectacle, but a bit far away to see any detail (plus the giant scoreboard blocked some of the view - see picture). At least we could stand without upsetting anyone and had somewhere to put our stuff behind our seats.

Chris Martin and co. played their most well-known hits, from the first single that catapulted them into the limelight (Yellow) to their most recent ode to positivity and hopefulness (Up and Up).

Whilst the stage and lighting were fairly typical for your big act stadium gig (although very good of course), the standout element was the light-up wrist bands worn by the audience. Alas, we were too late to have one ourselves because they'd all gone by the time we'd arrived. Even so, the effect was striking, bathing the entire arena in whatever colour or colours had been commanded by the production team (e.g. the colour yellow for 'Yellow' obviously).

I didn't know that Coldplay's guitarist Jonny Buckland grew up in North Wales (he was born in London) so it was nice to learn on the night that they had a Welsh connection (even though they haven't played here for seventeen years), which was milked quite a lot. Chris Martin apologised for taking so long to come back to play here and he even performed a little ditty about Jonny and Wales (I can't remember the lyrics exactly). Not only that, they signed off with a rendition of the Welsh national anthem (Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau), accompanied by a couple of choir singers. Turns out Rob Brydon did the honours the day after at their second Cardiff performance. A bit random, but fun all the same.

Having not been to a big concert for a few years (the last one was U2 at the then-called Millennium Stadium in 2009), the presence of smartphones in the audience was really noticeable. A lot of people (myself included) were filming the show, which is admittedly kind of odd. 

I guess it's a natural reaction these days, to capture something you are enjoying, but I think if you're filming something instead of actually experiencing it then you're kind of wasting your money. I did resist the urge to film everything. I just wanted to capture clips (because I knew the experience would be fleeting and wanted to capture at least something of what I'd seen), but made sure I wasn't watching the whole thing through my screen.

At some point during the show, Chris did plead with everyone to put their phones down and just enjoy the moment. He said we could film anything we wanted after, so he wasn't too concerned about people stealing his music.

I've seen a lot of people sharing their videos on Facebook and Coldplay are posting videos from the tour all the time on their page (filmed via smartphone or something similar), so I guess they don't really care about copyright, which is the other issue I was curious about now that smartphones are ubiquitous.

It's something that's impossible to control, given that almost eveyone has a portable TV studio in their pocket these days (ain't that right, Doc Brown?), so I guess the record labels rely on the fact that playing it back on a smartphone will never be the same as experiencing it in person or watching the concert recorded and edited by a professional production crew. If anything, allowing people to record and share their concert videos is just another marketing tool to promote the band.

So, well done and thank you Coldplay for a memorable show. I hope you come back to Wales again - just don't wait seventeen years next time!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bye bye beardy

After having a short beard for the last few months, I decided it was time to shave it off.

This was mainly prompted by the recent heatwave which made my face a bit more uncomfortable with the additional growth. I also found the beard thing slightly irritating due to itchiness and the ever-present paranoia of having chunks of food lodged it in whenever I ate.

On the plus side, I felt a bit more statesmanlike and grown up with my tufts of grey. Plus my beard offered my face a certain level of wind shielding in the colder months.

I might grow it back in the autumn, although I think I will have to invest in a decent facial trimmer to keep it under control and in a decent state of grooming.

Who knows, I just light might opt for a full Charlton Heston....?

Before and After