GregHorrorShow’s Non Gaming 2019 Round Up

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2019 was a big year for music, with the continued explosion of streaming and further disruption to how we discover and consume music. As time goes on I think curation, especially from friends, will have a strong focus – without guidance there is simply too much music being released to process. My favourite gigs from the year were Sophie and The Giants (Camden Assembly) and Carly Rae Jepsen (XOYO), both delivering fantastic sets and the chance to see a huge pop artist like Carly Rae Jepsen in a smaller venue was pretty awesome.

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I have a playlist of the year’s music, which I’ll embed below, but in amongst that I’d love to highlight a few favourites – Michael Kiwanuka delivered, for me, the album of the year along with excellent LP’s for Lewis Capaldi and Sam Fender. Fieh got their debut album out the door, most definitely worth a spin. Billie Eilish was everywhere but for good reason and The Big Moon continue to develop into a really strong band – looking forward to their album shortly. If you need pop then look no further than the immense trio of Halsey, Julia Michaels and Sigrid. Julia Michaels is one of the most underrated pop stars of the last few years, in my opinion. On a slightly more indie focus I’d also recommend checking out Palace and Liz Lawrence’s latest efforts – beautiful. And a quick shout out to the game Forgotton Anne, whose soundtrack was absolutely stunning.

 

Highlights from the year’s films for me were Zombieland 2 (more of the same but still enjoyable), Eternal Beauty (a tough watch but very rewarding) and The Aeronauts (a well made and interesting story of exploration and adventure). However my favourites were Frozen II, somehow just as good if not better than the first, and Knives Out, a stunning murder mystery that is excellently written and delivered with aplomb.

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Books-wise I read a few great titles this year – 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, Heartburn by Nora Ephron and The Psychology Of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas were all really enjoyable. On the graphic novel front Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson was cool but the stand out for me was Paper Girls (Vol 1) by Brian K. Vaughan. Brilliant and I look forward to reading the next volume that I got for Christmas 😊 I’m still making my way through the lengthy tome that is Yeah Yeah Yeah by Bob Stanley but it is a fantastic look back at the history of pop music. My book of the year though is Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler, a thriller set on a boat as the protagonist attempts to stay alive for the duration of the voyage. I found it really gripping and would heartily recommend.

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On the TV front it was a good year for returning shows – Barry, The Good Place and Stranger Things all came back with enjoyable seasons. Matt Berry is always a joy and Year Of The Rabbit, his Victorian cop show was great fun. Temple was intense but mostly thrilling and I really enjoyed Giri/Haji. For some light relief I found The Rookie to be a good slice of easy watching fun. Nathan Fillion continues his run as the good hearted, but out of his depth, leading man. Initially both Carmen Sandiego and She-Ra were intended to be shows to watch with the kids but I found myself enjoying them just as much, if not more! The animation on both are excellent and there are some interesting character arcs developing in both. Watchmen is brutal but brilliant, a different take on the universe which lays to rest concerns that the show couldn’t be made for TV. By, mainly, steering away directly from the comic the creators delivered a dark look at vigilante justice. My show of the year though came early in 2019 with Netflix’s Russian Doll. What a concept, what a story, what a soundtrack. The acting all round was great and Natasha Lyonne was amazing in the title role. It also didn’t outstay it’s welcome, a most refreshing change of pace from some of the bloated shows hitting our streaming services.

So there you go, a little look at the stuff I’ve been enjoying over the last twelve months. Gaming round up to follow!

The Everything Else of 2018

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I’ve decided to mix things up a little bit with my end of year round ups, for a start I’m moving away from the ‘award’ format itself but also I’ll be splitting things in a more simple way. One round-up for games and another for ‘Everything Else’.

So without further ado, let’s get into The Everything Else of 2018!

Musically it’s been a phenomenal year – full of big beats, guitars and wonderful pop. My Spotify round-up playlist is embedded below but some highlights were: Jade Bird, who continues her rise as one of the UK’s most under-rated female singer/songwriters, Billie Eilish, who delivers material well beyond what you’d expect from a 16-year-old, Sigrid, who is currently one of the best pop stars out there, Greta Van Fleet, who are on a mission to bring fun guitar music back, Robyn, who returns with another stunning single, Bobby Sessions, who brings a sense of levity and some political musings to proceedings and Carly Rae Jepsen, back again with a huge slice of pop goodness in ‘Party For One’.

I managed to do quite a bit of reading last year, a mix of fiction, fact and some great graphic novels. Of course the Overwatch graphic novel series continued with some really fun moments that help to flesh out the back story of the world and characters. The first volume of Lumberjanes was super fun, a nice collection of characters, it’s all about a group of girls at a summer scout camp. Everything is not as it seems though as strange creatures and otherworldly events transpire.

My favourite graphic novel this year though was Reborn from Mark Millar. Telling the story of Bonnie Black, an elderly lady who passes away on a stroke ward and suddenly finds herself in a new, younger body in a weird place called Adystria. Not only is this world some sort of limbo, it looks like she is the chosen one – here to save the world. It’s a standard fantasy set up but the art is lovely and its a clever idea. Word in the Summer was that Netflix have optioned Reborn as a TV series/film, should be an interesting watch!

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In terms of factual books, I thoroughly enjoyed Blood, Sweat and Pixels by Jason Schreier – a fascinating look behind the scenes on some of the industries biggest and most interesting titles. If you’re into games, this is definitely worth your time. But it’s hard to look past the epic tome that is Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a big read but this look at how the world has been shaped by Humans is in equal measure spellbinding and horrifying.

Once I got past the heavy cockney accents in Gaie Sebold’s Shanghai Sparrow I found it be a really great read and look forward to exploring more titles in the series soon. I managed a double-header of Lee Child books in 2018; Night School and The Midnight Line, both of which I thought were good. It’s nice to see Child has diversified slightly from his well-worn (if enjoyable) formula to mix things up a bit. Another double was parts 2 (Authority) and 3 (Acceptance) in Jeff VanderMeer’s fantastically creepy trilogy that had started with Annihilation. I loved these and would recommend to anyone looking for something a little bit different. Probably my favourite books of the year, despite their unsettling nature.

I also stepped up my reading of some classics: Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemingway, The Trial – Franz Kafka, Chess – Stefan Zweig, Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton and Chronicle of a Death Foretold – Gabriel García Márquez. These were all great (they are classics for a reason!) but for me Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton was my favourite. I also really liked Chess and The Trial but the ending of Kafka’s story was just too much of a let down for me personally.

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On the TV front it was another great year. I enjoyed Erased, a Japanese show about time travel but wasn’t sure about A Discovery of Witches, which I just struggled to get into. There were plenty of shows that continued to be a good watch – Jessica Jones, iZombie, Legends Of Tomorrow and Blindspot all veered between the sublime and the ridiculous but kept me entertained. While I enjoyed Legion it definitely felt like a hard watch at times, the confusion from the first season continued but this season was even darker than the last. I caught up on seasons 3 through 5 of Marvel’s Agents Of Shield which, while still enjoyable, has got weaker as time goes on. The flip to space lost me but (as usual!) it is the time travel stuff that keeps me on board.

My favourites from the year though were The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, The Bodyguard, Glow, The Good Place, Howard’s End and Dark. Sabrina had the right amount of camp and scares for me, The Bodyguard was intense and full of twists, Glow was depressing and hilarious in equal measure, The Good Place continued to be a highlight, Howard’s End was a completely unexpected delight and Dark was a German language sci-fi show that crossed genres in different and strange ways.

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Film-wise I saw lots of interesting things this year. I loved the book so was really excited for the film version of Annihilation. While it was definitely a visual spectacle I really felt that perhaps Netflix might’ve been better to do the whole trilogy as a TV series. The Aftermath was a brilliant film, with great performances from Keira Knightly and Alexander Skarsgard. I thought Lean On Pete, the story of a young kid who gets into horse training but can’t let his horse go, was heartwarming. The London set musical Been So Long was a vivid, vibrant look at life in the capital. Meanwhile, Blue Iguana was a crime thriller with a more grounded trip to London.

I was also fortunate enough to see a couple of films that will be out in 2019 but were screened at festivals in 2018. Driven, the true story of DeLorean creator John DeLorean and Wild Rose, the fictional story of a country singer from Glasgow who dreams of visiting Nashville. I thought both of these were great but I did work on them music-wise so take that as you will 🙂

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I loved Bohemian Rhapsody, it was a really uplifting look at one of the world’s biggest bands. Just before Christmas I saw The Grinch, which I thought was a fun festive film and The Christmas Chronicles, in which Kurt Russell delivered the Santa I never knew I needed! I really loved this and suspect it will become an annual viewing experience in my house. My absolute favourites of this year though were The Incredibles 2 and Wreck It Ralph 2, both of which I thought had some great writing, music and (of course) visuals.

So there you have it – 2018 in a (large) nutshell. As always feel free to comment or reach out on socials to let me know what your highlights have been from this year and what I missed but should check out.

 

GregHorrorShow: The Films Of 2013

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I have been fortunate enough to see some fantastic films this year, so I have plenty of movies to shout about 🙂

I thoroughly enjoyed Haywire, which I thought was a great action flick with some awesome fight scenes. Hanna and Skyfall also impressed me, although I’m not sure Daniel Craig will ever top Casino Royale as Bond.

I saw some wonderful documentary films, namely Senna, King Of Kong, Indie Game: The Movie and Grounded: The Making Of ‘The Last Of Us’. Senna was a great piece of film-making, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. Of course I love games so the others were always going to be on interest to me but King Of Kong was brilliant. And to see what the actors went through to nail some parts of ‘The Last Of Us‘? Wow!

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Jeff Bridges never lets me down and True Grit was no exception. Along with Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld and Josh Brolin he gave a great performance to make this a must watch. I absolutely loved Wreck It Ralph and this is one of my children’s favourite films of the last few years.

Django Unchained was a fun ride and I enjoyed Jack Reacher, despite Tom Cruise being *nothing* like the character from the books. Reacher stands on it’s own two feet though and Child’s writing proves that it can still work without the character’s imposing stature.

My favourite film of the year was a total surprise to me, as I hadn’t really enjoyed any other Richard Curtis films. About Time really struck a chord with me though and I love anything time travel related so that probably helped as well. It’s a great rom-com with a few neat twists on the time travel mechanic.

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I finally got around to seeing Super 8 which I thought was great and reminded me of The Goonies, which is never a bad thing. Another contender for film of the year was Rush, which had stellar performances from its cast and an unbelievable (but true) story of two warring F1 drivers back in the 1970’s. Top stuff.

So here is the full list of films that I’d recommend from those I saw in 2013:

  • Haywire
  • True Grit
  • Senna
  • Hanna
  • Wreck It Ralph
  • King Of Kong
  • Indie Game: The Movie
  • The Raid
  • About Time
  • The World’s End
  • 300
  • Dead Space: Downfall
  • Grounded: The Making Of ‘The Last Of Us’
  • The Other Guys
  • Dark Knight Rises
  • Super 8
  • Skyfall
  • Rush
  • Jack Reacher
  • Django Unchained

What have you guys seen that stood out? Anything you’d recommend checking out?

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The Raid – Review (Film)

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I had heard only good things about The Raid from friends and various film blogs. I’d seen the director interviewed about his love of games and it seemed like the kind of film where you can enjoy, switch off and get blown away.

Thankfully The Raid didn’t disappoint, delivering a high octane mix of heavy gunfire and martial arts.

Taking place in Jakarta (the capital and largest city of Indonesia) it is the story of Rama, a cop in the city and father-to-be. His squad is called to an apartment block being run by a local crime lord and they are tasking with going in and flushing out any criminals that may be inside.

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It’s a great premise and with the squad going up the building floor by floor it allows director Gareth Evans to put a lot of spectacular set pieces into action. A lot of those are gun based battles in corridors and stairwells but there is plenty of fist fighting action to be had as well.

Characters in The Raid use the traditional Indonesian martial art ‘Pencak Silat’ and there are some great fights in the film. If you’re not someone that likes gore it might be best to avoid this one though, as there are gunshot wounds and snapped bones all over the place.

The story itself wasn’t really anything special, unfortunately. And the film appears to have fallen into the same trap many games do in that the action is glorious but there isn’t much behind it to back it up.

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The Raid certainly delivers a popcorn action punch and if you’re looking for some fun fighting/gun action then you could do a lot worse than this. I look forward to seeing what Gareth Evans comes up with next.

Rating: 8/10

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Haywire – Review (Film)

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Haywire opens with an explosive, brutal fight scene and barely pauses for breath until the credits roll.

It tells the story of Mallory Kane (played by MMA fighter Gina Carano), a mercenary of sorts who works for a shady company that has ties to the US government.

They handle all sorts of ‘operations’, ranging from hostage rescues to espionage. Soon enough Mallory realises something isn’t quite right and a conspiracy plot against her comes to light.

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As the film begins this is all already in the past. As Mallory makes an escape she ends up accompanied by a civilian, who she tells her story to and we get to see the events through flashbacks.

I really enjoyed Haywire, it had a good (if slightly predictable) storyline and Gina Carano was impressive as Mallory. Obviously her fighting background helped in terms of the physical scenes but she also acted well.

She had great support from a cast featuring Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Michael Fassbender. Channing Tatum also surprised me as I had heard from a few people that his general acting was poor. I don’t agree and while his character wasn’t massively demanding he did enough here to convince you. And finally a nice (if small) appearance from Bill Paxton never hurts 🙂

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Overall I thought Haywire was great. Nicely paced and with some spectacular fight scenes, it isn’t one for the fainthearted but if you like action movies then you should definitely check this one out.

Rating: 9/10

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True Grit (2010) – Review (Film)

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I haven’t seen the original 1969 film True Grit so news of the remake didn’t initially grab me. However, once I saw that the 2010 version had Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin attached I was interested.

The fact it was done by The Coen Brothers also helped, they usually deliver great films with some good dialogue.

True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross (played excellently by Hailee Steinfeld), a 14 year old whose father is killed by an outlaw called Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). As Chaney has fled the county her only option for revenge is to hire a US Marshall to track him down.

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Unfortunately for her the only real candidate is Rooster Cogburn, a formerly brilliant but now very drunk Marshall, played by Jeff Bridges who is as superb as ever.

Eventually they team up with Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) who is also on Chaney’s trail and head out to track the outlaw down.

True Grit is a very enjoyable film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Some of the interplay between characters is brilliant and Steinfeld gives Ross enough sass while maintaining an air of innocence that makes you really root for her.

The film doesn’t shy away from the violence of the old West and at times shows just how fragile the difference between life and death could be.

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It showcases some fantastic scenery and the film looks gorgeous for the most part. Shot in New Mexico this is a film that, in my opinion, you can justify getting on Blu-Ray.

I’m not a big fan of Westerns, nor am I well versed in the genre but True Grit is a fantastic film – regardless of your stance on Westerns.

Rating: 9/10

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Clash Of The Titans – Review (Film)

Clash of The Titans appeared on my radar a few years ago, seemingly taking it’s cue in tone from the recent God Of War games. I was excited to see how the film played out and well… Liam Neeson as Zeus?! What wasn’t to like?

The film tells the story of Perseus, a baby found by a fisherman in the arms of his dead mother on a boat. Clash Of The Titans shows Perseus’ journey as he learns of his origin and ends up embroiled in a fight between mortals and gods.

Sadly, other than Neeson, the acting isn’t particularly great. I felt a stronger cast could really have benefited the film although the special effects were fairly impressive.

There are several big set pieces that showcase the CGI of Clash Of The Titans and overall I’d say they are used just enough to keep you interested. At times some of the dialogue dragged and unfortunately I found myself losing interest at a few points, which is disappointing.

Clash Of The Titans is by no means a terrible film – it’s certainly watchable as a big popcorn blockbuster but it lacks substance (perhaps because it was used mainly as a set up for the second film?). I wouldn’t say avoid this film but it left me wondering how good it could’ve been with a few tweaks to the cast and story.

Rating: 5/10

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Marvel’s Avengers Assemble – Review (Film)

 

*This review is entirely spoiler free, for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet (what are you waiting for? Go now!)*

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Where to start?

The great acting?

The brilliant special effects?

The amazing script?

Ok, ok. Let’s back this up a bit before I fall into an abyss of gushing.

Joss Whedon is probably my favourite person in the audiovisual world – Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly/Serenity, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog… the man can do no wrong. He even wrote the screenplay for Toy Story for heaven’s sake!

BUT there is always that flicker of doubt. ‘Joss Whedon to helm Avengers movie’ was the headline. Joy was the initial reaction (although I didn’t have any idea what the Avengers were beyond being a team of superheroes) but as time went on I did think – can he deliver with this? It’s a HUGE movie and look at the people involved.

I needn’t have worried at all – Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (to give the film it’s full title) is an absolutely fantastic movie.

Getting all of these actors – the majority of whom have their own films as these characters already – to team up and share the screen shows some serious management ability.

And they all deliver – I’m not really a fan of Scarlett Johannson but she was great as Black Widow. Mark Ruffalo was the big doubt for me but he is the best Hulk I’ve seen on the big screen. The rest of the cast are all on form – Robert Downey Jr continues to impress me, I used to really dislike him but in the last 4 or 5 years he has won me over.

Speaking with others who’ve seen the film the big hook for everyone appears to be the comedy and wit that flows through the script – it’s classic Whedon for those of us who know his work. The balance of seriousness and comedy is so well done you can’t help but get swept up in the sheer enthusiasm the film has.

I have no intention of discussing the plot or anything that might spoil the film. It’s a nice bit of background to have seen the accompanying films (Iron Man/Captain America/Thor) but by no means essential. This is a self contained film that tells you everything you need to know about what is going on.

Marvel’s Avengers Assemble is the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen. To actually get that many characters & actors together, have them feel genuinely like a team and for the movie not to totally suck is great. Go see it!

Rating: 10/10

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Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull – Review (Film)

Oh Indy. Somewhere along the line you’ve been replaced in our hearts by Nathan Drake. The answer isn’t to make a film that feels like I’m watching a selection of cut scenes from Uncharted 😦

I had high hopes for The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. I loved the previous three Indiana Jones films and Die Hard 4.0 turned out kind of ok, right?

Unfortunately this movie feels like a cash in. There were a few highlights but the whole thing just felt decidedly average. I’m willing to look past the fact that Harrison Ford is probably too old to play Indy now (hell The Expendables was enjoyable and Sly, Arnie et al are in their twlight years 😆 ) but this just didn’t feel like an Indy film.

Maybe that’s nostalgia talking and if I try to force my rose tinted glasses off for a moment what do I see? An average, big budget, blockbuster with a, frankly, ludicrous ending (even for an Indy film).

I wouldn’t say don’t watch this but just set your expectations low. You might enjoy Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull but sadly this is nowhere near the quality of the other Indy films.

Rating: 5/10

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Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World – Review (Film)

I’m a fan of Edgar Wright’s work – Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and Spaced are all great in my opinion. So I was looking forward to his interpretation of the Scott Pilgrim comic books.

Sometimes the spirit of a written work can be lost in translation to a different media and while I haven’t read the books, from what I’ve seen of them this film does a good job of capturing the feel of Scott Pilgrim’s world.

Pilgrim is a slacker who plays in a band. After meeting a girl, Ramona Flowers, he decides he has to win her over and sets about trying to make her his girlfriend – despite the fact he already has one.

To date Ramona he has to defeat her 7 evil exes, which sets up some great game-inspired fight scenes. I enjoyed the stylised way Wright handled the film, although I’m not sure everyone will like that direction.

Certainly I suspect it’ll be a love-or-hate movie. Personally I really enjoyed it and thought it was well worth a watch.

Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are great in the lead roles and Kieran Culkin is excellent as Wallace Wells, Scott’s roommate. The whole movie is pretty well cast, even the actors in smaller roles bring a lot to the table and it’s always nice to see Jason Schwartzman on the big screen.

Overall this is a difficult movie to recommend to a broad audience. If you’re into games I would say you’ll enjoy this, there are a host of little in-jokes/homages that you will have fun spotting. However it might be a little bit too far down the rabbit hole for your average viewer. Having said that, it’s certainly a watchable film – you just need to suspend reality for a while 🙂

Rating: 8/10

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