LJ Animated

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Welcome to the last post in my LiveJournal! Well, technically this isn't the last post in my LiveJournal - he says recycling a poor joke from the first post - as it's a forward dated post as part of a wrapper around it; for anyone who strays across my LiveJournal this is likely to be the first post they'll read, savvy?

Anyway, if you want to know more about me you can't do much better than by having a read of my profile. I welcome LJ friends, in a more-the-merrier sense, and also welcome friendly comments/discussion, so feel free to add me.

You don't have to be a member of LiveJournal to comment here, although I recommend it as a blogging system. You can also comment using OpenID. I think you can even login with a Facebook and Twitter account, but I've not tried it personally. Comments are screened from non-friends, but if they're genuine they'll be moderated quickly.

A large proportion of my posts are "friends-only", which means you will need a LiveJournal account to see them.

If you want to subscribe to my public posts using RSS, then go to the feed at http://stainsteelrat.livejournal.com/data/rss.

There isn't much more to say than that, but if you've got any questions or comments then feel free to ask them here.
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Faves of 2019

As is the annual tradition, my favourite films, TV, music, and games from 2019.

Films. 2019 was the #YearOfFilm where I tried, and succeeded, to watch at least 365 films. In the end I managed 373 films that were completely new for me, and 411 in total.

This means there are quite a few favourites, which I had to whittle down from an initial list of around 70... you didn't want to read a list of 70 films did you?

Not that I've shortened the list a great deal, so here are two groups of films. The first are my secondary favourites that I've watched this year, a mix of films released both in 2019 and prior. This is followed by my most favouritest released in 2019.

Films Part One: Secondary Favourites

Destroyer (2018). The dark tale of a police detective seeking revenge against a criminal gang. Nicole Kidman is almost unrecognisable in a stunning performance.

Prospect (2018). Set on an alien moon, a father and daughter risk their lives mining. The thing about Prospect is that it's so different to the bulk of sci-fi out there. It's gritty and lo-fi, and does a great job of being original even if the story is rather minimal.

School of Rock (2003). Dropout Dewey Finn tricks his way into a cover teaching job, and puts his own twist on the experience. It has taken me 16 years to watch it, but still a great story with Jack Black in a role that he's perfect for.

Up Among the Stars (2018). A Spanish film about the sad story of a film director who has lost his way since the death of his wife, and uses his son as cast and crew for a series of half attempted films. A lovely and unusual tale with some great performances, simple as that.

Solis (2018). An astronaut wakes up to discover he is in a failing escape pod. Solis is a minimal tale, in the vein of other films set in a single location, but still manages to create an engaging story and performance. It feels very much like 70s sci-fi.

He Never Died (2015). A strange character with supernatural powers must protect his daughter from a criminal gang. Henry Rollins is perfectly cast in an unusual tale with various twists and turns.

Father's Chair (2012). A Brazilian film that follows a troubled family. The film does a great job of capturing the realities of parenting, even if in an extreme situation, and reminds us that it's also about love.

Border (2018). A Swedish film that follows a strange character that works for the border police. Although a slow story it does a great job of reminding us how humanity treats people that are different.

Pain & Glory (2019). A retired film director spends his time coping with his various ills while revisiting his past. A career best performance from Antonio Banderas in a rich and interesting story.

Sad Hill Unearthed (2017). A Spanish documentary about a group of film fans who find a key location used in the film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. A lovely non-fiction tale of people coming together.

Aquarius (2016). A Brazilian film about a woman recovering from cancer who fights to keep her apartment. Despite being fictional this feels like a fly-on-the-wall story about individuals having to fight against corporations and corruption, helped by excellent performances, particularly from Sonia Braga.

Filmworker (2017). A documentary about Leon Vitali, an English actor who starred in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, and then ended up dedicating his life to working for Kubrick. Just a fascinating real life story of the pros and cons of dedication.

Zatoichi (2003). A Japanese film about a blind samurai who now works as a masseur and ends up in a village controlled by warring gangs. A classic tale of one hero against the world, with wonderful production and performances.

Vincent Has No Scales (2014). A French film about a loner that seems to develop powers when immersed in water. The film falls into that category of alternative superhero films, and in a particularly original and charming way, even if it loses its way.

Little Joe (2019). A British film set in the near future about a company that genetically modifies plants for the consumer market. Feeling very much like 70s sci-fi the film has an unusual and slow burning story and great performances set to an original and creepy soundtrack.

Ordinary Love (2019). A British film about a couple going through the torment of cancer diagnosis and treatment. A gritty but very real tale of people going through "ordinary" things that require extraordinary effort. Fab performances from Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson, and a great soundtrack.

Films Part Two: Favouritest Favourites

Stan & Ollie (2019). Set during Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's twilight years as they try and have a last hurrah of a tour in the UK. It also includes some of the earlier history of how they met, and a recreated moment or two from their famous films. The magic is in the recreation of the pair by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, who do an amazing job with a great supporting cast.

Midsommar (2019). A small group of Americans go to a traditional Swedish festival. Ari Ester does a great job again of turning a seemingly normal situation into nightmarish horror with an original twist.

Judy (2019). Judy Garland is in the twilight of her career, struggling with money, her children, ex-husbands, and drug and alcohol abuse. Renee Zellwegger embodies Judy Garland in a stunning performance, which is also a fascinating tale of an unusual life.

Earthquake Bird (2019). An expat living in Japan is embroiled in the murder of her friend. Although Alicia Vikander is arguably the weakest part of this film, the rest is superb. The dark story is the best part of this film, as it twists and turns both in the past and present. Great production and performances from the supporting cast.

TV. Inevitably this took a back seat with so many films to watch, but somehow I still managed to watch a couple of complete seasons. The stand out early in the year was the Netflix animated series Love, Death & Robots. There was also a second season of One-Punch Man, which didn't quite match the heights of season one, but was still plenty of fun. There was a rather poor season five of Black Mirror. The Boys was a fun alternate take on the superhero genre, albeit forgettable for me. I caught up with season one of the lovely Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing, and then watched this year's season two.

Music. This also took a bit of a backseat, but with the family away over the Summer hols I did manage to listen to quite a lot of music. Unfortunately I didn't write any of it down at the time, and can't be bothered with trawling through added dates on iTunes - although a cursory scan suggests a revisit of The Beatles, a lot of Brazilian music, and Barenaked Ladies. Looking just at 2019 albums it's slim pickings, and the obvious favourite is the surprisingly good No Geography from The Chemical Brothers. There was the surprise of STET from Guy Sigsworth, which is both unusual and enjoyable. A new album from Lana Del Rey which is entertaining in places, but gains a distant third place because of so many co-writers. I need to listen to M83's DSVII more, but it has potential. Finally, Handfuls of Night from Penguin Cafe, although nothing on it has managed to hook me yet.

Games. All that I managed on the PC this year was Overcooked and Overcooked 2, which turned me into Gordon Ramsay when playing with the daughters. Gaming was dominated by a purchase of the Oculus Quest in June. I was surprised by how revolutionary virtual reality is, helped by the Quest's good quality hardware, even though the graphics are lacking. There was a moment when playing the introductory game of First Steps when I was genuinely wowed, and there have been a handful of wow moments since. Stand out games are:
Beat Saber - a rhythm game with lightsabers
Pistol Whip - another rhythm game, but mostly about guns
Arizona Sunshine - a zombie hunting game that does a particularly good job of capturing the atmosphere
Here's hoping we get some more good stuff next year, and perhaps a big graphics upgrade in a couple of years.
The year ended with the Christmas present of an Xbox One with a Game Pass, so many games have been played. Too early though to draw any conclusions on those.

So that's it, what are your faves?
BB Piano

Review: Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience

If nothing else, Jeff wins the award for experience-with-the-longest-name.

Located at 56 Leadenhall Street, near Aldgate Underground station, is the experience. It looks fairly innocuous from the outside, but as soon as you step through the doors you're in another world. The themed holding area is technically "The Spirit of Man Bar", where if you arrive early, or decide afterwards, you can have moderately price food and drink, at least by London standards.

My experience was booked for 2:20pm, and you're told to arrive half an hour early, although it transpired there was no briefing as it was just to stop latecomers. So I availed myself of a pint of lager at the bar. I could still check in, and was given a colour coded wristband. I was also given a keycard for lockers, which were off to one side, so I stowed my rucksack. Every 10-15 minutes there are jets of steam from the gorgeously themed fighting machine that straddles the restaurant, and these indicate that the next group are up. There's also a light above the door to the experience which flashes the the colour of the relevant wristband. A group seemed to consist of a maximum of 12 people, and I joined a group of 10.

Once in the experience you get a briefing from one of the various masked helpers, mostly about how to wear the virtual reality equipment. As with all the other helpers and actors this is done in character from the era of HG Wells' book. I'm not going to spoil the rest of it with too much detail, but suffice to say there are then a mix of different experiences. There are several interactive performances, where you deal with a character from the story within a themed area. They or another actor/helper will then move you on to the next area. Woven within this are 4 virtual reality experiences, all bar one of these is static, in that you sit/stand and wear a VR headset. Static is not quite accurate though as a couple of them involve physical motion of the vehicle you're sat in, just to add to the excitement. One of the VR sequences is free roaming, as you wear a backpack that holds the computer which drives the virtual reality element. There is also a mini-360° cinema. For the most part it's all well done. The actors and themed areas are engaging. The virtual reality bits are clearly cutting edge, particularly the free roaming element. Fortunately I have worn a VR headset before so knew what to expect, but I did have at least one person crash into me. Protip: keep yours arms out in front of you to make sure you're not going to bump into something, or someone. In the free roaming bit I ended up on the wrong side of a wall and missed a small part of the story. In a seated section the person in front of me displayed as standing up when they should have been sitting down, which drew me out of the experience a little. One of the sequences also had an issue with the sync of the video and audio. But these were all minor niggles on what I've already mentioned is fairly cutting edge tech, and at some points it was unintentionally amusing. After the first hour or so there's a break in "The Red Weed Bar", a small themed area where you can buy a drink if you want. It was definitely a good idea to plan in the break. Then there's another half an hour of the experience, so overall it's around 2 hours.

Of course this wouldn't be Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds without the very famous music, which accompanies pretty much everything, and is used as a cue for some of the elements.

I would rate the experience an 8/10, albeit with the skew that I'm a huge fan of the music (40 years and counting!). Overall it was really good, with just the minor technical niggles. I don't think it matters if you know the album or not, in fact it can act as an introduction to it, with a lot of added dimensions. You need to be reasonably fit to do the experience, and can't have issues with claustrophobia - the website gives a lot of detail on this. There is a slide (!), a narrow spiral staircase, and various obstacles to climb over, among other things. Currently the experience shows as ending mid-November 2019, at least you can't book tickets beyond then.

Any questions?
BB Piano

Faves of 2018

As is the annual tradition, my favourite films, TV, music, and games from 2018.

Films. 2018 was another reasonable year, but I wouldn't call it a stand out. I'm into the second year of my cinema subscription, which means I got to see a fair few from the current year. I need to start tagging everything that's decent though throughout the year so I can add in anything older.

Shape of Water. This was the stand out among those I did watch, so the definite top film this year. For me it had it all: great and unusual story, fab performances, and a lovely soundtrack.

Annihilation. Sadly no cinema release, but another great and unusual story that somewhat channels Stalker (1979), but actually goes somewhere... ish.
The Escape. A "small" film, but a deep and important story, amazing performances, and a gorgeous soundtrack.

Honourable mentions...
Marrowbone (sometimes listed as The Secret of Marrowbone). On the festival circuit in 2017, but didn't get a proper release until 2018. A really great mystery and horror, albeit with an emphasis on the former.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout. Another great entry in the series, but perhaps not quite as good as the previous two films.
Upgrade. A small-ish science fiction film, but does mostly great things with the story.
Three Identical Strangers. The most mind-blowing documentary I've seen, at least that I can remember. Life can be stranger than fiction etc.
Bohemian Rhapsody. An incredible biopic with an amazing performance from Rami Malek, but hits my pet peeve of changing the facts to suit the film.
Green Book. A secret screening at Cineworld, and a real surprise. Again based on a true story, although I don't know how accurate it is.
Mary Poppins Returns. A surprisingly good sequel that gives the original a run for its money, albeit didn't quite make it for me.

TV. I'm not sure if due to lack of time or a bad memory, but either way I don't remember liking much TV. But of what I did watch...
Maniac. Mostly great because it was unusual, combined with an interesting story.
The Tick. The second half of season 1 was released this year. Again an unusual story, albeit based on the original comic.
Black Mirror. Technically a 2017 release, albeit late 2017. I'm sure I must have watched some of it in 2018. And there's the new interactive film that's just come out.


Nutty Noah's You Might Die. Regular readers might have picked up that I'm a huge fan of Noah, so it was a real treat to get a fourth album of songs. My definite favourite album of the year. There's a mix of pure comedy, and a couple of deeper songs with a comedy edge to them. I think Noah's a songwriting genius, managing to produce music that's fun and meaningful for both kids and parents.

The Prodigy's No Tourists. An album of reasonable Prodigy bangers, which is about as much as you can ask for.
Tom Rosenthal's Z-Sides. Tom covers his own songs with a more chilled out vibe, and he did release an EP or two as well of original material.
Sylva's Sylva EP. A collaboration between the amazing Will Cookson and Amy May Ellis, which still has that lovely Will Cookson sound. Sylva also released an EP of original Christmas songs.
Afro Celt Sound System's Flight. The latest from Afro Celt. Not quite as immediate for me as some of their albums, but I do love a couple of tracks on there.
Pogo's Ascend (and the just released Quantum Field). Hard to know how to feel about Pogo following some past interviews dug up this year, but focussing on the music it's as toe-tapping as ever, if you like dance mash ups with film and TV samples.
Sigrid. Although a mix of EPs and singles, with an album due in 2019, the Norwegian lass provides some surprisingly original and great pop songs. Spotted on Later... with Jools Holland.

Games. I always struggle for time when it comes to games, but reviewing Steam I played more than I remembered.
Raft. You literally start on a tiny raft, lost on the sea. Aside from its originality, it mostly succeeded in treading that line between grind and fun, although it's in early access and I ended up running out of interesting things to do. I sunk 13 hours into it.
Subnautica. Closing the year with this. It's received rave reviews, and rightly so as it's both deep and hugely addictive. Again, another of those games that manages to balance grind and fun, and I've sunk almost 30 hours into it so far, albeit I'm near the end.
Grand Theft Auto V. How can a Grand Theft Auto game be bad? Yet again, it can't. 15 hours played.
State of Decay: Year-One. Another fun game, set in a post-apocalyptic world of zombies, although it struggles with the fun/grind balance, and a lack of direction. It got bumped for Subnautica. 8 hours played.
Two Point Hospital. A spiritual successor to Theme Hospital that does a great job of bringing it up-to-date. Like a lot of management sims it struggled with the fun/grind balance, and I got bored of it. 11 hours played.

(Past faves from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.)
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(no subject)

As is the annual tradition, my favourite films, TV, music, and games from 2017. Last year I did away with picking a favourite, and I'll do the same again this year. Also a format change, I'll just list my favourites, and what I liked about them. I'll try not to waffle too much about each individual entry, but chances are I won't as I don't have the patience.

Films = 2017 was a pretty good year for films. I also started my cinema subscription in April, so I've seen a much larger number of current year films than before, and a wider range of films full stop, which is nice. In roughly chronological order my favourites of the year are:
Life. Aliens in space, but a quite genuinely freaky story that is more horror than science fiction.
Ghost in the Shell. The much feared live action remake. It made some mistakes, but overall I felt it was a solid effort. Still not as good as the original animé though.
Logan. A great, dark superhero film.
Cure for Wellness. Light on story, but heavy on acting and atmosphere, and an unusual story to boot.
Valerian. I think I've already described it somewhere as a beautiful mess. It feels like a spiritual successor to The Fifth Element, albeit it doesn't have anywhere near the same panache or coherence.
Wind River. Dark depressing drama, but very solid.
Happy Death Day. Probably aimed at the intelligent teen demographic, but I had a lot of time for it.
Jungle. Another film that was a little light on story, but still a solid bit of drama, in an unusual environment.
Molly's Game. More in the way of solid drama, helped by being a true story.
Dunkirk. Inevitably depressing, but a supremely good depiction of three stories at Dunkirk. Amazing and unusual soundtrack.
Star Wars 8. Only surprises were some odd humour and the bum-numbing length, but on a second viewing I feel it's a solid entry in the canon.

Blade Runner 2049 was the big disappointment. As much as I would have loved a great Blade Runner sequel, it did finally confirm for me that Blade Runner shouldn't have sequels. For me it just paled into comparison with the original, and in places was downright rubbish. Probably an OK film overall, but I just can't decouple it from the original.

TV = An equally good year for TV.
The Tick. Amazon's take on the comic, which I felt was pretty good.
American Gods. OK, I'm not sure offhand if this was actually 2017, but I watched it this year. A really solid unusual supernatural story, chock full of characters and plot.
Parks & Recreation. This definitely wasn't 2017, but I managed to make it through 5, or was that 6, seasons. A bit samey, but the flipside being consistency, and very funny in places.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Same as Parks & Rec really, samey, but a reliable fun watch, with some hilarious moments. This was just the latest season, which was 2017.
Red Dwarf. At risk of repeating myself again, another solid effort from the boys from the Dwarf.
Electric Dreams. One of the two standout series this year, with Philip K Dick's short stories finally getting the treatment they deserve. Sadly not 100% faithful to the books, but the end result is still excellent. Second half of the season showing early next year.
Black Mirror. Season 4 just released, and the second standout of the year. Some dark but superb writing, and so consistent.

Music = I'm trying to remember if I listened to any actual 2017 music... to iTunes! Ah yes, of course I did.
Will Cookson's About Love EP. I have a feeling that Will Cookson was a new discovery in 2017, recommended by Tom Rosenthal. He has a folk-y feel to his music, but it also feels quite original. Melancholy though.
Tom Rosenthal's Fenn. Tom's latest album, named after his youngest daughter. It includes a song about his love for pasta, what more can I say?!
Jamiroquai's Automaton. A surprisingly great effort from Mr. Acid Jazz. A number of tracks have been on repeat across the year.
Amber Run's For A Moment, I Was Lost. I discovered Amber Run while awake at 5am, and searching for tracks with "5am" in the title. I love the serendipity of that. This is their second album, which I love. Plus I got to see them live for the first time, and they were excellent. Just a shame that standing gigs are so tedious.

Games = Not a big year for gaming, for me that is, but I did have a chance to play a few, so I won't leave it off this year. It helps that my eldest loves computer games, and I have a bit more time for myself.
Space Marshalls. Android/iOS game that borrows from those isometric realtime isometric shooters on the Atari ST and Amiga. Really fun, plus there's a sequel.
Slime Rancher. An unusual game where you get paid to sell the poo from farming slime creatures. It all started to get a bit complex, so I gave in after 10 hours play, but it was a fun 10 hours. Amélie loves it.

(Past faves from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.)
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2016 Faves

In traditional style, my favourite films, TV, and music from 2016. This year I'm going to do away with picking single favourites as I simply couldn't choose.

Film = Not a great year for films, I felt. But there were four films I really liked, that were genuine UK cinema 2016 releases as follows (in order of release during the year, probably). Deadpool was a big dollop of superhero fun that like a handful of films before it went against the grain. The Witch was a really quite spooky but beautifully produced film that it just doesn't seem right to call horror. Captain Fantastic was a wonderfully acted emotional roller coaster. And finally, Kubo and the Two Strings, a gorgeous animated effort that I would have sworn had come from Studio Ghibli, but was actually an entirely American effort.

TV = Two choices in this category. Firstly, the bizarre and wonderfully original animé One-Punch Man. Secondly, the also bizarre and wonderfully original science fiction animation Rick and Morty.

Music = And finally, three choices for favourite album. David Bowie's Blackstar kicked off the year, followed two days later with the terrible surprise of Bowie's death. Blackstar's an odd album, but has several tracks that have either grown on me, or that I've liked from the off. Favourite track: I Can't Give Everything Away, which inevitably feels like a goodbye from Bowie. Tom Rosenthal's The Pleasant Trees Vol. 3 arrived in the middle of the year, following on from his album Bolu being my favourite choice last year. I continue to adore Tom's music, which feels like contemporary English folk, and also feels like it was written for me. Favourite track of this album/EP, About the Weather. And finally, Bon Iver's 22, A Million. Certainly the weakest of the three, and on first listen it sounded like an experimental rehash of his self titled 2011 album, that I loved. But the album has grown on me. Favourite Track: 29 #Strafford APTS. As per the last two years, a big big big honourable mention for Nutty Noah, whose music has yet again kept the family entertained the whole year through. Noah released two particularly good tracks this year, Nice to be Nice and You Might, technically three if you're lucky enough to get a sneak peek/listen. Keep it up Noah, we think you're fab!

(Past faves from 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.)
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2015 Faves

In traditional style, here's my favourite film, TV programme, and album from 2015. I might as well do away with games and books for now, as I don't have the time nor inclination for them.

Film = It looks like I watched around twenty genuine released-in-2015 films, which doesn't sound like a great deal, but I've not counted in years gone by. It's a close call for my favourite film though. Mad Max: Fury Road was certainly action packed, but I found it a smidge light on story, which is why it's in second place. Ex Machina's my pick for 2015, with an atmosphere-laden story, fab production, and an excellent soundtrack.

TV = I watched some very good and genuine new-to-2015 TV serieseses such as Mr. Robot and Ash vs Evil Dead, but The Walking Dead continues to kick bottom for me and is my definite choice for favourite TV series of 2015.

Album = I listened to around fifteen genuine released-in-2015 albums, if iTunes is to be believed. And several of them were pretty good, such as vangoffey's Take Your Jacket Off & Get Into It, The Prodigy's The Day is My Enemy, Kurt Stenzel's Jodorowsky's Dune soundtrack, and Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow's Ex Machina soundtrack. 2015 was the year I discovered a handful of new bands, which I'd have to give preference to: Dengue Fever with their 2015 album The Deepest Lake (managed to catch these guys on tour also!), and CHVRCHES with their 2015 album Every Open Eye. But my definite favourite is the newly-discovered-for-2015 Tom Rosenthal, with his substantial body of work (and music videos), his 2015 album Bolu, and 2015 EP The Pleasant Trees Vol 2. Again an honourable mention to the fab Nutty Noah. Although he didn't release any new albums in 2015, he did release at least three singles (arguably five for lucky people, teehee!), one of which even mentioned Amélie and I! Along with him performing at Amélie's birthday party, and going to three of his shows in Bristol and Bath, his songs continue to bring great joy and mirth to the kids and their silly dad.

(Past faves from 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.)

As always YMMV, so what were your favourites?

(no subject)

I was trying to remember why The Age of Adaline was in the film queue. I spotted Harrison Ford was in it, albeit he doesn't appear until later on, then I realised it was because Anthony Ingruber was in it, playing his son. Ingruber achieved some fame by doing amazing impressions of Ford on YouTube, and he looks very similar to Ford. There's been some sort of Internet campaign to get him to play a young Indiana Jones. Anyway, The Age of Adaline was a curious film, now that I've finally finished it. It reminds me of August Rush, because it has this cheesy story that still ends up being charming (YMMV). The basis of the story is that Adaline (Blake Lively) crashes her car into a lake, and while she's drowning the car gets struck by lightning. There's some hokey science, explained by a narrator that comes and goes during the film, that her DNA is made rigid which prevents ageing. She then spends subsequent decades escaping people that realise something's up, and the main story inevitably ends up being romance related. I enjoyed it though, just about. Those who need a more believable romance probably won't.