MacPsych at the movies: La La Land

I think I went to see La La Land at just the right time. Let’s face it: the first few weeks of 2017 have been pretty miserable from an international perspective and the news shows haven’t held back in delivering a steady stream of doom, gloom and bigotry on a nightly basis.

I also need to preface my review of the movie with an admission that I’m a massive fan of musicals. Always have been. My favourites are probably the classics staring Gene Kelly, whose voice and footwork still give me footsteps. There’s something about people singing and dancing on film that lightens my mood and gets my feet tapping.

Infectiously light-hearted and optimistic.

And that’s La La Land in a nutshell. It reflects and pays tribute to so many musicals, I lost count. There are the ‘dream sequences’ we came to know and love in Gene Kelly’s American in Paris, and the skirt-swinging, stamping attitude of West Side Story.

I was, quite simply, in heaven for the entire film.

But if you’re not a fan of musicals, you’ll probably be more critical and won’t enjoy the (apparently) random songs and dances. You’ll spot the slight ropiness of some of the singing and some of the (slight) mis-steps.

And that’s precisely what I loved about it. In a world where over-produced music is flavour of the month, to see two people skip through a song was a welcome change. The soundtrack has been bouncing around in my head ever since and I think it’ll become one of my most favourite Spotify albums.

The whole experience was a welcome palate-cleanser, helping me forget the shit-show the world has become in the last six month, just for a couple of hours. I haven’t lost my mind completely. I don’t think it’s worth 14 Oscars, it’s just a well-made, fun and light production.

There are better musicals. There are far better soundtracks. And there are definitely better singers! But the combination of song, dance, enthusiasm and timing got me where it counts. If you’re a hopeless romantic like me, sit back and prepare to smile.

MacPsych at the Movies: Rogue One

So. This was a long time coming. Or at least that’s how it felt. A new Star Wars movie, this time another prequel, just one year on the heels of  Star Wars sequel.

Confusing, perhaps, for those of us not steeped in the Star Wars universe and its complex history. But Rogue One does a great job of existing as a standalone movie – you don’t really need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Star Wars to enjoy it.

Continue reading “MacPsych at the Movies: Rogue One”

The Westworld Triumph

I’ve finally watched all of Westworld season one and I’m left wanting more – much more. A sure sign of an excellent TV show.

If you haven’t come cross it yet, the premise is loosely based on the Westworld film of 1973, where a ‘wild west’ theme park is manned by robots.

Forty-three years later, special effects (and dialogue) have moved on, leaving the TV series streets ahead of the movie that inspired it. Fans of the film are sure to disagree, but the TV experience was full of suspense, misdirection, character development and some seriously mind-blowing reveals. To be fair to the original film, that’s tough to accomplish in 90 minutes.

If you haven’t watched any of it now, I’ll start with a brief summary, but after that it’s spoiler-central. You have been warned!

Continue reading “The Westworld Triumph”

Here comes Spider-Man (again)

The first trailer for the new Spider-man film has finally been released and it’s a doozie! If you’ve seen Captain America: Civil War, you’ll know it (spoiler alert!) featured a certain Peter Parker in a cameo role.

It looks like Spider-Man: Homecoming picks up after that, as the trailer features the ever-suave Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) who seems to have adopted a kind of mentor role for Peter. I think it’s a nice overlap with the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe and will make sense to people who saw Spider-Man’s last outing.

Continue reading “Here comes Spider-Man (again)”

The Guardians are back!

Oh how I’ve waited for news of the sequel to ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘. Finding the trailer online this morning was a great start to the day and had me laughing out loud in seconds. Baby Groot! Baby Groot!

Drax still doesn’t get subtlety and Star Lord remains an adorable sleaze-bag. The sociopathic genetically altered raccoon called Rocket is still looking after Groot. Add to this Gamora’s intensity, propensity for violence and Daddy issues and you’ve got the perfect team. 

And look at that cameo of Mantis – hope she’s joining the team for good. 

God I can’t wait to see this. I might even watch the original again this afternoon. It’s just the kind of antidote to 2016 that my brain needs. Some good quality comedy Sci-fi featuring comic characters I love. A shame it’s not coming out until next May. 

MacPsych at the Movies: Doctor Strange

I’ll fully admit that I went to see this film out of a sense of obligation. I’m a massive Marvel Comics fan and have enjoyed nearly all of the movie adaptations they’ve made in the past few years. But I was worried about Doctor Strange, as it represents such a change in tone from it predecessors.

Let’s recap. Whereas Captain America is a war hero, Stephen Strange is an arrogant and selfish neurosurgeon. Whereas Captain American makes the ultimate sacrifice (spoilers?), Stephen Strange turns away needy patients if he doesn’t think he’ll attain a successful outcome – and get the glory that follows.

So he’s not instantly likeable.

And whereas Tony Stark is also arrogant, he lives the millionaire playboy lifestyle and uses incredible technology to battle his enemies. Stephen Strange is cerebral, intelligent, a professional, doesn’t use gadgets and actually wears a cloak. Yes, a cloak.

However…

This step into the world of magic and the mystic arts is handled so well, it really feels like a continuation of the Marvel Universe story – we’re just seeing another chapter unfolding. Yes, he’s a pretty awful person, but as always in these situations, he experiences a disaster, comes out the other side and is a (slightly) better person for it.

I’m not a Harry Potter fan nor do I enjoy fantasy stories. That said, this film had me hooked from the outset. I was very familiar with the Doctor Strange story from the comics, so I was keen to see how they’d adapt it for the screen and a 2016 audience.

In short, very successfully. Benedict Cumberbatch was BORN to play Strange, just as Robert Downey Jr was born to play Tony Stark / Iron Man. The resemblance is uncanny. And while there are some interesting changes to the profiles of other characters (e.g. “The Ancient One”, now played by Tilda Swinton) the characters work.

2726440-tumblr_me900x9mav1qiknbco1_1280

There’s an excellent mix of exposition and back-story, combined with humour, action and some resolution. It’s basically the origin of Doctor Strange, but immediately makes him part of the shared Marvel Universe that also contains Captain America, Thor and the Hulk. It does this really skilfully and no prior knowledge of the Doctor Strange mythos is required.

(Also, you have to stay for two excellent post-credits scenes that set up future films. Honestly, if you’re a Marvel fan, you’ll love them.)

I can really recommend this to any fans of fun, action and adventure. You need not be a comics fan or a fan of magic (I’m not, I’m really not!). In fact, there were moments in “Doctor Strange” where I was transported back to my first screening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. It’s that fun and that full of adventure.  And the special effects are very impressive – and quite psychedelic!

I can’t wait to see more of Doctor Strange in future Marvel movies.

And if you’re interested in learning more about the character, check out this wikipedia page or some recent comics. And now, a bonus recent comic appearance of Tony Stark and Doctor Strange – I love how disdainful Strange is of everything Stark represents.

810136bea4ecc21ac1f0a8bc65bf31d3

Coming soon: The Siege at Jadotville

This looks excellent! A new film about the Irish UN force who served in the (then) Congo during the 1960s. It’s a true story about how a tiny Irish force took on a massive attack from mercenaries and local rebels.

From the Irish Times review:

“Few will sit through Richie Smyth’s stirring action film without thinking of Zulu. The 1961 siege at Jadotville in The Congo, during which an Irish battalion resisted repeated attacks from Katangese secessionists, bears comparison with that heroic defence of Rorke’s Drift. The contexts are, however, very different. Adapted from a book by Declan Power, Kevin Brodpin’s script works hard at explaining how a UN force ended up entangled in one of the era’s messier post-colonial disputes.”

I’ll definitely add it to my Netflix queue, but agree that this is the kind of thing that needs to be seen on the big screen. Hopefully somewhere near me will be showing it.

For those interested in the history that lead to Irish soldiers fighting in the heart of Africa in the 1960s, here’s the Wikipedia entry. Veterans of the siege were only this month formally recognised by the Irish Government.

That “Japan” feeling

joanna_lumley_on_japan___i_wanted_to_try_to_get_behind_this_most_mysterious_country_

We watched the first episode of Joanna Lumley’s new series on Japan last night and really enjoyed it. She’s touring all the way from its very northernmost tip near Russia to its southernmost islands over three episodes. @FrankDJS and I both had several “remember that?” moments as we watched, thinking back to our visits to Japan over recent years.

I think I enjoyed it most because it wasn’t particularly touristy and definitely wasn’t ‘dumbed down’. Yes, she goes to a snow festival to see incredible snow sculptures and yes, she travels on a Shinkansen from Nagano to Tokyo. But she also visits a ‘dead’ town, abandoned since the Fukushima nuclear disaster and meets its lone resident, who stayed behind to look after all the animals. She goes bird-watching for rare cranes and hikes into the snow-covered mountains to visit an ancient pagoda. It was overwhelmingly a human-centred show and didn’t seem exploitative at all.

Not a Mario, karaoke bar or Cat Cafe in sight (yet!). 😀

I was particularly excited to see her visit the snow monkeys outside Nagano, as I’m heading out there myself (with @FrankDJS, of course – my own little monkey) at the end of October. Counter-intuitively, we’re hoping for cold weather, to increase our chances of seeing some of the cute Japanese Macaques who come out from the trees and stay warm by getting into the natural hot springs.

Ah… memories of my last meeting with Japanese monkeys. I’m obsessed, it’s fair to say.

The first episode ends with Joanna (we’re on first-name terms, it’s okay) arriving into Tokyo and disappearing into the crowds at Shibuya crossing. Can’t wait for next week’s episode, which promises more Tokyo and Kyoto.

(Though Joanna and I will have to agree to disagree over the quality of ‘Boss’ coffee from the drinks machines that litter Japan. Warm sludge, if memory serves. And heavily promoted by Tommy-Lee Jones, bizarrely).

I’d no idea the programme had eve been made, much less was going to be on TV last night. I’m not an big ITV viewer and most of our TV is consumed via Netflix or Amazon Prime these days.

A happy coincidence, then. Any other Japan-related TV shows I should be watching here in the UK? (Given several hours each week are already given over the NHK TV!)

Wholesome family viewing…

ayyappa-tate-american-horror-story-95409

After thoroughly enjoying the BBC Proms Gershwin concert on TV, I headed to bed with plans to explore Netflix and start something new.

For whatever reason, I ended up starting to watch ‘American Horror Story’, which was indescribably creepy and, at the same time, something I just couldn’t stop watching. It’s so much more than the traditional haunted house or bogeyman story.

Yes, there’s a house where terrible things have happened in the past. Yes, there’s a new family who move in for a fresh start. But the neighbours are also creepy as fuck and the family themselves are far from likeable. It’s not a simple ghost-and-or-slasher story.

Some nicely executed flashbacks fill in just enough backstory to keep you wondering what the hell is going on in the present.Lightning-fast cuts mean you can’t really look away from the screen without missing something important or symbolic.

Jessica Lange is a stand out in the cast. She plays the next-door neighbour, effortlessly exuding a combination of threat, evil, casual bigotry and hinted-at power and malevolence. And, as ever, there’s an annoying teenage daughter who won’t follow instructions and gets herself into trouble.

The great news for me is that there are six seasons of this show to go. Hopefully it’ll keep up the quality and fright-factor.

On the other hand, why I started to watch this while home alone all weekend frankly baffles me. When I eventually did turn it off, it was just a matter of minutes before I was out of bed, checking I’d locked the front door.

I’m so impressionable…