Wednesday 24 July 2019

The Lion King 2019 Review

Like many 90s born kids, one of my favourite ever films growing up was the Lion King. It was one of our most over-played and excessively worn VHS tapes alongside Matilda and The Jungle Book. It tugged on everyone's heartstrings and gave us some of our best loved Disney characters and soundtracks, soundtracks that we knew every single word to and still do. The 1994 version was undoubtedly a classic that has stood the test of time. And so, like many, I was initially apprehensive about a re-make, particularly when the sequels and go-between films weren't particularly memorable. 

However, Disney have upped the ante where re-makes are concerned in recent years and have already given some of our much-loved classics a revamp, successfully. Alice in Wonderland for one, seemed to garner massive popularity and although it's subjective and a matter of personal preference, I am a big fan of their other re-makes such as The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and although not explicitly a re-make, Mary Poppins Returns. All of these were my childhood favourites and so that provides a fair assessment of their standing.

Obviously Disney have been at the height of discussion recently after having cast for their Little Mermaid remake (on which I currently have no opinion and shall reserve judgement until having seen it) but all of the above films had also been widely discussed and scrutinised before their release. And honestly, whilst it's quite easy to get deep and analytical about Disney movies, these films still provide such entertainment and pleasure for audiences. So, with all that in mind, off I popped to see the Lion King 2019 re-make.

The usual jubilation surged as the castle intro began and the sparkly logo appeared and straight after, just like the original, the Circle of Life began. This opening straight away seemed identical to the 1994 version and then on in, much of the film was too. Which in one respect is brilliant because if too much had altered, it really would have faced scrutiny and it would lose the nostalgic aspect which is what we all buy into in the first place. I think the photo-realistic technology is fascinating, much like when I watched Jungle Book, also directed by Jon Favreau, I was in awe of that. But whilst it is fascinating, there were points about it that I disliked, which I'll touch on later.

From a casting point of view, I think it was good and I think the voices fit perfectly with the characters and particularly loved that James Earl Jones reprised his role. I think Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner did Timon and Pumbaa really well also and provided some of the personality we know and love from the first. I was also happy that all the well-known songs were included. But, I wasn't really a fan of the alteration of Be Prepared which was one of my faves from the original but, you win some, you lose some.

One thing I thought about after having watched it was that the characters possibly had less character this time round. This could purely be because we have the original so well-etched into our minds but I think that the photo-realistic imaging, whilst fascinating, takes that over-exaggerated caricature element away and so makes the characters much less expressive.  I also think some of the cast of the original were just so perfect for those characters such as Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeremy Irons and Rowan Atkinson. For those reasons, I think it lacked some of what the original had, but at the same time it's rarely known that a re-make would be better than the original anyway.

Overall, the 2019 Lion King satisfied a deeply nostalgic itch and provided positives and negatives, which are hard to put into perspective when the original is so iconic and moulded into our brains. It's definitely worth a watch if you're a fan but as most would predict, nothing will ever beat the 90s version. 

Saturday 20 July 2019

National Video Game Museum - Sheffield

The National Videogame Museum - Sheffield

If you're a sucker for a museum, an absorber of popular culture and have grown up loving video games or having at least one or two firm favourites from your youth (Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 and Tekken, if anyone wondered) then you will love the National Videogame Museum in South Yorkshire. 

The NVM is a relatively new addition to Sheffield as it recently relocated from its original home in Nottingham. Based on Angel Street in the city centre, the museum is home to a range of different video gaming set-ups based around particular themes such as 'gravity and 'made in Sheffield', to name but two. It also houses some of the world's best loved video games from the industry's beginnings through to our modern day and all of these are completely free to play once you have paid for your admission.

There are old school consoles and games, newer consoles and games, arcade machines, multi-player set-ups, differing editions of particular games such as Super Mario, Sonic and Donkey Kong. There are also displays of familiar gaming memorabilia and artefacts from over the years.
The museum also has a lab area where you can test out a number of design, creation and development facilities and there is also a café and gift shop on site too.

Admission to the museum *costs £11 per adult, £9 per child or £35 for a family of four and after that, you can come and go as much as you please throughout the day with your wristband and can play on all the games for free. At the moment there is also a Groupon** deal on the museum with a significant discount on tickets on certain dates so be sure to check that out should you wish to visit soon. It is super easy to find from the train station and no more than a 10 minute walk, if that. The museum is *open Friday, Saturday and Sunday but all week during school holiday periods.

*At time of posting, please check out the NVM website for most up-to-date pricing and opening hours
** Limited time remaining Groupon offer, check availability

I recently took my 11 year old brother as a birthday treat and we both loved it and totally lost track of time, playing on every game there was to offer and snapping pics with the huge Sonic. Our favourites in the NVM were the Sonic set-ups, (particularly the original), the Street Fighter arcade machine, classics like Tetris and Space Invaders and a funny little snowball game that I've totally forgotten the name of but it had us giggling our faces off, trying to pelt each other's player with pixelated snowballs.
It's definitely worth a visit and I only hope that it can build more funding to expand further, acquiring more games and more artefacts as although me and my brother absolutely loved it, we both saw it as more of an arcade than a museum. Would love to see more of the history, info and timelines of video games, how they've adapted and developed and how our relationship with them is altering. 
But still, a proper little gem in the heart of Sheffield, go forth and check it out!

Thursday 18 July 2019

Stranger Things 3: The Most Bitchin' Yet?

Before I proceed on to analyse* Stranger Things season 3, I must point out that this post will quite obviously be absolutely riddled with spoilers and so anyone yet to watch it put everything on hold and get round to it ASAP do not read on or it will be significantly ruined.

*And just as a disclaimer, I'm not an expert, I don't know every single reference or every fact about the show, I'm merely discussing it with my opinion, conversations I've had with fellow viewers and things I've read, in mind.

With any TV show fortunate or successful enough to make it through several seasons, there's often no beating season 1. At that point, the producers have probably spent quite some time making it happen and might not have even considered the possibility of an ongoing run. The first season of Stranger Things was for me, a 'watch the whole damn thing in one day' kind of thing. From episode one I was hooked and as a Media teacher, a lot of that came from the abundance of intertextual references and the fact that it was full of likeable characters and was suspenseful enough to keep you hooked but not keep you fully awake at night. After watching that first season in one entire Saturday, I couldn't wait for the next instalment. Season 2 satisfied that itch but other than the introduction of Max, Billy, Bob and the discovery of Eleven's counterpart, for me personally, it wasn't too much to write home about. Number 3 however, I found to be on par if not better than season 1 and here are just a few of the reasons why:

Development of Erica and introduction of Robin and Alexei.

If there's one thing Stranger Things nails, it's introducing us to characters we grow to love. In season one, we are introduced to the quirkiest little gang of kids that we've ended up rooting for in every possible way. We've also acquired a strange affinity for Hopper and even though Joyce is batshit for the majority of the prior seasons (understandably, mind), we love her too. 
In season 3, The Duffer Brothers once again nail the character development. In the first instance, Lucas' little sister, Erica gets way more screen time and whilst she started out being THE most irritating little brat, throughout season 3, we grow to love her confidence, sass and ability to totally show up people that are years older than her. The instant that Steve and Robin enlist her help in foiling the Russians, her one-liners and strategies floor them and us. After all, "ya can't spell America, without Erica...nerd!"
Two characters that are new to us in season 3 are Robin and Alexei. Robin comes across as the typical 80s alternative anti-hero girl, sporting the multiple choker/bracelet combo, haven't slept in years dark eye, beachy bob and the most finely honed sarcastic comebacks and RBF we could wish for. I love Robin because of all of that and her natural ability to ground Steve somewhat. Whilst her and Steve could have been the best match and it looked to be heading that way, I love the twist in the tale that her character never actually succumbed to Steve's charms unlike so many of the girls in Hawkins, because in actual fact, she's attracted to girls! Very excited to see if Robin will be a part of season 4 and if so, how her and Steve's friendship will develop.
And last but not least on the newly popularised character list, Alexei. It's incredible how a character that started out as an indirect baddie, ends up being so well-liked but the internet seems to have gone mad for Alexei, mockingly named Smirnoff by Hopper during their adventures. I think the affinity for Alexei came through his love for cherry slushies, his ability to rile Hopper, his amusing Russian exchanges with Murray and those content little facial expressions every now and then. But alas, Alexei's fate meant that he was quite possibly this season's Barb.

El finding her identity.

Whilst an obvious consideration is that by the final episode, a major part of Eleven's character is in question, luckily throughout the season, we see her develop her identity and express herself in a number of new ways. Her grasp of the English language has developed throughout all 3 seasons and therefore in season 3, she is way more expressive and articulate, although still adding to her vocab, with the help of her peers. Due to her upbringing or lack of, Eleven, although unique in obvious ways seems to mould to and adapt to her closest peers, evidently Hopper and Mike. In this season, we see her develop a new friendship with Max, a close female bond that she evidently needed in order to grow as a female teen. Max and Eleven's newly found friendship enables El to stand up to Hopper and Mike and see things differently, not to mention that ever so typical 80s makeover. Which brings me onto my next point, not only do we see Eleven express herself more with language and attitude but also aesthetically. As a huge fan of shopping, 80s films and Madonna, I totally lived for that makeover scene. Every outfit in the montage and there on in was absolute fire. The garish patterns, the braces, the scrunchies, the turn-ups.

Totally bodacious soundtrack.

So whilst this could easily be pointed out in every season so far, there were so many bangers featured in season 3 that I've been listening to playlists from it on Spotify ever since. An obvious mention from the point above was the inclusion of Madonna's Material Girl over the makeover montage. But other particular favourites were Foreigner's Cold as Ice, Can't Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon, and Cutting Crew's (I Just) Died in Your Arms. Not to mention the genius decision to include Vera Lynn's We'll Meet Again as we realise the haunting enormity of the whole mind-flaying situation.

Great Scott! That Facehugger's one clever girl!

In my opinion, Stranger Things would not be what it is without its perfectly nostalgic intertextual 80s references and it does them so damn well. The sheer amount of nods included in every episode, let alone season is quite frankly, seismic. The concept of a group of kids adventuring against creatures in itself is the whole premise of so many 80s films and the internet is full of articles pinpointing all the little references we sometimes don't even notice. Season 3 contained tonnes but a few of these are my favourite yet. The way that the Mind Flayer often replicates the actions of Facehugger from Alien, the fact that Back to the Future was the hit movie that the scoop troop sneaked into after escaping the Russians (I particularly enjoyed Steve and Robin trying to make sense of it whilst high as a kite). And last but certainly not least, the nods to my favourite film of all time, let alone the 80s, Jurassic Park. Two things in particular were reminiscent of Jurassic Park, firstly the fact that scientists were playing god with dangerous creatures and chemicals in hidden labs and secondly, the kids hiding from the Mind Flayer behind a unit in a very 'Lex and Tim in the kitchen' kinda way.


Steve 'The Hair' Harrington seemed to grow on everyone after he and Nancy split and he became instrumental in helping the gang defeat the creatures of the Upside Down. Both his big brother style bromance with Dustin and his friendship this season with Robin have grounded him somewhat and dampened some of that ego a little. He has become much more likeable throughout and much like most female occupants of Hawkins, I too have succumbed to the Harrington charm. Especially when he and Robin have been drugged by the Russians as their mischief was so contagious. Now a firm favourite of the gang, for me.

The multi-strand, episodic narrative.

Again, only the dorky Media teacher in me would spot these things but I loved the way the narrative played out with each character or set of characters seemingly on their own little quests that consequently became linked as we progressed through the episodes. At the beginning, I did wonder exactly how all of these events would link up and why everyone seemed so stand-alone in their escapades. I think this played out perfectly and it also allowed us to see the development of characters and the development of relationships between characters really well too.

Dustin's bromance and romance.

As aforementioned, Dustin's bromance with Steve is 100% friendship goals and is something we've seen slowly grow over the seasons. In this season in particular, Dustin and Steve seem to be closer than Dustin and the gang as it's Steve that Dustin turns to when the others seem a little disinterested by his return. I love the fact they are now basically brothers from another mother.
Similarly, Dustin gets his own little romance this season, albeit one that seems fictional for the most part but after that total waste of valuable time pivotal moment during the battle, we see that Suzie is in fact real and that she and Dusty Bun have bonded to rather embarrassing levels with their own theme song in the form of A Neverending Storyyyyyyyyyyyy.

The end scene that tells us it'll definitely be back.

The very end scene not only gave us solid confirmation that Stranger Things 4 will happen but also gave us clues as to what might happen. Now everyone is debating just who 'the American' could be with theories suggesting Hopper, the original Doctor from the lab and Barb amongst others. I have no clue who it could be. On one hand, I'd love Hopper to re-appear but at the same time think he's not submissive enough to have been held hostage. 
Things I do hope will happen though are: The Byers' still being key characters despite moving, Eleven getting her powers back, Nancy winning her fight against the sexist egomaniac journalists of the world, Erica being a forefront character again, Robin and Steve's friendship developing and more scenes involving the two of them and more incredibly satisfying iconic 80s references.

And finally, the fact that it seemed way more brutal this time round!

Wednesday 10 July 2019

10 Things that Epitomise the British Seaside Trip

For many of us, childhood memories are glittered with days out at the seaside or week long caravan or chalet stays. 
For me, those are some of my favourite childhood memories and the ones I can remember most vividly. There are so many of these memories, with grandparents, with mam and dad, with siblings, before siblings, with school and who could forget those Working Men's Club trips?! 

Sundays during my childhood seemed to alternate between early mornings at car-boot sales or early mornings up and ready for what we'd call a 'ride out' or 'going off for the day'. This would usually entail a day long visit to somewhere like Scarborough, Bridlington, Whitby, Blackpool or (my least favourite) Filey. We'd also have UK caravan holidays way more regularly than trips abroad and so for me, the British seaside really was a home from home. 

Despite the odd trip here and there, the seaside trips seemed to have lessened particularly as I've grown up and moved on and away from the family home. But after a pretty hectic few months I recently decided to embark on a number of seaside trips. The first of which was last weekend in sunny old Scarborough. I decided to plan a spontaneous, last minute 2 night stay just to allow my head to vacate work mode and for some much needed chill-time and TLC. 

Immediately on arrival, I was filled to the brim with instant happiness and nostalgia as derived from those vivid childhood memories. As a child, you're just so energetically excited by all the seaside has to offer, the bright lights of the theme park and amusement arcades, the beach and all the fun it brings, the textures, the sounds, the foods, everything so fascinating. As an adult, I found myself just truly in awe at the freshness of the air, at the breath-taking scenery in front of me and at the fact that sights so beautiful belong to us, here in the UK. The trip allowed me to vacate work mode but also provided relaxation, reflection and mindfulness. 
One thing it did get me thinking about was the seaside trip itself and how we as Brits, tend to have solid rooted traditions that we fulfil when visiting one of these coastal little towns. It got me reflecting on those childhood trips and all the little things that seemed to perfectly epitomise a trip to the British seaside...

1. The car games to pass time on the journey

Don't get me wrong, they can be tedious after some time but no 'ride out' was complete without a game of I Spy, Who Can See the Sea First? or Blackpool Tower or a Pylon. This was of course until my younger sister gazumped the whole family with "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with D....Distance" many years back. The Michelin I Spy books were also a personal favourite when heading to the seaside as a child, the organised control freak in me loved ticking off all the things I'd seen. Needless to say when you visit on your own, on a train, social media is the new I Spy!

2. Making the most kick-ass sandcastles or just burying each other in the sand

Days on the beach weren't complete without trying to make the biggest, layered yet intricate sandcastles, complete with a moat which meant you had to keep trekking down to the sea edge to fill up your bucket, only to find you'd come back and the first lot would all have absorbed! Or that villainous streak that would come out when you'd sabotage your sibling's masterpiece by kicking over every castle they'd build. Failing that, you'd see which family member was daft enough to lay back and relax and subsequently cover them in sand, burying every inch of them except for the head. My favourite thing was when grandad or dad would make a 'boat' out of the sand, with a little bench for us to sit in. Again, not quite the same when visiting on your own as a 27 year old, but... you're never too old to write your name in the sand!

3. Fish and chips, ice-cream and donuts

The traditional staple diet when visiting any seaside town and arguably one of the best things about visiting the seaside. Fish and chips out of a tray or newspaper with only a two-pronged wooden fork, no knife and a one handed fight with every seagull in town whilst sat on the harbour edge, beach front or promenade. Followed by, usually, the biggest, most indulgent but structurally unsound ice-cream you could find just to melt all down your arm or to fall dramatically off the cone, causing undue tragedy. For me, the two that scream seaside are a whippy lemon sorbet-topped or a scoop mint choc chip. 
And after all of that has settled begrudgingly in your stomach for an hour or 2, out come the donuts, one for each of us and the rest for the dads, grandads and stepdads of the group. (We'll just skim over the fact that I might have eaten 8 of these myself over the course of last weekend!)

4. The amusement arcades

As a kid, it was all about saving up your 2ps over the year ready for the holiday or just going for the day and being given a few quid for the change machines before being told "make it last cause that's your lot!" The amusements would often be saved up for rainy days as it was somewhere under cover that you could easily spend hours in, particularly if it had a bowling alley in the back too. Shamelessly skulking around the joint looking for rogue coins in the cannister beneath the slots or sounding out the ones with a toy just about to drop before attempting to whoop your sibling at air hockey or the dance mat. For me, I always just played on the ones where you'd win sweets instead of coins and just fill my pockets to their limit to ensure unlimited snacks for the rest of the holiday. Or, you'd annoyingly spend ages collecting those pointless tickets you'd be excited to cash in at the end of the break, only to find that a pen or a keyring cost at least 2000 tickets.

5. The promenade/beach stroll

I think this was mainly a ploy on behalf of the adults to tire out the children with a million steps and a face-full of sea air for the ride home but every seaside trip involved this. For us it was usually so the grown-ups could admire the sea-view houses and properties on the fronts or purely because it was cheaper to park the car way up the promenade! Albeit not the favourite part for the kids but the promenade walks could be made marginally better with a number of things. At Scarborough, it was the prospect of a Peasholm Park or SeaLife Centre visit at the end. In Bridlington, it was slightly more tolerable with the promenade story running down the path and the little paddling pools half way down towards the Spa. And Blackpool felt like the longest walk of any child's life but at least the rollercoasters of Pleasure Beach provided some relief at the end. As an adult, you definitely appreciate the serenity and peace of the promenade walk a lot more!

6. Buying a stick of rock

That ever familiar seaside novelty but, it was never actually that nice, was it? We'd often buy a bag of rock to take back for our class at school or we'd get a sugar dummy that would last us ages and be found stuck to the sofa arm for at least the next two weeks. One thing we loved as a kid was the visit to John Bull rock factory when visiting Bridlington for the week. It was all very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, allowing you to create your own stick of rock complete with initials running right through the middle and this was again, a cheap and cheerful solution to that inevitable rainy day on the holiday. 

7. The rides

Possibly the only bit you were genuinely interested and invested in as a kid. But due to the ridiculous prices of tokens/tickets, you'd always end up finding one cheap thing and going on it about 4 times or just giving up and spending all your time at the Hook a Duck because your greed and materialistic tendencies would get the better of you. No? Just me? My family have far too many photographs of me and my siblings on the one and only ride we'd ever go on, which was sort of like a road with different vehicles on it that just went round and round. We once ventured onto the big kid rides that fling you up and down and backwards but again, that stopped when I went on with a massive bag of 2ps in my pocket which naturally exploded everywhere and forced the operator to stop the ride and everyone to get off.

8. Big pencils and other random souvenirs

This one could just be a Terri-ism but every seaside has the gaudy souvenir shop and as a nipper, I loved them. One thing I always bought was stationary but in particular, always seemed to end up with these abnormally large pencils adorned with pictures of whatever the seaside destination was. I definitely had one or two of these and could never actually write with them so they were entirely pointless. Failing that it'd be a pen, pencil, rubber or postcard that would serve little purpose as you'd be home by the time it arrived. 

9. Listening to the top 40 on the way home

Again, possibly one just synonymous with my family but one of my favourite memories of seaside visits when we were younger was that although I hated going home, I loved being able to listen to almost all of the top 40 charts on the car radio on the way home. I remember not caring if we hit traffic because it meant that I'd get to listen to more of it. I remember telling dad to turn it up when my favourites would come on and desperately longing for the ones I loved most to be number 1 because it meant they'd interview them for 2 minutes before playing their number 1 track. For some weird reason, particular charting songs that stick in my head from those trips are I'll Be Missing You by P Diddy and Faith Evans, Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve and The Bad Touch by Bloodhound Gang which as a 7/8 year old, I naively nicknamed 'the sexy song' because I knew it was about all manner of rude things but was thankfully innocent enough to not know the full extent!

10. The unavoidable car sleep

The sea air, promenade walk, questionable nutrients consumed and overall excitement takes its toll and no matter how hard you try to keep it at bay, the car nap always happens. Obviously, I'd try to fight it off as much as possible so as to not miss any of the chart rundown but it always occurred and then I'd be fuming if I'd missed my best song. You'd wake up covered in saliva and red hot with one of your siblings arms stuck to yours and the other sibling uncomfortably sprawled across the three of you and then you would either need carrying from the car straight to bed or would wake up just before arriving home and consequently be awake all night.

The novelty and nostalgia of these towns never really wears off and the views are truly breath-taking and something to be proud of. Long live the Great British Seaside!