Thursday, 20 March 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Cracking, in more ways than one.

You know all those weapons, all those bits of tech they've had lying around in the Marvel films? Well finally someone had the idea of making a film where they just start using all that stuff - and thank goodness for that, because Cap 2 is a cracking action thriller with more bullets than The A-Team and the best use of a minigun since Predator.

First point to make - the trailers haven't spoiled this for you. There's a lot more to the film than the stuff you've seen so far, which makes a nice change. A ton of twists, character reveals, and action moments that are all the better for not expecting them is really refreshing. Top marks to whoever has made the call to hold stuff back, and even twist the trailer stories, you'll be pleasantly surprised in quite a few ways.

Story-wise, it's best not to say too much, other than it's post-Avengers, Steve Rogers trying to find a place as a hero in a world that is far from noble. Before you know it, he's on the run, the most wanted man in America, trying to get to the heart of a pretty massive conspiracy. That's all I'll tell you, because it's a lot more fun finding out - trust me.

Chris Evans has moved Cap on nicely, from the boy-scout turned hero, to the real 'man out of time' who doesn't quite know his place in the world. Even better than that, is a terrific supporting cast. We finally get the Black Widow we've wanted, complex and fully-fleshed out, as well as rock hard. You get the best use of Nick Fury, as a character and an action hero. And Anthony Mackie's Falcon is a really smart and likeable addition. Plus there's a load of extra Marvel characters - some old, some new - nicely weaved into the story.

The Winter Soldier himself is a great villain, an actual proper menace, and something of an unstoppable force. He's so good you wish they gave him a bit more to do, but what you do get is bone cracking, grenade launching, knife twirling menace - it's the most brutal feeling Marvel film so far, and all the better for it.

In fact, it probably has the best action sequences of any of the films so far, trumping even The Avengers for sheer spectacle at times. Frantic car chases, billions of bullets, hard-as-nails fight scenes, this is Captain America grown-up, and seriously cheesed off with the world he finds himself in.

OK, there are a few downsides -  it stops early on for a good 20 minutes of set-up, and despite being around the 2hr20m mark, the final showdown feels a little too soon. But when the action is this good, those are minor points. No, it's not as funny as recent efforts like Thor 2 or Iron Man 3, but when it does funny it really hits the spot (I'll say no more than this - gravestone inscription) and doesn't feel crowbarred.

In short - a real cracker,  a thrilling film that takes the world of The Avengers into very different places than before, and absolutely leaves you wanting more. Good work chaps, roll on Guardians of the Galaxy...

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Who's the daddy?

Are you actually reading this?” I ask.
“I’m more surprised you’ve actually written something.” I hear you reply.
Blimey. I’m constructing my own arguments now.
My poor old blog has been sitting here unloved since the middle of last year. That’s been for a few good reasons.
Firstly, I’ll admit, the last piece I wrote about my sadly departed friend Andy felt like a good place to leave the blog for a while. He was a tremendous chap, and coming to the blog every time and seeing him there felt right. Recently, though, I know he would have told me to just get on with it and start writing some more nonsense, ‘Carpe Diem’ he’d have probably said – only with the accent of a Chuckle Brother/Sean Bean.
The other reason I haven’t been writing, is the fact I became a dad.
It’s not a question of not having enough time, we’re very lucky in the fact that Callie sleeps quite a lot (maybe she’s been reading my work), and it’s not about a lack of topics…it’s just that every time I come to write something I find myself almost overawed by how fortunate and blessed I feel to have a daughter - that I can’t begin to write properly. Honestly, I didn’t make that up.
I’m also acutely aware that banging on about babies can be horribly dull for people who (a) don’t have kids or (b) have had kids, and know this stuff already. So I’m not going to bang on about it, save for two things. Firstly, the question I keep getting asked which is “How does an idiot like you possibly know how to be a father?” Good question, thanks. Well, the best way of describing it is like playing an old text based computer game. You get a scenario and you try what you can, and it eventually works. Therefore, Sunday night would have been something like this:
Baby is crying. What do you want to do?
You feed baby. Baby is still crying
You cuddle baby. Baby cries some more

You sing. Baby giggles for 10 minutes and then falls asleep.

The second thing I wanted to bang on about is this: Callie has the most wonderful mother. 

I try not to blog too much about the missus (she normally gets suspicious, thinks I've been up to something, which I'm not, really) but she deserves this. You’ve probably seen lots of photos of Callie smiling on Facebook. That’s because of her mum. Those who’ve met Callie have told us what a lovely personality she has. That’s because of mum. And I know it doesn’t come easy. The preparation, the long days, the sheer amount of cuddly Disney toys that you have to find space for – she does it brilliantly and I'm so grateful for it. If my blog can do anything, it's celebrate the wonderful people in my life.

Happy 8 months birthday Callie and happy 8 months being a wonderful mum, Lisa.    

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Andy, you’re a star

One of my friends died this week.

Those seven words were incredibly difficult to type, and don’t even seem real less than 5 days on. But over the past few years my chum Andy always said such nice things about my blog that he deserves some words, no matter how hard they are to commit to the keyboard.

It’s actually the second time I’ve had to do it this week. My job meant that it came down me to send the confirmation email that he had passed away to managers and then the whole building we work in. I couldn’t do it at first. The words were written, but I didn’t have the heart to send it – it would be me making it official. Then I took a breath, and actually realised it was my honour to do something on his behalf. And besides, he’d have done it for me – and done it bloody well.

When someone dies, you learn a lot about them from the reaction of people. Me? I always thought Andy Baker was smart, loyal, friendly and funny. So to read and hear dozens and dozens of similar sentiments, you know you’ve lost someone truly special. Honestly, if you can see his Facebook page you’ll take 2 hours to read the messages. That’s an hour for the words, and an hour to dry your eyes. Truly, he was well loved.

Someone once said “Don’t focus on how someone died…focus on how they lived.” Andy would have liked that, principally because it was from a film about Bruce Lee and one day at work he turned up bleary eyed and said to me, with a wink, “Didn’t get to bed until late, Enter the Dragon was on so I had to stay up”.

Everyone has their own memories of how he lived, and looking back over the last few years there were plenty for me to choose from.

Like the time he was too busy at work to notice that the card he’d been passed to sign was for someone who was leaving – and as a result he was the only person to sign said card with ‘Happy Birthday’. I remember breaking the news to him, and laughing together until we could hardly breathe.

At work, we talked about films all the time, and no matter what movie we were discussing, it always came back to a conversation about films shot in Rotherham and Sheffield, and how cinema could always be improved by adding in Sean Bean. And while he was a proud Yorkshireman, Andy was always the first to make soft southerners like me feel at home.

He was also a model professional. Always conscious of the people who worked for him, or the people he represented, and trying to make sure that whatever he had to communicate or do, it was the right thing. If you needed support, he always had your back.

And when he needed to, he got passionate. I’ll never sit in Meeting Room 6 at work again without remembering the time he nearly came to blows there in a particularly heated exchange with a colleague. Andy was in the right, and the guy had pushed his buttons, but it was so funny to watch him get more and more frustrated. We laughed long and hard after the event, Andy particularly proud to hear how red his face had got. It’s rare you see people stick up for what they believe in. But he did.

Outside of work he was just as much fun. If you ever saw him out he invariably had a pint in his hand, and normally because he’d just bought the first round and it was a drink he was handing to you.

And then there was the karaoke. Andy had practiced for weeks, keeping his song choice confidential until we were safely locked in the private karaoke booth. A few drinks for courage and he got up to sing Firework by Katy Perry. My word. It really wasn’t very good. It was a brave choice, but his tuneful Northern male voice just couldn’t hit the required female American pitch. 

Andy knew it, and what could have been embarrassing just turned to laughter half-way through, as he mock-raged at the lyrics (“these aren’t the right ones, I’m sure”) and his performance ended up more spoken word than song. Never have a seen a room of people laughing together so much, and it was Andy laughing the hardest.

When he eventually handed back the mic, tears of joy in his eyes, and sat down next to me he swigged a Budweiser and said “I think I over-reached myself there." In reality, he could belt out a tune, his follow-up of Common People and an Arctic Monkeys medley (“I need to stick to Northern accents” he told us) were superb, but his destruction of Katy Perry will stay with me forever.

I’m sure different people have their own favourite memories, probably better, but that karaoke night will always sum him up to me - always giving something a try, always putting his heart and soul into it, and always doing it with a smile. 

I’ll never see that smile again, or hear that South Yorkshire voice, but, like all who knew him, I’ll never forget them. And if we keep remembering someone, no matter how hard it might be at times, they’ll always be with us.

Thank you for being who you were Andy. I hope you’d have approved of this blog one final time.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013


I have a confession to make. Often, especially when my wife is at work, I like to go into the living room, with a beer, close the curtains, turn the lights up and experience hours of hot exquisite pleasure...through ironing.

I'm not making this up. Honest. I really love ironing. Even when I melted a pair of pants the other week, I still loved it. Really. Some things I make up (like that thing about having robot legs and being able to fly) but this I assure you is true. I bloody love it. Apparantly I'm not alone. Tom Baker devoted nearly a chapter of his autobiography to ironing. He's not mad is he? He is? Oh right.

I'm not particularly OCD and I couldn't think of anything more creased than my big old face, but there's something inherently wonderful about taking clothes and putting some order into them. There's a challenge - some items start as crumpled monsters and end up flattened happy friends. There's a level of skill involved - I rapidly switch between settings (1,2 or 3 - those are the main ones aren't they?)to ensure the right temperature is achieved. And the joy of turning a jumbled washing basket into 20-25 presentable items on hangers making the front room look like Gok Wan's house is wonderful - I sometimes even do a little post-ironing dance to celebrate (alright, I made that bit up).

For me, you have to enjoy ironing with something else. A Boxset of 24, some radio comedy or just Sky Sports football scores rolling in. A cheeky beer or two is often an ideal companion - however, don't have too many as you'll end up with very bizarre creases in your clothes or the phone rings and you accidentally burn your ear in confusion.

I guess it harks back to my last post about how my brain takes things in and processes stuff. Why ironing to me is more entertaining than soap operas, or how I imagine when you ring the bank to 'set up a direct debit' they open a cupboard and activate a small box with legs with the word 'direct debit' on it, which manually goes to your bank - queues up - and removes the cash over the counter.

Anyway, give ironing a chance eh? You never know, you could be just like me.

Friday, 3 May 2013

I have new mail - 975,421 of them

I usually don't believe a lot of the rumours about the internet. You know, like downloading certain files gives you a stitch, your computer will actually smell of pork if you visit a certain site or holding down CTL+ALT+R+U+N+S makes you need the toilet.

But some things are undoubtedly true. I still despair of hearing people say 'I only clicked on the button marked DOWNNLOADD UNLIMIMTED MONEY HERRE and it installed a virus that sent pictures of Adrian Chiles to all my email contacts' and once or twice i've had emails from 'YOUR BANK' telling me 'DEAR LOYEL CUSTOMER, WE NEED YOUR ACCOUNT DETAILS' etc.

Frankly, my bank wouldn't have the time to do that, what with sending me personal loan offers and copious marketing material with comedy cartoon characters on them every few days.

But Spam email. Well, that really does happen, and I sure does know it. I used to have a yahoo email address - ah, it was my first hotmail account (goes teary eyed with nostalgia) - and for years I had no problem. Then, back in 2005, I got a few spammy things. Nothing too racy, just video/tv download sign ups, online gaming type things.

And I did the stupid thing. I replied with the subject line "UNSCUBSCRIBE". Oh dear lord know. As schoolboy an error as spelling Sutton Coldfield as Sutton Coalfield in my GCSE Geography exam, and claming it was a place built entirely on coal mining.

As you may know, if you send UNSUBSCRIBE back to these emails then the automated system knows it's found a valid email address and then proceeds to tell all of it's spam soldiers to advance. Within a few weeks I was clearing out 10-15 pieces of spam a week. But then clearly, the spam word got round 'Hey, head over to - there's a party going on.

And the spam grew. The messages from the likes of Ellis Casey: Re Pharmyceuticals for you and Bingo Wangrasster Re: iiii have love message, they started to pile in. I couldn't even deleted them in date order as - somehow - the spam started coming from dates like 20 Dec 2983 (really? time travel emails?) It got to the point where I had to leave the account, there were over 100 spam emails, it was doomed. So I set up a new one and left it behind.

Now I'm very careful what I sign up to, and that I never reply to stuff I really don't know about. And a good job, because I went back into my yahoo account today for the first time in 2 years and had 975,421 new messages waiting for me.

Can't wait to reach one million. Maybe I'll buy some cheap watches, discount viagra and whatever Bingo Wangraaster's love is.