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Steve Norman’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Before I start the list, some notable omissions… Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 was ruined (as predicted from the trailer) by that stupid plant, and Dunkirk was a tedious wasted opportunity – if you want a war film, watch Sink the Bismarck instead. I’d also like to mention The Cult of Chucky and the lower jaw kill, which is one of the finest slasher movie kills in years! And Rambo III is always worth a fresh look! Now here be my top ten films of the year.

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Everything a Star Wars fan needs and more – epic space fights involving some mental new ships (and the greatest sound effect involving absolutely no sound ever), imaginative lightsabre battles, some great new characters and locations and decent storyline progressions for the old ones. Apart from the ridiculous scene when Leia is flying through space like Superman. And it all goes on for hours! Can’t wait to see it again. And again. And again…

2. Underworld: Blood Wars

Kate Beckinsale goth’d up in tight black leather. Killing stuff. No further words needed.

3. Thor: Ragnarok

Despite Thor never being my favourite Marvel character, this is probably the most fun I’ve ever had with a Marvel film. It’s a non-stop barrage of ridiculous action, and it knows it, resulting in something genuinely funny on top of being a complete visual feast of set piece after set piece involving all your favourite Avengers.

4. Wonder Woman

If a hot chick kicking arse in skimpy bits of metal is empowering to women, then let me slip on a pair of comfortable shoes and start a new crochet project in front of some ladies’ cricket because I’m all in! Great superhero movie regardless of all the shoe-horned right-on crap surrounding it.

5. Leatherface

Really cool story about a bunch of surprisingly likeable deviants escaping from an asylum and going on the run from some crazy hick lawmen. Just try to forget the association and back story that no one needed to know and enjoy the sickness.

6. CHIPS

I probably enjoyed the next film in the list more than this, but the appearance of Erik Estrada at the end moves it up a place. I loved CHiPs (to use its original monicker) back in the 80’s, and this is familiar territory but reinvents Jon and Ponch as an ex-extreme sports sad-case and an undercover FBI sex addict, resulting in Carry on California Highway Patrol, complete with Freddy Got Fingered levels of smut. Which obviously makes it worthy of this list.

7. XXX: Return of Xander Cage 

This is a real man’s film. Stunts, explosions, gun fights, martial arts, car chases, surfing motorbike chases, night clubs (and women) that don’t exist in real life… It’s all familiar mindless territory but it’s done so well!

8. IT

About as scary as The Goonies, but I liked The Goonies and this had a similar vibe. I’d have loved an 18-rated version full of blood and gore, but for a kid’s film this kept me a lot more entertained than most do. Pennywise is really well cast, some evocative locations and a nice variety of supporting characters make this my favourite horror film for people that don’t like horror of the year.

9. Justice League 

Wonder Woman and her cohort in even skimpier bits of metal! This is Pro Evolution Soccer to Marvel’s FIFA, especially with its most generic super villain ever, but it’s a decent story, Aquaman makes a great entrance to the franchise, and the other characters are slightly less dour than previously. There’s far better superhero movies this year but there’s enough stuff exploding to make it worthy of the list!

10. Spider-Man Homecoming

 I didn’t know much about this going in, assuming I was going to get the spider bite for the tenth time in about as many years, but when I saw it this Christmas I was really pleasantly surprised by a fun, funny, breath of life into what has become a tedious cannon of films made for a brainless generation of viewers that can’t relate to a film that doesn’t feature the latest iPhone. I can recommend another viewing of Captain America: Civil War beforehand as it adds a whole new layer to that film as well as being a very fine romp in its own right.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Topps Trading Cards

I love the old Topps cards from the original Star Wars movies. Not sure that these new ones are anything more than promotional images, but if they appear in the local newsagent with a stick of chewing gum inside, I’m all in!

Just four images so far – Rey Encounters Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren’s TIE Silencer, Canto Bight Casino Patrons and The Canto Bight Police Collect Information. Here they be…

8-Bit Tatooine by Gabrielle Roman

This picture is great!


Artist Gabrielle Roman came up with this fantastic 8-bit rendition of a Tatooine sunset, all the way from the original Star Wars. You can check out more here

The Only Disney Princess That Matters Now

Disney is slowly breaking down my barriers. 

My Top Ten of 2015 – Films

As mentioned in my last post, not sure why I decided to do this, but throughout the year I’ve been keeping top ten lists of games, films and albums. Here’s the films one, which is slightly influenced by the lack of new films I’ve seen this year. But I still love my films, even if 2015 was dominated by re-watching favourites on Blu-ray, so wanted to record them for posterity. Games you will find posted elsewhere already, albums to follow.
 
1. Star Wars – The Force Awakens
 
This was going to have to be a real shocker not to top this  list, but from the first trailer I never thought there was much chance of that. The prequels didn’t really offend me as much as they did others, but they never really felt like Star Wars. This one does, and from the very start anyone of a certain age is going to feel something they didn’t realise they hadn’t for over thirty years. Every piece of fan service is meticulously crafted to slot into a new – albeit familiar – story with new characters that I took to far more than I expected to. Yes, there’s a hundred plot holes, and you may have seem some of it before (even if the First Order clearly haven’t), but it’s space fantasy and it’s Star Wars so who cares. 
 
 
2. Deathgasm
 
By metal nerds for metal nerds! And a wonderful gorefest to boot, reminiscent of the old Peter Jackson films before he went mainstream. Completely undemanding and utterly entertaining! It’s got everything – from vandalising a lawn with “Hail Satin” written in napalm, to the homemade video for Deathgasm’s “Intestinal Bungie Jump” which pretty much pulls apart every black metal video cliche in the space of thirty hilarious seconds. And not forgetting the variety of creative ways black metal demons get killed with a box of sex toys!
 
 
3. Mad Max – Fury Road
 
I love that this film has no pretensions of a plot – exactly how a great action film should be! Just a huge post-apocalyptic car chase full of stunts and explosions and general chaos. This is my favourite Mad Max film (all of which I watched in the week before watching this) and one of the best mindless action movies in years.
 
 
4. Mission: Impossible  – Rogue Nation 
 
Some incredible action scenes that never take themselves too serious – in the midst of all the mayhem there are some really intentionally bonkers moments! The pace is unrelenting, the story provides plenty of intrigue, and Cruise rides a motorbike without a helmet faster than ever before. 
 
 
5. Spectre
 
It’s a proper Bond film! Ludicrous opening sequence, bonkers car chases and a scrap on a luxury train. There’s still the emotional grit that’s been part and parcel of the Daniel Craig era, but Spectre brings back a bit of that classic Moore panache. Goes on a bit but you only really notice how much time has passed when the credits roll. 
 
 
6. Avengers: Age of Ultron
 
Nearly two and a half hours of eye-popping action scenes – mostly over-powered fighting – interspersed by a few nice moments of character-based humour, without much dwelling on unnecessary character development, and dream sequences that are thankfully short enough not to get dull before they turn into another fight scene. I hope the brain lady (as explained next…) gets her own movie too. 
 
 
7. Ant-Man
 
I remember when this was first announced, and I announced it to my family (in Byron, in Cambridge). They thought I was making it up. I’m not a big Marvel nerd, but unlike them I had heard of Ant-Man, though I did share their scepticism about a miniature superhero with super strength working in a movie. It turned out to be a lot of fun and great platform for the character to develop further though. The size thing was well worked as part of the story and worked convincingly on screen too. If only more of the audience had appreciated the helicopter scene with The Cure in as much as I did then the world would be a better place. 
 
 
8. Jurassic World 
 
Big, stupid, mega-budget monster movie, which all adds up to AAA fun. Maybe doesn’t have the suspense factor or the impact of the original, but there’s some imaginative touches, great set pieces and a real Spielberg feel, with more than a nod to Jaws. 
 
 
9.It Follows
 
Could have been a bit creepier, but an original concept, well polished, and unusually a horror film that clearly had a reasonable budget that was not designed for 12-year olds or people that don’t like horror films! Similar vibe to Nightmare on Elm Street, and a refreshing change. 
 
 
10. Ex Machina
 
Easy to watch sci-fi exploring humanity through artificial intelligence via a simple plot mechanic, complemented by an equally simple but high production visual style and some really nice robot effects.

My Top Ten of 2015 – Games

Not sure why I decided to do this, but throughout the year I’ve been keeping top ten lists of games, films and albums. Here’s the games one. Possible use for it is nostalgia in the future. Others to follow, with other potential uses. 
 
1. Journey (PS4)
 
Wow. In 35+ years gaming, nothing has ever gently drawn me in then completely sucked me dry like that did. Unbelievable experience. Simply stunning in all respects. Nothing more to add, except the PS4 version came out this year and I’d never played it before, so it counts!
 
2. Rocket League
 
Online gaming came too late for me; my reactions still feel okay at 43, but I’ve never had the time to pour hours into the likes of Call of Duty or Destiny and become truly competitive. I think I’ve second-placed in a couple of deathmatches but generally I’m happy not to be last! Then along came July PS+ game Rocket League to change all that. It takes a while to get the controls and the slightly off-kilter physics (which you can’t really complain about in a game involving jumping cars playing football with a giant futuristic baseball), but once you have, the game plays to a level of maturity, understanding it’s nuances, reading what’s happening and biding your time. With this in mind, my trepidation about heading online turned out to be completely unfounded. Whilst others generally seem to be frantically chasing the ball – very much like an under-8’s football team might – I’ve found myself not only contributing to my team (for once) but also being the match winner! Also enjoying season mode and local multiplayer with my 8-year old son (who’s recently moved on from the moths to a flame approach to football). The game runs great, looks good, and is as much fun as you think a cross between Speedball and the original Twisted Metal might be (complete with Sweet Tooth if you stick with it). And last but not least, I got my first ever Platinum Trophy on this – all it took was playing it to death!
 
3. Star Wars Battlefront (PS4)
 
If you’re a Star Wars fan carrying all the gaming implications of being a 43-year old dad, this could be one of the greatest games ever! Yes, as bemoaned in all the reviews by twenty-something veterans, it’s shallow, there’s not many maps, loadouts are simple and anyone can pick up a perk. But if you’ve got an hour or so every couple of days to do your gaming thing, these “inadequacies” are a right old bonus, especially when the visuals and audio simply scream Star Wars! And if you have a kid, give the split screen co-op survival missions a whirl. It’s great fun, and the most immersive Star Wars experience since some of us sat down in a certain arcade cabinet over thirty years ago. 
 
4. Pac-Man 256 (iOS)
 
When I heard another version of Pac-Man was coming in 2015, this turned out to be the game I wanted it to be. Endless high score chasing with some great opportunities for strategy with power-ups, multipliers and learning the behaviour of each ghost. Controlling just like Crossy Road, with the hours I’ve spent on that, was a bonus too! Having a fairly unintrusive free to play model also helped.
 
5. Alto’s Adventure (iOS)
 
This has been my go-to game on the dozens of flights I’ve made this year; I might start with something else but always end up coming back here. Gameplay wise, it’s an endless runner on a snowboard with a nice scoring mechanic and a progression system based on unlocking new characters with different skills to help you progress through objectives, which can take hours to complete at the later levels. The trick system is simple but requires skill and the physics system demands risk calculation and timing. The real draw are the visuals though – it looks stunning, with dynamic weather effects, the passage of time through day and night, and incredible attention to detail in the terrains and backgrounds. And when you combine this with the easy-on-the-ears soundtrack and effects that sound like a board on snow, it’s very easy to get completely lost in.
 
6. Batman Arkham Knight (PS4)
 
Didn’t grab me like the two previous games I’ve played – at no point did I see an air-con vent in real life and prepare to get inside it like in Asylum! But it’s a hell of a game. Looks stunning, the story doesn’t outstay its welcome, and the combat and the gliding feel as good as ever. Lots of people seem to have disliked the Batmobile; I had no problem with the Batmobile, but absolutely detested the later drone / tank missions involving it! Don’t often turn down to easy, but there’s only so many times you can restart something before you ditch it (which very nearly happened even on easy) or put a controller through the TV. In retrospect it didn’t really detract from a great experience though.
 
7. OlliOllii  2: Welcome to Olliwood (PS4)
 
This was a free monthly PSN game early in the year. I never got around to the first one, always believing it would end up as a PS+ freebie, then lo and behold the sequel appears on there first. It’s one of those games where there’s a good chance you’ll delete it after ten minutes, especially when it’s free, but persevere and the controls start to click, and after a while you start to master them, then as unnatural as they probably are, they become second nature. That said, it never stops treading a very fine line between frustrating – mainly due to forgetting to press a button at the right time – and utterly addictive, and getting five stars on every level can easily become an obsession. 
 
8. The Order: 1886 (PS4)
 
A couple of massively frustrating stealth and enemy spawn-a-thon circle-strafe sections aside, where I’d die too many times for it to still be enjoyable then repeat over and over again from a far too distant checkpoint, I very much enjoyed the story, setting, atmosphere and steampunk environment… Despite the continuous references to Jack the Ripper, who didn’t actually appear until 2 years after the game is set. Not sure why they didn’t call it 1888 – much better marketing angle too!
 
9 . Shooty Skies (iOS)
 
This is to Galaga what Crossy Road is to Frogger. Absolutely fantastic arcade shooter coupled with a load of chunky pixel characters to unlock if that’s your bag. The single finger touch controls work perfectly, especially the risk-reward long press explosions. Game Center leaderboards combined with the accessibility mean that there’s a good chance you’ll have some scores to chase against people you know too. Great free to play model too, especially if unlocking stuff isn’t your bag!
 
10. WWE Immortals (iOS)
 
When I started playing this, I’d have never believed I’d spend the hours and hours I did spend getting to the end of it, without paying a penny, much like I did last year with Trials Extreme on iOS too. There’s very little strategy to the simple combat, other than knowing when is best to tag in and out to make best use of special moves. The real strategy is in playing the free to play model, knowing what class of characters to spend your in game currency on and when, then which moves to unlock and when… This was the real joy in the game that kept me hooked. That said, the identikit Mortal Kombat version that came later really did nothing for me.
 
 
Other notable games that I’ve enjoyed this year, but are not strictly 2015 releases, include Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor, which clocked in at around 50 hours, such was my enjoyment. Wolfenstein The New Order, which almost never got completed thanks to a really frustrating lack of checkpoints in a boss battle at half way. Crossy Road, which I dread to think how many hours I’ve put in! Monument Valley, care of a free code from Starbucks; not generally one for puzzle games, but it wasn’t that taxing (i.e. it was logical), looked beautiful and was ultra-intuitive. A bit like Limbo, care of PS+. 

Nerds Respond to Saucy / Dog Cosplay

This is either real or someone knows their nerds. 

  

Star Wars Meets Space Invaders 

Great mash-up, unfortunately I can’t credit the artist as I’ve no idea who did it. Please let me know if you do! 

  

My Little Leia – Disturbance in the Force!

Something sinister about this Princess Leia My Little Pony mod. Could be that it looks like a cows face.

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Star Wars – The Big Reveal

If only…

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