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Vanilla backlash!

Poetry

Don’t get me wrong, it has its place.
There’s a certain time for that kind of taste.
It’s sneaky too, but lacks edge and leaves you peaky and blue.
More punch was needed to fill you with glee, to leave you knee-deep in Peaches and Cream.

Time to launch in.

Setting the bar high you opt for Rocky Road.
Your taste buds implode and explode simultaneously.
It’s heinous this taste sensation, you’d best believe.
You almost go for Raspberry Ripple, but as flavours go it’s unforgiveable.
Not even really a taste at all, but a phony, a fake.
You can’t mask this bland offering with a chocolate flake. Or goddamn cake.

Honestly… You can’t catch a break or escape the vanilla trap.
It’s a killer when you realise and feels like slap, this is crap.
That said, maybe Pistachio is the way to go?
Exotic enough for the danger zone, but you quickly suffer a major blow.
You’re stuck with vanilla again, say it ain’t so!
No matter, you’re an ice cream ninja.
Although this binge has made you a thirsty guy, maybe it’s time you diversify?
But sorbet’s not your forte, you just can’t embrace the lie.

Next on your hit list is Cookie Dough.
How could you sink so low? Have you no sense of shame?
Back on the vanilla bandwagon you’ve only yourself to blame.
Time for secret, a solid gold tip.
Your one safe haven here is Mint Choc Chip.
But you need to get a grip to save yourself and turn your back on vanilla for the sake of your health.

How about Salted Caramel?
Choose that and you’ll go straight to hell, it’s the devil’s choice.
Yes! Yes! Yes! You’ve finally found your voice.
One scoop, two scoop, you can’t stop, eyes go wide you’re about to pop, then the hunger subsides and you stop the rot.
Turns out you’re left burning hot.
My God, you ate a lot.

Is this what happens when you give up vanilla? It may as well be crack.
Oh great, now you’re having a panic attack and look sick and green.
Has your life come to this, ruled by mere ice cream?
The depths of your depravity know no bounds when the local ice cream truck does the rounds.
That tinkly music just makes you lose it.
You fight to stay still, to beat your addiction, but it’s tough.
There comes a point when enough is enough.
But you’re not there yet.
So the next time someone says give up vanilla, for God’s sake don’t take the bet.

poohsticks

Pooh Sticks (learning to flow)

Poetry

I shiver and quiver as I hit the river.
I sink fast. Curses!
Then I emerge from the drink and surface.
The pain of being discarded burns less as I bob down the stream.
This river is mobbed but it turns out I’m part of a team.
Floating nearby my buddy suffered a similar fate.
As we converse we’re not irate, but then our pupils dilate as there’s rocks ahead.
We form a plan fast lest we both end up splintered and dead.

By the Power of Pooh Sticks we form a raft, with time to spare to fashion a mast.
But I’m no stranger to danger, I know what lies ahead.
My eyes narrow as I fill with dread.

Dogs!

Like goddamn wet, shaggy logs they’re more dangerous than any rocks.
But the river’s getting rapid and ahead lie bendy drops.
Mini waterfalls that even a mad mongrel won’t face.
Those stupid mutts know their place.

Drifting along the river morphs into the sea and my buddy and me know not what to expect.
What fate awaits us in the ocean’s depths?
Whatever it is we’re optimistic, given those darn dogs left us pretty twisted.
However… The Power of Pooh Sticks will keep us safe, as we explore the ocean’s vast space.

Next time you see us we’ll be bigger in size and scope, our twiggy raft having grown beyond our wildest hopes.
Festooned with barnacles, which, let’s face it, would be pretty cool.
So if you ever find yourself on a raft adrift at sea, spare a thought to its origins.
Discarded Pooh Sticks that came from a tiny stream.

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Magic Mike XXL: Strippers on a road trip

Film

Bow… bow, wow, wow. When Genuwine’s Pony kicks in you know you’re watching Magic Mike. Sometimes certain songs coupled with certain scenes elevate an entire film and glue it firmly to our memories. Such was the case three years ago.

Directed by Steven Soderburgh at the time in almost a documentary style, Magic Mike was a funny old beast. It was less about stripping and more male bonding; how these guys actually live and are part of a tribe. Like The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke but with more nudity. (Actually, scratch that, they’ve both got naked guys aplenty.) It focused on character too; so if it were mere titillation we wouldn’t have this sequel now.

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This time round Soderburgh’s long time assistant director, Gregory Jacobs, steps up to direct. He’s a man who has worked extensively with Soderburgh in the past and knows the style and tone of the first movie. Whilst not quite matching the first he does a passable job with this sequel.

So… why would a straight guy go to see Magic Mike, surely it’s one for the ladies? Well, yes, there’s male nudity in abundance but I’d argue this is a film that, in a manner of speaking, has more to offer the male market. Bear (or bare, geddit?) with me here whilst I state my case. First, the plot.

Photo Credit: Claudette Barius

Photo Credit: Claudette Barius

Mike has left the life of stripping behind to pursue his passion of furniture design. He’s got his girl, it’s all rosy. However, three years later things don’t work out as he plans and he gets a call from the old gang as they pass through town on their way to a stripper convention (Yes, it’s a real thing. Tatum actually attended one in his former life before acting.)

With only a little – rather convenient – persuasion from Genuwine’s Pony on the radio in his workshop (in a scene which riffs on Flashdance) he bundles in with the fellas for a road trip and one last stripping hurrah. They meet various characters along the way, including Jada Pinkett Smith’s stripper Madam Rome (Mike’s mentor) and Andie Macdowell’s lonely housewife Nancy, which all add something.

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That said, there’s things missing, specifically characters. Gone is Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) crooning ‘ladies of Tampa’ and stealing scenes. He leaves a rather large hole which the rest of the cast try to fill with varying degrees of success. Gone is Adam ‘The Kid’ (Alex Pettyfer), gone is Mike’s love interest Brooke (Cody Horn), replaced rather half-heartedly with quirky and nomadic Zoe (Amber Heard Depp); who does what she can but has very little to work with. However, former players do step up, particularly Joe Manganiello’s Big Dick Ritchie, who gets the funniest – and ballsiest – scene of the movie.

Stripping scenes aside, the movie itself, in its quieter moments, seems at pains to show these guys as more than strippers. They’ve got hopes and dreams like the rest of us and they’re just as vulnerable, if not more so. There’s one scene where two characters talk about how they’re modern-day healers for women. Weirdly, it’s quite touching and all rather spiritual.

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In parts it does drag a little, but overall it’s a pretty solid follow-up and doesn’t retread too much old ground. It feels like a good way to end, too. If we see a Magic Mike 3 in a few years I can safely say it’ll tank at the box office as there’s really nowhere else to take these characters. I think the actors knew that as they looked like there were having so much fun here and really went for it.

So… It’s a good laugh, fits the tone of the first and is surprisingly sensitive in places where it touches on the male bonding aspect and sense of belonging. But let’s leave it there eh? Mike’s stripping days are done. Time he hung up that thong for good.

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Penny Dreadful: season 2 review

TV

The first season of Penny Dreadful focused on Sir Malcolm’s (Timothy Dalton) hunt for his daughter, who had been captured by some sort of vampire master. It also shared equal screen time exploring Vanessa Ives’ (Eva Green) story, a battle with a demonic spirit which was attempting to consume her soul.

And we were introduced to troubled doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and the monsters he creates – in particular John Clare (Rory Kinnear). Then there was strong and silent American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) with a dark past of his own. Plus the mysterious and eternal Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) popped up from time to time in a subplot that bubbled along throughout.

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For season two it’s very much a continuation of the first in terms of the main characters and their journeys, albeit with a different antagonist for them to face; a trio of nightcomers/witches who, at the bidding of their master (spoiler: a fallen angel aka the devil) step up their pursuit of Vanessa’s soul.

In general the show is quite slow burn, so if you’re expecting True Blood set in London go elsewhere. It’s dark, moody and there’s some nudity involved, but otherwise it’s a completely different beast. Again there’s a large focus on Vanessa, building up more of her backstory; as she’s such an interesting character it’s a pleasure to spend time in her company. There’s also Ethan Chandler’s past which catches up with him, along with a secret he can no longer keep hidden.

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The primary difference in season two is two-fold: first, the main antagonist has more of a human face and development of character; as the witches are led in suitably machiavellian fashion by Madame Kali (Helen McCrory).

Secondly, the main group, essentially rookies in season one are more cold, clinical and ruthless this time round. They know the sort of darkness they face, both internal and external. That said, the demons they’ve accumulated keep coming back to haunt them.

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We get more Vanessa Ives backstory in which to sink our teeth and the relationship between her and Ethan develops almost as you might expect. Dalton’s Sir Malcolm takes a bit of a backseat this season, but makes way for more of Victor Frankenstein and his flawed creations, including Lily (Billie Piper), who becomes – in almost a 180 switch of character – a bit of a walking nightmare for Victor. Vanessa aside, she probably has the most compelling character arc.

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The season finishes (without giving too much away) with the characters all pursuing different goals of their own and in different places, geographically. As such it will be interesting to see – should they choose to do so – how John Logan and the show’s writers will pick them all up again come season three.

We’ve had vampires and witches. What’s next for them to face?

heat

Confessions of a master thief

Poetry

Unannounced like a thief in the night, that’s what they say right?
For in my job it’s fight or flight.
You get in my way, you’ll end up a sorry sight.
Like a blight I’m a plague on the neighbourhood, I invade homes in the name of the greater good, if others could steal like I could then I bet they would.

Each night I head out with the tools in the van.
Surrounded by my crew, a bunch of fools to a man.
But they’re brave. They’ve got balls. For when I ask them to step up I know they can.
They’re a bunch of tough mothers too, and they’re tight-knit.
To join this crew you’ve got to be the right fit.
Be willing to take a hit if needs be, or do a stint inside, which is never easy.

But we’ve all been there, we’ve all done our time.
It’s part and parcel of a life of crime.
You see me in your house though, good luck dialling 999. For those possessions you hold so dear will very soon become mine.

These days though, the game’s not the same. In truth it’s lame.
There’s less to gain and it’s become a hassle at best and at worst a pain.
Without sounding like an old fart you could say I’ve become less bold and lost my heart, but that’s only part of the reason.
Nowadays most of the stealing is done online and if you’re a cyber criminal it’s open season.

But that technology stuff, it’s not for me.
Give me old school any day, give me lock and key. Then I’ll show you who’s boss.
At the end of the day I’m running a business here and I’ll be damned if I’ll run it at a loss.

Anyway… those homes won’t rob themselves, I must get back.
I’ve got lots of lovely stuff to steal and that, as they say, is that.

gran

Happy birthday Nan

Poetry

Sit up, take note and hear this.
Right here is a lady with a generous spirit.
Look how she sits as she tackles problems in no mere fits and starts but launches right in, her face locked in a rictus grin as she wears her sleeve on her heart (or the other way round).

And now it’s her birthday, so it’s time to celebrate in the worse way.
It’s time to put on a party hat and curse and pray that her and her other half get up and do the funky chicken, cutting shapes and ripping up the dancefloor, giving all the other golden oldies a licking.

So now go ahead and raise a glass, to this birthday lady… with the generous heart.

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FOMO (Fear of missing out)

Poetry

Saturday night by the by, sitting alone checking your phone with no reply.
You check again and moan and sigh.
It’s your own fault really. You didn’t make plans, you never do.
When the weekend comes around you’re the one that’ll lose.

You could be a rebel and go out on your own, sod your phone you don’t need to be alone, stuck with the incessant drone of the TV.
You need to say to yourself, ‘Somewhere out there there’s a night that needs me.’

But you’re torn. Staying in is easy.

If you go out you’ll have to put on a face and be bright and breezy.
And unless you find some place super cool you know the music will be cheesy.
Surrounded by stuck-up girls and horny wankers and gold-digging chicks trying to bag a banker, you’re a little lost. To your bitter cost you learn you must choose your crowd carefully.
You need somewhere vibrant, interesting and different, with people that are carefree.
It’s such a challenge.
Go too far one way and you’ll be knee-deep in hipsters, unable to manage.

It’s like anything though. If you don’t go you’ll never know.
One of these days you’ll learn to deal with the rudeboys and hoes.
You’ll take them in your stride.
Your ability to rise above it all is like a badge of honour, one you wear with pride.

Yet even on a night out where you’re having a blast there’s a siren call in the back of your mind, like an echo from a distant past.
You should have stayed home.
Was it really that bad being alone?
The enemy, at the end of the day, was that stupid connected device you call your phone.

Like a pocket Jezebel it calls to you and wants you to go out and raise hell.
Playing on your fear of missing out it knows you’ll crack.
But you can’t turn it off or look away, it’s like a car crash and as addictive as smack.

So at the end of this rant is there a moral to this tale?
Is there a way to banish the fear or are you too far gone beyond the pale?
Only you can answer that.
One thing you should know though, whatever you do next Saturday night be at peace with your choice or the fear will consume you, trapping you in a tomb that leaves you in a blue mood.

morpheus-matrix

Take the red pill

Poetry

Feeling naughty, just hit 20 and I’m halfway to 40.
‘You laugh now son, you’ll blink and you’ll be 40′, my dad said, putting unwelcome thoughts into my adolescent head.
Jesus. At this rate it won’t be long until I’m dead, until I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. Until, through hard graft and toil, I’m laying on a cold slab watching my soul call a cab as my beautiful brain and body spoils and sags.

We constantly joke about getting old because we don’t know when we’re going to go. If we did I’d be betting bold, so at the end of it all I’ve got something worthwhile to show.
Although who I’m showing I don’t know.
If there is a heaven, maybe my only way in is through laying low, avoiding temptation and just saying no?
But where’s the fun in that?
Do you really want a humdrum existence, one where your dignity remains intact?
What would you learn about yourself if you followed that path?

It’s time I hit you with a hard truth and one that will smart. Your plan will fail and not by half, it’ll come crashing down and you’ll sink fast.
Neither heaven nor hell await you but pergatory. A nothingless void.
In this there is no survival, you will be destroyed.

My advice to you?

Take the red pill. It will stick in your throat and you’ll feel ill, the pain will overwhelm and you’ll want to kill but persevere, quitting takes no skill.
As the drug takes effect you’ll once again be able to feel, your spidey senses will tingle as your body starts to chill.
But don’t be afraid or dismayed, you’re just going through change.

Coming out the other side you’re a butterfly, no longer shackled by the past you soar high, emotions hit you like a flood and you roar and cry.
You’re an eagle now you’re free.
All it took was one little pill and once again you could breathe.
In the end, all you had to do… was believe.

pirates

Game of Thrones: season 5 review

TV

Are seasons of Game of Thrones getting shorter? Or are we just expecting more from them each time round? Or is it because the world is expanding and characters are all off on quests of their own that we barely get any time with each of them each episode?

What I do know is that, as George R. R. Martin’s world expanded in the books, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were left faced with a gargantuan challenge of getting this all on screen in a satisfying way. Also, the show has now – with some characters – pretty much overtaken the books, so we’re in slightly uncharted waters.

This has left the show’s producers and writers open to an unprecedented level of abuse from fans. With less of the original material to hide behind as they go on they’re exposed. Not that the changes they’ve made thus far are misguided, but fans are getting ever more demanding and increasingly protective of their precious characters of Westeros.

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This season is the leanest yet in terms of screen time for all the characters you know and love. There’s literally no fat in any of the episodes. Bang! We’re into Arya’s story, on her quest to become a faceless assassin and take out everyone on her kill list. Then bang! We cut straight to Tyrion’s journey to meet up with – and advise – Deanerys as she tries to get to grips with ruling a city that’s tearing itself apart.

Then there’s Stannis running about fruitlessly trying to win the north, Jon Snow saving far too many wildlings for his own good, Jaimie Lannister off on a foolhardy trip to Dorne to possibly lose his other hand, Cersei scheming and scheming and scheming too far, Sansa growing up fast and learning to play the game of thrones (although perhaps not learning quick enough). And the list goes on.

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It’s so tough that some characters barely get a look-in all season (Bran anyone? Rickon?). And the whole Dorne section (so detailed in the books) almost felt like it was shoehorned in for the show. I mean, can anyone explain the point in the Sand Snakes?

They’re supposed to be deadly but spent most of the time in jail or flanking their vengeful mother Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) like a group of sexy – but rather superfluous – backing singers. Perhaps they would have been better off in a spin-off mini series.

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Ranting to one side there was still a lot to love about the season as a whole. Standout character arcs (and actor performances) for me included Cersei (Lena Headey) facing off against the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), Jon Snow (Kit Harington) taking on white walkers and wrestling with the lonely job of a leader, Stannis (Stephen Dillane) making very hard decisions come the season’s closing episodes and Arya (Maisie Williams) becoming more ruthless as she learns the ways of the Many-Faced God.

Each had thrills, spills and proper Game of Thrones shocks. An impressive feat, given the already stellar four seasons that have come before it. What more could you want or ask for?

Roll on season six I say.

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Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: season 2 review

TV

Continuing storylines from the first season of Marvel’s mildly successful Agents of SHIELD, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team had to rebuild SHIELD, following its demise due to the resurgence of Hydra.

As you’d expect, Coulson came back fighting. This season, however, Hydra haven’t occupied the limelight, everyone’s favourite super cute hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet) has, with the story focusing on her quest to understand her newly gained powers, following her exposure to alien Terrigen crystals at the end of season one.

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With season two, the show has begun to introduce the Inhumans and tie Marvel’s universe closer together. This is good but in TV it’s a fine balance. You don’t have the budget of film (despite being backed by Marvel) so you can’t go too big on spectacle; plus the most interesting thing has – and always will be – the human element, the interaction between the characters. Any special powers on display are fun, but they’re just there to dazzle. What we care about is the fate of the SHIELD team, Coulson and the gang.

Mostly this latest season has stayed focused on powers and with Hydra taking a back seat the season’s antagonist duties fell to Skye’s increasingly deranged father (Kyle Maclachlan) and (spoiler) the introduction of her scheming mother Jiaying (Dichen Lachman). So it becomes, in the words of Sly and the Family Stone, a family affair.

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To a lesser extent we also have disgraced Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) as a sort of plan B antagonist, largely sidelined for most of the season but pop ups here and there to cause a little mayhem. The rest of the gang are all still present and correct, but maybe a little tougher and a little wiser, in particular Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Gemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), whose ‘will they won’t they’ relationship becomes more fraught – and therefore more interesting – as the season goes on.

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Similarly another sub-plot involving Agent Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and her on-off fella, fellow Agent Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) is sweet enough but mostly just filler (except when Bobbi fights of course, that’s worth the price of each episode alone).

The trouble with the whole show is that it lives in the shadow of Marvel’s epic films, which I’ll argue we’re all becoming a little desensitised to, in terms of scale and spectacle. So it’s difficult for the team to face a credible foe over the sustained period of a season. They had an evil Hydra bloke who liked to experiment on people with powers but, by the time they finally caught up with him Coulson shot him straight away.

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Perhaps this is a good thing. Keep changing up the baddie to keep the SHIELD gang – and by extension the audience – on their toes. Sometimes though, you just want a really clever, credible bad guy or girl. The show might be building up to that in season three with the Inhumans, so I guess we’ll see.

Despite my slight misgivings I do like the show and its tone and like spending time with the characters. They’re bright, breezy, sassy and kick ass (from time to time). They’re all slowly developing and evolving as the threats they face change, which is good to see. As long as it stays focused on keeping things human (and inhuman) then season three should be a fun ride.