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#SundayReview Westworld

Frankie Av

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Hopefully my review tonight will be as enigmatic as the show I am reviewing as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. No spoilers here!

The often overused term; mind-f**k, is the perfect term for the television show, Westworld. Based on the 1973 movie of the same name starring Yul Brynner, the series is a science fiction thriller which takes place in a high-tech amusement park. The park is populated with human-like androids with which rich people can do whatever they please while living out fantasies in a western back story. Their creator is played by Anthony Hopkins, who comes across as both sinister and disconsolate. There’s what could be a glitch in the system and some of the androids appear to be becoming sentient.

We follow the lives of a few androids and humans, key players in the park as well as newcomers there for some fun. Throughout the show you get the feeling that something is undeniably wrong with humanity. That some would revel in a fantasy of brutalizing, raping and killing others, is deeply disturbing and yet something which happens in reality all too often. You can’t help but feel sorry for the androids, especially those who have gained insight into their lives and the outrageous actions carried out on them by humans. With technology now at the point where some parts of the story are credible, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

The opening credits alone are jaw dropping.

It is raw and gritty, with violence, nudity and sex scenes which make complete sense to the concept, not used as a ploy to get viewers. It is intelligent and well crafted with a story which moves along smoothly and always grabs the attention. It’s rarely boring and always thought provoking. You never quite know all the humans or all the androids. You keep double guessing yourself as to which is which. Then someone who you thought was one turns out to be the other!

Every week there is a blinder of a twist that you just don’t see coming. You spend the week thinking you have it all figured out, then the next episode turns what you thought on its head. There are twists within twists, and every week I end up staring at the screen as the credits roll thinking…wow….mind…blown…..!

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It has been a long time since I watched a television program which made me think as much as Westworld does. Nothing is ever quite what it seems. Next week is the series finale and already my mind is blown. What else they can throw at us I don’t know, but it’s sure to be fantastic whatever it is! If you haven’t watched it yet, get watching!

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE

 

 

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#SundayReview Halloween Film Time!

Frankie Av

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Happy Halloweeeeeeeeeen! Thought I’d pop in one of my 20 pairs of special FX contact lenses and make myself up for the occassion! It’s Halloween time again and when better a time to have a review of my favorite Halloween movies?!
I like clever things and funny things and super spoooooky scary things, but when it comes to Halloween movies, I am definitely not a horror or gore lover. Which is why this list doesn’t have the usual slasher movies or the likes. What I do have, is a choice of movies that I often watch at this time of year.

10) Beetlejuice

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Despite being made in 1988, Beetlejuice has not lost any of its spooky magic. I absolutely love this movie! It’s funny, daft, has great cast, a great story and brilliant atmosphere!
A couple who died in a car crash find themselves haunting their own home. When people move into their *vacant* home, they take steps to frighten them away! In comes Michael Keaton in the form of Beetlejuice; a devious ghostie who says he can get rid of the new guests–but is his help worth the trouble?!

9) The Frighteners

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The 1996 Michael J Fox movie has long been one of our favourites. It has just the right amount of comedy, spookiness, and cleverness to make this into my top ten. After the death of his wife in a car crash, a man claims he can communicate with the dead. But things get too real when supernatural events begin to happen around him!

8) The Lost Boys

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Kiefer Sutherland did for The Lost Boys what Robert Pattinson did for Twilight. But, The Lost Boys is a far better film and concept! The 1987 film revolves around two brothers who move to a new town, only to discover the place is infested with vampires! MUAHAHAHAHA!!

7) Alien Quadrilogy

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Yes it is four films in one spot, but they deserve to be watched in a marathon! Alien has to be one of the most freakiest movies of all time. The quadrilogy began in 1979 and freaked the f**k out of me and many others worldwide. With the tagline; “In space, no one can hear you scream!” it was always set up to be a terrifying experience. I once had a nightmare where I was chased by a Xenomorph! The Alien movies get so deep under your skin, you remember them for a very, very long time!

6) Spirited Away

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Perhaps an odd choice for Halloween, I think that Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away should be included in any Halloween movie list! A ten year old child sees her parents turned into pigs then is forced to serve all kinds of things in the spirit world? Yeah, that is spooky enough for me! XD It is entertaining, fascinating, funny and cute, with darker things to munch over as you watch the amazing animation skill of one of the greatest animes ever!

5) The Shining

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Many times over the years I have suffered writer’s block. Many times I’ve thought about retreating somewhere to help it pass. But in the 1980 film, Jack Nicholson’s character finds more than relief of writer’s block! He finds all kinds of crazy shit and descends into a psychotic episode which is remembered most for the phrase; “Heeeeeeeeeere’s JOHNNY!” One of the most atmospheric and psychologically terrifying movies of all time!

4) Shaun of the Dead

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No Halloween movie list would be complete without a mention of the 2004 comedy horror, Shaun of the Dead. I’m a huge fan of Frost and Pegg and this movie was simply sublime. The laughs, the choice of music, the gore, the utter stupidity. Shaun has to be in a top ten list, because Shaun is one of the best zombie apocalypse of all time. And I hate zombie movies, so that’s saying a lot!

3) Nightmare Before Christmas

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Tim Burton’s 1993 movie can be confusing to categorize. Is it for Christmas or Halloween?! I like to watch it during both times. It is satisfyingly spooky while also being endearing and charming. The Pumpkin King, Jack, discovers Christmas and wishes to take part in the celebrations at the cost of Christmas itself! One of my all time favourite animations, Nightmare is one of the best Tim Burton has ever made!

2) Queen of the Damned.

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I was always going to be conflicted over the number one slot. In the end I had to decide which of these two films made the biggest impact on me. To be honest, both did and both deserve to be in the number one slot. But if we speak of things which have affected me the most, I’d have to place Queen of the Damned at number two.
To me, this movie–while slated by the readers of the original books– is one of the best vampire movies of all time. I never read the books, I’m more of an action reader than a spooky/horror reader. But when it comes to films, this is one movie which I could watch every day of the week and never get bored.
Released in 2002, is follows the legendary vampire Lestat, and his rebirth into the world as a rock band vocalist. His music reawakens the queen of vampires, Akasha, and one of the most beautiful vampires I’ve ever seen. Akasha is played by the beautiful Aaliyah, who tragically died in 2001. It is Aaliyah’s portrayal of Akasha which made me fall in love with this movie. So sensual so cold and indifferent, so fucking beautiful in her cruelty. This movie is so brilliantly filmed and has scenes of such intensity that it begs for more attention than it was initially given. I think it shameful that the movie was given such a beating, although I understand why lovers of the book might be angry over it. But as a stand alone movie which is how I watched it, it is phenomenal.

1) Donnie Darko

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This 2001 film is one film which has stayed with me since I first saw it when it first came out. It is very intelligent, so much so it puzzled many a viewer into slating it. But Donnie Darko has become a cult classic because of that intelligence. For those with little imagination, the film can seem confusing and often perplexing. But what DD does is open the mind to things outwith our own reality, to alternate timelines or even timeline divergence. It makes you think, makes you question things. The story follows Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Donnie, as he looks for answers to his visions of the end of the world. There is a huge creepy-assed bunny called Frank, who haunts Donnie throughout the film, strange and unnerving. If ever there was a movie which made you think more after watching it than trying to figure it out during it, Donnie Darko is the one. It makes you question reality and your perceptions of reality. I love this movie so much I actually made and wore a costume of Frank the Bunny!

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As for television shows to watch during the Halloween period, there is the usual Supernatural and such. But, consider the less well known BBC series; Sea of Souls. This was a program created back in 2004 with a three series run. While the characters never outright tell you that something particularly supernatural is happening, as a viewer you get to see things and make your own mind up. Very clever, often spooky and well worth a watch! I have the DVDs and often rewatch, although season 3 was never released on DVD 😦

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And there you have it, the Dragon’s Halloween movie list. This week sees the start of NaNoWriMo, so I wont be around as much as usual. I plan to get Emergence finished for the end of Nano, but I will update the blog as often as I can. To all taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, good luck!!

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi  MALEVOLENCE

#SundayReview Lee Child and Jack Reacher

Frankie Av

I apologize for the fact this was not uploaded yesterday. I attended a family get together and then I displaced a bone in my wrist and had to reset and rest it. It’s fine, happens quite frequently as I broke my wrist a few years ago. I popped the bone back in and wore my splint for the rest of the day. It’s all good now! XD Anyway. This week I’d like to review the book Worth Dying For by Lee Child. Actually, it’s not really just a look at that one book, more a review of Jack himself.

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Author, Lee Child, created Jack Reacher as the lead character in a long running series of action novels. Next month will see the 21st Jack Reacher instalment–Night School, and I can’t wait to read it! Two of the books have been made into major movies, the first entitled Jack Reacher was based on the novel, One Shot. The second, due for release this month, is based on the book Never Go Back and is one of my favorite stories of the Jack Reacher series. While some dismiss the movies because they can’t accept Tom Cruise as Jack, I rather enjoyed the first instalment. As I often do with the books, there are some things you have to just believe, in order to enjoy them to their fullest. I bought all the books in paperback then replaced them with hardbacks when I fell in love with them, and Jack.

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Jack Reacher is an ex military cop. He served his time in the army as his father did before him. Blessed with a large athletic build and lightning reflexes, he is a stubborn man–one who seldom does anything outwith his own decision. He is a drifter, a traveller and he never stops roaming and hitchhiking across America. He goes to places which interests him then moves on to the next–but, not before finding trouble somewhere along the way. He has very few belongings, no bags or cases travel with him. The clothes on his back are never laundered, they are replaced with brand new store bought items when he feels they need replacing–usually after a few days wear. He stays wherever he can get a room and isn’t too picky about where he lays his head so long as there is a constant flow of good, strong coffee.

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No matter in what situation Jack finds himself, he always has a way out of it. Whether he is picked up by police or lands himself in the middle of a gun fight, Jack just needs to use that intelligent brain of his and brute force to find a way out of the situation. He has faced many a villain in his time. From mob bosses to serial killers, Jack has met and fought them all. He has survived bullets, bombs, crashes, falls, beatings and breaking of bones. The guy has scars all over his skin, one of which was caused by another soldier’s jaw bone which ripped open his stomach when the soldier was blown up in a bomb attack. Seriously, Jack is like the Wolverine of the Lee Child universe–you can beat him up, blow him up, and he will heal and come back angrier and stronger than before. He fights like a titan, delivering punches which could potentially tear the head off a person in reality. For many of the books, you have to regard Reacher–not as a man–but as a superhero, a man with preternatural powers and therefore read the books with some suspended judgement as they can at times be so out there in terms of believability. But this is what makes them so fun.

Lee Child created a character who is more human than any other human. Stronger and more capable than anyone he ever meets. He senses injustice like a dog smells food and often feels such righteous indignation over situations he stumbles over that he places himself in danger to right all wrongs. The man is larger than life and bigger than most. A monster to some and a warrior angel to others.

But Reacher is still human and that is where the best of the books comes in.

The reason I chose Worth Dying For, is not only because it is one of my favorites, nor even because it’s one of only four in the series within an actual story arc, but because we get to see a slightly less God-like version of Jack.

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In the book previous–61 Hours– Jack was injured so badly he can barely use his arms. It was a miracle he survived that book at all. He is tired, worried, looking for a place to rest and recuperate. He meets a doctor in a bar of the new town he visits. The doc is stinking drunk when he receives a call from a woman who has a nose bleed. After saying he won’t attend, Reacher reminds the doctor of his moral obligation and oath as a practitioner, then eventually drives the man to the patient in the doctor’s own car.

So begins one of the darker Jack Reacher books. The villains in Worth Dying For are not clearly defined to begin with. We know they are bad in the way they treat the town’s folk. Selfish and vengeful for some misdeed handed to them many years previous. And they have the town’s folk fully controlled, with contracts and threats and their army of pumped-up bad boys.

Jack should just walk away, this is none of his business and he is in no condition to fight. But then, Jack often inserts himself into other people’s lives and business. How he gets away with it, I don’t know. He just does. Maybe he is just there at the right time and people accept his help because at that particular point in their lives they are on their last nerve and have nothing left to lose.

It takes Jack a while to uncover the truth, and when he does, it is a real doozy. Unlike most of the other Reacher novels, Worth Dying For has a truly dark and seedy tale. It is a tale which many people face every day, and one which everyone prays they never encounter. By the end of the book I held a new appreciation for Jack. I felt chills down my spine at what he had uncovered. It’s not often a book can make me question humanity in the way this one did. There is only one other of the Reacher series which affected me so much–Make Me, another one of my faves.

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Both these books took us to a whole other level of evil and Jack found himself almost over his head in trouble. His thought process is unquestionable, his righteousness undeniable, but he is not the larger-than-life unconquerable hero in either of them. He gets hurt, he hurts back. He falls behind then struggles to catch up. He makes mistakes and he makes others pay for them.

Jack is human, and not always a very nice one, nor a very healthy one. It’s almost sad to see Jack in such a way, but he really isn’t a nice guy. I certainly wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of an argument with him. So why do I like him so damned much? Why do the Jack Reacher novels sell so well? Why do so many love Jack and wish he was real?

Because, Jack is a superhero. He is larger than life. And no matter how unbelievable the stories might be, we need him to be the hero. Everyone loves a hero, even one as broken and damaged as Jack Reacher. Perhaps it’s because we wish there were more folk like him. Travelling warriors who will make wrongs right, and put the baddies out of commission. Like a larger, dirtier, better and human Littlest Hobo, (if you remember the old tv series) Jack just makes things, right. A large brutish thug with questionable morals who does the business no one else will dirty their hands with. A hero. A superman. This is why we love Jack Reacher so much, and why when a new book or movie of the series is about to be released, we all scramble to reread the books in time to catch up. 😉
You can read more about Jack and his creator Lee Child here on the official site. If you are interested in reading any of the Reacher series, I recommend starting with the first; Killing Floor. It is a good introduction to Jack, and you can travel with him as he wanders America in search of some sort of peace.

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE

 

 

#SundayReview Sometimes Being Stubborn has its Drawbacks…Hawaii Five-0 Proves the Point

Frankie Av

I am known for my stubbornness when it comes to new shows and books etc. I have this ability to be completely unfazed by the hype, to the point of purposely not watching or reading a thing out of pure spite. I have no idea why I do this, I just know that I do.  Sometimes I reverse my decision only to arrive at the party too late, sometimes by years.

Take for example Naruto. Now, this is one of the best manga and anime series ever made. I used to scoff at the cosplayers who turned up to conventions with these bands on their foreheads, because at that time I had no idea what they meant.


What are they supposed to be? Ninjas or something?!

It became so popular that I had to look up what these people were watching. When I got my first glimpse of Naruto, I laughed. How the hell could so many be so entranced by something so cliched? Ninjas?! What could possibly be so entertaining about ninjas?! So I had no more to do with it– for YEARS.
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Then, a couple of years ago, I had nothing to watch or read one night and came across Naruto once more. I decided to read the first manga volume out of pure boredom, hoping it would send me to sleep. I read four volumes that night and got no sleep whatsoever. Completely hooked, I became Naruto’s biggest fan, searching the internet for fan groups and art and anything I could feast my eyes upon. I bought the manga, the anime, filled my shelves with figures from the series. Of course, Naruto manga is now finished; I arrived to the show not long before the end. It was through Naruto that I met Sam, and the Dead Pete Society was formed.

I recently had much the same experience with a show on television–namely the Hawaii Five-0 reboot.  I had a conversation with a friend a while back which went something like this:

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That conversation was a few years ago. Hawaii Five-0 has been on the go since 2010, so I am six years late on this one. A week ago I was waiting on the postman delivering my new wrist splints, bored to tears as I hate waiting on anything. I popped the tv on, flicked through a few channels then had to answer the phone. By the time the call ended there was something else on the tv. I caught sight of a lovely car,  a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, and it looked a sweet ride. While I may not have a thing for leering over hot men like my friend does, I do have a thing for a good looking machine. Mostly aircraft, but cars do it for me too.

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The car which piqued my interest

So I settled back on the couch and kept watching, wondering what other good looking machines might show up. It cut to break a few moments later and imagine my surprise when I saw it was actually Hawaii Five-0 I was watching.

So I stopped watching, jumped into the Sky planner to see if they had the series on Box Sets. They had complete season one on Box Sets and so I downloaded them and started at the beginning.

That first episode hooked me immediately. There was something about it that was so different to what I imagined this show would be like. I thought it would be all jiggly-boobs on the beach and surfer dudes showing off six packs with the occasional catch-the-villain thrown in to keep the flavour of the original show alive. It wasn’t just a sex-on-the-box type of show at all, it actually had a story. It was clever, it had angst, it had a villain you wanted to know more about and a broken hero you just wanted to hug. And that was just the first episode.

Considering my favourite characters, it was actually obvious I would fall in love with this show. I love Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. The lead character of Hawaii Five-0–Steve McGarrett–, is a similar hero.

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The two leads are also perfect together. Their conversations are usually snarky and make me laugh. They hate each other but love each other and all you want to do is bang their heads together and tell them to stop the bickering. Of course there are cheesy parts, the occasional cringe-worthy episode and it has its fair share of filler eps. 

I forgot the postman that day and ended up watching six episodes in a row. By the end of the last episode I booted up my computer and read as much as I could on the show. How long has it been running for? What are the odds of it carrying on? Will it be cancelled on a  gigantic cliffhanger, forever doomed to never truly finish like so many of my favorite shows?

Well, so far so good. There is a seventh season which just began airing in the past couple of weeks. There are rumours this might be the last, but that’s okay. Why? Because if the writers know it will be the last, there is a chance of them ending the story properly.

I called my friend the other day, and the conversation went a little like this:

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Something tells me my friend and I are a lot like Steve and Danno…

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE

 

 

#WhateverWednesday Virtual Insanity!

Frankie Av

I have wanted a pair of VR glasses/goggles for along time, the ones which have tiny screens in each eye to give the impression of watching a huge screen. Every time I went to buy a pair, I talked myself out of it. As I do for most things before I buy I did a little research and discovered that the majority of people said they were not really worth their money. The screens lacked definition, poor colouring, lack of adjustments in some models and poor quality footage in display. Considering the price of some of the high-end glasses, I decided to wait until something better came out.

With the announcement of the Gear VR headset for Samsung, my interest in this personal  theatre experience was piqued again. Until three weeks ago, I had owned three different Samsung S3 mobile phones. I always felt they were the best phones on the market, so any time my mobile contract was due up, I’d just source another S3. Therefore I was genuinely excited to try out the Gear VR. Alas, it was not to be. When my contract ran out a few weeks ago, I decided to go for a different phone model entirely, one which does not fit the Gear VR.

So on the final day of our holidays last week, I decided to look for a VR headset with a universal fitting for any phone. The market is now flooded with such headsets, so much so that choosing one was difficult. Again, I did a little research on different models and unfortunately found that a great amount of them had positive views simply because the reviewer had been given the headset either for free or at reduced cost in exchange for a good review. Despite many saying that this in no way swayed their opinion, I was a little put off by the sheer amount of overly positive reviews on single items all saying the same thing: Got them for free in exchange for a review-they are great. So remember, even if an item has over 200 five star reviews, read them to find out if their view is biased in such a way. I eventually found a pair that was cheap as chips, with a universal fitting and available in a shop local to me so I was able to get them straight away without having to wait for a delivery.

The Stealth VR headset is simply a glorified Google Cardboard–as are most of these vr headsets. There are two lenses, both adjustable in focal and pupil focus. The difference from the cardboard version is they are much more comfortable to wear. The eye area is very well padded, the head straps are easily adjustable with large velcro pads. I had seen many models with built in headphones, but I own many sets of head/earphones so this model was perfect for me and cheap enough to try out. I also received a little pair of retractable headphones in one of my Loot Anime crates that go perfect with this model!


There are so many vr apps available on both Android and Apple, but the reason I wanted the headset or theatre glasses was so I could watch a movie or anime in bed without disturbing my husband with the screen brightness glaring him from a tablet or laptop. Of course, I have tried a lot of the apps and they are pretty amazing. Some are awfully glitchy, but the majority are very clever and do immerse you in an experience. These apps eat the phone battery and heat up the processor so much I had to stop using the headset to allow my phone to cool down. Then I discovered that this headset has a removable front especially to allow air circulation while using VR apps.  But, for watching movies–the very reason I bought the headset–it is absolutely perfect!

I ended up using one of my old Samsung S3 models so that I didn’t damage my new phone. Since it is the screen of your phone you see, the picture through the viewer is exceptional. It is crystal clear and highly coloured. There is no bending of the headset lense to misshape the view, and no loss of picture definition. But the S3 screen is not quite as good as my new Xperia, and as a result I can see tiny pixels on the S3 screen when viewed through the headset. I can not see the pixels on my Xperia when it is in the headset, but I don’t want to damage my new phone and the pixels are so tiny they do not ruin the experience at all for me.

I dare say that actual VR goggles, the ones I originally wanted, are much lighter on the face and easier to wear since they do not require a mounted phone. They will also look a lot neater than wearing the headset as to accommodate a phone they are built rather large. But these are very minor issues and for the cost and quality of the Stealth VR, I am more than happy to look like a complete idiot as they do exactly what I wanted and in comfort!

So if you are ever looking for a wearable VR item, do a lot of research on different models, find the right one for you. If you want to be able to play the actual VR apps, be mindful of the fact your phone will heat up inside a headset. Make sure the lenses are fully adjustable, otherwise you will have problems seeing the images and more than likely will suffer eye pain from constantly trying to focus.
If it’s just movies you want to watch? I recommend the Stealth VR or something similar. Cost effective, durable, lightweight, well constructed, highly adjustable and comfortable. It ticked all my boxes and are absolutely perfect for my needs 😀 I also recommend the Cardboard Cinema app, as it allows you to watch the movies you already own and displays them as SBS (side-by-side) format especially for VR headsets.

As for controlling your phone while it is in the headset, yeah, that’s not quite so easy. This particular headset and the vast majority of others do not have button controllers built in. I have seen bluetooth controllers which I might try, but first I am going to try a USB-to-go cable and a plug -and-play controller to see if that works. I have these items on hand, so no extra cost if it works! I will let you know if it does!

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE