Sunday, February 18, 2018

This week I have been mostly... w/b 12/02/18

This week I have been mostly...

Here’s a new thing I’m going to try and do on my blog: summing up my week in a few paragraphs. It’s going to be a sort of pseudo-diary which will help me to capture the everyday stuff of my life, so it doesn’t get lost in the mists of time. Or something.

Week beginning: 12/02/18

No. of evening meetings: 3 (all church-related)
Films watched: 1.5
Healthy eating: Poor (it was Valentines and Pancake day this week!)
Mental health: OK

My week started off with extreme tiredness after a poor night’s sleep (which repeated the following night as well), but was a mainly quiet one work-wise apart from filming Monday and Tuesday afternoon for a local charity. It involved working with children, which is always a challenge, but I think we got what we needed.

The rest of the week was spent writing up a business plan, alongside working on CGI shots for my short film 'Hey Mal!' which is very slowly getting there.

I was saddened to hear about another shooting in the US - this time in a Florida high school. Yet again, no lessons will be learned and nothing will be done to address this uniquely American problem. Tragically, it will no doubt happen again in the not-too-distant future.

We are facing a battle of wills with no. 2 son at the moment, who is resolutely stubborn and disobedient with frustrating frequency. His older brother wasn't much different at his age – and he has largely grown out of it – but then his older brother didn't have a sibling when he was six which adds further complication to things.

We had a fairly quiet weekend. Wifey was out all day for an elder's meeting so I had the boys (I took them to the cinema and chilled at home). Then it was a low key Sunday (church in the morning then more chilling in the afternoon), although we did spend Sunday evening saying goodbye to the Phillipino missionaries (lots of yummy food!). 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Problem with 'True Stories' in Film

Real events are often the subject of films we see in the cinema or on television. Some films are 'true stories' while others are 'inspired' by them. Art is a reflection of real life after all, and there are countless stories of heroism, adventure, horror and inspiration to be mined from history, current events and people's lives. More often than not, film producers don't need to make stuff up because it's happened in the past or is happening right now. In fact, even if you think you've come up with a story or idea that's never happened, chances are it probably has (in some form or another).

As they say, there's no such thing as an original idea.

I don't think there's anything wrong with making 'true story' films per se, but unfortunately these films often take artistic licence with the truth - and I think that can be dangerous. Many people don't realise this (or at least, that's my inkling), and just assume that the events unfolding on screen in front of them actually happened the way they did. Now, I'm not saying everyone is so stupid to think that they believe it's a literal account (i.e. everything on screen is a perfect reproduction of the story, from the words characters say to the props in the background), but I wouldn't be surprised if some cinemagoers equated 'true story' films with fly-on-the-wall documentaries (of course, fly-on-the-wall documentaries can be far from innocent when it comes to the truth - but that's another discussion).

I'm a great believer in the authentic filmmaker's mantra: story is king. You can have the greatest actors, most eye-popping CGI, sumpuous sets and stunningly elaborate action scenes – but if you don't have a decent story it's all a waste of time (and results in a poor movie). If you have a good story, the other stuff (no matter how dodgy) isn't as important.


Most good stories follow the standard structure of the 'monomyth' (see video above), or a variation of it. When true stories are committed to celluloid, they will often follow a similar pattern – typically in the form of an underdog story.

You have the protagonist: underappreciated, dismissed or downtrodden but with a special gift, ability or character trait. They are up against the antagonist: arrogant, powerful and determined to maintain the status quo. It doesn't have to be a person, though – it can be a company, the government or even just the culture or circumstance (such as the unforgiving arctic wilderness, for example). Through a series of trials the protagonist learns to harness their inner will or powers – despire a setback or two – and ultimately win the day against the odds. A new order is established and everyone lives happily ever after.

Show me a true story that doesn't fit this sequence and I will show you dozens that do.

Unfortunately, real life doesn't really look like that. Admittedly it does when you distil the story down to a few sentences – but looking at the details you will find something far more chaotic (or mundane).

What filmmakers do is merge real people into one or more new characters, alter places and names, change the timing of happenings, skip over or ignore key events entirely – all to help contort the narrative into a film-friendly format.

It's obvious why this is done. Film has to be exciting and interesting. There has to be a struggle and a goal to achieve with moments of despair and failure along the way. That's where the drama comes from.

The trouble is, real life is duller than film. Films are life with all the boring bits taken out (as Alfred Hitchcock is often quoted as saying). It's waiting around for things to happen. Sitting in cars driving for hours to get to a destination. Washing the dishes. Going to the loo.

Film, on the other hand, ignores those bits most of the time (have you ever seen James Bond go to the toilet?). It cuts to the chase and focuses solely on the action, with stuff moving the drama forward. Which is fine, but then you aren't telling the whole story. Just the highlights. You're cutting bits out.

And people don't realise. They see 'based on a true story' and assume it all happened as it did on screen. But that's rarely the reality. Thus, people are (potentially) tricked into thinking things happened a certain way. Their understanding of historical events is distorted. And that is where the danger lies.

The film Hidden Figures (2016) is based on the true story of black female mathematicians working at NASA during the sixties and the space race to land a man on the moon. These women faced prejudice not just because of the colour of their skin but because of their gender. They are shown struggling against a society that doesn't think black women have brains or anything useful to contribute. It's a great film with brilliant acting and is a moving insight into the civil rights struggle of the time.

What I find difficult is that it suffers from the points I made above - namely, that the story has been shoehorned into a filmic narrative which warps the truth.

There is one scene where Kevin Costner's character pulls down a 'colored ladies only' bathroom sign after discovering his black employee is forced to walk half a mile to use a bathroom designated for black employess. This is a powerful and poignant scene, showing a turning point in the story as the struggle against prejudice finally begins to pay off.

Trouble is, this never happened.

According to IMDB: "The issue with the bathrooms was not something Katherine Johnson personally experienced. It was actually encountered by Mary Jackson instead. In fact, it was this incident, as a result of Jackson ranting to a colleague, which got her moved to the wind tunnel team. Johnson was initially unaware that the East Side bathrooms were even segregated, and used the unlabeled "whites-only" bathrooms for years before anyone complained. When she simply ignored the complaint, the issue was dropped completely."

Eddie the Eagle (2015) is another example. Eddie Edwards' story of triumph over adversity as he competes in the 1988 Winter Olympics is the stuff of legend. What makes this story weird is that Eddie ultimately failed (coming last in two different ski jumping events), but his tenacity and drive to take part and pursue his dreams made him a national hero.

The film about his rise to Olympic fame is a great film. A true underdog story, Taron Egerton portrays Eddie perfectly and is joined by Hugh Jackman who plays Bronson Peary - an American manly man who becomes Eddie's coach and friend.

Peary is a former ski jumper with various personal demons to confront as he relutantly helps Eddie get ready for the games. His gruff, hardened character is the perfect foil for the innocent, geeky Brit trying to make it in an Olympic category untouched by anyone from his nation for decades.

Which makes for a great story ... except for the fact that Peary never existed.

Hugh Jackman's character was fabricated precisely to serve the story, to provide someone for Eddie to interact with and help move the story along. I also suspect he was written so that a famous actor (i.e. Jackman) could be star in the film, thus increasing the chance of the film actually getting made (and turning a profit).

IMDB says this about the film: "On June 6, 2015, the real-life Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards told BBC news that the movie will be ninety percent made up. Edwards said, "I've been warned only ten to fifteen percent of it is based on my life.

Sooo, ninety percent of the film is made up. Ninety percent ... NINETY PERCENT?!?!

Did I hear anyone say that dreaded Trumpian phrase: 'Fake News'? 

And therein lies the problem with true stories on film. Dramatic effect often takes precedent over truth, and that harms the preception of the reality of events in a way that – while minor – could ultimately distort the story so much that the general public have a completely wrong view of what actually happened in the past.

I wonder if future archeologists and historians will look back on films of this era and assume that they portray historical events as the way they happened, or perhaps they'll be clever enough (or informed enough) to know that when they read 'inspired by a true story' or 'based on real events' they will take those statements with a fairly big pinch of salt.

So remember kids: not everything you see on film is 'true' or 'factual'.

Look it up on IMDB just to make sure.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Films I've seen of late (January '18)

#1 Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)
Plays out like an extended episode of Alan Partridge, but that’s no bad thing. A disgruntled employee holds everyone hostage at Alan’s radio station, and Alan is there to save the day using his trademark wit and charm (well, sort of). Hilarious.
(8/ 10)

#2 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2016)
Worthy sequel to the irreverent sci fi comedy, volume 2 has the Guardians meeting Starlord’s Dad - a ‘celestial’ with god-like powers. Throw in some space pirates and disgruntled alien superbeings for a bit of added mayhem and you have a colourful sci-fi fantasy with plenty of quips. It has problems, but the great characters and effects make up for it.
(8/10)

#3 Their Finest (2016)
British morale is suffering during World War Two, and the propaganda machine is desperate for a hit at the cinemas to raise the nation’s spirits. A young secretary is assigned to a film company to help make an rousing film based on events at Dunkirk. Facing sexism and prejudice, she manages against the odds to be integral to its success. Great acting with a good story (shame it wasn’t true though), this is quality British filmmaking.
(8/10)

#4 Life (2017)
A fresh take on the evil alien story, Life is set aboard the International Space Station where samples taken from Mars turn out to contain dormat nasties intent on killing all other life. A gripping thriller.
(7/10)

#5 T2:Trainspotting (2017)
Sequels that come 20 years after the original are worthy of suspicion. Do they actually have anything new to say - or are they merely cynical money-making efforts on behalf of the filmmakers? I suspect there's a little bit of the latter but actually on balance I feel this is a decent return for the drug addict, violent, sociopathic characters as they grapple with how Britain has changed over the last two decades (and what aging has done to them) – and how events of the first film still have repercussions for all of them. Worth a watch.
(7.5/10)

#6 Big Hero 6 (2014)
Not the first time I've seen this, but just as enjoyable watching it again. Strong characters, gorgeous CGI and great comedy combine with tense action pieces – all wrapped up in a positive message about grief, science and growing up. Great stuff.
(9/10)

#7 Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Francis Ford Coppola gives the camp and clichéd Prince of Darkness the auteur treatment in this mostly faithful adaptation of Stoker’s novel. Apart from Keanu Reeve’s wooden and stilted performance, the cast are clearly relishing their roles and doing a fine job in the process generating memorable moments and set pieces. I’m not a fan of horror but this doesn’t fail to do justice to the genre.
(9/10)

#8 Ghost in the shell (2017)
Scarlett Johanssen is the cyborg superspy ‘Major’ in this dystopian sci-fi flick that has impressive visuals but lacks any real depth. Not a bad movie by any means but the whitewashing is unfortunate whilst the plot and action feel underwhelming.
(6/10)

#9 The 5th Wave (2016)
Teen post-apocalyptic drama about a girl fighting to survive after aliens have invaded earth and have set about systematically eradicating mankind. A so-so film with reasonable performances, it is ruined by a daft plot point about how the aliens intend to finish off the remaining humans.
(4/10)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Confident - short film I made

Here's a little video I put together recently that raises the question of faith, and whether you're confident in what you believe in.



I filmed it back in September but it took me ages to get round to editing and finally putting it together. It's been put onto a new YouTube channel called 'Cosmic Teapot' - basically a collection of random videos I make that talk about faith, God, the meaning of life etc.

Feel free to share far and wide!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A review of 2017


Here we are again! Another year and another watershed in our lives has come round quicker than expected. To quote Ferris, "Live moves pretty fast."

I'm pleased to say that my blog count for 2017 was better than last year (and the year before that!), having doubled my efforts (Darth Vader would have been proud). 61 posts isn't bad – my best effort since 2012 – and it didn't feel too difficult to achieve (although summer was a bit of a dry spell).

So, 2107 - here goes.

Family
Boys are growing up, again! What is it with small human beings and their propensity for increasing in size?!? Seriously though, number one son turned 10 this year, which made me feel all sorts of conflicted emotions including sadness (he'll be a grown up and leave home before I know it), pride (he's doing well at school and is a good kid) and bewilderment (me? a father? seriously?). Ten whole years since my life was changed forever by becoming a dad. Crazy. What's great is that I am beginning to be able to engage with him more and more like an adult. For example we sometimes have normal grown up conversations - something I've longed for for ages.

My bother and his partner welcomed their third child into the world, a lovely healthy girl, in May – so it seems the next generation are well and truly in full swing.

Wifey and I are getting on well. I'm really grateful that things are solid between us. I think the fact that we are making more of an effort to catch up with each other on a dedicated basis helps (i.e. booking in brunch dates). This should prove doubly important now that we are both serving in the church and the resultant stress / time demands that brings.

I am constantly reminded of how fortunate we are as a family in all sorts of ways - the challenge is to never take things for granted.

Faith
My faith has had ups and downs of sorts. Not that I've wavered in my faith to any degree, but I am hyper sensitive when it comes to sound doctrine and all that. The notion of 'false prophets' is  something I find myself often thinking about and I have become a bit disillusioned with the charismatic approach to Christianity (not that I was particularly sold on that movement in the first place). There's a tension between sound biblical living that is right-relating and engaging with the fallen world in which we live in - something which many Christians, I fear, don't really get. Not that I'm an expert. It's often reallly hard to separate truth from lies - it's like trying to separate dust from treacle. Oh well, ho hum. Will keep thinking on that one.

I'm continuing my leadership training course – only four more essays to go, woohoo! – which has been interesting but quite a drain on my time and headspace. Once I've completed it, I hope to find something worthwhile to get involved in in the local community which is linked to the church. Foodbank, maybe.

As for church, I've only just started out as a deacon. I'm sure I will have lots to write about in a year's time but at the moment I have no real idea what it's going to be like. I've already had my first meeting and that was pretty painless, so watch this space I guess.

Travel
My travels this year were fairly minimal. Apart from a jaunt to France over spring half-term with most of my immediate family (where we had an amazing time), we didn't get to do much else apart from going to London in the summer (a trip to the Natural History Museum being the main focus) and a visit to relatives in Oxford and Yorkshire over the summer.

For next year, we're off to France again in August (just us this time), but apart from that we have nothing else planned.

Books
I think I've done a bit better with my reading this year. I'm not the quickest of readers but I'm a bit more determined to keep on top of it and make sure I read a variety of genres (not just sci-fi which is my favourite). I've also gotten into the habit of reading 'spiritual' books at breakfast time. It's my way of trying to double up my reading efforts and trying to avoid dwelling on the news (which is very depressing at the start of the day).

I've written an overview of my reading here.

Movies
So, I've managed 84 films this year, which isn't bad but I would have liked to have seen at least 100. I guess that's something to aim for next year. The problem is, I rarely have a couple of hours free in the evening these days. After settling the kids for bed, sorting the house out and catching up on work, it's usually 9pm and then watching an entire movie seems a bit much (especially if it's over 2 hours). I have gotten into the habit of watching films in segments, but I don't like to do that too often as it does seem to stop the flow a bit.

My favourite films of 2017 (in no particular order) are:
- American Made
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- Bright
- Baby Driver
- The LEGO Batman Movie

TV
Having upgraded our Virgin package and subscribed to Netflix, we are following a whole load of TV shows. Here's what we've been watching:
- Mad Men (We are still plodding through this, having arrived at the eighth - and final - season. Eventually we'll get there).
- Designated Survivor (We're now onto the second season of this drama set in a parallel world where the US President is actualy a likeable guy determined to do the right thing).
- Stranger Things (Season two was as good as the first. I just hope they don't screw it up going into next year).
- The Expanse (intelligent sci-fi grounded in a very believable reality - on Season 2 at the mo).
- The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season two felt less funny than season one. Still, the characters are great and there seems a bit more mileage left in it).
- Master of None (hilarious observational comedy with plenty of pathos).
- SS GB (dark and thoughful drama set in an alternate Britain where the Nazis won the Battle of Britain).
- Star Trek: Discovery (I started watching it, but lost interest halfway through. Not sure I can be bothered...)
- The Handmaid's Tale (Powerful drama not a million miles from home which is kinda scary).

Shows/Theatre/Music
I saw very little this year in terms of shows/theatre this year, but I did get to see a show by proxy because I was filming it on behalf of a friend who was one of the actors. Called 'Quiet Hands' it told the story of an autistic boy who is being bullied by his housemates. It was just three actors on a bare stage but it was very powerful and moving.

We were very lucky to get to see Coldplay in the Millennium Stad - er, Principality Stadium (dang, keep doing that!) in July. It was a breathtaking show, even though we were stuck right at the back on the top tier. Good memories.

For Christmas, we usually take the kids to a show of some kind and this year we went to see Wind in the Willows at the Sherman theatre. It was brilliant - with great songs, terrific acting and a gorgeous set. Hopefully we'll go again next year to see Alice in Wonderland.

Work
Work has been plodding along as usual. Not much to report on, but I have been encouraged by new networking opportunities - plus I invested in a couple of decent cameras and other filming equipment (thanks to a hefty bank loan) which has really improved the quality of my work.

I've been working on some short films, but haven't done as much as I would have liked. The only one that came out in 2017 was 'Timicide' which we shot at the end of 2016. We did a couple of other shorts, but just mucking around really. One of my shorts is languishing in post-production which is frustrating (all my own fault though). I hope to do more this year coming, but it all depends on time and capacity.

I also had the opportunity to edit a feature film for the first time. It was a low budget crowdfunded sci-fi thriller but due to lack of funds and various setbacks its release has been delayed signifcantly. Only time will tell how long it will be before it's completed.

Health
I've only been properly ill once in 2017 (in May), which is a record because I'm usually grotty two or three times in any given year. Not sure what to put it down to, but it may be something to do with the fact that I'm trying to eat more healthily (well, I'm *trying*). I'm definitely eating more fruit and vegetables these days, and while my exercise regime is a little sporadic I'm pretty much on top of it most of the time. Would be great to get rid of the belly, though.

I did have a 'back episode' back in August when my back went completely and I was in pain for weeks. It was almost debilitating but thankfully subsided eventually. It sure made me feel old!!!
I do exercises now to try and compensate and hope it will prevent any future problems.

World Events
Well, we had the divisive General Election, Trump's appaling presidency and the ugly fallout of Brexit. With a smattering of terrorist attacks and various disasters it was a pretty downbeat 12 months. But then, aren't they always? It's all too easy to focus on the negatives when there's plenty of good stuff happening that often gets underreported, ignored or suppressed by the bad news.

I was struck when, watching something related to the 80s, there was the same level of hysteria and panic about various world news from the time. Stuff that has been and gone, consigned to the history books. I just made me think that we shouldn't be troubled by what's going on in the present. Yes, react to what's going on - don't just let bad people get away with bad deeds - but don't allow these things to dictate our sense of wellbeing. It's easy to forget that most human beings are good, kind and trustworthy – and that most events are fleeting and temporary.

Other Stuff
We had the – ahem – joy of caring for stick insects in 2017. I say 'we', I actually mean 'I'. I became the sole care giver and, despite losing a few initially have managed to keep them alive all this time. Fascinating and curious beasts, I wouldn't say I have any affection for them - just a spot of loyalty I guess, seeing as they were a gift to my boys from my younger brother. How long they'll live for is anyone's guess as they're not in the most ideal environment for their species (it's a bit cold here in Wales!).

Like last year's post, I'll end this with a brief mention of a funeral I attended this autumn. My aunt sadly died of cancer and it was an honour to join my family at the service. I don't always feel affected by funerals, but it was a very moving occasion and unsurprisingly made me reflect on my own mortality (as well as others around me). I remember my aunt as a very gregarious and uplifting person. I wouldn't say I was particularly close to her, but she did her auntie duty well and always took an interest in us, even though we didn't see her very often. From what I understand, her final months and days were not very dignified (whose ever are?), but my memories of her are positive – someone who was ready to be life and soul of the party. I think that's the best way to remember her.

And on that note, dear reader, I shall sign off from my first post of 2018.

Have a good one!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Here are my thoughts on the latest Star Wars movie, one which seems to be more divisive that The Force Awakens. You could almost call The Last Jedi the Brexit Star Wars. Or the Trump Star Wars. Or the, erm Phantom Menace Star Wars.

Okay, maybe not.

WARNING: SPOILERS!
Okay, so overall I liked it. It’s quite long and it seems to lose its way in the middle (probably because of its runtime), but it felt like a Star Wars movie and that’s what counts.

Yes, some fans didn’t like it. Yes, there are issues with it - but I think the main take away is that it was a bold direction to take the series. Rain Johnson could have played it safe, but he didn’t and I think that’s a good thing even if it does feel a little uncomfortable.

My gripes were:
- Luke expressing green milk from an alien cow’s breast. Silly and unncessesary in my opinion.
- A complete dismissal of basic space physics (I can live with sound effects, but when gravity gets ignored that is frustrating as hell).
- Leia’s space angel scene.
- The Resistance’s daft military strategy choices.
- A bit too many samey bits as The Empire Strikes Back. See: imperial walkers fighting speeders, master teaching a jedi, a dodgy wheeler/dealer character (DJ), Yoda for goodness sake!

My likes were:
- The lightsaber battle in Snoke’s throne room. Epic and clever.
- Planet Crait and its unusual geology. It does look a bit like Hoth, though.
- Rey’s discovery of the force.
- Rey and Kylo’s relationship.
- Kylo and Hux’s rivalry. A refreshing theme to have in the series, and funny too.

What I like about Rian’s choices for the story is his exploration of what it means to be a Jedi, and that you don't have to be from noble royal blood in order to achieve greatness (or indeed to be a Jedi). Also, there's the subject of failure: Poe's, Finn's, the Resistance's and Luke's. Luke's wrestling with his own mistakes and doubt – and the ultimate release from his angst at the end of the movie – are mature and defiant decisions.

What this film does is take Star Wars in a new, unpredictable direction and challenges our preconceptions about the franchise, and I really do think that's a good thing.

Some may disagree and feel that their 'childhood' is being ruined but I think they're missing the point. If you've grown up with Star Wars as a kid, don't forget that you'll always have the old Star Wars. The original trilogy are still there to be enjoyed (although admittedly not in their untampered state, but that's a different issue). That stuff can't go on forever. Just enjoy it for what it is!

The new films should be about starting over again and breaking new ground. The Force Awakens was a way to gently break us into that, and The Last Jedi is another step closer to moving on (that's why it has similarities to Empire, I guess). We've lost Han Solo, now Luke (and sadly Leia because of Carrie Fisher's untimely death). The baton has been passed to the next genertion. Hopefully, episode IX will be even more different. Rian is working on the next three episodes after, and presumably he'll be taking Rey and co. in a new and fresh direction. Which can't be bad, right?

Of course, if episode IX features a giant Starkiller Base 2, copying Return of the Jedi, I'll eat my words and drink some of that lovely green milk.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Films I've Seen of Late (December)

#72 Collateral Beauty (2016)
Intriguing drama about a bereaved father who can’t move on from his daughter's death. His business partners try to remove him from the company so that they can make a crucial deal that will secure their business’ future, and employ three struggling actors to help them out. With a great cast and layered storyline, Collateral Beauty is a compelling and moving experience.
(8.5/10)

#73 The Polar Express (2004)
A boy who's losing his belief in Santa is invited aboard the magical 'Polar Express' to visit him at the North Pole. It seems like kidnapping and overly friendly old men are OK when it's Christmas time - the rest of the year it's a criminal offence. Anyway, back to the Polar Express. An interesting premise, but the ancient CGI (yup almost 14 years old) is distracting and some of the plot points feel clunky.
(5/10)

#74 Justice League (2017)
DCs most famous characters come together for this comic-book ensemble piece that, in my humble opinion, hits more than it misses. Following events from the much-maligned Batman vs Superman, Justice League balances story with its various heroes and villains well - although Steppenwulf the bad guy is a bit, well, vanillla. Still, good old-fashioned popcorn entertainment.
(7/10)

#75 Café Society (2016)
Woody Allen writes and directs this 30s drama about a young New Yorker who moves to LA in search of employment and excitement. He falls in love with a secretary who works at his uncle’s agency but this relationship proves complicated when she reveals she’s having an affair with an older, married man. With great writing, set design and costumes it’s only let down is its fairly muted ending that doesn’t really satisfy.
(7/10)

#76 John Wick (2014)
Keanu Reeves is a badass hitman who comes out of retirement after a Russian gangster pushes his buttons. Violent, slick and dark, John Wick shows no restraint as he goes on the rampage, but Interestingly he’s not portrayed as invincible - in amongst the mayhem there are moments of vulnerability and weakness which at least humanises him a bit. A solid thriller, but not for the faint hearted.
(8/10)

#77 Friends with Money (2006)
The ups and downs of life, love and money for four friends in their forties. Some good characterisation and an interesting story - it just ends without much of a satisfactory conclusion.
(6.5/10)

#78 In Bruges (2008)
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are two hit men, sent to Bruges In Belgium after completing a job. It soon transpires that they are not there just to lie low, but for something more heinous. A dark comedy with great acting (esp Farrell as a tortured, dim-witted soul), In Bruges is so much more than your typical hit man action flick.
(9/10)

#79 Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
A solid return to the franchise with events continuing immediately after The Force Awakens. The Resistance are seriously depleted in numbers and are on the run from the First Order. It's up to Finn, Rey, Poe and friends to save the day - but can they do it against such odds? There are some odd directorial choices and plot holes (as always), but overall a worthy addition to the never-ending saga.
(8/10)

#80 The Star (2017)
Kiddie-friendly re-telling of the Nativity story from the perspective of Mary's donkey and various other animals. Does a reasonably good job of keeping the little ones entertained and conveys just about enough of the Christmas story to be true to it – but keeps it as 'safe' as possible.
(6/10)

#81 Die Hard (1988)
A seminal action movie that inspired countless copycats, this 80s thriller is nothing but flawless. Some may dismiss it as dated but I prefer to see it as aged and matured like a fine wine. Great fun.
(10/10)

#82 The Grinch (2000)
Jim Carrey hams it up as the green-skinned recluse who hates everything to do with Christmas, looking down upon the residents of Whoville with hatred and contempt. While similar efforts haven’t been quite so successful, this is a decent stab at Dr Seuss material.
(6.5/10)

#83 Bright (2017)
Lord of the Rings meets Training Day in this fantasy buddy cop mashup that, surprisingly, works. I can't understand the negative reviews. It's well-paced, gritty – and doesn't lecture the viewer with tons of backstory about how humans, elves and orcs are all somehow living together in LA. Will Smith is his usual good self, and Joel Edgerton is great as his orc partner. Looking forward to the sequel.
(8/10)

#84 Hidden Figures (2016)
Based on the true story of the black women working behind the scenes at NASA during the space race in the 60s. In spite of institutional racism and sexism, they soon become indispensible to America's journey to space. An inspiring and moving story, it serves as a reminder (as if we needed it) that intelligence and ability are not the preserve of white men.
(8.5/10)