Monday, January 20, 2014

Movie Review - Star Trek: Into Darkness

Wifey had book club Friday night with girlfriends so it was an ideal opportunity for me to get out one of my Christmas presents (Star Trek Into Darkness on DVD), crack open a beer and have some quality 'me' time.

I know it's a bit of an oldie, but I am about a year behind everyone else when it comes to films because of having kids blah blah blah, so anyway here's my review...

NB Here be spoilers!

Ben asked room service for a table and chairs
so he could sit down and eat his Pot Noodle.

The first Star Trek reboot in 2009 was pretty much a huge relief all round (I wrote something about Trek way back in 2010). With pacey direction by JJ Abrams and strong performances from some new young blood whippersnappers, the franchise was re-energised (excuse the pun) with a style and gusto good enough to rival anything Star Wars could come up with. The franchise was given a new lease of life and left audiences wanting more.

While STID (unfortunate acronym that – looks a bit like STD...) had a lot to live up to, it thankfully manages to move the characters and concept forward without falling foul of the usual sequel issues.

The plot centres around Khan (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a genetically-altered 'superhuman' spy-turned-terrorist who threatens to bring the Federation to its knees in revenge for the ill-treatment of his fellow ubermensch. After Khan attempts to assassinate the Federation's top brass, the crew of the USS Enterprise dash off to go and get the bad guy, only to embroil themselves in a more sinister scheme that is potentially just as devastating as Khan's.

It was good to see the Enterprise crew together again, now a more solid team after having been on numerous adventures together in the interim.

The Khan story seemed a bit 'safe' to me, indicating that there is still something of a nervousness about messing about too much with the Trek universe (they even have to wheel out Leonard Nimoy again to remind everyone that this movie is, like, legit y'know). In addition, I was surprised at the casting of Cumberbatch in the villain's role. When Ricardo Montalban portrayed Khan back in the 60s, it was daring enough to have a latino actor command so much screen time, but by 2013 you'd think the media had moved on from such petty racial-political sensitivities and had the balls to enlist an actor of Asian origin (after all, Khan Noonien Singh's character has always been a Sikh from the northern regions of India). Instead they hire an English white man. Baffling.

Saying that, Cumberbatch is unsurprisingly excellent as the uber-intelligent baddie (in some respects, there was no need for him to be Khan – why not just create a new character and adjust the story accordingly?), playing a slightly darker and humourless version of his Sherlock persona. It was also an interesting idea to have the baddie put aside his differences temporarily and work alongside Kirk and his crew against another threat (Admiral Marcus, intent on starting a war against the Klingon empire). I also found it odd that Khan was portrayed as a terrorist, rather than just a straight-up bad guy. It seems in this post-9/11 world, if you want a really really bad guy they have to blow up places with suicide bombers (or the equivalent), just to emphasise to the audience that they are really terrible inhuman monsters. It's a lazy and predictable way of doing things, but I guess it is to be expected.

I wish Simon Pegg had tried a bit harder with his accent. Once or twice he would slightly slip into his English tones, which is distracting and would probably have exasperated the original Scotty, James Doohan.

Oh yeah, and someone should sack the futurist who works on these movies. Seriously, this is in the 23rd Century. Star ships and phasers are to be expected, but why are people having fisticuffs aboard mobile garbage containers? Surely we would have figured out how to deal with waste by then. Also, what idiot designed the warp core? All it needed was a few metal supports keeping the prong thingy straight during space battles and Kirk wouldn't have had to sacrifice his life fixing it.

But – I'm still saying I enjoyed the film. There were some nice little touches that referenced Trek well – Tribbles making an appearance was fun, and it was good to finally see the face of the Klingons (albeit very briefly) as they exist in this new timeline. It was also nice to see Noel Clarke in such a high profile production – even though he has very little screentime, his character was quite memorable.

Whilst far from perfect, Into Darkness is an enjoyable space romp that keeps the Trek-ness alive and has helped the rebooted franchise make a lasting mark – I just hope that Abrams' departure for the rival Star Wars universe won't have too much of a negative impact on the direction of the Enterprise crew.

No doubt there are plenty of good directors out there more than willing to take the helm.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

Monday, January 6, 2014

We're hosting an Alpha course!

For all you Cardiffians out there (and those not far from the capital), this is just a short post to publicise the Alpha course which my church is running (starting next Thursday, 16th Jan 2014).

Alpha is a course designed for people who just want to find out a bit more about the Christian faith, set in an informal atmosphere that includes lovely food to eat (!).

We will be hosting it at our house every week for seven sessions and finishing it off with a Saturday away day.

There is a launch evening at the tremendous 'Katiwok' restaurant on Crwys Rd starting 7.30pm, but if you can't make it you can still come along to Alpha.

Interested? Know someone who might want to come along? Send me a message or contact the church direct to register or find out more.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Looking back at 2013 (The Good, the Bad and the Weird)

I'm reluctant to classify 2013 as either a 'good' or a 'bad' year, because things are always more complex than that. As always, it has been a mixture but I think overall I have a lot to be thankful for.

The Good Stuff

Holiday in France
Top of my list is our Eurocamp trip to the Vendee region in France. I love France and was yearning for a return trip after our mass family holiday a few years back. The weather was good, the food was great and the kids were relatively easygoing despite long journeys and unfamiliar surroundings. One major highlight was JKY learning to ride a bike which was a stark reminder that he's growing up fast...

Ed turning 1
Related to that last point, number 2 child passed the 12 month mark and it really made me think about the previous year and how life has moved so quickly. Still weary from life with two kids, as I looked back through the fog of exhaustion and tiredness I kept telling myself that things would eventually get easier.

People's Book Prize
A bittersweet one this (my entry in the 'weird stuff' will hopefully make this obvious). One of our authors from work won the prestigious 'People's Book Prize' which was a big deal for such a tiny publishing house coming from Cardiff. It's not quite the Man Booker Prize, but it's a start. Her books are still selling and even though she's pushing ninety, she's still working hard to publicise her titles.

JKY on Channel 5
In December, JKY appeared on Channel 5 with some other school children thanks to his dad working for a company that was making TV sponsorship ads (i.e. me). We were hired to do our first piece of TV work (albeit very small) for one of our clients at short notice, which was a bit nerve racking but quite exciting. Hopefully it will lead us to do more of the same in the coming year.

The Bad Stuff

Lack of sleep
For the first part of 2013, we rarely got more than four hours sleep at a time thanks to Ed and his inability to sleep for extended periods. Summer, however, was a bit of a breakthrough when he finally started to settle better and sleep through the night. Having endured over a year of broken sleep it came as a welcome development. Ed has wavered on a number of occasions (thanks mainly to illness), but generally he's better at sleeping through than he ever was. 

Unfortunately, just as it felt like we'd turned a corner with Ed's sleep, new neighbours moved in to the upper flat next door and created a whole new sleep-related problem. With no appreciation of the fact that their living room shares a very thin wall with our bedroom (despite repeated attempts to explain this to them), they regularly stay up into the small hours keeping us awake. They don't have wild parties or play loud music as such, they just talk very loudly and laugh randomly at stuff. This makes it particularly difficult because was can't just ask the council to stop them hanging out in their front lounge. If they were having parties until three in the morning, it would be a different story. Even so, we've taken advice and have something of a plan (which, unfortunately, involves spending £1000 on soundproofing - erk!).

Ongoing battles with (mild) depression
I've found myself at my lowest ever point emotionally this year, which surprises me because I've usually always been quite a chilled out kind of person (at least, that's what I thought). I could pick out a number of possible reasons: lack of sleep, my work situation and the fact that I'm getting closer to the big four-oh. I've concluded that sleep really does affect my mood, and if I'm not getting enough I become incredibly irritable and miserable. Work has been stressful in different ways and even though I've made decisions that will change the situation it doesn't mean the stress will go away completely. Finally, as I've written before, I am fast approaching forty and I think two things are nagging at me: I feel like I haven't achieved much in my life so far, and I'm anxious about the implications of getting older (i.e. my chances of remaining in good health are slowly diminishing as I get older). Depressing stuff, eh?

Of course, I'm not actually depressed in the clinical sense. I appreciate that feeling down and suffering from depression are two different things. I can function normally pretty much all of the time and don't harbour suicidal thoughts or anything, so at the very worst I'm experiencing a very mild depression (for want of a more appropriate label). I just hope I can shake it off and get a bit more joy into my life over the coming year...

The weird stuff

Deciding to move on
I've been co-Director of a company for almost four years but have become increasingly unhappy about my involvement for various reasons. In the summer I came to the conclusion that enough was enough: I made the difficult decision to move on to new things and work for myself once again. This had been brewing in me for some time and was excruciating to implement – mainly because of the impact it had on those I worked with – but I didn't have much of a choice. What I was doing, and more importantly the way I was doing it, was having an extremely negative affect on my mental state. Slowly going crazy and frustrated at everything, I wasn't much fun to be around (just ask my family).

You don't just walk away from a company Directorship, however, and so I'm sticking it out for another eight or nine months, depending on how things go, so that it's more straightforward for me to step down. There's still work to do and I don't want to leave anyone in the lurch. I admit that had I made a different decision back in the past, maybe things wouldn't have ended up this way, but there's no point living in regret. I really believe that this is the right way forward for me and ultimately will benefit both myself and my colleagues in the long term.

Doing up the house
We've done loads to the house, even though we'd never really planned to at the start of the year. First of all, we had to have the entire kitchen ceiling replaced thanks to a leaking pipe. Then we had to completely redo the whole bathroom because of another leak. Lastly (and we haven't actually started work on this yet), we lost some roof tiles in the recent storms so have to get those repaired. Apart from the emergency stuff, we had some decorating in the two front rooms, and had an epic time ripping out the fence in our back yard so that we could add a new trellis all around the top of the wall. So it's been quite a lot compared to previous years, but there's still plenty more to do. Eventually, one day, we may actually get to finish the house (!).

Summing Up
So, it's not been the greatest twelve months in my life. Admittedly, it's been great to see the kids grow and develop and I think that's been one of the things which has kept me going. Also, Wifey has been a terrific support and I feel our marriage remains steady and strong.  I hope, however, that I haven't written a post that sounds like I'm whingeing about all the bad stuff that's happened to me – there are plenty of people out there who have had far worse 2013s than me. Knowing this certainly keeps my experiences in perspective.

At the moment I feel optimistic about the year to come and I'm looking forward to a number of things in 2014.

Who knows what the year will bring? Let's find out ....