Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rogue One: A Review

Star Wars has not had a good rep for its prequels, so a lot has been riding on the latest instalment of the franchise, now controlled by Disney.

Rogue One is a curious thing: a prequel to the original trilogy that is also a sort of sequel to the prequels of the original trilogy. Or something.

Anyhoo, I've seen it twice and here are my thoughts.


On initial viewing I came away slightly disappointed, but once I'd seen it a second time I came to appreciate it a lot more. I think this was mainly because there was a lot of hype in the build up to Rogue One's release. Even though I religiously avoided spoilery trailers (of which there were many), it was hard to avoid picking up tidbits in the media here are there. This, I think, ultimately affected how I saw the film the first time around. Seeing it again gave me a chance to re-watch it without all of that prejudice, and focus on appreciating the story. Unfortunately, RO is one of those modern films that moves to fast it can be hard to keep up sometimes. Actually, it's almost a requirement these days to watch a movie twice just so you can pick up on the things you missed (mainly stuff that characters say).

Or maybe it's because I'm getting old.

Moving on, RO is a good action film with interesting characters and well-paced set pieces faithfully set in the Star Wars universe. It does, however, suffer slightly from this association but more on that next. If you can ignore Cinema Sins guys sitting on your sholder wittering into your ear while you watch it, you'll be treated with a good yarn of heroes and villains fighting it out for ultimate victory.

Things of note (in no particular order):
- No Star Wars title crawl
This is probably just as well. I think people's attention spans are too short to sit through loads of text. Just get on with the film already!
- Planet Titles
It felt a bit odd to have a Star Wars film tell us which planet we're on, but it's actually helpful as we jump around from one to another quite a lot.
- Darth Vader
Whilst it made sense to include him, even if it was a cameo, James Earl Jones' voice isn't what it used to be (the dude is 85 now!). It was, however, cool to see Vader's castle lair on Mustafar and his attack on the rebel ship at the end was spine-chillingly good.
- Blue Milk and ugly angry Canteen Guy
Two of several nods to the entire franchise, this was done with about as much subtelty as an X-Wing crashing into your house. Seriously, there's no need to place these things front and centre - it's too distracting.
- CGI Actors
Bringing Peter Cushing back to life was a bold move and the CGI is impressive, but still not good enough in my opinion. It made sense to feature Cushing's character Moff Tarkin, but he could have appeared in a more discreet way. Carrie Fisher's return (made more poignant by her recent death) was much better, probably thanks to her youthful skin. No doubt they will do a special edition in five years time where they will update the effects.
- Characters from A New Hope and the Prequels
They did a much better job of splicing in the Gold and Red Leader pilots from A New Hope. Even though they were on screen for mere seconds it didn't feel out of place. It was also fun to have R2-D2 and C3PO briefly make a cameo, and having Jimmy Smits reprise his role of Bail Organa (Leia's adopted father) was a nice way of connecting up the franchise (even though the prequels are total crap).
- Diverse characters
Having diverse characters in the Star Wars universe is good, right and very much needed in this day and age. The only downside is that RO's diversity makes A New Hope's total lack of it even more obvious (and awkward).
- The Death Star's weakness
It's been an ongoing joke about the Death Star's catastrophic weakness: why build a supermassive space station with an exhaust port that leads directly to the core reactors (vunerable to an attack from a lowly photon torpedo)? Finally, we have a - fairly credible - answer: the man who designed the Death Star intentially put in a weakness so that the rebels could destroy it. Added to this the fact that he did it in memory of his beloved daughter and as an act of defiance against the evil Empire and you have a striking emotional plot point.
- They all die in the end
This is another bold move. None of the RO crew make it out alive, making it the ultimate suicide mission. I'm sure the characters will return in some form or another (in books, comics etc.), but to establish RO as a self-contained movie is a nice touch in the world of endless sequels.
- New vehicles
This is a minor niggle, but it's kind of weird that Krennic's shuttle, the rebel U-Wing fighters and the Empire's TIE Striker (cool though they are) are new ships that are nowhere to be seen in the original trilogy. Why couldn't they just stick with established vehicles from that era?

One other thing that struck me about RO was its underlying message: sometimes you have to make great sacrifices to attain freedom from oppression. In this story more than any other Star Wars film, I think it raises the interesting question about rebellion and civil disobedience. As the character Cassian Andor remarks, he and his colleagues have done terrible things in the name of the rebellion (he shoots dead an informant in cold blood the first time we see him). What kind of hero does that make him and the rest of his team?

I'm planning on writing up further thoughts about this whole issue but in the meantime, here's a little graphic I made:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

REFUGE: The short film I made

Blimey, I haven't posted here in a while.

You may not be aware, but earlier this year I attempted to direct my first short film, Refuge. It was inspired by the refugee crisis, imagining what life would be like for us if we in the UK were the ones plunged into the middle of a civil war. We had virtually no budget and very little time to pull it together, so it was a major challenge – all the cast and crew (before, during and after production) were amazing though, and I am pleased to say the final edit was eventually completed in July.

Now that the film has been submitted to various film festivals, we are able to make it public via social media:

A slight word of caution - there is one particular scene featuring blood which some might find slightly off putting (it's just after the 4 minute mark).

Please feel free to share with whoever you like via whatever channels you are on (if you're into that sort of thing) or via good old fashioned email. Anything would be really appreciated.

Monday, July 18, 2016

iPhone 6S review

Three generations of mobile phone.
When my iPhone 5 was failing to charge properly and struggle to recognise my SIM card I knew it was time for an upgrade. Although I was holding out to see what the iPhone 7 would look like I didn't feel like my current phone would last that long so I bit the bullet and got a 6S.

I know Apple isn't quite as fashionable as it used to be – not that I particularly care – but their stuff still seems to work on the whole and is pretty long-lasting (in my experience, anyway).

I almost went for the new SE, as it was a bit cheaper but because they seemed to be out of stock all the time with my new carrier of choice (Giffgaff) I opted for a 64GB version of the White 6S. After having to cope with a 16GB iPhone that was constantly telling me it was almost full, the next size up seemed to make sense (despite the extra cost).

Overall look and feel: it feels nice and solid, a bit heavier than my old 5. Its white face was slightly disappointing ... it's almost translucent and it's as if the darkness of the technical gubbins inside can be seen throughit.. A minor issue but noticeable all the same. Another design feature that lets the phone down is the camera lens that sticks out slightly. If you lay the phone flat on the table it wobbles all because of that stupid protrusion and I think this is something Steve Jobs would never have allowed – it ruins the aesthetic, and comes across as badly-designed (shock! horror! for Apple!). Thankfully, because of the case I got for it (an essential item for anyone wanting to protect their expensive gadget), the phone lies perfectly flat so no problem there. The size of the screen takes a lot of getting used to and the moment I got the 6S I started wondering if I should have held out for the more compact SE. You see, the 5's screen size (the same size as the SE) may be small but it's the perfect fit for my hand (and a lot of other people's, I imagine). I could hold it one-handed without any problems, texting or scrolling while my other hand was free to do other things. With the 6S, however, this is not really possible – both hands are required to hold it comfortably. Either that, or I need to prop it up against something when I'm sitting down with it. My fingers simply aren't long enough, it seems. OK, it is possible to use it one-handed but it's not very comfortable and feels very precarious whenever I do it.  I dread to think how people cope with the 6S Plus which is even bigger.

Interface: Having gone from a 5 with the latest iOS, the jump to a 6S wasn't a massive leap (apart from the issue with the screen size). Having played with Android, iOS wins hands down in my opinion. It feels grown up and intuitive in a way its competitor never has. The only marked difference between the 6S and 5 is the speed at which the phone boots up and opens apps. It feels very slick and zippy and the screen is bright and crisp. The 3D touch is an interesting feature, but I never really use it. I've got a feeling it will come into its own when the new iOS debuts, but we'll have to see. It just feels gimmicky at the moment. I'm pleased I can now use ApplePay, as I often find myself without a wallet or cash so it's another option that might save me when I need to buy something. The only problem at the moment is that I can only link my credit card, which I try to avoid using at all costs. The main thing I love about the 6S is the camera which takes great photos and slow-mo videos. I'm still playing around with the slow-mo but hope to use it more and more, especially for my work as I'm sure it will come in handy.

Summary: Overall, I'm fairly satisfied. I resent having to fork out a wad of cash for something that most of the time I will only use to surf the web, make calls or send text messages. To me, products never quite live up to the hype. Apple presumably touted the 6S as the 'best iPhone ever' or words to that effect when it debuted, but with the iPhone 7 expected to appear in the autumn those words seem woefully hollow. The main thing is that it works and means I won't need to think about upgrading for a while.

Although, if the iPhone 7 looks amazing, I might be sorely tempted...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A bit of gardening love

Apples / Oranges??
Tomatoes, melons and radish

My parents are verdant horticulturalists, and were always a bit disappointed that none of their sons never took up horticulture as a profession. They had at least hoped that their green fingered-ness might rub off on their offspring in some way, but none of us (all five brothers) have been particularly adept at gardening.

Potatoes (various varieties)
I'm not saying I'm green-fingered, but I have started to get a bit more interested in growing things, however, since I got a small plastic greenhouse for Christmas. Our garden is, unfortunately, quite small so there's no way I can grow rows and rows of luscious veg but I can at least put things in pots and make some use of the limited space. At the moment I'm growing strawberries, melons, tomatoes and potatoes (and they seem to be growing!). I've tried to grow a pineapple from a leftover stalk but it doesn't seemed to have worked. Not a huge variety admittedly but for someone who's never really grown anything before I think it's a good start.

The real test will be whether the plants actually bear anything edible!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The post #Brexit post

After all that's happened over the last week it's easy to lose hope and despair for our future, but while I'm not a natural optimist, I think optimism is the one thing we as a nation need right now.

A lot of people (half the country more or less) are angry and frustrated at the referendum result, but we have to accept the outcome as a democratic decision and the will of the people (regardless of how misguided or divisive the referendum was). It's good that people are so wound up because it's the opposite of apathy and apathy will never help change things, so let's use this energy for something positive.

Because we're in the social media age we think posting funny memes, sharing thoughtful articles, linking to videos of comedians ripping into politicians, changing our profile picture or signing online petitions will make the world a better place (believe, me I've done my fair share of those things), but the reality is armchair activism isn't enough. Those things are all well and good but they're too easy and are usually only seen by people who agree with us anyway.

If we want to see real change, we've got to get our hands dirty - talk to people, really know the issues, try and understand why people are so angry and disillusioned. Not only that, but we need to let those in power know that we've had enough.

The 'establishment' have been dealt a massive blow not seen in years and here is our opportunity to reshape and rebuild politics for the people. Those in power – or rather, those on the cusp of power – won't let that happen easily though, and that is why now more than ever we all do our bit to create something good for the future.

Join a political party or support organisations like Hope not Hate. Lobby your MP about the issues you care about. Get stuck in and see what you can do in your local community.

Then, maybe – just maybe – things will turn out for the best.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Reflections on #Brexit and the threat of extremism

When the news broke about the Referendum I was, ironically, in another part of the EU - Majorca - filming the wedding of a couple from Caerphilly. Thank goodness for the proxy vote which Wifey duly carried out for me. The result took on an interesting perspective to me as I wandered among British, German and Spanish holidaymakers all being looked after by hospitality staff not just from Spain but places like Poland (yes indeed - the Poles don't all choose to live in the UK).

To say I was gutted is an understatement. Like a lot of people I was kind of expecting a win for Remain, albeit a very close one. The outcome felt like a punch in the stomach and the resultant shock still hasn't quite worn off. There I was, watching TV in a hotel in an EU country, learning about the most momentous event in British history for almost half a century. Pretty surreal.

I've never had particularly strong feelings about the EU until recently, but my decision to vote Remain was largely a reaction to the Brexit campaign's constant undercurrent of racism and outdated jingoism. The other arguments could have potentially swayed me but using immigration as a way of scaring people into voting Leave made me shudder every time it reared its head. I won't go into the lies and half-truths peddled by both sides but now that it's over I genuinely fear for the way we're heading politically.

Just one look at the reaction from the far-right from Britain and abroad after the vote was announced should be enough to make any sane, intelligent person feel, at the very least, slightly concerned. Echoes of history, anyone? True, they are still a tiny minority but all extreme factions start off small and Brexit could just be the little push that the right-wing snowball needs to get down the hill and become a ruddy great big avalanche of hatred.

As I write this, my plane is making its way across England into Wales, descending into the capital city I have called home for almost two decades. The landscape is the same. The roads, the fields, the cities and towns fascinatingly small below us are comfortingly familiar.

And yet, I am coming back to a country that is forever changed. Its people have spoken and their future is the most uncertain it's been for decades.

Let us hope and pray it all turns out alright in the end.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The EU referendum - why I'm voting to stay #brexit #EUreferendum

The EU referendum is looming and I wanted to share why I'm voting to remain.

Firstly, I should point out that I fundamentally disagree with the idea of this referendum in the first place. The British public should never have been asked to make a decision about something which is so incredibly complicated. Recent general elections have presented us with a choice of parties that are different but not radically so, and choosing between one or the other would not have changed our lives a great deal. This decision about the EU, however, feels like it could have a fundamental impact on our society, and not necessarily for the better. To me, it feels like we are choosing between Totalitarianism and Democracy – admittedly that might be a bit melodramatic, but I don't think it's too far off the mark and it's a scary thought.

The main argument from the Leave camp seems to centre around EU controlling all that we do, and the whole issue of immigration. Those are genuine concerns, but I don't think subjecting the country to catastrophic uncertainty because of those issues is the right way to go about it. The EU has less 'power' over us than people tend to think (that nonsense about 'straight cucumbers' being one of those lies), and immigration is a far more complex issue than one that just relates to the European Union.

I accept that the EU is not perfect, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages in my opinion. If things are not right with how we relate to Europe then we should get stuck in and call for change rather than run away in an isolationist paddy.

As far as I can tell, no-one really knows what will happen to us should we choose Brexit, and to gamble an entire nation's future in this way seems irresponsible and risky. We know where we stand with Europe at the moment, but should we choose to leave we really don't know how things will pan out in terms of economy, politics and security.

A strong Europe provides an effective counterbalance to the superpowers of China and USA, something which a single nation (ie Britain) could never do, plus trade with those nations could prove far more difficult post-Brexit (as President Obama has pointed out). Not only that, Britain's exit from Europe could weaken its position with Russia – arguably an unstable and unpredictable entity under Putin.

There's a chance it could lead to the break up of the UK, especially as the SNP is pro-Europe. I was actually curious to see what would have happened if Scotland gained independence, mainly because it would have been such a fantastic snub to Westminster, but if Scotland leaves, why shouldn't Wales or Northern Ireland do the same? That may not be a terribly bad thing perhaps – but to me, Brexit feels like the wrong reason for breaking up the Union.

We do have a lot to be grateful to the EU for in spite of the bureaucracy, especially when it comes to employment law, environmental issues and human rights. Such progressive directives have improved working and living conditions for millions and I fear that breaking away from these commitments could, in the hands of unscrupulous leaders, send us back to the Victorian age.

As for the various heads of the Leave campaign, I suspect they are purely in it for self-interest rather than the wider good of Britain. It's a golden opportunity to divide political parties and whip up the populace into an unnecessary frenzy – all thanks to 'fear', a primal emotion that stifles logic and reason. If the Brexit leaders succeed, it will only line their pockets and feed their desire for power while ordinary people face decades of economic and political uncertainty.

Finally, I think Brexit can only help to stoke the fires of right-wing extremism in this country. The far-right have been gaining ground over the last few years and there's a real chance that one day in the not-too-distant future we will find ourselves governed by them. The implications of this don't bear thinking about.

So, that's why I'm voting to Remain, and my plea to you dear reader is to do the same.

If you want to read more about this, a far more eloquent article can be found here ( which does a much better job of putting the argument across for remaining in the EU so have a look.

As for me, what if Britain does decide to leave?


We could always emigrate to Canada.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Trailer for my first short film, Refuge

The first short film I've ever directed is nearing completion, and it won't be long before we start submitting to film competitions etc.

This has been a painfully slow process in a lot of ways, mainly because I have had to commit to other things a lot of the time (ie paid work, family etc). Had I been able to focus on this solely and nothing else it would be finished weeks ago and we'd be working on the next one.

Anyhoo, here's a teaser trailer to whet people's appetite:

You can follow all that's going on with the film here:
Twitter -
Facebook -
Website -

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Films I've seen of late (April)

Whiplash (2014)
Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are student and tutor in this enthralling and mesmerizing story about power and control. Teller plays the young drummer who gets sucked into the gravitational pull of Simmons' maniacal tyrant. The student is manipulated in various ways all in the name of excellence. The finale is breathtaking but leaves you with an interesting take on what it means to be the best of the best.

The Second Best Marigold Hotel (2015)
A bunch of old British people living in India get up to some mischief trying to save their beloved hotel from going under (or something). Watchable, but I found it hard to feel emotionally engaged. Oh, and Richard Gere's in it.

RED 2 (2013)
More of the same spy-jinks as in the last one. Similarly fun but forgettable. Oh, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is in it.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
There was a danger that the adventures of Po would slide into half-baked ridiculousness, but Dreamworks has managed to maintain the quality and tone of the previous two films. Still lots of fun with awesome set pieces, Panda 3 doesn't disappoint. Whether this can be continued on for the next two sequels which as in the works remains to be seen.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (2015)
When you go with the kids to see a film about chipmunks that can talk (albeit in an annoying hard-to-understand high pitched voice), you don't have very high expectations. I didn't, and that's all I can say.

Left Behind (2014)
You see, the thing about this film is that it was derided when it came out. Nicholas Cage was accused of sleepwalking through his role, and its overtly Christian messages were too much (even for Christian audiences it seems). You might think this is all about the Rapture of the biblical End Times, but it's actually more about a father-daughter relationship that needs mending in the middle of things going pear-shaped on a biblical scale. Maybe – like Alvin and the Chipmunks – because my expectations were so low, I didn't think this film was too bad. Yes, it's clearly made on a low budget and features quite a lot of terrible acting but the story holds up (just). Honestly, it could have been a lot worse.

The Guard
An hilarious take on the buddy cop movie with Brendan Gleeson as a local Garda and Don Cheadle as an FBI agent teaming up to track down some drug smugglers and bent cops. Full of surreal moments and Irish humour, it deals with both sinister and comedic moments with ease.

Batman v Superman
I've already written a full review, which can be read here. Needless to say, most critics and fans disagree with me. This is fine – people are entitled to their own opinions – but the vehement hatred for what is just a fun comic book movie seems over the top and unnecessary.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Why the Universal Basic Income's time has finally come

I have had many interactions with Her Majesty's Revenue and Custom (HMRC) over the years, and most of the time it has been bewildering and frustrating. The people on the phone are usually polite and helpful but the odd one tends to make you feel like you're some kind of naughty, idiotic child who's out to fleece the entire HM Treasury.

I recently had to update HMRC on our tax credit details and I had all the figures given to me by my accountant. When I tried to supply the information to the guy on the end of the phone, he countered what I was saying and got me all flummoxed and flustered so I ended up say I'd go away and check everything. I then rang back with new figures and got off the phone as quickly as I could only to feel lacking in confidence entirely about the information I'd provided.

I consider myself a relatively intelligent person, but when it comes to anything tax-related my brain melts and I can't seem to function. Maths was never my strong point, but I know if I put my mind to it I can do it. The British tax system, however, is so incredibly complex and baffling that I'm not surprised people try and evade the whole thing altogether.

This is partly why I am a strong supporter of the universal basic income. It has other names (e.g. social wage), but the principle is the same. Every adult receives an unconditional monthly income – enough to survive on – replacing all other state benefits or welfare. Once a month, the government gives you a bit of money for merely existing. You can spend it however you like, but you don't get any other handouts, and that's it. No strings attached whatsoever.

It would mean no more frustrating calls to HMRC, no tedious forms to fill in and no feeling of government officials watching over your shoulder to see what you're spending your money on. Of course, people would still pay tax through their regular employment so it's not like HMRC would cease to have any purpose.

It's just I won't have to dread calling them every year not really knowning what I'm talking about.

And that would definitely be a good thing.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Video: Everything you need to know about the Millennium Falcon

To celebrate Star Wars Day (May the 4th - geddit?), I've put together this little video celebrating the wonderful Millennium Falcon spaceship.

I've always loved this ship - the design is so unique: robust and quirky yet surprisingly agile-looking. I had one of the Kenner toy Falcons when I was a kid and played it to death, going on countless imaginary adventures. It was such a cool piece of plastic.

It was heartening to see it back in The Force Awakens and I'm sure it will be around for a while yet. The thing is virtually indestructable, thank goodness!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Films I've seen of late

Interstellar (2015)
I was slightly dreading watching Interstellar, fearing its overly long runtime. The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's Batman sequel, made me expect something tedious and bloated but I was pleasantly surprised. A deeply emotional and thrilling story about a man sent beyond the limits of known space, leaving his family behind to search for a new home. Okay, the logic of the story is questionable in places and the ending feels a little ridiculous but Matthew McConnaughey is always likeable and some of the space/time bending stuff is fascinating.

Wreck-it Ralph (2012)
This is one of those perfect animated films that manages to tell a good story, while also reveling in the ability to go all-out visually. Plenty of computer games have had the Hollywood treatment over the years and unfortunately 99% of them have been terrible. This film, however, takes computer games as a basis and does something different. It's your typical hero's journey but this time the hero is a 'villain' (actually, a good guy who just plays a villain) and he has to save the day while also learning to accept the role he has to play in the computer game 'universe'. Funny, touching and great to look at, Wreck-It Ralph gets a high score from me (see what I did there?).

RED (2010)
Bruce Willis heads up this funny and ridiculous spy romp based on DC comic which doesn't pretend to be anything bigger or better than it actually is. No James Bond aspirations, RED just gets on with it at a good pace. Watchable, fun – but ultimately forgettable.

Wild (2014)
This deeply emotional tale is the true-life story of Cheryl Strayed who decides to hike over a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own. She's prompted to do this insane feat of endurance after her marraige fails and her mother dies, becoming a test of spirit and willpower as Cheryl (played by Reese Witherspoon) faces her demons during sometimes brutal and exhausting sections of the trail. Inspiring and thoughtful.

Django Unchained (2012)
Django Unchained is everything you can expect from a Tarantino film: blood, violence, gore and prolific swearing. Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz lend a hefty weight to this tale of revenge, plus Tarantino regular Samuel L Jackson is along for the show as well. The repetitive and violent racism is uncomfortable but justifiable (just about) given the context. Brutal and challenging, Django Unchained pulls no punches, and Tarantino's love of cinema is shown in virtually every line, shot and sound. Now that he's done a western (well, two now with the Hateful Eight) it seems he can turn his hand to pretty much any film genre – so, I think it's high time he had a go at Sci-fi. Now, that would be fun!

Boyhood (2014)
Pretty unique in its concept and delivery, Boyhood is probably one of the few films that has ever shown characters age over a period of twelve years. Sure, there have been sequels years apart featuring the same actors, but Boyhood is one – albeit long – single movie. We follow young Mason as a pre-teen growing up all the way through to his arrival at college, and as he ages we also get to see the rest of his family get older too. Very much a 21st century tale, Mason lives with his single parent mum (Patricia Arquette) and sister. His biological father (Ethan Hawke) comes into the frame on a regular basis, who can be both a source of tension and relief for Mason. It would be ungracious to criticise such an ambitous project, however it does have its flaws which mainly centre around the acting. Even with seasoned actors such as Arquette and Hawke, some of the dialogue felt stilted and flat. In some ways, however, you could argue that helps with the film's realism. Needless to say, it's unlikely anyone will attempt a film like it again.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Superman V Batman - A movie review

Warning! Slight spoilers ahead!

Superman v Batman is the second major comic book movie to come out in 2016. We've already had the ridiculously successful Deadpool kicking things off and there's still X-Men:Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, TMNT 2 and Doctor Strange to look forward to over the coming year.

SvB had a lot to live up to in terms of Deadpool's success, but probably didn't have to worry too much about it despite the harsh reviews. I mean, a film featuring the most well-known and iconic movie/comic characters of all time? A no-brainer, surely?

Well, it seems the critics' negative reviews have done their damage, probably contributing to SvB's steep second weekend drop at the box office (not that $680 million in takings is anything to be sniffed at). This is a shame, because I actually enjoyed the film.

I wasn't a big fan of SvB's predecessor, Man of Steel. The story felt bloated (the origin scenes on Krypton were interesting but unnecessary), and the splurge of CGI destruction in the final act were an unpleasant assault on the senses. Saying that, I've come to better appreciate Zack Snyder's choice of tone and direction for Superman. He's obviously gone for dark and gritty, which is fine - that's his choice. We've already had camp and comical (with Christopher Reeve's version) and also a slightly darker but still upbeat approach (with Superman Returns) – so why not go darker still? This is just one of many interpretations of a character, just like Batman has gone through a whole range of iterations.

One thing I did like about MoS was the question it raised about the uneasy relationship mortal humans can have with a god-like being. The previous films never really explored this idea and Superman wasn't ever considered a potential worldwide threat. Even when he went 'bad' in Superman III, it all felt very comical and slapstick. Christopher Reeve's Supes was just being a bit of a twat (straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa for example), rather than massacring millions of innocent puny mortals.

This theme is explored further in SvB, with Batman deciding to take Superman down because of the potential threat he poses to humanity. This rivalry is fuelled by evil corporate upstart Lex Luthor who manages to get hold of some kryptonite, Superman's only weakness, for his own dastardly plans. While the two superheroes are locked in combat (which Superman is drawn into rather reluctantly) Lex gets to work creating a Krypton/Human hybrid monster that he hopes will destroy Superman for good – and give him the power to rule the world. Throw in Wonder Woman (and lots of references to the forthcoming Justice League movie) and that's basically the plot, which wasn't the 'mess' all the critics seemed to be going on about.

Overall, I felt SvB to be a solid piece of epic storytelling with good characters and plenty of exciting set-pieces. It had an emotional depth too, which I wasn't expecting.

Yes, it has its flaws – like any movie, it's not perfect – but that's OK! Critics seem to expect perfection from big-budget 'event' movies these days, and the truth is you can't please everyone all of the time. Sadly, it seems a lot of people can't move on from the Reeve version of Superman, which is disappointing because the last thing we need is to see the same stuff over and over again.

Thankfully there are people like Zack Snyder out there who choose not to take the well-worn path – and do their own thing.

Good luck to 'em I say!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

In defence of The Phantom Menace

Okay, I promise this is my last Star Wars post.

Well, for a while at least.

Yes, I have written a fair few number of words about George Lucas' epic franchise, so maybe I need to ease off a bit and write something else. So, I will – I just gotta get this out of my system.

So, here's my take on The Phantom Menace, a film that has probably divided fans more than any other (me included):

I'll admit from the offset that I've been pretty mean about Episode 1. Ever since it's been trendy to tear films apart and rant about movie shortcomings, I've been on the side of the prequel-haters. I had a bit of an epiphany-like moment when I admitted to myself that the prequels (for all their shiny new special effects and lightsabre battles) were far inferior to the original films.

An entire industry has grown up online around dissecting movies – pouncing on their flawed logic and plot holes. To some degree this is harmless fun, and may serve to keep lazy directors and script writers on their toes. On the other hand, it's peeing all over movie magic and misses the point of movie storytelling: a bit of escapism for ninety minutes.

So, what has made me write this? I guess watching the Star Wars saga with my son, JKY. I made sure he watched the original trilogy first (the best place to start, obviously), and he loved it – in spite of the slightly old-fashioned style of movie making. We continued watching the rest and then, knowing Episode VII was approaching, I decided to go back to the prequels (Episode III required a few moments of fast-forwarding past the really dark bits, though) to fill him in on the backstory.

JKY didn't sit there pulling apart the dialogue and character motivations. He just enjoyed stuff going on in the Star Wars universe. There were laser fights, lightsabre battles, spaceships and weird aliens. It seemed to keep him happy.

Now, don't get me wrong, the prequels are not high art. They pale in comparison compared to the original trilogy (and episode VII). There are problems, yes – but I guess my point about this article is that they're not so bad that they should be completely disregarded. They are what they are, and should just be accepted as such.

I would like to add a sort of a caveat to that. Out of the three prequels, I think Episode I is actually the best in terms of story and characters. The rot really does start to set in for II and III. This is mainly because Hayden Christensen's portrayal of Anakin is wooden and unconvincing. His motivations are all over the place. You could accuse Jake Lloyd of the same, but I've got a soft spot for the young actor – I think for a ten year old kid he did a fantastic job. Don't forget he was starring in a multi-billion dollar franchise and was playing a pivotal character. No wonder he went off the rails growing up. The pressure must have been incredible.

One thing about The Phantom Menace that really stands out for me is John Williams' soundtrack. Man, is he on fire for this instalment. Williams' score is deep and varied with a huge range of emotion that manages to call back to the original films without copying them – you know this is Star Wars music, but it has an identity all its own. Some films are fortunate to have at least one recognisable 'theme' that people find themselves humming to themselves long after watching them. The entire Star Wars saga, however, has many: Anakin's theme, the Binary sunset theme, the Imperial March or Parade of the Ewoks (amongst plenty more).

Phantom Menace's music is incredibly rich, demonstrating that John is in his prime as a tunesmith. Duel of the Fates in particular stands out as one of Williams' best Star Wars themes such is its scope and drama. The subsequent prequels don't hit this mark as well, merely re-working the Phantom Menace music without really doing anything new. On a side note, I thought the soundtrack for Episode VII: The Force Awakens a bit disappointing. March of the Resistance, in particular, sounds like Imperial March-lite. The one stand-out theme – Rey's Theme – however, I absolutely love and makes up for that. It beautifully reflects Rey's character and Williams uses it to its full potential, being a recurring melody throughout the soundtrack.

But I digress.

I think it's worth bearing in mind that if we applied the same kind of scrutiny and criticism that has been directed at the prequels to The Empire Strikes Back, for example (regarded by many as the best of the three original films) you would actually find just as many issues with logic, character decisions and plot. It's just, those films are so ingrained in our culture and collective memory (well, my generation's anyway), that they have acquired mythic status and are therefore seemingly untouchable.

But they're still good.

What lets the prequels down is Lucas' inability to tell a story – the way he told them the first time was perfect. Unfortunately, he did away with the standard 'hero's journey' plot outline and did something else that didn't work. The Star Wars overall arc is, I believe, Anakin Skywalker's story of redemption. He starts out as someone incredibly powerful fighting for good, only to be tempted to the dark side and do evil. He finally gains redemption, however, by destroying the Emperor and putting an end to the Empire's reign. It's just, the way this arc unfolds isn't done very well over the course of the prequels and could have been so much better.

Considering the way the prequels are regarded by a lot of fans, it makes me wonder if Disney will ever be tempted to re-write Star Wars history and do a bit of retconning of the prequels, kind of like they did with Star Trek, creating an alternate timeline with new actors. Some people have attempted to re-write the prequels, taking the basic building blocks of the films (key scenes, characters and places etc.) and reworking them to fit a more coherent narrative. Time travel doesn't feel right when it comes to the Star Wars universe (apparently it has happened, just not very often), but – hey – if you can traverse vast galactic distances of the universe with highly advanced hyperspace technology then some kind of time-warping must occur, surely?

It would be interesting to see if these 'Newquels' do happen. Indeed, Disney has declared that the Star Wars universe will go on forever (Lord, help us!), so a bit of back and forth isn't far-fetched. If they do, I expect they will wait until George Lucas has popped his clogs, which I think would only be fair.

I don't think he would cope with such an all-encompassing rejection of his work.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Refuge - a short film I'm working on

For some time I've been itching to work on a number of small projects that I've had going around in my head. It's been difficult to fit them around my work but finally, one of them is starting to happen. It's a low-budget short film based on a fairly topical subject, namely the refugee crisis, and we're starting filming this week.

I'm not going to give away too much, but I've written a script and we've got actors and crew lined up to make this happen.

For me, this is one of those ventures where I'm not too bothered about the final outcome. Yes, I want to have a completed (short) movie at the end of it where we will probably submit it to film festivals and competitions – as long as it's good enough – but actually the process is the thing I'm more interested in. I've never directed before, at least not a project like this, so it's a chance for me to 'have a go' without risking too much. Even if it all goes pear shaped, I will have had an experience to learn from going forward and won't have wasted tons of money or time in the process.

So, if you're interested, visit the 'Refuge' website, follow it on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future I'll be able to post the final video up here in this blog.  

And that, I think, will be something of an achievement.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Horrible Bosses

Most of us have had horrible bosses at one time or another. It is amazing that, even in this enlightened day and age, people who are severely lacking in decent leadership skills are allowed authority over others in various aspects of life.

When I was in my twenties, I had a boss/leader who made my life – and many others lives – hell. For reasons of confidentiality and professionalism I wouldn't name the person obviously, but this is not the first time I've written about my experiences working for a Christian charity-cum-cult that did a fair amount of emotional damage to myself and many others.

For a couple of years I worked for a boss who, on the surface, appeared to be very wise and insightful. She had the ability to captivate you as she told stories, relating personal anecdotes and inspirational nuggets of wisdom. Her understanding of her work was pretty thorough and the way she handled herself in difficult and challenging situations was remarkable. Not only that, but she was tenacious and hard-working, always having numerous projects on the go (often working up until the small hours of morning to get stuff done).

The problem was, she was a terrible leader. She could give out orders easily enough, she could strategise and she could work out problems – but there was a dark side to her that tainted her brilliance. She had a way with people that meant they couldn't help but open up and confide in them, allowing her to offer her thoughtful advise and encouragement. She then used that ability to gain people's trust and manipulate them for her own, it seems, twisted enjoyment. Often irritable and cross (especially when she was tired), she would take it out on people with varying degrees of rage, whether or not they had made mistakes. This is the kind of boss who would do the 'hot and cold' treatment with staff: one minute she was friendly, kind and supportive – the next she was berating you for a minor issue in front of everyone.

Her control-freakishness hung over everything we did like a black cloud and woe betide anyone that didn't do things 'her way' (even though, often, 'her way' was hugely ambiguous and required a significant amount of telepathy to identify correctly). Gossip was routinely employed to sow seeds of doubt and mistrust while – officially at least – talking about other people behind their backs was considered wrong.

Staff appraisals were a time for putting us on trial for all the things we did wrong in the course of our work. To be fair, it wasn't like this every time, but if you were in the middle of a 'cold' phase, you would experience the full force of her wrath.

Whilst her behaviour towards others was bad enough, the fact that she wielded her diabolical talents all while holding the position of a 'spiritual leader' is deeply menacing. At one point she was in charge of our work (as our boss), our home (as our landlord) and our faith - a dangerous amount of power for such an individual. It's a lot easier to quit a job because your senior is a total headcase if the company you work for makes widgets, but when your vocation (or 'calling') is rooted in an earnestly-held spirituality and religion it's extremely difficult to walk away from a faith-based outfit. This is especially so when anyone who 'abandons' the cause is branded traitorous, selfish and not a 'true believer'.

My worst experience – which is still horribly vivid even to this day almost two decades later – involved being used as a scapegoat for a string of project catastrophes that were (after I'd analysed it afterwards) clearly down to poor management. A lack of training, supervision and planning had left me floundering in all sorts of ways and nobody noticed, they just left me to cause disaster after disaster. I know that I have to take responsibility for my actions, but it was never my intention to screw things up – there was no deliberate attempt to do wrong. I just didn't have the support that I needed and my superiors should have identified that.

I don't think she was really ever an evil, malicious person per se, having been responsible for some incredibly kind and selfless things which were sometimes at great cost to herself personally. I think the problem lay in the fact she was just so committed to her 'cause' that she seemed to forget human beings (with thoughts, feelings and free will) were involved.

Thinking back, there are numerous times when I wish I'd retaliated against all this kooky crap that was going on. When berating me in front of others I should have just lost it so she could see how it felt. When giving patronising criticism instead of encouraging feedback, I should have called her out for being unprofessional. But I didn't, because I didn't know any better and I didn't have a rebellious bone in my body.

Interestingly, if I had rejected things earlier, my life would have probably turned out very differently. There's a chance that me and wifey would never gotten married – so, I have at least something to be thankful for. And it has made me much more wary of control-freak types ... well, kind of. I actually found myself subsequently involved with two other individuals who possessed similar personalities later on in my life, and it took me a while to recognise that it was history repeating itself all over again.

Wifey and I eventually saw the light and withdrew from everything, basically going cold turkey from a cult which took years to move on from emotionally. We weren't the first to leave, but I think we were part of a 'mass exodus' of close allies who'd decided enough was enough. My hope was that this would jolt her into doing some introspection and self-analysis, leading her to realise the error of her ways and endeavour to change.

I've heard on the grapevine that she hasn't changed, however, and that's quite sad. I don't bear any ill-will towards this person, and I have consciously made the decision to forgive but I worry about the string of individuals who have come (or will come) across her path only to walk away damaged and hurt.

It bothers me that someone can have so little self-awareness or desire to improve and that they carry on the same as they always have. Isn't the whole point of leadership, after all, about continuous improvement and self-development?

I guess that's the thing about a horrible boss – they won't or can't change and will always be, well, horrible.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A sad reflection of the Western throwaway culture

My printer went on the blink recently. It required a new printer head apparently, so I asked around to see what I could do to get it up and running again. Turns out, it's not cost-effective to repair printers. When I spoke to a guy from PC World (where I originally bought it) he said they don't fix them – they just replace them if they're within warranty. I contacted a few random companies that appeared on a Google search and they either never got back to me or said they couldn't help.

It's not like I was trying to get a printer repaired that I'd had for several years which has finally croaked after a long and faithful service. This thing is two years old. It was new, state-of-the-art and had been used fairly lightly.

Printers, it seems, are highly disposable items. But they're not like plastic spoons or paper cups. These things are incredibly sophisticated machines consisting of hundreds of parts, and the only real purpose they serve is to help companies flog us overpriced ink.

Like smartphones or computers, they are a marvel of the technological age and can be found in most homes. These black or beige little boxes which sit in a corner of our homes (the 'home office' no less) have a capability only dreamed of a few decades ago: full colour, photo quality printing and photocopying at virtually no cost. And yet, these things fall apart in no time and get easily replaced by an equally wonderful marvel of technology for the same (if not less) price.

Whilst our local waste centre takes electronic goods, I doubt my Canon MG6350 will be separated into its constituent parts and recycled. I can't quite imagine some dude sitting in a factory unit somewhere, pulling the thing to pieces in order to recycle the wires, plastic and glass (even though that would be a good idea). It will most likely go into landfill or get shipped abroad to pollute some poor third world country.

I tried to recycle it (well, freecycle it if that's a genuine word) by offering it to friends, but given the fact that the cost of repairing it is probably the same as buying a brand new printer off the shelf, it isn't surprising no one took me up on the offer.

So there you have the dilemma. I really don't want to pollute the planet. I have a perfectly decent piece of technology that just needs a spare part to make it work again, but it's prohibitively expensive and impractical to do so.

What to do?

A friend on Facebook suggested I convert it into some kind of receptacle for growing plants and you know, I just might try that...

Monday, February 8, 2016

If bacteria's so fit, why evolve into Mozart? (cached article)

This article originally appeared on the God's Not Dead blog. I do not own it or have copyright but have preserved a copy for reference. This is the original URL, which is no longer functional:

If you are the original writer / owner, and wish to remove the article please contact me. 

If Bacteria are so Fit, Why Evolve into Mozart?

Bacteria are the Fittest: No Need to Evolve into Weak Large-mass Organisms

By Mike Robinson

Bacteria: Any of a group of microscopic single-celled organisms that live in enormous numbers in almost every environment on Earth, from deep-sea vents to deep below Earth’s surface to the digestive tracts of humans. [They are] the dominant living creatures on Earth, having been present for perhaps three-quarters of Earth history and having adapted to almost all available ecological habitats. As a group, they display exceedingly diverse metabolic capabilities and can use almost any organic compound (Encyclopedia Britannia).

For three billion years, more or less, the evolution of species proceeded ponderously along a hit-or-miss fashion, until... a sufficiently intelligent species evolved. Then the intelligence took a hand, and evolution was never the same again. The key to evolution is randomness. [1]

There is a constant need in our civilization to prefer illusions over reality, a need to deny our perceptions. [2]

I have never heard the scientific grounds for the need of a bacterium to evolve into a “higher” form. The bacteria appear to be some of the fittest creatures on the planet, only rivaled by cockroaches. These two types of organisms do not need to evolve. They survive quite nicely. Nothing is more tenacious, more resilient, more stout, and produces more functioning and self-procuring offspring than bacteria. Why would they need to evolve? Why would cockroaches need to evolve? They could survive a nuclear bomb.

The organisms that evolutionists claim as the “higher” creatures, die off easier and quicker, and produce far less offspring. The higher up the ladder, the more likely the organism is extinct or is put on the endangered species list. Look how fragile the whales and the great apes are as a species. Large body mass creatures are much less fit than the tenacious organisms like bacteria and cockroaches.

The evolutionists do not have to deal with just a missing link; the whole chain is gone. Only God and His revelation can give us a foundation for science.[3] The theory of survival of the fittest does not comport with the reality of ultra-resilient cockroaches because they do not need to evolve into higher forms. They do just fine without knowing Mickey Mouse or Plato. Bacteria would not become more stout and produce more survivable offspring if they could read poetry or applaud Tiger Woods. Bacteria do not have determination or conviction. Even if they did, how could that resolve give them the innate force to evolve? They would need purpose and the means to fulfill that purpose, a teleological reason. This can only come when there is intelligence and purpose.

A universe composed of only matter and motion cannot produce teleology, hence unguided evolution is a myth; it is fable for profligate adults. It not only does not gel with the facts; it is impossible for it to be true. Odds, Probability, and Certainty Hoyle, the Cambridge Astronomer, once said that the odds of life arising by chance have about the same probability of “a tornado blowing through a junk yard and forming a Boeing 747.”

That is devastating to those who submit to the blind faith of evolution. Yet it is much worse than that. There are no odds for the existence of God. There are no probabilities. It is impossible for the God of the Bible not to exist. Without God, one cannot discuss or argue about the theory of evolution. S.E.T.I., the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, scans the heavens for codes, information, language, and patterns. They base their work on the theory that finding a radio signal with a code would prove there are intelligent beings out there in the vast reaches of the universe. The premise is: a code presupposes a code-giver. A code-giver has intelligence.

Within the Christian worldview, this makes sense. The baffling thing is to watch the scientists, who study the DNA code, fail to make the same deduction. They would if an alien sent a simple code over the air waves. This type of fuzzy reasoning is the problem with the theory of unguided evolution.

A code presupposes an intelligence, yet this is often ignored by evolution.

Unbelieving men suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The Christian is not to battle in the trenches with our facts against the Darwinian materialist’s facts. We must demonstrate that without the true God, as the per-requirement of all our thought, we cannot make sense of anything in the abstract or in the biological.

My uncle is not a monkey, and my grand dad is not a polliwog. I am not a product of monkeydom; I am created in the image of God. Mozart, Milton, and moms are not the product of unguided animated star dust. Evolutionists want their father to be a muskrat and their mother to be an opossum. They delight in the fairy tale that their great aunt was a tadpole or snapping turtle. But if man evolved from an animal, then all humans are animals, and this gives them license to behave like animals. The funny thing is the doctrine of evolution presupposes God since this false notion employs the laws of logic[4] since only the immutable God has the capacity to ground such immutable laws. Science presupposes God. Induction presupposes God. So all their crazy theories require God. All true and false postulations need God and His revelation as the precondition of their intelligibility.

The Bible speaks of God as the Creator with absolute certainty. There is not a cosmic odds-giver crunching the probability of the existence of God Almighty. We are told that one cell is made up of 100,000 molecules; that 10,000 finely tuned, interrelated chemical reactions occur concurrently. That a cell contains, in its nucleus, a digitally coded database larger than thirty volumes of an encyclopedia. The apologists then explain that the odds of this happening by chance are overwhelming. They say the evidence is beyond a reasonable doubt, so it’s probably true.

The truth of the matter is; God’s existence is not a probability. The odds-giver should not give a thousand to one odds that this world was created by a Creator. There is absolute certainty that God lives, and that He created all things in the heavens and the earth, period. We must have God, as the pre-essential of creation, or nothing in the cosmos can make sense. The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts. His ways are always prospering; Your judgments are far above, out of his sight; as for all his enemies, he sneers at them. He has said in his heart, “I shall not be moved; I shall never be in adversity” (Psalms 10:4-6)

1. Isaac Asimov, Science Past - Science Future (N.Y.: Ace Books, 1975), p. 207. 2. John Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West (NY: Random House, 1992), p. 11. 3. God furnishes all the a priori essentials; the necessary epistemic equipment utilized in all scientific pursuits. God has the ontic attributes of omniscience, immutability, and omnipotence (He has universal reign) thus enabling Him to be the ground for the universal and immutable laws of logic that are utilized in all thought and analysis. Any position that rejects the true God, as the epistemic (knowledge) base, not only leaves an unnerving fissure, but hopelessly fails too. Consequently, whatever evidence science discovers must be discerned and processed with the rational implements that arise from Christian theism and the worldview that emanates from God. The immaterial, transcendent, and immutable God supplies the indispensable pre-environment for the use of immaterial, transcendent, universal, and immutable laws of logic. Atheistic thought, because it rests upon mutable and non-universal ground, cannot furnish the necessary preconditions for the immutable universal laws of logic; therefore it results in futility because of its own internal weakness. Rational pre-commitments assist in directing one’s investigation and analysis of the data (as well as its interpretation and communication). This admission is often difficult to get from some atheistic inquirers to acknowledge. What worldview can furnish the a priori necessities and rational tools for science, analysis and research? Christian theism can deliver the epistemic ground for the a priori immutable universals utilized in rational enquiry; in principle, materialistic atheism cannot furnish the aforementioned ground. What is obligatory to account for scientific analysis is a first principle that has the ontological endowment to not only ground it, but to account for it and its preconditions—all the universal operational features of knowledge. The loss of the immovable point of reference, in principle, leaves the ungodly bereft of a resource necessary to construct the analytical enterprise. Without God, one cannot hoist the necessary a priori operation features of the intellectual examination of evidence. The Christian worldview supplies the fixed ontic platform as the sufficient truth condition that can justify induction, immutable universals, attributes, identity, and the uniformity of the physical world. But materialistic atheism lacks such a fixed ontic platform. Consequently, it fails to provide the sufficient ground required to justify enquiry and research. When anyone attempts to escape the truth that God exists, he falls in a trap he cannot escape. This point is well made in Van Til’s illustration of a man made of water, who is trying to climb out of the watery ocean by means of a ladder made of water. He cannot get out of the water for he has nothing to stand on. Without God, one cannot make sense of anything. The atheist has nothing to stand on (an ontic Archimedean locus of reference) and he lacks a rational apparatus to scale an epistemic ladder that would allow him to view reality with clarity. God and His revealed word supply men their only possible ground with the explanatory clout needed to account for critical and analytical pursuits. The ontological barrenness of atheistic materialism is just one reason the Christian should never grant the natural man the right to determine the criteria for testing truth claims—atheistic naturalism lacks an ontology with a shard of explanatory power. Christianity rests upon God and His Revelation as the ontic Archimedean locus of reference for science. 4. The Laws of Logic: Abstract, non-concrete laws of thought and reason that are immaterial, aspatial, universal, obligatory, necessary, immutable, and absolute. Some academics identify them as the laws of thought or the laws of reason. Selected scholars strongly prefer to name them the laws of logic because they are independent of human minds. All rational thinking (and science) presupposes and uses the laws of logic. The most well-known law is the Law of Non-contradiction: A cannot be A and Non-A at the same time in the same way. Consequently a man cannot be his own father. The laws of logic reflect the nature and mind of God; thus, they have ontological grounding—that is, they are grounded in the very nature of truth itself and cannot be reduced to human convention, opinion or psychology. Without these laws, knowledge and rational thinking are impossible. To deny the laws of logic, one must use these laws in one’s attempt to deny them. Those who deny the laws of logic are participating in a self-defeating endeavor.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Watching paint dry – a waste of time on so many levels

I've always thought censorship was something that happened in other countries, like Iran or China, but apparently this guy thinks Britain is some kind of police state where the general public are denied the right to watch anything and everything they please.

Charlie Lyne raised a load of cash via kickstarter to help him submit a ten-hour video of paint drying (in 4K no less) to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) so that he could get a certificate that would allow him to show the film in cinemas. This is his way of protesting at the whole process and the fact that it costs roughly £1000 to get certification for a feature film (which you need for public screenings).

What a plonker.

I get what he's doing. It's a protest against censorship and a clever way of gaining publicity, but I think he misses the point completely.

The BBFC is a non-profit organisation originally set up by the film industry itself. It's not literally controlled by the government, so no we don't have a state censor. Their job is mainly to protect children from watching unsuitable content and I can't but help thinking that is a good thing. Film classification serves to inform parents about what their kids should or shouldn't watch and it saves them having to vet every single film or TV programme.

What seems obvious to me is that if the BBFC do 'censorship' then it only applies to cinemas anyway. Anyone with an internet connection can watch pretty much anything they want and OK, GCHQ might be spying on them, but that's a separate issue.

These days I hardly ever watch anything that's an '18' and sometimes '15' rated films can be a bit full on. I'm happy for the BBFC to cut bits here and there if they deem them 'too much' (I mean, does cutting a few frames here and there make that much of a difference?), but doesn't Charlie realise that standards have changes enormously since the BBFC began in 1912? Back when I was a kid, '18' films were regarded as incredibly illicit containing all sorts of naughty stuff - I'm sure some of those films could pass as a '12' if rated today.

If Charlie really wants to make a movie with excessive gore, violence and sex (and can justify it from an artistic perspective – although I'm not sure one can) then he can still show his film in a cinema if he really wants, because local councils have the final say on what gets shown anyway (with or without a certificate).

So, this guy has just wasted almost six grand on making a point that didn't need making.

Nice one, chuck.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Another fantastic invention: Oreo easter eggs

Maybe I missed them last year, but I think this is my first sighting of these little beauties.

As you probably know, I am something of an Oreo aficionado (see below) so anything that combines chocolate with Oreo is a good thing and when you combine it with an easter egg then it's even better. Granted, it's a bit too soon for shops to start flogging Easter goodies so close to New Year but the festival is early this year so I guess that's the excuse.

Please feel free to send me huge quantities of samples. I shall enjoy them enormously and be very grateful.

Previous Oreo-flavour blogposts:

Peanut Butter Oreos

Oreos and S'mores

Oreo Ice Cream Sandwich

Oreo white chocolate brittle

Oreo Goodness

Happy Oreo-ness

A bag of Oreo-goodness

Saturday, January 16, 2016

RIP David Bowie

I've never been a 'fan' of David Bowie. I've never seen him in concert. I've only got one album of his (a 'greatest hits' album, which doesn't really count).

Still, I was quite surprised to hear about his passing. He was one of those cultural icons (he wasn't a 'celebrity' – he was definitely much more than that) that has always been around ever since I was a kid. I knew he was getting on a bit, but had no inkling that he would die so young (well, 69 is a good innings, but you know what I mean).

Like with Michael Jackson and many other famous people of a similar ilk who die before they get old and decrepit, the well-worn phrase springs to mind: you don't know what you've got until it's gone.

I knew Bowie was something special. He was one of those people bestowed with the honour of being a 'national treasure', that unofficial title which the collective cultural consciousness of a country grants someone when they impact a nation so greatly. He was cool, edgy, intelligent, kind, softly-spoken and a musical genius.

But the thing is, he was always 'there', in the background and, I guess, he was taken for granted. Occasionally a song of his would be on the radio. He might pop up on TV or on YouTube (I came across this clip of him singing 'Little Drummer Boy' with Bing Crosby just before Christmas), but apart from his success in the 1980s, he never really featured prominently in the media. Of course, he was just beavering away doing his own thing and it was the hardcore fans who were following his work.

When I heard Bowie had died I just had to fire up Apple Music* and listen to a David Bowie playlist. It was then that I was reminded of the greatness of his music and what an incredible legacy he'd left behind. Admittedly, I haven't really listened to his more recent stuff, but from what I have heard I can appreciate it for what it is (maybe not my cup of tea, but culturally important nonetheless).

Rest in peace, Mister Bowie. You will be sadly missed.

My top 5 Bowie songs:
1. Space Oddity
2. Starman
3. Kooks
4. Ashes to Ashes
5. Heroes

*while I still have my three-month free trial!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Can you smell that coffee shop ... smell?

If you are of a certain age, you will remember the downside of going to the pub with your mates before the smoking ban: coming home reeking of smoke. This was just an accepted – yet unpleasant – side effect of sharing a public space with nicotine addicts, even if you'd gone out for half a pint. Any clothing you wore on a night out would have to go straight in the laundry because it smelt terrible, and you also had to make sure you had a shower and washed your hair. This would get the the stench out easily enough, but it was still an annoyance.

Now that the ban is in force across the UK (and has been accepted pretty much by everyone universally), this problem does not exist. This is a good thing, not just because of how our clothes smell, but also because our risk of acquiring passive-smoking related cancer is reduced substantially.

It is curious to think that my sons' generation will grow up completely oblivious of the dreaded 'pub odour'.

But, there is a new phenomenon, and it is the 'coffee shop odour'.
My 'local'

I only really noticed it recently. I'd been to my usual coffee shop at the end of the road for a drink with a friend. When I came back, my wife – who had been out and didn't know where I'd been – casually asked about my trip to the coffee shop (all because I reeked of coffee).

Admittedly, there are worse things you can come home smelling of – but it's a bit unnerving that just going for a (non-alcoholic) drink can make you a bit wiffy.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens (a review)


Like most of the planet, I was pretty excited about the new Star Wars movie. The first couple of teaser trailers for The Force Awakens provided some hope that this new film would make up for the disappointment of the prequels.

Having been burnt by The Phantom Menace et al, I was still slightly cautious and deliberately avoided any further promotional material to steer clear of any potential spoilers. I tried not to even look at the poster in case I saw anything spoiler-y (ultimately that proved impossible, and a big plot element was staring me in the face).

In the week of the film's release I had to avoid the internet pretty much altogether (not easy given the fact that I work from home) until I'd gone to see it. It says a lot when you have to reorganise your life just to keep away from film spoilers. Damn you, Disney and your behemoth marketing machine!

Overall, I liked it. It was fun, gripping and fast-paced (more on that in a bit, though). I did get slight goosebumps when the famous 'Star Wars' crawl began and was pleased to see it didn't mention anything about trade disputes or midichlorians.

JKY came with me – a truly special father and son moment – and he loved it. He was a little scared by one flashback sequence but apart from that he was glued to his seat.

It was good to see the return to more practical effects and characters, although people often assume that the prequels were shot entirely in front of a green screen, which isn't true. They actually used models for many scenes and these photos prove that. The effects in the latest Star Wars instalment, however, felt seamless and the choice of using film cameras as opposed to digital ones helped give the Force Awakens the same feel and look as the original trilogy.

The story was solid, following two characters (Finn and Rey) as they get tangled up in the efforts of the Resistance and their fight against the evil First Order, helped along the way by some old-timers (ie Han, Chewie and Leia). Finn and Rey were great characters to be introduced and it was refreshing to have a good mix of genders and races (human races of course!) represented.

I felt the pace to be a bit too quick in places. One particular scene, where the rebels are discussing the Starkiller base and how to attack it, seemed to be over in mere seconds, while similar ones in A New Hope and Return of the Jedi feel like they last for at least a couple of minutes (I haven't checked so might be wrong). That is certainly JJ Abrams style, so it's not surprising (and thankfully the 'lens flare' filter was turned down to '1'), but was a bit too frenetic for me, and didn't quite feel right for a Star Wars movie.

The Force Awakens seemed also to have too many overt 'knowing wink' references to the other films, which unfortunately spoiled it for me a tad. It suffered from 'The Hobbit' syndrome, where it didn't quite have the confidence to move out of the shadow of its predecessors and stand alone as a film in its own right, and had to constantly scream at you things like 'Look! It's C-3PO - remember him? From the other Star Wars films!!'. Another slight niggle was the exchange between Han and Rey talking techno-babble – the amount of which would have been more at home in an episode of Star Trek.

One final gripe is the finale, where the rebels destroy yet another superweapon by attacking its major weakness. Sounds a bit familiar doesn't it? Abrams has gone on record, acknowledging the similarities but also defending the storyline. I kind of see his point, but can't help thinking it's a bit lazy. There are an infinite number of ways they could have taken the legend forward without using a devastating weapon (and they have already, with the now-non-canonical expanded universe), because a good movie is really all about the characters – not the big set pieces. This is a problem which too many Hollywood films end up getting caught up in.

I can accept it's not entirely illogical to think that the baddies will come up with a terrible weapon to wipe out the opposition, and that each time this technological marvel is destroyed a bigger and more powerful one takes its place. The ever-growing size of superweapons started way back in the Clone Wars, so there's precedent for an arms race of sorts. It's just, really, now that Starkiller Base has been destroyed, if the First Order carry on, the increasing size of their subsequent weapons gets ridiculous. I mean, what next? Galaxy Nuker? Universe Expunger?

These are, however, minor niggles and I'm not one of the minority of haters that will never be content with anything post original trilogy. I reckon the reason people find it hard when a new Star Wars film comes out is because between 1983 and 1999 no other movies existed (officially, anyway – and of any decent quality). The three original films embedded in the culture of a generation in such a way that when something new did finally come along people just couldn't handle the 'new'. It was like discovering someone had come along and redecorated your room at the family home while you'd been away at university.

I do feel that Star Wars is in good hands – there seems to genuinely be a desire to do the franchise justice. Yes, Disney as a company is in it for the $$$s but I think the people on the ground working on the projects have such a love for the characters and mythos that they don't want to screw it up.

So, roll on Rogue One - the next installment of the Star Wars movie machine. We're counting on you to keep up the good work.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A review of 2015

Happy New Year!

My, how time flies when you neglect blogging!

Seems my last post was over two months ago, and I was hoping to maintain the momentum I'd managed to achieve since the summer when I was trying to post about once a week. In terms of numbers I did 49 posts in 2015 (Argh! Very annoying ... I could have written one most post just to nudge it up to a nice round 50!), which was much better than the previous two years when I did 24 (2014) and 17 (2013).

So, if I can achieve at least 50 posts in 2016 I'll be happy. I think the main reasons for stumbling was illness and work so I'll have to watch out for those. I must try and remember the purpose of this blog (ie mainly to keep my hand in with writing) so I don't abandon it again in the future.

Anyhoo, onto my reflection of the last year:

The biggest highlight of 2015 was spending three days in New York with wifey. It was a truly memorable experience and worthy of celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary. Pity it was only three days, though! I visited Cadbury World in Birmingham for the first time as part of my fortieth birthday celebrations (not the most inspiring of experiences, but fun for what it was) and we did a weekend trip to London in the autumn to show the kids some of the sights. We also traveled to Oxford and Yorkshire to visit relations in the summer, but we usually do that at least once a year anyway so nothing new there. Disappointingly we didn't get to go to France over the summer but we have booked our Eurocamp stay for 2016 so that's something to look forward to.

I only read a handful of books this year (as usual) but I think the one that stands out is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It's a brilliant dystopian tale full of retro nostalgia that I couldn't put down, which is a rare thing for me.

I've seen plenty of films in the last year, but sadly not many in the cinema. The best film of 2015 has to be Star Wars: The Force Awakens which I managed to see just before Christmas (I hope to write a review about it sometime soon). A welcome return to the feel and tone of the original trilogy, it was a relief to see the beloved franchise back on track. If it wasn't for Star Wars, I would have chosen Mad Max: Fury Road for my pick of the year, which was a terrific reboot (sort of) of another franchise.

Films I've seen this year (mostly on DVD):

Thumbs up: Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, Avengers: Age of Ultron (only just a thumbs up), Dallas Buyers Club, Inside Llewyn Davies, Philomena, August: Osage County, Hyde Park on Hudson, Maleficent, Calvary, The Butler, Chef, Begin Again, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Big Hero 6

Thumbs down: Terminator Genisys, Minions, Home, Mr Turner, The Amazing Spiderman

Being self-employed has its ups and downs, but I'm grateful for the flexibility it brings as it has certainly come in handy numerous times this year when I've been ill or had to step in for childcare duties. The downside is always the unpredictable nature of my work and how often I don't know what I'm doing from one week to the next. Also, it can get scary when I've not had work for weeks and clients are taking ages to pay me. Even so, I'm not moaning or complaining. I'm sure if I had a steady regular job like most people I'd be complaining about annoying colleagues, crap pay, stressful targets and other problems associated with employment. One piece of encouragement is that December was pretty full on with work. Typically, December is a dead month and I become quite stressed about what I'm going to do to get through to the New Year. This year, thankfully, was different and even more remarkable is the number of projects I've got lined up for January (an equally quiet time), so I'm quietly optimistic about year ahead.

Faith and politics
Why I've lumped them together I'm not sure, but they seem to come together for me anyway. I am desperate to 'do my bit', 'play my part' and 'make a difference' but in some ways that's easier said than done. As a Christian, faith and politics are kind of interlinked. Like all believers, I'm called to care for those in need (" your neighbour as yourself..." Matt  19:19) – whether I feel like it or not. This can be worked out on an individual level but cannot, I feel, be ignored on a wider level which is why I think it's important to get involved in politics and speak up about issues. Sadly, on both fronts I don't feel like I'm doing very well. We give a fair amount of our income to support various causes (and we support a Ugandan charity I visited in 2014) but ever since the depressing outcome of the General Election I've felt the need to do more.

I have done some work producing some short videos for Hope Not Hate – a grassroots campaigning organisation aimed at fighting racism. Part of their work is to counter the likes of UKIP which are attractive to racist types and they're doing a great job of countering the negative attitudes towards things like immigration. So I suppose that's something. And I'm always signing petitions for various things that speak up against stupid things our government is doing or attempting to do. I do feel I need to support a political party, however, but can't decide between Greens, Labour or Plaid Cymru.

Coming back to faith, I've become more and more convinced that God is a just God but ultimately more loving than we can possibly imagine. That should be the default position of all Christians on every issue, however uncomfortable that might be. Certain Christians like to come from an angle of God's anger, vengeance and punishment but I find that hard to reconcile with the teachings of Jesus. Not to say that we're free to do anything we want ... but I guess if one's default position is love then you can't go too far wrong. There's a hefty challenge right there, especially when you consider Jesus' teaching to love your enemies.

So, in summary, I'm not doing nothing – just gotta do a bit more!

Other stuff
This year has brought home to me the reality of life's fragility more than ever. The horrific situations in places like Syria, the related refugee crisis and the various terrorist attacks we have witnesses in the news have demonstrated this on a global scale, but I have also had friends, relatives and associates battling cancer (one of whom didn't make it). So that's all a bit of a downer.

I've been using Facebook less and less these days (mainly by deleting the app from my phone). I accept it's a useful tool for keeping in touch with people, but I was getting a bit sick of reading endless narcissistic posts that only served to make me feel more inadequate. I'm still using Twitter, but mostly as a business tool rather than anything personal (except promoting my blog posts, of course - hah!).

2015 and all that
On a final – and lighter – note, I was excited for us to finally reach the year 2015, being a big Back To The Future fan. In case you didn't know, the future featured prominently in the second installment of the time-traveling adventure and ever since I saw the movie I've been fascinated to see how its predictions of life in 2015 turned out. Seems they weren't totally off, just not quite in the way it was imagined.

A video posted by @farsight_creative on

So, thanks for reading. Wishing you a terrific 2016!