Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Films I've Seen of Late (October)

#59 Storks (2015)
Passable animation featuring Andy Samberg (who pretty much plays his character from Brooklyn 99) about storks delivering babies or something. At least it kept the kids happy.

#60 Blade Runner (1982)
One of the best films of all time (IMHO), I fancied a rewatch before catching the sequel in cinemas (if I get a chance). Gritty sci-fi with a film noir twist, Ridley Scott’s vision of a decaying future LA doesn’t fail anywhere: story, cinematography, musical score, acting, special effects - it all still holds up fantastically well thirty years later. To make a sequel anywhere near as good seem an impossible task.

#61 Lego Ninjago Movie (2017)
The third ‘live action’ Lego movie, Ninjago fails to live up to its predecessors. There’s plenty of wink-wink / breaking the fourth wall humour, as seems is obligatory for this sort of film (just to keep the grown ups happy) but something still seems to be missing. Disappointing.

#62 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Classic Disney epic adventure about three men held captive by the mysterious Captain Nemo aboard his technological underwater marvel, the Nautilus. Still stands up well against modern films, and sticks as closely to the source material as is reasonably possible.

#63 Supernova (2000)
Sci-if thriller/horror with a slight identity problem. Despite the solid performances from leads Spader and Bassett, the problems with its script and meddling from the studio ultimately let it down.

#64 The Mountain Between Us (2017)
Two strangers (Idris Elba and Kate Winslet) become stranded on a desolate mountain range when their chartered pilot crashes. As they struggle to survive, they form a strong bond which carries them through near-starvation and freezing temperatures. A powerful and emotional journey with breathtaking scenery and moving scenes.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Entering The Pitch Film Competition

The Pitch is a film competition held every year with a £30,000 prize for the winner. It's a little different from other competitions as it requires the entrants to use a bible story or theme as inspiration. I've entered an idea into it and it has now gone to a public vote.

So, dear reader, please vote for my film!

It only takes 2 minutes:

My idea is based on the story from the book of Exodus, transplanting the events to an alternate modern Britain with a fascist dictator at the helm. Find out more here: https://www.enterthepitch.com/entry/let-my-people-go/

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery - a review (sort of)

I despair at modern times, I really do.

Star Trek: Discovery, the latest Star Trek outing, has seen a barrage of negative reviews spewing forth across the internet. True, there has been plenty of praise as well but what annoys me about the moaning and complaining is that it's all too easy these days.

I doubt the backlash was anything like this the last time anything Trek related came on TV (although the JJ Abrams movie reboot and sequels have had its fair share of criticism), but c'mon guys. Does everyone have to crap all over something with such fervour and dismay? Everyone has an opinion (of course), and they are certainly entitled to is – but I think the internet just magnifies it in such a horrible way.

Sure, there were a few problems with the show. It isn't perfect, but no show ever is.

I'm sure the original Star Trek (regarded with great reverence by fans) had its critics - and it only managed to last for three series. From what I've read, Star Trek The Next Generation only really got into its stride after series two.

Sometime a show needs time to get bedded in, but unfortunately people demand perfection from the get-go these days. They're not willing to give the time, because they don't have the time to invest in it (or think they don't).

Which is a shame.

I'm not going to say Discovery is a bad or a good show, certainly not at this stage. I do have both gripes and likes, but I think they pretty much balance each other out:

- confusing timeline (is it Kelvin? is it a new timeline? I have no idea)
- intergalactic instantateous space travel via ... er, alien spores? (seriously, what??)
- too much Klingon subtitles (if I wanted to read, I'd get a book)
- it's trying too hard to be Star Wars (although this explanation https://youtu.be/KoW8Sq8-hr4 of Discovery kinda makes sense)

- a decent bit of ethnic and gender equality (finally! although Voyager was years ahead of it's time obvs)
- hollywood movie-quality sets, effects and costumes
- well-rounded and interesting characters (even though we're only just getting to know them)

The most recent episodes of Discovery didn't fill me with great excitement, but I'm going to stick at it for now. Because maybe – just maybe – given a bit of time if could just be a truly great piece of television.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Book Review: The Grandfather Infestation by John Peel (a Lethbridge-Stewart adventure)

My second foray into the world of Doctor Who spin off Lethbridge-Stewart, this is an alien invasion yarn very much in the vein of John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids.

Set in the 1960s at the height of the pirate radio station craze, a pirate station and a navy sub sailing off the coast of Scotland are the first to suffer at the hands of an alien invasion by telepathic, carnivorous plants (the Grandfathers) and their tall, rocky assistants (the Ymir).

The survivors of both vessels find themselves on the ocean floor, surrounded by an air-sealed protective bubble, and are soon captured by the Ymir and put to slave labour, working to help the invaders enact their dastardly plan: to detonate a bomb in an undergound oilfield that will release millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere. With the resultant global warming killing off the pesky humans and most other life, there will be plenty of room for the grandfathers and their cronies to take over. So far, so good.

Lethbridge-Stewart and his team are soon alerted to the strange goings on in Scotland, however, and make their way up North to investigate and put a stop to the Grandfather's ambitions.

After a failed attempt by the RAF to firebomb the infected island, a team led by L-S set out to be captured by the alien invaders disguised as 'ordinary' island folk (concealing as much weaponry as their outfits can hold). Meanwhile, L-S's colleague Ann Travers, is tasked with conducting an investigation using a bathysphere deep sea vessel.

Written by John Peel (no, not him), there are plenty of 60s references, as one would expect, and the Brigadier is his usual gallant / stuff-upper-lipped / get-the-job-done / no-nonsense self. Also, the enemy is one that has been well thought through, despite the obvious inspiration from Wyndham's original story.

In conclusion, the Grandfather Infestation is another excellent addition to the Lethbridge-Stewart series and well worth checking out.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Films I've seen of late (September)

#53 Under the Skin (2013)
Sci-fi horror meets arthouse in this dark tale about an alien who seduces lonely men in order to harvest their flesh. The antithesis to Hollywood action hero fare, Under the Skin ironically features one of its most prominent superhero actresses (Johanssen) - who delivers a captivating performance as the otherworldly siren.

#54 Captain Underpants (2017)
Two best friends come up against their mean school principal and inadvertently turn him into their own comic book invention 'Captain Underpants'. Starts well, but soon gets muddled along the way and ultimately resorts to a slightly tired ending. 

#55 Paddington (2015)
The children's classic is given the feature film treatment in this enjoyable origin story of the clumsy but loveable bear's adoption into a London family. Updating the stories to 21st century Britain feels a little forced at times, and the evil villain (Nicole Kidman) doesn't seem to fit well with the tone of the original stories. Even so, a good effort.

#56 American Made (2017)
Tom Cruise is on top form in this biopic of Barry Seal, ace pilot who gets recruited by the CIA to spy on South American rebels in the 70s. His actions come to the attention of drug lords who see his usefulness and ask him to run drugs to the States as well. Before long, the money is flowing but soon Barry's luck begins to run out. Well-paced and tightly directed, American Made feels more of an indie flick than a hollywod blockbuster (despite Cruise as the lead) which plays to its advantage. An enjoyable true story.

#57 Passengers (2016)
Two passengers aboard a colony ship travelling through space find themselves awake ninety years too early. Restricted from returning to cryosleep, they come to terms with their fate and fall in love - but a dark secret hangs over their lives. Critics panned this film but I think it's pretty decent - yes, it could have been a lot darker but understandably the studio played it safe. Good performances, amazing visuals and an interesting dilemma for the protagonists make this entirely watchable.

#58 Office Space (1999)
Cult classic comedy about a frustrated office worker in a dead-end job who has an epiphany and seeks to take revenge on corporate America. Feels like it loses its way half way through but is enjoyable nonetheless.

The Joy of Baking (again)

My new (second hand) breadmaker and its produce - yum!
Back in the day, I had the bread-making bug and tried numerous times to make it myself with varying degrees of success.

Because bread making is not as easy as, say, making cakes I kinda gave up on the whole thing though. I was fed up of making heavy, overly-yeasty bread that didn't taste right. I longed to be able to produce soft and fluffy white loaves like they make in the bakery. Had I more time, I guess I could have worked to perfect my skills – but time is a precious commodity of which I have very little at present.

Until, that is, that we were bequeathed a bread maker. Oh yes!

Now, I accept that this is sort of cheating but I thought I'd give it a go and I have been impressed with the results so far.

I've been fairly unadventurous and stuck with white loaves (apart from one wholemeal that I made which the family disapproved of), and each time they have come out pretty much perfect. So, the bread making will continue (despite the fact that it's far, far cheaper to buy the stuff from the supermarket!), and maybe I'll try a few more exciting varieties down the line.

At some point, I hope to use the bread maker to just do the kneading (this is the hard part - not just physically but technically, I feel) and do the rest myself. But that, unfortunately, requires a bit more time.

So, maybe one day...

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Female Movie Voiceover

At a trip to the cinema recently, it struck me that the voiceover for every trailers is always a man.

I don't think I've ever heard a female voice for trailers and I wonder why. Sure, it feels like it should be a bloke, but when you listen to this:

I don't have a problem with this at all.

It's time to redress the balance, people. Let's have more female voicovers for trailers please!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Films I've seen of late (August)

#44 Doctor Strange (2016)
Marvel is at it again with yet another superhero instalment, this time featuring neurosurgeon-turned-mystic warrior Steven Strange. Not particularly original as a superhero film but at least it doesn't take itself too seriously. Some impressive visuals, but lacklustre plot.

#45 The Wizard of Oz (1939)
An enduring and timeless classic, Oz set the benchmark for all fantasy films made ever since. The tale of Dorothy, the scarecrow, tin man and lion is told with innocence, wit and humour - all in glorious 1930s cinematic technicolor.

#46 Blind Date / A Little, a Lot, Blindly (2015)
A charming French-language film that tells the tale of two introverts living in apartments next to each other who gradually strike up a relationship by talking through their thin partition wall - and not actually meeting. Despite this slightly unrealistic premise, the two leads are enjoyable to watch as they navigate an unusual journey of romance.

#47 Independence Day: Resurgence (2015)
Sequel to the alien-invasion disaster movie that spawned numerous imitators. This, too, sadly is far from original - rehashing the original premise but just making everything more ludicrous. Whilst it's interesting to see what has happened to the main characters after 20 years (well, apart from Will Smith's), it just lacks any of the heart and soul of its predecessor.

#48 Tomorrowland: A World Beyond (2015)
George Clooney does some kid-friendly Disney that has some dark edges. Inventive and entertaining, it is nice to hear a message of hope for a change (one of the themes of the movie). There is still, however, something missing from the film - leaving it somewhat dissatisfying.

#49 The Phantom (1996)
Billy Zane is the titular hero in this comic-book caper, with plenty of nods to other adventure films like Indiana Jones and Batman. Despite feeling a bit rushed in places, and having a couple of daft stunt scenes, Zane is enjoyable as the mysterious but chivalrous hero.

#50 Keeping up with the Joneses (2016)
A glamourous, attractive couple move in to an idyllic American cul-de-sac and befriend their neighbours who suspect something's not right, soon discovering that the newcomers are actually spies. Much hilarity and mayhem ensures. Fairly predictable but enjoyable comedy.

#51 Event Horizon (1997)
Cult horror often described as 'The Shining' in space. Has some shortcomings and there's clearly a heavy 'Alien' influence, but it still holds up well twenty years later. Whilst a more gruesome film was originally planned and shot, the heavily edited version which ended up as the final cut is enough for me.

#52 Detroit (2017)
Police brutality and racial tension is put under the spotlight in this harrowing drama set during the '67 Detroit riots. The performances are excellent but the overlong script sadly induces a sense of boredom about an important subject.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Offworld Feature Film - Trailer

Offworld is an independent feature film that was shot in Wales earlier this year. I have been part of the post-production team, working on the edit and have helped to put together this trailer:
We hope to release the final film in December / January.
Please like and share to support independent productions!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Films I've seen of late (July)

#34 Galaxy Quest (1999)
This Star Trek spoof perfectly hits the mark as it lampoons the classic show and its obsessive fan following. There are a couple of plot holes that don't really work if you think too hard about it, but ignoring that, Galaxy Quest is a fun story.

#35 RIPD (2013)
Nowhere near as bad as what I was expecting. Essentially Men In Black with demons/undead ghosts: two dead cops (Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds) on the case of a baddie played by Kevin Bacon. Bridges' mumbly cowboy dialogue is not the easiest to follow but Ryan Reynolds does a good turn as the rookie. Popcorn-pleasing fun.

#36 Bridget Jones' Baby (2016)
Bridget Jones returns, and this time she's having a baby, except she doesn't know who the father is. This sequel feels slightly forced and unnecessary (especially after over a decade's hiatus) but is enjoyable in places and has its moments.

#37 Despicable Me 3 (2017)
Another effort to cash in on the Minions / Gru phenomenon, D3 is a reasonable sequel. Gru learns he has a twin brother and takes him on a mission to rescue a stolen diamond from an ex-80s-child-TV-star-turned-villain. Contains heaps of 80s references and in-jokes to keep the parents of the target audience happy (I know exactly what you're doing, Universal).

#38 A Million Ways To Die In The West (2015)
Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane is the loser sheep farmer unlucky in love who, through a chance encounter, ends up falling in love with the local psycho bandit's wife. Plenty of crude humour abounds in this goofy western that manages to strike the right balance between comedy and period love story (of sorts).

#39 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Sequel to the Apes franchise reboot that lives up to its predecessor, with impressive CGI and action pieces. The simian flu has wiped out most of humanity, leaving the genetically engineered apes to live in relative peace in the mountains outside a post-apocalyptic San Francisco. A chance encounter between the apes and surviving humans is the catalyst for a bitter struggle for supremacy. We know how it's going to pan out, but the story keeps you hooked all the same (plus it's got an ape weilding machine guns atop a horse - you can't beat that!).

#40 Baby Driver (2017)
Edgar Wright is clearly having a blast in this ultra-cool bank heist 'action musical'. Weirdly, it has a bit of an unsteady start but soon turns up the revs with spectacular action sequences all to the tune and rhythm of an excellent soundtrack.

#41 Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Kingsman is an attempt to reinvent the spy actioner with plenty of tongue-in-cheek antics and over the top violence. It does the job fairly well, but everything still seems all to familiar. Some good scenes and witty one liners just about save the day.

#42 Nocturnal Animals (2016)
A wealthy art dealer regains contact with her ex-husband in this dark and moody tale of revenge and betrayal, with events playing out between the story of a novel and the real world. Nocturnal Animals is not easy watching but the acting and cinematography keeps you engaged.

#43 Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
I really wanted to see this when I was a kid, but I'm glad I didn't. In some ways, not as bad as everyone says (especially considering its miniscule budget and the fact that most of it was filmed in Milton Keynes of all places), but still an awful film. The set up seems to work OK but then it rushes to the end, presumably to put the viewer out of his or her misery.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The wonder of Toffifee

I've recently rediscovered the magnificent treat that is Toffifee (weirdly marketed under the name 'Toffifay' in the US) - a caramel/chocolate/hazelnut combo that is truly yummy.

I have a childhood memory of Toffifee always featuring in the 'hamper' section of Christmas catalogues. Whilst it falls into the same confectionary category as 'Quality Street' and 'Celebrations' I don't think Toffifee has ever been regarded as an equal - and yet they taste just as good as anything Cadbury or Mars can make. For some reason, I wasn't all too sure how to regard Toffifee when I was younger. Were they chocolates or some other category of sweet? I could never tell. Sadly, for decades my weird brain regarded Toffifee with a mild distrust for no logical reason.

Until now.

I recieved these little pods of joy for Father's day and I am determined to no longer treat these treats as second-class citizens.

Don't pass them by - give them a chance. I know you won't regret it (unless you have nut allergies of course).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

My current TV viewing

Thanks to the wonder of streaming, Wifey and I are now plugged in to a plethora of TV shows all waiting to be rabidly consumed. Here's what we've been watching:


- Stranger Things
The perfect blend of horror, mystery and 80s nostalgia, Stanger Things is probably the first show we have properly binge-watched (at least, for a while). Can't wait for series two in the autumn.

- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
The hopelessly optimistic Kimmy is the ultimate antidote to modern life. We're onto Season 2 and it's doing OK so far. Not as hilarious as the first series, but maybe it's because I'm used to the surreal humour.

- Designated Survivor
A slow burn conspiracy thriller, Kiefer Sutherland is perfect as the lowly cabinet member thrust into the highest office in the land after a terrorist attack on Capitol Hill. Makes me wish Kiefer was president instead of that bumbling orange moronic man-child.

- Master of None
Aziz Anzari's comedy is full of observational wit surrounding the highs and lows of being a millennial / thirtysomething. Throws in some scathing commentary on racial prejudice in America too.

- Archer
I've not watched much of this, but Archer's idiotic spy is a great take on the genre (and hilarious too).

- The Handmaid's Tale (Channel 4)
HBO's adaptation of the acclaimed novel about a dystopian America is more poignant and timely than the book itself. Scarily the premise doesn't seem too far fetched in this post-Obama world.

- Mad Men (DVD)
We're finally onto the last series after several years of watching it on and off. Even though not much seems to happen in an episode, it's still compelling viewing. I will miss Jon Hamm's deeply flawed anti-hero Don Draper (though not much - he's a misogynistic jerk, after all).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Kneel before your insect overlords

Since my little ones were given some pets for last Christmas, I have become the primary carer of 'new' little ones in the shape of Eurocantha Calcaratha 'spiny devil' stick insects. They have steadily grown from little critters to fearsome looking mini-beasts.

Thankfully, they are vegetarian through and through, so won't be swarming the family home looking to devour pesky humans anytime soon.

Or at least that's what I'm hoping.

I'm dreading the day when the female gets clucky and decides to breed. I'm not sure what we'll do when that happens...

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The thirteenth Doctor is a woman!

So the next Doctor is going to be female!

I must admit, I was initially cautious about the idea a while back after I'd heard rumours, but actually it makes a whole lot of sense. Of course, there has been a backlash from idiots decrying 'political correctness' etc but what they fail to realise is that the Doctor is a) an alien b) doesn't adhere to human gender norms c) is a bl**dy fictional character!!!

I'd be sympathetic to anyone who didn't like the idea of, say, James Bond being re-cast as a woman. That would seem a bit odd (and forced), but making the Doctor a female is totally what the show – and the character – needs.

Not only had Steven Moffat and co been carefully sowing the seeds for some time now (dropping lots of hints along the way), but really and truly the show is ready for a decent injection of 'new'.

I've never been a die-hard fan of Who, just a casual watcher, but the recent series have seemed tired and lacking a certain something. I've felt all of the actors who took on the role to be very good at bringing their respective interpretation to life, but the scripts were always hit and miss for me.

For a fifty-year-old show that's not surprising. I think there's really only so much you can do with a TV series - Who has it's revolving formulas that are wheeled out regularly: monster of the week, trapped on a spacestation, it-was-all-a-dream etc. so you need to do things to keep it fresh.

I was thinking that the best thing for Who was for it to just give up already. Time for something else ... but, Jodie Whittaker is a brilliantly talented actress and I reckon she's got what it takes to breathe new life into the (very) old timelord.

I am genuinely excited to see what comes of the Doctor in the Christmas special, so roll on December!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Coldplay - A Head full of Dreams Tour (Cardiff, 10th July 2017)

I've been following Coldplay since their Parachutes album came out almost two decades ago. They have steadily grown from plucky indie band to global phenomenon - currently touring the world with a vibrant, impressive stage show equal to other big bands. I know it's not 'cool' to like Coldplay, which is always the way with successful bands. No doubt the hipsters look upon them with great disdain, but I actually do like their music (there, I said it!) and I've liked the way their sound has evolved over the years.

I must admit I wasn't overly excited about seeing them, though. I was looking forward to it, don't get me wrong, just not in the way an obsessive fan might have been. I saw it as a 'fun night out' rather than an 'experience' to tell my grandchildren.

Once things got going, however, I was really glad I came (despite the horrible rain and the lengthy queues). We were up in the gods, literally the last row in the back at the top. A good vantage to see the whole spectacle, but a bit far away to see any detail (plus the giant scoreboard blocked some of the view - see picture). At least we could stand without upsetting anyone and had somewhere to put our stuff behind our seats.

Chris Martin and co. played their most well-known hits, from the first single that catapulted them into the limelight (Yellow) to their most recent ode to positivity and hopefulness (Up and Up).

Whilst the stage and lighting were fairly typical for your big act stadium gig (although very good of course), the standout element was the light-up wrist bands worn by the audience. Alas, we were too late to have one ourselves because they'd all gone by the time we'd arrived. Even so, the effect was striking, bathing the entire arena in whatever colour or colours had been commanded by the production team (e.g. the colour yellow for 'Yellow' obviously).

I didn't know that Coldplay's guitarist Jonny Buckland grew up in North Wales (he was born in London) so it was nice to learn on the night that they had a Welsh connection (even though they haven't played here for seventeen years), which was milked quite a lot. Chris Martin apologised for taking so long to come back to play here and he even performed a little ditty about Jonny and Wales (I can't remember the lyrics exactly). Not only that, they signed off with a rendition of the Welsh national anthem (Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau), accompanied by a couple of choir singers. Turns out Rob Brydon did the honours the day after at their second Cardiff performance. A bit random, but fun all the same.

Having not been to a big concert for a few years (the last one was U2 at the then-called Millennium Stadium in 2009), the presence of smartphones in the audience was really noticeable. A lot of people (myself included) were filming the show, which is admittedly kind of odd. 

I guess it's a natural reaction these days, to capture something you are enjoying, but I think if you're filming something instead of actually experiencing it then you're kind of wasting your money. I did resist the urge to film everything. I just wanted to capture clips (because I knew the experience would be fleeting and wanted to capture at least something of what I'd seen), but made sure I wasn't watching the whole thing through my screen.

At some point during the show, Chris did plead with everyone to put their phones down and just enjoy the moment. He said we could film anything we wanted after, so he wasn't too concerned about people stealing his music.

I've seen a lot of people sharing their videos on Facebook and Coldplay are posting videos from the tour all the time on their page (filmed via smartphone or something similar), so I guess they don't really care about copyright, which is the other issue I was curious about now that smartphones are ubiquitous.

It's something that's impossible to control, given that almost eveyone has a portable TV studio in their pocket these days (ain't that right, Doc Brown?), so I guess the record labels rely on the fact that playing it back on a smartphone will never be the same as experiencing it in person or watching the concert recorded and edited by a professional production crew. If anything, allowing people to record and share their concert videos is just another marketing tool to promote the band.

So, well done and thank you Coldplay for a memorable show. I hope you come back to Wales again - just don't wait seventeen years next time!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bye bye beardy

After having a short beard for the last few months, I decided it was time to shave it off.

This was mainly prompted by the recent heatwave which made my face a bit more uncomfortable with the additional growth. I also found the beard thing slightly irritating due to itchiness and the ever-present paranoia of having chunks of food lodged it in whenever I ate.

On the plus side, I felt a bit more statesmanlike and grown up with my tufts of grey. Plus my beard offered my face a certain level of wind shielding in the colder months.

I might grow it back in the autumn, although I think I will have to invest in a decent facial trimmer to keep it under control and in a decent state of grooming.

Who knows, I just light might opt for a full Charlton Heston....?

Before and After

Friday, June 30, 2017

Films I've seen of late (June)

#29 Selma (2016)
David Oyelwoyo gives a stunning performance in this biopic about Martin Luther King Jnr. Focusing on the civil rights marches to secure the right to vote for blacks, the acts of brutality by the authorities are barbaric and shocking. Whilst things have clearly moved on since the 60s in terms of racial equality, current events show that sadly more work needs to be done. Hugely thought-provoking.

#30 Sing (2014)
The team behind Despicable Me achieve a winning formula in this anthropomorphic-singing-contest family comedy. Nailing the genre perfectly while employing a fresh twist to the finale, Sing is fun and satisfying.

#31 Ice Age: Collision Course (2015)
Yawn. Yet another example of spinning-out a franchise for as long as possible. The first movie was an interesting kids movie with a novel premise. Everything else has been pretty dire and forgettable.

#32 Half of a Yellow Sun (2013)
The story of a family caught up in the events of the Nigerian Civil War, Half of a Yellow Sun contemplates issues of race, tribalism, colonialism and African politics. The messy consequences of British rule and Nigerian independence are laid bare in this thoughtful drama.

#33 Strangerland
A dark and moody family drama set in a small town out in the Australian outback. Tensions rise up when two children go missing, one of whom is a promiscuous 15-year old girl with a troubled past. Leaves many questions unanswered but has strong and moving performances throughout.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

While I've been away

The last month or so has been crazy busy for me. Alongside my usual stuff I've been working on editing a low-budget feature film and planning a couple of short films.

On the domestic front I've spent a week in France with the family (which I intend to write up about sometime - it was an awesome holiday), looking after ever-growing gigantic insects (more on that soon as well hopefully), shaving off my beard (because it got ridiculously hot) and catching up on the latest TV.

Once I come out of this work fug, normal service will be resumed (probably).

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Today's the day we determine our future

So if you want the NHS privatised, lower wages, fewer police on the streets, foxes routinely killed in some weird aristocratic pageant, increased class sizes in schools, dementia sufferers punished for their illness, even more families in poverty, oppressive mass surveillance, scrapping of human rights laws, tax breaks for the rich, higher taxes for ordinary people and a crippling hard Brexit ... then go ahead, vote Tory.

It's your right after all and I would wholeheartedly defend that right.
If, however, you think we can do better as a nation then maybe vote for someone else.
I dunno ... I may be wrong but I don't want to have to say 'I told you so' in five years.

United Kingdom General Election 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Films I've seen of late 2017 (May)

#26 Jason Bourne (2016)

Matt Damon returns as the rogue super spy in this so-so sequel. Full of the usual espionage action, it goes over old ground in an attempt to revitalise the series but fails to really connect in any kind of emotional way. Paul Greengrass' nauseous shaky cam doesn't help either. Time for Bourne to take early retirement methinks.


#27 Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Derided as one of the worst Trek films in the series, it's not that bad. Picard and the gang get embroiled in a Federation plot to remove the inhabitants of a planet that gives out mysterious 'regenerative' radiation, all for some nefarious and selfish motive. Playing out like an extended episode, as opposed to a full-blown movie, Insurrection fails to live up to its title. I expected the Enterprise crew to go totally rogue against their masters, but in the end they just kick up a mild fuss. Watchable, but forgettable.

#28 Sully: Miracle on the Hudson (2016)

Factual drama about Capt Chesley Sullenberger who crash landed his passenger jet into the Hudson River after a debilitating bird strike. Concentrates on Sully's controversial decision, which ultimately proves to be the right one, but the long drawn out trial seems a bit forced. The main drama seems to be more about what could have happened rather than what actually did (which was, as the title suggests, miraculous). Even so, it's done really well and aims to be true to the events as much as possible.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Vacances en France 2017!

We are off to France over half-term and I am pretty darn excited. We will be staying near Bordeaux in a huge chateaux with the rest of my family horde, so it should be fun. Also, the weather is looking pretty nice, which is amazing. Plus, we get to fly this time, which will be a new experience for the boys. Hope they enjoy it.

Since I came to realise how much I love our gallic neighbour I have made sure we head to the continent as much as possible. Of course, once Brexit hits, it might be more complicated (erk!).

I will report back afterwards, but no doubt most of my activities will involve eating baguettes, cheese, nutella and wine.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Cadbury Oreo Mint and Peanut Butter

Cadbury have recently dropped two new flavours of Dairy Milk Oreo: Mint and Peanut Butter. I've reviewed their original flavour here, which feels like a bit of a fraud seeing as the filling doesn't seem to actually be the proper Oreo creme. It's not a terrible chocolate bar, just not as Oreo-y as it could be.

So, onto these new iterations.


For some reason Dairy Milk doesn't really go with peanut buttter. Reese's peanut butter cups taste amazing, but Dairy Milk does not. I wonder if it's because Reese's chocolate is darker and the peanut paste is more salty..?

Peanut Butter Oreos work as a cookie, but this doesn't quite... so I will give this chocolate bar 6 out of 10.

Hmm. This is more like it. Mint and chocolate are natural taste companions, and combined with the Oreo makes a tasty treat. 8 out of 10 for this one. Yum!

I wonder if Cadbury will continue the trend and try another flavour? Personally, I think Strawberry would be a good option. Strawberry flavour Oreos are pretty awesome.

C'mon Cadbury - work your magic!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

New Dredd TV Series In Development

I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I saw social media filling up with news about a new TV show based on the Judge Dredd comics: Judge Dredd: Mega-City One.

As a longtime fan of the character, I have had to deal with the disappointment of seeing Dredd's character fail at the cinema box office - not once, but twice. I have seen America's Marvel and DC surge and dominate Hollywood, while Britain's 2000AD fail to get anywhere despite its vast range of brilliant stories and characters.

The idea that Dredd would return to the silver screen seemed far fetched - even with the Dredd Sequel fan campaign - but now, it seems, there's a new ray of hope. Rebelllion (the licence-holders of Dredd and associated characters) have announced they are working on a new iteration of Dredd. This time for the smaller screen.

I am super-excited, if a little cautious, about this announcement. On the plus side, Rebellion are the custodians of Dredd. They know and love the character well so I'm sure will be determined to do a good job. They've got good backing with IM Global and Mark Stern (executive producer who previously worked for the Syfy channel on Battlestar Galactica). There's clearly a desire for more Dredd, thanks to the critical response to the 2012 Dredd film, and if Rebellion can persuade Karl Urban to return to judging duties, they're off to a great start.

My main reservation is that Rebellion have no experience of making TV. They refer to their experience in making computer games, which is certainly a similar industry, but I still think TV is different. Added to that, Mega-City One is a formidable canvas to work with. It's massively rich and bizarre just in terms of characters alone. Portraying this vast metropolis is going to be a huge challenge, I'm sure. Dredd 2012 had a budget of $35,000,000 and struggled to put Dredd's hometown up onscreen (although it did a good job all things considering). With an estimated $1,000,000 per epsiode, JD:MC-1 will have a lot less resources to work with.

Despite these niggles, I remain optimistic. Dredd and his world have always been ripe for live action, it's just the technology, willpower and finance have never quite been available.

That is, until now.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Is Welsh independence a good idea?

Ever since the disaster that was Brexit, I've been pondering on the future of the UK. With Scotland charging towards an independence referendum and the recent snap election looming this June, the stability of the 'union' is more uncertain than ever.

As always, there's polarised opinion about this and the Welsh question of independence is hard to ignore. Better arguments for it can be read elsewhere (See http://yes.cymru/independence/
and https://freewales.org/independent-wales-prosperous-wales/). Plenty of people will guffaw at the very notion of Welsh independence, but given that we may not have a 'United Kingdom' for much longer I think serious thought needs to be given to this idea.

For a long time, I've been one of the naysayers seeing Windependence (my new word everyone! yes, just as awful as 'Brexit') as a total joke, but now things have changed on the political scene I'm beginning to see it as a potential way forward for this small nation known for its mountains, male voice choirs, dragons (fictional ones, obviously) and poets.

Our current 'Welsh Government' has fewer powers than the Scottish Parliament or any other fully independent sate – but it's a start. I don't see why we can't build on what we've already got and work toward Windependence within the next decade or so.

Why am I thinking this way? Well, it's partly because of Brexit (and to a lesser extent, Trump's rise to power). Times they are a-changing and I think now more than ever, people need to call for change – but the kind of change that benefits the majority, not the precious few with power and wealth.

People will cry that we're 'too small' and 'economically weak' but one look at Iceland as a comparison proves that we are more than capable of holding our own on the world stage:

Iceland vs Wales

Population of Iceland: 330,000
Population of Wales: 3,000,000

GDP of Iceland: $17 billion
GDP of Wales: $70 billion

So, Iceland – an independent State like the USA, Russia, France or Japan – has 10% of the population and 20% of the GDP of Wales but the idea of Welsh Independence is laughed off by the English (and plenty of Welsh too). Interestingly, Iceland has one of the lowest economic inequality rates in the world and one of best Human Development Indices.

I've nothing against Icelanders. They are no doubt a noble and worthy people, and their land is majestic and beautful – but it's cold, stuck in the middle of the North Sea and beer costs something like £8 a pint. Not the greatest of selling points for a nation state, one might think. And yet, they're doing just fine.

I don't think we need to sever ties with England in some bad divorce kind of way (a la Brexit), but perhaps it helps to view the smaller parts of the union as England's children. For centuries, these children have lived under the shadow of their parent and perhaps rightly so.

Now, in the 21st century, though - perhaps it's time for the children to finally grow up.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Films I've seen of late 2017 (April)

April's been a bumper month for my movie watching, it seems. This is partly because I've discovered documentaries on Netflix, which I don't mind watching in chunks. Maybe also April is a pretty long month...?

#17 Back In Time (2015)
Released on the 30th anniversary of Back to The Future, Back In Time features interviews with the cast and creators of the much-loved 'greatest time travel movie ever'. Some interesting and fascinating snippets from those who made the film, punctuated by stories from the many fans who have kept the BTTF flame alive. Notable omissions are Biff's Thomas F Wilson (not sure why) and George's Crispin Glover (for obvious reasons).

#18 The BFG (2016)
Spielberg's filmmaking craft is the perfect match to Dahl's storytelling in this faithful adaptation of the much-loved children's classic. Mark Rylance (BFG) and Ruby Barnhill (Sophie) have an excellent chemistry, in spite of the CGI wizardry.

#19 Ghostbusters (2016)
The hateful backlash against this reboot was unnecessary and unjustified. Sure, it pales into comparison to the original movies, but it has a lot of heart and plenty of funny moments. The cameos and constant references to the source material dilute the film as a whole, preventing it from being a decent film in its own right (the best way to do reboots, in my opinion). This is as close to Ghostbusters 3 as we'll ever get, so worth a watch.

#20 Dreams of a Life (2011)
Joyce Vincent died alone in her North London flat in 2003 but wasn't discovered until over 2 years later - her fully decomposed corpse lying on the floor with the TV still playing. Why she was left for such a long time is explored in this documentary via interviews with friends and colleagues, shocked by Joyce's fate. Dreams of a Life builds up a picture of an enigmatic woman who never stayed in the same place and was apparently plagued by demons nobody could really fathom. A fascinating and heartbreaking film.

#21 Twelve Monkeys (1995)
I last saw this at the cinema on its original release and it's aged well. Bruce Willis is on top form as the hero sent back in time to gather information about a deadly virus that wipes out most of humanity. One of Terry Gilliam's most mainstream successes, this time travel tale is full of Gilliam's trademark production design and quirkiness but it manages to keep things on track without being too weird. Good to watch again.

#22 Boss Baby (2017)
Potentially a painful ninety minutes, Boss Baby is actually quite a sweet film that centres around the main character's angst of having a new sibling join the family. It has moments of weirdness, it's true, and the drive of the story is slightly questionable – but Alec Baldwin's performance lends a fair whack of credibility to this above average kid's film.

#23 Go With Me (2015)
A dark and moody thriller, Go With Me is a simple tale of revenge set in an Oregon logging town. Ray Liota is Blackway, the local ex-cop crime boss who threatens a new resident (Julia Stiles) after she escapes his advances. The sheriff prefers not to get involved, so she enlists the help of two loggers (Anthony Hopkins and Alexander Ludwig) who end up taking the law into their own hands to track down the elusive Blackway. Great performances all round and a satisfying ending to a very lean but effective story.

#24 What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Four vampires sharing a flat form the basis of this mockumentary from the creators of Flight of the Conchords. A mostly hilarious look at life for the undead in 21st century New Zealand, 'Shadows' is a fresh take on both modern horror and spoof genres with a quirky Kiwi spin. Lots of gruesome silliness.

#25 Eddie the Eagle (2015)
Biopic about Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards and his ski jumping antics at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Moving and funny, Taron Egerton is the spitting image of Edwards in mannerisms as well as looks. It's a shame they had to invent Hugh Jackman's character (and a lot of other plot points) for the sake of a Hollywood storyline, but at least the finale in Calgary is fairly true to the real thing. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

General Election '17 Thoughts

When I heard about the snap election, I felt very much like the first lady in this clip, bless 'er:
Now I've calmed down a bit, I've had a think about what to do.

Theresa May has been very shrewd calling an election at a time when the opposition is weak and largely ineffective. I admire Corbyn a lot for his principles, but I think it's a pretty long shot that he'll become PM. The Tories know this and hope that a victory in June will cement their position of power.

I don't think all Tories are evil. I am sure that many are hardworking decent people who care deeply about their constituents, but it is the leadership that bothers me. There appears to be a callousness and indifference to 'ordinary people' about them – and I believe this will only worsen as Brexit becomes more of a reality.

So, what am I going to do about it?

Well, just because my bet is that May will still probably keep her job doesn't mean I shouldn't do something to fight against our Tory overlords.

Firstly, I'm supporting More United, a political movement that supports progressive MPs (whatever the party) and then I've decided to join Plaid Cymru. I think post-Brexit Wales will be worse off than the rest of the UK and believe that only Plaid will fight for Welsh interests in Westminster.

Alongside that, I think it's time we started thinking seriously about Welsh Independence (Windependence, if you will), and Plaid is the one party that is open to the idea. If Scotland can seriously contemplate it, and if other, smaller countries can survive as nation states than I think maybe it's time for Wales to take steps. After all, I don't think we've got much to lose.

If, like me, you've felt a bit paralysed by ineffective politics of late – try not to be. Do something practical to try and make our political landscape better (otherwise nothing will change).

Saturday, April 15, 2017

What dreams may come

The word 'Dream' is a funny word.

This occured to me after watching Spielberg's film adaptation of the BFG. The titular giant has taken it upon himself to gives children nice dreams by blowing them into their bedroom through the window at night.

There's a lot of talk about wonderful dreams (flying, eating ice cream, meeting the queen, going into space etc.) but here's the thing: I can't really relate to this as I don't think I've had that many 'nice' dreams in my life. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I spend every night enduring endless nightmares. Most of the dreams I can remember have been largely anxiety-driven and cover such scenarios as: sitting an exam, being naked in public, going to toilet in public, arguing with people I'm angry at, missing a plane/bus/boat, being late for an interview/important meeting ... the list is pretty endless. To top off the list, I've frequently dreamed about the end of the world which usually entails a nuclear armageddon or cataclysmic tsunami.

Not much fun, eh?

If I'm not dreaming about tomorrow's presentation or money woes, I'll be dreaming in surreal locations and narratives that make no sense. I had a dream last night that involved some friends, guinea pigs, the next door neighbour, a church, a restaurant and some sense of where I used to live when I was younger. Trying to actually describe the dream as a story and what it was about would be pretty hard. 

Of course, this may just be a symptom of being a grown up. As young children, we don't generally have the pressures and responsibilities of raising a family or paying the bills. Maybe the innocence of childhood affords more pleasant nighttime dreaming but by the time we're grown up we've mostly forgotten them and moved on to weird stuff.

People talk about their 'dreams coming true', wanting the 'home of their dreams' or 'living the dream' but if I took those phrases literally I'd be stressing about my mum's old 2CV that was slowly melting in front of my eyes, sitting in a building with no roof or running away from an expanding mushroom cloud.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Getting into the Carmarthen Film Festival

I was recently informed that the short film I wrote and directed has made it into the Carmarthen Bay Film Festival. Woohoo!

We have submitted to a number of other festivals but not had any luck until now, so it was a nice surprise to learn that we have been nominated for two categories: No Budget Short and Short Film Made in Wales 2017.

Myself and the other producers have pondered over our apparent lack of success with our other submissions and concluded that it all comes down to that good old fashioned staple of consumerism: Money.

Put simply, filmmaking is expensive. It costs money to do, or at least if you want to do it at a certain level you need dosh. We didn't have any money for Refuge – well, a few hundred quid at most – so it was very much a low/zero budget short. If you've watched a short on the internet and it has high production values, chances are it really did have high production values. Many of the festivals we entered were fairly big international affairs and no doubt bigger budget productions entered them to get lots of good exposure.

I'm not begrudging these other filmmakers – good luck to them, I say – but I'm annoyed we went through the expensive process of approaching festivals when we were up against the big guns and had very little chance of getting anywhere.

Still, we got into a festival and that was the very least I was hoping for. If we win, that will be an even bigger bonus.

But I won't hold my breath.

Friday, April 7, 2017

My New Favourite TV Show

Now that we have good old Netflix, I have discovered The Expanse, which is now into Season 2 (although Season 1 is only streaming at the moment).

Based on the novels by James S. A. Corey, The Expanse is set in the far future where humanity is in full swing colonising the solar system (predominantly Mars and the Asteroid belt).

Similar to Game of Thrones (or so I'm told – I've not seen GoT), it is full of political intrigue stemming from the tensions that have arisen between Earth, Mars and the Asteroid belt (Belters). A full-scale war is brewing and it seems that work is going on behind the scenes to orchestrate the conflict with some sinister motive.

The show follows three threads: the work of a troubled Belter detective on the trail of a rich girl who's gone missing in outer space; the political dealings of a UN diplomat on Earth; and the fate of the surviving crew of a haulage ship mysteriously attacked and destroyed mid-flight. All of these threads aren't entirely unconnected and as the season goes on they start coming together.

Deeply serious, there's very little humour unlike, say, Firefly – which no doubt had some inspiration for the series – and visually it's all quite dark and gloomy. The creators have gone for a 'realistic' approach, with spaceships manoevering defly using multiple booster jets and artificial gravity generated via forward thrust rather than magical 'grav plates' or something (the only artistic licence is the addition of sound effects in outer space - one thing that always niggles me).

I'm looking forward to see what happens in Season 2 as it's been a bit of a slow burn establishing the universe, introducing characters and slowly revealing the background politics. I think, though, things are about to get very interesting.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Would you pay to have a bad time?

Back when I was a student, me and my housemate accompanied a friend to the West End. She had to watch a play for her course and didn't want to go alone so we tagged along. The only actor I remember being in it was the guy who played Tinker in the Lovejoy BBC TV series (Dudley Sutton - thanks IMDB!).

To put it bluntly, the play was terrible. I don't remember much about it, except it involved copious amounts of swearing and unfunny jokes. We were the only ones in the audience (I think) apart from a group of Americans sitting toward the front inexplicably laughing their heads off.

During the interval, we all agreed how awful it was and contemplated going home but wanted to give the production another chance.

How many times have people given something 'another chance' and been pleasantly surprised? Not very often is my guess.

True enough, we entered the second half and within minutes realised our folly.

We eventually decided to leg it. Easy to do in a mostly-empty auditorium, but also highly conspicuous. I felt awful for the actors who must have noticed our hasty departure, but we couldn't handle it any more and it was time to get away as quickly as possible and go for a pint.

This leads me to the title of this post. After our West End experience we came to the conclusion that it's better to cut and run rather than endure something painful or unpleasant. I understand that sometimes people want to see something through to its conclusion, but really if it's that bad you're effectively paying to have a bad time – and that's ridiculous.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Films I've seen of late 2017 (March)

#13 John Carter (2012)
A confusing plot and dubious special effects let down this epic sci-fi yarn, which had so much potential. Even with its impressive sets, lavish costumes and copious CGI it doesn't look like a $250 million film. Not a terrible movie by any means - but not a great one either.

#14 Norm of the North (2016)
A bear with the ability to talk to humans attempts to stop an evil real estate company building new houses in the unspoiled arctic. If Pixar had had anything to do with this animation it could have been great but they didn't, so it isn't.

#15 World War Z (2013)
Any Hollywood blockbuster that gives Cardiff a mention (several times!) is alright in my book, and this Brad Pitt zombie disaster movie does just that. Surprisingly little blood flows in this competent thriller that sees Pitt traversing the globe to stop the virus. A somewhat muted final act slows the pace a bit, but it's all in the name of setting up the sequel. Monstrous fun.

#16 Bicentennial Man (1999)
The late, great Robin Williams is perfect casting as the titular household service doid who becomes self-aware and desires to live (and ultimately die) as a human being. Ponderous and philosophical, Williams' zany comic sensibilities are not used to their full potential, but there is still pretty of comedy among the touching moments. Whilst complete as a story it still feels, however, like something is missing from what could be a more epic tale.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2017 Book #2: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

If the Moon suddenly exploded and threatened planet Earth with billions of meteorites that could wipe out the human race, what would we do?

This is the premise set forth by Neal Stephenson in his excellent novel, Seveneves, a hefty tome of 860 pages that charts humanity's race for survival when Earth's ancient satellite disintegrates.

Without dwelling on the reason behind the Moon's destruction, Stephenson instead focuses on the aftermath. The book is divided into three acts: the global effort to preserve the human race by using the International Space Station as a form of Noah's Ark, the post-apocalypse settling of the surviving community (and all the political / cultural sheananigans that inevitably arises), the period of resettling Earth thousands of years in the future.

Expertly written with some gripping scenes, Stephenson explores the doomsday scenario well and has a good understanding of human nature. Whilst it's no surprise that in the book the whole of humanity pulls together to give life on earth a chance of survival (not just humans, every plant and creature too), the subsequent cracks that appear in society are all-too familiar. That's what creates the drama, I guess. A novel about everyone being nice to each other and getting along spiffingly in the face of impending disaster probably doesn't make a great story. There is political intrigue and conflicts aplenty along the way, all while the remnants of earth are trying to survive in the unforgivingly harsh vacuum of outer space.

Stephenson doesn't shy away from explaining a lot of technical and scientific stuff. This sometimes bogs the pace of the narrative down a bit, though. I'm not great when it comes to complicated descriptions or explanations and when I was struggling trying to imagine how a piece of future tech works, for example, I became easily distracted and lost my grasp on the story. It does, however, feel kind of necessary given the nature of what happens in the book, so I'll just have to submit to cleverer people than me.

The novel feels somewhat uneven as the first two acts take place one after the other (in the same era) and then we jump forward several millennia to see humanity's efforts to resettle their former homeworld. The latter section feels somewhat rushed as there doesn't seem enough space to flesh things out, but this is a minor issue really. It makes sense, but I could see this story being better told as a trilogy where book one tells the story of the building of the ark, book two tells the story of the descendants living in space and book three tells of their return to Earth.

One other slight niggle is the main catalyst for the story. Namely, the demise of the Moon and it's effect on the planet it once orbited: trillions of small meteorites slamming into the atmosphere resulting in earth being burned to a crisp (called the 'hard rain'). The book talks about this happening for a thousand years or so and I find it hard to believe that there are enough 'bits' of the Moon to rain down continuously for such a long time (given that the Moon is about a quarter the size of Earth), but I may have gotten that bit wrong. Also, the fact that no reason is give for the Moon's destruction is a bit unsatisfying.

This is an epic novel (although could have been even more epic given the scope of the story), thoroughly enjoyable and one I would definitely recommend.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Review: BBC's SS-GB

Ever since I heard the BBC were developing the 1974 novel SS-GB for television, I was looking forward to it. I'm always one for a good bit of alternate history, so was interested to see how it would explore Britain-under-the-Nazis. Annoyingly, whenever it was talked about in the media no broadcast date was given, and so I missed the first episode. Thank the Lord for iPlayer!

SS-GB is set in an alternate history where the Nazis won the Battle of Britain. Set several months after the end of the war, Britain is now part of the Greater German Reich but there are still pockets of resistance (with the 'North' not yet under control).

Douglas (played by raspy-voice Sam Riley) is a sauve yet-troubled detective with the London Met, trying to get on and do his job under the watchful eye of his new German masters, while staying out of politics (and trouble).

Unsurprisingly, he ends up pursuing a murder case that has ties to the underground resistance and before too long finds himself embroile in a resistance plot and a Nazi conspiracy. Thrown into the mix is American femme fatale Barbara (Kate Bosworth).

SS-GB is yet another alternate history tale to grace our screens, which seem to be all the rage these days. Not as lavish a production as 'The Man in the High Castle', but the BBC copes well with its budget contraints. It does a good job of feeling just like any other period piece (like the Halcyon or Downton Abbey), without the fantastical setting getting too much in the way.

An enjoyable and fascinating premise, I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of the series pans out.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why I don't think science and faith are in conflict

Here's the text from a talk I gave at one of our Alpha evenings last year. I've rewritten a few bits, added to it and included a few references at the bottom.

OK, I'm not a qualified scientist. I have, however, researched the work of those that are and in this article I've tried to gather material together in a coherent form that hopefully most people can understand. I concede that scientific theory is ever-changing and goes to the kind of depths that makes the brains of most ordinary people go to mush, so I'm certainly not saying it's final and conclusive (but then, is anything ever?).

It's interesting to note that the attendees on the course all agreed that it's a shame things like faith are never really talked about. It's such a taboo subject in many ways. People feel threatened or get angry when the topic of 'religion' surfaces and have often acquired a range of misinformed ideas about the subject, sadly living their lives ignorant of the actual truth. The church has, admittedly, been responsible for a lot of this by quashing attempts to question or challenge faith, so organised religion should share some of the blame for this.

That's what I love about Alpha. It's designed to allow people to say what they think and ask those difficult questions without fear of reproach. Looking back at the courses we've run, I still find the discussions fascinating. Not only that, they can be quite challenging to me personally and my own faith, but that's a good thing. Too often we allow ourselves to default to passive mode when it comes to thinking about stuff and the more we question, push or prod, ultimately I believe that's better for everyone.

Anyway, that's enough rambling for yours truly. Let me ramble some more, but not in italics:

Tonight's subject is about faith and science and asks the question: are they in conflict? My view is that they aren't. In fact, science and faith have gotten along quiet nicely for centuries. Admittedly there have been a few issues along the way, but generally they have existed side by side in relative harmony.

I think the idea that faith and science are in conflict, and that you have to pick between one or the other, is a fairly new concept and not particularly helpful.

Faith and science are very different disciplines, different fields of study. Faith deals with issues of belief, yearnings of the soul and it ponders the meaning of life. It gives great comfort and hope to millions of people – fuelling a purpose to their lives and lifting them above the sometimes cold, harsh realities of life.

Science is about discovering the world around us, learning how things work and seeking ways to overcome problems facing humanity. We have so much to thank science for: just look at the advances in medicine, computing, biology, mechanics and telecommunications. Our lives have been vastly improved over the past century thanks to scientific endeavour.

One useful way of looking at the two disciplines is this: science is about the 'how' and Christianity is about the 'who' (i.e. Jesus).

Science cannot answer the question “Does God exist?” Some might argue that God’s existence is actually a scientific claim that can be tested in a lab somewhere. But science studies the natural world, not the supernatural. No amount of scientific testing or theorizing could prove or disprove the existence of a supernatural creator. God is not bound by the physical constraints in the same way we are, so why subject Him to tests that are limited to something He is not? Saying “God exists” is a metaphysical statement, not a claim about nature or physical laws.

Science and faith, however, are not mutually exclusive and can benefit from one another greatly. For example, science can benefit from the input of faith when it come to things like ethics. Faith can benefit from science when it comes to things like superstition.

Many atheists have hijacked science to further their cause, claiming you can't have reason or logic if you believe in a higher being. They accuse the church of being anti-science and stuck in the dark ages. But interestingly, the growth of science and education over the centuries was pioneered by Christians eager to explore God's creation and discover how it works.

And today, there are many scientists who have a faith and who are at the top of their game in a variety of scientific subjects. Given that they are obviously very clever people, and don't have a problem with what they believe and what they do for a living, then the idea that having a faith means you have to leave your brain at the door when it comes to science is clearly nonsense.

I now want to briefly touch on three areas of science which, I believe, pose some interesting questions about God. I tentatively regard them as 'evidence' that point to, rather than conclusively proves, His existence:
  • The Big Bang Theory: The big bang theory states, in its simplest form, that the universe began at a single point in time billions of years ago. This theory has been around since the 1920s but didn't gain widespread acceptance for several decades. Prior to this, the scientific consensus was that the universe had simply just existed without beginning or end. The book of Genesis, however, which was written millennia before we had the technology to delve deep into the cosmos, gives an account of how creation came about with a very definite starting point – very much like the currently held scientific view.
  • Human DNA: DNA is a code of 3 billion letters in a sequence that determines the actions of the cells in which is it found. This code has been compared to a computer programme and the idea that this code came to be through a series of random events seems far-fetched to me. The presence of a program suggests the existence of a programmer – and who is that programmer? In my view, God!
  • A fine-tuned universe:  There are numerous physical constants such as gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear force etc. which are required for the universe to exist. These constants require extremely precise values (or settings), and if any of these were to change even slightly then the universe as we know it could not exist and would be incapable of sustaining life. This is known as the anthropic principle. A creation fine-tuned for our survival seems so improbable that the idea of a super intelligent being responsible for dialling the settings to be just right aren't that ludicrous.
When we look at how life began on Earth, the chances of life randomly forming on our planet four and a half billion years ago are infinitesimally small. Some have suggested life was brought here by a comet or some ancient, alien race. To believe this takes just as much faith as a Christian who believes an all-powerful God created life, if not more – so why is the Christian viewpoint so regularly ridiculed?

The universe is immensely vast and chances are we are the only intelligent beings in the entire galaxy, and if there is other intelligent life out there it may be so far away they might as well not exist. This, therefore, makes us incredibly special, if not unique. So, that leads us to consider two options: life is just a cosmic accident or it has purpose and meaning as part of a wider story.

So, as I close, let me finish with a deep question: Who are you? Science might give one possible answer: You are a collection of atoms forged in ancient stars billions of years ago and one day in the distant future those atoms will return to the open vastness of space. Nothing more. Nothing less. Your life is insignificant and will not affect the universe one iota. If you happen to breed and have children, you will be keeping the human race going and adding to the gene pool. But that's about it.

If I ask God the same question, he might begin by saying this: Yes, you are a collection of atoms, but you were 'fearfully and wonderfully made' (Psalm 139). You are not an accident and your life has significance. More importantly, God knows you and desires for you to know him.

In conclusion, I think science is awesome! And it isn't, I believe, at odds with my faith. But what do you think?

References / Links


Prove to me that God Exists: http://www.cvm.org.uk/blog/demolition-squad/prove-it-to-me/?platform=hootsuite

List of Christian Scientists

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

10 Reasons Christians should love the big bang theory

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Bible Project Animated Videos

I'm always a bit dubious about 'Christian Resources' as they tend to promise much more than they deliver (so sayeth the cynical one)! There's always a danger that material aimed at Christians becomes nothing more than 'self-help' motivational fluff rather than anything with biblically-strong foundations.

But - hey - what do I know?

One resource, however, which I have stumbled across that I think is decent is The Bible Project: a series of animated videos that visually explores the bible through animated short films.

Some of these look at individual books of scripture with a broad overview of what each book is about. Others look at different themes surrounding God, the Bible and Christianity.

What I love about these films is the illustrations used to impart wisdom are brilliant and the explanations are clear, concise and easy to understand. Sure, it's American, but it's thankfully free of the usual cheesy stuff that goes with our cousins across the Atlantic.

Check the videos out here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jointhebibleproject

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The problem with Star Wars

I mention Star Wars quite a lot on this blog and I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a fan, although I'm not hardcore by any means. I really only rate the original trilogy as anything special. Everything else is ... well, okay, I suppose.

I guess why I keep up with the new stuff is simply because it's sci-fi and I do love a bit of sci-fi, whatever it may be.

What bugs me about SW, however, is - to be frank - the glorification of mass murder to children. That might sound a bit over dramatic but, you see, everyone knows that SW is marketed towards children. George Lucas has said that it was always aimed at children, even though the typical SW audience nowadays is a 30-something male. The fact that so many toys, bathrobes, lunch boxes and the like flooded shops on the wave of SW success is an obvious indicator of the audience demographic - but then, of course, children grow up and want their children to experience the same things they had when they were a child.

No. 2 son wearing the helmet and costume of two different agents of - er - oppression.

These children follow the exploits of SW's heroes as they battle it out against the Sith or the Empire or the First Order or whoever. Our heroes frequently murder - yes, murder - their foes for their cause, be they lowly enforcement officers (e.g. storm troopers) or high ranking members of the ruling elite (e.g. Sith lords). The bad guys are no better, obviously. Darth Vader and co. are very keen on their summary executions and genocidal weapons of mass destruction.

Which leads me to the main source of what bothers me. Look at any Star Wars section in any toy store and you will see images of Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, Darth Maul and Rylo Ken adorning the aforementioned lunch boxes and toys. Doesn't that strike you as slightly odd? These characters are evil through and through. They are agents of a facist, oppressive regime that spans an entire galaxy and is responsible for mass genocide, but kids think they're 'cool' and 'awesome'. Of course the good guys feature on merchandise as well, but I bet given the choice kids would rather choose a badass Sith Lord over a goody-two-shoes Jedi Knight.

Maybe it's the costumes. To give the Empire credit where credit's due, they do know how to dress.

Follow my train of thought, though, and you can equate it to seeing a kid wearing a Herman Göring Onesie, an SS Officer facemask or a Pol Pot t-shirt. It's not that huge a leap.

Now yes, kids have always played war - whether it's with sticks or more elaborate role play games using metal figurines. Kids battle it out as soldiers (as either side) on their Xboxes and Playstations in all sorts of combats games. That doesn't mean they condone the actions of those who they pretend to play of course, it's just make-believe after all.

But still, seeing kids brandishing toothbrushes with (fictional) mass murderers on them seems a bit strange to me.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Films I've seen of late 2017 (February)

#8 The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
The LEGO movie spin off fails to disappoint with tons of action and laughs thrown together with pop culture references galore. Batman learns to get in touch with his softer side while battling pretty much every foe Gotham City has ever produced. The various Batman in-jokes are particularly well-played. Great fun.

#9 Tank Girl (1995)
Lori Petty was perfect casting for the lead role in Tank Girl, so it's a shame everything else doesn't quite live up to the promise of the source material. Full of zany action, one-liners and sets it has a 90s charm but you can tell it's not quite the film it should have been.

#10 I Am Your Father (2015)
Documentary about David Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in the original Star War trilogy. An interesting insight into his experience playing the iconic character and how he was affected by having his voice re-dubbed by James Earl Jones and Vader’s face being portrayed by Sebastian Shaw in Return of the Jedi. Culminates in David re-creating Vader’s death scene (annoyingly, though, they don’t actually show it – presumably because of copyright reasons).

#11 The Choice (2016)
A love story that centres around a male veterinarian and female trainee doctor who initially hate each other – but before too long get entangled in a relationship while the doctor's boyfriend is away with business. Fairly predictable chick-flick that is still watchable, the North Carolina scenery is gorgeous and Tom Wilkinson puts in an appearance to raise the standards a bit.

#12 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
I've seen this several times, but mostly in bits, and last weekend I actually got to watch it all the way through. Even though Roald Dahl didn't like it, the 1971 version of his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a worthy adaptation despite taking numerous liberties with the story (probably mainly owing to budgetary constraints). Terrific fun with memorable moments and great gags (both visual and verbal), the late great Gene Wilder steals the show as the mischievous, enigmatic yet creepy Wonka.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Oreo Red Velvet!

One of my birthday presents was a packet of Red Velvet Oreos from my brother, imported from the States and no doubt containing all sorts of unhealthy, possibly carcinogenic, ingredients.

Seeing as I'm not planning on incorporating them into my regular diet, I figure one packet isn't going to do tooooo much harm, especially if I space them out a bit.

So, what do they taste like? Well, um Oreos funnily enough. They have a 'cream cheese' icing sandwiched between two red-ish Oreo cookies, but these two quirky properties don't really make them vastly different to their regular cousins (I suppose that's kinda the idea, though). The cream cheese icing doesn't particularly remind me of cream cheese, and the biscuity bit tastes like normal Oreos. I think it's more of an appearance thing, rather than a flavour thing.

Going back to the unhealthy ingredients (see the packaging which says: 'Artificially Flavored' - yikes!), there is something of a slight metallic aftertaste. Best not think about that too much.

Verdict: Tasty, but don't overdose on 'em. You might go blind...

More Oreo reviews from the archives:
Oreo easter eggs
Snowy Oreos
Oreo Ice Cream Sandwich
Oreo Peanut Butter Flavour
Oreo Thins