Sunday, December 31, 2017

Films I've Seen of Late (December)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 29, 2017

Books I've read this year (2017)

Unlike movies, I get through books achingly slow. I tend to read seven or eight titles a year, depending on the kind of book and how busy life gets for me. Here's what I managed to read in 2017:

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick
Now that Amazon have produced a TV series based on the book, its source material has been eclipsed by its flashier, more in-depth screen version. I've only caught a few shows from the first series, but from what I have seen, Amazon have created an impressive show that explores the concepts in Dick's book with tremendous attention to detail.

Clearly, the book was written before the fad for 'world building', franchises and 'cinematic universes', as it is surprisingly brief and leaves you longing for more. Even so, Dick's writing is masterful enough to convey all that comes with the premise of an America defeated by its Axis enemies during World War Two, and the ongoing struggle to resist against a formidable German Reich and a not-so-formidable-yet-victorious Japanese Empire.

Its brevity disappoints in that there is no real satisfactory conclusion and leaves many questions unanswered, but then maybe that's the point.

Besides, if you really want to, you can turn to Amazon for more.

Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets
It's hard for me to critique such a book as this without sounding like a heretic, and yet there are some important spiritual truths within. This is despite its heavy charismatic leanings that make me feel slightly uncomfortable and wary. To sum up, it's vital for Christians to pray for all occasions and in all circumstances - and to do so on a regular, fervent basis. I couldn't agree more, so let's leave it at that shall we?

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne
Unsurprisingly influential, this book is an important commentary on man, technology, politics and ecology. Three men find themselves aboard a myterious submarine that has become a menace to shipping across the oceans. They come to know its owner, Captain Nemo, and voyage under the seas exploring all manner of watery wonders. Nemo's sinister motivations, however, soon become clear and his guests endeavour to escape their aquatic prison.

What is remarkable is how this book was written in 1870, when things were so different to present day. There had been no world wars yet, electricity was in its infancy and the political map was very different. Verne's writing is scarily prophetic, mainly when it comes to the workings of Nemo's underwater vessel marvel, the Nautilus. Because of this, '20,000 Leagues' is still relatable and relevant today and continues to be an inspiration to many science fiction and adventure writers.

The Time Machine by HG Wells
Like Verne, Wells is superior in his writing and understanding of technology, science and the human condition, despite coming from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although his grasp of space-time physics may be a little primitive (not that we're all experts in this day and age, of course), the story of a man who builds a time machine (probably the first incident of a time travel vehicle being committed to fiction) and propels himself thousands of years into the future is not just an exciting adventure yarn but full of social commentary as well. An astonishing piece of fiction for all sorts of reasons. 

Red Moon Rising
Telling the story of the 24/7 prayer movement, this is one of those books that gives you an incredible sense of awe about fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who risk it all for God's calling. Not only that, it's the amazament that God continually uses the insecure, doubtful and broken to fulfil his mission on Earth. On the flip size, the stories in Red Moon Rising make one feel just a bit left out and inadequate. Of course, not everyone is called to mission in such ways, and the book often points out that with every success (or vistory), there are copious amounts of failure, disappointment and grief - which is kind of reassuring. Still, inspirational about prayer and perseverance.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R R Martin
I've deliberately steered well clear of the Game of Thrones books because of the hype but got this book when I needed something to read (and there wasn't much else to choose from). A prequel to the immensly popular fantasty books, I was pretty much hooked from the start, and may well end up reading the others (although there are a lot of them - it's quite a commitment). It balances fantasy with historical fiction really well. There are only hints of magic, sorcery etc. and the real focus is on the realtionship between a hedge knight (the lowest rank of knight) and his squire (who just happens to be a prince in disguise) as they try and make ends meet in the cruel and merciless world of Westeros.

Metroland by Julian Barnes
A sort of English version of Catcher in the Rye, Metroland contains musings on life and philosophy from the point of view of a man at three stages in his life: adolescence, early adulthood and middle age. A lot of the observations are about sex and relationships with a typical 60s sexist slant. Well-written and interesting, but very much a window into a different age rather than anything insightful for the 21st century.

The Grandfather Invasion by John Peel and The Forgotten Son by Andy Frankham-Allen
Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart is a much-loved character from Doctor Who and Candy Jar Books has produced a series of licenced novels about the Brigadier which sees him fighting off all sorts of weird and wonderful baddies. I've read two of them so far, and you can read my fuller review of the Grandfather Infestation here and The Forgotten Son here.
 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christmas Oreos!

I was delighted to come across chocolate covered Oreos (milk and white choc!) in the supermarket this Christmas.

I've had them in France before, but not in the UK since back in 2009 when I blogged about it with excitement (my most popular blog post of all time!).

Totally unhealthy but every shade of yummy, this is one of the best versions of Oreos I've ever tasted. There's something about encasing them in chocolate that makes them the epitome of perfection.

The only downside is that I'll probably have to share them with the rest of the family.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Doing the Deacon thing

A few months ago Wifey and I were approached by our pastor who asked if we'd be interested in joining church leadership - her an elder, me a deacon.

It was a bit of a crazy request, mainly because it's unusual for husband and wife to both be in church leadership (especially if they have a young family), but he felt it was a possible prompt from God so thought it worth exploring.

We were a bit surprised, but offered to go away and think/pray about it. Having done so, we felt it was right to accept, but to stagger things slightly - Wifey to start 'Eldering' first and me to 'Deac' a few months later.

Wifey has taken to her new role well, and is realy in her element. Me, I've only just been voted in (it was unanimous I think, so there's a vote of confidence!), so I have yet to find out what it's like.

It's dawned on me that I am of the age where me and and a lot of my peers are now the ones in church leadership, which is sort of scary. Years ago, I used to watch the leaders from the congregation and see them as older, wisened 'grown up' people, and it's a bit weird to think that maybe younger people now see me that way (maybe not the 'wisened' bit - just the 'older' bit).

I don't feel at all qualified, but I guess I have a reasonable length of life experience to draw upon (although maybe not so much when it comes to churchy stuff).

Who knows? Maybe I'll end up being a pastor one day (cue copious amounts of laughter and derision).

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Justice League - a review

Warning: spoilers!

Justice league picks up after the events of Batman vs Superman, with a world left reeling from the aftermath of a cataclysmic battle between Superman and a kryptonite monster.

Fearing that something even worse will come to destroy the planet, Batman sets out to form a team of metahumans in preparation for the looming threat. With Wonder Woman already on the team. Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg eventually join – just as the lucifer-like Steppenwolf wreaks havoc looking for three of the ‘mother boxes’ (devices containing unlimited power).

Overall, I liked this film. It managed to handle its varied elements well and struck a decent balance between darkness and humour. While it was mercifully tight in terms of running time, it did feel slightly rushed. There was a lot to pack in (introducing new characters, setting up the threat,

Each of the League members brought something to the party: Batman’s gadgets and know-how, Wonder Woman’s level-headedness and kick-ass moves, The Flash’s comedic lines (and ultra-fast speed, of course), Cyborg’s tortured intensity combined with superior hacking skills and Aquaman’s demigod surfer dude-ness. Whilst the team chemistry hasn’t quite gelled yet, I think this is a good start and hopefully can be built upon in the follow up (if there is one).

Last of all, there’s Superman – coming back from the dead and predictably saving the day, although his role is small it’s not insignificant.

In some ways it’s a miracle this film ever got made and is in any way coherent. Not only did it suffer from its director pulling out after the tragic death of his daughter, but it needed $25 million of reshoots which also included the infamous digital removal of Henry Cavill’s moustache. It’s kind of noticeable if you’re looking for it, but if you didn’t know you’d be none the wiser.

One thing that disappointed me about Justice League was the aspect ratio it was shot in. Batman vs Superman was shot in 1.44:1 but Justice League in 1.85:1 (I think, anyway - IMDB is a bit confusing on this). Because of this, the former film felt more epic to me. The widescreen aspect helped convey the sense that this was an ‘event’ film. Justice League, on the other hand, felt like a bog-standard movie to me. It may have something to do with the cinema I saw it in (they have a tendency to keep the lights dimmed throughout the film, which is kind of annoying), but with a film like this I want to feel totally immersed in the experience.

Another disappintment was the character of Steppenwulf. He could have been big and scary and monstrous enough to prove a worthy baddie, but being a completely CGI character took away from anything he could have been. Why do filmmakers insist on this? It looks totally fake and pulls you out of the movie. It's not a DC thing, either. Marvel are just as bad with their woefully CGI'd Thanos.

As for the soundtrack, it was great to have Danny Elfman scoring the music. I have great affection for what he did on the Michael Keaton Batman films, and so it was nice to have him return to caped crusader territory. The original Batman theme tune was thrown in here and there (as well as the John Williams Superman fanfare at one point).

Overall, Justice League did a good job in my opinion (with the odds stacked against it in numerous ways), but the cracks in the DC Extended Universe seem to be all too clear.

Maybe DC should cut loose from Warner Brothers (a la Marvel) and do a reboot to their intellectual property. Even though it's not meant to be a competition, their comic book rivals are steaming ahead and can't seem to put a foot wrong.

And that's a real shame, because DC have some great characters that deserve decent treatment on the silver screen.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Avengers: Infinity War Trailer (yaaaawwwwnnn)

OK, so the Avenger: Infinity War trailer has dropped.
OH LOOK! IT'S ALL MY FAVOURITE SUPERHEROES IN ONE FILM! THERE'S IRON MAN! AND THOR! AND HULK! AND LOKI! AND SPIDERMAN! AND BLACK PANTHER! AND ANT MAN! AND WASP! AND BLACK WIDOW! AND CAPTAIN AMERICA! AND THE WINTER SOLIDER! ..... LOOK! BIG FIGHTS! EXPLOSIONS! BIG PURPLE BADDIE DUDE (THAT'S THANOS YOU KNOW)! AND AND AND ....

THE GUARDIANS OF THE GAAAALLLLLAAAAXXXXXYYYYYY!!!!!

I THINK I JUST HAD AN EMBOLISM!!!
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Please excuse the sarcasm.

I feel like I'm one of very few who are actually bored bored bored by all this comic superhero garbage. 

OK, I call it garbage but that's not fair. They're not all terrible.

It's just the relentlessness of them being stuffed down our throats that gets to me.

My reaction to this trailer was this:
- how can they shoehorn all of those characters into one film and make anything close to coherent?
- the CGI on Thanos is really bad. I mean, like, terrible!
- oh look, there's another portal thingy in the sky ... again
- there are legions of baddie soldier monster type things ... again
- seems like the entire world is under threat but superheroes will sort things out ... again

Is it called 'Infinity War' because this WILL NEVER END???

Ugh.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Christmas is coming!!!


Every year, it's always the same. I look forward to the festive season with excitement, and by the time Boxing Day comes around I am sick of anything and everything to do with baby Jesus and all of the tinselly tat that surrounds him.

I try hard to hold off until at least December the 1st, but having had an 'early Christmas' with Wifey's dad (who's heading off to Australia for winter) – complete with presents and dinner with all the trimmings – it's difficult not to get sucked into it all.

So, as December looms I am bracing myself, determined to enjoy the season and not become the anti-Santa or whatever.

Pray for me.

Films I've Seen of Late (November)

#65 A United Kingdom (2016)
Moving and stirring story of the birth of the African nation of Botswana. Originally a British protectorate, Bechuanaland became independent after a long struggle with its British rulers. Secretes Khama, the next in line to the chieftainship, falls in love with an English girl while studying at University. The resultant opposition (from both the British estblishment and Batswana people is unsurprising but depressing) - although love and freedom prove resiliant enough.

#66 Capture the Flag (2015)
Okay-ish animation about a boy and his friend who accidentally end up on a mission to the moon (along with their ex-astronaut grandpa), in an attempt to stop an evil Elon Musk-type billionaire from claiming the moon for himself. Enjoyable enough, but all the family-friendly messages feel shallow and forced.
(5/10)

#67 Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Kenneth Brannagh does a fine turn as eccentric Belgian super sleuth Hercules Poirot in this new adaptation of the classic murder mystery. Lavish sets and an all star cast are the cherry on top of a tight script and inventive direction from Ken. A great couple of hours of escapism.
(8/10)

#68 My Scientology Movie (2015)
Louis Théroux tackles the ultra-secretive Scientology sect in this feature-length documentary. Louis is his trademark self, quizzing his subjects with a self-deprecating innocence, although members of the so-called 'church' are mostly absent because of their secrecy and refusal to participate. Instead, most of the film centres around a former leader who has been excommunicated by the church. Whilst providing a fascinating insight into a bizarro mind-control cult, Louis’ movie doesn’t really deliver on its perceived promise.
(6/10)

#69 Pacific Rim (2013)
Giant robots battling enormous inter-dimensional monsters. That is all.
(7/10)

#70 Allied (2016)
Brad Pitt and Marion Cottilard play World War Two spies who fall in love after completing a daring mission together. This love is thrown into disarray, however, when one of them is accused of being a German double agent after they have moved to London and gotten married. With a tight and tense script, along with lush sets and costumes, Allied keeps you guessing to the end in what is a great thriller.
(8.5/10)

#71 La La Land (2016)
The lives of an aspiring actress and frustrated jazz pianist entwine amongst the bizarre backdrop of Los Angeles and Hollywood dreams. I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but La La Land was a pleasant surprise, thanks mostly to the excellent Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. More importantly, it’s a good story too.
(8/10)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Allergic to Coffee?



I have become one of those people who I used to despise - a coffee snob.

That's right. I turn my nose up at instant coffee and even grind my own coffee beans.

What the hell happened?

I don't really know, but one thing that I've discovered is that I have some weird olfactory (that's stuff to do with the sense of smelling in case you didn't know) response to coffee. Actually it's coffee shops.

If I make my own coffee at home, it has no effect, but if I go to a coffee shop (regardless of brand) afterwards my sense of smell is dominated by a weird coffee aroma. Its sort of like a stale coffee smell.

I've written about the coffee shop aroma before on my blog, but to actually have it as some kind of phantom smell is quite unsettling.

All I can think of is that it's some kind mild allergic reaction.

I'd love to know if anytone else is afflicted by this - and whether it's a recognised medical condition.

In the meantime, I'll just go and have another cup of joe...

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.
(5/10)

#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.
(10/10)

#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.
(5.5/10)

#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.
(7/10)

#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.
(5/10)

#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.
(8/10)


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:
https://www.enterthepitch.com/entry/let-my-people-go/












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:

Gripes
- 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)

Likes
- 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.
(9/10)

#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. 
(5/10)

#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.
(7/10)

#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.
(8.5/10)

#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.
(8/10)

#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.
(7.5/10)

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.
(6.5/10)

#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.
(9.5/10)

#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.
(8/10)

#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.
(5/10)

#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.
(7.5/10)

#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.
(6/10)

#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.
(7.5/10)

#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.
(6.5/10)

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.
(8.5/10)

#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.
(7/10)

#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.
(6/10)

#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).
(6.5/10)

#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).
(7.5/10)

#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!).
(8/10)

#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.
(9.5/10)

#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.
(7/10)

#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.
(7.5/10)

#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.
(4/10)

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:

NETFLIX

- 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).

ELSEWHERE
- 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.
(9/10)

#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.
(8.5/10)

#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.
(5/10)

#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.
(8/10)

#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.
(8/10)

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.

(6.5/10)



#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.
(6/10)


#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.
(8/10)

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.

Curious.

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).
(8/10)

#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.
(8.5/10)

#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.
(6.5/10)

#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.
(8/10)

#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.
(8.5/10)

#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.
(6/10)

#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.
(8/10)

#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.
(8/10)

#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. 
(8/10)

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.