Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Yet More Film Reviews

#1: The Imitation Game

There are many big names in Hollywood – but at 19 letters Benedict Cumberbatch is surely one of the biggest

This quirky British actor is slowly gaining himself a reputation playing intense characters such as Khan (Staff Trek: Into Darkness), Stephen Hawking (TV series Hawking), Sherlock Holmes (TV series Sherlock), Julian Assange and now legendary mathematician and war time code breaker Alan Turing

The film follows the story of Bletchley Park – where the team test with the seemingly impossible challenge of breaking the Enigma code were based, focusing on Turing and his relationship with the rest of the team, although it does so in a semi-flashback some years later when Turing is brought in for questioning following a break-in at his apartment which initially leads to him being suspected as being a Soviet spy.

Benedict Cumberbatch is a highly skilled actor who manages to make Turing both an outsider and also ultimately likeable character, who struggles to communicate with others due to his obsession with the giant computer he is trying to build – the first of its kind. Keira Knightley is also strong as the main female, who due to restrictions on women working on the project has to perform her mathematics almost secretly. How much of the story, aside from the focus on the Enigma machine is true is debatable – however this is a tense and enjoyable story that keeps you interested from start to end and at the end, when you discover the eventual fate of Turing (for those who don’t already know at the start) you feel genuinely angry on his behalf and for those who suffered the same fate

This is well worth watching if only for the story of Bletchley Park - which may have been one of the best kept secrets of WW2

#2 The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

When the original film came out a couple of years ago it was the surprise hit of the year – a film about a bunch of old age pensioners who, for various reasons, decide to retire to a dilapidated hotel in India where they find a new lease of life.  The film appealed to a whole generation of cinema goers who were being overlooked in the rush to fill the cinemas with films about robots hitting each other and with a strong ensemble cast that included almost all of Britain’s acting elite, a plethora of exotic locations and plenty of humour it was an enjoyable and oddly life-affirming film

This sequel carries on where the first film left off – with the residents of the now flourishing hotel finally settling in as the young proprietor tries to juggle expanding his empire, the imminent arrival of a hotel inspector and his forthcoming nuptials. 

Cue Richard Gere turning up, wooing the ladies and much confusion as to whether he is/isn’t the expected Hotel Inspector (a plot that many have likened to an episode of the sit-com Fawlty Towers)
Pretty much everyone in the cinema seemed to enjoy the film and I have to say it was certainly nice enough to look at whilst it was happening, but there was something slightly missing from the film that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  

Perhaps it was the way that the plot twists seemed to be sign-posted for all to see or that the action all seemed a bit by the book but there seemed to be something of the heart of the original story that was missing from this.  

All in all it was an enjoyable enough film at the time and it carried enough good will through from the first film to get away with it – but it left me feeling oddly like I’d eaten an average takeaway meal: when you go for the meal you are thinking how much you are looking forward to it, and you scoff it down quickly enough – but at the end you still feel slightly empty and want to bite into something a bit more tasty

#3: Pride

And then we come to Pride.

It’s almost impossible to describe to anyone not from England what the words “1980s”, “Margaret Thatcher” and “Strike” evoke but the Miners Strikes of the 70s and 80s were one of the most turbulent times in our recent history – on the one hand you had an ancient industry that was struggling to cope in the modern world, competing against foreign fuels and finding the communities that lay behind the industry struggling to earn a decent wage and on the other hand you had a strong Conservative government determined to break the power of the Unions after decades of strikes no matter what the cost to the people – starving them out and turning the Police on them wherever necessary

And in the middle of all this, in a true story that history had all but forgotten, was a small Gay community surrounding a special interest bookshop in London that decided that they could associate with what the miners were experiencing at the hands of the police (having experienced brutality at the hands of the Police and others) and decided that they wanted to help

Finding that none of the unions wanted to be publically associated with a Gay and Lesbian group for fear of the negative publicity they approached a small welsh mining community directly and went on to become one of the most reliable sources of food and fundraising during the latter days of the strike

The fact that over a week after seeing this film I’m struggling to write this review without getting emotional tells you something about what an absolutely amazing film this was: funny and shocking, tearful and uplifting with a cast that included Bill Nighy (who seems to get everywhere), Imelda Staunton and Ben Schnetzer as Mark Ashton (the leader of the group) – it really is a film that you will find yourself going back to mentally time and again after the end credits roll

Clearly, being a period piece, this film uses some of the language and prejudices of the times and for me one of the most uplifting things of seeing this at the cinema was to hear the gasps of shock at the way people were treated purely due to their sexuality and to realise how much those attitudes have changed – although admittedly I was saddened to see that in the USA all references to Homosexuality have been removed from the DVD case to help increase sales (I’d be interested to sit in the front room of anyone who buys the film without knowing the content to see what they make of it as a result!)


I can’t possibly recommend this film enough – it is the best film I have seen in a long, long time and anyone who walks away from the ending without a tear in their eye is no friend of mine

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Darmok

One of the most disturbing news stories I have seen recently was something on my local news a couple of days ago. The report came from a local shopping centre where police had been negotiating with a man to come down from on top of the building. Sadly, however, he eventually jumped and died.

But the disturbing side of the story was to do with the onlookers: some of whom were reaching for camera phones to record the incident, while others were actively joking and shouting for him to jump. I found this last section particularly sickening – particularly the young lad who admitted on camera that some of the people he was hanging around with (i.e. him) had been amongst those catcalling the man.

There is psychological evidence to show that people who are part of the crowd are less likely to take action than a person on their own to help somebody – i.e. there’s a sense of “well someone else will do it”, but the fascination with recording everything is relatively new. It seems that the ability to carry a broadcast quality camera around in our pocket and instantly upload anything to the Internet has not only turned us into voyeurs on our own lives, but also desensitised us to the world around us.

However: to actually laugh and joke and urge somebody to jump to their death is a far more worrying development.

This follows on from a week where we have had a number of problems with local kids, which started with a valve being stolen from our tyre, continued with a wheelie bin being thrown at our door and most recently, albeit not directed at us, an attempt to smash as many car wing mirrors as they possibly could in the street (a series of events which has convinced us it’s time to move somewhere less semi-evolved)

With all of the above I keep saying to myself that I can’t understand the pleasure that could be gained from performing these actions: nor why someone would want to single us out, when all we have done is to keep to ourselves. And the truth is that it’s nothing to do with us – we are just easy victims and they have no understanding nor empathy of the effect of their actions. It’s just senseless violence for the sake of something to do.

I have no understanding for the kind of life they have led that can bring them to a state of being where attacking someone senselessly, or jokingly calling for someone’s death, can have no meaningful context or can be seen to be funny. Where is the pleasure in that?

But then how can I possibly have any understanding? I grew up in a completely different area, with parents who taught me right from wrong. I grew up in a completely different world, where people talked with each other instead of burying their face in their iPad. Although the kids at our school were pretty nasty sometimes I doubt that many of them would have shouted at someone to jump off a building, if any.

And why should they care about me?  They live in a world where the only goal is self gratification and there are little or no consequences.

All of this is left me thinking about an old episode of Star Trek: The Generation.

In the story, entitled “Darmok” Captain Picard encounters a race who initially seem to talk in gibberish despite all attempts to translate them. In desperation the alien captain kidnaps Picard and takes them to the planet below, where he constantly says (amongst other things) “Darmok and Jilad at Tanagra”.

As the episode continues we slowly begin to understand that their language is entirely contextual and everything they say relates back to their ancient stories and history – the example being the story of Darmok and Jilad, who started off as enemies but came to be friends after they faced a battle together: only once you know this shared history does the sentence make any sense.

Although there is no realistic way that such language could have evolved the idea is an interesting concept – what would it do to our society if the only way we had of communicating with one another was to talk about shared experiences and relate them to our history? Would this foster a greater understanding of one another and read empathy for different viewpoints which it now became necessary to understand and relate to in order to do anything even as basic as trade with one another?

If we had no choice but to empathise with one another surely this would change the way we view our own lives and the world around us?


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Live Organ Transplants

I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but getting anything for cheap in the UK requires a level of deduction and planning rarely seen outside the offices of Sherlock Holmes.

For instance – if I were to travel between my house and London via train an “any time you want” ticket would cost me around £140 and even booking from A to C on the cheaper tickets would still be around £90. However: if I break my journey so that I buy a ticket from A to B and then from B to C ON EXACTLY THE SAME TRAIN AS THE MORE EXPENSIVE OPTION and then come back from C to a station there is actually further on from A I can actually do this for around £55.

Not that the travel companies will tell you any of the above, oh no: you need a good knowledge of the route, a lot of determination and to spend a good fortnight trawling the internet and typing in all the different variations you can think of

It was with this thought in mind that, when I had to recently travelled to London for the 1st time in about 5 months, I decided it would be just as cheap to travel down the night before and stay over if I found a suitably cheap hotel. As it turned out the journey down in the evening cost £10 and the journey back the next day cost £25 – so all I needed to do would be to find a hotel for around £45 and I would pretty much break even (aside from food and taxis), alongside the benefit that I would be less tired for the team meeting that was due to take all day.

So I spent some time on the hotel comparison websites such as Cheap-But-Not-Cheerful.com and also rang around 3 or 4 hotels before I finally spoke to a young woman with a heavy set Eastern Block accent who was far more helpful than the previous hotels had been and, as such, I decided to book with them requesting a room on the 1st floor as I knew they wouldn’t have a lift and didn’t fancy 20 flights of stairs!

So the day of my travel arrived and at 5:15 PM I boarded the slow train to London – arriving just after 7:30 PM, by which time I was too tired to face the thought of travelling on the underground and caught a taxi across London that actually ended up costing me more than the entire train journey so far! As I arrived I saw that the front of the hotel was covered in scaffolding, making it impossible to see the contours of the building. To be fair I wasn’t expecting a great deal – this was a one star hotel, which means it was as cheap as you can possibly get (hotels in England tend to go from 1 to 5 stars).

Inside the woman with the Eastern Block accident greeted me, telling me that if I wanted a remote control for the TV it would be a £5 deposit – which I politely declined, having taught my generic tablet device with me (complete with downloaded program about art from the BBC).

I followed her direction down the corridor and saw that the stairwell that I was due to climb was covered in clear plastic sheeting (the kind you see bodies wrapped in on CSI Punxsutawney) and it was then that my texts to my friend and occasional fellow blogger Argent that the hotel would turn out to be a front for illegal organ donation or the Russian Mafia/white slave trade came back told me, even despite the smell of plaster and paint that was clearly the true explanation.


I carefully climbed the stairs, making sure not to slip on the sheeting whilst also examining it for any tell-tale signs of blood or entrails, and let myself into the room.

The room itself was little more than a box with a single bed in each opposing corner and a small cupboard that served as the ensuite bathroom and toilet in between. The shower was a square that was barely big enough for a 12-year-old to clean themselves and the toilet was positioned in such a way that it faced an outward jetting part of the wall, making it impossible to sit down on the seat in a straight line with the system behind your back without first removing one of your legs.

However the room was clean and the bed seemed reasonably comfortable which was the main thing.

It was now so dark that I couldn’t see what kind of view I had, but with the window closed could barely hear any traffic.

This was when I inadvertently made my 2nd mistake. Earlier in the day I had listened to documentary about a musical group that had played a song in the style of a Slavic anthem and, what with my comments about the Russian Mafia, I found this stuck in my head all night long as my brain refused to shut up and let me sleep properly.

Now this is where things get really strange – because at about 11/12 at night another man let himself into the room and started setting up on the other bed – it turned out that the hotel had double booked the room, explaining the 2nd single bed. To be honest I should have gone down and complained – but I was far too tired and decided just to put up with it, as he didn’t seem to be making much noise.

However – at about 3 o’clock in the morning the door of the room was kicked in and a shadowy figure appeared in the doorway, leering drunkenly into the room. After a moment’s hesitation he apologised in a sick Russian accident and went away again to the room he should actually have been staying in. I got up and went to the door of the room, only to see that had been kicked clean off the hinges.

It was at this point that I woke up and found myself alone again in the hotel room – my fellow guest and the Russian Mafia bloke having been created by my imagination.  Sleep continued to come and go for the rest of the night, interspersed by a variety of songs playing in my head to the beat of a polka.

Morning came and I somehow managed to squeeze into the tiny space allocated for shower and washed myself – then it was downstairs to the basement where there was an array of beds and linen splayed out across the hallway outside of the breakfast room. Breakfast was beyond extremely cheap: consisting only of a tiny packet of cereals, an extremely runny yoghurt and some cheap orange squash – so I ate enough to feel that I had earned at least some of my additional £2 I paid for the privilege and checked out.

In the end, if you include all the taxis, it did end up costing me more than coming down on the same day would have – but the main thing is that I was awake, ready for work and still had all of my internal organs intact!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Cribbins Factor

It’s 8:30 in the morning and I’ve just dumped my bag on my desk and before heading to make myself a much-needed cup of coffee I nip to use the facilities.

The “facilities” here are in the shape of separate cubicles inside a small corridor at the back of the building not far from where I sit. As I opened the door to the cleaning lady with the Afro hairstyle greets me with a smile and says “good morning”

I return the smile and ask if she managed to get home on time yesterday: this not being our first meeting. She tells me again about her 2nd job that she has taken on to help pay her daughters way through college, meaning that for the next couple of years she is working 15 hour days.  I commiserate and tell her not to overdo it.

I go back to the coffee making area and the chap with the moustache who somehow knows my name (despite the fact that I have no idea of his) says “good morning Pixie” before I get involved in a conversation with crazy eyelash lady who is under the weather at the moment with a combination of a cold and a pulled back muscle. I recommend Lemon & Ginger tea with honey over Lemsip (full of sugar – yuck)

This, in short, is my life: people seem to see something in me that makes them want to tell me their entire life story at the drop of a hat

People of all shapes and sizes just seem to befriend me: from the chap at the train station, who regularly tells me about the workings of the local railway, to this security guard with a hearty laugh who greets me with a fist bump whenever I’m in the building, to the variety of people around the office that I regularly stop and chat to – some of whom I know who they are and some of whom I have only the vaguest idea.

Perhaps it is because I’m quite quiet and I’m usually happy to listen, perhaps it is because I make no distinctions in life – a cleaner, to me, is just as important and worth my time as a senior manager and I try to treat both the same. Perhaps it is because I take things quite lightly and am usually ready with a silly comment: though personally I attribute it to what you might call The Cribbins Factor

Now I accept that at this point I’m probably going to lose some of my readers – if not all of you: because I don’t know how I can possibly explain Bernard Cribbins to a global audience.

Bernard Cribbins is what you might call a National Treasure: the something that I’ve always wondered about. There are plenty of celebrities who are referred to as national treasures, but I wonder what this really means. For instance: do they have to open themselves up to the public on bank holidays?

Mr Cribbins is an actor, most known for his work in light comedy and children’s entertainment. He has been in such films as The Railway Children, Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., Casino Royale (the 60s spoof, not the Daniel Craig one) and been the voice-over for classic animation series like The Wombles (essentially a bunch of creatures that live on Wimbledon Common and collect rubbish).

He was also a regular presenter on Jackanory – which was a 70s/80s TV show where minor celebrities of the time read children’s stories episodically over a week and for me, as a result of this last programme, he will always also be the quintessential Bilbo Baggins.

More recently he made several appearances in the revamped Doctor Who as Donna Noble’s grandfather and he is also known for a series of comic songs in the 70s including “Right Said Fred”

None of which, I suspect, will make you any the wiser if you live outside of the UK

However: when a friend of mine recently described me as having “the air of affable approach-ability of Bernard Cribbins” I was oddly pleased – as he has always struck me as somebody who would be extremely down-to-earth and, should you ever meet him, would turn out to be extremely pleasant and generous with his time.

Not that I will be having one, because they are so expensive now, but if the best thing they can find to say about me on my tombstone is “he had the affable approachability of Bernard Cribbins” I shall not consider my time to have been wasted – after all what is so wrong with spending a life being nice to people and spreading a little affability around?




Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Keep Below The Parapet

It can be small wonder that we British never managed to invent Jazz – or much else in the way of music come to that.

We seem to have been hanging on the coattails of other countries musically for several hundred years – all the great composers were German or Swiss apart from Elgar; Blues and Country both came from the colonies and it’s hard to think how something as tropical but relaxed as reggae could ever have originated on a cold November night in West Dulwich.

In fact about the only thing we can claim any sort of heritage with musically is folk music – which is largely people in Arran jumpers wearing ginger beards you could hide a ferret in, sticking one finger in their ear, screwing up their eyes and singing about how much better everything was 500 years ago – but even this largely comes from Scotland, Ireland or in cider growing country or wherever miners chose to frequent.

With our famous Stiff Upper Lip, no-nonsense view of the world and strict adherence to queueing for everything it’s hard to imagine what Brits must have thought when we first heard Jazz: which is largely people plinking around randomly on a piano in search of a tune. (NB I should probably say at this point that my image of Jazz as a child is largely garnered from brief performances by Cleo Laine and John Dankworth as she scat sang her way through hour after interminable hour that made me want to bury my ears in concrete with every shoobie-do-do-do-wah)

About 4 or 5 years ago now I started learning to play the saxophone – in truth it was something I had thought about doing about 10 years previously and then never followed up on. The saxophone, when played correctly, can be a beautiful instrument that produces a lot of emotion despite its connection to cheesy 1980s pop songs and the inevitable image those bring of a man on a beach without a shirt on. However – it does have inevitably strong links to Jazz, having largely been invented the purpose of playing that particular ilk of music.

Which is probably why I still struggle with the blasted thing: particularly when it comes to improvisation.

Douglas Adams once wrote that his character Arthur Dent could contrive to feel self-conscious if left alone with a pot plant for long enough, let alone with other people and I know exactly what he meant: when you improvise you are awfully exposed and bringing attention to yourself, inevitably inviting other people to comment on what you have just done – when, in my case at least, all you have done is to go up and down the scales in a largely formulaic manner.

I should mention at this point that I never dance in public unless there is a large crowd of people in which I can hide – and that when I do, very rarely, dance attempt to do what I call an “embarrassed boxer shuffle” where I sort of jiggle on the spot with my fists clenched looking at the ground for a shorter period of time as I can politely manage before considering it safe to go and sit on the sidelines and watch everybody else move with abandon – or preferably just go home and read a book. This is a similar experience to trying to improvise because it makes you acutely aware of your failings, particularly when you don’t have a great deal of confidence in what you’re doing in the first place.

Since October last year for a number of reasons I haven’t really played my saxophone and when I first picked it up after quite a long break I found that I had forgotten some of the few scales I had previously managed to remember and become rusty on the others. I’ve also stopped going to my lessons partially at frustration that none of it seemed to be sinking in, partially because I simply wasn't able to go and partially as increasingly large parts of the lesson focus around improvisation.

Since this is something I don’t feel comfortable with in the first place I find that I don’t enjoy the process and that this disinclines me from practising improv outside of the lesson, which presumably only adds to the problem. I feel that I somehow lack the imagination and spontaneity required. I just can ‘t seem to get past that sense of being pointed out in the crowd that we Brits fear so much.

Maybe I should just give up, buy a big woolly jumper, dye my beard ginger and go wassailing in the merry month of May…


…but somehow I doubt I’d manage two streets before I died of embarrassment.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

As Close As A Blade

It can be truly said that barely more than a generation ago you could tell a lot about a British family by how many buttons they had on their TV set and what they did with them.

This was, of course, back in the days when in order to watch a TV programme one had to switch on the set approximately 3 days in advance so it could warm up and that in order to do you had to get up from your sofa, walk across the room and press a switch (oh, the humanity!), bang the set a little  and then wait.

By the time you had sat down again there would be the beginnings of sound and then, shortly thereafter, there would be a steady black-and-white picture. 

Of course, in these days, there were only 4 buttons on the telly – the on/off button and 3 channel buttons: none of which were ever touched because, of course, there was only one channel that any right minded British person would watch.

For most people owning those early boxes things started going wrong when those additional buttons started being the home to programmes. Obviously there was the BBC – that bastion of England, where radio presenters wore dinner jackets and everyone spoke in a clipped Etonian accent: unless they were interrupted by Winston Churchill saying something extremely patriotic. Then later there was BBC 2 and already there were mumblings that perhaps this was a channel too many.

When ITV came along with its adverts pumping their way into your home, bringing soap operas and light entertainment in their wake there was a lot of frowning and disapproving puffing on pipes being done across the land. My own father can clearly remember watching ITV with his father’s disapproving glare on his back: the second he glanced anywhere else my grandfather would reach over and switch back to the only proper channel. In these days of course there was no morning telly, broadcasting would stop around bedtime for children and programs would stop entirely at midnight.

When Channel 4 and later Channel 5 came along forcing us to buy sets with extra buttons there was practically a civil war.

It was whilst I was having a shave the other night that I found myself thinking along these lines and remembering the old adverts for Remington that were fronted by entrepreneur Victor Kiam with his 2 famous catchphrases “so good I bought a company” and “shaves as close as a blade or your money back”

Now I have to admit that I am something of an infrequent shaver - whereas growing up I was constantly told stories of ancestors who had survived Ypes and never missed a day’s shave I am often known for going several days without trimming the old face fuzz and generally only shave when it becomes properly itchy. Additionally if I am poorly (i.e. cold) I may leave this longer so as to truly feel well once the symptoms have started to pass.

This is because I truly feel there is something nice about a really good shave that one has waited for – if you shave every day you can begin to take this for granted, whereas if you wait a few days until the stubble is annoying you and then have a really good, close pruning session your face feels much more refreshed for it. Additionally about 12 years or so ago I went over to shaving with a blaze and, aside from the inevitable cuts, I have never looked back.

But even I, on those days when I finally do get round to momentarily not looking like a vagabond or extremely cheap rate Pirates of the Caribbean reject, cannot quite understand what it must have been like for Victor when presented with this amazing piece of technology he didn’t merely think “gosh this is quite good, I must thank my wife for her thoughtful gift” – which most sane people would have done – but instead decided to go out and buy an entire company.

It makes me wonder what kind of life he had lead up until that point that he could be so amazed by a simple razor (always assuming she didn’t buy him the Remington Fuzz Away for nasal hair removal) – and I can’t help but wonder what his wife’s reaction was.

“Honey: I like that so much I’m going to go out and buy the company!”

“Dammit: I knew I should have bought him slippers!”

Maybe we all need to pay more attention when using everyday items, perhaps one of you out there reading this could, upon opening your next tube of toothpaste, realise that this is the minty freshness that everyone needs and become the next Victor Kiam?

Oh and by the way...I still rarely watch ITV...

We still have some standards here you know!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Film Review Time

Hello again and it’s time for my infrequent film review sections. As some of you may already know we have an arthouse cinema about 1 mile away from where we live which shows what I like to think of as Foreign ROad Movies About the Grimness of Existence (FROMAGE) and other such films that you don’t always get at the multiplex.

However increasingly it also now shows some of the mainstream films a few weeks after the other cinemas have shown them in an attempt to cover the losses of the less popular films which get a small but loyal audience: however this time around all of the films I'm going to talk about are mainstream – so there will be no mention of Brechtian overtones today.

First up I should say that during November I had a one-month trial of Netflicks which I subsequently decided to cancel – largely because in that one month I had watched pretty much everything on the lists that I wanted to. However: I did catch up on all the Marvel superhero films I had missed (Iron Man 2 and 3, Thor, Captain America etc) which were of mixed value. I also watched both seasons of Orange Is The New Black (definitely worth a watch) – and then found a new film in my “recommended to you” pile which, during a dull moment, I decided I would give a chance. That film was…

 #1: I Am Number 4

Now I have to admit I had never heard of this, but as I say: I was quite bored and there was nothing else to do – so I decided to watch it. The plot is essentially about a group of 7 children from another planet who are refugees on Earth. Each has a superhero power and a Buffy That Vampire Slayer style Watcher to look after them and keep them safe against the killer from their home planet that has come to wipe them out: a story that can only have been created with the mindset of “how much money can I make from the teen reader market that made the Twilight series so successful”

But this is where the plot gets really stupid – because the killers have to take them out in numerical order. I.e. if they bumped into number 7 now they couldn’t kill them because they haven’t killed number 3 yet. This is never explained to any great satisfaction and is utterly ludicrous.

The film trails along for nearly 2 hours with lots of explosions, some not so impressive fight set pieces and an unrealistic love interest from the previously mentioned number 7 – before I finally realised in the end credits that this was a film produced by Michael Bay – which only goes to show you should read the instructions before attempting anything, because I could have saved myself 2 hours of my life if I’d known that at the start.

My review: give it a miss. There’s nothing much to redeem this story and I can only hope that the sequel book never gets turned into a film. Not as big a waste of time as Iron Man 2 which was essentially 2 very long hours of Robert Downey Jr getting drunk – but close.

#2: Edge Of Tomorrow (or is it seems to have been retitled on DVD – Live, Die, Repeat – Edge of Tomorrow)

Now I have to admit I’m not a big fan of Tom Cruise. In fact I would go so far as to say I find him slightly annoying. Even as far back as Top Gun I thought his character Maverick was a little too full of himself and that Cruise came over as being too aware of his own good looks and overconfident. As such I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch one of his films.

However: it seems that I’m not alone – because in the last couple of films I have seen him in Tom Cruise has pretty much played to this facet of his character. In Jerry Maguire he plays an overconfident, slightly annoying PR expert who learns by the end of the film to be a better person and to accept love into his life, in War Of The Worlds he plays and overconfident, slightly irritating everyman who by the end of the film learns to be a better person and a better father and in this he plays another slightly annoying, self-involved PR expert who, through his own cowardice and self-preservation finds himself on the front line of an unwinnable war against a strange alien species that looks like those rubber spiders you used to throw at the wall as a kid and watch climb down the surface.

The plot of this film is a kind of mix of Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers – because every time the main character dies he pops back to life again at the start of the same day, slowly learning to be a better person and a better fighter until such time as he is capable of surviving further and further into the day.

Edge Of Tomorrow is one of those sci-fi films where plot and the pace carries you along at sufficient speed that you don’t have time to question all the bits that don’t really make much sense and it looks good enough to make you believe in the world you find yourself. There’s not much here are any intellectual level: no attempt to really find out what the aliens want or why they are attacking, or even to show them as anything other than just brutal killing machines – but that’s not really the purpose of the film.

My only real problem with the film was the ending, which without wanting to give anything away I felt was a bit of a copout.

Ultimately I enjoyed this film enough whilst I was watching it – but had no real desire to ever watch it again: so I would recommend that you wait for it to be on telly or to borrow it from a friend (as I did)

#3 Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (DOT-POTA)

I have to admit that I am something of a POTA fan and have now seen all of the films apart from the 1st of the rebooted franchise Rise…

There surely can’t be that many people in the world who aren’t aware of the original Charlton Heston movie where an astronaut arrives on a strange planet to find that the balance between man and ape has been reversed – followed by the inevitable sequels Underneath The…, Escape From…, Conquest Of… And Battle For… All of which was then followed by an ill recieved Tim Burton reboot and a further reboot, which takes us to where we are now.

There have been those who pointed out the really Dawn should’ve come before Rise – because unless they were on a night shift most people, and presumably apes, don’t rise until after the dawn – but this is a niggly point which we will swiftly gloss over (until such time as the 3rd film turns out to be called Weetabix Of The Planet Of The Apes – which is surely the next in the logical sequence of crawling out of bed)

As I said earlier I haven’t seen ROT-POTA, but this film makes enough sense on its own to be viewed alone and actually is extremely relevant to the times we are living in, because if you take away the talking apes what you are left with is a story about racial intolerance and misunderstanding and the consequences of hatred. Both sides have their reasons for disliking and mistrusting the others and ultimately it is a lack of ability to communicate and get past these issues that leads to the problems.

The CGI apes are fantastic, brought to life as usual by Andy Serkis – a man who has so far been foolishly overlooked for a best actor award – who gives Caesar a real sense of personality. It’s a fast-moving film that keep you watching all the way – but it’s only problem is that the ending suffers from this being a middle section of the longer story – i.e. it leave you hanging for the next instalment.

Ultimately I found this an engaging film with enough going on to leave you asking questions and interested enough to want to see the next one.

#4: The Lego Movie

This has been one of the big surprise successes of 2014 – a film about consumerism gone mad, creativity and oddly about individuality in a world demanding uniformity, but with jokes and, of course, Batman.

The story follows an everyday worker who comes to believe that he is the chosen one of a prophecy to save Legoland and his wacky adventures. It’s also a film about how we deal with change: so for a children’s film starring a bunch of CGI animated bricks there’s a lot more going on here than jokes. 

Perhaps it was the fact that I saw it on quite a small TV screen – but although I found this passed the time I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought was going to. I kind of feel that I need to give it another chance on a larger screen and perhaps I might enjoy it more then – but I also saw some episodes of the Lego Yoda Chronicles shortly after and laughed twice as hard at the jokes in that as I did those in the movie.

I’d be interested to know if anyone reading this has seen this film and enjoyed it more than I did as I know a lot of people thought it was amazing – because at the moment I'm a little bit ambivalent.

#5: Paddington

Anyone who has grown up in England, certainly during the 1970s, will be aware of Michael Bond’s stories about a refugee bear who comes to London and moves in with an everyday family – certainly I grew up with the BBC’s animated series voiced by Michael Horden (which had the supporting characters of the Brown family shown as two-dimensional cardboard cutouts and Paddington himself as the only 3-D colour character and was utterly charming as a result)

Paddington is a rare talking bear who wears a duffel coat, red hat and has a fascination with marmalade sandwiches – he is well-meaning but slightly innocent and often gets into trouble by trying to be helpful.

I think there were a lot of people who, when hearing that there was going to be a film, panicked that the charm of the 70s TV series would be lost and it would be ruined forever. Certainly when stories started coming through that the original voice of Paddington (Colin Firth) had been replaced halfway through filming there was a certain trepidation that it was going to be awful.

However – as it turned out we couldn’t have been more wrong. From the opening sequence to the end credits this film doesn’t put a single step wrong and it would take a person much more cynical than myself to watch this film without smiling from start to end and laughing out loud on several occasions. I have never applauded a film as I find it a bit weird to applaud people who aren’t there – but when at the end of the movie the audience began to clap I nearly found myself joining in.

This is a cast that includes Hugh Bonneville as the safety conscious Mr Brown, Julie Walters as the dotty aunt/gran figure, the fabulous Ben Wishaw as the voice of Paddington and Nicole Kidman having a whale of a time as the evil taxidermist. Even the addition of the calypso band D Lime who appear as a small running joke on the streets at various times adds to the charm of this film.

The CGI of Paddington is such that you completely accept him as a real character and you genuinely find yourself on the edge of your seat at times of peril and at 90 minutes the film feels exactly the right length. Although this is essentially a children's film it's intelligent and funny enough to please any adult and to bring out the inner child.

I know this film may be hard to find outside the UK – but if you get the chance to go see this please do, because this is quite simply the best film I’ve seen in a long, long time.