Saturday, 21 November 2009


Okay, so I've just watched 2012 and having listened to quite a few podcasts from the Mars Hill "Cinemagogue" series I am trying to think about films a little more critically. I'm not interested in looking for meaning when there is none there. Charlies Angels: Full Throttle tells us nothing much more than "teenage boys like boobies". Films are not always full of profound insight, however they are an art form and therefore open to legitimate interpretation. JRR Tolkein rejected attempts to allegorise his Rings work, CS Lewis by contrast clearly intended The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to be full of symbolism.
So what of 2012? Initially I found it difficult to see any deeper meaning to it. It is basically two and a half hours of the earth getting torn apart by tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanoes. It is a tale of destruction and is more pre-occupied with impressing us with the scale and realism of the havoc than really engaging us with philosophical considerations. More Armaggedon than Deep Impact, if you will. Nonetheless, there are legitimate subtexts to be mined.
I found myself thinking of the arks into which the few survivors are to be ushered. Everyone with a place had either earned it through their political or scientific seniority or usefulness, or had bought a ticket (at 1 bn euros a pop). As a devastating tidal wave breaks over the Himalayas and the arks ready to float away, thousands of passengers whose ark has been damaged and an army of workers who had built the arks only to be left stranded are begging to be allowed onto the remaining three arks. The US government's chief scientific advisor then becomes a voice of conscience, appealing to the captains of each ark to allow these desperate individuals on board.
It is an abrupt intrusion of the concept of grace into a film that had up until tha point shown no apparent interest in such matters. All of a sudden, our thoughts are drawn to questions of entitlement, merit and salvation. Do these late additions deserve to be saved? No. Have they done anything to merit it? No. Are they going to be crucial to the successful functioning of the arks and the rebuilding of civilisation? No. But it is within the power of those captaining the arks to save them and they are moved by compassion to rescue the undeserving and give them a place among the elect.
I have no call on my Father's grace either. I cannot point to riches or any "deserving" attributes, nothing about me that grants me a seat on the rescue boat. But my Father saw I was in need, in trouble, in need of rescue, helpless and doomed and he opened the doors for me. Of course the story is more complicated than that and the cost to God in order for that door to be opened was almost incalculably high, but the principle runs true. I didn't deserve to be saved but I was and I am forever grateful.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

I'll never get those two hours back

Very few films constitute a total waste of my time, but I genuinely grieve over the time I have lost watching:-
1. Blade Trinity
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
3. Rancid Aluminium
4. Hitman
5. Charlie's Angels
6. Grease 2

Top Twenty Films

This always changes, but for the moment:-
1. Casablanca
2. Schindlers List
3. The Godfather
4. Raging Bull
5. The Lord of the Rings (all three)
6. Chinatown
7. The Big Sleep
8. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
9. Die Hard
10. Seven
11. The Usual Suspects
12. Fight Club
13. Aliens
14. The Terminator
15. The Godfather Part II
16. His Girl Friday
17. Memento
18. The Dark Knight
19. Platoon
20. The Incredibles

Also rans/Honourable mentions - Heat, Taxi Driver, Spider-man 2, Superman, Minority Report, Airplane!, Some Like it Hot, The Empire Strikes Back, The Exorcist, Dawn of the Dead, The Silence of the Lambs, JFK, To Kill a Mockingbird, Night of the Hunter, Jaws, A Better Tomorrow, Terminator 2, Predator, On the Waterfront, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gladiator, Spartacus, The Insider, Goodfellas, Vertigo, Rear Window, Psycho, North by Northwest, Black Hawk Down (yes, really), The Maltese Falcon, Twelve Angry Men.

The Wire

I know that it is often bleak, hard-breaking stuff, but honestly, is there any better a programme on television? It is chilling how casually lives are snuffed out, how savagely people are beaten, how cheap life is considered to be. Yet for so many characters, their lives have been so vividly portrayed, so well written and acted that it brings a tear to the eye when they finally reach their end. It has been described as a grand epic, a film told across five seasons and that must be right. A programme like 24 has, obviously, plenty of through storyline and momentum, even from one season to the next, but it never engages you like the Wire does. 24 adrenalises and thrills like no other show, but you do not care about as many of the characters as you do with The Wire. The West Wing is as well written as any show you could name, but sometimes it revels in how clever it is. The Wire just feels like a window on a world you would not wish on your worst enemy and yet you cannot take your eyes off it. We are coming to the end of season 4 on BBC2 and season 5 kicks off on Thursday. When that has run its course I will grieve.

Big Brother

I get so frustrated with BB. Everyone seems so determined to be unkind to each other. I recognise that "why can't we all just get along" is hackneyed and life teaches us that we can't if it teaches us anything, but crikey. Everyone keeps winding each other up, making fun, criticising, bitching, back-biting and bullying. It gets to be so tiresome. I am sure that alcohol-fuelled tiredness and boredom is relished by the producers as a recipe for fireworks, but why do we encourage it by watching. We frown on bear-baiting, cock-fighting and fox-hunting - why do we see this any differently?
Get this nonsense off our televisions, the sooner the better.

Thursday, 23 July 2009


It is hard to be a good father. In all fairness, no-one ever said it would be easy, but it is more difficult than I would say is commonly appreciated. I think that for me, the constant challenge is balance. I will tend to focus on, for example, providing for my children by making sure that I work hard, try to progress in my career and bring in enough money to meet their needs. Then, I start to feel concerned (quite rightly) that my children have a need for my physical and emotional presence, rather than just my financial provision. This leads me to try to make more time for quality time, time one on one with them, time playing over the park, walks in the woods. This is great and when I do it, it feels right. It feels like the way it is meant to be and my children clearly benefit from it. But then, as always, life begins to feel very busy and congested and other elements creep in and start to suck up my time. There are household chores that need doing - washing, ironing, washing up, hoovering, cleaning the car, fixing meals, decorating - all very necessary and important and as tedious as they generally are, essential to make time for.
I tell myself that these things need to be done and I am right, they do. However they wind up becoming too much of a focus and I essentially become a house keeper and handyman to my children instead of a father.
Lest we forget, there is also my wife to consider. She is more important, more precious to me than all of my children put together (much as I love them and would never be without them) and I want to ensure that when, as they inevitably will, my children grow up, move out and make their own lives, my wife and I have a life together, a relationship, that is founded upon our marriage, founded on us, rather than simply being founded on the need to properly raise our children. So many marriages have struggled in later life because all that existed was a focus on raising the children and then once they were raised, there was nothing left between the husband and wife beside the memory of a wedding day decades in the past and the shared experience since then of setting everything else aside to take care of the children.
Do not misunderstand me, children are important and precious and if I fail to make proper time and energy for them my failure is something that will prove hugely damaging all round. But they are not all I am as a man. I am not a father to the exclusion of all else. I am not even a father first and foremost. I am a child of God, then a husband, then a father, then (hopefully) an active and useful member of my church, then everything else.
I know that, rather prosaically, central to all of this is time management. There is time to do and be all of these things, but it will not happen by itself. I have to say "no" to so much in order to be able to say "yes" to my wife and my children. I cannot go to the gym three times a week for two hours each time and still be all that I wish to be as a husband, father and Christian. I cannot spend quality time with my children at the weekend if I lock myself away painting a bedroom, despite how pressingly urgent that job seems. I cannot make my wife feel special, precious, beautiful and loved if I come home late from work, stick a DVD on and ignore her. I might be able to justify such actions to myself by saying that I am tired, drained and stressed and need to unwind, but ultimately that is a cop-out. I need not be a martyr, I just need to choose. What will I do today? What will I choose to make time for on Saturday? How will I plan my evenings? How will I organise myself at work so that I can honour my employers with an honest, hard day's work for an honest day's pay and still ensure that I am home in time to play with my children and put them to bed?
Fatherhood. Potentially so rewarding, fraught with potholes, joyous when you get it right, very easy to get wrong, exhausting even at the best of times and pretty thankless until your children have children of their own and realise what they put you through. I wouldn't change it for the world.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Star Trek

I have just seen the new Star Trek film and it was well worth my time and money. I have never really got into the later series (Voyager, DS9, Enterprise), but love the original series and TNG. JJ Abrams clearly has great affection for the Star Trek universe and brought on board writers who knew how to balance freshness with enough reference points to satisfy established fans. It was all just to lively and energetic. Not a spoof, not self-referential, just fast-paced, action-packed, character-establishing stuff. Trying to make space in a screenplay for characters who have been developed over decades of TV series and films without either reducing them to two-dimensional caricatures, bogging down the narrative, or stretching the running time is an unenviable task, but it is handled excellently. Chekhov suddenly knows how to transport a moving target, Sulu leaves the handbrake on but knows kung-fu, Bones confirms that he is indeed a doctor, despite spending more time on the bridge than in sickbay, Scotty succeeds in giving the Enterprise more power, Spock finds time for a mind-meld and a nerve-pinch, Uhuru actually can translate all manner of interstellar communication and Kirk snogs the green alien, shouts, fights and takes his place in the Captain's chair.
Breathtaking special effects, space battle scenes more akin to Serenity or Jedi than the sluggish chess games of previous Star Trek outings, excellent pacing, a coherent narrative (even with red matter, black holes and time travel) and well-performed main roles. Hell, they even find time to fry the guy in the red uniform.

These wretched MP's

I know, I know. It is hardly a novel title, hardly a groundbreaking subject on which to embark into the exciting world of blogging, but crikey. Lembit Opik tried to claim £2500 for a TV, had his claim rejected, bought a £700 TV instead and then claimed it was the system working and he could not understand what all of the fuss was about.
As I understand it, you can only claim for what is wholly and exclusively necessary for the carrying out of parliamentary business. I understand the need to equip and furnish a second home close to parliament. Cutlery, crockery, furniture, even a stereo, TV and DVD player. Everyone needs to unwind at the end of a busy day. But these MP's just do not get it. You do not need a £2500 TV in your second home. You should not wait to see whether you can get away with it, whether the Fees Office will turf it out. Your conscience, your moral compass, your sense of the value of money should cause you to question the claim before you put it in. I have never owned a brand-new TV and currently watch a £100 second-hand tube TV, because that is all I can afford and truthfully, it is all I need. How can any person, let alone an MP who knows every penny he or she claims comes from the pockets of the taxpayer, genuinely believe that these luxury items are necessary to the performance of their parliamentary duties? It feels rather more that they have looked at what they want rather than what they need, then looked at what they can get away with rather than what is genuinely proportionate, fair and reasonable. "I can do it, so I will" rather than, "I do not need this so I will not". I am cross at the shamelessness of it all, the greed, the indifference and if I had a quid for every time I have heard "it is within the rules" for an expense that any ordinary person would consider shamefully excessive, I could afford to have my moat filled in.
I am angry. Here endeth the rant.