Films of My Life – The Thirsk Film Festival August 2017

The Thirsk Film Festival ran over the August Bank Holiday weekend (25-28 August) 2017. The theme for the festival was “Yorkshire”, with each movie being either made or set or both, in Yorkshire. In this edition of my “Films of my life” blog, I will review each of the 13 movies scheduled to be shown at the festival.

Friday evening

It_Shouldn't_Happen_to_a_Vet_UK_posterThe festival opened, appropriately enough, with “It Shouldn’t Happen To a Vet” (1976) based on the life and books of local vet, James Herriot. So, what better way to kick off the festival, than with a film set in Thirsk?

I vaguely remember going to see this movie in the spring / summer of 1976 and at the time Herriot was one of the biggest selling authors in the UK (and very popular in the US). I spent a lot of that summer staying with my aunt, uncle and cousins at their caravan near Thirsk. It was a very hot summer (the year of the drought) and as I read some of Heriot’s books and played in the sun, I fell in love with the North Yorkshire countryside he described. It is so different to Tyneside. It was no surprise to me that I eventually settled here

We could only see a digital copy of the VHS source (as the rights-holder has died) because the Ritz is a non-profit organisation. Even though the presentation was not up to 4K standards of 2017, the charm of the movie shone through.

Rating:      Movie (3/5) – Charming. Old fashioned but funny

Yorkshireness (5/5) – Stunning Dales locations and “real” North Yorkshire  farmer characterisation

Saturday

The first full day of the festival kicked off with a childhood favourite of my wife, Gill (and many others) The Railway Children (1970). I remembered it mostly as the one 70s movie where Jenny Agutter keeps her clothes on!

Movie: 4/5 – A children’s classic, but very much a child’s perspective

Yorkshireness: 7/10 – Beautiful West Yorkshire locations and supporting characters

My summer of loveNext was My Summer of Love (2004)

I saw this movie on its release and I remember it well. Emily Blunt is excellent in one of her first movies in this coming-of-age film, but newcomer Helen Cross really stands out, There relationship feel genuine and the Calderdale locations remind me of the 7 years we lived there.

Movie: 4/5 -An affecting coming of age movie

Yorkshireness: 5/10 – Wonderful Yorkshire locations but the characters could come from anywhere.

This was followed by the classic Kes (1969), which was shown in a beautiful, restored presentation.

Movie: 5/5 –  Melancholic story. The school scenes are a vivid reminder of the time

Yorkshireness: 10/10 – Authentic people in a real, but now gone (mining), community.

Next was perennial favourite (recently produced as a stage play) Calendar Girls (2004). . The first half about making the calendar is excellent, but the second half about promoting it in Hollywood may be true but feels like it is there to attract an American audience.

Movie: 3/5 – Funny and moving, especially in the first half

Yorkshireness: 7/10 – Beautiful Skipton locations but we only really see the WI and their husbands

“God’s Own Country” is the perfect companion to “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet”, covering the same people but in a very different way.

God's_Own_Country_(2017_film)Lastly, there was a première – God’s Own Country (2017) – yet to go on general release. I really enjoyed this moving film about the loneliness of being a Hill farmer. The performances are superb and the locations are both bleak and beautiful, but this film feels incredibly authentic. Definitely a film of the year for me, and one I would like to see again when it goes on general release.”God’s Own Country” is the perfect companion to “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet”, covering the same people but in a very different way. They bookend the same situations, but the is when’re the similarity ends

Movie: 5/5 – Affecting, realistic depiction of hill farming life in Yorkshire. Great performances.

Yorkshireness: 10/10 – Grim and beautiful, the (North?) Yorkshire locations are superb and the characters are genuine Yorkshire – good and bad attitudes

Sunday

Billy Liar (1963) kicked off the third day of the festival. At the risk of heresy, I think this movie is overrated. Imaginative and funny in parts certainly, but the character arc of Billy is poor, so there is little justification for his actions. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian shares my disappointment for the same reasons.

Movie: 2/5 – Imaginative but unsatisfying

Yorkshireness: 10/10 – This is a Northern kitchen-sink drama set around Leeds. However, the characters come across as proper Yorkshire

Next we had Brassed Off (1996) another film I haven’t seen in a long time, but one that represents its time and place perfectly – 1990s Yorkshire and the death throes of the mining industry.

Movie: 4/5 – realistic characters, but the anti-Thatcher politics may upset some

Yorkshireness: 10/10 – from the small mindedness to the sense of community, this is another authentic portrayal of a Northern mining town

A Private Function (1984) also captures a sense of time and place – this time it is post-war austerity Yorkshire. The portrayal of class prejudice and social ambition may be of its time (1947), but there are also some genuine people to be found amongst the pigs.

Movie: 4/5 – Very funny in parts, with Liz Smith in a career making role

Yorkshireness: 5/10 – Apart from the accents, I’m sure that this story could have been set anywhere in post-war Britain

Inbred only represents real Yorkshire if the the pub (The Slaughtered Lamb) in “An American Werewolf In London” was an accurate description of Yorkshire folk! It is? Ok…

Inbred-2011-Movie-Poster-version1

Inbred (2011) was certainly something different. Professionally made but on a low budget, it was a funny, gross, gory tale of North Yorkshire folk in the Vale of York. The scenery was beautiful, even if the gore was not. The visual effects were top notch.

Movie: 3/5 – Good if you like body horror. Think “The (Cleveland) Hills Have Eyes” meets Deliverance near Sutton Bank.

Yorkshireness: 1/5 – Inbred only represents real Yorkshire if the the pub (The Slaughtered Lamb) in “An American Werewolf In London” was an accurate description of Yorkshire folk! It is? OK then perhaps 4/5 is a fairer score.

Monday

Monday started with Leon The Pig Farmer (1992), a film I’d not seen before, but had heard great things about.  It may have been acceptable when it was made, but 25 years on it seems to treat the Jewish community in a most stereotypical (almost racist) way. I felt quite uncomfortable.

Movie: 2/5

Yorkshireness: 5/10 – Leon’s “biological” father is played by  Brian Glover, and he has a pig farm in Yorkshire. That’s about it.

2012-10-3WutheringUKDVDCoverThe Full Monty (1997) didn’t happen due to technical problems, but the Festival ended on a real high with Andrea Arnold’s raw take on the Emily Brontë classic, Wuthering Heights (2011) . For me, this is the best adaptation of the story I have seen, capturing the bleak beauty of the Yorkshire Moors (Swaledale standing in for Haworth) but the emotional essence of the tragic love affair shines through.

Movie: 5/5 – Emotionally raw, cinematically bleak

Yorkshireness: 10/10 – Gives a real sense of how difficult life must have been living on the Yorkshire moors at that time.

 

So there you have it, three days of mostly excellent Yorkshire themed movies. The highlights for me were:

  • God’s Own Country
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Kes

A great festival.

 

 

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Nine Principles of Human Communication

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“Generally, when verbal and non-verbal messages contradict each other, people tend to believe the non-verbal more than the verbal messages”

New Horizons

courtesy of De Gruyter publishing

 

In my previous blog, I looked at 7 Myths of Human Communication, and how they relate to leadership & management. In this blog, I will focus on 9 Principles that underpin effective communication.

The source of information for both of these blogs is an excellent book that I have recently read called “New Horizons in Patient Safety: Understanding Communication by, Hannawa, Wu & Juhasz (published by De Gruyter).

These principles remind us just how difficult it is to achieve a shared understanding with another person. One has to wonder if we ever really understand what is intended by another person.

Principle 1: Communication varies between thought, symbol and referent

According to Annegret Hannawa, human communication is “fundamentally an interactive meaning-making process”. Put simply, we use the joint creation and interpretation of symbols (words, gesture, images etc) to try to achieve shared understanding. So, our thoughts are encoded into symbols and behaviours (which have no intrinsic meaning of their own). This leads to the first challenge of “making meaning”, as there needs to be enough “common ground” for both parties to achieve a shared understanding.

Principle 2: Communication is a non-summative process

“Human communication is an interpersonal process that involves much more than the mere sum of its components” (Hannawa).

The assignment of symbols happens within an individual, but the meaning-making process (i.e. communication) happens between people. Because of this, communication cannot “breakdown” as it was not guaranteed in the first place. However, it can malfunction and the wrong meaning can be attributed to message being transmitted.

Principle 3: Communication is functional

Communication works best when it is purely factual but the nature of human relationships is such that often people are not interested in communicating purely factual information. The introduction of humour, sarcasm, persuasion etc. makes it more challenging for a true “shared meaning” to be achieved.

Principle 4: Communication is more than words

It is often said that “the meaning of the communication is the response it produces”.

Communication is more than just an exchange of words. We cannot “not” communicate. Silence can communicate just as much as words. In everyday interactions, we are interpreting both verbal and non-verbal symbols or signals. Generally, when verbal and non-verbal messages contradict each other, people tend to believe the non-verbal more than the verbal messages (Sellers & Beall, 2000)

Principle 5: Communication entails both factual and relational information

“In the same way that verbal messages are always accompanied by non-verbal messages, factual messages are always accompanied by relational messages” (Hannawa). The relationship between those communicating (social, status etc) plays a crucial part in how the communication is interpreted. It is not just what is said, and how  it is said, but the relationship between the individuals that will impact upon the “meaning” for the recipient

Principle 6: Communication is contextual

The meaning of a communicated message largely depends on the context in which it is encoded and received. This builds on Principles 4 & 5. Hannawa describes 5 different contexts that can come into play:

  • Functional (the goals of the interaction)
  • Relational (see Principle 5)
  • Environmental (the physical setting)
  • Chronological (the timing and sequencing as well as the timeliness)
  • Cultural (including beliefs)

These factors are particularly significant in interactions between line management and their reports

Principle 7: Preconceptions and perceptions vary among communicators

“Our individual life experiences contribute to idiosyncratic preconceptions and perceptions of communicated messages and behaviours” (Hannawa). Communication is an interactive negotiation to bridge these idiosyncrasies and establish “common ground”. This is the foundation for co-constructing a shared understanding.

Principle 8: Redundancy in content and directness in channel enhance accuracy

The appropriate repetition of content (see relevancy, primacy and recency) can enhance communication. Choice of communication channel can also have an impact, with direct face-to-face communication being superior to more indirect channels. It seems that having access from as many senses as possible can have an impact on achieving a shared understanding. this is un-surprising, given that we tend to trust non-verbal over verbal messages.

Principle 9: Communication is equifinal and multi-final

Reading principles 1-8 you might conclude that communication is random, but it is not. In fact, these principles tell us that there may be many different ways to achieve a shared understanding. With experience we can learn to choose the best route to achieve the desired result. For instance, sometime a person in authority needs to use that authority (tell assertive) to avert disaster (e.g. the chief surgeon in the operating theatre). However, in a different context a more persuasive (ask assertive) approach may be better (e.g. as a supervisor helping a junior with their career plan). No single tactic works all of the time.

There are many possible paths to the same outcome (equifinal) and many possible outcomes to the same path (multi-final).

Excellent communication requires us to be as aware of, and as open minded as possible to these 9 principles.

Mark De Cosemo is a Consultant, Trainer & Coach teaching influential communication across a variety of business sectors.

Seven myths about human communication

Seven myths about human communication

If there is one thing that these 7 myths tell us, it is that as communication is a shared process, there is an onus on both parties to ensure they have the correct “shared understanding

New Horizons

courtesy of De Gruyter publishing

I recently read an excellent book called “New Horizons in Patient Safety: Understanding Communication (Hannawa, Wu & Juhasz, De Gruyter) which examines the role that communication plays in patient safety issues through 39 case studies. This excellent book  is essential reading for anyone involved in teaching or delivering health care. As a teacher of Leadership & Management and the role that communication plays in these skills, I cannot recommend this book enough.

One of the chapters (by Annegret F Hannawa, Ph.D.) explores common myths about communication. In this blog, I will discuss the 7 myths presented in the book, and add in a Leadership & Management perspective.

Myth 1: Communication is a simple and functional task

Communication is often, incorrectly,  conceptualised as a linear task of transferring a message. In fact, it is, as Hannawa describes it “interactive, error prone activity that often fails to accomplish its purpose of attaining a shared understanding”. This has implications not only for patient safety, but also in effective leadership & management, as leaders and managers often assume that “message sent is message received (and understood)”. The only way to confirm accurate communication is for the other person to be able to demonstrate a shared understanding by telling you their understanding. This is equally true in leadership and management situations, as well as HCP-patient communication.

Myth 2: Communication equals words

We’ve all played “Chinese whispers” where a message is passed along a “human chain” of several individuals. This sequential communication process often results in reduction in the quality and quantity of the information conveyed. This can be fun in a parlour game, but has serious consequences for patient safety and in leadership & management situations.

Then there is the impact of “non-verbal” communication. Language is often ambiguous and we “look” to body language and tone of voice to help us put a final interpretation on the meaning or significance of the message.

Myth 3: Communication equals information transfer

The case studies in the book illustrate how communication is more than just the conveying of factual information. The message recipient will have a set of personal filters through which the information must pass. These include personal experience, values, beliefs, cultural and social filters, as well as relationship filters. The relationship between the initiator and the receiver has a massage effect on the understanding (HCP – patient, manager-report)

Myth 4: Communication can be accessed, deposited and delegated

Written communication is subject to the same rules of (mis)understanding as verbal communication. Just because it is written down (deposited) does not guarantee communication. In fact, it may increase the risk of misunderstanding as shared understanding is not guaranteed. Whatever medium is used, it always pays to check that there is shared understanding, not assume that it is obvious.

Myth 5: Communication is not about individual understanding 

As Hannawa puts it “Communication is an interpersonal meaning-making process” which occurs between not within people.  Yet the assumption is often that everybody has the same understanding of terminology or jargon. This “common ground fallacy” can result not only in patient safety issues, but also management issues. Take the example of setting a timescale for a goal or objective. If I want to a achieve a goal “by December”  what date comes to mind? By when does the goal have to be achieved? Write it down. You can choose any date from 30 November to 31 December and be right! That can represent a difference of up to 32 days between two individuals. To ensure shared understanding we need both parties to verbalise and document a specific date.

Myth 6: More communication is better

People tend to assume that more communication is better communication. As Hannawa reminds us though “the truth, however, is that the functional form of the association between communication skills and competence is an inverted U, with both too little and too much of any given behaviour being perceived as inappropriate and ineffective in most healthcare interactions”. There is still a place for structure and repetition, especially in presentations  (see relevancy, primacy and recency) but remember; the only difference between a cure and a poison is the dosage!

Myth 7: Communication “breaks down”

Many people describe “failed communication” as a “breakdown” in communication. This perspective “mistakenly implies that communication failure equates to a mere lack  of communication rather than incomplete communication” (Hannawa). This has massive implications for organisations as it can perpetuate a “blame culture”, something that is very relevant to patient safety. As Hannawa states in the book “across the 39 case studies. poor outcomes were the result of no established shared understanding. What was never established cannot “break down”.

If there is one thing that these 7 myths tell us, it is that as communication is a shared process, there is an onus on both parties to ensure they have the correct “shared understanding“. For those in positions of responsibility (e.g managers to reports or HCPs to patients) there is increased onus on the initiator of the communication to confirm a shard understanding, not assume it

In the next part of this blog we will explore the Nine Core  Principles of Human Communication

Films of my life – War Movies

The recent release of the excellent Dunkirk prompted me to think about which war films would I choose for my Top Ten? Would Dunkirk make that list?

It’s interesting, but I usually think of myself as a “sci-fi” movie fan, but actually I’m first and foremost a “movie’ fan. I love sci-fi, but I also enjoy other genres. Reflecting on what films to put in this list, I realised that many of my favourite movies are war films. In fact, I’ve already identified 2 of the movies on this list as my favourite film for the year they came out (The Great Escape (1963) and A Bridge Too Far (1977)). Another was one of my picks from 1979 (Apocalypse Now) and there is even one of my favourite (non Christmas) Christmas Movies (Where Eagles Dare)!

 

So, what else would I choose as my favourite (so not necessarily the best) war movies?

I would have to include Dunkirk on my list as it is not only one of the best movies of 2017, but a superlative example of how to make epic events relatable

Dunkirk

In no particular order, I would have all of the above, plus:

  1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – I remember Gill and I going to see the re-released “Director’s Cut” at Marble Arch in 1989. This was the first time I got to see this movie on a BIG screen and its the only way to really appreciate it. I did once see it on a National Express Coach, on a 12 inch screen which was located at the front of the coach. I was sat halfway back and I might as well have been listening to a radio play!
  2. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – the combination of brutal battle scenes (D-Day), state of the art sound realisation (That TANK arriving from behind you) and a human story makes this on of Spielberg’s classics
  3. Das Boot(1985) – This excellent movie showed for the first time not only how boring submarine life was, but also a more balanced German perspective. Released in cinemas from an original German TV series (1981), 30 years before HBO.
  4. Platoon (1986) – made a massive impression on me when I first saw it (in Reading with friend and house mate George Marshall ). It still has the power to shock
  5. Black Hawk Down (2001) – conveys the confusion and fear of war like no other movie. I’ve seen this movie so many times, and I still can’t tell who is who
  6. The Deer Hunter (1978) – another movie that shows the price communities pay when their men (and women) go to war. The relationships portrayed have that hallmark authenticity of Michael Cimino and 70s cinema
  7. Zulu (1964) – was in my list of 1964 favourites. The contrast of fighting styles and the sheer scale of the battles, coupled with the heroism on display, mask the uncomfortable colonial past of the British Empire. Actually, both sides come out with some honour
  8. Paths of Glory (1957) – I chose this movie over “Full Metal Jacket”, as I think it is Kubrick’s better war movie. I chose it over “All Quiet on the Western Front” as it is an even more powerful anti-war statement than that classic. An under rated movie
  9. La Grande Illusion (1937) – like “Paths of Glory”, this is a potent anti-war movie, all the more powerful because it was made 2 years before the fall of France and was banned by the Nazi’s
  10.  Dunkirk (2017) – I would have to include Dunkirk on my list as it is not only one of the best movies of 2017, but a superlative example of how to make epic events relatable. I love Director Christopher Nolan’s call back to another famous war film – The Battle of Britain with Michael Caine providing the voice of the unseen Squadron Leader (a role he played in TBoB)

So there you have it, my ten-ish (ok, 14) favourite War Films.

But which of these would you have on your list?

Films of my life – 1979

Films of my life – 1979

The recent release of the latest Alien movie (Alien: Covenant) prompted me to reflect on the year that the series started – 1979. So, here is the latest (increasingly irregular) instalment of my blog reviewing the films that helped to shape and define my life.

By 1979, I was 15, going on 16 (sounds like a line from a song in “The Sound of Music), but had already seen my first “X” certificate (now “18”) movie (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978”). As my journey from school (St Cuthbert’s RC Grammar, Benwell) to home (Sunderland Road, Gateshead) involved changing buses in central Newcastle, I regularly (at least once a week) took the opportunity to see a tea time showing of a movie in one of the town cinemas. So, what were my favourite movies of 1979? Here are the top 10 Hollywood movies of the year:

  1. Kramer vs Kramer
  2. Apocalypse Now
  3. Rocky II
  4. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  5. Alien
  6. 10
  7. The Jerk
  8. Moonraker
  9. The Muppet Movie

Of the above list, I saw 2,4,5,and 8 at the cinema and caught up with the rest in the early 1980s as home video rental arrived.

Apocalypse Now remains one of my favourite movies. Coppola’s version of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is a visually stunning depiction of madness in the Vietnam War. Moonraker was the “Bond in space” that was most notable for depicting the Space Shuttle in a movie before the real thing actually launched.

I’ve mentioned previously how my best friend, Dave Webster, was able to get us into the ABC Haymarket ahead of the queues thanks to family friend Sandy. However, Sandy surpassed himself when he got Dave and I into the press screening of Start Trek: The Motion Picture, which took place at 1000 on a school day. I still love the epic nature of that story, even if the rest of the movie does not stand up well.

Other  movies I loved in this year include;

  • The Warriors (bonkers gang warfare movie that has not held up well, but deemed violent at the time)
  • Mad Max (the original is ok and nothing like any other entry in the series)
  • Life of Brian (“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy” – very controversial satire at the time)
  • Being There ( I saw this on my 16th birthday, one of Peter Sellar’s best roles, and one of his last and scary in the current climate)
  • Quadrophenia (great realisation of mod-era England with a superb Who soundtrack)

Alien

Alien is easily my favourite movie of 1979. It is impossible to underestimate the “anti” Star Wars impact of this film: aimed at adults not children, with grimy, industrial space ships and real blue collar characters speaking real dialogue. In the end it is a “haunted house” film, but Ridley Scott’s movie set the template for space movies for the next 20 years (along side his other classic, Blade Runner). The film made a star of Sigourney Weaver and an iconic image of John Hurt. I know a lot of people rate Aliens as the better movie, but I can’t choose. I just love both of them.

What are your memories and favourite movies of 1979?

 

Films of my life – 2016

Films of my life – 2016.

The latest entry in a review of the films that have influenced my life – year by year. Last year was a bumper year in terms of 5* movies, at least in my view. So, in this review, I will concentrate on the 12 movies that I rated as 5/5 or 5*

The year started with 3 movies form the same genre. Nominally, these 3 movies are all “westerns” but actually, that was where the similarities ended;

  • The Revenant is not strictly a western, as these are generally set between the civil war and 1900. It was set much earlier in the century and won Leonardo Di Caprio his first Oscar for Best Actor. A totally immersive experience
  • I saw The Hateful Eight in full 70mm in Leicester Square. It’s a typical Tarantino movie, with his hallmark dialogue. Certainly overlong (it had an intermission) and very violent, the snow bound setting was perfect for a cold January
  • Bone Tomahawk starts off as a traditional western -Native Americans abduct white settlers – but turns into a horror movie about cannibalism. Brilliant and also very violent

My next choice is Spotlight, the story of the Boston Globe investigation into paedophilia in the Catholic Church. Made in the style of “All the President’s Men”, this excellent procedural had extra resonance for me as I could identify with the way that the church is feared and respected.

My next choice is a very different movie – Hail, Caesar is one of the funniest films of the year and a beautiful tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood. It will be remembered for one line of dialogue – “Would that it were so simple”.

Embrace the Serpent is a stunning foreign language film, a sort of adaptation of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” set in the amazon jungle. Beautiful cinematography, despite being filmed in black & white, but with a technicolour dream sequence.

September saw Hell or High Water, another western but this time of the modern variety with Jeff Bridges simply brilliant as a Sheriff approaching retirement chasing bank robber brothers, including Chris Pine who is an absolute revelation.

Another hilarious movie is the New Zealand set Hunt for the Wilder-people. Sam Neil is on top form as a grumpy man who goes into the new Zealand countryside with his errant foster child. The development of their relationship is both funny and poignant.

Next up, two movies that took traditional genres and gave them a new twist. The Girl with all of the gifts is a thoughtful British sci-fi movie that has a dark secret at its heart. Very imaginative. Under the Shadow is a creepy UK-Iranian ghost story that was true unsettling.

I, Daniel Blake won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and is directed by Ken Loach. It tells the heartbreaking story of how the UK social security system can work against the people it intends to help. Everyone in the UK should see this movie.

Nocturnal Animals is a very stylish thriller from Tom Ford starring Amy Adams. Coincidentally, she was the star of my final choice, and my favourite movie of 2016 – Arrival. This movie is thoughtful science fiction at its best and the light it shines on communication links in to what I teach on training courses.

arrival

courtesy of wikipedia

So, a bumper year for good movies. Here is my top 5;

  1. Arrival
  2. Hunt for the Wilder-people
  3. I, Daniel Blake
  4. Hell or High Water
  5. Spotlight

 

Films of my life – the best Christmas movies

Films of my life – the best Christmas movies

I’m writing this blog on Boxing day 2016 – at 0448 to be very precise. Over the Christmas holiday, I’ve viewed most of my favourite Christmas movies. This is a traditional event for me, and over the last decade or so a list has evolved of what I consider to be the “best” Christmas movies. Well, they are my favourites anyway. Some are very traditional and focused on Christmas itself; others are included because they have a winter setting. This has allowed me to include a variety of genres, from science fiction / horror and action to family favourites.

Here is my list of essential Christmas movies:

Where Eagle’s Dare (1968) – The quintessential “boys own” WWII movie, with Richard Burton in possibly his last great role (ooh, controvertial). The winter setting, the twisty plot and THAT theme music (Ron Goodwin) make this essential viewing every December.

a-christmas-carolA Christmas Carol (2009) – I love the Charles Dickens classic story so much that it appears twice in my list. This version, the most recent, features state of the art digital animation / motion capture and stars Jim Carrey as Scrooge and ALL 3 Christmas ghosts. It was released in 3D so there is a lot of gratuitous flying and swooping, but I like that it captures the spirit of this most traditional of Christmas tales. The film is directed by one of my favourite artists – Robert Zemeckis, who loves to push the creative and technological envelope. A lot of people don’t like the “uncanny valley” of motion capture / CGI but this film is one that gets away with it by making the whole film animated.

ohmss

courtesy of ImdB

OHMSS (1969) – Not only the “winter” Bond, but in my opinion the best Bond movie. It also has its own Christmas song (“Do you know how Christmas Trees are made?”) and multiple endings. The skiing sequences alone make this one of the most exciting Bond movies, and even if Lazenby doesn’t convince in the acting stakes, his physicality more than compensates.

 

 

 

 

the-thing

The Thing (1982 / 2011) – a bit of a cheat here – two movies for the price of one! The 1982 John Carpenter (another favourite director) remake of the the 1950s original is one of my all time favourite sci-fi/horror movies. OK, so some of the plot doesn’t really hang together, but this claustrophobic remake of Agatha Christie’s “And then there were none” is so tense and atmospheric (and, yes, gory as hell) that I love watching it at least once a year. A special mention for the 2011 reboot / prequel which does a magnificent job of filling in the events before the 1982 movie. The real joy in the second movie is seeing how cleverly the makers have worked back from what is shown in the Carpenter movie – genius!

OHMSS (1969) – Not only the “Winter” Bond, but the best Bond movie. It also has it’s own Christmas Song “Do you know where Christmas Trees are made?”

gremlins

courtesy of Flickr

Gremlins (1984) – This was the top Christmas movie of 1984, and another I went to see with my best man, David Webster. There are so many sight gags in this movie, coupled with a wicked sense of humour (you don’t know whether to laugh or recoil in horror) in scenes such as the blender or Phoebe Cates describing why she hates Christmas. Simply, a classic from a top year for popcorn movies (Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, Star Trek III)

die-hardDie Hard (1988) – This movie re-wrote the action genre. You can also include  Die Hard 2 (1990), as both are the very best action movies set at Christmas. After this, the franchise went in a different direction and it hasn’t been the same since. Bruce Willis was an unlikely acton hero in 1988, having come to public notice playing light comedy in the TV show “Moonlighting”. He subsequently made this his genre and alongside Schwarzenegger and Stallone was one of the biggest action stars of the 80s/90s. Another breakout star from this movie was Alan Rickman, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

 

loveactually

courtesy of Flickr

Love Actually (2003) – I have some real problems with this flawed movie from Richard Curtis; the lack of an overtly gay relationship (it was edited out for time purposes) and the sinister storyline involving Andrew Lincoln (stalking?). That said, the rest of it is genuinely funny and heartwarming and, more importantly, it is the one Christmas movie on this list that the whole family will watch !

miracle-on-34th-street

Miracle of 34th Street (1947) – The 1994 Richard Attenborough remake is ok, but the original in black and white (so my kids refuse to watch it) is brilliant. This movie captures the extremes of christmas – what children believe and want and what the commercial interests push. Heart warming and very clever. The court scenes in particular are memorable as Kris Kringle has to show that Santa is real.

muppet-christmas-carolThe Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) – in spite of Michael Caine’s appalling singing voice, this remains the best adaptation of this story. The songs are catchy and fun, as is the blend of human and muppet characters (all of the favourites from the TV series make an appearance) and the film benefits from Miss Piggy having the least screen time of any of her appearances. Genuinely funny and spine tingling in equal measures and a must see every Christmas Eve.

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It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)  – This is my favourite Christmas movie. I shed a tear every single time that I watch this Frank Capra classic. James Stewart never made a better film, and only a person with a heart of stone could fail to be moved by the uplifting ending. The movie emphasises the small acts of kindness that each of us is capable of, and the huge impact they can have on the people around us. It also reminds us what Christmas is about, and I watch this movie any time I want to feel better and restore my faith in human nature. The essential Christmas movie, and one I always watch before everyone else gets up on Christmas Day.

What are your favourite Christmas movies?

The Apprentice 2016 – And the winner is…

The Apprentice 2016 – and the winner is…

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Lord Sugar. Courtesy of bbc.c.uk

The final of The Apprentice 2016 was between novelty-toy designer Courtney Wood and artisan cake designer Alana Spencer. Both had established businesses and both where looking for Lord Sugar to invest the prize money of £250K and take their business onto the next level of success.

The final task followed  the established format; assemble a team made of a motley crew of fired candidates (the ghosts of Christmas past) and market your new business. Specifically, each candidate  had to produce branding, a digital billboards and promotional video and then pitch their idea to business high flyers.

The 2 candidates approached team selection (amusingly in the format of picking football teams in the school playground) in a different way; Alana went to match people to the tasks she needed – Rebecca  Jeffery for marketing, Oliver Nohl-Oser for knowledge of the food industry etc; whereas Courtney went for “personalities”, presumably because he doesn’t have one of his own. This included such emotionally intelligent people as Karthik Nagesan, Jessica Cunningham and Sofiane Khelfa. It was funny, though that Paul Sullivan was the final pick of all, joining Courtney’s team, as back in school days this was usually the least popular person. Even Oliver was  picked before Paul, so that must have hurt his pride. It made me laugh though! Round one to Alana, showing good judgement and leadership in selecting her team.

Here are a few highlights from the team task;

  • Rebecca  (in charge of branding) failing to convince her team (or Alana) that she had any good ideas. Alana came up with the final brand when she decided she needed to put her signature next to the brand name “”Ridiculously Rich”
  • How little time it took for “Mr Angry Paul” to emerge when he failed to get his own way
  • The brand “Purple Whale” for Courtney’s novelty toy range was as imaginative as his toy ideas. It was literally meant nothing and was made up of his favourite animal and colour
  • Neither video was impressive, but there was good branding consistency for Alana, with here introducing and appearing in the finished item
  • Both PMs justified their place in the final (best of a bad lot) demonstrating confidence and decisiveness in their own brands that neither really demonstrated in the rest of the series.

For the pitches, both candidates rehearsed a lot and sought advice. Courtney, most in need of charisma, actually found a coach to build his energy and impact. Both presenters started off nervous, but gradually got into their stride. Neither were brilliant, reinforcing their lack of experience in Corporate life, but both did solid jobs.

“There is something unlikable about Courtney’s approach and I’m not sure he is as nice as he wants us to think. I’m always suspicious of a man in his mid twenties still living at home”

After a bit of feedback from the selected audience, it was into the boardroom. Team members were thanked by Lord Sugar and dispensed with. When asked to convince Lord Sugar to invest in their businesses, both were confident and clear. I expected Lord Sugar to go with the safer option – Purple Whale – as from a business perspective it matched his own approach (see my blog for the semi final) whereas “Ridiculously Rich” might represent more of a risk. I hoped I was wrong, especially when the sneering side of Courtney emerged again (we saw this last week) as he chose to attack Alana’s product as much as promote his own. There is something unlikable about Courtney’s approach and I’m not sure he is as nice as he wants us to think. I’m always suspicious of a man in his mid twenties still living at home. However, this got a robust defence from Alana, something we only saw occasionally throughout the series, and I believe that it won Lord Sugar over. Alana won and was Hired and Lord Sugar’s latest Apprentice (aka Business Partner). Hurrah!

Did the right person win?

Alana is the 6th person to become Lord Sugar’s business partner. I hope the BBC will give us an update on how the previous 5 have succeeded (or not). The viewing figures for this series remain high, so despite it needing a re-vamp, I can’t see the format changing for 13 next year.

The Apprentice 2016 Week 11 – Interviews

biz-planThe Apprentice 2016 Week 11 – Interviews

And so we arrive at the semi-final of this year’s competition, where the final five candidates are cross examined about their business plan, personal life and their pets. This amounts to an hour of brilliant TV (think; an urban “I’m a Celebrity…”) for us and the job interview from hell for them.

It is worth re-visiting my blog for the semi-final of The Apprentice 2015, because I think many of the points I raised there are relevant again. Don’t worry if you can’t be bothered, I’ll summarise them here;

  • This week the business plans get the main focus
  • However, the 4 interviewers also test the resilience of the candidates in the most brutal way
  • If the audience and Lord Sugar saw these plans in Week 1, most of the final 5 would not get to week 2; their plans are over ambitious and poorly thought through

Here is a summary of the performance of the final 5 candidates in the semi final

Grainne McCoy

Make-up studio owner Grainne had possibly the most ambitious business plan – wanting to develop a major brand in Northern Ireland incorporating an Academy, Recruitment Agency and products. This proved to be Grainne’s downfall; way too much ambition, with very little analysis to say how this is possible. Grainne is a great example of the successful sole trader (no employees) who is looking to make the next step but has no idea how to do it. The lack of focus was highlighted and Grainne was reduced to pitching for a mentor to show her the way. A simple test of how well she understands make up products and marketing resulted in an epic fail. The net result was the Grainne was the first of the five to be FIRED.

Jessica Cunningham

Online fashion company owner Jessica wanted to develop her business through celebrity endorsement, something that got thoroughly dissected by the interview panel. In particular, the high monthly costs of paying celebrity’s was highlighted, as was Jessica’s lack of knowledge about the process and costs of upscaling the business. One of the panel, Linda Plant, has specific expertise in this arena and tore Jessica apart. In the boardroom, Jessica was praised for her personal charisma, and the way she has managed to get control of her emotional state as the series has progressed (check out Weeks 2-3 of this year’s competition). In the end this was not enough and Jessica was also FIRED.

Alana Spencer

Cake company owner Alana has grown through the series. Repeatedly overlooked and even dis-respected, in the end for me, of the final five, Alana has impressed the most. Her business plan was thought out and costed and built on expanding her already successful cake company. Again, the biggest concern was around the challenges of distribution as the business expands, but she did have a plan to address this and was looking for Lord Sugar to  provide experience in this area. Alana also withstood the personal attacks and, in particular criticism about not reinvesting in the business (as she wanted to buy a house) as a proxy measure of her lack of commitment. However, her trick of taking each interviewer samples of her product (brownie) was an example of her marketing in action, and it was no surprise that she has QUALIFIED for Sunday’s final.

Frances Bishop

Children’s clothing company owner, Frances, comes with the best established business. There are 4 employees, and the business has progressed well to this level. Frances wants to expand this business into a national brand, and believes there is a niche in the market to do this through out-of-season stock. Unfortunately, the plan that Frances presented lacked detail and even some pages were missing from the Appendix. You can rely on Mike Souter to find this. Although the plan convinced the panel that the business is scalable, Frances struggled to convince Lord Sugar that it was not a risky business. Remember, Sugar likes traditional products, and he is reluctant to invest in something too risky. Frances is also something of a risk, having lost 8/10 tasks in the series. That said, she has always impressed. Last year, Sugar chose an eco-friendly plumbing business (Joseph Valente) over the riskier dating app (Vanya Koutsomitis), so given the alternatives on offer, it was no surprise that Frances was FIRED.

Courtney Wood

Novelty gift company owner Courtney is the least charismatic or engaging of the candidates, and this was repeatedly tested in the interviews. His epic fail on a variation of the “elevator pitch” with Claudine Collins was a reminder that this lad cannot sell, not even when his business life depends upon it. However, in his favour, Courtney has developed a successful business and reinvested his profits into the business (he apparently lives off £8000 p.a so doesn’t even pay tax) and lives in his parent’s house. You could say that his parents are supporting his business, but that’s an argument for another day. Courtney was seen to sneer when Alana was challenged about taking money form the business to help buy a house. That Courtney succeeded was down to him playing the “I’m like you card”. Courtney successfully described his business model in terms that Sugar could identify with (he practically described Amstrad but in the novelty toy market) and he has the development and distribution processes covered, as his brands are already in some high street stores. Mike Souter seemed genuinely tickled by the creativity Courtney showed with the “[Lord] Sugar Dispenser” when asked to come up wit ha product in the interview. Courtney also QUALIFIED for the final.

So, the final of The Apprentice 2016 will be between Alana and Courtney. Of the 2, Alana is the more charismatic, but Courtney has an approach that is built upon Sugar’s own. In terms of business sectors, both are new areas for Sugar, but I expect Courtney to win. I hope I’m wrong, because is performance thought the series hasn’t warranted it. If he is to win, he will have to pitch himself and his ideas in a way we have not seen yet. In this respect, Alana has the edge and I hope she wins.

The Apprentice 2016 Week 10 – Gin

The Apprentice 2016 Week 10 – Gin

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Courtesy of BBC

Lord Sugar mixed up the teams around the final 6 candidates; 5 female (Trishna, Grainne, Frances, Jessica and Alana) and one male (Courtney). The newly configured Titans consisted of Trishna, Frances and Grainne, who took on the PM role. For Nebula, Alana and Courtney battled to be PM, with Jessica casting her vote for Courtney. Not too surprising, considering that Alana is ignored or side tracked on a weekly basis, and Courtney and Jessica had such fun working together on the last task. The irony of the solitary male getting a leadership role was presumably lost of the rest of the team.

The task this week was to create a new designer gin and pitch it to retailers. The team with the most orders would win. The challenge with teams of three is that one member has to work on their own. This is the first big decision for the PM. For Courtney, it was difficult – working with mate Jessica meant that he would have to trust Alana to work on her own. Courtney stated up front that he had a problem with this. Great start! Over in Titans, Frances would work on branding on her own, leaving Grainne & Trishna (GnT) to create the flavour.

Both teams brainstormed what type of gin they wanted to go for. Titans opted for a spice flavouring, whereas Nebula went for a fruit based flavour. The teams split up to complete their tasks. For the design teams, there was access to an expert in blending flavoured gins, yet both teams chose to ignore key bits of advice; Trishna was keen on adding orange colouring to their spicy gin, despite being advised that it is frowned upon. Any colouring should be a result of the flavourings only. Alana opted for Raspberry as a key ingredient (with pink pepper) despite the expert saying he had no experience of using it and did not think it had ever been used!

What followed was a series of incidents that reinforce the mediocre nature of this year’s batch of candidates;

For Titans;

  • Frances chose the name “Colony” and a world map as the major branding. This is at best an insensitive choice
  • GnT consumed so much gin in trying out combinations of flavours that they were inebriated
  • Frances tried 19 times to contact Grainne to get ingredients information for the label. Grainne had left the phone in another room

For Nebula;

  • Despite a raspberry and pink pepper flavour, Courtney and Jessica opted for blue lettering on the bottle
  • C&J opted for “Giin” as the name of the brand, for no discernible reason
  • No one knew how to pronounce “Giin”

Not surprisingly, there was tension in the house at the end of day 1 when the teams got together.

Day 2 was all about pitching to 3 retailers; a supermarket, a chain of pubs and a chain of wine bars. There was also an opportunity to get some market research on the streets of London. Both products got mixed feedback; the colouring in “Colony” was disliked, and the raspberry flavouring of “Giin” was too weak.

In the pitches, for Nebula Alana persuaded Courtney to allow her to co-present, but Courtney took the lead. In all three pitches he was boring, with no charisma, but the product was generally liked, despite the problems with the name and the poor branding. Alana was able to rescue the pitches from “death by Courtney”. Jessica was back to her skittish worst and shared negative market research in one pitch, against the explicit orders of Courtney.

Titans had a better first pitch – Frances was slick, Trishna was detailed, but the colouring remained an issue and the team lied that the colour was natural, not added later. In the second pitch, Grainne led and was completely unstructured. This lit the fuse on Trishna who got increasingly angry. Grainne became defensive and Trishna coerced Frances to finally give Grainne feedback-by-phone about the second pitch – 5 minutes before the 3rd pitch. Titans was no longer a team but 3 individuals fighting to save their own neck.

It was no surprise that Titans lost the task – the product was flawed (good taste but the colouring was a fatal flaw) and the branding was insensitive. In truth, Grainne should have gone as she was so awful as PM . Getting drunk and not having her phone with her when she needed to be contacted would be a sacking offence in the real world. Frances could have gone for her poor branding (and she has lost 8/10 tasks), but it was Trishna who paid the price because she pushed hardest for the colouring. This was possibly harsh, but her negative attitude was cited as another reason. The truth is that Trishna, like Paul before here is only a team player when she is in control. She lacked the behavioural flexibility and persuasive power when she was not in control. This allowed Frances and Grainne to team up against her. Ironic!

In reality, more than one should have gone, but next week is Interview week, and this requires the “Final Five”. Just who from Courtney, Frances, Grainne, Alana and Jessica will win is hard to tell. Of course, the unknown business plans are key, but on the evidence of the series, Alana has impressed most along with Frances, despite her poor track record.