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.

its-a-wonderful-life

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?

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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

lord-sugar4

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.

 

The Apprentice 2016 Week 9 -The Butler did it

The Apprentice 2016 Week 9 – The Butler did it

vrWith each passing week it gets harder to identify who will eventually triumph in this year’s The Apprentice. This is not because of the high calibre of the candidates, but rather because at different times, each one has a good claim to be the most incompetent. It reminds me of a whodunnit, where the murderer is hidden in plain sight but you’ll never guess who it is. It will probably turn out that the butler did it!

The task this week was to design a new virtual reality game and pitch it at the London ComicCon event to leading industry figures and the public.

 

“Dillon was not happy, and this was exasperated when Sofiane chose to put him in charge of designing the game”

After some minor adjustments to the team, Lord Sugar seemed to suggest that Sofiane and Trishna take on the PM roles for Titans and Nebula respectively. Clearly feeling he was on a roll after last week’s victory, Dillon put up a strong bid to lead Titans and the task seemed to play to his experience (branding, design) but the rest of the team seemed to take Sugar’s hint and went with Sofiane based on his claim to have been successful in this area. Dillon was not happy, and this was exasperated when Sofiane chose to put him in charge of designing the game rather than the branding that he wanted to do, and would have been a natural choice to do.

In Nebula, Trishna appointed Courtney and Jessica to design the game, with herself and Frances focusing on branding. Both teams had brainstorming sessions to agree on ideas

At this stage of proceedings with only 4 members in each team there is nowhere to hide and each team member has to stand up and be counted. In Titans, Dillon channelled his frustration into designing another under water theme, this time a puzzle game involving collecting shells to make a bigger shell. Alana seemed to realise that it was aimed at 3 year olds, but she failed to assert herself and Dillon ignored or over ruled her at each stage.  They ended up with a game called “Magic Shells” and a hero called Coral Kid. What is it with the Dillon and the sea??

In Nebula, Jessica and Courtney certainly had fun as they went for something that would stand out from the competition. They succeeded with “Gordon’s lost his badger”, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

The challenge for the branding teams was to bring to life ideas fleshed out by the design team but that they had not contributed to. This led to frustration for both PMs as they were stuck with products they didn’t exactly believe in. Trishna in particular made this frustration clear, but both she and Sofiane adopted autocratic “It’ll be alright on the night if we just believe in it” approaches.

In the end, although success needs a clear strategy, a shared vision, communication and trust are needed for success it was the quality of each product that determined success. Just as well, as none of the above list were immediately apparent.

Delegating tasks for the pitches and sticking to the script proved crucial. For Titans, Sofiane led the pitch but immediately went off script totally confusing his team, and Grainne was the wrong choice to demonstrate the VR game. Trishna wisely put Jessica up front because she is at least engaging, and after a poor start quickly hit her stride. Why Courtney took a back seat role here was unclear.

In the boardroom it was revealed that Nebula won comfortably, with 5/7 experts liking the idea. Titans got 0/7. Of 300 public votes, Nebula got 222. It was amazing to hear Trishna take credit for the success, despite rubbishing everybody else’s ideas throughout. This was noted by her team mates.

Given the obvious tension between Sofiane and Dillon, it only remained for him to decide who else to bring back. Alana was spared and this was probably a wise decision as she had made a good contribution. She just needs to be more assertive. So Grainne, Dillon and Sofiane made up the final 3. Dillon was fired first for the game design, which was down to him, despite Alana’s ignored pleas. Dillon has consistently demonstrated an inability to listen to other people and an over inflated opinion of his own creative abilities. It was right that he was fired, but equally Sofiane had to go as his autocratic leadership was equally appalling. Grainne was lucky to survive. A double firing for the second time in the series.

As we go into the last 3 weeks we have 6 candidates remaining; 5 female and one male (Courtney). As I said before, there is no obvious best candidate. Jessica seems to have got control of her emotions and is one to watch, but the final scene as she forlornly hoped that best mate Dillon had survived were the highlight of this vey mediocre series.