Thursday, 23 May 2013

Thoughts on Woolwich

N.B. this is not supposed to be a well rounded argument on the pros and cons of capital punishment, but rather my brief personal thoughts

When I saw the photo of Lee Rigby this afternoon, something struck me with a power and emotional charge I was not expecting.  In that moment, what I wanted very clearly was for the men who had perpetrated this cowardly act to be put to death.

I have always been against capital punishment, and I believe I still am, but in that instance all rational thought was put to one side. On brief reflection I still think this is right, even if this case does stretch the boundaries of the arguments against capital punishment.

The strongest argument (to my mind) against capital punishment is that there is always some uncertainty of guilt which capital punishment does not allow for.  However, in this case (and with the Dale Cregan case as well) there seems to be little, if any uncertainty, that they are guilty, given that their actions were caught on camera, as where their boasts about committing the act.

There are clearly many more arguments than the one above for and against capital punishment, but I think in many ways, it comes down to the morals held by us as individuals and as a society overall.  I personally dislike the idea of us condemning these men to death and don't feel that it is society's place to rule over life and death in this way.

My thoughts, feelings and beliefs with regard to organised religion (and spirituality more generally) could occupy a whole library and I find myself very uncertain with regard to it.  However, thinking about this topic draws to mind one particular verse, namely Hebrews 10:30:

"Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord."

In which case, we should not execute these men, but leave them to the Lord's judgement.

Lee Rigby, may you rest in peace and rise in glory.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Review: Skyfall

Ah, James Bond films.  The source of so many dreams and fantasies over the years, and yet so many of the films are really not very good.  I'm unsure that I would feel any great loss if all the Roger Moore films were lost, nor for that matter the last two Pierce Brosnan films (Tomorrow Never Dies was the first Bond film I remember seeing and therefore is held with a special affection, regardless of it's actual quality).

This changed with Casino Royale, the last of the original Ian Fleming novels to be made into an official Bond film.  In the place of ridiculous invisible cars was a tighter sexier Bond film, more suited to the modern age.  However, the follow up to this glorious rebirth was the disappointing Quantum of Solace, which seemed to lack either the tight suspense of it's immediate predecessor or the ridiculous hijinks of the earlier films.  I must confess I remember very little of the film, other than being at the time disappointed that Gemma Arteton didn't get more screen time.

Which brings me to the latest offering - Skyfall.  Expectations have been running high for the film, and certainly it has been heavily promoted.  Personally, I was excited by the involvement of a "proper" director in Sam Mendes, alongside what is possibly the strongest ever cast for a Bond film, with Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem joining regulars Judi Dench and Daniel Craig.  

I'm pleased to say that for me, Skyfall not only met, but (for the most part) exceeded these expectations.  The movie opens with a well paced action sequence, that more importantly is well shot (unlike a lot of action films) so that one can easily tell what is going on.  This sets the tone for the rest of the film.  I cannot commend Sam Mendes highly enough for his choice of shots throughout the film. Each shot seemed to have been chosen with a care and attention to detail that is rare in so many films nowadays, and almost unheard of in a Bond film.

Equally matched is the story.  I will refrain from saying really any more  for fear of spoiling anyone's experience other than to say that it is utterly thrilling and suspenseful to the end. (This is my first ever review, and I'm terrified of revealing some crucial plot point by accident, so I'm just going to leave it there).

Much has been written about the performances of the lead actors, particularly Javier Bardem and his performance truly is brilliant.  It is no hyperbole to describe him as one of the best (the best?) Bond villans ever.  His opening piece (featured in some of the trailers) is amazing, one long shot as he walks slowly from the back of the room towards Bond (and the camera).  As he slowly comes into focus he tells this anecdote from his childhood about rats.  This monologue is so wonderfully done, not over played, but suitably creepy to maintain the tension.  The dialogue that follows with Bond still brings a smile to my face now.  At times he almost seemed to be channelling Heath Ledger's Joker, and I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.

Mention should also go to the performances of two supporting actors: Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw.  I'm a big fan of Ralph Fiennes, and he plays his part well.  I have a peculiar thing for his eyes - to me he seems to be able to convey so much in a single look, which I find utterly fascinating.  Ben Whishaw, marks the return of Q.  This however is a Q for the modern age, one more adept at computers and a complete (and I suspect self-confessed) nerd.  Q shows up the lighter side of this film, which is very enjoyable but, more importantly, still fits with the tone of the rest of the film.  He is also exceptionally good looking, if Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem wasn't enough for people.

There are two things for me that stop the film from reaching the true heights of greatness.  The first has been well covered, and that is product placement.  I'm not personally bothered by product placement, and the fuss that has been made over Bond drinking a certain brand of beer seems to be unwarranted.  At the point in the film when the product is featured, it is entirely appropriate that Bond isn't drink Martini's and it fits the film find.  However, there is one shot early on where Bond checks the time on his watch.  The camera then lingers for an excessive length of time on this watch.  From memory this is fairly close to the start of the film, and it just sticks out so inappropriately, that it stuck irritatingly in my mind for the rest of the film.  Other than one incident though, I don't think the product placement is a big issue, and certainly not as big as some people have tried to make it.

The bigger bugbear for me is the dialogue.  In a couple of scenes, and one in particular, the dialogue is really quite clunky and spoilt what were otherwise brilliant scenes.  The scene where this was most evident was a scene where Bond is sat at a bar with Sévérine.  At this point who Sévérine is, and what her motives are, and it's quite a tense scene.  The scene is beautifully shot and lit, and could have come out of Lost in Translation.  But.   The dialogue is forced and clunky, and sadly destroys much of the suspense in the scene. Having said this, a lot of the time the dialogue was of a very high standard, the first scene with Javier Bardem being a case in point, and there are some wonderful one liners, which I won't repeat here.  In comparison to previous Bond films the dialogue is certainly as good and (probably) superior.

Overall an excellent film and highly recommended.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A second first blog post

Right, my spectacular failure to follow through on the previous post is quite embarrassing, but here goes for a second attempt at a blog.

My biggest problem seems to be deciding what to write about, and trying not to descend into some angst ridden post that would be better suited to a My Chemical Romance forum.  However, I'm determined to start writing both to improve my writing and to help me understand my thought processes.  Also, in the words of a good friend, it will hopefully prove to be a nice place to store some "random mad thoughts".

Having said this the first one has turned out to be quite heavy, but it's what's frequently on my mind at the moment for better or worse....

Anyway, I'm having a better weekend than expected.  Last week I picked up some horrid throat/sinus infection which has now spread down into my chest.  Hence I've been eating crap all week and generally feeling rubbish.  It's also meant that this weekend's plans of exercise and lunch with family have had to be cancelled.  So all in all it seemed likely this would be a weekend to write off...

But, in actually fact it's been ok.  Forcing myself to relax and chill has left me feeling quite well in spite of a hacking cough.  I've started re-reading Questionable Content once again, which is always fun, and is quite good for my general mood, mixed in with actually listening to a whole load of music (as opposed to just having something on in the car while driving), which I just don't feel like I've had time for recently.

This is both pleasing and surprising.  As some of you are aware I've been seeing a counsellor for nearly a year to try and resolve long standing mental health issues.  Having now scraped away at the detritus floating around in my head fora while it appears I have issues with both Anxiety and Dysthymia (chronic depression).  To combat this I'm going to counselling and also trying Cognitive Therapy, which is about understanding how I think, and how my thoughts impact and frame my moods.

The pleasing and surprising thing therefore about this weekend is how I'm framing it in my mind.  Previously, old Chris would have seen this as a wasted weekend, probably done very little of any consequence (personal or otherwise), and gone into next week feeling depressed at what would feel like yet another wasted weekend.  Instead, I've managed to frame the weekend as something useful and constructive, and therefore feel much happier about it, and I'm in a frame of mind which should allow the week ahead to be constructive.

This is all part of the Cognitive Therapy.  The idea behind CT is that:

1.  Things happen in the world that you're affected by - both positive and negative things, as well as neutral things.
2.  You interpret these events with your thoughts, generating an "internal dialogue"
3.  From this internal dialogue flows the feelings that make up your mood.

Mental health issues occur when you consistently interpret the events in the world inaccurately leading to an "abnormal" internal dialogue. This isn't to say that something is broken, rather that the calibration is wrong, like a poorly tuned radio that constantly crackles.  The aim of CT is to retune the radio to eliminate the crackling. (My source for this is the excellent "Feeling Good" by David Burns).

The aim therefore is not to build a Panglossian thought process, but rather one that generates appropriate thoughts (and by extension moods) depending on the stimuli.  Trust me when I say this is easier said than done, especially after years of not thinking appropriately, and trying to convince yourself that it's just a case of being weak minded, and if you could only pull up your socks and stop being pathetic that everything would be ok.

Why talk about this now?   Firstly, it's something that is frequently on my mind, and therefore it feels good to share it, and put it out there in the open.  Secondly, hearing people like Alistair Campbell talk about his own mental health issues has been an incredible help in the last 18 months, as I've come to realise I need and then sought out, treatment.  Now that I can see something that might be a light at the end of this particular tunnel, I believe it's important that I tell my own tale, just in case it helps someone else.

I suspect this won't be the last I have to say about the matter, as it's highly unlikely to resolve itself overnight, and hopefully as I travel along this path, I'll have more to say on the matter (as well as developing an opinion as to whether CT actually works!).

I think that's enough for now though.  Please do comment if the mood takes you, and try to remember that life ain't so bad (myself included).


Sunday, 12 February 2012


The idea of this blog is to document my thoughts and opinions on various arty things – I think predominantly films, but also concerts etc. as the mood takes me.

I guess in some ways these will be reviews, but I’m not currently planning to use any sort of rating system, other than through the general tone of the review.  Maybe this is a little cowardly, but I personally think that ratings are often too simplistic.  For instance I recently saw both Shame and The Artist, both of which I thought were very powerful and if I were to rate them, would both score very highly.  However, one is a heart-warming life-affirming film about friendship, and the other is a relentless tale of addiction.  Both are brilliant, but I couldn’t honestly say I enjoyed watching Shame - it was difficult and painful (I may write a separate article on it, though it is now a couple of weeks since I saw it) but equally I was glad to have seen it, both for the examination of addiction but also for some powerful performances.  In my opinion to measure these movies against each other on the same linear scale is nonsensical and potentially misleading.  Instead my intention is that my description and thoughts within a post should provide an indication, and readers can make their own decision.

I think in part that it was watching these two films within a few days of each other that started the thought process that led to starting this blog.  I enjoy art in its many forms but have found I struggle at times to express coherently opinions on what I watch, hear and see.  The hope is that by committing words to (virtual) paper I will better understand my thoughts and will learn to communicate them better.  To that end, I would welcome any feedback readers may have on both my opinions and my writing style, in the hope of improving them.