PREVIEW: December 2020

Well, here we are, we are about to enter the home-stretch leading to the end of 2020 (sports are not my area of expertise, so I hope that I used the correct phrase). Needless to say, I am looking forward to 2021, but I am glad that we have December coming up for one reason…CHRISTMAS!!! As a Christian, I love celebrating the birth of Christ every year, and even social distancing regulations cannot dampen my excitement to do so again this year.

December will be a busy month, but I will get new content posted on this blog. I will finish reviewing The Railway Series books to mark the franchise’s 75th anniversary, and I will of course review the new releases which I will be enjoying when cinemas reopen later this week. I will also post some festive content on here too, so keep your eyes peeled.

Thank you as always for visiting this blog and, for the month ahead, I wish you Happy Reading! Most of all though, I hope that you all stay healthy and safe, and that you have a good Christmas!

SHORT FILM: If anything happens I love you (2020, Will McCormack/Michael Govier)

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Animated short If anything happens I love you is distributed by Netflix. The narrative follows two bereaved parents as they mourn their young daughter and think back upon her life, after she is killed in a school shooting moments after sending them a text saying “If anything happens I love you”.

PROS

  • A startlingly raw and honest portrayal of bereavement which examines how we try to suppress our grief while it eats away at us, and in doing this unwittingly push away the people in our lives.
  • In the flashbacks to the daughter’s life, shadows representing the present-day parents look upon the scenes, their reactions representing how we look back in grief with fondness on some moments shared with loved ones, but with a desire to have done things differently upon others.
  • A somewhat simple yet absolutely breathtaking illustrative style of hand-drawn animation tells the narrative through masterful visuals, predominantly in black-and-white to convey the harrowing poignancy of the themes.
  • There is not one iota of dialogue in this short film, and I would not have it any other way as the visuals tell the story perfectly, proving true that age-old phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
  • A very mature approach to the very serious socio-political issues of school shootings and gun control – there is no heavy-handed political argument, rather a raw, honest and hard-hitting depiction of how such incidents can tear families apart and change lives forever.

NITPICKS

  • A genuinely selfish one – I would love it to be slightly longer, as the powerful premise phenomenal art style deserve more time.

VERDICT: 10/10

FILM: Project Power (2020, Henry Joost/Ariel Schulman)

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Project Power is a superhero film from Netflix. In a near-future New Orleans, a pill called “Power” is being dealt by underground drug dealers. Each pill will grant the user superpowers for five minutes at a time, the powers being greatly varied and some capable of killing the pill-taker. To stop the private defence contractor Teleios from mass distributing them, NOPD Detective Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) teams up with ex-soldier Art (Jamie Foxx) and street-smart teenage dealer Robin (Dominique Fishback).

PROS

  • A consistently fast-paced film that is replete with intense energy, and boasts a premise which is an interesting take on the superhero genre that grapples with the theme of human desire for power and self-betterment.
  • The action scenes are directed with real energy and a number of them are well shot and edited with decent CGI, and in some of these moments we see depicted a physical manifestation of the corrupting influence of a sense of power.
  • Three good central performances from Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dominique Fishback, each of whom absolutely throws his-or-herself into their roles with real energy and intensity, which makes for engaging viewing.

CONS

  • The narrative is quite rushed and convoluted, not making the most of its premise, and with ideas aplenty but little substance to many of them – most notably in the lacklustre efforts at commenting on modern-day race-relations.
  • Some of the action scenes are not enjoyable to watch, due to convoluted on-screen content, some distracting shaky-cam and rather poor CGI.
  • Generally weak characterisation, with the backstories of the main characters being touched upon with a slight lack of detail, and all of the characters feel somewhat surface-level, and underwhelming supporting characters.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: Misbehaviour (2020, Philippa Lowthorpe)

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Historical comedy-drama Misbehaviour is distributed by Pathé. The film tells the true story of the 1970 Miss World Competition which took place in London and was hosted by Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear). Appalled by the way in which the competition objectifies women as sexual objects with no real value, the newly formed Women’s Liberation Movement begin planning to disrupt the competition and its live broadcast. However, they do it with no consideration for Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Miss Africa South (Loreece Harrison), for whom being the first black women in the competition is an enormous deal, despite the competition’s flaws.

PROS

  • The overall narrative arc follows a familiar formula to most feel-good British films of this type, the screenwriters implementing it well and director Philippa Lowthorpe applying it in a manner which is concise and engaging.
  • The film takes time to establish distinct personalities for the characters and give viewers reasons to invest in the women, and the fact that there has been good historical research comes through in the multi-faceted narrative’s detail.
  • A handsomely framed film by cinematographer Zac Nicholson, it is also a very well designed film, with a lot of attention-to-detail in the period authentic production design, costume designs and mise-en-scene.

CONS

  • There are no bad performances, but when the cast includes Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Greg Kinnear and Leslie Manville, the fact that there are no particularly memorable performances is disappointing.
  • The discussions around race-relations, both between individuals and within a nation do feel somewhat surface-level, which reflects the fact that the screenplay as a whole feels like it is being played safe.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Horrid Henry’s Gross Day Out (2020, Gary Andrews)

Horrid Henry's Gross Day Out Poster

Horrid Henry’s Gross Day Out is a Netflix original spin-off to the CITV cartoon series. Horrid Henry (Lizzie Waterworth-Santo) plans to spend Saturday watching a Gross Class Zero marathon. Worlds collide though, when the characters come to life and through his TV screen, taking him on an adventure.

CONS

  • The fundamental issue is that this is a Horrid Henry film, yet Henry feels like a supporting character in his own film.
  • Too much reliance on toilet and gross-out humour, which make up most of the gags, leaving nothing for children who dislike that type of humour to laugh at.
  • The design and animation quality of the Gross Class Zero characters is notably inferior to that of the rest of the film, standing out like a sore thumb.
  • The sense of the franchise’s running gags reflecting a child’s imagination are gone here, taking away the clever nuances which had once existed.

PROS

  • The narrative and pacing boast good energy, the film staying fast-paced which will help keep the target audience engaged.

VERDICT: 2/10

FILM: Horrid Henry’s Wild Weekend (2020, Dave Unwin)

Horrid Henry: Wild Weekend Poster

Horrid Henry’s Wild Weekend is a Netflix original spin-off to the CITV cartoon series. Horrid Henry (Lizzie Waterworth-Santo) and his classmates are selected for the Brainbox Competition, where they will go up against Henry’s cousin/nemesis Stuck-up Steve (Joanna Ruiz) and his friends. Meanwhile, Perfect Peter (Emma Tate) is looked after by Great-Aunt Greta (Tamsin Heatley) for the weekend, and they have a blast together.

PROS

  • The end of the film conveys to young viewers that it is better to forgive those who wrong you than to hold a grudge against them.
  • Good energy to the narrative and pacing will keep the target audience engaged, and there are a couple of good self-aware gags to amuse parents.

CONS

  • The film is just under an hour long – a concise length for kids to watch, but too short for a film with two parallel plotlines.
  • The aforementioned point is made more blatant by the semi-regular cutaways to the pointless ongoing joke of the parents being stuck in traffic.
  • Has the same key issue as the wider franchise as it implies to children that you can only really have one characteristic at a time.
  • The major issue is that the film treats children as idiotic, which is made most apparent by the continuity error and ridiculous mathematics in the climax.

VERDICT: 3/10

LITERATURE: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886)

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British horror novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (yes, the lack of perfect grammar in that title does bug me) was originally published by Longmans, Green & Co. Lawyer Gabriel John Utterson begins investigating the strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the evil Mr. Edward Hyde. However, the truth of the relationship between the pair is something which Utterson could never foresee, as his investigation leads to some shocking revelations.

Okay, if you do not know what the shocking revelation is then that does raise the question of where you have been for the last 130+ years…

PROS

  • Robert Louis Stevenson has a descriptive yet concise writing style, with which he brings an eerily dark and mysterious quality to the novella, that (along with some real shock value) gets the reader invested very early on.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson realises Utterson’s investigations well, by gradually giving clues that point towards the final revelation, and also gives the lawyer an excellent motive for pursuing his investigation.
  • In the polar opposites that are Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson engages with the theme of duality, presenting a unique pondering on how within everyone there is an inner battling raging between good and evil.
  • Through the totally different personas of Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson crafts a clever allegory for how our public personas can wholly contrast our private personas, and how absolutely anyone can have that.

CONS

  • Ultimately this novella could easily have been expanded and fleshed out well into a full novel, as is most evident from its condensed, slightly rushed prose.
  • The first two-thirds are in third-person, the final-third in first through letters, making for a jarringly inconsistent writing style for the narrative.

VERDICT: 8/10

The Apprentice: Super Sellers

There is only one reality television series which I watch, and that is The Apprentice. I have been a huge fan for a number of years, but unfortunately COVID-19 has delayed the production of Series 16 until next year, otherwise it would be airing right now. As such, now seems like a great opportunity to look back at some of the best and worst moments of the first 15 series.

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In this post, I am going to list my Top 10 salespeople from the last 15 series of the business-based programmes. Every year there have been good salespersons, some of whom are far more memorable than others, either due to their sales personas or the sheer amount that they manage to sell in a short space of time. I will, however, restrict myself to one salesperson from each series, as some had multiple stand-out sellers.

10) Jessica Cunningham (Series 12)

Fashion entrepreneur Jessica was easily one of Series 12’s most memorable candidates due to a big personality and frankly hyperactive levels of energy. In the first 2 weeks, Lord Sugar’s aide Karren Brady had to tell her multiple times to take a breath and calm herself. Therefore, it was an incredible surprise when she became the top seller in Liberty Department Store during Week 4. She was much calmer, with warmth and passion coming through, and her teammates Sofiane and Samuel (who believed themselves to be superior salespersons) realised that she was a salesforce to be reckoned with. Jessica continued to sell well throughout the process with a confident, passionate technique.

9) Mark Wright (Series 10)

Eventual winner of Series 10, digital marketer and sales manager Mark was a natural salesman. The young Australian sold with great confidence and a real charm which won over all customers, from market shoppers to representatives of nationwide organisations. He may have stumbled quite badly during his pitch in Week 10, but that was not enough to stop Mark from being the most dependable and successful salesperson of Series 10. Over the 10 week process, he successfully sold everything from scented candles to tours of Oxford, from quite possibly the worst board game ever to £3,000 hot tubs, all with real confidence and charisma.

8) Thomas Skinner (Series 15)

Having started out his working life on market stalls, pillow company owner Thomas certainly had a bit of the Del-Boy streak to him. The Essex-born chap was very friendly and approachable in his salesmanship and very passionate about the products he was selling. He was top seller of his team’s Safari tours in Week 1 and sold vast amounts of multi-coloured lycra in Week 4, but Thomas will be most remembered for his sales of ice lollies in Week 2. He proved a natural at selling to the public, with a cheeky charm and the gift of the gab, and he showed real maturity in his salesmanship as he clearly read his customers well – almost half of his team of seven’s takings were from his sales. As such, it was no wonder that he became the most memorable candidate of Series 15.

7) Tre Azam (Series 3)

While fellow semi-finalist and eventual runner-up Kristina Grimes proved herself to be a confident and ruthless saleswoman time and again, marketing consultant Tre was another standout seller throughout the process. He was a sales asset to his team on every task, selling with confidence and success – his saving grace as his short temper and argumentative nature often rubbed his teammates up the wrong way. However, Tre excelled most in his calm and confident selling of art to the public. He proved himself to have the gift of the gab, as he did interpretive explanations of the pieces without pausing to think, which were fascinating to watch. Fellow semi-finalist and eventual winner Simon Ambrose was spot-on when he described Tre as a “master bullsh*tter”.

6) Alex Wotherspoon (Series 4)

While fellow finalists Lee McQueen and Claire Young also received regular praise for their sales abilities, regional sales manager Alex was the standout salesperson of Series 4. Scoffingly and condescendingly branded a gritty salesman by barrister Nicholas de Lacy-Brown in Week 1, Alex was not gritty as (unlike Lee and Claire) he tended not to go for the hard sale, selling instead with a quiet confidence and a unique, almost flirtatious charm, which reaped huge figures. He sold fish very well in Week 1; of the £1,900 of cheap wedding dresses his team sold in Week 8, he sold around £1,500 worth; and of the roughly £11,800 of sports car rentals that his team sold in Week 10, he sold £8,000. As such, Alex proved himself a natural and versatile salesman and proved that the hard sell is not always needed.

5) Kayode Damali (Series 14)

While fellow candidates Jackie Fast and Daniel Elahi racked up some excellent sales figures, professional speaker Kayode was the most memorable salesperson of Series 14. His natural salesmanship first shone in Week 3 when he sold vile-looking doughnuts for £5 each, approaching members of the public with his engaging, friendly and unassuming personality, gift of the gab and a winning smile which could charge the National Grid. Lord Sugar’s aide Claude Littner praised Kayode for his sales skills, describing him as “a marvel”, and the year’s bromance was born in that moment. The following week, Kayode excelled in selling massages at a fitness expo and, when he took to the stage to promote the massage service and the saunas which the other half of his team were selling, Claude looked at him like a proud father.

4) Adam Corbally (Series 8)

Green grocer and market trader Adam had the most sales experience of any of that year’s candidates, having been doing it for a living for 14 years. Northerner Adam had a very likeable personality, sold with passion and worked hard in every task. He was easily the best salesperson of Series 8, with stand-out figures on every sales task. The market selling task of Week 7 saw him in his element, but he proved his versatility the following week when he sold large amounts of fine art, and again the following week when he pitched confidently about English sparkling wine. Not only was Adam a likeable salesman, but he was the ideal mould as he could adapt his technique and patter, depending on who he was selling to, learning and becoming even more confident throughout the process.

3) Jim Eastwood (Series 7)

By the time that Series 7 came around, Lord Sugar’s boardroom had seen more than its fair share of confident salespeople, but nobody did it quite like sales and market manager Jim. He really was a man who could sell ice to eskimos, leading to his teammates becoming incredibly dependent on him in the very first task, as he sold and negotiated with a calm confidence. Jim was the top seller in that first week, salvaged a pitch fluffed by teammate Vincent the following week, and sold and negotiated consistently well for the rest of the process, excelling most in Week 9 by securing an order for 800,000 packets of biscuits. He certainly had the Irish charm and could even sell himself – he talked project manager Leon out of bringing him back to the boardroom in Week 2, which left Lord Sugar stunned and the public nicknaming him “Jedi Jim”.

2) Paul Torrisi (Series 1)

For the runner-up on this list, we have to go all the way back to the very beginning, and I mean the very beginning. Property developer Paul was an excellent salesman during the very first series, proving to be a real asset to his team in sales tasks – in many ways that was his saving grace, as when he was not selling he did rub some of his teammates up the wrong way due to his blunt and at times aggressive personality (he clashed with fellow semi-finalist and eventual runner-up Saira Khan multiple times). Paul was a man with the gift of the gab, able to think on his feet and schmooze just about anyone, and he proved that in Week 1 when he charmingly sold flowers to (among others) pensioners, painters and decorators, and traffic wardens. In that very first episode, he set the bar for what it means to be a super seller on The Apprentice.

1) Ruth Badger (Series 2)

While Paul Torrisi was the original super seller on The Apprentice, it was sales manager Ruth (a.k.a. The Badger) who proved that he was not a one-off. While fellow semi-finalists Paul Tulip and Ansell Henry were also outstanding sellers during Series 2, eventual runner-up Ruth became a bookie’s favourite very early on, due to the fact that she was a straight-talking, highly confident and absolutely determined saleswoman, with the gift of the gab and a charismatic personality. Ruth proved that she could sell just about anything, from fruit and vegetables to second-hand cars and property rentals. In Week 7 she let her sense of awe around Sir Philip Green (this was in 2006, before he became so controversial) get the better of her when selling in Topshop (she held her hands up to that), but that did not deter her – she led her team to victory the following week in a selling to trade task, and remained a strong seller after that. Fourteen years later, if you ask any long-term Apprentice fan who the memorable salespeople are, chances are that Ruth will be one of the first that they mention.

LITERATURE: Branch Line Engines (The Rev. W. Awdry, 1961)

British children’s book Branch Line Engines is the sixteenth in The Railway Series and was originally published by Edmund Ward. On the railway on the Island of Sodor, Thomas, Percy and Toby work hard on the branch line, but problems do occur, some being common occurrences on branch lines, some being of their own inadvertent making, and they will have to do their part to help Daisy the diesel railcar settle in.

PROS

  • A quirky and concise writing style which compliments the quaint and at times quite fun narrative rather well.
  • The narrative has a uniquely charming quaintness and mundanity, and reflects well Reverend Awdry’s love for branch lines.
  • In creating Daisy the diesel railcar, Reverend Awdry realistically reflected the ever-changing and developing world of British rail vehicles.
  • Teaches young children about the importance of teamwork, and (through Daisy) the foolhardiness of being snobbish and arrogant.

CONS

  • Raises far more inconsistencies and continuity errors regarding the engines’ true dependence on their drivers and firemen than previous books.
  • Daisy does have a redemption arc, but it is very rushed, having been shoehorned in during the final pages and would benefit from more focus.

VERDICT: 7/10

LITERATURE: The Twin Engines (The Rev. W. Awdry, 1960)

British children’s book The Twin Engines is the fifteenth in The Railway Series and was originally published by Edmund Ward. When the Fat Controller purchases a goods engine from Scotland, he gets the surprise of his life when two engines – twins Donald and Douglas – arrive. He gives them both a trial, his intention being to keep the one at the end. However, the twins set out to prove that they are both really useful engines, in the hopes that they can both stay.

PROS

  • A generally concise and quirky writing style, which compliments well the fun narrative and the mostly well-realised humorous moments.
  • Donald and Douglas have fun and quirky personalities, and their dynamic with the pre-established characters is developed well over the narrative’s course.
  • Teaches children about business logistics, such as expanding workforces and recognising assets, in an accessible manner.

CONS

  • The twins and their drivers speak in a Scottish dialect that is very stereotypical and which children would struggle to understand in the slightest.
  • The threat of scrap as a child-friendly metaphor for death is incorporated in the closing pages, in a contrived manner which lacks any weight or substance.

VERDICT: 6/10