PREVIEW: March 2022

A fair amount of content has been blogged this past month, and I am still to get up reviews for my recent viewings of Cyrano, The Duke and Studio 666 – they are coming soon! I have a number of cinema trips planned for March 2022, including The Batman, Ali & Ava, The Phantom of the Open, Operation Fortune: Ruse De Guerre, Ambulance, The Worst Person in the World and Red Rocket. I will endeavour to review all of these plus some more films – time permitting of course! I will also continue to do weekly posts on the latest episode of The Apprentice Series 16, whilst continuing my series of posts reflecting on past series (UK)/seasons (US).

Thank you for continuing to visit this blog and, as ever, for the month ahead I wish you Happy Reading and good health!

Top 5 Candidates of The Apprentice Series 10

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Continuing my series of Apprentice posts to mark the long-awaited return for the UK Apprentice, I am now revisiting Series 10 of the British Apprentice, a.k.a. Nick Hewer’s final series. Gosh, that was a long time ago! Originally airing from October-December 2014, 20 candidates entered to win Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment into a 50-50 business partnership. Of those 20, some naturally stood out more than others and with presences that I liked more than others. It is worth clarifying that these are my favourite candidates rather than the candidates who did best (or showed the most competency). Before writing on my Top 5, there are some who just missed out, so here are the…

Honourable Mentions

  • Roisin Hogan (4th): poised, articulate and genuinely calm and lovely, she subverted the serious accountant type she came across as by proving to be highly creative. A favourite to win, but let down by a poor business plan.
  • Solomon Akhtar (5th): an excitable puppy who had a wholesome bromance with James and got absolutely shredded by Claude Littner in the semi-final/interview stage.
  • Pamela Uddin (11th): a genuinely sweet person who brought great enthusiasm to the tasks and was an all-round hard worker.
  • Sarah Dales (14th): an undeserving winning PM in Week 1 who suggested her team should win by wearing short skirts and make-up, and who lived on her own planet, which proved quite amusing to watch.
  • Steven Ugoalah (15th): the passive-aggressive and outspoken Canadian social worker was an incredibly hilarious bull in a china shop to watch.

5) Daniel Lassman (3rd)

Daniel was his team’s top seller in Week 1 and went on to let that go to his head, despite making some catastrophic blunders in Week 2, leading to him becoming very arrogant, made worse when he won as PM in Week 5. He clashed a lot with his team that week and entered a real enmity with Mark, and this attitude to others continued for a while, leading to even the super-calm Felipe losing his cool with Daniel in Week 8. Lord Sugar also gave him a dressing-down that week, and it was an utter delight to see Daniel take it on board and become a changed man, being respectful to everyone, being an excellent PM in Week 9, and his enmity with Mark ending, to never be any worse than a rivalry again – a wonderful arc indeed, which he became a better person for.

4) Katie Bulmer-Cooke (7th)

Katie was another candidate who threw herself into the process with bags of energy, but was also one of the few candidates who did not blow her own trumpet unnecessarily. She was a very hard grafter and brought real enthusiasm to every task, plus she had a good business brain and brought a lot of common sense to the table. Subsequently she delivered results by selling and pitching well with an amiable and approachable style, and was also a very decisive PM in Week 3, for which she was a very deserving winner. Furthermore, Katie also treated others with respect and warmth, and was one of the only candidates capable of calling others out for their mistakes or behaviour in a gentle manner, and was even a motherly figure in the house as she frequently tried to break up the arguments between other candidates.

3) Mark Wright (Winner)

Although a tad blunt when the need arose, Australian and eventual winner Mark was a bit of a breath of fresh air from the start as he was the type of candidate who just got on with his job to a very high standard, without making a big song and dance of it. He brought common sense and great ideas to the table, and most of all he was an outstanding salesman, successfully selling (amongst other things) £3,000 hot tubs and quite possibly the all-time worst board game. Although a charming guy, Mark made for especially interesting viewing when he ended up in an enmity-turned-rivalry with Daniel. Despite losing 7/10 tasks, he was a favourite to win as he was responsible for much of what his team did well, and his outstanding business plan proved him to be a deserving winner, and his and Lord Sugar’s SEO business Climb Online has gone on to be a huge success.

2) James Hill (9th)

An incredibly excitable man bordering on hyperactive, James made himself stand out from the start due to the bags of energy he threw himself into the tasks with, but did not always channel properly (he did irritate other candidates and even Lord Sugar by interrupting them in the early weeks), but he was a hard grafter and an excellent salesman. Whilst very entertaining to watch, James did also like to play the class clown role just a bit too much, leading to Lord Sugar giving him a very stern warning in Week 5, which James did actually listen to! He was a good (winning) PM in Week 6 and came up with the branding idea that won his team Week 7’s task. Lord Sugar and us the viewers respected the fact that he was working to change and improve himself, and his passion could not be faulted, so much so that Lord Sugar was visibly sad to have to fire him for some very costly mistakes.

1) Felipe Alviar-Baquero (8th)

The first Colombian candidate since Series 1, Felipe stood out from the rest of the men as he was not trying to be an alpha male or bragging about how great her was or being argumentative with others – bar the aforementioned time he lost his cool with Daniel. Felipe was a very level-headed and calm chap and also the ultimate nice guy of the series, treating others with respect and kindness, and was willing to do just about anything for the team – he uncomplainingly took on the “Fat Daddy” role in Week 4. He was also almost a father figure to the rest of the house by frequently cooking meals for everyone off-task, fussing over the other men’s appearances (even tying Solomon’s tie for him), and would try to diffuse tension in the house, making him a true breath of fresh air. He also had a very sweet and endearing quality to him – best seen in Weeks 5 and 7 (the latter of which he went into Spielberg mode in a wonderful fashion).

Top 5 Tasks of The Apprentice Series 9

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Continuing my series of Apprentice posts to mark the long-awaited return for the UK Apprentice, it is time for me to finish revisiting Series 9 of the British Apprentice. Originally airing from May-July 2013 (gosh, that was a long time ago!), the candidates did an initial 10 business-related tasks in their efforts to win Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment into a 50-50 business partnership. Of those 10, some naturally stood out more than others and were more interesting and (in some cases) entertaining for me. It is worth clarifying that these are my favourite tasks and, before writing on my Top 5, there are some which just missed out, so here are the…

Honourable Mentions

  • Dating Websites (Task 8): watching the two teams create 30 second adverts for their dating websites was hilarious and cringy, and we had an Apprentice first when Jason resigned as PM mid-task after being bullied by Luisa.
  • Ready Meals (Task 9): an important lesson was taught in how a product will not sell if the branding is bad, no matter how much the focus group like the product itself.

5) Container (Task 1)

Both teams had a shipping container filled with goods in bulk (including cat food, toilet roll, bottled water and leather jackets), which they had a day to sell in London. Despite people constantly talking over PM Jason, the boys did very well – largely down to sub-team leader Neil; whilst the girls were led appallingly by the unorganised Jaz, but the sub-team did very well under Leah’s leadership. Neither team sold out of everything, but the boys won by around £58 as they focused on bulk sales, which proved a very effective and logical strategy due to the time constraints. A fairly simple first task, but an interesting one as both teams tried to figure out their dynamics.

4) Smell What Sells (Task 10)

Back for a third consecutive year, Lord Sugar gave each team £150 to invest in stock to sell at a market stall, and then reinvest their profits in more stock to sell (and here was the twist) in a shop the next day. Led by Luisa, Evolve focused on fashion accessories that sold like hot cakes, and Luisa was a very calm, level-headed PM who treated her team with respect (a big contrast to her PM work in Week 4), and she did a consistently strong job. Endeavour opted for high price, quirky ceramics which were quite good pieces artistically, but did not sell well at £20 each in a market where (as Karren Brady put it) you could buy a suit for £20. Furthermore, Jordan made a hilarious error when restocking by investing £75 into a unique vase which he wrongly thought would sell in Shoreditch.

3) Beer (Task 2)

Both teams had to manufacture and sell beers, and Tim was moved over to Evolve to be their PM as his business plan was in the drinks industry, as was that of Endeavour PM Kurt. Kurt made some hilarious gaffes, such as sending non-beer drinkers (including teetotal Zeeshan) off to be on the manufacturing team, but nothing compared to that of Alex, who turned up to a corporate pitch to sell the beer without bringing a sample, which left them gobsmacked and politely telling him to go away. Jason also lost them money in a corporate pitch with a totally squeaky-clean interruption to “sweeten the deal” for the client. However, the sales to public team did an excellent job – a contrast to Evolve, whose corporate sales were outstanding, but sales to public were weak (they even tried to sell beer to patrons of a lovely Richmond wine bar). Furthermore, Evolve were never going to win due to their hilariously awful manufacturing process – serious errors with quantities led to 90 litres being poured away due to it being unsafe for human consumption.

2) Flat-Pack Furniture (Task 3)

Creating an innovative piece of flat-pack furniture was always going to be a challenge, given that Ikea had made just about everything imaginable by the early-2010s, but by Jove did Endeavour do an excellent job. Alex created “Foldo” – a chair which could easily be turned into a table and vice-versa – and showed an engineer’s mind and terrific design skills, which Lord Sugar and Nick Hewer praised (the former calling it the best product ever created on The Apprentice). It also proved to be the first task in which Zeeshan’s boasts proved truly unfounded, as he was the only member of Endeavour who failed to sell, despite being allowed by PM Jordan twice as many opportunities as the rest of the team. How did the girls do? Well, they created the “Tidy Sidey” – basically a box on wheels, the lid of which could be used as a laptop tray, and which would have been even more disastrous if they had followed Sophie’s dreadful market research. The one good thing about it was the interlocking assembly system which required zero screws, but did not distract from the fact that the product was (in Lord Sugar’s words) clueless. Still, Leah sold 100 of them, which impressed Nick Hewer and cemented her status as the MVP of the girls’ team.

1) Discount Buying in Dubai (Task 5)

The discount buying task is always a highlight, as is the the overseas task, so to see them combined for the second time in the programme’s run was a delight. The teams had to source eight items for a luxury hotel in Dubai and negotiate discounts from the retailers. Myles led Evolve and they sourced six items at mostly small discounts with some rookie mistakes (Myles waited well over an hour at the flag shop whilst it was being manufactured, rather than go off and then come back later), but also some hilarity as Jason was the stereotypical bumbling Englishman abroad – speaking slowly with emphasis on specific syllables and accompanying “sign language”, to ensure that the locals understood him. Zeeshan led Endeavour in a very dictatorial and arrogant manner, bragging that he knew it all because he used to live in Dubai, refused to let sub-team leader Leah follow her gut (despite her being obviously right) and showed favouritism to Kurt. They sourced five items at excellent discounts, but one did not meet specifications and was disallowed, and Kurt’s amusing muddling of centimetres and inches meant that they needed to get two flags, so the team lost and it was very pleasing to see Zeeshan fall on his sword after 5 weeks of arrogance, unfounded claims and belittling other candidates.

FILM: Dog (2022, Channing Tatum/Reid Carolin)

Road film Dog is distributed by United Artists. Former Army Ranger Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum) is tasked with taking Lulu – a Belgian Malinois army dog – cross-country to her handler’s funeral. Briggs has been struggling to make emotional connections due to his PTSD, but over the course of their several day journey he begins to bond with Lulu, who has also been left traumatised by her conflict experiences.

PROS

  • Reid Carolin’s screenplay gives genuine emotion to Jackson and Lulu’s bond, which is wholly heartwarming and touching in the Third Act.
  • Channing Tatum gives an excellent performance and crafts a wonderful bond with the titular canine, whilst Ethan Suplee provides stellar support.

CONS

  • The first two acts are tonally muddled due to a poor balance between comedy and drama, and some of the more serious issues raised being given surface-level treatment and exploration.
  • Given the timeline against which Jackson is working and the delays he encounters early on, the serious lack of urgency is wholly illogical.
  • Weak characterisation for the majority of the poorly-used supporting players, some of whose roles feel contrived.

VERDICT: 4/10

Top 5 Candidates of The Apprentice Series 9

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Continuing my series of Apprentice posts to mark the long-awaited return for the UK Apprentice, I am now revisiting Series 9 of the British Apprentice. Originally airing from May-July 2013 (gosh, that was a long time ago!), 16 candidates entered to win Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment into a 50-50 business partnership. Of those 16, some naturally stood out more than others and with presences that I liked more than others. It is worth clarifying that these are my favourite candidates rather than the candidates who did best (or showed the most competency). Before writing on my Top 5, there are some who just missed out, so here are the…

Honourable Mentions

  • Luisa Zissman (Runner-up): she did start out as an egotistical irritant, but she became much more humble and kind during the process, and I have to commend her for accepting that she needed to change her ways – a delightful arc to watch.
  • Myles Mordaunt (6th): wrongly fired in Week 10, although he did make some foolish errors at times, he had a good business brain and contributed well on tasks, winning the first six in a row.

5) Jordan Poulton (5th)

The highly-intelligent Jordan was a solid contributor on all but the last task (his hilarious error proved very costly), and was a natural leader, winning as PM in Weeks 3 and 8. He was also very enthusiastic and energetic, excitedly thumping his teammates on the shoulder whenever they won, leading to Lord Sugar telling him off for behaving like he was at a football match in Week 4 – those celebrations were hilarious to watch. He got very used to winning – he almost vomited when he finally ended up in the final boardroom in Week 10. Jordan also had the most unique reason for being fired ever – his business plan offered Lord Sugar a 15% stake in a business in which Jordan owned zero shares, leading to Claude Littner calling him “a parasite” in the interviews, and the production staff furious that they had approved his application.

4) Leah Totton (Winner)

An A&E doctor and one of the youngest candidates, Leah was underestimated very early on, with some of her fellow candidates thinking that she would struggle with sales, negotiation and leadership, and oh how wrong they were. A highly-intelligent, articulate and confident Northern Irishwoman, Leah proved a natural leader – an outstanding sub-team leader in Week 1 and authoritative PM in Week 6 – and was also a terrific saleswoman, being amongst the strongest sellers in the process, even getting a large order of the utterly atrocious “Tidey Sidey” in Week 3. A strong contributor with a great business head on her shoulders (despite no past business experience) and a genuinely lovely person to boot, Leah rightly went on to win the process, and it was delight to see her prove wrong those who underestimated her.

3) Alex Mills (7th)

The youngest of the male candidates and first ever Welshman (which he mentioned 2-3,00 times) on the series, Alex made himself stand out from the start as he threw himself into the tasks with great energy, but he was also very blunt and rather outspoken – nobody could ever accuse him of keeping his opinions or criticisms to himself. He was a good contributor on tasks, selling and pitching well and happy to do the hard graft, and he also had outstanding design skills that were the main reason for his team winning the product design task in Week 3 (“Foldo” was fantastic). However, Alex could do hilariously daft things too, such as forgetting to take a sample when selling beer to a corporate client in Week 2 and being “Herbert the Pervert” in the Week 8 advert for a dating website. Alex also had a very memorable appearance – his remarkable eyebrows led to Myles nicknaming him Count Dracula, which he had had quite a lot over the years.

2) Neil Clough (4th)

Sub-team leader in Week 1, Neil immediately made himself stand out due to how often he was arrogant and played the backseat driver role (“Behind every successful project manager, there’s a Neil Clough”). Annoyingly he had good reason to be, being the best salesman and pitcher on his team, and also showing good branding skills, all of which contributed big time to the men winning the first 3 tasks. After the teams became mixed-gender, Neil lost as PM in Week 4, but he truly changed for the better as a result. He ate his slice of humble pie and took Lord Sugar’s criticisms on board, becoming a far less arrogant man, and did fantastic work throughout the rest of the process. He won twice as PM in Weeks 7 and 9, continued to be the strongest salesman and pitcher, did excellent branding work and was a truly outstanding motivational speaker at the corporate away day his team put on in Week 6. Neil’s business plan sadly was his downfall, but he was truly a favourite to win, and Lord Sugar was very sad to fire him, saying that if the prize was still a job then he would have won.

1) Jason Leech (8th)

If you thought that Series 7 winner Tom Pellereau was a stereotypical bumbling Englishman then you should have seen Jason. Primarily an academic, Jason stood out from the start due to the fact that he was slightly eccentric and clearly not the kind of person one would ever accuse of being a cut-throat businessman – his preference for being wholly squeaky-clean in negotiations and the such-like ultimately cost his team money (though fortunately not the win) in Week 2, and he also entered sales and negotiations with a very gentle, if at times slightly theatrical style. When stepping out of his comfort zone to sell, he was nevertheless very effective due to the charming and endearing way he had about him, and he was hilarious on the Dubai task as he was that stereotypical Englishman who tried to be understood by locals through speaking slowly, with huge emphasis on specific syllables and accompanying “sign language”. The tremendously well-spoken Jason was also incredibly polite and warm towards everyone, even being respectful to others when they disrespected him (which was in some ways his downfall), and Lord Sugar subsequently described him as “the epitome of a gentleman”, which I wholly agree with and add that his way about him made him a true breath of fresh air amongst the candidates.

Top 5 Tasks of The Apprentice Series 8

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Continuing my series of Apprentice posts to mark the long-awaited return for the UK Apprentice, it is time for me to finish revisiting Series 8 of the British Apprentice. Originally airing from March-June 2012 (gosh, that was a long time ago!), the candidates did an initial 11 business-related tasks in their efforts to win Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment into a 50-50 business partnership. Of those 11, some naturally stood out more than others and were more interesting and (in some cases) entertaining for me. It is worth clarifying that these are my favourite tasks and, before writing on my Top 5, there are some which just missed out, so here are the…

Honourable Mentions

  • Street Food in Scotland (Task 6): as a foody my mouth watered at the sight of the beef casseroles which Sterling made, and coming from a Scottish family it was a delight to see them in my second favourite city in the world (after London).
  • Affordable Luxury (Task 11): the teams were tasked with creating luxury products and a retail space for them. As a closet metrosexual I loved the line of grooming products that Sterling created, whilst being a foody meant that my mouth watered at the sight of Phoenix’s chocolates.

5) Street Art (Task 8)

Do you remember the street art boom of the late-2000s/early-2010s that began with Banksy? Because I do, and that was what inspired this third iteration of the art selling task on the British Apprentice. Street art can have some very quirky and unique pieces, and that is what all of the artists showed the candidates when they were deciding on which artists to sell. I found the pieces fascinating in a different way to how I find the pieces in the National Gallery fascinating, and thinking back to that task makes me feel a weird sense of nostalgia for how the art world changed thanks to Banksy. The selling portion of the task was utterly fantastic to watch. Sterling did a masterclass in how not to treat a corporate client when they practically ignored them, leading to no art being sold (Karren Brady was gobsmacked!); whilst Adam of Phoenix showed just how brilliantly he could adapt himself as a salesman and that he was learning throughout the process – he was a man who did not know his art from his elbow, but he achieved by far the highest sales of the task, and even found himself interpreting some of the pieces. Bravo, that man!

4) Shabby Chic (Task 4)

Both teams were given shop spaces and a budget of £1,000 to buy old, second-hand goods which they would then sell on for a profit and were also told that they could upcycle products to boost their retail values. If ever there was a more early-2010s task than this then I cannot think of it – shabby chic was starting to become a big thing back then (despite being an oxymoron), so of course Lord Sugar incorporated it into The Apprentice! It was a tale of two opposites really, made even more entertaining by the Shoreditch locals fulfilling every possible stereotype about themselves. Phoenix PM Tom opted for a more minimalist store, buying high quality pieces in small number, whereas Sterling PM Laura opted to buy lesser quality products in bulk and had Gabrielle do a tonne of upcycling, most of which involved Union Jacks. Coming from a creative arts background, I found the upcycling process quite an interesting one to watch, and coming from a family who value high quality furniture and ornaments, I was a big fan of Tom’s strategy, made all the more pleasing by his investing in some gorgeous antique books. If ever there was an Apprentice episode that encapsulated being a quirky creative in the early-2010s then it was this one.

3) Smell What Sells (Task 7)

This task had proven disastrous in Series 7, as neither PM got the point of the task, so Lord Sugar was no doubt happy to see an improvement this year. Both teams were given an initial seed money of £150 to invest in wholesale stock that they would then sell at market stalls in Essex, and keep replenishing the stock supplies of that which sold well. When it came to selecting products there was of course stereotyping of Essex folk – but those stereotypes were proven to exist for a reason as that spray tan was a hot seller! And Sterling’s PM Nick showed that he got the point of the task as he ensured that the spray tan stocks were replenished as much as possible. Phoenix PM Jade was the opposite, however, as she bought a plethora of different things, did not reinvest in the obvious biggest seller and did an unnecessary fire sale, which was really frustrating given how brilliantly Adam was selling. He was in his element on that market stall, which was a delight to watch and again proved him to be the best salesman in the process, although equally as hilarious was the sight of Stephen and Ricky doing a Steptoe and Son style routine when selling long-handled mops.

2) Printed Souvenirs (Task 1)

The first task saw the teams take blank materials (tote bags, teddy bears, baby grows, tea towels, etc.) and put designs on them to sell to Londoners. The girls (led by Gabrielle) made outstanding products, with Jade’s rather charming animal illustrations meaning that they had a target demographic of children, and Gabrielle had the brilliant idea of personalising items for a bit of extra money, showing herself to be the real creative of the Series 8 candidates. Nick Hewer and Lord Sugar loved the products, and so did the mothers buying them for their little ones. The boys (led by Nick) opted for teddy bears and tote bags with Union Jacks, route master buses and the such-like – a very uninspired idea to say the least. Matters were made worse by the fact that they made a much messier job of printing, plus sub-team leader Stephen tried to undermine Nick’s pricing strategy. So the girls won right? Wrong! Despite having much worse quality products, Nick was a lot hotter on figures and profit margins than Gabrielle, plus they sold almost all of their stock, whereas the girls only sold 60% of it. Nick knew and abided by Rule 1 of selling – know your profit margins!

1) Condiments (Task 3)

Look, I love food, and food-based tasks on The Apprentice have historically provided a lot of great entertainment. The two teams were tasked with creating condiments and there was a slight corporate reshuffle – with the girls having lost the first two tasks, Nick and Duane went over to Sterling to see if they could help them win, whilst Katie – who had had difficulty working with the girls – was moved to Phoenix to see if she could work better with them. It made for very interesting dynamics – Duane did a good job leading the girls, but Jane especially disliked the notion that they needed a man to win; Katie was a good PM for the men, showing a confidence and authoritativeness which she had lacked with the women. However, this task was brilliant because of their concoctions – the kitchen process proving to be an absolute farce. Sterling made a pineapple and ginger chutney, which proved delicious, but only after Duane almost choked to death on the initial batch’s spice; Phoenix made a tomato and pepper sauce called “Bellissimo”, but misspelt the Italian word on the labelling, whilst they had to waste off over a third of the sauce they prepared due to getting the ingredient quantities wrong. Another food task, another hour of hilarity that no sales task can quite manage.

LITERATURE: Mr. Mercedes (Stephen King, 2014)

American detective novel Mr. Mercedes is the first in the Bill Hodges trilogy and was originally published by Scribner. One of the crimes which remained unsolved when Bill Hodges retired from his career as a Police Detective was a mass murder committed with a stolen Mercedes. When he is sent a taunting letter by the killer, Bill finds a new lease on life and makes it his mission to track down the killer and bring him to justice. When the murderer Brady Hartsfield realises that Hodges is coming for him, he decides to play a game of cat-and-mouse with him, and also decides to commit another mass murder in the hopes of breaking the former Detective beyond repair. Will Hodges catch him in time?

PROS

  • Stephen King once again proves himself to be outstanding at crafting suspense as he establishes several excellent supporting characters who are all ultimately in the line of danger as Hodges tries to find the increasingly dangerous and unhinged Brady, whilst the climax is a heart-pounding race against time.
  • A prologue in which the shocking Mercedes murder happens not only establishes what the narrative will be about, but makes it a more plausible, grounded and relatable setting than that of a supernatural horror as Stephen King uses a plausible scenario in the recent recession as the socio-political context.
  • A fascinating game of cat-and-mouse which further establishes Hodges and Brady as polar-opposites – Hodges becomes more clever and cunning, whilst Brady becomes more volatile and unhinged, which resultantly makes him a more dangerous and alarming antagonist.
  • As usual, Stephen King does a great job with the characters, making them multi-layered and meaning that we genuinely care for them as the stakes increase, plus he stops Brady from being a one-note antagonist with a poignant backstory that establishes his vulnerabilities.

CONS

  • Having the parallel narrative of Brady’s plotting robs the reader of the chance to piece together the puzzle along with Hodges, as we already know what Brady is planning to do.
  • The prologue is written in past tense, the rest of the narrative in present – a small, but slightly jarring and very noticeable shift; whilst the somewhat unnecessary epilogue feels altogether quite rushed.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: Flee (2021, Jonas Poher Rasmussen)

Animated docudrama Flee is distributed in UK cinemas by Curzon Artificial Eye, following its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Amin Nawabi, an Afghan refugee in Denmark, sits down with the director Jonas Poher Rasmussen to tell his story of fleeing Afghanistan with his family in adolescence, spending copious amounts of time in hiding and being people-trafficked (amongst other things) on a long and terrifying journey, and of how difficult he found it in his late-teens to come to terms with his sexuality due to his background. The interview is animated, as are the stories of Nawabi’s past that he tells, which are recreated as flashbacks.

PROS

  • Director Jonas Poher Rasmussen is very sensitive in his interviewing of Amin Nawabi, as he gives Nawabi space to reflect, space to tell his story at a pacing which comes naturally to him, and when Rasmussen has follow-up questions that go off any semblance/hint of a pre-existing list of questions he clearly thinks them through first.
  • This is a unique refugee story that will compel viewers and emphasise more than any news reports that (regardless of your political opinions on the refugee crisis of recent years) they have very good and wholly understandable reasons for seeking refuge, and also make it totally inescapable just how horrific an experience it is to go through people trafficking.
  • Amin Nawabi’s narration/interview answers, his testimony to the darkest and most difficult and complicated parts of his harrowing past being replete with raw emotion and a real sense of poignancy as he reflects upon it all. Furthermore, with the events that he recounts being from his childhood/youth, it is made especially more interesting as we get to see what the perspectives of a child are on being people-trafficked and a refugee, and also on how his perspective on these past events have changed in the subsequent decades. Nawabi also makes it very clear just how difficult it can be for people to come to terms with their sexuality when they come from such a conservative background.
  • The animation is of an excellent hand-drawn style, and the illustrative style with which the humans are created gives them utterly compelling expression. Furthermore, the animation department get a bit more creative with some of the more dark, harrowing and disorienting moments of the narrative, which aids with the sense that this really is a haunted reminiscence for Amin Nawabi.
  • Here and there, archival footage of the era and photographs of actual events recreated are briefly incorporated, which testifies to the pure honesty of Amin Nawabi’s testimony, the accuracy with which the animation recreates the events and the utterly horrific socio-political climate which Nawabi lived through in the late-20th Century.

NITPICKS

  • The 90-minute-long film is reflective and concise, but (somewhat selfishly) I wish it had been just slightly longer, even just to allow some of the more shocking or striking shots to last longer.

VERDICT: 10/10

The Apprentice Series 16, Week 8: Silverstone

Task Summary

The candidates arrived at Silverstone where they were tasked to put on corporate away days, with the winner being determined by profit, and Lord Sugar warned them that their clients could ask for refunds if disappointed. Stephanie led Diverse due to her having a first-class degree in Events Management. She decided that she wanted to go for a luxury experience – a tour of the Silverstone Museum, lunch, a lap round the circuit in an Aston Martin and then a team Scalextric exercise. Stephanie and Kathryn went to meet their client – Peroni – and offered to do the whole thing for £7,000 (£700 per person). Peroni said the most they would pay was £2,450 and that was what the ladies agreed to, before leaving the meeting without having found out what they wanted from the day. Meanwhile, Nick and Akshay were in charge of catering – they got a chicken dish and brownies, negotiated down to £13 per head (on condition that they – the boys – did the washing up).

Over on Infinity, Brittany wanted to be PM due to her first-class degree in Hospitality Management, but Harpreet insisted on being PM due to her hospitality experience from running a desserts parlour and good skills with profits, so Brittany relented to her. They decided to do a tour of the Silverstone circuit, followed by tyre-changing with pitstop crew equipment as the team-building exercise, followed by lunch and then a racing car simulator experience. Aaron and Brittany went to meet with the corporate client – a tech company – and got them up from £200 per head to £310 per head (a total of £3,100), but mistakenly called the simulator a VR experience and promised them it would be an integral part of the experience when the representatives they met said that they were not so fussed about it. Meanwhile, Harpreet and Akeem managed to get the catering – butter chicken curry, followed by tiramisu – for £26 per head.

The day of the events came! Stephanie and Kathryn were very welcoming to Peroni, but did a dreadful job with the museum tour as they got lost and did not realise how much they would have to interact, having learnt the day before that a big chunk of the museum was interactive and therefore decided not to bother preparing for it. The tour ended a half-hour early, meaning that the dining table had not been set or ice buckets put out for drinks, and then lunch was late, leaving the Peroni staff very unhappy. Fortunately they all loved going around the Silverstone circuit and also enjoyed the Scalextric team-building exercise.

Aaron and Brittany did an outstanding tour of the circuit, keeping their clients very engaged and even some of the more morbid facts which Aaron brought out were found interesting, and the clients also loved the tyre-changing team-building exercise, made more competitive by the use of a stopwatch. Lunch was on time, and Akeem prepared enough rice to feed an army after Harpreet said that it would be better to have too much than too little and left him quivering in his boots whilst they cooked, but the simulator experience was a low note to end the day on due to the fact that the client had been expecting VR.

The next day both teams headed to the boardroom to hear the results. Peroni had asked for a 20% refund from Diverse, making their total profit £1,209, whereas the tech company did not, meaning that Infinity won with a profit of £1,926 (and would still have won by over £200, even if Peroni had not demanded a refund).

My Thoughts on the Task

GENERAL: As my thoughts on individual teams will insinuate, it was obvious who had learnt from watching previous events-based or tour-based tasks from previous years. Also (and Apprentice fandom clearly felt the same, based on what was being said on Twitter) – I was a tad surprised that the teams were having to do the cooking themselves, especially Infinity, given that they had paid (not-London) mid-range restaurant prices.

DIVERSE: Given how organised Stephanie was when she was last PM – on a task that involved a tour no less! – I was gobsmacked that she thought she could just wing it and did not do any real preparation. Also, she and Kathryn did a poor job on the negotiation and client meeting – as made clear when Lord Sugar and Tim Campbell revealed that Peroni had a budget of £3,000 for the event. I did feel bad for Akshay and Nick as the ladies gave them a hard time for not having the table laid by the time that they arrived at the luncheon room, but it was not their fault that the tour had ended a half-hour early, meaning that they had less time to prepare the room. Speaking of lunch…did they really think it was a good idea to do that before getting the guests to go round the Silverstone circuit at 120mph? You can probably guess what I am alluding to…

INFINITY: I felt bad for Brittany having to relent the PM role to Harpreet (whom Aaron and Akeem voted for), but all three probably felt that it would be easier to just make Harpreet PM than have her constantly trying to take control as she did on the last task. Whilst she was an effective leader who delivered results, I felt bad for the team as she was very dictatorial, particularly to Akeem. As for the event, by Jove did Aaron and Brittany do an outstanding job, particularly the former who was the most natural tour guide imaginable (if only he had done the tour in Wales two weeks ago), and the pair worked together really well – I was very impressed. And the fact that the low note of the simulator was not enough to make the client want some money back testifies to how well Infinity did with the rest of the event.

Final Boardroom

When Lord Sugar revealed that a big criticism was the catering, Stephanie gunned for Akshay and Nick, although the former did point out to her that her poor negotiation contributed big time to the loss as they would have still lost without the refund. Everyone was criticised – Akshay and Nick for the catering, Stephanie and Kathryn for the poor tour and negotiations. Furthermore, Lord Sugar recognised that Stephanie would target the males in a final boardroom, so he told the team that everyone would return for it. Kathryn, Akshay and Nick all told that they were yet to do anything outstanding, and that their multiple final boardrooms were cause for concern – in this Lord Sugar made it obvious that Stephanie (in her first final boardroom) would be safe. He then fired Nick, with regret, for not doing anything outstanding during the process and not being as outgoing with contributions to tasks.

The incredibly expressive Nick Showering

Lord Sugar then asked Akshay how he could avoid being in a record-breaking sixth final boardroom, leading to the candidate promising to win as PM on the next task. The business magnate looked ready to fire him, but reluctantly sent everyone back to the house, and Karren Brady told them “I’d run if I were you”, as she could see that her old friend was angry. I can see why Lord Sugar fired Nick “with regret” – he is a genuinely lovely and respectful fellow, and the magnate has always hated firing the nice guys, ever since Series 1. Was it the right decision? Based solely on this task, it should have been Stephanie as the poor negotiations were certainly no less costly to the team than Nick’s catering, plus her cavalier attitude to the tour was a) unprofessional and b) not something that one looks for in a business partner. However, by this point in the process Lord Sugar always give serious consideration to track records, and Stephanie has the strongest of anyone on Diverse. Akshay may have a worse record than Nick, but he has a lot more fire in his belly, which is something Lord Sugar has always liked to see in candidates and is definitely something people want to see in a potential business partner.

Thoughts on the Remaining Candidates

lord alan sugar with the apprentice 2022 candidates
  1. Aaron Willis – a hardworking, down-to-Earth guy who conducts himself professionally and speaks common sense, and really came out of his shell in a whole new way this week.
  2. Akeem Bundu-Kamara – a passionate, creative, hard worker who gets on with his allotted job to a good standard without making a big deal of it, but he is very indecisive in a leadership role.
  3. Akshay Thakrar – he has upped his game in recent weeks and has fire in his belly, but he has matched (Series 4’s) Claire Young’s record of surviving 5 final boardrooms, and unlike her he has not proven himself enough to survive a potential sixth.
  4. Brittany Carter – she is very enthusiastic and creative, genuinely nice and does contribute very well (and she and Aaron have become a real dream team!), but she has shown herself to be a bit naïve at times.
  5. Harpreet Kaur – she has a good skillset but is also condescending, arrogant and dictatorial when leading – I kind of want her to end up in a final boardroom just to see if she is capable of eating humble pie.
  6. Kathryn Louise Burn – enthusiastic and with a 1-1 PM record, she has shown a good skillset, but when she makes an error it always proves catastrophic as opposed to minor.
  7. Stephanie Affleck – bar this week she has conducted herself well, proven herself to be strong in sales and pitching, and been well organised, so I hope that this week was just a blip on the radar.

FILM: Marry Me (2022, Kat Coiro)

Romantic-comedy Marry Me is distributed by Universal. When pop star Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) learns that her fiancé and on-stage partner Bastian (Maluma) has been cheating on her, she marries school teacher Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson) live on stage after seeing him holding a “Marry Me” sign that he was holding for his friend Parker (Sarah Silverman). Whilst they initially keep the marriage going for the sake of the press and her Instagram feed, as the pair spend more time together they get to know each other better and start to fall in love, as well as start to impact each other’s views upon life and the world.

PROS

  • Owen Wilson and Jennifer Lopez are perfect casting choices and develop an excellent chemistry over the course of the narrative’s run, with the strongest support coming from Sarah Silverman, John Bradley and Chloe Coleman.
  • The film has a good energy to it and some moments of genuine warmth, with the passion of Kat Coiro’s direction coming through clearly and giving it an altogether engaging quality.

CONS

  • The narrative is altogether predictable and formulaic, relying far too much on romantic-comedy clichés and the gags resultantly being uninspired and raising little more than the odd chuckle, and worst of all makes a total mockery of marriage by cheapening it.
  • There are failed attempts at social commentaries about modern-day obsessions with social media and celebrities, as the film simultaneously tries to condemn them and praise them for being good things.
  • Very weak characterisation means that a number of the supporting performers’ presences prove underwhelming or even irritating, and Jimmy Fallon and Utkarsh Ambudkar especially are poorly utilised in the film.

VERDICT: 4/10