Category Archives: Personal

A weekend away with Emmi in Cardiff

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for our film Emmi! On Saturday 24th June we played at two film festivals (Oakville in Canada and Cardiff). We also held a local screening in Oxford last weekend. I’ll cover more on the latter in separate post, for now I’ll concentrate on the film festival weekend.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to make the Oakville Film Festival (based just outside of Toronto). Susie and I recorded a message for the festival to play before the film (I now appreciate how much I hate talking to a camera – like talking into an answering machine only worse!).

Oops - what I've said now?

Oops – what’s he said now?

Susie and I both made it to the Cardiff festival however (not only would this be our first film festival experience, it would also be our first in Cardiff). You can read Susie’s take on the whole experience here. Susie was 30mins away but already had other plans for much of the weekend, so I was flying solo for the most part. My train (with incorrectly issued ticket) arrived a little later than planned. Almost immediately I started wandering in the wrong direction (typical) but thankfully it didn’t take too long to find my bearings. It was immediately apparent that Cardiff was fun, diverse and vibrant.

Walking around Cardiff
I managed to find my hotel (Park Plaza), check in and freshen up. I lucked out with the bed – absolute luxury!

Plaza Bed

After unpacking, I received a text from Susie and went to meet her at the train station. We then proceeded to Kongs to collect our festival passes. Kongs is a retro-arcade bar fill with old favourites such as Donkey Kong, Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat and Outrun 2 (had no idea they made a sequel!) as well as having Blue Moon on keg – nice!

Kongs

Our screening was part of the “Fiction Part 2” session and was located around the corner in a venue called 10 feet tall (presumably because the building is tall and thin). When we arrived on the top floor we found that the whole place had been decorated like a big top, it looked great!

The Big Top
Unfortunately the Comedy section was playing down the road at the same time, which was no doubt a busier session. The biggest surprise came when a former colleague of mine (having just moved to Cardiff) turned up just before our film played. Nice to have some additional moral support. Afterwards we found a nice bar and had a catch up before all heading our separate ways. I decided to grab some food at Wagamama before returning back to the hotel.

I originally planned to attend “Moon Dogs” and “Twisted Tales” during the evening at Jacobs Market but to be honest I was quite exhausted and the bed was far too comfy. I also factored in the thought of wandering around a strange city on my own in the dark having just watched a bunch of adult horror shorts. I phoned the family to says hi before running myself a lovely relaxing bath (with no children invading – bliss). I also spotted Casino Royale was on – perfect! I made it to about 10pm before sleeping (with no kids invading – bliss). This is very early for me being as I rarely get to sleep before 1am normally. Unfortunately I woke at 4.30am and didn’t get back to sleep properly. At 7am I decided to give up trying, get up, shower and enjoy a nice hearty breakfast. As a child I was always told “never eat too much before swimming or you’ll sink”, I decided to check out the pool facilities anyway. The pool was lovely and I managed to get in about 40 lengths before more people started to arrive.

Plaza Pool
I decided to retire to the steam room (which I had all to myself). After what was now my third shower of the morning, I decided to take a short wander around before checking out of the hotel.

The Plaza is based in the castle quarter almost right next to the Castle itself. As you can see the Welsh are quite patriotic!

Welsh Flags

The castle itself cost money to visit, so I just browsed the outskirts.

Cardiff Castle

I have to say I loved the animals carved on the castle walls.

Animal stonework
I walked around some nearby parks/gardens before returning back to the centre, it struck me that there were two things were in great abundance here: shopping arcades and Greggs bakeries (these were everywhere).

Shopping Arcades

There were also a numerous statues. Initially I chuckled at a guilty seagull on the head of Aneurin Bevan (Welsh Labour Party politician and chief architect of the National Health Service) before noticing a more poignant message about the Grenfell Tower disaster at the base.

Statues

After a spot of people watching over lunch, I decided to head down St Mary’s Street to see the Stadium and the river Taff. On the way I bumped into a wonderful mechanical clock.

Clock and Stadium
I was starting to get a bit concerned that I hadn’t seen any welsh dragons other than on flags, but thankfully I found this one on my way back to the hotel.

There be Dragons
The rest of the day I immersed myself in the festival watching the Female Director session and the remaining two fiction sessions. All of these took place in the Old Market Tavern. These seemed more popular than our session, hope to cover a bit about the films I watched in another blog post.

Just before the end of the final session, I rushed off to quickly grab some tea before crossing the river to the Tramshed (unsurprisingly a former tram depot) where the festival awards were being held. I was also planning to catch up with Susie again. Upon arrival I was greeted to live music and some familiar faces who I’d met earlier in the day. Shortly after this Susie arrived.

And the Band Played On
Even though we had the excitement of seeing our film in the nominations for best fictional film, it came as no great surprise to me that we didn’t win it (Susie was perhaps a little more disappointed). The reality was that there were almost 40 films in this category competing for a single accolade! Even so, this was a most enjoyable way to end the festival. After all of the awards were done and dusted we went back to the car and began to navigate our way back. The trip took a couple of hours, but it was lovely just chating on the way home. We had completed our first ever film festival. Now we just had the small matter of a film screening to organise.

Restless

Having a difficult month. I’ve got a viral infection which I can’t seem to shake. I recall catching a similar infection which took over three months to recover from. In particular my sleep has been badly affected.

Last night I went to sleep at 4am. I really didn’t want to do this, but my brain continued to race and recycle mundane thoughts. I couldn’t shake this! Of course I was also piling additional pressure on myself to try to sleep knowing how few hours sleep I’d actually get. Add in my asthma and the constant wheezing/coughing which happens when I lie down. Finally mix in the clocks going forward an hour to British Summer Time (body clock all over the place). I think I managed about just under 3 hours sleep!

As a family we all suffer sleep-wise. At one end of the spectrum is my wife who is constantly exhausted and regularly takes naps during the day. At the other end are my children and I. I’ve always been a light sleeper, the slightest noise will keep me awake. Last Sunday my eldest made a lovely Mother’s Day flower clock. The ticking mechanism kept me awake. Speaking of my eldest, she has been a poor sleeper ever since birth. We took her to a specialist about her sleep and she came back with autism diagnosis. My youngest was initially a better sleeper. Sadly the knock on effect of my eldest not sleeping has rubbed off on her now. We start the bedtime routine at 7pm. We are lucky if they fall sleep 4 hours after this! We’ve tried every trick in the book to attempt to change this exhausting cycle.

It’s amazing how much lack of sleep affects you. Earlier this morning I made a stupid slip-up which I’m sure I might have avoided had I got more sleep. With blurry eyes I withdrew from the wrong film festival – a rather costly mistake which I might not be able to rectify. Naturally, I’m feeling cross at myself and rather stupid.

The impacts on of lack of sleep on your well-being, memory and health are well documented. I’ve definitely been feeling more moody, erratic and my immunity level feels low. Thankfully I have a pretty quiet weekend planned. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to catch up with more sleep – fingers crossed (children – are you listening? Let daddy sleep!). 🙂

Her beautiful motifs

Both of my daughters have always enjoyed “banging around” creating music on my keyboard. I usually get asked to record their efforts. My eldest seems particularly musical, we share similar music tastes (both responding to minor chords and strings). She recently had a term learning to play the violin – I have to say she was far better at it than I was. Being the weekend, I decided to let her have a little play on my keyboard again.

“Listen to this Daddy” she announced proudly after five minutes. So I did and was rather impressed, she is now really starting to pick up rhythms and harmony. To show her my appreciation of her growing musical ability, I decided to turn her short motif into a new track. So here is our first joint collaboration together, she is responsible for the mellow guitar part and I formed the chords/added some gentle beats over the top. I can’t wait to play this to her and hear what future compositions she comes up with.

Here is the track:

When disaster strikes

Last week everything was seemingly going to plan until without any predictable rhyme or reason disaster struck! Below is advice I’ve written to remind myself how I coped (which is hopefully helpful to others):

  1. Take a moment out, go for a quick walk and gather perspective. At the end of the day, the majority of problems seem larger than they actually are. Clear your head and reset your priorities on how you might resolve the problem.
  2. Take responsibility in getting it fixed and do not Ostrich! Inability to take responsibility doesn’t make the problem go away and tends to make things feel insurmountable.
  3. Do not focus on blaming people, this is very negative. Involve anyone who you need to help you resolve the problem. You are probably not alone with the problem. Most will understand and try to help. Praise and reward these people both during and after problem solving.
  4. Keep calm and keep you cool. If you appear stressed this will only feed stress levels of others.
  5. Keep the communication flowing with the relevant people as everything progresses.
  6. See this as an opportunity to introduce some positive changes. It might be writing guidelines or making a case to invest in safeguards to stop similar problems from reoccuring.

Glory: James Horner (1953-2015)

Today started in an unusual manner. I woke on a normal school day and the children were already up and dressed (odd). Whilst making a cup of tea my wife told me to read the screen on her mobile phone. I read it, but it took a moment to fully digest: “Film Composer James Horner aged 61 dies in a plane crash”. I was quietly devastated.

The very first time I recall remembering his music was for the trailer of Backdraft back in 1991. I remember thinking “WOW”, that music has a real emotional punch to it.

When I watched the film I came away bitterly disappointed that this wonderful music was nowhere to be heard! What was this music? I needed to know and I discovered (long before the days of Google or Shazam) that it was James Horner and the piece was taken from the ending credits of Glory:

This is the piece I am going to remember James Horner for, it made me sit up and take notice (really at a point when I didn’t do this much). It feels more poignant today than ever.

James Horner (image by Getty)

It wasn’t long before I discoverd he had composed music to other film scores I loved – most notably Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (I honestly thought it was Jerry Goldsmith), Aliens (I’ve lost track of the number of trailers which use Bishop’s Countdown in them), The Name of the Rose (I still find those bells creepy).

He would go on to win an Oscar for both his Titanic score and the song ‘My Heart will go on’. He was nominated for six other films. At the risk of being somewhat controversial – I didn’t rate Titanic as one of his better scores, but he did so many other memorable scores such as Apollo 13, Avatar, Braveheart, Casper and Field of Dreams – that there really is something for everyone.  The thing about James Horner for me was the way he could emotionally connect an audience to the scene in a beautiful yet bittersweet manner. Knowing we will never hear another of his majestic scores makes me feel a little emptier inside. RIP James Horner.

Moonraker: Back to Earth with a bump

I clearly remember the moment at my dear Gran’s house, armed with a cassette recorder waiting quietly by her Ferguson television. I was patiently waiting to watch and record Moonraker which was on telly (Bond on the telly was a big event back in those days). Even if I was unable to record the picture, I could at least record the sound. I remember thinking the music was one of the most amazing things I’d ever heard. Indelibly marked in my psyche was the music during the opening pre-titles, the gondola chase, the hand-glider escape/following to the Aztec lair, the flight into space. I listened to these every bedtime, night after night. This along with John William’s Jaws score were my introductions into the power of film music. My older daughter responds to John Barry’s music in a similar manner to me (I did spot over Christmas she too has started recording CDs using her audio device using the speech recorder – a lovely moment of reflection).

moonraker-5179efd135cff

Somewhere during the mid-nineties came the magical moment when I finally bought the CD soundtrack. Yes, it was as beautiful as I remembered, but many of the lovely cues were also missing – not a hint of the Bond theme even. The history behind this being that Moonraker was filmed in France and the score was therefore recorded in Paris. Many of the Bond scores were remastered and expanded but the master tapes for Moonraker were (and presumably still are) missing. Moonraker still remains a Holy grail for Bond and Barry fans alike.

So you can imagine my excitement when the kickstarter campaign offering to re-record the missing cues comes along.

It was to be recorded by conductor Nic Raine who is one of the champions of re-recording John Barry’s material. He worked also worked alongside him on the scores for both A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights.

It was no surprise to me that within a day the campaign had almost reached the half-way point, and within a week or two it had supassed its goal. I was so excited, I may have even tweeted about it! Mr Barry’s local Yorkshire rag also picked up the story. Sadly however this was just not to be and within hours the campaign was forced to be cancelled for reasons (still?) unknown! I can only imagine someone behind the scenes got wind and wanted to use some legality to exploit project for financial gain. Ah well, it was fun whilst it lasted. On the plus side – it does show there is a market for these scores, so fingers crossed this still happens.

Day 23: Favourite Christmas Movies

Disclaimer: This is my own personal list, but feel free to agree, disagree or add more in the comments section below.

In alphabetical order:

Batman Returns (1992)
I’m sure I’ve called this the most criminally under-rated Batman film recently. I’ll stick by that!  Tim Burton mixes Gothic and Christmas together to brilliant effect. Gotham has never looked better than this offering amidst the snow. Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it!

Batman Returns

Black Christmas (1974)
This cult film is for those who have overloaded on Christmas sentimentality. The perfect anti-Christmas film in many ways, directed by Bob Clark who would later go on to make another genuine Christmas classic “A Christmas Story” (although I’ve not seen it). This film was the inspiration behind John Carpenter’s Halloween. Rich on atmosphere and character without relying on shock jumps or gore (but *is* disturbing and gets under your skin – even 40 years on!). Avoid the horrible remake. Billy!!!

Black Christmas

Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001)
Personally I wasn’t a huge fan of the other Christmas offering from “Richard Curtis” – Love Actually, but I know I’m probably in a minority. This is the one which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy (in that Vicar of Dibley kind of way) – right down to the naff woolly jumpers, and scenes of snow falling majestically. Just don’t mention the terrible follow-up!

Brigdet Jones

Die Hard (1988)
“This *IS* a Christmas movie!” (said in the voice of Argyle the  limo driver). And you already know this film is the best in the series thanks to Alan Rickman. Honorary mention to Die Hard 2, which “tries harder”, brings the Christmas snow, but just isn’t in the same ball-park (despite still being reasonably solid).

Die Hard - Hans Gruber

Gremlins (1984)
Remember kids, pets aren’t just for Christmas. This has a largely uneven tone – but is essentially a Christmas monster movie for kids (just not really for young kids). Currently enjoying a revival in cinemas (Christmas Eve) for its 30th Anniversary. Who can forget that heartwarming story Phoebe Cates’ character recalls of her dad playing Santa and coming down the chimney. Aww – bless!

Gremlins

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Frank Capra’s classic is set around the heart-warming tale of a suicidal man played by James Stewart. Sounds a bit dark? Well strangely – probably the most uplifting film on this list! Sure it’s got its fair share of cheesy moments and over-sentimentality. It does however remind us money is not what makes us rich (and what better time to remember this than the over-commercialisation of Christmas). No man is a failure who has friends.

Its_a_wonderful_life

Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
So is Kris Kringle the real Santa? That would be giving the film away surely! This covers some darker themes also, but essentially at its heart is another feel good Christmas movie. Richard Attenborough’s remake makes for a more colourful and accessible Kringle, but Edmund Gwen is the real deal. I now want to go and shop at Macys.

Miracle

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
There are only so many interpretations of the classic Dickens novel I can include!  But this one has the Muppets in and Michael Caine as Scrooge (sorry 1951 version), so enough said!! This one also put Muppet movies back on the map after a bit of a break.

Muppets

Nightmare before Christmas (1993)
Once again Tim Burton mixes macabre gothic with Christmas to great effect. Okay so this one is perhaps more Halloween based, but watching Jack’s awe at discovering Christmas Town singing “What’s this?” never fails to puts me in the Christmas spirit. Kidnap the Sandy Claws!

Nightmare Before Christmas

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Had to get Bond in there somewhere. This is one of the rare exceptions where a Bond film takes place during a named season (most are nondescript). The fact that the main part is set in Swiss alps helps tremendously (even if the ending isn’t full of the usual festive Bond cheer). Do you know how Christmas Trees are grown?

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

The Polar Express (2004)
This isn’t Robert Zemeckis’ only performance capture Christmas film, but this one (his first) is the best. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched parts of this one on TV over the past few weeks. It is pretty much one set-piece and cliché after another. Even so, it has everything you need to put you in a feel good mood for the festive spirit.

Polar Express

Scrooged (1988)
Once again another Christmas Carol remake, but much like the earlier inclusion – this one has Bill Murray at his cynical best. Enough said! Honorable mention (and perhaps double-bill) to Blackadder’s A Christmas Carol – which covers similar ground (just in reverse). Bah Humbug!

Scrooged

The Snowman (1982)
A bitter sweet work of art (long before the days of CGI which now make this sort of thing easier). Sometimes shown as part of a double-bill with Raymond Briggs’ other Christmas classic “Father Christmas” – voiced by Mel Smith. It transcends the language barrier even when “we’re walking in the air”. Who can forget that ending?

The Snowman

Trading Places (1983)
As we know – Christmas is a time for giving and remembering those less fortunate than yourself.  This is a deliciously twisted role-reversal comedy which I remember watching for the first time with my parents a few years ago (sorry Mum, I know now that in the 80’s Eddie Murphy swears a lot). How can you not enjoy watching Dan Ackroyd as the original Bad Santa?

Trading Places