Film Review – Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger

Nativity 2
Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger is a surprisingly good movie. I was very impressed by this offering. David Tennant (Dr Who) once again shows his full acting range as he portrays a teacher in a very unusual school!

Pam Ferris (Call the Midwife) plays the headmistress Mrs. Bevan who has given the job of teaching assistant to her nephew. Mark Wooton plays the assistant from hell; Desmond Poppy whose actions cause all the other teachers to quit this particular class. Mr Donald Peterson (Tennant) is the next candidate. He’s already stressed as his wife (Joanna Page – Gavin & Stacey) is pregnant and not far giving birth.

Mrs. Bevan begs Donald to stay, offering him, her own job in three months time if he can turn the class and her nephew around.

Now there’s a ‘Song for Christmas’ contest coming, but Mrs. Bevans refuses to allow her nephew Desmond to enter, as he holds farting contests and acts like a child himself, she’s worried about the school’s reputation. So Desmond holds secret auditions, these are brilliant, in the style of Britain’s Got Talent.

Donald finds out, when one of the boys forgets about the ‘What singing contest auditions?’ rule. (Desmond has impressed upon them if asked to deny all knowledge!) But the boy forgets when asked what activities he likes doing by Donald.

Desmond wears down Donald’s objections by his madness and energy. It was brilliant to watch! Wooton is so funny as Desmond. From teaching the children ‘army like’ tactics to avoid being seen going to auditions such as sneaking under windows, to hiding behind objects and sneaking about. The best thing Desmond does is hiring a duck bus! He gets some of the other kids to cover for their absence, so they can take off for the contest. Que giving Mrs. Bevan a fake morning register to even using objects to put school jackets on so from the window the classroom looks full! It’s so mad.

Desmond gets the kids to help kidnap Donald, as they need a proper teacher. Tying him up with scarves and even bundling on top of him. The duck bus, is a water vehicle painted up, so it can go over water. They discover a baby on the bus which adds to the mayhem! Desmond forgot to check the fuel gauge – so they run out and have to trek through the hills. From changing the baby’s nappy to Desmond and Donald’s constant arguing, it’s one amusing thing to another.

In fact Tennant takes on two roles. Donald has a twin brother Roderick, who his father (Ian McNeice) prefers and compares him to. Will his dad ever see Donald’s achievements and can winning the contest be the answer?

There’s a lot of competition between the entrants, as signposts get moved and routines are copied. Can our group arrive on time and win?

The songs for the contest are fab. Riverdance even gets in one of the routines. There’s even a tribute to Justin Beiber by one group.

A thoroughly enjoyable experience. 8/10 from me.

Image reproduced from
Trailer reproduced from YouTube/Abanin Uinini

Blood Pressure Drug Shows Alzheimer’s Benefits in Mice

Scientists at Imperial College London have found that the drug prazosin, used to treat high blood pressure, may have potential benefits in Alzheimer’s. The study found that the drug could prevent memory loss in mice showing characteristic features of the disease. The work was funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, Fundació Marató TV3, and Alzheimer’s Society in partnership with the BUPA Foundation. The research is published this month in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

Fast and effective communication between brain cells is essential for the normal functioning of the brain and is orchestrated by chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitter noradrenaline, as well as several others, can become disrupted in particular areas of the brain during Alzheimer’s. Although best known for stimulating the brain in times of stress, noradrenaline has a range of functions in the brain, including roles in memory, inflammation and the immune system.

The team set out to investigate whether drugs that affect the action of noradrenaline could provide benefits in mice showing features of Alzheimer’s. They tested a range of compounds in the laboratory and found that the drug prazosin, which can be used to relax blood vessels in people with high blood pressure, also showed potential for reducing signs of Alzheimer’s.

The researchers then used the drug to treat mice bred to develop a build-up of the Alzheimer’s protein amyloid in their brain. These mice show a decline in memory performance which is characteristic of the disease in humans. The team found that treatment with prazosin could prevent the memory problems seen in untreated mice.

The drug did not reduce levels of the amyloid protein, but did appear to affect levels of inflammation in the brain. Prazosin boosted the number of brain support cells called astrocytes, which can produce anti-inflammatory proteins.

Dr Magdalena Sastre, Lecturer in Molecular Neuroscience at Imperial College London, said:
“We are really excited about these findings and the potential they may hold for the future. There is still a lot for us to understand about why prazosin may have benefits in the brain. We think the drug may stimulate an anti-inflammatory response, and there is increasing evidence that inflammation is a key process in Alzheimer’s.”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“These promising results are still at an early stage, but research into potential new treatments is vital in the fight to defeat dementia. Brain inflammation is coming under increasing scrutiny in the search for Alzheimer’s treatments, so we are pleased to have funded this study in an important area. Further work will be needed to see how the results translate in people, but it is a real step in the right direction.

“By developing new drugs or looking for undiscovered potential in existing drugs, scientists hope to find effective ways to halt the disease. There are currently no treatments available which slow or stop Alzheimer’s, which is why increased funding for dementia research is so incredibly important.“

Professor Clive Ballard, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said:
“We have known for some time that lifestyle factors such as high blood pressure are linked to dementia. This important research paves the way for further investigation into whether drugs like prazosin could form part of the picture.

“There are 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK. This year the Prime Minister committed to doubling government investment in dementia research. We must now make sure that this money is spent effectively to help people to live well with dementia today and ultimately find a cure.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

Kent Golfers Use Their Drive to Raise £5,000 for Dementia Research

Etchinghill Golf Club has raised an enormous £5,000 for Alzheimer’s Research UK in twelve months, after naming the UK’s leading dementia research charity as their Charity of the Year. The 350-strong club, based at Etchinghill near Folkestone, pulled together the huge sum with a range of events throughout the year, including golfing games, a quiz and several raffles.

The club chose to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK after being inspired about the work of the charity by dementia research scientist Dr Kate Kellett, the daughter of ladies’ captain Rosemary Davey.

Rosemary explained:
“Everyone knows someone with dementia – my own mother had the condition, and it seems that most families have been affected these days. Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia and with many people in the club over 55, it’s a big health concern for us all as we look to the future. Because of Kate’s job I’m very aware that research to find new treatments is desperately underfunded, which is one of the reasons we chose to support Alzheimer’s Research UK. I’m so proud of the work Kate does, and we know there are researchers all over the country who are just as dedicated as she is, so we were all pleased to have raised so much for their work.

“Etchinghill is a very friendly club and it was no surprise to see everyone get involved to help raise money. We had local companies sponsoring holes for one of our games, and plenty of people donating raffle prizes and taking part in our fundraising events. Everyone has been so generous, and it was wonderful to see the whole club pull together to help this important cause.”

Club members had the chance to hear first-hand from Dr Kellett about Alzheimer’s Research UK’s work at their annual dinner last month, where she was also able to explain more about her own research at the University of Leeds.

She said:
“My colleagues and I are focused on understanding an enzyme called BACE-1, which plays a role in the production of a protein that builds in the brain during Alzheimer’s. We hope that our work will enable the design of new drugs to tackle the disease – we need to understand what’s going on in Alzheimer’s in order to develop new treatments.

“Funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK has been extremely important to allow our team’s work to progress. As a scientist I’m very aware of how much money is needed to carry out research, and knowing how hard people work to raise that money really does put it into perspective. The thought that the public is willing to support research really helps spur on our work, and it was great to meet the ladies of Etchinghill Golf Club and to thank them for their efforts.”

Parminder Summon, Community Fundraising Manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This is a fantastic effort and we are really grateful to the club members for their wonderful support. The amount they’ve raised will pay for 250 hours of pioneering research, bringing new treatments, preventions and improved diagnosis for dementia ever closer.

“Over 17,000 people in Kent alone are affected by dementia, yet we still lack treatments to stop the diseases that cause dementia. Alzheimer’s Research UK funds top scientists through more than 140 groundbreaking projects worth over £20 million in our determination to defeat dementia. As we receive no government funding, we rely on our enthusiastic supporters to fund this crucial research. There are lots of ways to raise money for our work. The first step is to contact us on 01223 843899 or email to request a free fundraising pack or to talk about your fundraising ideas.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

Doctor Who Helps Exterminate Dementia

A book of celebrity memories about the science-fiction drama Doctor Who, entitled Behind the Sofa, is flying off the shelves to boost funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK. Jonathan Ross, Lynda Bellingham, Al Murray and Martina Cole are among more than 100 famous contributors. All the proceeds from book sales are being donated to the UK’s leading dementia research charity and the total so far has reached over £20,000.

Behind the Sofa also contains recollections from a host of former stars of the long-running BBC series, including Hugh Bonneville and Tracy-Ann Oberman, with illustrations by artist Ben Morris.

Author and Whovian Steve Berry was inspired to compile Behind the Sofa in memory of his mum Janet who died with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2009.

Steve says:
“The idea for the book came to me when Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005, after a 16-year gap. It was just after my mum was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s – she was only in her 50s. I was shocked to learn that little could be done to help her and appalled at the lack of funding for research for new treatments. I thought, ‘What would the Doctor do if faced with an enemy like Alzheimer’s?’”

“Since then I’ve been on a mission to help the experts, Alzheimer’s Research UK. Behind the Sofa has been four years in the making and 100 per cent of the proceeds are being donated to the charity’s pioneering research into the disease and other forms of dementia. All the love and care in the world can’t cure Alzheimer’s – research is the only answer. Everyone who buys a copy will give hope to the 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia today.

“I’ve been truly astonished, both by the support of the Whovian community who have purchased the book in their thousands, and by the generosity of the celebrities who gave up their time to help. Behind the Sofa is a lasting legacy to Mum and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

“In addition, PayPal, the online payment company which processed the pre-orders of the book in March, waived its fees and instead gave the money to the charity in the form of a £1,000 donation.”

Dr Marie Janson, Director of Development at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We are so grateful to Steve and everyone who has added their Doctor Who memories to this brilliant book. The £20,000 raised from sales of Behind the Sofa already is a tremendous result – enough to fund 1,000 hours of world-class research and vital equipment for our scientists. This amazing contribution is bringing us closer to finding ways to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

“The brain is one of the most complex parts of our body, with more connections than there are stars in the galaxy – there is still so much we need to understand. Dementia poses one of the greatest threats to public health now and in the future yet funding for research lags far behind other serious diseases. We rely entirely on our wonderful supporters like Steve to fund our crucial research.”

Behind the Sofa can be ordered online at priced at £14.99. It is also available at, and many specialist comic book shops.

Film Review – Gangster Squad


Sean Penn making his mark as 2013's first big baddie.

Sean Penn making his mark as 2013’s first big baddie.

Gangster Squad, 2013’s first big-cast all-action picture, was released to cinemas last week; and for anticipatory fans such as myself, it came not a moment too soon. With a four-month extension of its release date, this is a film that has garnered a lot of attention in its pre-release, and in doing so it has given itself a lot to live up to. The story follows a special troop of Los Angeles police officers, put together to bring down the city’s major crime boss, Mickey Cohen. Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) and starring consistently reliable actors, such as Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, and Giovanni Ribisi, this could have been one of the better gangster films to grace our screens for a long time. Unfortunately, it did fall somewhat short of the mark on a lot of levels.

Watching the trailer, it gives off a sense of The Untouchables, for its inescapably similar plotline, as well as Dick Tracy, for its comical product design, over-animated backgrounds, and over-the-top prosthetics. However, when viewing the film, it comes off more as a surrealist comedy than a gritty crime drama. The opening scene sets the tone for the movie, with a man getting ripped by two attached cars. Although plausible, and quite possibly something that happened in Cohen’s reign, it seems logical, medically, that the man would rip apart at the joints rather than the midriff. And that seems to be the case throughout the remainder of the movie – going for standout cinematic surrealism, as opposed to the hardcore authenticity, a concept that its predecessors, The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential, seemed to do so well.

At times, the actions of, supposedly, seasoned police officers, some of which have military experience behind them, seemed farcical and completely nonsensical. Why would they raid a casino, without double-checking who was inside first? How can someone be a single-bullet, head hitting, crack-shot with a Tommy gun from thirty yards? Why would you call for another ammo clip, when you have a spare gun in your holster? Too many times there seemed to be moments of action added in, in order to build suspense, but which ended up distracting from the overall believability of a “true” story. Although that last part cannot be believed for a second.

The final gripe of this movie is with the characters. They were not badly acted, in fact Anthony Mackie was the standout star of the whole film, it was just that they all seemed far too two-dimensional: a cop with honour, a lothario, an old man, a smart-guy, a rookie with something to prove, and a knife-thrower (there’s always a knife-thrower in these films!), were all far too cliché, and with nothing to make them unique from any other ensemble piece. If the writers had taken more time to delve into characters’ backgrounds, and their underlying motives, making them less like a pastiche of been-done replicas, then the entire movie would have had a substance that it so readily needed.

That being said there are a lot of elements, which make up for a lack of realism, and do, overall, make this an entertaining piece.

As with all of Fleischer’s movies, this one uses slow motion to a tee, making the action sequences a lot more aesthetically pleasing than overused quick-cut method that audiences are now so frequently subjected to.  Furthermore, despite one or two questionable lines of dialogue, the acting was on the money. Each performer oozed suave, sophisticated mannerisms that have become a token of the gangster era, and made their character instantly likeable as an on-screen presence – even the villains.

The biggest asset that Gangster Squad had going, was the Tarantino-style references peppered throughout, which paid homage to a lot of its influences and predecessors. Elements such as the inclusion of Nick Nolte, star of the similarly themed Mulholland Falls, or the unmistakable Untouchables reference, with the attack on the house, was subtle yet attributive, giving it an element of class that movie-lovers will no doubt relish.

Overall, this is not a film for auteur-loving movie fanatics with a desire for a realistic portrayal of the crackdown on Mickey Cohen. Instead, what Gangster Squad portrays is a glitzy, glamorous portrayal of an over-exaggerated world, where everyone looks good smoking, and where carrying a gun is a way of life. For two hours of entertainment, this is definitely worth viewing. However, it will never be regarded as one of the all-time great gangster movies.

Overall – 3/5

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Study Highlights Scale of Challenge to Reduce Antipsychotics for Dementia

A new study from UK researchers suggests more people with dementia may be receiving antipsychotic prescriptions than previously thought. The study is published in the journal BMC Psychiatry.

Antipsychotics can be used for people with dementia to help combat challenging behavioural symptoms such as severe agitation. Moves to reduce their use came after a study funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK showed they doubled the risk of death in people with dementia when taken over a prolonged period. Since then the charity has called for a reduction in their use, and last year backed a Dementia Action Alliance campaign calling for patients with dementia to have their prescriptions reviewed.

Researchers at Aston University and the University of East Anglia worked with NHS Kent and Medway to determine how many people with dementia were being prescribed antipsychotics, and to implement medication reviews aimed at reducing the number of people receiving these drugs.

As part of the study, they collected data from 59 GP practices – 98.3% of practices in the area – and found that over 15% of people who had been diagnosed with dementia were receiving low-dose antipsychotics at the start of the study. When they compared this to data from the government’s National Dementia and Antipsychotic Prescribing Audit, they found that figures from this audit were much lower, with just under half of GP practices taking part in the audit, and 6.8% of people with dementia being prescribed antipsychotics. The researchers concluded that the numbers of people being prescribed the drugs may have been under-estimated.

Dr Marie Janson of Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said: “Findings from Alzheimer’s Research UK highlighted the dangers of antipsychotics nearly four years ago, and the recent national audit showed positive steps are now being taken to reduce their use. This new study backs up the national audit’s findings that there is still some way to go to ensure patients across the country benefit from moves to reduce the use of these drugs. Though this research only looked at one area of the UK, these findings highlight the potential scale of the antipsychotics challenge and underline the need to keep up momentum on this issue.

“Antipsychotics should only be given to people with dementia when there is no other option for dealing with challenging behaviour, and their use must be carefully monitored. We know that doctors face a difficult task to tackle these symptoms, and safe, alternative treatments are urgently needed – such treatments can only come from research.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

Film Review – The Hobbit

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

It has been nine years since the final instalment of one of cinema’s finest movie trilogies. Nine years of DVD and Blu-Ray releases, box sets, director’s cuts, and extended editions. In that time, The Lord of the Rings has become one of the most-loved, most appreciated series of films for men and women of all ages, and, along with the Harry Potter series, has helped to rekindle a love of literature that, at one point, seemed to dissipate for an entire generation. So now, after nearly a decade of pre-production hell, which included director changes, production company bankruptcy, schedule changes to incorporate the right actor, and an array of other nightmares to deal with, Peter Jackson’s latest journey into Middle Earth, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has got a lot to live up to.

Before there is any delving into the plotline, whether the 3D version is better than standard 2D, or whether the choice of filming in 48fps (frames per second) was beneficial or not, there must be a look at the original masterpiece in its original form. A fantastic children’s book, exploring one (half)man’s journey from mundanity to adventure, proving that any man, no matter their size, can make all the difference in the world. Inspirational, innovative, and incredibly entertaining, regardless of what your age is when you choose to read it. But at just under three hundred pages, or just over, depending on the edition, it is hard to understand how it is going to be made into three (yes, three) three-hour films.

Originally, or so legend says, Peter Jackson wanted to make two films, working very closely to the formula of the original book. However there was one point, which most likely happened during the aforementioned pre-production misery, where the trilogy was decided upon, filling all filmgoers, those who have read and fell in love with the book, with trepidation about how one-hundred pages of book are going to remain entertaining over three hours, and not stray too far from the original plot. For most, it did not seem possible.

But now, almost a month after The Hobbit’s release into the UK, it can be said that it has, in fact, been done incredibly well. For any naysayers that are still out there, do not doubt any longer. The start of this trilogy is not one to be frowned upon anymore.

The film starts, quite nicely, with an elderly Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), the same Bilbo Baggins we meet in The Fellowship of the Ring, beginning his detailed account of when he ventured on a battle to fight the deadly dragon Smaug in his younger years. Is this different from the book? Yes. A letdown? Not in the slightest.

Without giving too much away – for those who are still not in-tune with author J.R.R. Tolkien’s original plotting – what the film then supplies is a younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) journeying with dwarves, battling with goblins, being subject to a battle between stone giants, and meeting a very menacing Gollum, all whilst on his journey to help his new friends claim back their stolen home from a dragon.

Unsurprisingly, this film is going to be forever compared to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, and there is not much that can be done to change that. However, the most finite piece of advice that can be given to anybody about to view this film is: forget everything that you know about the original epics. This is nowhere near the same level of intensity that they incorporated. Much like the book, this is a film, primarily, for children. It is whimsical, there is a lot more buffoonery, the fight scenes have a jovial nature, and there are not the intense elements of fear and danger that consistently appeared through its predecessors. It is a fun film, and there is not a lot more than can be said about that.

There are elements of the film that could, potentially, be improved. Whereas in the book, the band of dwarves had clear personalities and moments, which made them all stand out from the others, here they all mesh into one, with only one or two having unique moments. Furthermore, including characters such as Saruman The White (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy) could have been culled. Albeit they are good to make subtle nods to The Hobbit’s predecessors, their overall purpose seemed only to be to convince die-hard fans that the film is not a perfect representation of the book they adore.

Overall, this film should get a lot more praise than it has had. For three-hours, it does well as a very entertaining piece of cinema. There are, as with a lot of modern films, times when the pace could be picked up, and areas where the CGI could be improved. Nonetheless, this does stand as a very enjoyable film. Will its two sequels be as entertaining? In two years time, we are sure to find out.

Cambridgeshire Campaigner Made Champion of Alzheimer’s Research UK

Sarah King, from Linton in Cambridgeshire, has been made a Champion of Alzheimer’s Research UK. Sarah was given the title in recognition of her exceptional support for the charity after her husband, Andrew, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease when he was just 43. The national charity, based in Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire, now has a small but growing group of 17 Champions – supporters who have gone above and beyond to help in its mission to defeat dementia.

Sarah, 45, first began supporting Alzheimer’s Research UK when she took part in the charity’s Big Walk last year, raising much-needed funds for pioneering dementia research. Sarah has since taken the brave step of speaking out in the media about her experience on behalf of the charity, helping to raise awareness and improve public understanding of Alzheimer’s.

Sarah said:
“When Andrew was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years ago it was a terrible shock, but it was also a relief to finally understand what was causing his symptoms. Little by little the disease has taken away his abilities, and Andrew is now in a care home as he’s no longer able to walk or talk. I feel lucky to still have Andrew and visit him often, but watching his decline has been absolutely heartbreaking. When we first got married we dreamed of having children but those dreams have been shattered now – the impact of this disease has been enormous for our whole family.

“Before he became ill, Andrew worked as a geneticist so I’m well aware of the importance of research, and that’s one reason I chose to support Alzheimer’s Research UK. I would dearly love to see a treatment that could help people like Andrew, but research is vital for that to happen. I’m pleased to be doing something positive to help in the fight against dementia and I’m honoured to be made a Champion of Alzheimer’s Research UK.”

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We’re delighted to make Sarah a Champion of Alzheimer’s Research UK – she has shown such commitment in her support for the charity and she truly deserves this honour. Sarah has always been willing to help us raise the profile of dementia research, and this is our way of showing our appreciation for her hard work and dedication.

“By sharing her experience and talking honestly about Andrew’s diagnosis, Sarah has helped countless people understand the reality of Alzheimer’s disease. Her fundraising and her promotion of research have been a real boost to our work, helping to bring us ever closer to new treatments and preventions.

“More than 6,000 people in Cambridgeshire alone are affected by dementia, and treatments to combat the diseases that cause it can only come through research. Every penny we spend on research comes from the public, and it’s thanks to wonderful supporters like Sarah that we’re able to make an impact.”

Film Review: Seven Psychopaths

Seven PsychopathsSeven Psychopaths is a unique cinema experience to say the least. To put it bluntly, it’s as crazy as a squirrel trapped in a pedal bin. Much like Shane Black’s wonderful Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it’s a chaotic film that’s very self aware. It knows it’s a movie, and so exploits that from start to finish. There are more than a few nods to the camera. But more importantly than that, it’s incredibly funny.

Chances are though once you’ve seen it for the first time you’ll have missed a few things. With Christopher Nolan’s Inception, many people went to see it again because there were plot points that slipped under the wire of complexity. In the case of Seven Psychopaths, you may miss a few jokes, but you’ll want to see it again to judge the ludicrousness of the whole thing. Some of it even takes place in the form of pure fantasy. It’s debatable if the first scene, for example, really happens or it’s just the mental stirrings of the main character. Just like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it doesn’t really matter.

It doesn’t really have a plot either. Just a very complicated dance. Let’s attempt to make sense of it all; Marty (Colin Farrell) is a screenwriter struggling with writer’s block. He’s writing a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths, but all he has is the title. So his friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) puts an advert in the local newspaper asking psychopaths with interesting stories to come forward. At the same time, there is a serial killer called the Jack of Diamonds, who’s wondering round LA knocking off bad people. Oh, and there’s also Billy’s friend Hans (Christopher Walken). Together they kidnap dogs and take them back to their rightful owners for a reward. They accidentally kidnap a shih tzu called Bonnie, that belongs to maniac mobster Charlie (Woddy Harrelson). So, Marty, Billy, and Hans all take off into the desert with Bonnie to try and avoid the mobster hell bent on revenge. Phew!

The script is rather glorious, but it’s given that extra massive push forward by what has to be the best ensemble cast of 2012. Colin Farrell as always is better here in the small independent film than he is starring in bigger films, such as the rather dull Total Recall remake. He’s effectively the audience’s eye – the only non-psychopath. It contrast we have Sam Rockwell, who is hilarious as a good friend with the tendencies of a maniac. In one very funny exchange, he points out that Marty can kill off as many of his female characters as he likes, but he can never kill off the animal. Cue another nod to the camera.

Somehow the show still gets stolen, but it should come as no surprise as to who runs away with it. Two words – Christopher Walken. It’s hard to describe exactly what it is that makes his performance so memorable, but he approaches this film with full strength Walken power. It borders at many points on self parody, but pretty much all of his scenes are quotable. Whether it’s his foul mouthed tirade about cops, or a simple but side splitting moment when he refuses to put his hands up at gunpoint, you can see he’s in his element. He can still do dramatic acting as well as the rest of them too. His face-off scene with Woody Harrelson is a wonderfully tense moment. Walken hasn’t been that good since his face-off with Dennis Hooper in True Romance.

For Martin McDonagh, this has to be a benchmark film. Starting out his career as a renowned playwright before bursting onto the film making scene with the terrific In Bruges, McDonagh has proved that he’s one of the best writers of his generation. He’s often compared to Quentin Tarantino, mainly because of the style of his storytelling, and the dialogue that fizzles and crackles. He wrote the script for Seven Psychopaths a couple of years before In Bruges, deciding to approach the latter first, considering the resources needed to attempt the former.

The first scene is the best written moment of the film, and possibly the entire year. Two mob hitmen, Tommy (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Larry (Michael Pitt) are stood on a bridge waiting for their target to come walking past. In proper Tarantino style, the two attempt to make small talk, trying to remember which famous historical figure it was got shot in the eye. Larry says he once stabbed someone in the ear. Tommy colourfully points out that that’s something totally different.

This is where McDonagh is at his most Tarantino-like. He enjoys creating these fascinating and often psychopathic characters, and then stepping back and watching in amazement at what they can do. That’s exactly what McDonagh did with In Bruges. But with Seven Psychopaths, he throws in a story that really only he can tell. It’s a extremely funny and possibly one of the most entertaining films you’ll see this year. A wonderful slice of controlled chaos.

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Video reproduced from YouTube / trailerobsessed

Apple Day – a Celebration of All Things Apple!


The annual Apple Day at Burwash Manor was, as ever, a fantastic success. Hundreds of visitors helped us to raise over £2,000 for The Sick Children’s Trust.

The charity provides free accommodation for the families of sick children being treated at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge. It has two houses, Acorn House and Chestnut House that support the families in need.

The day started with vintage ploughing matches and a hedge laying competition which offered a great chance to witness some traditional farming practices, and the miniature steam train helped to ease the walk back to the farm! Crowds also flocked (!) to see falconry displays, our very own new piglets who were looking beautifully cute, and demonstrations of traditional countryside skills from weaving to fence laying, basket making to stick carving.

The event itself, being all about apples, featured apple identifiers on hand (from East of England Apples and Orchards Project) to tell keen gardeners what the apples growing in their gardens were, and how to look after them. And those with a surplus of apples could take them to a fabulous team of young farmers from Harper Adams who spent all day turning them into fantastic fresh apple juice. Or you could just try some from Cam Valley Orchards, who brought more varieties than you could count on both hands!

After enjoying all the many activities on the farm, families were grateful for the food stalls (including one where you could decorate your own cake before eating it) and the beer tent! And once refuelled, they enjoyed entertainment from Jezzo the Magician, Sawston Steel Band and a host of stalls offering everything from face painting to tonka toy assault courses.

Next year’s date has been set as 12th October 2013 – we look forward to even more apple fun then!

Details at For more information, contact

Importance of Online Bookings for the Yacht Charter

Greece is undoubtedly an country where you can really enjoy seeing many different monuments, locations, as well as many of its awesome beaches. It is in the summers that place becomes abundant in tourists as it provides to the tourists with its awesome beaches and other fun activities.


Advantages Of Booking Your Kroatien Yacht Charter Services Online

  • You can even enjoy all sorts of water based activities such as sailing, boating, surfing, and more. The yacht charter services are indeed popular as they help the tourists in seeing the wonders of the sea in a better way. Due to their high quality services and standards it makes them very popular amongst the tourists. The rates vary as per the season. If the demand is high especially in the summer months as well as the spring season, the rates are more. Moreover, in during winters one can get the services at cheaper and affordable rates.
  • Most of the yacht charter services provide online booking facilities. This really helps the people in availing of the services in an easy and comfortable way. In the peak season the long lines are seen long before the charter offices open as everyone wants to enjoy the sea life. If you make the bookings before you can enjoy a memorable sailing experience in the beautifully colored yachts. Online booking for the yacht charter services also goes a long way in making your trip cheaper and more enjoyable.
  • It is also possible for you to shortlist the services of these yachts as per your choice and also compare their rates and services.
  • You can also look out the different packages available for exploring Greece.
  • You must collect all the information regarding the yacht charter services. It is also a must to check for their work experience. You must also check the work permit of these yacht services.
  • You must also gather all the necessary details before selecting the yacht services.
  • The yacht services also offer different types of sailing tours which enables one to go and enjoy the amazing sea in a convenient way. These tours are also for a short length of time as all the seas have to be shown in one day.
  • You can get an excellent option in online bookings
  • Most of the yacht charter companies offer amazing discounts on many of the tour packages to attract the customer.
  • You can save a lot of money by taking these services from the various online web sites, even bookings with the help of the different bank cards in getting some extra discounts.
  • The kroatien yacht charter services are very popular all over the world.

Whenever you plan for a vacation in Greece it becomes all the more important to book the services of these yacht services well in advance in order to explore Greece andalso have a great time with friends or family during the trip. So go ahead and enjoy your trip to Greece on a charterservice.


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Cambridgeshire Campaigner Made Champion of Alzheimer’s Research UK

Sarah King, from Linton in Cambridgeshire, has been made a Champion of Alzheimer’s Research UK. Sarah was given the title in recognition of her exceptional support for the charity after her husband, Andrew, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease when he was just 43. The national charity, based in Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire, now has a small but growing group of 17 Champions – supporters who have gone above and beyond to help in its mission to defeat dementia.

Sarah, 45, first began supporting Alzheimer’s Research UK when she took part in the charity’s Big Walk last year, raising much-needed funds for pioneering dementia research. Sarah has since taken the brave step of speaking out in the media about her experience on behalf of the charity, helping to raise awareness and improve public understanding of Alzheimer’s.

Sarah said:
“When Andrew was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years ago it was a terrible shock, but it was also a relief to finally understand what was causing his symptoms. Little by little the disease has taken away his abilities, and Andrew is now in a care home as he’s no longer able to walk or talk. I feel lucky to still have Andrew and visit him often, but watching his decline has been absolutely heartbreaking. When we first got married we dreamed of having children but those dreams have been shattered now – the impact of this disease has been enormous for our whole family.

“Before he became ill, Andrew worked as a geneticist so I’m well aware of the importance of research, and that’s one reason I chose to support Alzheimer’s Research UK. I would dearly love to see a treatment that could help people like Andrew, but research is vital for that to happen. I’m pleased to be doing something positive to help in the fight against dementia and I’m honoured to be made a Champion of Alzheimer’s Research UK.”

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We’re delighted to make Sarah a Champion of Alzheimer’s Research UK – she has shown such commitment in her support for the charity and she truly deserves this honour. Sarah has always been willing to help us raise the profile of dementia research, and this is our way of showing our appreciation for her hard work and dedication.

“By sharing her experience and talking honestly about Andrew’s diagnosis, Sarah has helped countless people understand the reality of Alzheimer’s disease. Her fundraising and her promotion of research have been a real boost to our work, helping to bring us ever closer to new treatments and preventions.

“More than 6,000 people in Cambridgeshire alone are affected by dementia, and treatments to combat the diseases that cause it can only come through research. Every penny we spend on research comes from the public, and it’s thanks to wonderful supporters like Sarah that we’re able to make an impact.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

Film Review: Gambit

GambitThe Coen Brothers’ script for Gambit had been floating around Hollywood for about ten years before it went into production. That’s roughly how long it took Christopher Nolan to write his terrific mind bending heist movie Inception. If the Coen Brothers had decided to spend those ten years rewriting it, Gambit would still probably be filled with jokes that feel incredibly forced. It’s flat, and profoundly unfunny.

But let’s be fair for a moment. It is a comedy crime caper, which is a sub-genre that is almost impossible to get right. It either goes really well, in the case of films like The Pink Panther (the original, obviously), or it can go totally wrong like Ocean’s Thirteen. It’s a tricky balancing act between regular gags, an intelligent crime at its heart, and a series of complications that have to be more farcical than the last. It’s enough to even send Blake Edwards crazy. Most films tend to hit one of two of these and fail on the third (usually the comedy). But Gambit fails on all three counts.

Harry Deane (Colin Firth) is a British art curator, struggling to cope with his abusive tycoon boss Lionel Shahbandar (Alan Rickman), who also happens to be a nudist. Deane decides to get some sweet revenge against Shahbandar by conning him into buying a fake Monet painting. However, in order to make his plan work, he has to enlist the help of PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz), a Texas rodeo queen.

This set-up sounds great, and it worked very well for the original film starring Michael Caine. But this remake fails to make the initial sparkle of the premise work. Take Colin Firth in the lead role. He starts out very well, emulating the original Michael Caine performance, glasses and all. But slowly he moves to the more traditional ground of a repressed, nervous Brit. Alongside him is Cameron Diaz, who is short changed by the script. We know from her comedic experience that she can do great things. She deserves better. Plus, it’s time it stopped being a requirement that she strips to sexy lingerie during every film.

The only bright spark really is Alan Rickman. His nudist scenes do irritate the nerves a little, but he’s very convincing as a tight-fisted overbearing tycoon. He genuinely has Rupert Murdoch written all over him. He’s the main source of laughs during the films only funny scene when Firth’s Deane breaks an office chair, and is forced to sit on it while he slides across the room. It’s Rickman’s reaction that works really well in that instance.

This of course doesn’t change the fact that the Coen Brothers’ script is devastatingly poor. Apart from the occasional flourishes of eccentric humour, you’d think it was written by somebody else if their names weren’t plastered all over the posters. For the most part, Gambit skips over the actual crime set-up and moves along straight into the heist. It becomes clear later on that this is to avoid giving away any third act surprises (at least that’s the intention), but it just stinks of laziness.

This is no more evident than during the long sequence involving Colin Firth losing his trousers. It’s a joke that goes on for a crazily long time, to such an extent that it’s actually made a plot point. And apart from the aforementioned chair gag, the rest of the film relies way too heavily on toilet and fart jokes. If that’s what we wanted we’d watch a Farrelly Brothers film. It certainly doesn’t help much that the director Michael Hoffman likes the clumsy slapstick scenes, but can’t find humour in any of them.

Gambit is a film that feels like it’s being forced upon us, which can only be down to mismanagement on Hoffman’s part. If he had allowed the cast to run with the script a little more they may have been able to squeeze out just a few more laughs. During the ten year wait for this film, both Jennifer Aniston and Ben Kingsley were connected with the project before they both pulled out. If they see the end result, they’ll be breathing a sigh of relief. Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, and the Coen Brothers all in one film. It should be sublime. Instead, it’s painfully disappointing.

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Ten Films To Look Forward To In 2013

2013 looks set to be another year when sequels and comic book movies dominate the box office. Shane Black is taking the director’s chair for Iron Man 3, which judging from the sneak peeks we’ve been given this year, looks set to be much darker than the first two instalments. Thor will also be returning to our screens in Thor: The Dark World, with Alan Taylor taking over Kenneth Branagh as director.

There are of course many other films that look very promising in the upcoming year. Here are my top ten films to watch out for in 2013:

10. A Good Day To Die Hard (Dir. John Moore): John McClane is back, for what looks like his riskiest movie outing yet. This fifth film in the franchise sees McClane leaving America for Russia, to help out his son Jack (Jai Courtney) who’s caught up in a terrorist plot. Considering the previous film fell short of many people’s expectations, it will be interesting to see if Bruce Willis and co. can pull this off. We’ll certainly enjoy watching them try.
Release date: 14th February

9. Pacific Rim (Dir. Guillermo del Toro): This is set to be Guillermo del Toro’s biggest film to date. Literally; it features 25-storey high robots (built and piloted by humans) and aliens. Del Toro has fought hard with the studio to make sure the 3D version of the film is immaculate. He’s supervising every single frame.
Release date: 12th July

8. Side Effects (Dir. Steven Soderbergh): This supposedly will be Soderbergh’s penultimate film before retirement. It’s a thriller set in the mist of the mood medication industry, starring Channing Tatum and Catherine-Zeta Jones. If it’s a success, it will certainly raise expectations for Soderbergh’s final film.
Release date: 15th March

7. Stoker (Dir. Park Chan-wook): This Gothic horror from Park Chan-wook, the director of Oldboy, is his first English-language film. It stars Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman, and is scripted by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller. He wrote the script under a pseudonym just in case no one liked it. If Chan-wook wants to make it his first English-language film, it must be good.
Release date: 1st March

6. Antiviral (Dir. Brandon Cronenberg): This will be the début feature from Brandon Cronenberg, son of David Cronenberg. It’s about a company the takes diseases from celebrities and injects them into paying customers. Talk about a chip off the old block.
Release date: 30th November

5. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (Dir. Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez): At last the long awaited sequel to Sin City has finally arrived. Although, since the first film’s release, two of the cast members (Brittany Murphy and Michael Clarke Duncan) have passed away, so their roles have been recast. Also expect a few new characters thrown into the mix.
Release date: 4th October

4. Byzantium (Dir. Neil Jordan): Jordan returns to making films about vampires. This time, Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan star in a dark and gory mother daughter story with a bit of, ahem, bite. Arterton has already revealed that earlier in 2012 during filming she was required to stand under a blood waterfall. Given Jordan’s eye for stunning visuals, it could be one of the best vampire films of recent years.
Release date: TBC

3. Calvary (Dir. John Michael McDonagh): The brother of Martin McDonach teams up with Brendan Gleeson for the second time, after John Michael’s hilarious début The Guard. This time he brings us a dark comedy about a priest trying to protect a small community when it’s threatened with murder. It’s a McDonagh film, so expect very dark humour, foul language, inappropriate gags, and for them all to be delivered with heart.
Release date: TBC

2. Trance (Dir. Danny Boyle): After his stunning opening ceremony at the Olympics, Danny Boyle returns to the director’s chair with a heist movie starring James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, and Roasrio Dawson. It’s about a con man who loses his memory, and can’t remember where he has hidden a very valuable painting. Expect realities to blur as Boyle messes with our minds.
Release date: 27th March

1. Star Trek: Into Darkness (Dir. J.J. Abrams): As always with an Abrams project, the plot to his Star Trek sequel is still under wraps. All we know is that Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing the villain, but he will not be the infamous bad guy Kahn. All we know is Abrams did a wonderful job re-introducing Star Trek to the cinema nearly four years ago. You can almost guarantee he’s going to take things to a new level. If the trailer below is anything to go by, it’s going to be darker and on a much bigger scale. Consider this the The Dark Knight of Star Trek movies.
Release date: 17th May

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The 10 Best and Worst Movies of 2012

I know film critics say this every December, but it’s true; this has been a great year for movies. Yes, there have been a few bumps along the way (ten of them are featured below) but for the most part, this year’s cinema experiences have been spectacular.

We’ve had a summer of superhero blockbusters taking over the box office, including the incredibly enjoyable The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble), and the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. And as Oscar season heats up, we’ve had some great award contestants from Ben Affleck’s Argo to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Oh, and there was the small matter of James Bond’s 50th anniversary, celebrated in style with the superb Skyfall.

So here are my ten best and worst films of the past year. Please note that this list is based on their release date in the UK, so some will have technically been released in the US during 2011.

Let’s start by getting the rubbish out of the way:

10 Worst Films of 2012

10. Silver Linings Playbook (Dir. David O. Russell): A lot of people are tipping this for Oscar success, but that is part of the problem. It’s clear Oscar bait from start to finish, and that’s a little annoying. It’s very uneven, the humour is rather cringe worthy, Robert De Niro is irritating, and poor Bradley Cooper is left to twist in the wind with a bad script. Jennifer Lawrence is superb; that’s the only redeeming feature.

9. Alex Cross (Dir. Rob Cohen): This was the film that was supposed to bring the Alex Cross franchise back to life after a stuttering start with Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls. Matthew Fox even features as a homicidal maniac. Instead the end result is just a formulaic bore with loud noises. James Patterson fans would be wise to stay away.

8. Snow White and the Huntsman (Dir. Rupert Sanders): This is a film that thinks it’s something new and impressive. Instead it’s the same old claptrap they keep forcing on us because a lot of people like Twilight. It’s aimless and doesn’t really go anywhere. It made a fair bit of money though. A sequel is already on the cards – oh, the joy.

7. Gone (Dir. Heitor Dhalia): When it was coming up to the release of Gone, the studio decided it didn’t want to do much press coverage. They’d probably just watched it. It’s got straight-to-DVD written all over it, so it’s bewildering that it actually turned up on cinema screens, and not many of those either.

6. Men in Black 3 (Dir. Barry Sonnenfield): Men in Black 3 sports the biggest plot hole of the year, when Will Smith’s J appears miraculously immune to the effects of time. Tommy Lee Jones appears on all the posters, even though he’s only in it for ten minutes, and they had to stop filming while they tried to fix the script. They should have tried harder.

5. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Dir. Timur Bekmambetov): Seth Grahame-Smith’s book contains a lot of tongue-in-cheek and dark humour. The film takes itself way too seriously, and is filled with very poor CGI. The book is good, the adaptation is terrible.

4. Red Lights (Dir. Rodrigo Cortes): It’s hard to believe that this is from the same director who brought us the gripping Buried. Despite the all-star cast, this is just a dreary mess. And just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it has a “twist” ending that just beggars belief. A crying shame.

3. Taken 2 (Dir. Olivier Megaton): The first instalment of Taken was one of the most deliriously fun films of the decade. The sequel is just a series of loud, ridiculous events. The writer Luc Besson said he wasn’t interested in making a third film, until he saw how much money Taken 2 had made and has now changed his mind. He really should have focused on the fact that it’s total bile.

2. Top Cat: The Movie (Dir. Alberto Mar): Really?! I mean, are they kidding with this? Apparently Top Cat is very big in Mexico, so they made their own terrible film version, voiced by actors who sound nothing like the original characters. Top Cat fans should stay away from this if they value their sanity. Just watch the repeats on Boomerang, you’ll be much happier.

1. This Means War (Dir. McG): So once again McG proves that he’s completely incompetent when it comes to directing movies. This film is filled with so much creepy, uncomfortable, and voyeuristic humour that it makes you want to tear your own eyes out just to have something else to do. The stars Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, and Reese Witherspoon all deserve so much better than this pile of absolute dreck. To summarise – I hated it.

10 Best Films of 2012

10. Shadow Dancer (Dir. James Marsh): One of the opening scenes of Shadow Dancer is shot in complete silence as a bomb is planted on the London underground. It’s one of the most tension-filled scenes of the year. James Marsh certainly is one of the most promising young directors British cinema has to offer. Giving him a Bond film certainly would be an interesting idea.

9. Ted (Dir. Seth MacFarlane): Anyone who is a fan of Family Guy, or generally has a funny bone, will enjoy Seth MacFarlane’s film. It’s crammed to the rafters with hilarious jokes, all of which would be quotable if they weren’t so filthy or offensive. It’s amazing what a cute teddy bear can get away with saying.

8. Skyfall (Dir. Sam Mendes): Bond is back, this time with a film that isn’t just filled with gripping action but also has a deep and thoughtful story. Many people want Sam Mendes to come back and direct another Bond. If Skyfall is anything to go by, then that would be a very wise decision.

7. Seven Psychopaths (Dir. Martin McDonagh): This was certainly a Marmite film, you either loved it or hated it. I certainly fall into the former category. Deliriously fun, with plenty of dark hilarious moments that have become a trademark of McDonagh’s work. Incidentally, the short pre-credits scene at the start of the film – best written scene of 2012.

6. Into The Abyss (Dir. Werner Herzog): Very few people can make deep and thought provoking documentaries on a regular basis like Werner Herzog. His film about the aftermath of a double homicide is a harrowing watch, that at the same time is a celebration of life. Poetic, and very wise.

5. Margin Call (Dir. JC Chandor): This is quite simply one of the best films about Wall Street ever made. Set during the 2008 economic collapse, the film takes place over one night as a company struggles to come to terms with what is about to happen. Intelligent, and gripping even though we know what’s coming. It made a last minute appearance at the Oscars when it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Quite right too.

4. Moonrise Kingdom (Dir. Wes Anderson): No one can really create a world like Wes Anderson. Even though it sports an all-star cast, it’s the two children at the heart of the story that are really impressive. It’s a celebration of the innocence of childhood, and sends the message that if we look hard enough, we’ll never be alone. A delight from start to finish.

3. Headhunters (Dir. Morten Tyldum): Once again the Nordic writers and film makers are showing us how to make great crime thrillers. Based on the novel by Jo Nesbo, Headhunters is captivating, funny, and the most enjoyable film of the year. Sadly, there is already an American remake in the works. Even if you don’t like subtitled films, please watch this and avoid the remake. Believe me, you’ll have fun.

2. The Dark Knight Rises (Dir. Christopher Nolan): Many people will have breathed a huge sigh of relief after watching Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his Batman trilogy. He didn’t let us down, and he delivered on the hype. A gripping, stunningly epic conclusion, which ended in the best way possible. Pure genius on Nolan’s part.

1. Cosmopolis (Dir. David Cronenberg): I know this is going to raise a few eyebrows, but I can explain. Yes, the dialogue is strange – that’s why it’s the best written movie of the year. And yes, it makes no attempt to emotionally engage with the audience – but that’s the point. Cronenberg is presenting to us an uncomfortably realistic vision of the future, where capitalism leaves us as emotionless unsatisfied vampires. It’s proved to be a little too distant and unattached for some people, but for me it was a work of sheer brilliance.

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Film Review: Rise of the Guardians

Rise of Guardians Poster
Rise of The Guardians is another animation fest. I think the way that traditional characters like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are given an almost ‘superhero’ treatment is very cool.

I think it’s shaken up the franchise and given kids a different take. It reminded me a bit of the new Avengers cartoon. The voice talents include Chris Pine (Capt. Kirk – Star Trek) as Jack Frost, Hollywood stalwart Alec Baldwin as Santa, Isla Fisher (Home and Away, Scooby Doo) as the Tooth Fairy, Jude Law as Pitch the Bogeyman and Hugh Jackman (X Men Wolverine) as the Easter Bunny.

Now the plot might not stretch the mind, the Bogeyman is coming!? Sheesh, give me a break! But it’s the performances that make this movie a must see treat. Santa and the others must induct Jack Frost into the group of Guardians. Now, this could have been a yawn fest for adults, but anyone who could fall asleep during this – should be made to run around a field 30 times.

Its genius. The digital characters have quirky looks and I just love the ‘Batman’ type gadgets that were present. When they covered for the tooth fairy by doing her rounds, that was good. But it was the main story of what is worth fighting for, that shone through for me. It might have been an animation – but Jack’s journey of self discovery was very moving.

The main compliant for me was Jude Law, there are better actors out there who are better villains. He was okay, but to me the villain should shine. It bit like JR Ewing, you love to hate him. I found Jude’s portrayal below par to the others, so the threat wasn’t massive.

The final battle was simply movie gold. Well worth the wait and should go down as one of the highlights of 2012. I believe that in order to survive into the next millennium, a lot of childhood heroes will need ‘updating’. Kids today want more, movies now need to entertain the adults too, so the movies become more of a family thing – than just for kids.

This ticks all the boxes and more. A worthy 9/10 from me.

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Brain Imaging Probe Offers Hope for Early Alzheimer’s Detection

Scientists in the US have developed a brain imaging ‘probe’ that may help detect Alzheimer’s in the very earliest stages of the disease. The probe works by binding to a protein called amyloid, a key feature of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois developed the probe using an antibody that binds to amyloid, which is known to clump together in the brain and become toxic during Alzheimer’s. The researchers then combined this antibody with magnetic nanoparticles that show up during MRI scans.

Current brain scanning techniques can detect amyloid in the brain once it has formed into large, sticky plaques, but the researchers hope their new probe will help detect the toxic form of amyloid before these plaques have formed, potentially identifying people with Alzheimer’s at a much earlier stage. The scientists aim to develop a way of delivering the probe – which has so far been tested in the lab and in rodents – using a nasal spray.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“Though not yet published in full, this early study suggests that more sensitive brain scans capable of picking up Alzheimer’s before symptoms appear could be possible. It’s likely that new treatments will have the best chance of success if given early, and early detection will be vital for identifying the right people to take part in clinical trials. This particular probe has not yet been tested in people, so it remains to be seen how effective this method might be.

“With half a million people affected by Alzheimer’s, we still lack a treatment that can stop the disease in its tracks. New treatments can only come from research, and we must invest in research if we are to bring hope to those affected by the disease.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

Film Review: Trouble with the Curve

Trouble with the CurveTrouble with the Curve is the ultimate anti-Moneyball movie. Many members of the baseball community in the US, most of them relatively old, still have difficulty accepting that their game can be won by someone who’s good at maths. Trouble with the Curve is a celebration of those old scouts you saw battling against Brad Pitt in Moneyball; the people who believe that it’s all about athletic ability, and good old-fashioned gut instincts.

Is Trouble with the Curve as good as Moneyball? No. Not even close. Moneyball was a film that had great flares of originality and snappy writing separating out the obligatory moments of sports cliche. Trouble with the Curve however makes no attempt to do anything new. It’s exactly the same baseball movie that’s been on the big screen since Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams. And yet, Trouble with the Curve still works. It’s still watchable and rather solid. You don’t have to look far to see why. It’s all down to a certain man called Clint Eastwood, who proves he’s still one of the best actors around.

Eastwood plays Gus, and ageing baseball scout who’s soon stopped in his tracks when his sight starts failing. It goes without saying that without perfect sight, he can’t work. So he turns to his estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), who reluctantly agrees to join him on one last recruiting trip before Gus brings his illustrious scouting career to a close.

Yes, Clint Eastwood may have been playing the same character for quite a few years now, but here he’s near his most engaging. His performance is perfectly tuned. It’s still a little hard to believe that this is the same man last seen ranting at an empty chair at the Republican Party convention. Opposite him his Amy Adams, who’s quickly proving to be one of the best young actors in Hollywood. She goes toe-to-toe with Eastwood and delivers a strong performance. The only problem is, they don’t quite have the right chemistry. It’s close, but they just can’t quite connect.

Herein lies the film’s main problem; while most of the performances are good, their chemistry lacks and sort of spark. The worst relationship is between Mickey and Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a scout who was once one of Gus’ big baseball prospects. Timberlake doesn’t deliver the best of performances, often appearing to be very flat, and his relationship storyline with Amy Adams is incredibly irritating. However the always reliable John Goodman makes an appearance as Pete Klein, who aides Eastwood in keeping the film on the rails.

Clint Eastwood’s producing partner Robert Lorenz, who has produced the last twelve films for him, takes the director’s chair, after Eastwood decided he didn’t want to direct this one. Lorenz has clearly learnt a lot from the veteran Eastwood; making the film efficiently and keeping it at an unhurried pace. Lorenz in the past has worked as second-unit director when Eastwood was directing, so he’s had plenty of first hand experience. Despite that, it’s surprising that Lorenz is able to make such a solid film whilst making his directorial debut.

The bigger story though are the rumours circulating around Hollywood that this will be the last time Eastwood appears in front of a camera. He hasn’t confirmed or denied these rumours, but it’s hard not to read a little too deep into some scenes. For example, at one point while talking to a player, Gus tells him that no matter what, family is the most important thing. The actor Eastwood shares the scene with is Scott Eastwood, his son. Read into that what you will.

Will Clint Eastwood get another Oscar nod? It’s quite possible. In fact, if it becomes public knowledge that this will be his last acting appearance, then you can almost say he’s a dead cert. He had originally planned on Gran Tarino being his final acting role, and that probably would have been the better choice. That’s not to say Trouble with the Curve isn’t a good film. It is. It may be straightforward and filled to the rafters with cliche, but it’s so solidly made that you don’t really care. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit back and watch a story be told beautifully.

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Physical Activity Cuts Risk of Cognitive Decline and Vascular Dementia

Research has found that older people who regularly take part in physical activities have a lower risk of cognitive problems and vascular dementia. The study is a collaborative effort between scientists across Europe and is published in the journal Stroke.

The study involved 638 elderly people with an average age of 74, who had some signs of structural change in the brain but had not been diagnosed with a disability. The volunteers were assessed at the start of the study and detailed information collected about their lives. This included how much physical activity they did, vascular risk factors such as stroke and diabetes, quality of life and depression. They were also given memory and thinking tests, and brain scans to look for changes in the brain indicative of cognitive decline.

The volunteers were then assessed in the same way every year for a three year period. Of the 633 participants who completed the study, 90 were diagnosed with dementia and 147 were assessed as having cognitive impairment but not dementia.

The researchers found that volunteers who engaged in at least 30 minutes of activity at least three days a week had a lower risk of cognitive decline. The risk of vascular dementia was more than halved in those who engaged in physical activity, even after accounting for other factors such as age and education.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This relatively small study provides more support for the view that what is good for your heart is good for your head. We know that damage to the cardiovascular system is linked to dementia and these findings suggest by keeping this system healthy, we can reduce our risk of the condition. As the volunteers used in this study already had early signs of changes in the brain, they may not entirely represent the general population, but there is a growing body of evidence for the benefits of exercise on the brain.

“The next step will be to investigate this link further in larger groups of people and understand the type and intensity of exercise that may be most beneficial. With research into dementia so underfunded compared to other common diseases, we must ensure that funding for research is maintained so that we can find answers for the 820,000 people in the UK living with the condition.”

Film Review: End Of Watch

End of WatchYou really should turn your nose up at End of Watch, but you can’t help but be captivated by it. It’s made up of pretty much every cop movie cliché going, and you’ve seen the plot more than a few times before. And yet, the bits that seem like they’ve been cut and pasted from other films are the real highlights. Quentin Tarantino is a master at this – making constant homages to other films, while still writing and directing them in a way only he can.

What’s even more surprising is that the version of End of Watch we see on the big screen is the product of a director losing his nerve. Originally, the plan was to make the film entirely from the viewpoint of the camera owned by officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s making what presumably is an illegal documentary. This reduces the scope of the film considerably, so it’s not surprising that the director David Ayer couldn’t follow through on the stylistic premise. It just doesn’t make sense that Taylor would film everything; the big plot hole in most found footage films. In terms of style, the end result is rather inconsistent, but by allowing the camera to move more freely, Ayer’s film is able to accomplish much more.

The film follows Taylor and his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) as they patrol the streets in one of the more dangerous areas of Los Angeles. During what they think is a routine traffic stop, they find money and guns in the back of the car they’ve pulled over. Both Taylor and Zavala then find themselves in the firing line themselves, when they discover the confiscated items belong to a notorious drug cartel.

Brian Taylor is certainly the most memorable half of the partnership. He’s, to put it bluntly, a mouthy arrogant show-off. He’s lusty, often going into vivid detail about sexual encounters and fantasies. What really makes Taylor stand out so much though is the skilled actor playing him. Jake Gyllenhaal is a big on screen presence, in contrast with his other performances that are a little light-weight. No doubt Gyllenhaal also gives the film a little stability, just to make sure it doesn’t tumble off the rails.

Taylor’s partner Mike Zavala has a similar sense of humour, but he still would prefer if Taylor concentrated on his job a little more. He’s married, an expectant father, and is much more cautious than his friend. It’s all very Lethal Weapon; the straight-laced cop becoming the unlikely friend of a mouthy maverick. It has been reported during the build-up to the release of End of Watch that Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena had struggled to get along during the first few weeks of filming. This certainly isn’t evident on screen; the pair sharing a wonderful chemistry.

This marks an interesting turn in the career of director David Ayer. With his previous films like Harsh Times and Dark Blue, Ayer has made a career out of making the police corrupt. Now he’s honouring them in a humane way. It doesn’t seem too difficult for him either, which goes to show how talented he can be. He doesn’t completely bail on the found footage idea, filming most of it like a reality TV show. Even though it feels rather overused in a film that doesn’t really need it, Ayer is able to create an abundance of atmosphere that makes the insults traded between Taylor and Zavala just as much fun as the obligatory car chases.

At some points though, the cliché does become a little too much. The bad guy’s for example from the drug cartel are horrifically written. They painfully follow the stereotype, and it’s hard to find any substance in the scenes they make an appearance. But all the other elements feel very real. Not because of the found footage style that’s used to excess in modern mainstream film making, but because of the two lead performances from Gyllenhaal and Pena.

End of Watch really is part of the new cop drama style that has drifted through both film and television over the past few years. While we used to be captivated by the procedurals that showed us the science and the method in police work, we’re now much more interested in the people who wear the uniform on a day-to-day basis. This is why End of Watch works so well; it takes place during the highest moments of genuine human drama.

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Sport Psychology – Motivation: How Do We Harness It?

London Life Coach & Sports Performance Expert Sloan Sheridan-Williams talks about motivation. Follow Sloan Life Coach on Twitter @SloanSW_London and check out Sloan’s Life Coaching website

After the London Olympics in 2012, the demand for sports psychology has dramatically increased enabling me to work with some fabulous individuals in this arena. I love the variety in my job and the fact that although I spend 75% of my time dealing with clinical issues and life coaching, I am also stretched to develop coaching talents in new areas. If you have read my first article for City Connect in this field you will know that I have been working in Sports psychology for a number of years now, triggered by my love of rowing and tennis which both tend to get a tad competitive. I have received a number of questions about this field, than you to the readers and your interest. I will endeavour to answer a few of them below.

Should I keep something in reserve?

I understand why you have asked this question as it could be seen as tactical advantage to pull out the stops at the end however the short answer is if I was your coach, I would say definitely not – give it your all from the very start.

There is a good scene in a film called “Gattica” where the protagonist was asked how he managed to defy his genetics and out swim his brother (who was genetically superior in every way) to a rock in the middle of the sea. His answer was simple. He stated he never saved any energy for the swim back. His mental concentration and commitment to getting to the rock first enabled him to give 110% because he was not saving himself for anything else.

It is commonly said in the Sport Psychology arena that results do not yield themselves to the person who refuses to give himself to the desired results.

In fact a person might be considered a ‘hold out’ if they are keeping something in reserve. Which in itself doesn’t seem so harsh but when evaluated, it has been said such ‘hold outs’ lack the motivation to invest themselves 100% in competition and therefore do not achieve their highest attainable goal or performance. With that definition to the label, you can now see why keeping something in reserve is not the aim of the game in high level competition, you really do have to give it your all.

What motivates people?

The component under analysis here is human potential and the inner motivation or drive to make productive use of  both one’s genetic potential (i.e stature, gender, IQ etc..) and one’s acquired potential (i.e knowledge, experience, skills etc.) As we saw above with the “Gattica” example inner motivation can override acquired potential if the will is strong enough.

Motivation itself comes in two forms – inner and outer.  Inner motivation is the natural inner drive or urge to use the talents and knowledge we possess to achieve far in excess of what others believe to be possible by utilising all the gifts we have been given, with the skills and knowledge acquired and an unshakeable believe and drive in oneself. Whereas outer motivation is where someone motivates someone else – perhaps a coach or cheerleaders or fans even agents/managers providing bonuses etc.  Motivation can also be based on fear or reward but this too is outer motivation as it is not coming from a place within but an external set of circumstances.

Three elements that make up a person’s potential are talent, information and self-motivation. If you have the know-how, and you have a good sports coach all you need is internal motivation and your goal will become easier to grasp.

I look forward to writing more about Sport Psychology as I have been asked to produce a series of articles for this category, but I would also like to add that Sport Psychology does also lend itself to daily life and the working world and can be adapted for every area that you desire to achieve a goal in even if not a sport.

If you wish to pose a question about your particular sport or an aspect of it then either put a comment below, contact me directly or submit an anonymous question through our Q+A page.

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Film Review: Here Comes The Boom

Here Comes The Boom

Here Comes The Boom could’ve been a contender for a great movie. However the plot seems to lose focus half way through.

I wanted a good clean fight from this film. Kevin James stars as teacher Scott Voss, who basically starts an MMA fighting career who save his pal Marty (played by Henry Wrinkler) from getting the chop. Scott’s school is forcing cutbacks and even if he loses the fight he’ll get $10,000.

So far so good, but there’s not just one fight. He has many. Then add a jealous friend and a romance into the mix, what you have is a classic case of movie meltdown! My brain had turned to mush as the chaos continued.

Who was Niko played by Bas Rutten? The initial purpose of that character was to introduce Scott to MMA. Which didn’t make sense as Scott was a former wrestler, therefore he should’ve been aware anyway. I used to work in the care field, although I don’t now – I still keep abreast of news. Plus wrestling is heavily advertised, the only way you wouldn’t know ANYTHING about the MMA is if you never watched TV/cable.

Yet the way it was portrayed Scott wrestled when cavemen were still alive and he had no idea! Not believable. Then a character Bella arrives, a romance to side track Scott. Which doesn’t make sense if he’s to save his friend Marty. As a result the movie mid way becomes muddled.

The gorgeous Salma Hayek plays Bella, but again poor Salma is given a silly role. This lovely actress deserves so much better. Hollywood give the girl a worthy part! She gets full marks for me, she handles all her roles so well.

Back to Niko who causes trouble. He turns down a big fight on behalf of Scott. How would Niko be able to turn down an offer for Scott? If he was Scott’s manager then it wasn’t clear. If people want to sign someone they talk to the person. If Scott was a celebrity and had an entourage – then their people would talk to his. But he’s a college teacher!!! Hello, he doesn’t HAVE an entourage to ask.

Why did Niko get jealous halfway through when he introduced Scott in the first place? He knew it was save the school, so it was a complete waste of time to have a jealous fit and cause a complication because, he suddenly remembered if he wasn’t injured, Niko himself could’ve been the wrestler. But if he’s injured he could never fight again. What injury did he sustain, something to do with his neck? It was glossed over as to why he could never ever fight.

If he could fight again, then the jealousy motive would’ve been stronger. ‘I want to be the hero’ is better then ‘I’m a jealous child and I’m going to ruin your Christmas!’

Add to the confusion that someone has been stealing all the money and that Scott must win the BIG fight to now earn $50,000. But if someone on the inside has stolen all the money – where has the $50,000 come from? They stole everything but the big prize??? A classic ‘D’oh!’ is needed here.

I won’t say more and spoil the ending but all I’ll say, is go in with your brain disengaged. For me, the banal acting(apart from Salma), plots seemingly made up as it goes along and insulting wrestling all round – I’m giving this turkey 3/10. You’re out!

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New Study Investigates Aluminium and Alzheimer’s Link

Research led by scientists at Keele University has suggested that silicon-rich mineral water may improve cognitive decline by clearing aluminium from the body. The study, which adds to the discussion around the link between the metal and Alzheimer’s disease, is published on 12 October in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Previous research has reported traces of aluminium both inside amyloid plaques and tau tangles, two of the key features of Alzheimer’s disease. These findings have led to a discussion among some scientists about potential links between aluminium exposure and the disease.

The scientists investigated this further by asking 15 volunteers with Alzheimer’s to drink silicon-rich mineral water, designed to help clear aluminium from the body. A control group of 14 people, made up of carers and family, also drank the mineral water.

The participants drank up to one litre of silicon-rich mineral water every day for 12 weeks and provided the scientists with weekly urine samples to measure the amount of aluminium being cleared from the body. All participants completed a cognitive test at the beginning of the study and at the end of the 12 week period.

The study found that excretion of silicon in urine increased across the course of the study, and excretion of aluminium also increased for some participants. The results from the cognitive test showed that of the 15 patients with Alzheimer’s, seven showed deterioration in memory during the study, five volunteers maintained the same score and three showed improvements.

Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This is an incredibly small study and only a few participants appeared to show memory improvements after drinking the silicon-enriched mineral water. The view that aluminium exposure is linked to Alzheimer’s is a controversial hypothesis, which hasn’t gained much support in the past. Previous research has reported aluminium in the brain of some people with Alzheimer’s, but there is no firm evidence that exposure to aluminium could cause the disease.

“We know that Alzheimer’s is a complex disease, and there may be risk factors left to understand. At the moment, we do know that regular exercise, a healthy diet and lifestyle and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check can all help reduce the risk of dementia later in life. Long term research studies with large groups of people are the best way for us to learn about risk factors, and funding for these kinds of studies is vital.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings PlaybookIt’s never very easy to tell what direction director David O. Russell will go in. He went from the superbly intelligent Three Kings to the more bewildering and uneven I Heart Huckabees in 2004. He didn’t turn up again until 2010 with the Oscar nominated film The Fighter. It was supposed to signal a return to form for the director. With Silver Linings Playbook however, Russell makes another very uneven film.

It’s similar in terms of style to The Fighter in many ways, instead it’s set in a nicer part of town. And The Fighter had a story that felt human and genuine. Silver Linings Playbook however feels very contrived, and has just about as much corniness and misjudged sentiment as a cheap rom-com dumped onto television on a late afternoon. It’s surprising given the talent involved that it would end up this way, but David O. Russell can’t seem to find his way through the mushiness.

Former teacher Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) leaves a mental hospital after an eight month stint. He’s been struggling with bipolar disorder ever since the discovery of his wife’s affair destroyed his marriage. After leaving the mental hospital he moves back in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). Pat then meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), with whom he agrees to partner in a dance competition, with the hope of catching his wife’s eye to win her back.

Bradley Cooper’s Pat is a difficult man to root for. The script never really paints him as a likable character, but Cooper does the best he can with what he’s given. This is probably the hardest Cooper has ever had to work on a film, through no fault of his own. We know he’s capable of playing so much more than a comedian or a total maniac. Limitless was great evidence of what he can do when the material is good enough. But here, Cooper is left to twist in the wind by his director, and make what he can out of the material.

The only real glimmer of excellence comes from Jennifer Lawrence, a young actress proving she could well be one of the future greats. She demonstrates an incredibly wide range, considering she’s playing a character that’s roughly Cooper’s age, when Lawrence is actually fifteen years younger. And she does have good chemistry with Bradley Cooper. Chris Tucker comes out of semi-retirement to make an appearance in a few scenes, and he brightens the screen every time he appears. If the material matches his strengths, then he could feasibly make a small comeback. Robert De Niro also makes an appearance as Pat’s OCD father, but his cute eccentricities soon become exhausting.

What’s really surprising is that David O. Russell seems to have lost a little of his edge. He’s usually known for having good instincts, encouraging improvisation and acting a little on impulse. On The Fighter it worked brilliantly. On Three Kings it also sparkled, even though the gentlemanly George Clooney was driven to punch him in the face at one point. But on this occasion, Russell’s impulses don’t really work. In fact, they’re rather boring.

Take for example the film’s comedy. First of all, making any jokes about a bipolar character is going to be rather difficult, but in this case the jokes just feel very awkward. It never seems to match the tone of the story, and every time a joke comes a long it makes you squirm a little in your seat. Silver Linings Playbook certainly should be applauded for not shying away from it’s eccentricity, but it’s all way too uneven to really satisfy.

The film was released on the back of very positive reviews in the American press. This was followed by whispers that it could be a potential Oscar winner. It was also produced by Bod and Harvey Weinstein, two brothers who are notorious for their Oscar campaigns. They know how to win, just ask Colin Firth. Taking all of this into account, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is just Oscar fodder. It has all the necessary ingredients to be a winner, but given how poor it is compared to the competition, you really hope this doesn’t succeed.

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