Mr C's top five songs of 2014

Following swiftly on from the films of 2014, Mr C turns his attention to music. The playlist to choose from was up to 17 songs at one point, and narrowing it down to five proved to be a difficult task, but one which was great fun for me to watch him agonise over.

You can view previous years via the handy links at the end of the post, but for now, let's see what the end result of the hours of weighing up country against girl groups against guitar bands were.

1 - Bartender, by Lady Antebellum

"What a tune! Country Music is definitely turning me into an alcoholic. Long may it continue, to 2015 and beyond. Love the song, love the video."

2 - Shake It Off, by Taylor Swift

"We need more brass in pop songs. I love the response hook from the brass section, great concept and it was a great opening for her new album (which, by the way, was the best album of the year). Perfect pop song."

3 - Paint the Town Green, by The Script

"It's rare you find a really, really good drinking song but The Script have written theirs. It's a great rousing anthem."

4 - Ugly Heart, by G.R.L.

"Spells tune right from the opening chord and it never stops. Three minutes, twenty seconds of perfection, they nailed it."

5 - All About That Bass, by Meghan Trainor

"Came out of nowhere, breakout artist of 2014. I particularly love that she's so absolutely against treble there's virtually no percussion in the song. That's above and beyond the call of duty in support of bass."

Previous year's selections are available here: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.

Mr C's top five films of 2014

It's that time of year again (a little late actually), the one where I force Mr C to decide on his top five songs and films from the year just gone. Usually, this is a fun process in which we discuss music and movies and have a bit of a laugh.

This year, it's been less enjoyable because there have been so many good songs and films that it's been a bit of a wrench to cut the list down to just five. Nevertheless, we begin with films.

Rather than "films released in 2014", it's more like "films released in 2014, or slightly before that in 2013 but weren't available to us until too late for the previous year's list." You can see why I opt for the catchier title.

Previous years are linked at the bottom of the post, as well as a less than honourable mention for the worst film of the year. But for now, let's focus on the positives!

1. Edge of Tomorrow

"Dammit, Tom Cruise shouldn't be making the best film of the year. He didn't really, it was Emily Blunt that made it awesome - the best thing she's ever done. Plus who doesn't like time travel and war?"

Film Watch review

2. 22 Jump Street

"It's a rare sequel that doesn't ruin its predecessor, and it's an even rarer sequel that improves upon it. 22 Jump Street somehow managed to better the excellent reboot from 2012, I could watch it a thousand times. Ice Cube is brilliant."

Film Watch review

3. Begin Again

"Music, guitars, songwriting. Keira in the midst of a sickly sweet storyline. So good, I bought the soundtrack. Also, bonus James Corden."

Film Watch review

4. Draft Day

"It should be impossible to like a film about a subject you don't understand. Despite having to stop the film halfway through to comprehend the concept, Draft Day still managed to stand out as a high point of 2014. It's also rare to find a good sports film that isn't a true life story, but a fiction drama through and through."

Film Watch review

5. Gravity

"Technically released in 2013, Gravity features flawless special effects creating a huge impression on me. Sandra Bullock was brilliant, holding pretty much the entire film by herself."

Film Watch review

There are a few films that didn't make it into the top ten, but also a few surprises that were anticipated to make it in the list but absolutely didn't. Godzilla was a hot favourite but soon became our worst film of the year. That is, until we watched Lucy.

Plenty to look forward to in 2015 though, our movie tastes are expanding and there's always more to explore both forward and back. Previous year's lists are available here: 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

4 Below Zero - Crashed Ice 2015

I've talked before about how much I liked Crashed Ice, the sport is simple and pure - four guys on skates racing to the bottom of a tricky ice course. You have to have skill, but there's enough luck involved to know that every single trip down the course is unpredictable and unmissable.

This year, the sport is taking in four spots around the globe including Belfast, which is tantalisingly close. They've also ramped up their promotion tools with a great video series following three of the well-known racers through the season. The first was released this week, with the inside story on what makes Marco Dellago, Cameron Nasz and Scott Croxall hungry to win in 2015.

Red Bull videos always have such great production values, I love this video. The voiceover is perhaps a bit too dramatic, but hey, get a load of Scott's hair. Those tresses deserve some "in a world..." magic.

Can't wait for the season to get started. Find out more and stay on top of the schedule here.

Guide to becoming a chocoholic

I was catching up with some recent Desert Island Discs episodes and the most recent conversation was with Julie Bentley. Ms Bentley is the Chief Executive of the Guide Association and she spent much of the talk with host Kirsty Young defending the concept of Girl Guides. Are they still relevant? Should they be modernising and discussing sex education as they apparently have recently, or rather preserving the youth of today?

I know that if I was a kid now, I probably wouldn’t give the Girl Guides, or Girlguiding as it has been rebranded, a second look because there’s just so much else to do out there. The only part of it that seems particularly interesting anymore is the badges, because hey, getting badges is part of what modern life is all about. Most of the health apps I’ve been testing recently give badges for achievements, and Playstation have an entire eco-system surrounding tasks and trophies for doing particular things in each game.

So, this is an early start for getting kids into that way of life. The podcast made me think about badges, and Bentley discussed how they have been updated for a more modern participant. Instead of homemaker, there’s independent living. Instead of sewing, there is craft. That makes sense to me. The world is changing, and you can’t keep people coming back with birdspotting, insect collecting, etc.

I had a quick look at the badges available to budding collectors these days and whilst many of them look reasonable and actually quite interesting, I was stunned at one in particular. Chocolate. Firstly, chocolate is not a skill. Secondly, is this really the kind of thing the youth of today are interested in? Clearly any sensible person enjoys a bit of chocolate here and there, but how deep do you want to get with your Dairy Milk? The tasks to get this badge are surely not what any chocoholic is going to be interested in.

Chocolate

  1. Find out about the history of chocolate, including how it first came to the UK. Act out the story with your Patrol.

  2. Find out about fair trade chocolate products. Compare a fair trade bar with an ordinary bar. How do they compare on price, packaging and taste?

  3. Do a Patrol or family survey. Keep a record of how much chocolate everyone eats during one week. Discuss your results with your Patrol. What conclusions can you draw?

  4. Design a wrapper for a 21st century chocolate bar. Invent its name as well as its design. Draw out your design or make a mock chocolate bar.

  5. Set up a tasting session for your Patrol to try a variety of chocolate products, eg chocolate drinks, bars, mousses or biscuits.

  6. Make at least two of the following using chocolate: ribbons, curls, leaves, baskets, writing, boxes, cut-outs, ganache.

  7. Make up a game using chocolates and play it with your Patrol.

  8. Make a selection of sweets using melted chocolate. Work out how much they cost and compare the price to bought chocolates.

Actually there are a few skills in there that I can see would be useful. Researching. Crafting. Analysing the market. Eating chocolate. Well, maybe not that last one. Is the real trick here that there are useful things hidden behind a simplified idea? Kids wouldn’t want to do a “sweets market research and analysis” badge, but they may be more tempted to sew a chocolate bar on their shoulder?

A similar worrying badge is Party Planner which has only three tasks – choose a theme, plan a party, make stuff for the party. Again, this seems on the surface to be a vague and useless badge, but there are organisational, social and crafty skills required.

So, is this just one of those things where a grown up looks nostalgically back at how things used to be and marvels at how they are now? Or is it a real society change that means the badges have to be bright and colourful and simplistic on the surface, almost tricking people into the real tasks underneath?

I guess it’s probably a bit of both.

The hype around Serial

If you listen to podcasts in any capacity, you're unlikely to have missed hearing about the new spin-off from This American Life called Serial. It's a documentary series focusing on one story and following it for as long as it takes, rather than the multi-storied This American Life style episodes. And whereas TAL is all about the radio with podcasts attached on the side, Serial is designed to be a podcast first and foremost - variable lengths, both in individual episodes and potentially seasons as well.

The hype that surrounds this podcast has been absolutely staggering. There are podcasts about the podcast, spoilerific and spoiler-free. There are blogs reviewing and highlighting the facts from each episode. There are discussion forums and endless debates about the rights and wrongs, and my Twitter stream has been filled with people literally counting the days until the next episode arrives.

I listened to the first seven episodes and thought it was good. The editing and production values are fantastic, the storytelling captivating and the presenter inquisitive and pretty well-balanced, considering the subject matter.

And the subject matter? That's where it falls down for me. This first series tracks a murder case - a teenage girl was killed, and her ex-boyfriend jailed for the crime. It happened fifteen years ago, he has always professed his innocence, and some of the evidence against him does seem a bit lacking.

After seven episodes, I came to a halt. Half of me wants to listen on but the other half doesn't. It makes me feel grubby. The premise, at first seeming innovative and exciting, now feels misguided and unsettling.

Serial is a podcast where we unfold one nonfiction story, week by week, over the course of a season. We'll stay with each story for as long as it takes to get to the bottom of it.

These are real people's lives. Everyone that talks to the show is obviously comfortable with the format, but there are plenty who must have been affected by the murder that don't get to interact. The poor murdered girl's parents don't get much of a say in how many people are now obsessed with the case.

The length of the podcast is a mystery, as is the end goal. Is there going to be an angle of vying for the prisoner's innocence, for overturning the case? Or is this all just a bit exploitative, dragging everyone through the case again with little to show for it at the end?

What if they never get to the bottom of the case? As a podcast that has really leaned on it's storytelling capabilities, I'm wondering if they're going to end up with a tale that just has no end. There's going to be a lot of people left unsatisfied if that does happen. I've already seen complaints that it feels a bit wandering now, getting further away from the crux of the case. Serial never promised a definitive answer, but there has to be something to wrap things up, doesn't there?

At first, I was on board the Serial train, but the longer it goes on and the bigger it gets, the more people obsess over the intricate details of these people and their lives, the less inclined I am to listen on. There should absolutely be space to investigate real life situations, particularly if it involves righting a wrong, but at what point does it cross the line from investigative journalism to just plain seedy entertainment?

Merry Minionmas

Despite this being an advert (although it's for free popcorn so who can argue?), it's worth sharing because the minions get all Christmassy and start singing carols. If you watched their last attempt at singing and were put off, understandably, then do give them a second chance.

I'm so glad the minions have their own film coming out, although do wonder if they will be required to communicate better and thus lose just a little bit of their charm.