(2015) 52 things in 52 weeks update

52 things in 52 weeksI won’t promise to do a monthly update, as life often gets in the way of such things, but here we are at the end of January and I find myself with a few minutes to spare, so I’ll do a quick round-up of how my challenges are going so far.

Surprisingly, I have now completed TEN of the 52 challenges:

2. Watch 5 films nominated for awards in the 87th Academy Awards
I’ve actually now watched seven films this year that have been nominated for various Oscars, and several of the films I watched last year have also been nominated for Academy Awards. You can check out all the films I’ve seen HERE (and there are sometimes links to reviews I’ve written if you click on them!)

4. Post predictions of Oscar winners
Click the link above to be taken to my predictions post.

8. Apply to be a giver for World Book Night (fourth year running!)
I actually applied at the tail end of last year as I didn’t want to risk being late, so I started the year with one challenge completed. A teensy bit of a cheat, perhaps, but for a good reason. I really hope to get chosen again as I love taking part in this!

9. Drink no alcohol for 4 weeks (28 / 28)
Not one drop of alcohol has passed my lips during the whole month of January. It wasn’t particularly difficult, as I’m not really a big drinker, but I do tend to have a few drinks over the course of the festive period, and I have occasionally been tempted to crack open one of the bottles left over from the end of last year!

32. Make a summer holidays bucket list
You can see my list for this summer HERE. It’ll be a work in progress, as I’m sure I’ll hear of various events being held locally nearer to the summer holidays.

35. Make a family photo book/album of last year’s (2014) pictures
My photo book arrived a couple of weeks ago and I love it! It’s sitting with the previous two on the shelf in the living room. If you’d like to make one, I highly recommend Vistaprint – it’s a very easy to use system and a very professional finish.

39. Not shout at my kids for 4 weeks straight (28 / 28)
This was perhaps the most challenging of my challenges. I’m not a partiularly angry person, but I do have a six year old son who likes to push the boundaries! Nevertheless, I have managed not to shout at my kids all month, and I intend to continue as long as possible, I have raised my voice to call out to them from another room or over some distance, but I have not raised my voice in anger. I may have lowered my voice and spoken slightly forcibly through gritted teeth once or twice, but I have not shouted, and of that I am incredibly proud. I have once or twice gone into another room (or even a cupboard) and given out a short, sharp scream to vent some frustrations, but never in the same room as my children. And it hasn’t gone un-noticed. Tadpole has commented on it several times and seems quite pleased. We’re also trying to work on how he vents and expresses himself, so hopefully we will soon have a harmonious and peaceful home where nobody shouts. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

43. Continue breastfeeding Choochie to the age of 15 months (10 January)
We made it past this milestone and he’s still going strong. Honestly, Choochie is a total boob-monster! He no longer nurses at night, but wakes around 4.30am for a feed and a cuddle, then a couple of times through the day he climbs up on my knee for his Milkies, but mostly when he’s feeling tired and wants to nap. He does, however, usually stop before he falls asleep and will now go to bed while still awake and settle himself down. He’s also started sleeping a little bit longer (most of the time, anyway), which is making a huge difference to me and my quality of sleep!

48. Make / contribute three items for charity (3 / 3)
I’ve actually made about 40 items now! I’m taking part in the Be Aware, Make a Square charity drive to raise awareness and money for a meningitis charity. The squares will be made into various items which will be auctioned off.

52. Make a new list of 52 things in 52 weeks for 2016
I’ve already made my list! It won’t be posted until the end of the year, so I may well tweak it a little bit, but it’s got 52 challenges on it ready to go!

I also have quite a few challenges ongoing and partially completed:

1. Watch 52 films in 52 weeks (17 / 52)
5. Read 2 books each month (2 / 24)
18. Lose 14lbs (9 / 14)
27. Split all my coppers between Tadpole’s and Choochie’s piggy banks each month (1/12)
28. Save all £2 coins into the Xmas fund each month (1/12)
29. Save all silver up to the value of 20p into the Xmas fund each month (1/12)
30. Put aside £2 for each challenge completed into Xmas fund (£20/£104)
31. Save £10 per week (£50 / £520)
34. Visit family in Scotland
36. Take the kids to the library once a month (1 / 12)
41. Share a photo of my kids and me each month (1 / 12) (see the photos HERE)
44. Continue breastfeeding Choochie to the age of 18 months (10 April)
45. Write 12 letters (total, between them) to my various pen pals (3 / 12)
49. Make six gifts /Xmas decorations (3 / 6)
50. Release twelve new cross stitch charts (1 / 12)

And these ones will be started in February:

10. Eat no chocolate for 4 weeks (0 / 28)
11. Drink a green smoothie every day for 4 weeks (0 / 28)
16. Try out 6 recipes I’ve never tried before (0/6)
17. Try 6 foods I’ve never tried before (0 / 6)

So, quite a lot of progress made, and I’m well on my way towards fulfilling my list of challenges!

Film Review: Into the Woods (2014)

into_the_woods_ver12Film: Into the Woods
Released: 2014
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski

Big screen version of the Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name. A witch tasks a childless baker and his wife with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.

What I thought of it:
I remember once seeing a televised version of the musical where the witch was played by the phenomenal Bernadette Peters and being blown away. I’ve never yet seen the live stage version, but I was super excited when I heard of this production being green-lighted and waited with bated breath to see who would be cast.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The music and story remain the same, and the performances from the stellar cast are of the highest class. Honestly, you couldn’t ask for a better cast. In particular, stand out performances from Depp as the Big Bad Wolf (a brief, but important part), and Streep as the Wicked Witch, who isn’t perhaps as wicked as people might have originally thought (one can understand her 19th Oscar nomination for this film). A surprisingly strong vocal performance from Pine as one of the handsome princes was a pleasure to see and hear (who would have thought he had such a princely singing voice?) and a neat turn from Ullman as Jack’s mother were nice touches, but I was particularly pleased with the onscreen chemistry between Cordon and Blunt, as the baker and his wife, who carry the majority of the story and handled their parts with admirable aplomb.

And my eldest son, who is six years old, thought this film was fantastic, giving it full marks. It kept him entertained from start to finish. It’s definitely worth watching with the kids, as the unusual take on the traditional fairytales is sure to spark conversations and get their imaginations working.

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
Nominated for Oscars in three categories (Best Supporting Actress for Streep, Best Achievement in Production Design, and Best Costume Design), I feel this one might nab the costume statue, along with Steep possibly bagging another win. As the actress most often nominated for Oscars in performance categories, she may well convert this into another win, and I would be very happy for her to take this one home.

Film Review: The Descendants (2011)

descendantsFilm: The Descendants
Released: 2011
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller

A land baron tries to reconnect with his two daughters after his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident.

What I thought of it:
This is actually the second time I’ve watched this film and I loved it just as much as the first time.

Mixing drama, tragedy and comedy effectively is a difficult task to attempt, but The Descendants pulls it off with flair. This is largely down to the very fine performances, not just by established Hollywood hard-hitter Clooney, but also his young co-stars. Both Woodley and Miller show and emotional depth and ability that belies their age, and they easily match the standard of their BAFTA and Oscar nominated co-star.

It was also something of a joy to watch Krause as the somewhat bumbling Sid, who initially comes across as a brainless, tactless idiot, but is revealed to have surprising warmth, depth and understanding of the situation, as well as offering his unerring support to the family during their most trying and emotional time. He adds much of the lighter, comedy sides of things, but doesn’t skimp on the serious stuff either.

Clooney is, in my opinion, our generation’s Cary Grant. He oozes charm, and has the quick-fire wit, versatility and faultless timing of one of Hollywood’s best loved actors, and he truly deserves accolade for his performance in this heartwarming film.

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
This won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, which was richly deserved, but failed to convert nominations to wins for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing (most of those were picked up by The Actor).

Film Review: Gone Girl (2014)

gone_girl_ver4Film: Gone Girl
Released: 2014
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris

With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.

What I thought of it:
Initially, I wasn’t particularly bothered about seeing this film. Oh, how wrong could I have been? Gone Girl is an astute study of manipulation, both of the media, and by a couple trapped in a now loveless marriage, with superb performances from the leads. In particular, Pike turns in a chilling portrayal of a wronged wife, while Affleck stretches his acting chops as the slightly unlikable husband, and Harris is, as usual, legen… wait for it… dary  as the slightly creepy ex-boyfriend.

There’s not an awful lot one can say without dropping the most terrible spoilers, but this is a tense and intriguing thriller showcasing the talents of the stars, which displays tight writing and the most terse direction. It’s well worth watching, just so you can try to work out what’s going on and stay one step ahead. If you manage to anticipate all the moves, well, then I take my hat off to you!

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
Pike has been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, and it is a nomination richly deserved, but I fear she’ll be pipped to the post by Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, which looks set to sweep the boards this year. I am surprised, however, that it wasn’t nominated for Best Adaptation, as it might have been a shoe-in for that category.

Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The-Hobbit-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-poster-9-691x1024Film: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Released: 2014
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage

In the final installment of the trilogy, Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lonely Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness.

What I thought of it:
I have been totally and utterly underwhelmed by this trilogy, which is a great disappointment after loving The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The major difference being that with The Lord of the Rings, they made three substantial books and turned them into three substantial movies, crammed full of detail and action. With The Hobbit trilogy, they have taken a single book that is shorter than any of the three in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and stretched it into three movies, meaning they had to write additional material and invent extra characters to flesh it out a bit.

The Hobbit was never one of my favourite books – I was once forced to read it before playing a part in a stage version of it, and I found it incredibly difficult to plod through – it didn’t engage me at all. Having the source material stretched beyond its own limits to make money off three films has not made me like it any more.

There are fine performances from everyone involved, but I found myself bored to tears almost from the beginning, and this has been the case with all three installments, which is a shame. What could have been one really great film has become three very mediocre movies instead, and I do not see myself ever making a repeat viewing of them. (Unlike with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I have loved in its full, extended director’s cut version).

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
Nominated for the Oscar in the Best Sound Editing category. I suppose it’s conceivable that it could take home the statue, but it would be the poor second cousin to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which won eleven (count them, eleven!) Oscars, including Best Picture. In your face, Hobbit!

Film Review: Predestination (2014)

PredestinationFilm: Predestination
Released: 2014
Director: Michael Spierig (as The Spierig Brothers) , Peter Spierig (as The Spierig Brothers)
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor

The life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.

What I thought of it:
In general, I have a problem with time travel, riddled with paradox as it inevitably is, and find most films with time travel as the main theme to be far below expectations. The exception to this rule is the Back to the Future trilogy, because, well, just because they’re awesome, OK? Another exception, now, is Predestination.

It’s difficult to say anything about this film without giving away major plot points which could/would spoil the viewing pleasure of others, so I will keep is simple and brief. Paradox plays a huge role in the plot, but it is handled in such an elegant manner that it doesn’t matter. The intelligent script never condescends to the viewer and the stars are incredibly engaging, making this an interesting exercise in intrigue that keeps you dangling on a very cleverly constructed hook.

To say I enjoyed this film is to do it a great injustice – I did more than enjoy it – I relished every second.

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
It may well have you questioning the concept of time travel and exactly what it would allow, but you’ll enjoy the ride and it will certainly exercise your little grey cells!

Film Review: The Imitation Game (2014

benedict-cumberbenedict-the-imitation-game-movie-posterFilm: The Imitation Game
Released: 2014
Director: Morten Tyldum
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Charles Dance, Mark Strong

During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code with help from fellow mathematicians.

What I thought of it:
There seem to be an awful lot of films “based on a true story” being released nicely in time for inclusion in the nominations for the Academy Awards. This is one of them. This is also one of the excellent ones.

Alan Turing’s story is a sad one – a genius brain trapped in a person with absolutely no interpersonal skills, making him a fairly unlikable person from the point of view of most people; a lonely man who had nothing but his work and a secret that would bring about tragic consequences. But his contribution to the Allied forces winning WWII is undeniably one of the single greatest feats of any man of his time, and perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that his work was kept quiet for so long, and the pardon for his “crime” came far too late.

Cumberbatch is one of the leading lights in British acting, turning his hand to so many different characters with an ease and elegance that is both admirable and enviable – his talent is undeniable and his performance as Turing is nothing short of wonderful. Even having the highly over-rated (in my opinion) Knightly opposite him couldn’t take the shine off – he makes her look pretty good, to be honest! Every other actor is also playing their A-game here, in what is an interesting, intriguing, and moving film that celebrates the accomplishment of Turing and his team – an accomplishment that would remain a secret for 50 years.

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
Another one that will most certainly have Oscar nominations up the wazoo, for performances, direction, writing, best film, and possibly costuming, make-up and hair. I fear it may lose out to another true-story film about another genius (I’ll watch The Theory of Everything very soon), which is a shame, because it is so thoroughly deserving of every accolade that could be heaped upon it.

Film Review: Big Hero 6 (2014)

Big_Hero_6_film_posterFilm: Big Hero 6
Released: 2014
Director: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Stars: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung (vocal performances)

The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.

What I thought of it:

Let’s get this straight right off the bat – I’m not a huge fan of Disney animation. As a result, I wasn’t all that bothered about seeing Big Hero 6, but as a mother of a small boy who loves movies as much as Hubby and I do, I was resigned to seeing it at some point. That point was last weekend.

In short, I loved it. The animation is crisp and edgy, the story is excellent, and the characters are a lot of fun. I found myself being drawn in by the quirkiness of the sidekicks (OMGs, how much did I love Fred and Tomago?!), the plot moved at a good pace, and it involved enough twists to keep even the most discerning of adult audiences interested. It is arguably the best thing Disney have done since The Incredibles (which was the last one they did that I loved this much). There are some very touching moments, and yes, a few where I bit my fist with sadness at the poignancy of it, but mostly it was just damned exciting to watch.

Well done, Disney – you may have converted me! This is WAY better than Frozen and could spell a return to real greatness for Disney animation and bodes well for the highly anticipated upcoming Incredibles sequel.

I confess I like Big Hero 6 all the more for not having a “breakout hit” song (is everyone else as sick to death of Let It Go as I am?), but the closing credits music, Immortals by Fall Out Boy, absolutely rocks!

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
This one is bound to have notice taken of it at the Oscars – there’s certainly a nomination for best animated feature to be had here (as it was already nominated in that category at both the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes) and it should have no problem bringing home the statue.

BH6 characters
Big Hero 6

Film Review: Foxcatcher (2014

foxcatcher-posterFilm: Foxcatcher
Released: 2014
Director: Bennett Miller
Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo

The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.

What I thought of it:
I found it incredibly disappointing. By the time we saw Carrell for the first time, I was already bored out of my skull and wishing it was already over. I came to it knowing nothing more than it was based on a true story and was about wrestling, and left it not giving a damn about the subject matter.

The only decent person was David (Ruffalo), who genuinely seemed to care for others; du Pont (Carrell) was clearly a creepy sociopath and I’m amazed anyone would have wanted to be in the same time zone as him, let alone stay at his estate to train for a sporting event; and I spent the entire movie wishing I could reach through the screen and slap Mark (Tatum) for being a whiny little bitch. So you’re not as good a wrestling as your brother? Well boo-bloody-hoo! Quit whining, grow up, and get on with your life!

I confess I didn’t watch to the end – I was far too bored with it all. Solid performances from all three leads, in particular Carrell, who was pretty compelling to watch and should consider more serious roles in the future, but the film itself was pretty pointless and seemed to drag on forever.

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven
There’s a lot of awards buzz around this one, and I do get the feeling that there will be some Oscar nominations around the performances, perhaps for direction, and maybe even for makeup (the prosthetic makeup on Carrell in particular is very good), but the film itself, I feel, is far too weak for a win.

52 things in 52 weeks – August Update

52 things in 52 weeksOK, it’s been a while. A few months in fact. I’ve been keeping tabs on my challenge progress, but sometimes I just didn’t manage to find the time to make the monthly post about it, so here is one big catch-up to keep you up to date with where I’m up to on the challenges. Quite a few are now completed, which is great, and some are still in progress.

Here’s how things are going:

Food challenges (30 days each):
17. 30 days of green smoothies – July (20 / 30)

Again, I didn’t manage the full 30 days, but I had a smoothie most days and will still take part in the October challenge.

Other food challenges:
19. Take the kids blackberry picking

We got a large enough haul for a crumble, but not enough for jam as yet. I plan on grabbing some more blackberries over the next couple of weeks and hopefully we’ll get enough to make a small batch of jam at least!

Financial challenges:
23. Put £20 into Tadpole’s savings every month (£160 / £240)

24. Put £20 into Button’s savings every month (£160 / £240)
25. Split all my coppers between Tadpole’s and Button’s piggy banks each week (35/52)
26. Put £1 for each day of every month into savings (£243/ £365)
27. Put £1 for each challenge completed into the Xmas fund (£30 / £52)
28. Save all £2 coins into the Xmas fund each week (35/52)
29. Save all silver up to the value of 20p into the Xmas fund each week (35/52)
These all continue as usual. The totals are totting up nicely and our individual piggy banks are looking a bit healthier!

Entertainment challenges:
30. Read 52 books in 52 weeks (17/52)

Still not caught up to where I should be with this challenge, but as I have a 10 month old baby who never sleeps and clings to me like bindweed, I think I can be forgiven for not being able to find so many quiet moments alone to read. you can get links to all the reviews HERE.
33. Visit six local attractions (6 / 6)
We’ve now been to LOADS of places locally. You can see which ones on my list HERE.

Family-related challenges:
34. Continue breastfeeding Choochie to the age of 6 months (10 April)

35. Continue breastfeeding Choochie to the age of 9 months (10 July)
Another two milestones crossed off here, and Choochie continues to be a total boob moster. He’s coming up on 11 months now and it doesn’t look like he’ll change any time soon!
38. Share a photo of my kids and me each month (8 / 12)
I’ve been sharing them, some on here, but mostly on my Facebook page, where, granted, you’ll not be able to see them, but they’re being shared. Here are a few recent ones though!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

41. Take the kids to the library once a month (8 / 12)
We continue to make our monthly visits to the library. Tadpole loves stopping in to check out the books.

Personal challenges:
47.  Get a new job

Technically, I got my old job back, as I managed to secure a transfer to my local branch after my maternity leave ended. Unfortunately, I was then forced to quit because I wasn’t able to cover the shifts they wanted me to work due to childcare difficulties and the fact that they wanted me to work full days when I was only supposed to be part time. So, for the time being, I am being a Stay-At-Home-Mum, but I shall be looking for another job to see if I can find something that will fit in with our family needs.
49. Make twelve Xmas gifts /decorations (1 / 12)
I’ve now gathered craft pretties to make more Xmas gifts, so this section will shortly be completed as I get my crafting hat on and my fingers get busy!
50. Release twelve new cross stitch charts (12 / 12)
Completed! I’ve actually have another eight that will be released over the remainder of the year as well, so this one is well and truly smashed!
51. Post a monthly update (8 / 12)
OK, so I haven’t technically given monthly updates here, but I have made regular posts which have kept the blog up to date and everyone abreast of all kinds of goings-on, so I’m choosing to count those here and renewing my resolve to keep up monthly challenge updates from now on!