Religious Education in UK Schools‏

Posted in Opinion, Politics on January 3, 2016 by Barrie Suddery

Following a recent BBC article stating that the UK Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, had advised that schools in England do not need to give non-religious views “equal air time” and should continue to teach pupils that the UK is a principally Christian country, I have written to my local MP, Alun Cairns to express my concerns over this:

Sir,

I am writing to express my concern regarding the Education Secretary’s recent statements expressing her view that schools in England don’t need to give non-religious views equal time in the curriculum and that should continue to teach that the UK is a mainly Christian country. 

I regard this as a patently false and divisive statement given the multi-cultural make up of the nation and on-going religious tensions in various communities which will only serve to further the rise of so-called faith schools and further the divisions in our society at a time when we need to be looking for ways to unite the country. As a Humanist with nieces and nephews currently going through school, I am adamant that they need to learn about other faiths as well as non-religious Atheist/Humanist views in order that they can properly appreciate the multi-cultural and multi-faith make up of our county. In addition, they need to be able to decide of their own accord what to believe in and can only do that, with the fullest details and facts available to them in accordance with the UK’s commitments under the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees citizens the right to choose and/or change their beliefs.
Whilst I have no objection to Ms. Morgan holding and expressing her religious views, as is her right, I do object to her, or anyone in government, allowing policy to be governed or influenced by those views.  I therefore would like clarification from you on the following points:
  1. Whether or not these guidelines apply to Welsh schools.
  2. That the government will immediately review these guidelines to ensure that all faith/non-faith views are covered in R.E. classes.
  3. That the government is committed to the principle of the separation of Church and State.
  4. That the government is committed to the representation of all sections of the community.
  5. That Ministers are required to keep their personal views separate from their duties.
  6. Whether or not the law makes any provision for the separation of Church and State.

I received the following reply from my MP:

Dear Mr Suddery, 

Thank you very much for taking the time to contact me about religious education in schools. 

As you may be aware, much of this policy is devolved and the Welsh Government has responsibility for this area here in Wales. As a result, the UK Government is not able to intervene directly on this matter. However, I do appreciate your concern for the wider issue and have therefore spoken to other UK Ministerial colleagues to raise this issue directly. 

I agree that Religious Education is important for pupils’ understanding of the rich diversity of faiths and communities in the UK and their part in shaping the values and traditions of this country. As a result, it is rightly a statutory part of the basic curriculum, although the syllabus is not set by Government. 

Academies are free to set their own curriculum, under the terms of their funding arrangements; while Local Authorities set the curriculum for their schools through their Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education. Syllabuses must reflect that the religious traditions in Great Britain are, in the main, Christian while taking into account the teaching and practices of there other principal religions represented in the UK, including non-religious viewpoints. This model enables the needs and understanding of all cultures to develop.  I am frustrated that the Welsh Government have rejected the Academy approach.  

I hope this information is helpful and thank you once again for taking the time to raise this issue. 

Yours, 

Alun Cairns MP

Vale of Glamorgan

2015 in review

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2015 by Barrie Suddery

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Click here to see the complete report.

Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens (2015)

Posted in Movie, Reviews, Science Fiction on December 19, 2015 by Barrie Suddery

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WARNING: POST CONTAINS SPOILERS

After nearly a decade, the Star Wars franchise blasts back on to the big screen in J.J. Abrams‘ long-awaited episode seven.

The film is set some thirty years after the death of the Emperor and follows the search for Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who has gone into self-imposed exile after the failure of his attempt to resurrect the Jedi Order at the hands of his apprentice, now named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who was seduced to the Dark Side of the Force by Snoke (Andy Serkis), the Supreme Leader of the First Order that arose in the aftermath of the galactic civil war and is attempting to restore the Galactic Empire. With the Senate of the New Republic refusing to acknowledge the threat of the First Order, Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has gone back underground and is the General in command of the resistance within the First Order’s territory and is supported in a deniable fashion by some elements of the New Republic. To some viewers dismay, the original trilogy cast are secondary to the plot and this is very much a ‘passing of the torch’ film, with the new characters taking centre stage as it focuses on Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the planet Jakku, and Finn (John Boyega), a defecting Stormtrooper, who meet on Jakku after Finn helps resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) escape from the Star Destroyer he was being held prisoner on, and how they all are swept up in the search for the last Jedi.

As with all Star Wars films, the effects are stunning and the action fast passed and thrilling, but my prejudices against Abrams’ story telling abilities remain very much intact as the plot is a rehash of episode four with Lawrence Kasdan‘s writing efforts seemingly limited to ensuring the original trilogy characters remain true to form. Of the original trilogy characters, it is Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who drives a lot of the action forward as we learn that Kylo Ren is, in fact, his and Leia’s estranged son, Ben Solo. Because the plot is a reworking of episode four, we could see very early on that Solo was the Obi-Wan figure and that he would meet his end at the hands of Kylo Ren in the same way that Obi-Wan died at the hands of Darth Vader. Even so, his death is a genuinely shocking moment as, even though we all saw it coming, it was still a surprise to see that the writers and studio had the nerve to kill off such a popular character.

There are a lot of plot holes and gaps in the storyline such as how Han lost the Millennium Falcon, how the First Order came about and why they’re not using clone Stormtroopers who are programmed for obedience, and who Snoke is and how he came to lead the First Order. I know that there is a trilogy of novels being written by Chuck Wendig to bridge the gap between episodes six and seven, but there’s no guarantee that all of the fans will read them which means the pressure is now on episode eight to deliver a lot of this back story. Having said all of that, the writing is very well done with well-rounded and likeable characters, good action set pieces and an excellent lead in to episode eight in 2017.

One of my biggest gripes with the writing is that it was stressed that this would be a new storyline for the Star Wars universe and that it would not have anything to do with the story lines in the extended universe novels, and yet it certainly borrows from both the Heir to the Empire and Fate of the Jedi series so much so that I have to wonder why they didn’t just film those books. Even with all of the above mentioned flaws I’d still recommend going to see it, but, for me, this was a six out of ten movie that just about escapes being a ‘meh’ moment.

Review: Mr. Holmes (2015)

Posted in Adaptation, Movie, Reviews on June 20, 2015 by Barrie Suddery

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WARNING: POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Sir Ian McKellen and director Bill Condon reunite for this superb capstone to the Sherlock Holmes legend.

Set in 1947, 30 years after Holmes’ retirement and self-imposed exile to the English West Country, the film focuses on Holmes’ fading memories of his last case and his efforts to come to terms with how and why that particular case forced him to retire as a private investigator. It’s a slow moving film that delves into the mind of the great detective, revealing some of his flaws and weaknesses as well as reminding us all of his intellectual genius and the price he’s paid for it.

In this, McKellen is superbly supported by Laura Linney and Milo Parker  as his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro, and her son Roger with whom Holmes forms a paternal bond, recognising in the boy a like mind and keen intellect. This bond deepens during the film as Holmes comes to terms with the reasons for the failure of his last case and the loneliness he has felt throughout his life as he starts trying to guide Roger into not focusing solely on logic and facts, but to always include the Human elements of compassion, empathy and kindness, which Holmes realises have been absent in his own life. This is a point of focus as, through Holmes’ reminiscing with Roger, we are shown glimpses of his relationship with John Watson and the almost contemptuous tolerance he feels towards Watson’s dramatic retelling of Holmes’ cases. We also see the his somewhat arrogant aloofness from the rest of Humanity who he feels need to embrace logic and fact the way he does. This arrogant assurance in his own intellectual superiority is the main point in Holmes’ character that leads to his fall from grace and is the cause of his prickly relationship with Mrs. Munro who is feeling increasingly threatened by his relationship with her son.

Through McKellen’s subtly brilliant performance, we see Holmes’ struggle to overcome a lifetime of reticence and his horror at the slow loss of the memory and intellect he values so much at the hands of senility and his almost desperate efforts to write down the details of his last case before what he thinks is his imminent death. We are also able to witness Holmes’ change as, at last, the details all fall into place and he realises what has been missing from his life.

There are no really dramatic points, no action set pieces, no long winded monologues and no twists and turns in this film. We are treated instead to a nice story that reminds us all of how a good cinematic piece should be done and is a nice counterbalance to the seemingly endless stream of superhero films, reboots and remakes coming from Hollywood.

And, to top it all off, there’s a nice Holmes in-joke with the casting of Nicholas Rowe as a cinematic Sherlock Holmes that the real Holmes sees in the film adaptation of his last case showing the warm humour that is evident throughout.

Review: Mad Max – Fury Road (2015)

Posted in Movie, Reviews on May 24, 2015 by Barrie Suddery

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WARNING: POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Australian director George Miller returns to the post-apocalyptic wastelands of his homeland in this fresh take on the rebirth of a broken man.

More a remake of Road Warrior than a reboot, this follows on from the original Mad Max film and more or less discounts Thunderdome. Tom Hardy takes over from Mel Gibson in the title role of Max Rockatansky, an Australian policeman who, after the murder of his wife and child, suffers a breakdown and heads out into the Outback, convinced that isolation is the only way for him to survive. The film presupposes the failure of world governments to tackle the economic and environmental problems currently being experienced, resulting in the regression of mankind to a feudal state with roaming gangs and isolated communities all engaged in a constant struggle just to stay alive.

At the start of the film, Max is captured by a war party belonging to a community led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne who makes his second appearance in a Mad Max film after having played Toecutter in the original) and is kept alive only to be used as a Human blood bank for his War Boys, all of whom are suffering from various forms of cancer brought on by the environmental disaster and are in need of regular transfusions. His chance for escape comes when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) betrays Joe and heads off into the desert with his wives, one of whom is pregnant and Nux, (Nicholas Hoult) who is recovering from a previous mission and is in the middle of a transfusion, takes Max on the chase with him so he can continue to get his blood.

The relationship between Joe and Nux is based on the religious fanaticism that we see today, with Joe’s forceful personality seeing him elevated to god-like status and who gives Nux purpose in life by promising him a place in Valhalla in exchange for loyal service and death in battle. Since he’s dying from cancer anyway, Nux and all of the other War Boys, are only too eager to take up this offer of a better world. One of the things Miller does extremely well is his portrayal of fallen Humanity, with all of the characters displaying a recklessness and viciousness brought on by their survival instincts which, in this world, have been exaggerated beyond what we have in our world today. This is the thinking behind the unthinking savagery of the characters, including Max, and of the risks they are willing to take for water, fuel, food and shelter. It also shows how Joe, and others like him, can become demi-gods in this kind of environment as people instinctively look to and support anyone who can provide for them and offer some hope for the future, no matter how unlikely that hope is.

The film progresses steadily from there, with Max eventually regaining his freedom and assisting Furiosa in her quest. The really interesting thing is that this is very much a female led film and Max, despite being the titular character, is an almost incidental add-on to the story who spends most of the film being carried along on Furiosa’s quest to return home. The fights between the two are very even with Furiosa matching Max punch for punch and even outmatching him when it comes to marksmanship. Miller has been praised for the strong women in this film and many other reviews have called Fury Road a thumb in the eye to the traditional male driven action movie. All those who have lambasted Hollywood for the lack of strong female roles will find their complaints well and truly addressed here.

Hardy’s performance is stunningly simple. With little to no dialogue (a creative choice by Miller), he excellently portrays a man haunted by his failure to save the people he loved and has shut himself off from his humanity and feelings. When he does speak, it’s in a low monotone with almost no inflection or expression in his tone and who hears the voices of his family demanding to know why he didn’t save them. The use of flashback cut scenes and fast camera changes, enhances the sensation of a man being hounded into the wastelands by his inner demons.

The film ends with Max having regained a little of his humanity and, with a follow up already in the works, there’s more than enough in this film to warrant further exploration.

Review: Robocop (2014)

Posted in Movie, Reviews, Science Fiction on March 2, 2014 by Barrie Suddery

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WARNING: POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

After much hype and fan-boy trepidation the latest outbreak of Hollywood’s ‘rebootitis’ syndrome has come to the screen with this year’s Robocop remake.

Like the original, this is the story of Detroit policeman Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) who, is this version, is a Detective instead of a Patrolman. Working with his partner Jack Lewis (the criminally underused Michael K. Williams), Murphy is investigating the activities of Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow) who has managed to get his hands on weapons from the police evidence room thanks to two corrupt cops John Lake (Daniel Kash) and Andre Daniels (K.C. Collins).

While this is going on, Omnicorp (yes they renamed it) is struggling to overturn a U.S. senate ban on the deployment of drone technologies inside the country. Headed by the extremely bland and not at all scary Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), they come up with the idea of placing a man inside one of these drones as a way of getting around the ban and assuaging public concern that drones are unaccountable. After Murphy is severely wounded in a car bomb attack, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) is brought in to turn Murphy into Robocop.

So far, so bland; not great, but not too much of a stinker either.

Unfortunately, this is where the new version goes completely off on it’s own tangent, departing from the source material so much that it’s almost a completely different movie. Some will argue that this is a good thing and I agree, if it’s done well, but from this point the movie becomes a maudlin sci-fi B-movie that tries to pass itself off as a blockbuster.

One of the things that made the original Omni-Consumer Products (OCP) corporation so villainous was that they attempted to strip Murphy of his humanity altogether, wanting to keep his crime fighting skills and killer instincts intact, but remove his compassion and Human judgement. Here, this is only done when, during a simulated hostage rescue, Murphy fails to match the reaction times of the purely robotic drone he was competing against. As a result of this, Dr. Norton reworks the surgery so that Murphy only thinks he’s in control when in ‘combat mode’, giving him and the public the illusion of Human control and accountability. Even then, it’s still very much a Human and emotional Murphy who goes home to visit his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son David (John Paul Ruttan). It’s only after Murphy goes into shock after reviewing CCTV footage of the car bomb that nearly killed him, that Norton reworks Murphy’s brain chemistry to reduce his emotional responsiveness and, even then, it’s only done so that Omnicorp can roll out their new ‘product’ on time.

Comparing it with the original 1987 Robocop movie,  we can easily see that this was a waste of time and money as it simply doesn’t hold a candle to the far superior writing, acting and ideas behind the original which was a biting satire on modern consumer culture and corporate greed whereas this is just an undemanding sci-fi action flick .

Acting wise, I am sure that Kinnaman did his best but he just doesn’t compare to Peter Weller’s Alex Murphy whose acting takes us on Murphy’s journey from emotionless cyborg to Human cop using just facial expressions and the tone of his voice. As for the ‘bad guys’, it’s pretty obvious that Keaton, Oldman and Garrow just turned up to collect their cheques because all of their characters are quite bland, uninteresting and not even remotely frightening when compared to Ronny Cox’s truly amoral and wicked Dick Jones, Kurtwood Smith’s  riotously OTT Clarence Boddicker and Miguel Ferrer’s smarmy, money grubbing Bob Morton.

The producers recently and quite bravely challenged everyone to, “watch it before you shit on it.” Well I have watched it now and wouldn’t want to waste my feces on this garbage.

Do yourselves a favour and grab a copy of the original.

Seasons Greetings

Posted in Uncategorized on December 24, 2013 by Barrie Suddery

I haven’t blogged much this year, much to the consternation of all five people who’ve visited my blog, due to work commitments. Nevertheless, I am wishing you all a very happy humbug and a hung over new year. 2014 beckons…