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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Film Review: The Hangover: Part II


Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis return for the follow-up, taking place in Bangkok two years after the hugely successful Las Vegas-set 2009 film.

Having boosted the bar for R-rated comedies with that outrageous blast of fresh air that was 2009’s The Hangover - and earning more than $467 million worldwide in the process - it’s understandable that director Todd Phillips didn’t want to mess too much with success.

As a result, even though the The Hangover Part II trades Vegas for Bangkok, venturing farther afield hasn’t translated into a livelier excursion.

That comfortable air of familiarity provided by the returning characters also extends to many of the original’s more inspired bits - but to less potent effect.

Still, even a milder Hangover manages to deliver more laughs than most of the competition, and audiences primed for the further misadventures of Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and company should ensure that the picture has a memorable Memorial Day weekend kickoff.

The new script, penned by Phillips along with Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong, picks up two years after the debacle that was Doug’s (Justin Bartha) bachelor party.

This time around, it’s dentist Stu who’s about to tie the knot with the lovely Lauren (Jamie Chung) in her parents’ home country of Thailand.

Despite ultracautious’ Stu’s best intentions, history nonetheless repeats itself after a harmless seaside toast to the groom goes apparently terribly wrong - with the boys having to retrace the steps that landed them in a fleabag Bangkok Hotel along with a chain-smoking capuchin monkey.

They have also awakened to a shaved head, a Mike Tyson tattoo and the ring finger (complete with ring) belonging to Lauren’s younger brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), minus its bearer.

Although the ensuing Bangkok adventure is not without its shocking, laugh-out-loud moments, too much of Part II seems content to trot out variations on the earlier bits, like your joke-cracking uncle who believes that any punch line that gets a chuckle the first time bears repeating - over and over again.

In addition to that hard-to-replicate element of surprise, also in short supply here is the manic energy that made the original such a delightfully unpredictable ride.

The reunited cast looks to have been up for a greater challenge, especially gonzo Galifianakis, who emerged as the breakout star of the first Hangover.

Although he once again makes off with some of the healthier laughter as the certifiably odd Alan - a self-described “stay-at-home son” - this time around a chunk of his thunder has been stolen by Ken Jeong, back as jive-talking Asian gangsta Mr. Chow.

Also doing her share of scene-stealing is Crystal, that streetwise capuchin (PETA take note: All the “smoking” sequences were CGI-created), who previously shared the screen with Cooper in 2006’s Failure to Launch.

Those exotic Thai backdrops also play an evocative role thanks to Lawrence Sher’s vivid cinematography; as does Phillips’ customarily eclectic song selection, running the gamut from Kanye to Billy Joel and allowing for a little encore from a certain retired heavyweight champion.

by Michael Rechtshaffen

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Hanna


Joe Wright's "Hanna" is an exuberantly crafted chase thriller that pulses with energy from its adrenaline-pumping first minutes to its muted bang of a finish. Not as richly imagined as one would hope in the final estimation, but entirely gripping while it lasts, this futuristic fairy tale announces Wright as an outstanding director of action, and Saoirse Ronan, in the title role of a teenage assassin, again proves a consummate muse. At times suggesting the genesis of an arthouse "Bourne"-style franchise, Focus release will require critical support to hit that elusive sweet spot where pulpy and rarefied tastes occasionally converge.

First seen stalking a deer through the woods in northern Finland, armed with a pistol, knife and bow and arrow, Hanna (Ronan) is clearly no ordinary 16-year-old. Possessed of an alabaster complexion and blue eyes that project intelligence and resolve, she lives in wintry seclusion with her widowed ex-CIA father, Erik (Eric Bana), who has reared her to be a soldier, prepared to run or fight at a moment's notice. While Erik fears for her safety in the outside world, Hanna has grown impatient with their fugitive existence and craves the adventure she knows she's been groomed for.

Agreeing to reunite in Berlin, the two split up, and Hanna soon falls into the clutches of malevolent intelligence agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett, sporting a loathsome red bob of hair). Interrogating her captive from behind one-way glass, Marissa betrays a disturbing fascination with the child, whom she recognizes as a formidable foe. And Hanna immediately proves how ruthless she can be, dispatching a succession of armed guards and escaping from the CIA compound, only to find herself stranded in the middle of the Moroccan desert.

The abrupt visual transition from cool blues to sun-scorched earth tones may remind the viewer of the glorious Technicolor moment when Dorothy realized she wasn't in Kansas anymore, even if the image here provokes unease rather than wonderment. It's one of many points at which scribes Seth Lochhead and David Farr consciously (at times self-consciously) evoke the world of fairy tales, from the witchy stepmother embodied by Marissa to the vaguely nightmarish funhouse that furnishes the film's climax (Sarah Greenwood's production design meshes brilliantly with the fine location work done in Finland, Germany and Morocco).

As in "The Wizard of Oz," the heroine's journey is studded with piquant supporting characters, namely Sophie (Jessica Barden, a delight), a tart-tongued British teen on vacation with her family. This interlude provides not only a thoroughly welcome comic respite but also a strongly affecting payoff as Hanna experiences her first brush with real friendship; tellingly, it's through Sophie's perspective that the film raises the uncomfortable question of whether we're supposed to view Hanna as a snow-white heroine or a cold-blooded killing machine.

Indeed, the script's militant daddy-daughter relationship is sure to generate comparisons to the similar dynamic in last year's "Kick-Ass," and online chatter has already hailed Hanna as a slightly older incarnation of Hit-Girl. The crucial difference is that while "Hanna" derives a major rush from the sight of a pint-sized girl punching, shooting and slashing her way to safety, it delivers the goods with a relatively straight face, sans smirks or chuckles, and it doesn't shy away from the ethical ramifications of its twisted premise.

Hanna may fulfill the lusty girl-power fantasies of a certain segment of the audience, but Wright is every bit as invested in her outcome as the viewer is likely to be. In addition to the martial-arts training she undertook for the role, Ronan, as spirited here as she was in "Atonement," endows the character with emotional and moral dimensions that the film, even at its most preposterous, takes seriously.

Though foreshadowed all along, the endgame falls short of the windup, not least because Bana's tough-but-tender dad and Blanchett's archly comic villainess, however effectively played, are ultimately conceived along thin, familiar lines. Hanna's key dialogue in that deer-hunter prologue - "I just missed your heart" - could easily describe the film's faulty emotional aim here. Inasmuch as it resembles a comicbook origin story, "Hanna" might have done well to save some of its disclosures for the putative sequel; certainly it could have used less of Tom Hollander's louche performance as Marissa's vile henchman.

But if the destination is a letdown, the ride is a consistently startling, even thrilling one. Wright's past work has always breathed formal assurance, yet nothing quite prepares the viewer for the action chops he demonstrates here, as Alwin Kuechler's dynamic widescreen compositions and a stimulating score by the Chemical Brothers provide a dazzling framework for Jeff Imada's fight choreography. The long, sinuous tracking shots that the director made his stylistic signature in "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement" are fluidly and satisfyingly integrated into this combat-heavy context.

By Justin Chang

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Kung Fu Panda 2


What's black and white and rad all over again? Chopsocky panda Po returns to save China from a fresh threat in "Kung Fu Panda 2," a worthy sequel to DreamWorks Animation's biggest non-"Shrek" hit that gets an extra kick from the addition of dynamic 3D fight sequences. Expanding the Jack Black character's mythology while ensuring his starry supporting cast - aka "the Furious Five" - has more to do this time around, the gangbusters-bound second helping shrewdly extends the original's endearing, gorgeously art-directed world, shoring up the franchise's foundation at the point other DWA follow-ups typically begin to wear out their welcome.

Developed under the title "The Kaboom of Doom," this fast-tracked follow-up finds the honorable tradition of martial arts quite literally under fire from Lord Shen, a regal albino peacock who has developed a gunpowder-powered cannon that renders hand-to-hand combat obsolete. Taking a page from King Herod, Shen overreacts to a prophecy foretelling that a panda will be his downfall by endangering the species with a ruthless extermination campaign - a harrowing backstory (for the little ones, at least) involving a teddy-cute baby Po.

As designed by Nico Marlet, Shen is an elegant, cold-blooded fighter, unfolding his tail like a giant paper fan and flinging his feathers like daggers at will. Shen's moves are sinister yet hypnotic, an effect enhanced by Gary Oldman's menacing voicework and the glaring red-eye motif that marks a signature of the character's design. (Other new cast members include Masters Croc, Oxen and Rhino, played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Haysbert and Victor Garber, respectively.)

Rather than simply dashing off another adventure with a new villain, the way most superhero sequels do, screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (with consulting help from Charlie Kaufman and Guillermo del Toro) opt to enrich their hero's personal history. In the interim since "Kung Fu Panda," Po has gotten over his underdog complex, embracing his unconventional fighting style to keep the Valley of Peace safe.

While Po's newfound confidence removes the central conflict from the original, the character still poses his own greatest obstacle: Before he can hope to vanquish Shen, Po must find "inner peace" by coming to terms with the long-suppressed trauma of what happened to his birth parents. (You didn't think James Hong's hilarious noodle-cooking goose was his real dad, did you?)

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who oversaw the stunning opening scene from the first film, employs other animation styles for sequences that take place in the past, the most striking of which is Shen's origin story, rendered in the delicate paper-theater tradition. But even the principal 3D animation tips its hat to classic Chinese art and architecture, as production designer Raymond Zibach brings a vivid watercolor palette to gorgeous landscapes. The effect is enhanced by multiple tracking shots, as the camera follows the characters around the roofs and stairs of temples and other period buildings.

With all the movement involved, "Kung Fu Panda 2" lends itself to the stereoscopic format. An early action scene finds Po and the Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan and David Cross all return as animals who embody their respective fighting styles) teaming up to create exciting fighting combinations. The editing doesn't always make it possible to follow each individual move, but the technique shows considerable improvement, even though no sequence comes close to the original's rope-bridge fight for sheer narrative excitement.

Of the supporting cast, Tigress (Jolie) gets the most additional screen time, including a few scenes with Po that suggest the screenwriters toyed with the idea of a romantic subplot between the two. Still, there's simply not enough room to do proper justice to every character in the film's sizable ensemble.

Once again, the DreamWorks team demonstrates that humor is the primary weapon in its arsenal, relying on Black to crack wise throughout while doing their best to supply jokes that won't date the movie a decade down the road. Appealing as they do to adults and kids alike, the laughs help to pave over certain shortcomings in the story - namely, the way it seems to be split down the middle, with Po cornering Shen at his palace earlier than expected, then working through the best way to fight him for the second half of the pic.

In contrast with the grainy, low-budget kung-fu pics that inspired the franchise, "Panda" offers considerable high-end polish, ranging from Hans Zimmer and John Powell's bombastic score to the care taken in translating Po's world to 3D. While not as fresh as the first, the sequel certainly makes good on its promise.

By Peter Debruge

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Way


Emilio Estevez's "The Way" is an earnest film, its heart always in the right place, but it's severely under dramatized.

Consequently, the film comes off more as an amiable travelogue than a fully realized feature. With his father, Martin Sheen, heading a talented cast, Estevez's film stands a chance for a limited domestic release although the film may be more at home on television or as a DVD.

The story sends four Catholic pilgrims down the Camino de Santiago or the Way of Saint James, a spiritual journey of hundreds of miles undertaken annually by trekkers to a Pilgrims' Mass held at noon each day at a cathedral in northwestern Spain.

The four meet and form a traveling companionship by chance although the film's focus is on Sheen's character, Tom. A Santa Barbara opthamologist and widower, Tom comes to the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port to collect the remains of his only son (Estevez), who died in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking the Camino. The distraught father decides to undertake the journey himself despite being something of a lapsed Catholic.

Along the way, he reluctantly acquires as traveling companions a free-spirited Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), who naturally takes and sells drugs; an Irishman (James Nesbitt), who naturally drinks heavily and is "blocked" as a writer; and a Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger), who doesn't do anything naturally Canadian but is extremely bitter about life.

For that matter, Tom out does the Canadian in the bitterness department. His son's death, of course, contributes to his sourness. Yet the film wants the journey to force all its characters to come to terms with the disappointments in their lives.

So what ails Tom?

Estevez, who bases his screenplay in part on Jack Hitt's book, "Of the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim's Route in "Spain," never makes up his mind. The film initially depicts Tom in Santa Barbara as an affable though physically lazy physician who gets out of his golf cart only to drive the ball down the fairway. In Spain, he suddenly is morose and tart yet strides down the Camino well ahead of his companions. He doesn't seem to be the same man, mentally or physically.

While their moods can swing up and down, the four travelers pretty much enjoy themselves, eating and drinking their way across a picturesque route through small villages and pilgrim guest houses. You can't help enjoying the sounds and sights yet yearn for dramatic developments. All you get is Tom nearly losing his son's backpack, which contains his ashes, not once but twice.

It seems obvious the film should be about a father growing closer to understanding his estranged son after his death, but Estevez pretty much ignores the obvious. He steps from behind the camera now and then so Tom may "see" his ghostly son traveling with him. However, Estevez never permits Tom any deeper insight into their troubled relationship or epiphany about his own life. The nature of their estrangement is never even disclosed.

So the movie ambles along, never going more than skin deep into any of its characters' psyches. The journey is never a dull although at 129 minutes it's an unnecessarily long. Estevez's crew does nothing to spoil the scenery or snap-shots of life along the Camino de Santiago. At least the Irish writer gets over his writer's block. You only wish the same might have happened to Estevez.

by Kirk Honeycutt

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: A Screaming Man


A simple tale of the love between a father and a son, and the way political, social and economic pressures threaten that love, the film provides a welcome wake-up call about what's going on in the rest of the world.

CANNES -- The heartfelt yet very modest film A Screaming Man (Un Homme qui crie), set in perennially war-torn Chad, probably doesn't really belong in the Cannes competition, but it's good to see it there anyway.

A simple tale of the love between a father and a son, and the way political, social and economic pressures threaten that love, the film provides a welcome wake-up call about what's going on in the rest of the world while festivalgoers gorge themselves on elaborate hors d'oeuvres and Provencal rose.

Alas, films that are good for people, like spinach, aren't always (or ever) popular at the boxoffice, hence commercial prospects for Chadian director Mahamet-Saleh Haroun's film are dim. Nevertheless, festival programmers should give this quietly powerful film a serious look.

Adam, the protagonist, is a fiftysomething former swimming champion, known to everyone as "Champ," who happily reigns, as pool boy, over the swimming pool at a local resort which has been taken over by the Chinese. When management decides to downsize, he is laid off from the beloved job that has given so much status and meaning to his life (reminiscent of the doorman in Murnau's 1924 silent classic "The Last Laugh"). When his equally beloved son Abdel takes his place, jealousy is created where once there was only love.

In the meantime, Adam is being pressured by local authorities to contribute to the government's war effort against the ever-present rebels, and because he has no money to give them, they "draft" (kidnap) Abdel into the army. Torn by conflicting desires, Adam doesn't try to protect his son and is slowly but irrevocably overwhelmed by guilt. But rather than "scream," Adam suffers in silence, a psychological state powerfully rendered by director Haroun. In fact, the film's title would probably make more sense if it were translated as "The Man Who Cried Out."

War is everywhere, in the sound of the jets heard overhead (a device that recalls Tran Anh Hung's The Scent of Green Papaya), in the constant, increasingly frenetic radio reports concerning the advancing guerrillas, and in the teeming refugees that flee to neighboring countries once the city is threatened.

But Haroun is uninterested in big war scenes and is best at evoking the little details of life, as when Adam and his wife, Mariam, sensuously share a dripping piece of watermelon while watching the increasingly frightening news reports on the television. Another, more haunting image comes as he drives his motorcycle down a pitch-black alley as his little headlight becomes tinier and tinier against the night. Haroun's camera techniques aren't flashy, but rather quietly powerful when, for example, he oh-so-slowly zooms in on Adam's stricken face or when he shows a dead body floating down the river in the evening light.

A bit of much-needed humor is provided by colorful minor characters like the resort's cook who "cooks from the heart" and puts in too much salt only when he's in love, and the gatekeeper who dreams of winning the lottery so he won't have to keep raising and lowering the gate in response to the importunate car horns of self-important resort guests. An emotional high point occurs when Abdel's 17-year-old pregnant girlfriend, who comes to lives with Adam and Miriam once Abdel is abducted, sings a song of woe in untranslated (and probably untranslatable) but immensely sorrowful lyrics.

by Peter Brunette

category: Film Reviews

Monday, 23 May 2011

Michelle Obama To Visit Oxford University



Oxford University says Michelle Obama will visit its centuries-old colleges as part of a three-day trip to Britain.

President Barack Obama and the first lady will make a state visit to Britain next week at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Oxford said on Thursday that Michelle Obama will visit the university on May 25. She will meet about 35 pupils from a London girls school as they spend a brief spell at the college under a diversity initiative, and take part in a question-and-answer session.

It won't be the first time she has met with British students – she made a surprise visit to Oxford's campus in 2009 and last year invited a group of pupils from London to the White House.

The state visit comes ahead of a G-8 summit in France.

Original article source

category: Interesting Articles

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Olympic torch to visit Oxfordshire


THE Olympic torch will be carried through Oxfordshire in the build-up to the 2012 games.

The torch will be carried through Oxfordshire on July 9, it was announced this morning.

It will come from Woodstock, through Oxford, before heading down towards Reading.

The relay will involve 8,000 torch bearers carrying the flame on a 70-day journey starting on 19 May 2012.

The leader of Oxford City Council Bob Price said he was delighted by the news.

Original article source

For more information on this, keep an eye on the London2012 website

category: Interesting Articles

Monday, 16 May 2011

Film Review: Thor


Chris Hemsworth gives a breakout performance as fallen Norse god Thor in Marvel's summer blockbuster, which co-stars Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins.

SYDNEY -- The Marvel universe moves into the cosmic realm with the 3D Thor, a burly slab of bombastic superhero entertainment that skitters just this side of kitschy to provide an introduction befitting the mighty god of thunder. It’s a noisy, universe-rattling spectacle full of sound and fury with a suitably epic design, solid digital effects and a healthy respect for the comic-book lore that turned a mythological Norse god into a founding member of the superhero team known as The Avengers. Following its world premiere in Sydney April 17, Thor opens in various territories before its North American bow May 6.

The arrogant warrior Thor’s great conversion, central to the plot, is unrealistically lightning-quick and the movie’s dramatic arc falters amid the constant shifts between earthly and celestial realms. But execs at Marvel Studios, gambling heavily on the success of Thor and the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger to set up next summer’s ensemble behemoth The Avengers, can rest easy: You’ve built it and they will come. They may even bring a date.

The ultimate accessibility of Thor’s fantastical world is due in no small measure to the good-humored direction of Kenneth Branagh, a man with a highbrow history who knows his way around an epic tale, and a star-making turn from Chris Hemsworth.

As the hammer-wielding protagonist who learns humility among the humans, the little-known Aussie soap star (last seen briefly as Captain Kirk’s father in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot) shoulders the burden of selling this $150 million entrant into the ever-expanding Marvel franchise.

Branagh may convey a lofty intellect to the Shakespearean interplay of feuding fathers and sons, and co-stars Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman the actorly gravitas. But the 6-foot-3 Hemsworth adds the winning ingredients, bringing a lusty Viking charm to his rumbling Olde English line readings, a towering physicality and biceps that look forged in a furnace. Verily, he is ripped.

Thor crashes into being in a desolate stretch of New Mexico desert, his face planted inelegantly against the windscreen of an RV driven by Natalie Portman’s storm-chasing scientist Jane Foster.

As Jane, her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and sidekick Darcy (Kat Dennings, from Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, along purelyfor comic relief) puzzle over his provenance, we whip back in time and space to the floating kingdom of Asgard, where Thor’s father Odin (Hopkins), the ruler of all nine realms, fills in decades of back story in voiceover.

It’s heavy stuff, made all the more portentous by Patrick Doyle’s somewhat overwhelming score, and thankfully there’s someone of Hopkins’ caliber to deliver it.

Thor is about to inherit the throne from the ailing and aged Odin when an unexpected incursion by the Asgardians’ longstanding foes, the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, disrupts the coronation.

The mighty god of thunder, foe to all demons, suddenly does a very good impression of a toddler throwing a tantrum in a supermarket aisle. His hot-tempered recklessness has even more dire consequences though: The peace and stability of the universe is threatened.

An enraged Odin strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth, leaving Thor’s half-brother Loki next in line to the throne and Thor with the task of proving himself worthy of again wielding his magical hammer Mjolnir.

The scenes between the three immortals high in the heavens have an electrifying intensity – Tom Hiddleston as the jealous and snaky Loki handles the intimate scenes with particular aplomb – and the earth-bound scenes can’t help but seem flat by comparison.

Back in the desert, we get some solidly amusing fish-out-of-water antics as the mighty Thor struggles to adapt to his mortality and a world of Facebook and iPods, but scriptwriters Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne working from an effective origin story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich, have their eye on a bigger prize.

It’s the love of a good woman that powers Thor’s life lesson in humility and humanity and Portman’s astrophysicist makes short work of converting Thor; too short, some will say, but there’s much story to cram in here and we haven’t even gotten to that oddly out-of-place glimpse of Jeremy Renneras The Avenger’sHawkeye.

The action pinballs between Asgard, the desolate ice planet of Jotunheim, and Earth, where a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent from the Iron Manfilms (Clark Gregg) is making it difficult for Thor to retrieve his magic hammer and save the humans and the kingdom of Asgard from the forces that would destroy them.

Bo Welch has created some stunning designs, with Heimdall’s Observatory, the celestial portal that connects the various realms, a particular triumph. Full-throttle fight scenes and the stunt work overall feel organic, although Branagh’s over-reliance on slanted angles and an unusual slow-mo sequence are merely distracting.

by Megan Lehmann

category: Film Reviews

5 picturesque Oxfordshire pubs


imageThe Rose Revived
This pleasant riverside pub in Newbridge near Witney is the ideal place to while away a summer’s afternoon. With plenty of outdoor seating and a large lawn leading down to the river, one of the major selling points of The Rose Revived is the selection of waterborne activities it offers. Who said Oxford was the only place you could go punting round here?

imageThe Cherry Tree
The picturesque 18th century Cherry Tree Inn can be found in the Medieval village of Steventon. It’s very English, with numerous period features (think cosy rooms with low ceilings, log fires and oak beams) and an expansive courtyard which is great for the warmer weather. There’s also plenty going on here, with beer festivals, ‘meet the shire horses’ and pub quizzes, and since it’s a stone’s throw from the Harwell Oxford science park, it’s also a popular lunchtime retreat for up and coming professionals.

imageThe Falkland Arms
You may not have heard of the small North Oxfordshire village of Great Tew, but as soon as you arrive there you’ll wonder why you’ve not found it before. The village itself is picture-perfect, like stepping back in time: at any moment, one almost expects Miss Bennett and Mr Darcy to come walking round the corner. The charming Falkland Arms occupies a prominent position within the village, and, as with the village as a whole, it has a very ‘olde worlde’ feel about it.

imageThe Greyhound
Built from Cotswold stone, The Greyhound near Wootton boasts that it has changed very little in the four hundred years since it was built. It’s very quaint, very traditional, and has a fantastic menu and wine list to boot. Among its many appealing features, there are bookcases throughout the pub with a range of unlikely reading material, from Law Reports dating from 1885 to physics textbooks. Sunday Roast at the Greyhound is reputedly among the best in Oxfordshire, so it’s well worth the short drive to get to it.

imageThe Trout Inn, Tadpole Bridge
This historic inn, not to be confused with the more well-known pub of the same name at Wolvercote, is situated some 20 miles from Oxford in an area it describes as being “Where the River Thames meets the Cotswolds”. It’s equidistant between Bampton and Buckland, and as the name might suggest, it has the attraction of being right by the river. With superb food which places an emphasis on locally sourced fish and game, The Trout manages to draw in visitors from far and wide, and it’s not hard to see why.

Written by Rachel McCombie
Rachel McCombie went to university in Oxford and never left. When she’s not absorbed in writing her Rome blog, she’s an avid Sunday roast enthusiast on a quest to find Oxfordshire’s finest.

Tell us what your favourite country pub is! Leave a comment below.

Would you like to write a feature for Oxford City Guide? .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)!

category: Interesting Articles

Friday, 06 May 2011

Inspector Morse prequel lined up for ITV


Inspector Morse could make an unlikely return to ITV1 as a prequel to the long-running series which ended 11 years ago.

The new Morse would get round the fact that the show's eponymous lead, John Thaw, died nearly a decade ago by focusing on the detective's early years studying classics at St John's College, Oxford.

The cerebral, irascible detective's creator, Colin Dexter, said the idea was prompted by a short story he wrote for the Daily Mail which attracted the attention of ITV.

"ITV came to me and said it would be marvellous if we could do something with those stories," the author told the Witney Gazette. "I was not terribly enthusiastic at first, but I thought it would be a nice story to tell."

There is no shortage of enthusiasm for the project at ITV but it has not yet been formally given the green light.

An ITV spokesperson said: "We think it's a great idea but the drama hasn't been commissioned yet."

Dexter said the story focused on Morse "coming to Oxford to study". "Morse did wonderfully at language and literature, but did not very much like philosophy or ancient studies, so he dropped out and joined the police," he said.

"Morse was in his 40s when we first met him, but I suspect he'll still have a lot of the same character traits. I don't really have any actors in mind who could play him. I have never really had much to do with the casting."

Inspector Morse ran for 33 episodes on ITV between 1987 and 2000 and was credited with changing the face of TV drama.

Thaw died in 2002, but the show later spawned the spin-off series Lewis starring Morse's police sidekick, played by Kevin Whately.

If commissioned, the new one-off drama is expected to be broadcast to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the first Morse next year.

The final episode of Inspector Morse – The Remorseful Day, in which the detective died of a heart attack – was watched by 12.6 million viewers, a 50% share of the audience, on 15 November 2000. His last words were: "Thank Lewis for me."

by John Plunkett

category: Interesting Articles

Oxford Castle marks five stylish years


imageIT WAS once the last place on earth anyone in Oxfordshire would want to spend the evening.

But five years since its multi-million pound transformation, Oxford Castle, formerly the city’s jail, has become a top tourist destination and stylish night spot.

The castle complex was reopened after a £36m revamp in May 2006 by the Queen and celebrated its fifth birthday yesterday.

In that time the 1,000-year-old site, originally a Norman fortress, has become home to seven restaurants, flats, a high end boutique hotel, art galleries, and a popular ghost tour.

The rejuvenation of the historic site was down to a partnership between Oxfordshire County Council, the Oxford Preservation Trust and the Trevor Osborne Property Group.

Mr Osborne said: “We’re incredibly proud of what we have achieved here over the past five years.

“From our initial project to secure a long term, sustainable future for these important buildings and monuments, we have created a new vibrant cultural centre for Oxford, comprising restaurants, a luxury hotel, a major visitor attraction and a year round calendar of events.

“This has been achieved while keeping the historical legacy of the Oxford Castle site very much alive and accessible to anyone who visits.”

In the past five years a number of restaurants have come and gone from the site, including the Ha! Ha! Bar, and Carluccio’s, with the recession being blamed for a decline in the number of people eating out.

But the addition of a Wetherspoon pub, the Swan and Castle, has proved a hit with drinkers, and a host of well attended events such as the Christmas Markets, Summer Night Tribute concerts, and, more recently, the May Day festivities, have kept footfall high.

General manager Jean-Pierre Morilleau said his team was proud of the achievements made over the past five years and looking forward to the future, which could see a high-end Indian restaurant added to the complex.

Mr Morilleau said it was now up to the developers of the Westgate to make the changes to the rest of the area.

He said: “The Westgate project was supposed to have been opened this year.

“But it is back on the cards again and this will be a big part of it.”

He added: “We are changing the whole area, and we couldn’t be happier.

“This was once a part of the city that people did not want to come to, the back end of Oxford.

“People saw it as a dangerous part of town.

“But now it is very much the place to be.”

By Amanda Williams
Image: Jean-Pierre Morilleau at the castle

category: Interesting Articles

Tuesday, 03 May 2011

Oxford sees ‘first’ park and ride electric hybrid buses


The Oxford Bus Company claims it will be the first park and ride operator in the UK to run green electric hybrid buses.

It is replacing its current fleet with 17 double deckers at a cost of £5.1m.

Managing director Philip Kirk said: "If people travel in one of the new buses they are making a major contribution to the city's environment."

The new fleet enters service over the next few days.

It will operate on Oxford's three park and ride routes, the 300, 400 and 500.

The government supplied £1.3m of the costs through its Green Bus Fund.

Mr Kirk said: "Central Oxford is due to have a Euro 5-minimum Low Emission Zone for Oxides of Nitrogen from 2013 and we are keen that our vehicles are as clean as they can possibly be.

"With the introduction of these hybrid buses, 86% of our bus fleet now meets that criterion."

The Oxford Bus Company says it experimented with the country's first Park and Ride service in 1964.

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category: Interesting Articles

Monday, 02 May 2011

Why Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, not Oxford?


The announcement that William and Kate are to be Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is very nice for Cambridge. This is the 10th time a member of the royal family has become an earl, marquess or duke of Cambridge. In the age-old contest of Oxford and Cambridge, it's one up for the latter university: Cambridge 1; Oxford 0.


But the link of names is not evidence of a constant and harmonious relationship. Relations between Cambridge and the monarchy have been about as stable as the average royal marriage (present company excluded, of course). In the Reformation and in the British revolutions of the 17th century, Oxford was always seen as the loyal university, Cambridge as the stroppy one. There were puritans in both universities, of course, but Cambridge puritans always seemed the noisier and more offensive and in Emmanuel College, Cambridge developed a veritable factory for the production of preachers intent on poking Stuart kings in the eye.

The city of Cambridge was the headquarters of the organisation of the war effort of the parliamentarians for the east of England; whereas Oxford was the headquarters for the royalist movement from 1643 to 1646. Oliver Cromwell was a Cambridge man (a member of the university and MP for the city of Cambridge), and he, more than any other, orchestrated the trial and execution of Charles I, and was installed as a non-royal head of state in 1657 while sitting on the royal throne above the stone of Scone.

When the monarchy was restored after the pretty disastrous attempt to do without it, Oxford soon became the centre for political toadyism, Cambridge for the Enlightenment version of political correctness. When attempts were made to exclude Charles II's brother and heir apparent from the succession on the grounds that he, James Duke of York, was a vile papist, the convocation of Oxford University ordered all the books that were beastly about monarchy to be publicly burned; Cambridge stayed mum.

Still, we must not take it too far. Cambridge has also benefited greatly from royal patronage and has been grateful for it. For 300 years, the favourite pilgrimage site of English monarchs was the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Even Henry VIII was a big fan until his own marital difficulties got the better of him. And Cambridge was a splendidly convenient stopping-off point on the way to Walsingham. For a while after Henry VIII's acts of greed and vandalism had reduced Walsingham (as so many other glorious places) to rubble, Cambridge was less visited – but then monarchs and their families found another reason to stop over in Cambridge: its proximity to Newmarket, the shrine of horse-racing.

So monarchs have long been good for the city. But they have been even better for the university: both Oxford and Cambridge have Queens Colleges, but only Cambridge has a Kings College (in honour of Henry VI who began it and the early Tudors who completed it) and Henry VIII did at least disgorge some of his ill-gotten gains from the dissolution of the monasteries to found Trinity College (a favoured place for successive generations of royals to acquire a veneer of polite learning – including the late Edward VII and the new Duke of Cambridge's dad).

There was no such benevolence in Oxford: Trinity's equivalent, Christ Church, was created as Cardinal College by Henry's great and worldly chief minister Cardinal Archbishop Thomas Wolsey. And monarchs even created Regius professorships in the ancient universities and here Oxford (with eight) shades it; Cambridge only has seven (it was denied a Regius chair of ecclesiastical history – but note that Glasgow has 15). But while the position of chancellor of the university is largely honorary, it is prestigious and once more it is no contest: no member of the royal family has been chancellor of Oxford, whereas the spouses of Queens (Prince Albert, Prince Philip), minor royals and any number of royal bastards have graced the University of Cambridge as its chancellor.

So it is right and fitting for Prince William and his bride to be Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It would never have done for them to be Duke and Duchess of Oxford.

Photograph: Tom Jenkins
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category: Interesting Articles

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