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Thursday, 29 September 2011

Film Review: Melancholia

     

One wedding and a funeral - for the entire planet. That is what Lars von Trier is serving up in his latest extravaganza: a staggeringly tiresome and facetious film, supposedly about the end of the world.

Presumably filmed in Denmark, and set in a weirdly stateless, featureless location - a sort of Scando-amerika - the movie tells us first about a cosmically catastrophic wedding reception. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is a manic depressive, whose wedding has been expensively arranged by her long-suffering sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her blowhard brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland). Tension erupts between the sisters' estranged parents (John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling) and the evening ends in chaos. Yet perhaps this disaster was written in the stars, because a rogue planet called Melancholia is heading for Earth on a collision course. Wealthy, worldly Claire is horrified at the end of days, but gloomy Justine greets the forthcoming disaster with torpid calm, and as the vast planet looms, blotting out the sky, an apocalyptically terrifying thought dawns: maybe M Night Shyamalan's The Happening wasn't quite so bad after all.

If Melancholia had been conceived with real passion or imagination, or if it had been well written or convincingly acted in any way at all, it might have been a loopy masterpiece. The montage of images at the beginning is interesting, as are some of the lush, hyper-real tableaux, like the dream sequences from Antichrist. Udo Kier has a nice cameo as a testy wedding organiser who finally refuses to look at the recalcitrant bride who has messed up his event.

But the wedding reception scene is nowhere near as good as Thomas Vinterberg's Festen (the obvious model): it is tedious and exasperatingly redundant. As for the approaching interplanetary disaster, this does not appear to affect the tides or the weather – there is just this big CGI planet hovering above – and it does not occur to anyone to turn on the TV and find out what's going on. Justine and Claire just carry on with the translated dialogue and the sedated acting, greeting Melancholia with glassy-eyed anxiety and mumbling resentment. Claire's husband, incidentally, is finally found face down in the stables: perhaps he has topped himself or just expired with boredom.

Once again, Von Trier has written and directed an entire film in his trademark smirk mode: a giggling aria of pretend pain and faux rapture. The script is clunking, and poor Dunst joins Nicole Kidman and Bryce Dallas Howard in the list of Hollywood females who have sleepwalked trustingly through a Von Trier production. Even the spectacle is thin and supercilious. Perhaps this movie is another symptom of the director's much-discussed depression, or a kind of therapy that involves transferring his depression to the audience. To whom I can only say: cheer up. Whatever happens to the world, this film does come to an end.


By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: What’s Your Number?

     

‘In America, 96 per cent of women who’ve been with 20 or more lovers can’t find a husband.’ So says the survey that prompts Ally (Anna Faris), whose ‘number’ is 20, to scour her list of exes in search of Mr Right. She’s helped by her womanising neighbour, Colin (Chris Evans), a slacker musician who’s picked up stalking tips from his cop father.

Surprisingly, Evans out-funnies the likeable Faris with his comic turn as the permanently topless sidekick. The inevitable romance, however, feels less fresh and comes complete with a superfluous game of strip basketball (not enough to explain this layabout’s abs).

Based on the book ‘20 Times a Lady’ by Karyn Bosnak, this has a healthy respect for raunch and a handle on the concerns of some modern women. But it doesn’t make deft comic work of them as ‘Bridesmaids’ did. There are decent one-liners but Ally’s insecurities follow the whims of the plot more than a convincing character outline. And so this becomes a throwaway giggle rather than a life-affirming mirror for that swelling box-office target: the single woman.


By Anna Smith - Time Out London

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Debt

     

Like ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, this secret agent thriller practically sells itself on the cast alone. Helen Mirren, Ciaran Hinds and Tom Wilkinson are middle-aged Mossad agents trying to clean up an old job. Meanwhile, their younger selves are played by Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and the charismatic Marton Csokas (‘The Lord of the Rings’).

A remake of the Israeli film ‘Ha Hov’, this starts in 1997 when retired Israeli agent Rachel (Mirren) is attending her daughter’s book launch in Tel Aviv. The book hails Rachel and her cohorts as heroes, but flashbacks start to tell a more complicated story. Stephan (Csokas) meets David (Worthington) and Rachel (Chastain) in East Berlin. Their mission is to track down and kidnap Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (an excellent Jesper Christensen). Since Vogel is working as a gynaecologist and fertility expert, it falls to the unfortunate Rachel to entrap him by posing as a patient (cue awkward examination scenes). Every time she returns to the flat with the two men, the sexual tension escalates and ultimately threatens the success of the mission.

It’s during these flashbacks that the tone of ‘The Debt’ is at its most confident. The goal is clear, the characterisation absorbing and the suspense only slightly marred by an early apparent giveaway. Chastain is terrific as the young Rachel, giving a performance that’s thoughtful, focused and determined. Csokas is deliciously mischievous and irreverent, while ‘Avatar’ star Worthington puts in a much more layered performance than usual, perhaps thanks to his sensitive character whose troubled emotions flicker across his wordless face.

Back in the ’90s, the plotting isn’t so clear. While the actors are magnificent, Wilkinson looks nothing like Csokas, and Hinds is no ringer for Worthington, so it’s easy to confuse them. Their distracting lack of resemblance to their younger selves is liable to pull the audience out of an otherwise gripping scenario.

But while the ending also pushes credibility, it features a stand-out set piece as the older Rachel reluctantly goes back into action. A respectable woman of a certain age, she’s suddenly forced to confront her demons both mentally and physically, resulting in a pensioner punch-up that would almost be comic were it not for Mirren’s ability to make just about anything believable.

This isn’t as slick as director John Madden’s ‘Shakespeare in Love’ or as commercial as other Matthew Vaughn/Jane Goldman screenplays (interestingly, the third writer is Peter Straughan, who co-wrote ‘Tinker, Tailor…’). Nor is it an entirely coherent film. But ‘The Debt’ tackles themes of humanity, revenge and truth so successfully it’s hard not to find it powerful – even if it’s not the Oscar bait it might have hoped to be. Leave that to ‘Tinker’.


By Anna Smith - From Time Out London

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Shark Night 3D

     

Sharks have it bad enough as endangered, misunderstood predators with a terrible public relations image without seeing their serial-killing stardom drowned out by hammy acting and torture-porn villainy. But that's the take-away from "Shark Night 3D," a disposable hard-body-count B movie in which party-hearty college students (including "American Idol" alum Katharine McPhee) hit the Louisiana bayou for a weekend of looking tan and beautiful so moviegoers can hit the multiplex for low-rent "Jaws"-knockoff carnage.

Writers Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg introduce nefarious hillbilly-accented locals using carefully cultivated sharks in their saltwater lake as a private snuff film factory, a "Deliverance"-meets-"Hostel" lurch that - pardon the pun - feels like creature-feature bait and switch.

Director David R. Ellis gamely tries to bring the same hucksterish energy to the feeding-zoo genre that he did to his notoriously hyped yet sporadically amusing "Snakes On a Plane," but apart from an appropriately shark-like keep-moving-or-die filmmaking ethos, the shocks are weak (see "Deep Blue Sea" for the original and freakier airborne kill). The comin'-at-ya 3-D feels more than ever like a vestigial gimmick, and there's no Samuel L. Jackson.

Stay past the credits, though, and you'll find a tongue-in-cheek rap video recap with the cast - and directed by star Dustin Milligan - that carries the kind of spoofy insouciance missing from the main attraction.


By Robert Abele
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

category: Film Reviews

Monday, 26 September 2011

Oxford University launches furniture range to raise cash

     

Oxford University was accused of cheapening its image last night after the launch of a "vulgar" branded furniture collection.

The institution has put its name to a range of sofas, dining tables and interior accessories to capitalise on its links with the Harry Potter films.

Items in the collection – which supposedly each tell “the long history of this prestigious university” – include a striped washbag and a rug with a marble tile pattern.

Manufacturers hope the products, which are named after famous Oxford alumni and landmarks, will prove a hit with former students and wealthy Chinese consumers.

But the university’s own dons have called the furniture “meretricious” and “inappropriate”.

The range, which also incorporates desks, trunks and even leather footballs, launched at the Maison et Objet trade show in Paris last week.

Manufacturers told The Daily Telegraph they are in negotiations to sell the collection in Harrods, John Lewis and Selfridges.

The 400-year-old Bodleian Library gives its name to a £3,800 bookcase while John Radcliffe, physician to William III, is commemorated with a £1,700 red leather writing desk.

A £2,650 refectory table in the range, called The Oxford Collection, is described as a “Harry Potter-style dining table”.

Many of the scenes set in the Great Hall of Hogwarts in the blockbuster wizarding franchise were filmed in Christ Church’s dining hall.

Halo Licensing, the Hong Kong-based company that bought the rights to manufacture the furniture, also produces branded products for Kelly Hoppen, the interior designer, and Esquire, the men’s magazine.

Serge Gander, its managing director, said: “It is inspired by 800 years of history and archives…The bookcase was inspired by a doorway. The sofa was a reproduction of one I found in a senior common room.

“We have an amazing coffee table inspired by the ceilings of the colleges and a rug inspired by the floor of Christ Church.

“We want to introduce the brand as a home and lifestyle brand. The possibilities are endless.”

But the university’s academics are sceptical.

Peter Oppenheimer, an emeritus professor at Christ Church, said: “Words fail me. It is vulgar, inappropriate and unauthorised by the university at large.

“This does absolutely nothing for the university other than cheapen its image.”

Prof Oppenheimer is unlikely to be won over by the promotional material, which misspells his college as “Christchurch”.

The range includes a £2,700 “senior common room” sofa and a £780 “tutor’s chair”, replete with university crest.

Prof Oppenheimer said: “There’s no such thing as a tutor’s chair – tutors sit in whatever chairs happen to be available.”

Diane Purkiss, an English tutor at Keble College, added: “My own chair is an ergonomic swivel chair, I’m afraid, as I often teach for eight hours at a stretch.

“We are perhaps the most famous and prestigious university brand name in the world [but] I think it might be time for a note of caution to be sounded about selling that brand too freely and too meretriciously.”

But Dr Purkiss said that dons will be more sympathetic to the range if it makes money to plough back into bursaries and teaching.

Mr Gander believes the range will sell particularly well in China.

“New China loves the old world and something that is really, really authentic,” he said.

The licensing deal was negotiated by Oxford Limited, the wholly-owned university subsidiary that manages its logo and rights.

The firm produced a 48-page “styleguide” to entice companies to manufacture Oxford-branded products.

The guide, seen by The Daily Telegraph, says that the Oxford “brand lends itself naturally to high-quality products which can be effortlessly positioned in a premium price bracket.”

It lists “reference brands” for the university, including the clothing company Abercrombie and Fitch, Farrow and Ball paint, Paul Smith and The Sims computer game.

Oxford Limited has also licensed its brand to companies based in Brazil, Spain and the Middle East.

Bradford License in India, which makes Dancing with the Stars and Teletubbies merchandise, hopes to produce Oxford-branded linen.

Its marketing material states: “Through its evolution into an inspiration value a lifestyle has been born. The University of Oxford enjoys very high, prestigious and respectful levels for both its name, its function and position as a world class university.”

A university spokesman said: “We work with members of the university and individual colleges to ensure that only product categories that can be demonstrated to be relevant to the university, its history or accomplishments are licensed and the sale of each licensed product generates a royalty for the university."


By Tom Rowley and Lizzie Porter

category: Interesting Articles

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Reggae Weekend in Oxford

     

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This weekend sees the Oxford reggae fraternity flex its muscles with a trio of shows proving once again that Caribbean music is rife in the city. Whilst Mr Skylarkin has a well deserved weekend off, the baton is picked up by three of Oxford’s prized reggae promoters.

Friday we celebrate the welcome return of Bassmentality down in The Cellar, with live music from twelve-piece local roots heroes Makating, alongside soundsystem DJs DestaNation and resident selectors. Together with fellow Oxfordian reggae acts Dubwiser, Raggasaurus and Jamatone, Makating have earned a healthy reputation from gigging across the city. With the students back this is set to be a road-block - get down early (doors 10pm, £5adv).

I’m sure there’s an old Jamaican wives tale that says the perfect cure for a hangover is jerk chicken, rice & peas, and the sweet sounds of roots reggae from the soundsystem. Get all the above and more at the Natty Hi-Fi free all-dayer at the Black Swan, just off Cowley Road, this Saturday afternoon. Natty have been holding down fundraising events for years across east Oxford, and this Saturday is no exception, with all proceeds going to the Kenyan Nasio Trust (1pm – 8pm).

By Sunday you’ll feel like you’ve had your fair share of vibes for the weekend, so what better way to finish it than a trip to the Port Mahon, St. Clements, for the monthly Lord ‘av Mercy night. In the upstairs room you’ll be teleported to a Kingston, Jamaica backstreet bar with flags, free Caribbean snacks and candlelit tables, blazing out the finest sounds of reggae, dub and dancehall. It’s totally free, and the best way to see out your weekend (doors 8pm).

For more information and regular news and reviews on the Oxford reggae scene visit: http://www.sensibledancehall.com


By Robin Lomax of http://www.sensibledancehall.com

category: Interesting Articles

Film Review: Warrior

     

Bulky brothers go head to head in this action drama aimed at the ‘Rocky’ market. Joel Edgerton is Brendan, a father and fighter-turned-teacher struggling in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, former Marine Tommy (Tom Hardy) trains for the same martial arts title. Both need the money and they have the same father, Paddy (Nick Nolte).

‘Warrior’ has many things going for it, not least its cast. Edgerton is supremely sympathetic as the cash-strapped father while Hardy’s in his element as the strong silent type and Nolte’s on fine growling form as a repentant alcoholic. The fight scenes are well choreographed and suspenseful. Plotwise, the film is on less solid ground, relying on cliché and coincidence with backstory holes that feel more like editing errors than subtleties. When someone orders Tommy to hand over his pills, that’s the first and last we hear of any drug problem. This doesn’t pack a punch like ‘The Fighter’ - but it’s still a must for grapple fans.


by Anna Smith

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Crazy, Stupid Love

     

Can a film be worth seeing for a single scene? There’s a moment midway through ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ - a seduction scene between brash but likeable ladies’ man Ryan Gosling (in his second film this week after ‘Drive’) and nervy, alcohol-fuelled Emma Stone - which is one of the most witty, truthful, beautifully acted scenes in any film so far this year. It’s an out-of-nowhere heart-grabber in which script, performance and tone find a truly perfect balance.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is a mess. This is one of those literate, star-stuffed family comedies of which Hollywood is fond at the moment - think a more phallocentric ‘The Kids Are Alright’. Steve Carell (pictured left) splits from wife Julianne Moore when she has an affair with Kevin Bacon, leading Carell to pal up with Gosling for a ‘Hitch’-style character reinvention.

Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa rose to prominence with the script for scabrous Christmas classic ‘Bad Santa’, but they’ve fallen hard here: this is witless, saccharine and lifeless - all except for that one, glorious scene.


by Tom Huddleston

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Killer Elite

     

Sam Peckinpah's "The Killer Elite" is directed and acted with a certain nice style, but it puts us through so many convolutions of the plot that finally we just don't care. After "Three Days of the Condor" and all the other variations on the CIA betrayal theme, we've been here before. The guys who are doublecrossing each other stand around talking about divided loyalties and professionalismÑdoing their best to sound bitter and cynical and somehow idealisticÑand it'd be a relief if they'd just shoot each other and get it over with.

The movie's about an agent (James Caan) who's double-crossed by an old friend (Robert Duvall) who tries to kill him. The assassination doesn't succeed, but Caan's left elbow and knee are shattered, and he spends the first half hour of the movie walking around like the $6 million man with a blown fuse. He's game, though, and takes karate lessons so he can learn how to turn his cane into an instrument of vengeance. Then he gets a call to take another job.

The job involves machinations so complicated that I wonder if I've got it right. As nearly as I could tell, the leader of a dissenting Japanese political organization has been marked for assassination, and the CIA wants to protect him until he gets out of the United States. When he gets back to Japan, he'll be killed anyway, but through some process of deep CIA thinking, that won't matter. So Caan puts together a team made up of one agent who's retired and another one who's gunhappy, and their job is to smuggle the leader, his daughter and followers out of San Francisco and to an offshore rendezvous.

Now it just so happens (it always does at this point in spy movies) that Duvall has been hired to kill the Japanese leader and that both Duvall and Caan are being paid by the same third party. Why? Why spend good money on both sides of the same fight. The movie never gets around to answering that question, although Duvall and Caan have a final meeting at which they talk about money and how it's all only a job, and Caan in particular is pretty good at the obligatory irony.

You may have gathered that the story's fairly silly. What saves the movie, to a certain extent, is Peckinpah's use of his San Francisco locations and the skill of some of the performances. The movie's final scenes take place aboard one of many obsolete Navy warships anchored in mothballs off San FranciscoÑand, although there's no reason in the world why everyone would have to be out there, the ships provide a curious quality to the fighting that follows; they're mute observers, they tone down the violence and make it seem futile, which is probably what Peckinpah wanted.

There's also the James Caan performance, quietly humorous at times, and a really nice supporting job by Gig Young as the wisecracking former agent who talks out of the side of his mouth and is always toying with his hat. At one point, after a chase scene with Young at the wheel of a Yellow Cab, it turns out that there's a bomb ticking under the cab. Young detaches the bomb while a cop decides whether to make an arrest, and then gives the cop the bomb with the observation that it looks like it's set to go off in two minutes. The cop, foolishly brave, races away to throw the bomb into the bay, and our heroes escapeÑbut, curiously, Peckinpah never gives the scene a proper payoff. It's been one of the best moments in his movie, but he lets it die.

It's a little like that with the whole movie. There are moments of interest, some good dialog, some interesting situations, but nothing quite comes together. The plot grows so hopelessly entangled that we (and Peckinpah?) give up trying to make sense of it, and then the movie just sort of ends. It has a certain promise, though.


By Roger Ebert

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Soul Surfer

     

"Soul Surfer" is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a champion surfer who in her early teens was attacked by a shark and lost almost all of her left arm. One month later, she was back on a surfboard, has since won several championships and is at age 21 a professional surfer. All of those are remarkable facts.

My problem with "Soul Surfer" is that it makes it look too simple. Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) has a loving family of professional surfers and a big, friendly dog. She lives in walking distance of the beach. She was and is a committed churchgoer and got great support from her spiritual leaders. She was an indomitable optimist with a fierce competitive spirit.

But there had to be more to it than that. I applaud her faith and spirit. I give her full credit for her determination. I realize she is a great athlete. But I feel something is missing. There had to be dark nights of the soul. Times of grief and rage. The temptation of nihilism. The lure of despair. Can a 13-year-old girl lose an arm and keep right on smiling?

The flaw in the storytelling strategy of "Soul Surfer" is that it doesn't make Bethany easy to identify with. She's almost eerie in her optimism. Her religious faith is so unshaken, it feels taken for granted. The film feels more like an inspirational parable than a harrowing story of personal tragedy.

Even its portrait of her recovery and rehabilitation is perfunctory. There's a particularly unconvincing scene where she's fitted with a prosthetic arm and refuses to wear it. They're making remarkable progress in the field of prosthetics. But the arm that she's offered looks no more useful than the arm that she rips off her Barbie doll the same night (in one of the movie's rare moments of depression).

Although I can understand a good prosthetic might not help her balance on a surfboard, I believe one might be of use in other situations - and I don't mean cosmetically. Maybe I'm mistaken.

Because Bethany actually was in the water a month after the attack, there can be no quarrel with those scenes in the film. What I missed was more information about her medical condition. What did her doctors advise? What risks were there to the wound? Having totaled almost a year in three trips through the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, I've known people who lost limbs and I know it's very difficult and complicated. Maybe Bethany was so young and resilient, and in such a happy situation with her family and her church, that it was this easy for her. But the movie feels too simple.

One of the best sequences in the film involves a trip that her church group makes to Thailand to bring aid and supplies to the survivors of a tsunami. This episode looks so realistic, it's uncanny. It has one detail that made me smile: Bethany packs cans of Spam for the victims. I don't know how you feel about Spam, but I know that in Hawaii, it's considered one of the basic food groups. (I like it with Colman's English Mustard - but I'm drifting.)

"Soul Surfer" is a wholesome movie, intended as inspirational. Whether it will cheer viewers who are not as capable as Bethany is an excellent question. AnnaSophia Robb is a convincing, cheerful heroine. Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, as Bethany's parents, are stalwart and supportive, although the script indeed leaves them with no other choice.

One character I question is Malina Birch (Sonya Balmores), one of Bethany's competitors, who sneers and is mean and does cruel things and, of course, always wears black. Why? Does she know that she has been cast as the villain?


by Roger Ebert

category: Film Reviews

Film review: Abduction

     

Abduction (M) Director: John Singleton (Four Brothers) Starring: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Nyqvist, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello. Verdict: Stinker Taylor, Smoulder Spy. Stars: *

THIS terrible, thrills-free thriller is all about striking while the iron is plugged into the power socket. The electricity of the Twilight phenomenon may have zapped Taylor Lautner to super-stardom, but it ain't gonna keep him there.

Sadly, it is already apparent the 19-year-old shall never learn to act in his, yours or any other lifetime.

Once the Twihards grow up and go soft in the head for some other generically smouldering hunk, Lautner will be handed his one-way ticket straight to DVD.

So the race is on for Hollywood to cash in before this shooting star totally flames out.

Hence we have Abduction.

There's no getting around the fact the movie is about as cutting edge as unmowed grass, and dumb as a sack of bolts.

Lautner plays Nathan, a tormented teen rebel who has been diagnosed by his longtime shrink (Sigourney Weaver) as suffering from "insomnia, impassivity and rage issues". These symptoms will also become familiar to viewers of Abduction in the hours and days after they have seen it.

Literally minutes after Nathan discovers his dad and mum (Jason Isaacs and Maria Bello) are not his parents, some Eastern European-ish mobsters are knocking on the front door. Some fisticuffs and blam-blam-blams later, everyone except Nathan is dead, and the house is blown to smithereens.

(The first of many unintentional laughs to be had in Abduction transpires when Nathan is informed by a dying hoodlum "there is a bomb in the oven!" Nathan runs into the kitchen - towards the explosives! - opens the oven door, stares at the ticking device within, then finally decides to run for his life.)

And indeed it is running for his life that occupies Nathan's minimal IQ for the rest of the film. With the cute girl across the street (Lily Collins) at his side, and both the baddest gangster in the world (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star Michael Nyqvist) and the whole of the CIA on his trail, Nathan becomes the Jason Bourne of his local junior high.

A forensic examination of the wreckage strewn about by Abduction reveals Lautner has a repertoire of two facial expressions to get by before the cameras.

His first, and favourite, roughly translates as "I have a stone in my shoe. And it is causing me some discomfort".

Lautner uses this look at every opportunity, whether to convey the immense gravity of a heavy dramatic situation, or perhaps order himself some lunch. The second look is used only sparingly, and goes something like "I no longer have a stone in my shoe. And hey, you're kind of hot!"

The ladies love this one, and it gives them a fleeting glimpse of the happy, pheromonally fetching Lautner they'd really like to, you know, get to know.


by Leigh Paatsch

category: Film Reviews

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Step out of your shoes and step inside a story

     

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First Barefoot Books lifestyle studio in UK brings stories to life

Quick-fix consumerism is fading as more and more people choose to focus on the things that matter most to them. For many families, this means taking time out to be with loved ones and share memorable experiences. This October, a unique lifestyle centre will open in Summertown, Oxford, the perfect destination for families to have fun together.

The studio is the brainchild of founders of the well-loved children’s publisher, Barefoot Books. Stepping through the door will be like stepping into a vibrant storybook. An unprecedented mix of retail outlet, studio space, publishing office and family café, the studio will be a community hub for parents, carers, grandparents and children with an array of fun and educational events for all ages, from yoga to storytelling to African drumming to arts and crafts. Above all, it will be a place for families to meet, learn, have fun and become part of the Barefoot family.

The Barefoot Storytellers’ Café will be overseen by Vladimir Niza, who was a key chef at two Michelin-starred Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and also senior tutor at the Raymond Blanc Cookery School. A trained nutritionist, Vlad will work alongside his brother, José, also a Michelin-trained chef, fulfilling a long-held ambition for them to work together. The Storyteller’s Café will serve mouth-watering, locally sourced food for adults and children. Uniquely, the cafe will offer a bespoke baby and toddler menu – with no bad stuff! Vlad and his brother José have created age-specific fruit and vegetable baby foods, zingy, freshly-pressed juices and smoothies, and tasty early eaters’ meals, designed to match the palates and changing nutritional needs of developing children.

The studio will bring all the facets of the Barefoot Books brand under one roof. The intention is twofold: first, to create a colourful and creative meeting place for families; secondly, to let the various events become prototypes for activities which Barefoot Books Ambassadors can adapt for their own communities. An integral part of the Barefoot family, Ambassadors run their own independent businesses both on the ground and online, and represent the most rapidly expanding sector of the company’s activities Barefoot Books offers books, gifts, digital content and experiences that are an authentic alternative to the commercialisation of childhood. The products and ethos encourage children to make time for make-believe, putting playfulness and imagination at the heart of childhood. Founded almost twenty years ago by two young mothers, Barefoot has quietly become a way of life for many families around the globe.

“In a publishing world that is changing faster than we can digest the latest technological innovation, we have really had to think out-of-the-box commercially to thrive as a high quality, independent children’s publisher, while staying true to the core values on which Barefoot Books was founded nearly two decades ago. Barefoot has always been more than just a creator of beautiful and imaginative books for children. It is about a way of life, and it is about stories. The stories we make, the stories we share, the stories that are in all of us, and the stories that connect us. I am so excited about this next big step in Barefoot’s journey when we open the doors to our colourful, vibrant, and uniquely designed Studio in Oxford and our new European home. This will be a place where Barefoot’s stories come to life and where families and friends can connect, have fun and create their own special stories. ” says Co-Founder and CEO Nancy Traversy.

“Having spent close to twenty years making books which tap into the wisdom and humour of many cultures, I can’t wait to watch families living barefoot around us and sharing the stories and activities that most inspire them with their own communities” adds Tessa Strickland, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Open Weekend: 8th – 9th October, 2011

Barefoot Books will be holding its opening celebration on Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 October with a weekend‐long programme of events, including live music, storytelling, arts and crafts, celebrity guest readings, and much more.

Visit http://www.barefootbooks.com for a full programme of the weekend’s events.


category: Interesting Articles

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Changing Face of Cowley – An Alternative History of Oxford

     

imageAs residents of Oxford, most of us have at least a passing acquaintance with its history. Surrounded by the famous dreaming spires of its numerous colleges, not to mention the Oxford Castle, it’s hard to escape reminders of its past – and as an Oxford graduate myself I’m particularly guilty of tying up Oxford history inextricably with the University. One area of Oxford where history is not quite so palpable is Cowley. These days one usually hears it described with words such as “diverse”, “multicultural” and “student hangout” – a great place to go on a night out and an annual carnival which is the talk of the town. But the colourful culture we know and love Cowley for today overshadows its long and interesting history. Delving deeper into Cowley’s past, I found out some fascinating facts about it which I’ll definitely remember next time I’m out for lunch at Atomic Burger…

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Though there is little in the way of surviving archaeology, some of the place names in the Cowley area give clues to its history. Those who are familiar with the BMW Plant and its environs will know of Roman Way, which gets its name from the Roman road which ran from the Roman settlement at Dorchester to a military fort at Alchester, near Bicester. Jumping forward a few centuries, fans of The Da Vinci Code will doubtless be intrigued to learn the origins of the name ‘Temple Cowley’. Formerly a village and later swallowed up to become an Oxford suburb, Temple Cowley is so called because it was built for the Knights Templar – that mysterious order which, hundreds of years after it was disbanded, continues to capture our collective imagination. Temple Cowley was donated to the Knights in 1139 by Matilda of Boulogne, and they were there for over a hundred years, but all that survives of their presence is the name and a handful of historical references.

Cowley itself was a medieval manor, the house of which was located on Oxford Road near where it meets Hollow Way. It was in its grounds that the Oxford Military College was established in the 19th century, when the manor house became its main college hall. The college was a boys-only private boarding school and prepared its pupils for military and business careers; many Boer War and First World War veterans were educated there. Another notable 19th century to the area was the establishment of a workhouse on Cowley Road itself, which later became the Cowley Road Hospital. This was closed in 1981 and its main buildings have now gone – but its chapel survives as the Asian Cultural Centre on Manzil Way.

The path to Cowley’s transformation to an industrial centre was arguably paved in 1896, when the Oxford Military College was declared bankrupt and subsequently closed. The manor house wasn’t demolished until 1957, but the rest of the site saw the development of the William Morris motor company from 1912 onwards – a move which completely changed the nature of the Cowley area, transforming it into an important centre of manufacturing. It was the birthplace of the Morris Minor and had such a prominent position in the local economy that it even had its own station – Morris Cowley.

imageThe dawn of mass production in Oxford, heralded by William Morris and other large manufacturing plants which grew up in subsequent decades, brought an influx of workers from other parts of the company who were forced to leave areas of low employment, such as South Wales, in search of jobs. Thankfully, Oxford and Cowley had escaped two world wars relatively unscathed – the Morris factory having played an important part in the Second World War effort by producing Tiger Moth training planes and military vehicles, and repairing damaged aircraft. But sadly, what little there was left of the original Cowley bit the dust in the 1960s to clear the way for the Templars Square shopping centre (those Knights lending their name again!). The Morris factory changed hands several times and eventually closed, and its site is now home to the Oxford Business Park and a number of businesses which have located there as a result, such as the David Lloyd gym and the UK head office of Oxfam.

I was also interested to learn that in the 1980s, Cowley was home to the UK Warning and Monitoring Organisation, which had the chilling responsibility of sounding the four-minute warning should the UK fall under nuclear threat. The organisation was disbanded at the end of the Cold War along with the nuclear bunker belonging to the Royal Observer Corps, the site of which is now part of Oxford Brookes University. Who would have thought that such an interesting and varied history lay in this land of bars and buses?


Written by Rachel McCombie

Rachel McCombie is a history buff who usually writes about ancient history on her Rome blog but also makes occasional forays into the fascinating and slightly more accessible world of local history. She’s particularly geeky when it comes to old local photographs, so if you have any interesting ones please leave a comment below!

Image credits
http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2030607
http://www.cynic.org.uk/photos/Oxford/20060923/index1.html
http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-551800863

category: Interesting Articles

Friday, 16 September 2011

Review: Oxford Jazz Elite Concert at St Michael’s

     

If you weren’t at St Michael's Northgate Oxford on the 14th of September you missed a fantastic evening of wonderful music. This event was part of the Oxford Jazz Elite series, organised by local jazz musician Paul Jeffries, who has done so much to bring great jazz to Oxford, and with this trio he certainly succeeded.

One of Ireland's premier piano players, and regular at the Cork Jazz Festival, John Donegan, supported by one of the UK's top bass players Andy Cleyndert and fellow Cork man Greg McCarthy on percussion played two outstanding sets of trio jazz.

They started with a Victor Young tune Golden Earrings, not the most played tune in the jazz canon, but one much favoured by Keith Jarrett, and followed it with a Latin styled Besame Mucho. Next up was one of my favourites Darn That Dream, by Jimmy Van Heusen, who never wrote a bad tune in his life! A wistful ballad by Leonard Bernstein, Some Other Time followed and the first set closed with a rousing Basin Street Blues.

The second set opened with Come Rain Or Come Shine by Harold Arlen, then Gentle Rain with a Miles Davis composition Solar next. The next number was for me the highlight of the evening, a very sensitive and thoughtful reading of Blame It On My Youth, at the conclusion of this I heard comments from the enthusiastic audience of “beautiful” and “wonderful”. The trio concluded with What Is This Thing Called Love followed by a very swinging “down-home” blues.

The Sound system was wonderful, provided some very skilled technicians from Brookes University. So citizens of Oxford let's get out and support these wonderful events in our great city. We have a tremendous jazz scene here let's give these venues and musicians all the encouragement they need, and deserve.

Review by: Groover


category: Event Reviews

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Film Review: You Instead

     

Director David Mackenzie's film about two rival band members handcuffed to each other takes too long to find its footing.

A verité-style feature enacting the thinnest possible plot with a supporting cast of 85,000 souls, You Instead, shot in four-and-a-half days amid the muck and clamor of Scotland's T in the Park music festival, offers less pop ecstasy than expected. After a while though, it does find its hook. Commercial potential depends wholly on the art-house cachet of director David Mackenzie, who makes a stark turn here from the darker tales (like Young Adam) that earned him attention.

The story centers on two fictional bands, the Make and the Dirty Pinks, who share stages with such real-life groups as the Proclaimers and Kassidy. (More famous T fest performers, such as Jay-Z, evidently didn't want to be filmed.)

After getting into a vague ego-fueled rumble in the opening scenes, the two bands are forced to co-exist when a mysterious black man - shades of Spike Lee's "magical negro," he seems to be the only person of color at the event - appears out of nowhere, handcuffs Adam (Luke Treadaway) from the Make to the Pinks' Morello (Natalia Tena), and runs off to make mischief elsewhere.

Moviegoers looking for action will have to content themselves with that little gesture for quite some time, as much of the following hour or so consists of Adam and Morello wandering festival grounds looking for bolt-cutters. They get on each other's nerves throughout - in an inarticulate fashion that never threatens to develop into screwball banter - while Mackenzie cuts away to shots of costumed revelers, texting youths and a poncho-clad sea of humanity pogo-dancing in the rain.

Though it takes forever, Thomas Leveritt's script does eventually gin up enough friction - mostly through Adam and Morello's jealous lovers, who must awkwardly tag along through the night - to get us to care about the inevitable spark between the handcuffed duo. Viewers who stick around through meandering scenes of drinking and carnival rides will be rewarded, in the end, by a muddy but creative shower make-out scene and an onstage romantic gesture that even the director admits is "a wee bit cheesy."

At a turning point in the plot, Adam tells Morello's boyfriend "I've known her ten hours, and I know her better than you." If the movie had done anything at all to prove that to us, You Instead could have been a smart music lover's rom-com instead of simply feeling like a movie made on a dare.


by John DeFore

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

     

Director Tomas Alfredson came to prominence with Let the Right One In, a story about vampires, but his instinctive, even passionate sympathy for the undead was never better displayed than here. This is a skin-crawlingly atmospheric, uncompromisingly cerebral and austere account of John le Carré's cold war espionage novel, adapted for the screen by Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O'Connor. Gary Oldman plays the melancholy agent George Smiley, brought out of his humiliating retirement and charged with rooting out a Soviet mole in the upper reaches of the secret service.

Could it be Alleline (Toby Jones), Haydon (Colin Firth), Bland (Ciarán Hinds), Estherhase (David Dencik) - or someone else? Like Michael Corleone contemplating Fredo's duplicity, Smiley's face is a mask of icy determination. He is also suppressing emotional agony. One of these men has betrayed him personally.

When the BBC television adaptation with Alec Guinness was on the air in 1979, this was contemporary drama. Now it's a 70s period piece. Distance lends yet more disenchantment to the view. We are miles away from Bond glamour: defeating the clearly defined bad guy, getting the girl, and so on. This is an arena of shabby compromises enacted by anxious middle-aged men who feel, to quote Kathy Burke's research agent Connie Sachs, "seriously under-fucked". It is a tatty, nasty, shabby and stiflingly male world of beige and grey, seen through a dreary particulate haze - fag-ash and dandruff. The interiors and government offices are lit with a pallid, headachey glow. Every room looks like a morgue, and the corpses are walking around, filling out chits, wearing ill-fitting suits, having whispered conversations, giving and receiving bollockings and worrying about loyalty.

The movie brilliantly conjures up the heavy weather of Le Carré's spy game: it involves nothing like derring-do, but a ritual of humiliation and a ballet of shame in which the security services play their part in managing decline and managing denial, and the Brit spooks try to rebuild their reputation with the Americans - the only people with secrets worth keeping - in their calamitous post-Philby world. Alfredson shows how the profession of secrets meshes with sexual shame, heterosexual and homosexual: perhaps because married womanisers and in-the-closet gay men are good at pretence and doublethink, and perhaps because they yearn for a world which makes a virtue of deceit. In his visit to Moscow this week, David Cameron regaled his hosts with an ingenuous anecdote about being approached as a fresh-faced teenager during a Russian trip in his 1985 gap year. Two men encountered him on a beach, then took him to lunch, then dinner, and flatteringly asked him about politics. Cameron laughingly says it was a "KGB interview". Well, yes. But were they to collaborate on a film version, Le Carré and Alfredson might give us a clearer hint about the subtexts to this predatory encounter.

The somnambulist gloom of Tinker, Tailor is animated by two chillingly realised setpieces: in one, an agent named Prideaux (Mark Strong) is summoned by the spy-chief Control, played by John Hurt, and ordered to go to Budapest where he is to bring in a Hungarian general who wants to come over to the west and reveal the mole's identity. His initial meeting with a third party at a far-from-innocuous cafe takes place in circumstances crackling with unease, an almost Truman Show theatre of paranoia. A droplet of sweat from the waiter's brow lands on the table, like the first sign of a thunderstorm. The meeting ends in calamity, and is to trigger the forced resignation of Control and Smiley, an unjust humiliation they accept like the good chaps they are.

The second setpiece takes place in Turkey, and involves the young hothead Ricki Tarr, played by Tom Hardy, the nearest thing this drama has to a Bond figure. Tarr is an other-ranks figure in his blue denim shirt, not a member of the Smiley officer class, spying on a louche military attache. Alfredson creates a tremendous Rear Window tableau of sex and violence in the distant lighted windows of grim apartment buildings. Romantically, in the middle of this bloodbath, Tarr is to fall in love with this man's beautiful wife Irina (Svetlana Khodchenkova), who is in a position to give him far more important intelligence than the man he is following. At a crucial stage in the proceedings, Tarr promises to help Smiley, but makes him give a vital promise in return, and the consequent betrayal colours the drama with yet more dishonesty and bad faith.

This Tinker Tailor is a weightless, slo-mo nightmare taking place in what looks like an aquarium filled with poison gas instead of water: I found it more gripping and involving than any crash-bang action picture, and it is anchored by Gary Oldman's tragic mandarin, a variation on Alec Guinness which transfers the emphasis away from George Smiley's wounded feelings to his cool capacity for unconcern in the face of violence, a hint of a daredevil past, long mummified by bureaucratic self-control and a schoolmasterly scorn for his victim's weakness and disloyalty, while seeing how easily any agent could give the wretched Judas kiss. What a treat this film is, and what an unexpected thrill.


By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: I Don’t Know How She Does It

     

Sarah Jessica Parker is joined by a top-notch supporting cast in this amusing, but formulaic, romantic comedy, writes THR film critic Michael Rechtshaffen.

In I Don’t Know How She Does It, Kate Reddy is the “she” in question - a fortysomething modern woman struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood and a high-pressure career.

Portrayed with an effortless verve by ever-affable Sarah Jessica Parker, the central character in Douglas McGrath’s comedy is easy to root for, even if the vehicle itself feels less than fresh and inspired.

Based on the bestselling 2002 debut novel by Allison Pearson, the film conjures up aspects of everything from Bridget Jones’s Diary (the book was originally set in London) to Baby Boom, while playing safely within the well-established parameters of formulaic romantic comedies.

Still, thanks to Parker’s empathetic performance and the fine work of her top-notch supporting cast, the Weinstein Company release should prove relatable to female audiences of a certain age and stage whose comparatively carefree Carrie Bradshaw days are, alas, behind them.

Moving the setting to American soil, the screen version finds Parker’s Kate lying awake nights mentally composing her all-important lists when not dashing to her job at a Boston financial management firm or back home to tend to her two young children and her unemployed architect husband, Richard (Greg Kinnear).

But her carefully-honed balancing act is thrown off-kilter when a career-making new account means flying back and forth to New York, where she works closely with smooth exec Jack Abelhammer (reliable Pierce Brosnan) at the expense of being away from her resentful family.

So how does she do it?

As directed by McGrath (Emma, Infamous) and penned by Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses) with a lot of stopping to address the camera (a trait shared by several other cast members) and other tired, sitcom-y bits of business that would seem more at home on the small screen.

Fortunately McGrath ultimately moves beyond the shtick and keeps things moving at an agreeable pace, relying on his talented ensemble to capably close the deal.

Whether she’s frantically trying to pass off a deli-purchased cherry pie as homemade for her daughter’s kindergarten bake sale or discovering she’s suffering from an unpleasant attack of head lice at an inopportune moment, Parker makes unforced, amusing work out of the physical comedy while convincingly relaying Kate’s heavier, more introspective dilemmas.

As the professional/personal men in her life, Brosnan and Kinnear also do an effective job of underplaying their respective characters, maintaining a nice vulnerability; while Olivia Munn handily steals most of her scenes as Kate’s coldly officious junior assistant, Momo.


by Michael Rechtshaffen

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: 30 Minutes or Less

     

Glora Swanson was right. The pictures did get small. ‘30 Minutes or Less’ is a short, sharp and disposable comedy from Ruben Fleischer, the director behind 2009’s short, sharp and utterly disposable ‘Zombieland’. Jesse Eisenberg plays entirely to type (no bad thing) as rebellious, smart-alec pizza delivery boy Nick who gets tangled up in a zany shakedown whereby Danny McBride’s murderous blockhead Dwayne is trying to get his sweaty paws on his father’s fortune. So Nick is kidnapped by Dwayne, has a homemade bomb strapped to his chest and is ordered to rob the local bank to get money to pay an assassin…

It’s very, very silly. But the lunacy of the plot is softened by the cranky repartee between Dwayne and his dimwitted, flame-thrower-brandishing sidekick, Travis (Nick Swardson), and Nick and his old college buddy turned accomplice, Chet (Aziz Ansari). The highlight of the entire film is an extraneous argument between Nick and Chet where they viciously trump one another by blurting out foul deeds they’ve committed in the past.

As throwaway as it all is, there are a few neat touches that should prove diverting to enthusiasts of 1980s Hollywood cinema: Nick hurtles around in a similar crappy blue Chevy Nova to the one Axel Foley drives in ‘Beverly Hills Cop’, while the entire bomb plot is a feature-length riff on the iconic exploding-toilet scene from ‘Lethal Weapon 2’. It’s funny, clever and pacy to a fault, and the script more than satisfies its quota of decent zings. By all means, head along if you require some in-the-moment laughter therapy, but the title also refers to how long it’ll remain in your memory after it’s all done.


From Time Out London

category: Film Reviews

Fixers: BBC Introducing in Oxford’s Band of the Year 2011

     

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Fixers have been announced as BBC Introducing in Oxford's Band of the Year 2011.

The Oxford band made their radio debut on BBC Radio Oxford's local music show in August 2009.

Two years on they headlined the BBC Introducing stage at the Reading and Leeds Festivals.

Lead singer and keyboard player Jack Goldstein told the BBC: "It's incredible to have Band of the Year bestowed upon us.

"I don't think there's ever any chance of us living up to that."

Fixers' latest single Swimmhaus Johannesburg was released on Vertigo Records and has been playlisted by BBC Radio 1.

The disco-stylings of the brand new track surprised fans who had become used to the band's 60s pop leanings and devotion to the Beach Boys.

Jack said: "I don't think it's a new direction, it was just showing a new side.

"We stunned a lot of people because we came out with a straight out dance song.

We were listening to a lot of 90s dance music and Japanese pop and that's what we put in the song.

"But we've just finished a bunch of recordings and they sound completely and utterly different to Swimmhaus.

"I'm excited to see what people think. That's what we're trying to cement ourselves as, a band that does different kinds of music."

'Beautiful video'
The single is also accompanied by the band's most traditional music video so far, in contrast to previous release Crystals which consisted of psychedelic colours, band close ups and a twirling banana.

The Swimmhaus Johannesburg video was directed by Lucy Bridger and inspired by the works of Japanese author Haruki Murakami.

Jack reluctantly agreed to star in the promo though the rest of the band declined to appear.

Jack said: "If you look at it there's a beautiful, beautiful Japanese girl juxtaposed with me.

"It's so obtuse. Why am I there? One day I'll get Lucy to do a director's cut where I'm on the cutting room floor because it'll look so much better.

"It's such a beautiful video but then all of a sudden I pop up and it's like, 'Good God, what is that?'"

Despite the reservations of his own on screen involvement, Jack fully embraced the video's concept.

"We talked about it for a long, long time and the whole aesthetic of it was so strong that I loved it," he said.

"We saw a lot of treatments but her treatments flung out to us and we thought they were great."

The single's release comes off the back of an eventful Summer of live appearances.

In addition to the Reading and Leeds Festivals Fixers supported Noah and the Whale at London's iTunes Festival.

They also stole the show at Truck Festival in Steventon.

Jack wore a hat, sunglasses and large beard for the entire gig.

"I got to a point in the set when I thought this is no longer fancy dress, this is just make belief.

"Ever since I was a kid I've wanted a big, massive Unabomber/Charles Manson beard.

"It's something I find really empowering and for me it's something for me to hide behind.

"I think that's why I was so nonchalant and confident at that show. I was hiding.

"I wasn't trying to ostracise anyone but I just felt if I was more relaxed everyone else would be more relaxed, so maybe it kind of worked."

Fixers' fans include Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens who said: "They're a very exciting band and it's been great to see them grow and take on the world after the initial support of BBC Introducing in Oxford."

September will see the band play the Shepherd's Bush Empire and the Reeperbahn Festival in Germany.

The possibility of an Oxford show in October has also been mooted but Jack remains tight-lipped on future music releases.

"I don't like killing mysticism," he explained.

"When I was a kid and went into a shop and heard a song I thought there were musicians upstairs playing.

"I just like the naiveté… so I don't want to kill any mysticism or romanticism that goes with putting music out."

Listen to BBC Introducing in Oxford's special podcast which looks back on the last two years with Fixers.


Original Article Source

category: Interesting Articles

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Jump for the Jungle

     

Helen Buckland, UK Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) will be jumping out of a plane at Hinton Airfield, Brackley at 12.30pm on 17 September 2011.

When it comes to fundraising, even the sky’s not the limit for Helen Buckland, UK Director of Oxford-based conservation charity the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS). On Saturday 17 September, the dedicated charity Director is to take part in a tandem sky dive, jumping out of a plane over Oxfordshire from 13,500 feet. Not only that, she’ll do it all dressed as an orangutan!

Helen Buckland, UK Director of SOS said: “I've been working at SOS for almost six years, and in that time several brave people have run marathons, climbed mountains and even auditioned for The X-Factor to raise funds for the charity - I thought it was about time I took on a challenge of my own.”

With approximately 6,600 remaining in the wild, Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered and without urgent action could be the first Great Ape species to become extinct. SOS is dedicated to turning this situation around. Helen’s Jump for the Jungle is one of many fundraising activities planned for the year ahead and follows Concert4Conservation, an event which saw more than a thousand people packing into The Regal, Cowley Road, to hear Stornoway, The Epstein and The Dreaming Spires perform, raising funds for SOS, the Earth Trust and the RSPB.

Helen’s Jump for the Jungle will take place at Hinton Airfield, Brackley. After half an hour of training at the airfield, Helen will take to the skies, climbing to 13,500 feet before leaping out into the clouds. Supporters can sponsor Helen via http://www.justgiving.com/FlyingHelen.

Helen Buckland said: “I have to admit I’m a bit nervous. I’ve never done anything like this before, but I’m sure the adrenaline will spur me on to jump when the time comes. I’m really proud of what SOS is achieving in Sumatra, but orangutans still need urgent help, so anything I can do to raise funds and awareness has to be worth a few minutes of fear. And I’ll be wearing an orangutan costume to remind myself exactly why I decided to do this when I’m hurtling through the air at 120 miles per hour!”


For more information on the Sumatran Orangutan Society see http://www.orangutans-sos.org

category: Interesting Articles

Wednesday, 07 September 2011

Film Review: Cowboys and Aliens

     

This comic book movie from Jon Favreau spends a gratifying amount of time on its characters and actors rather the visual FX.

Fusion is everything in gourmet cuisine these days, so why shouldn’t filmmakers mix and match movie genres no matter how crazy? Cowboys & Aliens - well, the title says it all. Taking the idea from a Platinum Studios graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, this film from Jon Favreau shrewdly blends an alien-invasion movie into a Western. The key to its success lies in the determination by everyone involved to play the damn thing straight. Even the slightest goofiness, the tiniest touch of camp, and the whole thing would blow sky high. But it doesn’t.

If you were to assess the mix, it would be about 70 percent Western paired with 30 percent alien invasion. Which is pretty bold given that aliens are all the rage and the most recent Western to make a lasting impression was probably Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Unforgiven. But that’s where shrewdness comes in: You expect space invasions; a Western is a tricky thing to pull off.

A big hit here at its Comic-Con world premiere, the Universal release looks primed to round up box-office gold with its target audience, all in ample supply this weekend in San Diego. But you suspect this is one monster movie that might even reach older audiences, who would love to slap on chaps and get rough and dirty with a good, old-fashioned Western. Well, here’s that opportunity. Nor does it hurt the movie’s appeal to an older crowd that the film unhesitatingly pairs two mature stars, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, to go up against the aliens.

Take a look at the credit box for this film, and you’ll see an all-star team of Hollywood producers, exec producers and writers. But such is the overriding intelligence and singular vision in this picture that you have to assume Favreau deserves the credit for keeping things true to both genres. A surprisingly good Western is taking place before those creatures drop down from another planet. True, the Western characters and story are awfully familiar to those who still treasure the genre, but the Western was always a conservative genre that stuck close to its traditions while allowing plenty of room for storytelling.

All good Westerns begin when a stranger rides into town. But this stranger, in 1875 New Mexico territory, suffers from amnesia. Played by Craig, the man awakens in the middle of the desert with a strange shackle on his left wrist and no memory of what happened to him. When he encounters three men who would take advantage of his situation, he quickly learns - as does the audience - he is not a man to be messed with.

The town he rides into, on a horse belonging to one of those unfortunate men, is called Absolution, a name that would give anyone pause. It is ruled by a tyrannical cattle baron, Colonel Dolarhyde, and that would be Ford who lets his face and body sag under the weight of his own ferocious and bitter sense of power. You get the impression he really wants someone to stand up to him.

When the man with no name challenges the colonel's cowardly son (an amusing Paul Dano), it looks like the colonel has found such a man. But not before a few townsfolk get introduced into the drama - which would include the town’s preacher (Clancy Brown); a stressed saloon-keeper (Sam Rockwell) and his plucky wife (Ana de la Reguera); the colonel’s unappreciated Indian cowhand (Adam Beach); and the beleaguered sheriff (Keith Carradine, evoking his late father’s considerable impact on the Western form) and his eager-to-grow-up grandson (Noah Ringer).

Drifting mysteriously on the periphery but making sure that the stranger stays in town when everyone else is keen to see him gone is a woman, Ella (Olivia Wilde), who might understand his plight and amnesia.

Just as a showdown of epic proportions seems imminent, an even greater showdown explodes in the town in a great WTF moment. Alien spacecrafts strafe the town and abduct a number of its citizens, including the colonel’s son. Equally surprising is how the stranger’s wrist ornament suddenly springs to life as the only successful weapon against these alien forces. The stranger, as strangers always do in Westerns, has demonstrated his usefulness.

Cowboys & Aliens has now reached the crucial juncture that will either make or break this odd admixture of a movie. Had the film given way to this sci-fi onslaught, the whole thing might have turned into the fiasco that was 1999’s Wild Wild West.

But no, Favreau and his legion of screenwriters wisely cling to the Western framework. The clear model for the rest of the movie is John Ford’s The Searchers, about a Comanche abduction of a white girl and her would-be rescuers led by John Wayne’s virulently racist uncle, to whom Indians were on the same level as reptilian space aliens.

Faced with the demise of the planet, all the Western’s warring parties - the cowboys and Indians, cattle barons and downtrodden townsfolk, the stranger and the colonel - suddenly realize they all belong to the same species. So they band together to form a search-and-rescue party to free loved ones and eliminate the alien scourge.

As this posse tracks the aliens down to their lair with some unexpected help from the mysterious Ella, the movie becomes perhaps a tad more conventional. Some of the movie’s niftiest sequences and best character-reveals happen during this rescue, but if there is a weakness here, it’s the aliens themselves.

Thanks to quite a few filmmakers - including Steven Spielberg, one of the many exec producers here - audiences are used to greater detail and more empathy for movie space creatures, even as recently as the one in Super 8. The alien villains here - while ingenious from a CGI standpoint with multilayered malevolence in bodies that pull back endoplasmic surfaces to reveal further weapons of destruction - don’t rate as characters. They are more like moving blobs you shoot at in a video game. Bam - gotcha!

Nonetheless, as the first of undoubtedly a bunch of copycat genre mashups, some of which are bound to be horrendous, Cowboys & Aliens is a solid success. For a tentpole Comic-Con movie, this one devotes a gratifying amount of time to character and achieves most of its success because Favreau has intelligently cast his film and let his actors do their thing. As good as the visual effects are, you walk away from the movie with a memory of actors’ faces, lines of dialogue and actions that speak more to character than to shock and awe.

And another thing: That wrist accessory worn by Craig should be a merchandising stroke of genius.


by Kirk Honeycutt

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Guard

     

Ireland has developed a nice export line in eccentric crime comedies, but to make them work you generally need Colin Farrell or Brendan Gleeson - preferably both, as In Bruges showed. This one is by the brother of In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, and is almost as enjoyable, if less coherent. It has Gleeson on fine form as a unorthodox garda (special interests: class-A drugs, Russian literature, prostitutes, swimming, swearing) whose quiet corner of coastal Connemara becomes an international crime hotspot. Thus he is paired with urban FBI man Don Cheadle, who looks genuinely flummoxed by Gleeson's inappropriate outbursts. "I'm Irish. Racism is part of my culture," Gleeson protests. If signs point to a mismatched-buddy cop movie, well, that's sort of what you get, but nothing in this sly, wry little movie is quite what it appears. Even the racism turns out to be part of a larger take on Ireland's insularity, eroding identity and inexorable Americanisation - the latter of which adds a self-aware edge to the unlikely crime proceedings. Some of the comedy is mistimed, and there's a little too much thrown in, but Gleeson's amiably contrarian lead is the type of cop you'd happily watch on TV every week. He could certainly teach Lewis a thing or two.


by Steve Rose

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Skin I Live In

     

Sexuality and the prison house of the self are the themes of Pedro Almodóvar's fantastically twisted new film, a luxury pulp fiction that breathes the atmosphere of the sick-room. Antonio Banderas stars as Ledgard, a wealthy and brilliant plastic surgeon who in his palatial home, tastefully furnished and equipped with its own private operating theatre, is secretly experimenting on the beautiful and submissive young Vera (Elena Anaya), whose entire skin covering he is replacing with an eerily smooth artificial substance, transgenically derived from pig hide. Is the prisoner his long-lost beloved wife, widely thought to have died of burns in a recent car crash? Or someone else entirely, who he is surgically refashioning to resemble her? Either way, captor and captive appear to be in love. Yet it is a relationship that can only end as it began: in violence.

This is a truly macabre suspense thriller and a nightmare melodrama clotted and tangled with bizarre backstory; it's a body horror comedy of the kind that only Almodóvar would know how, or indeed wish, to create. When I first saw this in Cannes earlier this year, its resemblances to Hitchcock, Franju and Buñuel were apparent. Alejandro Amenábar's 1997 movie Open Your Eyes could also be an influence, though Almodóvar might not care to acknowledge a younger contemporary. The film's storyline, together with the return of Banderas to the Almodóvar repertory company, must also bring to mind his 1990 film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, which sports with the same Stockholm-syndrome ideas of love, violence and imprisonment, still as provocative and non-PC.

The Skin I Live In is freely adapted from the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet, and the movie toys with literary reference. Vera reads widely in the upstairs bedroom-jail-cell in Ledgard's house, displaying great taste, being evidently an admirer of Alice Munro. In my original review I wondered if Almodóvar might have taken some inspiration from Evelyn Waugh's 1953 novella Love Among the Ruins. On this second viewing, I felt that Gore Vidal is maybe the better comparison, and the fanatical, passionate care with which Ledgard repairs damaged flesh mirrors the catastrophe connoisseurship displayed in JG Ballard's Crash.

Allusions to books are probably beside the point, though. This is a film drenched in visual and self-consciously cinematic rapture. As in earlier films by this director, there are crazed, voyeuristic scenes in which the protagonist watches action unfolding on a cinema screen, a home-entertainment system that is more torture than entertainment, but which holds him speechless, captivated by the obscene spectacle he himself has created.

A second viewing, in fact, frees the viewer from the task of untangling the ridiculous plot, and allows you just to savour the extraordinary texture of this film: the colours and surfaces contrived by Almodóvar with cinematographer José Luis Alcaine and art director Carlos Bodelón are delectable. The most casual scene or establishing shot looks as if it has been hand-painted in the subtlest detail. This is epitomised by Vera's remarkable ersatz skin, or super-skin. Did Almodóvar varnish it digitally? It is rich, creamy, without the pink quality of normal flesh, more pale ochre; it bears the same relationship to skin as AstroTurf does to grass. It does not respond to a blowtorch and looks tougher than polyurethane. What a contrast to the plausibly weather-beaten handsomeness of Ledgard's middle-aged skin or indeed that of his mother Marilia (Marisa Paredes), whose perennially stricken, horrified face both exemplifies and ironises the effect this grotesque tale must have on any sane observer.

The colours, particularly the colour red, loom almost woozily out of the screen - here's a movie that doesn't need 3D - and at these moments the film is particularly Hitchcockian, a visual effect intensified by the pulsing orchestral score. The music surges and throbs; the surgical instruments and phials of blood are shown with minute care, revolvers are casually disclosed in handbags and desk drawers, and Almodóvar unveils some terrific overhead shots of crime-scene tableaux.

Banderas is a wonderfully charismatic leading man; Almodóvar has found in him what Hitchcock found in Cary Grant. He is stylish, debonair, but with a chilling touch of determination and menace. Marilia says that at an earlier, troubled time in their lives, she and her son could only come out at night. Banderas's Ledgard is, to quote the old expression from Central Europe, as elegant as a vampire.

There will be some who find this film rather too absurd, with a whiff of shaggy dog, and some critics have found it essentially heartless. I would agree that it might not have the passion and empathy of, say, Volver, perhaps because women are sidelined. It is rather a tissue of surfaces, styles and images. That tissue gives a gorgeous caress.


by Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Jane Eyre

     

This moody, smartly handled adaptation is justifiably built around "The Kids Are All Right's" Mia Wasikowska.

Between 1910 and 1996, 18 feature films based on Charlotte Bronte's durable 1847 novel Jane Eyre were produced, or one less than every five years. Despite two TV versions in the interim, the 15-year gap since the most recent one had clearly become insupportable, so now the breach has been filled by this moody, smartly handled adaptation justifiably built around Mia Wasikowska, who broke through in last year's rendition of the equally perennial Alice in Wonderland. Less melodramatic than most adaptations of this tough-minded story of an orphan girl's arduous journey into womanhood in rural England, the Focus release should elicit particularly ardent reactions from student-aged females and looks poised for a reasonable commercial career on the multiplex great-books circuit.

Given the resilience and unwavering persistence exhibited by their respective heroines, the current film that Jane Eyre most closely resembles is True Grit, which can only work to the new picture's benefit. Jane's tenacity and refusal to allow a succession of venal, manipulative, small-minded adults to break her lie at the heart of story's enduring appeal. Although her critical assessment of the religious hypocrisy of three key men in her life has essentially been jettisoned - important in that it so profoundly shapes her own religious attitudes - the strong spine of the character and the work itself remains sound and is manifest in every moment of Wasikowska's strong performance.

On the heels of his impressive debut with the markedly contemporary Sin Nombre - a vivid depiction of Central American immigrants struggling across Mexico on their way to the U.S. - for director Cary Joji Fukunaga to abruptly turn to 19th century English lit costume fare might seem initially perplexing. But while set in very different times and places, the two stories are very close at their cores, having to do with surviving harsh environments, ill-intentioned individuals and ghastly deprivation on the road to finding a suitable home and a desirable life. They're both descriptive of the determination to create something from nothing without compromising one's integrity and sense of self-worth.

Prefacing the linear story with the grown Jane's distressed flight from a grand house and eventual rescue by a parson (Jamie Bell) and his two sisters, scenarist Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe) boils down the heroine's unfortunate early years to the bare minimum: her ouster from the lavish home of her hateful aunt (Sally Hawkins) and consignment to the Dickensian horrors of the Lowood charity school for girls, where her best friend dies in her arms.

Intriguingly, Fukunaga and his resourceful cinematographer Adriano Goldman visually constrict much of the initial action by tightly composing images of Jane with the use of curtains, door frames and so on, which intensely focuses attention on the characters' faces and the way they regard and perceive one another.

The other visual hallmark is landscapes. With rugged and barren Derbyshire locations standing in for the Yorkshire settings, the sense of isolation, of there being no recourse from the world into which one was born, is strong, and the moderate graininess and desaturation of the images reinforce the feeling of forlorn harshness.

But in a living demonstration of the cliche that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, Jane emerges from her trials with a good education and stringent moral values. She also has few prospects, which is why she happily accepts a position at Thornfield, the estate of the mysterious and mercurial Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender).

Crucially, the scenes of Jane and Rochester getting to know each other, with her becoming captivated by his powerful personality and with him increasingly appreciating her ability to cope with his quicksilver intellect and diabolical mood swings, are among the film's best, well establishing a strong link between them. Gradually, as she tutors Rochester's young French-speaking ward (Romy Settbon Moore) and is counseled by housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench), Jane becomes aware of what haunts Thornfield and what tortures the first man she has loved, leading to her abrupt departure and a new round of self-testing.

Unadorned to the point of physical ordinariness and with copper-colored hair generally pulled back severely, Wasikowska must convey everything about Jane from her posture, the look in her eyes and the tone of her voice. The character's obstinacy could have become wearisome, but Wasikowska provokes ever-growing admiration for a woman who has learned the virtue of patience but in the end will not submit to what she knows is not right. The proto-feminist aspect of the character has undoubtedly fed the popularity of the book over the years, but in a broader sense Jane is most impressive for how she never sinks to the levels of the limited and downright dreadful people who so often enjoy the upper hand over her.

However, a key aspect of Jane's makeup, her religiosity, has been sacrificed, perhaps out of fear that modern audiences wouldn't warm to the issue. Not apparent in the film is how Jane develops her own nondoctrinaire version of faith, largely in reaction to the false or misguided piety of Mr. Brocklehurst, the head of her severe school; St. John Rivers, the rural clergyman who takes a curdled fancy to her; and Rochester himself, whose previous relationships with women leave a great deal to be desired from a moral standpoint.

Fassbender cuts a more prosaic, realistic figure as the tormented, romantic Rochester than did the screen's most celebrated performer of the role, Orson Welles, in the effective 1944 version opposite Joan Fontaine and directed by Robert Stevenson. The long, discursive dialogues he instigates in the novel are also boiled down to little more than quips here, but the actor brings power and an assertive presence to the role all the same. Supporting performances are more than serviceable.

Dario Marianelli composed the intriguing and distinctive score.


by Todd McCarthy

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Final Destination 5

     

This occult-horror franchise has been going for a decade now, and like the Scream movies is made by and for hardline connoisseurs of the genre. The form and content are as rigid and unchangeable as a Petrarchan sonnet or a Noh play, starting with a young person having a premonition of a catastrophic accident that saves the lives of a number of people, most of them from his own circle. But the Grim Reaper is not mocked, and all the seemingly lucky ones are doomed to die with maximum gore in the order in which they survived. Each death is the culmination of a concatenation of smaller accidents, the details observed in slow motion; the pleasure provided by the films resides in the ingenuity shown by the writers and directors, and the way punishment is delivered equally to the innocent and the deserving. The latest one (the second using 3D images aggressively aimed at the audience) begins with the horrendous collapse of a packed suspension bridge over a river in New York. The eight survivors, all employees of a company about to be closed down in the current crisis, are lined up like Christie's Ten Little Indians (to use the politically correct title imposed on Dame Agatha's classic thriller in the 1960s) and then disposed of gleefully in a manner that recalls Gloucester's remark in King Lear that "as flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport".

The most extravagant quietuses involve a gymnast ending up twisted beyond unravelling, a lecherous patron of a Chinese massage parlour experiencing death by acupuncture and a falling Buddha, and an ophthalmologist's laser surgery going horribly wrong. I have to admit it appealed to my wanton inner child, though if asked to name my favourite premonition movie it would be Ealing Studios' classic Dead of Night.


by Philip French

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Fright Night

     

So much for tortured souls with brooding come-hither-and-die eyes. Colin Farrell, as the vampire-next-door in this entertaining if unscary remake of the 1985 film, is a Budweiser-drinking knucklehead. He doesn't play Debussy on the piano; in fact, all he seems to have learned from 400 years walking the earth undead is that he looks good in a tight black T-shirt. It's a neat riposte to Twilight by Buffy scriptwriter Marti Noxon, who relocates the story to Las Vegas, where everyone – not just the vampires – works nights. Anton Yelchin is Charley, a high school kid who becomes convinced his new neighbour (Farrell) is a bloodsucker. The rest of the cast is top notch: Christopher Mintz-Plasse from Superbad is the nerdy best friend; Toni Collette does cool-mum; David Tennant hams it up as a leather-trousered Vegas magician specialising in trashy bondage-lite extravaganzas. It's smart and funny, but (unlike the original) instantly forgettable, and, crucially, not remotely frightening – even with blood and intestines spattering out in 3D.


by Cath Clarke

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Friends With Benefits

     

Not only do Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis handle the tart banter with an assured, playful give-and-take in Will Gluck's grown-up romantic comedy, but - surprise, surprise - there’s actually a palpable chemistry between them.

Ashton and Natalie may have beaten them to the “just sex” punch line with No Strings Attached, but Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis do it better - and more enjoyably - in Friends With Benefits.

A crisply contemporary, notably grown-up romantic comedy directed and co-written by Easy A director Will Gluck, the bicoastal picture goes a long way in bringing sexy back to a soggy genre, benefiting greatly from the presence of its likable leads.

Not only do they handle the tart banter with an assured, playful give-and-take, but - surprise, surprise - they also manage to exhibit an extremely rare big-screen quality: There’s actually a palpable chemistry between them.

Even though the postmodern vehicle ultimately proves guilty of adhering too closely to those very same tired rom-com conventions at which it satirically pokes fun, its fresh-faced, attractive leads inject it with a winning vitality.

That vibe should help audiences brush aside the initial sensation of deja vu and make this Screen Gems release an attractive proposition in its own right.

Immediately establishing a brisk pace suited to a film set in both New York and Los Angeles, Gluck dispenses with any creaky plot mechanics that will slow down the business at hand - bringing together hot-shot L.A.-based media art director Dylan (Timberlake) and Manhattan-based corporate headhunter Jamie (Kunis).

Not only does adventurous Jamie manage to persuade him to relocate to the East Coast for a dream gig calling the shots at GQ, they find themselves jumping into each other’s arms, among other various body parts, even though both are still smarting from recently terminated relationships.

Despite Jamie and Dylan’s mutual declaration to maintain a strictly physical relationship, darned if those pesky emotions don’t manage to creep their way into those best-laid plans.

Working from Keith Merryman and David Newman’s sharply observed, casually au courant script, to whch he contributed, Gluck clearly had vintage Hepburn-Tracy sophisticated comedy in the back of his head while working out the style and tempo of the production.

He also mines healthy - and well-deserved - laughs from making fun of the current state of studio romantic comedies with a mock film-within-the-film featuring an unbilled Jason Segel and Rashida Jones along with virtually every rom-com cliché under the sun.

But he also succumbs to many of those very same trappings as the film progresses, including the staging of not one but two choreographed flash mob sequences - a YouTube phenom that already felt past its prime when Howie Mandel hosted a hidden-camera special earlier this year.

The hypocritical element aside, Gluck not only draws terrific performances from Kunis and Timberlake (fresh from their respective career-best turns in Black Swan andThe Social Network) but from a crack supporting cast.

Woody Harrelson handily steals his handful of scenes as Timberlake’s office colleague - a gung-ho, gay man’s man - while the ever-reliable Patricia Clarkson shines as Kunis’ hazy-around-the-edges, aging ‘70s groupie of a mom. Jenna Elfman puts in an effective turn as Timberlake’s world-weary big sister.


by Michael Rechtshaffen

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Inbetweeners

     

They could have called it British Pie, but this TV sitcom spin-off updates the teen summer holiday formula surprisingly entertainingly, considering it doesn't subvert it one iota. Most of that entertainment value is at the expense of our four naive suburban teen heroes, who embark on a post-sixth form Mediterranean jaunt with impossibly high hopes. "It'll be like shooting clunge in a barrel," one of them delicately puts it, which proves to be far from the case – unless they make good with those four unfeasibly obliging and sympathetic girls they keep running into, but what are the chance of that? The gags come crude, fast and in a language the target audience will understand, and the worst of the humour is offset by some fond observation of British holiday rituals and the witty, preternaturally mature narration of Will (Simon Bird), the glasses-wearing intellectual of the gang. He's like a young David Mitchell trapped in an episode of Ibiza Uncovered.


By Steve Rose

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: One Day

     

It's just 24 hours out of a person's life, but that can be a long, momentous and rather depressing time – as Ivan Denisovich will tell you. David Nicholls's hugely loved bestseller One Day, whose distinctive orange jacket design adorns beaches and train-carriages all over the country, has now, unfortunately, been turned into a slushy, mawkish and weirdly humourless romance with a sub-Richard Curtis style and more endings than Lord of the Rings. The big emotional climax is unearned and the all-important high concept is now a bit blurred.

The point of the book is that each chapter gives us a snapshot update of the same two people on the same day every year: 15th July. Pretty Yorkshire lass Emma and handsome-yet-vulnerable smoothie Dexter spend the night together on this date in 1988, their graduation day at Edinburgh University. They never become a couple, but the story follows their twin lives on this day over the next 20 years: sometimes together, sometimes poignantly apart. It's a terrifically neat idea on the page: on screen, little titles pop up to tell you which year we're on, but without those, I frankly wonder whether anyone without previous knowledge of the book would particularly notice the "one day" organising principle. It looks much like any other movie storyline.

Brooklyn-born Anne Hathaway plays Emma, and there have been mutterings about her Yorkshire accent. Well, it's not as terrible as all that. Compared with Josh Hartnett, who had to play a Keighley lad in the 1999 Brit comedy Blow Dry, Hathaway sounds like Geoff Boycott in drag. And Jim Sturgess is perfectly all right as Dex. Their relationship has some sweet touches. But the movie never has much space to breathe, and there are only one or two real laugh lines in the entire film.

I couldn't help remembering Marc Webb's flawed but interesting romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer, in which key days from a love affair between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are presented to us out of order: the shuffling technique defamiliarised the personae and gave the audience some perspective. (Perhaps back-to-front dramas such as Pinter's Betrayal and François Ozon's 5x2 do the same thing.) Well, this isn't what One Day is about: each day comes in sequence, yet gradually incremental changes turn out to be easier and more enjoyably described in a book than dramatised in a film.

Rafe Spall and Romola Garai have supporting roles as people with whom Em and Dex dally while in denial about their romantic destiny, and they do a decent job, as does everyone else. But the day has not been seized.


By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film review: Apollo 18

     

Since the success of The Blair Witch Project back in 1999, there’s been a steady stream of copycat ‘found footage’ movies hitting cinema screens.

Though The Blair Witch Project wasn’t the first to make use of the technique, it was the first to hurtle it into the mainstream. It also utilised the Internet to create a brilliant word-of-mouth marketing campaign based around questioning the authenticity of the film’s content.

In many other ways too, The Blair Witch Project was innovative, intelligent and important (in terms of its place in cinema history) all at once but for most of those that followed in its wake, none of these apply.

In the case of Apollo 18, the filming technique is simply annoying.

The premise for Apollo 18 is simple. It tracks what purportedly happened in a top secret lunar mission – one that takes place in 1974 after the official final US interplanetary mission of Apollo 17 – and reveals why the Americans have never been back.

As far as the three deployed astronauts know, they’re there to set up some monitoring equipment.

When they find an abandoned Russian craft on the moon’s surface and – worse – a dead cosmonaut, they know something seriously untoward is afoot.

What we see is video footage apparently recovered from the mission.

We see the events unfold but are never privy to the answers we crave.

Apollo 18 is derivative not only in style, but also in the countless space movies it resembles.

Everything about Apollo 18 screams lazy filmmaking done on the cheap. Low budget is fine but even with no money you can usually bank on originality and/or innovation.

This has neither and director Gonzalo López-Gallego seems to believe that showing us a few grainy pictures, some static interference and a series of jump cuts is enough to build suspense.

After a boring and lengthy build-up which introduces us to the film’s poorly-developed characters and some meaningless scientific babble, you’re channelled into a film that’s generally pretty insubstantial and relies on its shooting style as the catnip to keep you interested.

Unfortunately, the tension is spoiled from the outset – the very nature of ‘found footage’ films means that what you’re seeing is ostensibly a video recording recovered from a scene that had no survivors, and so you know everyone involved has met their fate.

On a subconscious level, as an audience we feel it isn’t, therefore, worth our emotional investment and we remain largely detached. A film like The Blair Witch Project handles this dilemma well, as does found footage creature feature Cloverfield; here, it’s just downright problematic.

Its thin plot makes Apollo 18 seem far longer than its skimpy 86-minute running time, and you’ll leave the cinema lighter of pocket and feeling short-changed in more ways than one.


By Kim Francis

category: Film Reviews

Thursday, 01 September 2011

Celebrating the London 2012 Olympic Games in Oxford

     

With a year to go until the London 2012 Olympic Games a host of events are set to take place in Oxfordshire.

The Games start on 27 July 2012. The 70-day torch relay will travel through the county on 9 and 10 July.

The route has not been confirmed but a council spokesman said it would include "Oxford's most iconic sites".

Oxford Inspires said it would "showcase our rich cultural sporting heritage and celebrate the birthplace of Sir Roger Bannister's four-minute mile".

And local cyclists and rowers will power a giant sculpted Tree of Light lit by low energy LED bulbs.

Kathelene Weiss, director of Oxford Inspires, said: "Over 1,000 people will have the chance to be part of the educational and community arts project leading up to five magical performances in Oxfordshire and nearby counties in June and July 2012."

Legacy projects
Oxford's sporting legacy will be celebrated on 10 and 11 September with displays at the Bodleian Library, Oxford City Football Club and the Roger Bannister Running Track.

Meanwhile the Oxfordshire Sport Partnership has launched Sportivate which aims to encourage 14 to 25 year olds to participate regularly in sports activities.

The hope is that more opportunities will be created for the deployment of coaches and volunteers in a campaign that runs until March 2015.

In addition its Sport Makers legacy project intends to inspire 500 new Oxfordshire volunteers into community activity by the start of the Olympics.

The national Olympic committee has given 10 events in the county its Inspire Mark which it says is only awarded to "the most accessible, participative, inspiring and stimulating projects and events".

Awards went to CIAO! Ark, Creative Campus Initiative at Oxford Brookes, Our Sporting Life at the River and Rowing Museum, Rings around the World at Henley Festival, Village Screen Initiative, In It Together at West Oxfordshire District Council, Boccia revolution, Sport Unlimited, FANS (Free access for National Sports People) and Leadership Champions.


Original article source

category: Interesting Articles

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