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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Film Review: Anonymous

     

The last time Derek Jacobi appeared in a movie with a literary bent it was a year ago in Clint Eastwood's dreadful life-after-death drama Hereafter, where he cameoed as himself, to the delight of Matt Damon's Dickens fan – a man who loved the novels so much he listened only to the audio versions. Jacobi's appearance at the beginning of this stunningly-designed takedown of the Bard – directed by the man behind Independence Day and Godzilla – might therefore be taken by some as a signal to leave the cinema immediately.

But Roland Emmerich's meticulously crafted and often well-acted exposé of the "real" William Shakespeare is shocking only in that it is rather good.

The problem is that Emmerich seems so determined to prove himself as a serious director his film drowns in exposition. There is no Hollywood-style crawl to explain the year or characters; instead, after a short preamble by Jacobi, disputing not only the existence of Shakespeare but his ability to have written the works, the story throws us into the deep end, with a cornered Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) arrested by guards in the Globe Theatre.

At first, the film appears to suggest the unmasking of Shakespeare will have more to do with communal effort than anything, since John Orloff's script is heavy in confusing plotlines. Jonson is in a coterie of struggling writers, including one Kit Marlowe (Trystan Gravelle), who, at the theatre, encounter an amazing play seeming to have no author. It is a riotous success; so much so that the police arrive and close it for being seditious. More plays follow. But nobody except Jonson seems to notice the attention paid to these stagings by the suave, aloof Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), who looks down from the balcony in a reverie.

Emmerich's film plays its hand early by having Oxford summon Jonson to his estate, where he offers him money to be a front for plays he has been secretly writing. Jonson turns him down, but the role is filled by a jobbing actor named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), a drunken buffoon who staggers onstage to take the credit simply because nobody else will. Oxford is appalled. "An actor!" he laments. "An actor, for God's sake!" But Shakespeare it is, and Oxford continues to launder his material through this semi-literate idiot.

The politics of the late 17th century comes heavily to play, most of it retrofitted to match the theory. But beneath the CG and bombast there is a very enjoyable film. Emmerich vividly portrays Elizabethan audiences and their visceral appreciation of the plays put before them.

More importantly, he draws on the Queen's own fascination with dramaturgy and poetry, which allows the film to dwell rather interestingly on the connection between art and politics ("All art is political, otherwise it would just be decoration," snaps Oxford). And most fittingly for a play about such great works, there are some wonderful performances too, despite the unengaging leads.

Edward Hogg as the Queen's adviser is a standout, and Vanessa Redgrave makes an eminently awards-worthy Elizabeth. Best of all, though, are the snippets of the Mark Rylance (former artistic director of the modern Globe) as a jobbing actor bringing Oxford/Shakespeare's work to life. Its a testament to Emmerich's cluttered but sincere film that, at the heart of all the flash and filigree, the play really is the thing.


By Damon Wise

category: Interesting Articles

Film Review: Paranormal Activity 3

     

Paranormal Activity 3 opens with a brief prologue: Pregnant Kristi (Sprague Grayden) is painting the baby's room when Katie stops by with a box of old family movies on tape she wants to store in the basement. Not too long after, the house is burgled; the place is a wreck, but the only thing missing is, yes, the tapes.

Then it's back to 1988. Stay-at-home mom Julie (Lauren Bittner), her boyfriend, wedding videographer Dennis (Chris Smith), and Julie's daughters, six-year-old Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) and eight-year-old Katie (Chloe Csengery) have moved into a lovely home in suburban Carlsbad, Calif. It would be nice if Julie's mom, Grandma Lois (Hallie Foote), liked Dennis better and stopped pushing for more grandchildren, but she's generally supportive and lives just a short drive away. Dennis' business is thriving: He not only has a professional-quality editing suite in their home, but employs an assistant, the genial, goofy Randy (Dustin Ingram). The girls are adorable and parenthood hasn't squashed the friskiness that leads couples to do things like videotape themselves making love.

At least, they try to, until a minor earthquake ruins the mood and sends them scrambling to get the kids out of the shaking house. The weird part is that when Dennis takes a look at the tape, he spots something in the bedroom, a vaguely human shape outlined by falling plaster dust. Curious, Dennis sets up cameras in key parts of the house - the bedroom, the girls' room and the open-plan living and dining area, which he covers by rigging a camera to the base of an oscillating fan so it pans continuously back and forth - and is more than a little spooked to capture Kristi climbing out of bed at night to talk with her imaginary friend, Toby…and not always in a rainbows and unicorns kind of way.

Julie assures Dennis that all kids have imaginary friends and Toby (a name derived, all irony doubtless intended, from a Hebrew phrase meaning "the Lord is good") will be forgotten in a few weeks. How wrong she is becomes increasingly apparent as the movie goes on: You don't have to have seen either of the earlier films to know where this one is going.

And that's not inherently a bad thing. Horror sequels are like pranks: You can play the same one over and over again as long as it's good to begin with, you vary the set up and you defy expectations. Paranormal Activity 3 succeeds on all three counts. As in its predecessors, the characters behave like reasonable people: They're inquisitive in the face of oddities that fall within the realm of the explicable. The outline in the bedroom could be an optical illusion, all houses creak and knock, kids do have imaginary friends. They're slow to voice crazy-sounding suspicions, but react appropriately after coming face to face with evidence that something is seriously wrong…not that it does them any good.

Equal credit goes to screenwriter Landon (who also wrote Paranormal Activity 2); directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, whose earlier Catfish was a master class in blurring the line between fiction and documentary; and the cast, all of whom look convincingly like non-professionals but range from theater-veteran Foote to Csengery and Brown, who've managed to avoid the insufferably cute mannerisms of so many child actors.

Bottom line: If you're looking for a good Halloween scare that will play just as well after the last Christmas cookie has crumbled, Paranormal Activity 3 delivers, and does it without gore or "look at me!" special effects.


By Maitland McDonagh

category: Interesting Articles

Film Review: In Time

     

YOU would not say In Time completely blows any chance of delivering on its immense potential.

Nevertheless, there are scenes where the movie is conspicuously fumbling and fudging its way through.

Forgiving viewers capable of looking past these wonky shortcomings are sure to like what they see. If only because of the original and unconventional vision of writer-director Andrew Niccol.

In a fascinating first act of In Time, Niccol depicts a future where money has long been superseded as mankind's currency of choice.

All that is left for people to spend is, quite literally, their time.

Allow me to back up and explain the concept in a little detail. In this technologically miraculous version of the future, people can no longer physically age past 25. Imagine that - preserved in your prime for ever. Whew.

Now imagine this - unless you're upfront and ask someone their age, your next girlfriend or boyfriend could be more than 50 years your senior. Whoa!

Of course, there has to be a catch, and it is a doozy. To remain alive beyond 25 people must earn and save time.

Wages are paid in days of added longevity. If you have bills to service or products to buy, you barter with minutes and hours off the end of your life. For example, a coffee will cost you 20 minutes, while a car will set you back months.

This is heady stuff to be dealing with in a major mainstream motion picture, and In Time does a fine job of laying out the ground rules governing this brave new world.

If only the story told here were as brave and new as well.

Justin Timberlake plays Will, a time-poor dude who lucks into a 100-year payout after a rich dude decides he's had enough of living.

Having recently lost his mother (Olivia Wilde) because she accidentally ran out of time, Will decides to burn through his fortune at a posh haven for the time-rich.

After winning more than a millennium in a casino, Will attracts the attention of what passes for police in this world, the Time Keepers (led by Cillian Murphy). Also taking an interest in Will's whereabouts is a band of futuristic, time-thieving gangsters known as Minute Men (the baddest of which is I Am Number Four's Alex Pettyfer).

Unfortunately, for all of its many merits in establishing a novel and strange view of the future, In Time is let down by plotting rooted well in the past.

By the time Will has hooked up with a sexy socialite (Amanda Seyfried) to rob some time banks as a sci-fi Bonnie and Clyde, the movie seems to lose interest in itself.

After teasing us with big statements about immortality and how we all waste so much precious time, it is disappointing to see Niccol's ideas shrink to nothing but gunfights and car chases.


By Leigh Paatsch

category: Interesting Articles

Film Review: The Ides of March

     

The 68th Venice film festival opened to a backdrop of crisis in the Eurozone, swingeing government cuts to the city's maintenance grant and the inevitable, ongoing soap-operatics of Silvio Berlusconi. Happily it also opened to The Ides of March, which at least reminds us that the world of US politics is no bed of roses either. This handsome, solid campaign thriller paints its primary colours in darkening shades of grey.

George Clooney directs and stars as Democrat governor Mike Morris, a centre-left poster boy, manoeuvred towards the nomination by a pair of driven back-room advisers. Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the rumpled, battle-hardened veteran, nominally in charge but increasingly outpaced by Stephen (Ryan Gosling), his hotshot young lieutenant. Morris is within a whisker of securing a crucial endorsement that would put him within sight of the White House. But the way ahead is rocky, dirty and fraught with danger. After bedding down with a teenage intern (Evan Rachel Wood), Stephen inadvertently intercepts a 2am phone call that promptly sends the campaign clean off the rails.

The Ides of March is adapted from a stage-play by Beau Willimon, a former staff member on Howard Dean's brief, ill-starred presidential dash in 2004. For much of its run, the tale comes steeped in the grubby details of Democrat politics, cherry-picking from a variety of sources, plundering from campaign folklore. On a live TV debate, Morris is asked whether he would still oppose the death penalty if his own wife were raped and murdered – a repeat of the question that skewered Mike Dukakis back in 1988. Elsewhere, Stephen echoes Lyndon Johnson when ordering the leak of a scurrilous rumour concerning a campaign rival. "I don't care if it's true," he quips. "I just want to hear him deny it."

But if these references prove too arcane to appeal to swing voters, fear not. A late nod to the Monica Lewinsky scandal is the film's cue to abruptly change course and undergo a Hollywood-style makeover. So The Ides of March emerges from its smoke-filled back-room, reborn as a glossy mainstream thriller, replete with suspicious death and high-stakes skulduggery, as Morris teeters on the brink and Stephen is cast out to the cold. From here on in, Clooney's film turns more sleek, more conventional – and possibly more cynical, too. It rolls towards the finish line with a well-oiled, stage-managed precision.

Perhaps it's true that the public gets the films – and the politicians – it deserves. The Ides of March is tense and involving, a decent choice for the festival's opening-night film. And if that vote seems a little grudging, that's only because I can't help feeling that there were surely wilder, more interesting contenders that fell by the wayside. What remains is your classic compromise candidate: a film that set out with a crusading zeal but had its rough edges planed down en route to the nomination.


By Xan Brooks

category: Interesting Articles

Film Review: Monte Carlo

     

What's a sweet little Texan gal to do when her trip of a lifetime to Paris sees her mistaken for a spoilt English heiress? That's the premise of this good-natured but insipid vehicle for tween star Selena Gomez, which promises all your dreams can come true if only you remember to stay true to yourself – though, naturally, that realisation only comes after Gomez spends a week impersonating said heiress around the balls and polo fields of Monte Carlo, with what are intended to be "predictably hilarious consequences". Though Gomez is the star, what spark the film delivers comes from Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester, playing Gomez's uptight stepsister. She's the only actor who doesn't sound as if she's in a desultory rehearsal for a school play, and is more winning by far than Gomez.


By Michael Hann

category: Film Reviews

Review: Science Oxford Live

     

I thought this place was great! It is small but when taking a 3 and 6 year old on my own this was an advantage. Lots to do including a brilliant dark room and both my kids were entertained for a good 1.5 hours. For £7 total price for us three I think that's great value for money! We will definitely be returning.
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category: Miscellaneous Reviews

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Approved - carriages plan on track

     

A BID to run horse-drawn carriages around Oxford city centre has passed its first hurdle, despite objections from animal rights campaigners.

A remaining sticking point is how droppings will be collected.

Oxford City Council has agreed by-laws can be established which would allow horse-drawn sightseeing carriages to operate through the city for the first time in 70 years.

The council’s general purposes licensing committee last week agreed the idea in principle.

Horse-drawn carriages, popular with tourists in cities across the globe, have not operated on a significant scale in Oxford since before the Second World war.

The application was submitted by Kevin Merry Carriages, which has operated a horse carriage business in the area for more than 10 years.

Mr Merry, from Murcott, near Kidlington, plans to have a two-horse carriage which would take tourists on a 30-minute sightseeing tour from Broad Street taking in Parks Road, Longwall Street, Magdalen Bridge and High Street.

He said he was ‘thrilled’ the city council had consented.

He added: “We are very pleased. It is excellent news.”

Council officers will now draw up a number of by-laws, which could include setting out a route and where the stand for horses will be.

Business associate Niels Paige, assured animal welfare campaigners the horses would be treated with the utmost care and attention.

He added: “Kevin has worked with horses for more than 30 years and already donates part of his profits to a horse welfare charity.

“This is not a PR move, It is something he feels very strongly about.”

Wolvercote city councillor John Goddard said he was not opposed to the carriages, but was worried about how droppings would be dealt with.

A petition organised by animal rights group Peta (The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) drew 700 signatures opposing the plan.

It will now go before a full council meeting in December for final approval.


By Amanda Williams

category: Interesting Articles

Friday, 21 October 2011

Film Review: Tomboy

     

Céline Sciamma last found a UK audience with her 2007 movie Water Lilies, a disturbing drama about tensions among teenagers at a swimming pool. Her new film is a smaller-scale piece, directed with a light touch. Zoé Héran plays Laure, a 10-year-old girl who arrives with her family one summer in a new town. Laure is a tomboy, with short hair and boys' clothes. One local girl, Lisa (Jeanne Disson), likes the look of Laure, but thinks she's a boy; insecure and vulnerable, Laure plays along with the misunderstanding. Laure's younger sister plays along, too, greatly enamoured of the fantasy of a tough, protective elder brother – because Laure becomes a big hit as a boy, good at football, good at fighting. This feels like a literary adaptation, but is in fact an original screenplay. An interesting miniature.


By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Help

     

"The Help" is a safe film about a volatile subject. Presenting itself as the story of how African-American maids in the South viewed their employers during Jim Crow days, it is equally the story of how they empowered a young white woman to write a best-seller about them, and how that book transformed the author's mother. We are happy for the two white women, and a third, but as the film ends it is still Jackson, Mississippi and Ross Barnett is still governor.

Still, this is a good film, involving and wonderfully acted. I was drawn into the characters and quite moved, even though all the while I was aware it was a feel-good fable, a story that deals with pain but doesn't care to be that painful. We don't always go to the movies for searing truth, but more often for reassurance: Yes, racism is vile and cruel, but hey, not all white people are bad.

The story, based on Kathryn Stockett's best-seller, focuses on Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), a recent college graduate who comes home and finds she doesn't fit in so easily. Stone has top billing, but her character seems a familiar type, and the movie is stolen, one scene at a time, by two other characters: Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer).

Both are maids. Aibileen has spent her life as a nanny, raising little white girls. She is very good at it, and genuinely gives them her love, although when they grow up they have an inexorable tendency to turn into their mothers. Minny is a maid who is fired by a local social leader, then hired by a white-trash blonde. Davis and Spencer have such luminous qualities that this becomes their stories, perhaps not entirely by design.

The society lady, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), is a relentless social climber who fires Minny after long years of service. The blonde is Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain, from "The Tree of Life"), who is married to a well-off businessman, is desperate to please him, and knows never learned anything about being a housewife.

Minny needs a job, and is happy to work for her. Celia wants her only during the days, when her husband is away, so that he'll think he's eating her cooking and enjoying her housekeeping. Minny helps her with these tasks and many more, some heart-breaking, and fills her with realistic advice. Chastain is unaffected and infectious in her performance.

Celia doesn't listen to Minny's counsel, however, when she attends a big local charity event (for, yes, Hungry African Children), and the event provides the movie's comic centerpiece. Celia's comeuppance doesn't have much to do with the main story, but it gets a lot of big laughs. Some details about a pie seem to belong in a different kind of movie.

Skeeter convinces Aibileen and then Minny to speak frankly with her, sharing their stories, and as the book develops so does her insight and anger. A somber subplot involves the mystery of why Skeeter's beloved nanny, who worked for the family for 29 years, disappeared while Skeeter was away at school. Her mother (Alison Janney) harbors the secret of the nanny's disappearance, and after revealing it she undergoes a change of heart in a big late scene of redemption.

Two observations, for what they're worth. All the white people in the movie smoke. None of the black people do. There are several white men with important speaking roles, but only two black men, including a preacher, who have much to say.

There was a 1991 movie named "The Long Walk Home" that starred Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek as a maid and her employer at the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It had sharper edges than "The Help." But I suppose the Stockett novel has many loyal readers, and that this is the movie they imagined while reading it. It's very entertaining. Viola Davis is a force of nature and Octavia Spencer has a wonderfully expressive face and flawless comic timing. Praise, too for Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard and Alison Janney. They would have benefitted from a more fearless screenplay.


By Roger Ebert

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Sleeping Beauty

     

Emily Browning stars in director-screenwriter Julia Leigh's debut feature about a young woman who goes into high-end prostitution.

“You will go to sleep; you will wake up. It will be as if those hours never existed.” That quote from the Australian feature Sleeping Beauty is part of the job description of an emotionally detached young woman who drifts into high-end prostitution involving no actual sex. Regrettably, it could also describe the experience of watching the movie.

In 1989, Jane Campion’s first feature, Sweetie, was unveiled in the Cannes competition to a largely hostile reception. But when the knee-jerk dismissals subsided, the passionate defenders of that idiosyncratic vision of a dysfunctional family in the Australian suburbs were vindicated, establishing Campion as a distinctive new voice in international filmmaking. Campion’s name appears as a presenter on promotional materials - though not on the titles - of Sleeping Beauty, the debut feature from novelist Julia Leigh. But while this psychosexual twaddle will no doubt have its admirers, it seems a long shot to attract a significant following or herald the arrival of a director to watch.
The endorsement of a past Palme d’Or winner (Campion took the top Cannes prize in 1993 for The Piano) probably helped secure writer-director Leigh’s film this prestigious berth. But such prime placement can be a disservice. Cannes audiences tend to be more forgiving in sections geared to emerging talent, like Un Certain Regard or Directors Fortnight. Outside the glare of competition, even this pretentious exercise might have earned some appreciation for its rigorously cold aesthetic.

An anti-erotic fairytale, the film is a ponderous muddle of literary and cinematic allusions. Leigh acknowledges novellas by Yasunari Kawabata and Gabriel Garcia Marquez as loose starting points, but Georges Bataille also comes to mind, as do films from Belle du Jour to Eyes Wide Shut. It almost feels like one of those middle-class gutter odysseys to which Isabelle Huppert might have lent her commanding intensity a decade or so ago. (These tales of alienated Alices tumbling down the rabbit hole of extreme sex do tend to seem slightly less ludicrous in French.)

Leigh casts Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) as Lucy, a disaffected waif whose existential malaise steers her like a zombie through college classes, hookups in singles bars and thankless jobs, from office worker to waitress to medical lab test patient. Answering an advertisement seeking attractive young women, Lucy is inspected by Carla (Rachael Blake), a regal blonde matron with a client list of well-heeled old geezers. “Your vagina will be a temple,” Carla coolly informs Lucy in one of the script’s more unfortunate lines, indicating that penetration is off limits.

Outfitted in skimpy white undergarments Lucy goes to work with a team of waitresses in black bustiers and bondage gear. She pours booze at private dinner parties while guests mutter over their brandy about her creamy complexion. Carla, however, is quietly auditioning Lucy for her house specialty – the Sleeping Beauty Chamber. Knocked out with a potion, Lucy is put to bed in a room of Carla’s isolated mansion, where clients get a night alone with her.

While none of this acquires much dramatic urgency, the film’s exploration of submission, violation, objectification and depersonalization is treated with the utmost solemnity, its sterile surfaces undisturbed by even a ripple of humor. Leigh draws vague parallels between the customers’ treatment of Lucy’s passive body (tender, cruel, fumbling) and her own inadequate responses to the suffering and physical decline of her friend Birdmann (Ewen Leslie). But her curiosity to know what happens during her comatose nights gets the better of her, finally breaking down her emotional wall.

There’s almost a somnambulistic quality to Browning’s performance that makes you curious to know how Lucy became so anesthetized. But Leigh’s cryptic clues are stubbornly and self-consciously elusive, leaving the character’s potential complexity untapped. Visually, too, the film remains uninvolving, its glacial pacing further slowed by exceedingly sparing camera movement, resulting in a look that's neither sensual nor unsettling.


by David Rooney

category: Film Reviews

Film review: Contagion

     

Tellingly, and with an ambiguous hint of moralism, it all begins with a dangerous liaison. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Beth, a woman taking a call at an airport from someone she's just slept with, and who isn't her husband. She is pale, sweaty, nauseous, but wearily puts these symptoms down to jet-lag. Actually, she's a human Ground Zero: the first person to suffer from a horrific new contagious disease soon to encircle the globe.

The all-star disaster-movie genre is taken out of the 1970s and given a stylish and largely persuasive 21st century makeover by director and cinematographer Steven Soderbergh. Armed with a pulsing, driving score by Cliff Martinez, he flits from city to city, from deserted airport departure lounge to scarily antiseptic hospital lab. His cast includes Matt Damon as Beth's husband, Kate Winslet as Erin the harassed medic, Laurence Fishburne as a careworn epidemiologist, Marion Cotillard as a worried UN official and Jude Law as Alan Krumwiede, the cocky blogger and conspiracy tweeter rattling out online jeremiads about the establishment coverup. The rumours and the panic, inevitably, go viral.

We are all probably primed to smile at the cliches and absurdities of the disaster genre, expecting Leslie Nielsen to make an unsmiling appearance at any moment, and deliver his brusque, baritone definition of the word "hospital". Actually, Soderbergh exterminates any potential microbes of mockery early on with a couple of brutal, personal catastrophes, and he doesn't scruple to visit bio-calamity on the big names. One of his stars gets a particularly stomach-turning closeup, which got a gasp of horror and disbelief at the screening I attended.

The film moves with sinuous urgency and the script by Scott Z Burns has some nice moments. When Krumwiede hassles scientist Dr Ian Sussman (Elliott Gould) for some info, Dr Sussman snaps that he is a mere blogger and blogging is just graffiti with punctuation.

Contagion hangs together perfectly well as a movie, though sometimes it looks like a mosaic of earnestly tense mini-dramas represented by the ensemble cast: Soderbergh is much less strong on showing the fear and horror of ordinary people, and the massive sense of loss. (I felt, for example, that Fernando Meirelles's little-liked 2008 movie Blindness conveyed this rather better.) And the apparent contradictions in Krumwiede's position are also slightly uncomfortable.

Nonetheless, Soderbergh shapes this story with muscular confidence and, as his own director of photography, he captures some great images. It is sad to think that the director is now planning to quit the film business after his next two projected features. If that is really true, it is going to be a real loss.


By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn

     

As directors go, Steven Spielberg is a distinctive one, and as a writer and artist, Hergé is unmistakable – so it’s odd that The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn feels like the work of neither man. Instead, it’s a serviceable all-ages adventure romp that trades heavily on audiences’ affection for both the books and those who have adapted them without giving an awful lot back.

At its best, the film (actually a mishmash of Unicorn, The Crab With The Golden Claws, Red Rackham’s Treasure and selected moments from other Hergé works) is a rapid-fire 3D animation that’s certainly on a par with other cartoons by DreamWorks, if not those of Pixar. A terrifically-plotted motorbike chase through a North African marketplace presented in one continuous take is a highlight, as is Andy Serkis’s full-blooded, frequently hilarious turn as Captain Archibald Haddock. But at its worst it’s an airless pastiche, whose restive camera and occasionally smart-Alec script recreates the romance and logic of the source books on a superficial level only.

The film is also hobbled by its reliance on performance capture – the method by which actors’ movements and expressions are translated into 3D computer graphics – simply because the graphics are not good enough. Weta Digital might be able to render the thousand or so hairs in Tintin’s quiff with ease, but watch their PCs’ gears crunch when they try to digitise a personality.

This has quite a few of the hallmarks of a decent family movie, but as a fan of both the Tintin adventures and Spielberg’s cinematic swashbuckling since childhood, it left me underwhelmed. Hergé famously said that Spielberg was the only director capable of capturing the unique essence of his creation. That probably remains true. But this film hasn’t done it.


Original article source

category: Film Reviews

Monday, 17 October 2011

Robotic car developed by Oxford University

     

The modified Wildcat can interpret data from technology such as cameras, radar and lasers to drive itself.

The hope is that the technology will eventually improve traffic safety and cut congestion.

The project leader, Prof Paul Newman, said the car could drive without human intervention by being aware of its surroundings.

Traditionally GPS systems can broadly tell where a car is on the road but are unable to accurately guide it at speed without a significant margin of error.

The sensors on this autonomously driven vehicle can pinpoint its location exactly and enable it to respond to its environment more safely.

Google car
In the future Professor Newman is convinced that on-board computer capacity will have an enormous impact on motoring.

He envisages car companies in an "arms race" working to achieve the greatest number of minutes of autonomous driving per vehicle.

He said: "You can imagine one company advertising a model of car which, on average, drives itself for 10 minutes a day and then another manufacturer will come out with one that does 15 minutes."

Already there are cars that can park themselves and last year Google announced its self-driving car saying that it had covered more than 140,000 miles on American roads.

The Oxford car differs from Google's by having fewer sensors and relying more heavily on an on-board three dimensional map of streets.

The basic map could potentially be maintained by local councils or highway authorities and updated by vehicles.

Prof Newman said: "Think of the impact that computers have had on offices, they have totally transformed them, and the same thing is going to happen on the roads.

"In the future autonomous robotic vehicles will get us safely and efficiently from A to B whilst taking the load off their human drivers.

"Our long-term aim is to enable a new generation of robotic vehicles that can make the roads safer, less congested, cleaner, and personal transport more accessible. We do this by making smarter cars."

The Oxford project has been given £1.4m by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research council and is a collaboration between the university, BAE Systems and Nissan.

'Thinking cars'
The team say that computer assisted vehicles will not get distracted or tired and can remotely connect to the internet to communicate with other cars.

The Department for Transport estimates that cost of congestion will rise to £23bn-£24bn a year by 2025 so connected vehicles, like this prototype, could help alleviate some of those costs by avoiding jams and giving the driver time off to do other tasks.

Prof Newman said: "We need cars that do the thinking and concentrating for you, cars that do not insist you do the driving all the time.

"If the going is slow why can't I watch the show I missed last night, Skype with the kids, read a book or send that last email and elect the car to handle the drudgery of the trip for me?"

The legal ramifications of how people insure an autonomously driven car is one of the issues that will need to be resolved but for now Professor Newman says he was concerned with making the technology work.


Original article source

category: Interesting Articles

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Film Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

     

Cinema's worst ever case of post-natal depression is the subject of this compelling psycho-horror nightmare from Lynne Ramsay, adapted from the novel by Lionel Shriver.

It is a movie which is a skin-peelingly intimate character study and a brilliantly nihilist, feminist parable: what happens when smart progressive career women give birth to boys: the smirking, back-talking, weapon-loving competitive little beasts that they have feared and despised since their own schooldays?

Producer-star Tilda Swinton brings her A-game to the role of Eva, the gaunt and haunted middle-aged woman living through an unending hell: her teenage son Kevin is in prison for committing a Columbine-style atrocity at his high school and she is perpetually assaulted and abused by the bereaved parents. Eva is simultaneously at the centre of this atrocity and at its margin: she must pay dearly in her wretchedness every waking moment and yet can make no restitution. All that is left to her is to replay, endlessly, the story of Kevin's life and ponder her own role. Was she at fault – other than in giving birth to him? Or was Kevin's a fathomless, motiveless evil? Or is it simply that Kevin is a tragic and gruesome outlier: a freak exaggeration of the banal fact that boys get angry at their parents, angry at their schools, angry at new baby siblings, angry at themselves, and will find some way of acting out?

Whatever the reason, it is not just a question of talking about Kevin, but doing something. Yet what is there to do?

John C Reilly plays her unhappy husband and Ezra Miller is the scowlingly unrepentant Kevin himself. From the first, it seems, Eva's son had a malevolent, alien quality – and the movie gradually attains something of the overt, if realist cuckoo-in-the-nest scariness of the likes of Rosemary's Baby, The Village of the Damned or even The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. He is resentful, manipulative: sufficiently alert and sentient to resent the indignity of being a child. He develops strategies of resistance and resentment: refuses to speak or toilet-train – and this last triggers a violent episode which establishes Eva's upper-hand in their dysfunctional power relation, but makes her complicit in a lie and a coverup.

Could it be that his great crime was a revenge for this primal humiliation?

For a while, mother and son become close; they bond over quaint tales of Robin Hood. This is to plant a terrible seed. Once, Eva was a travel-loving, city-loving individual who had published a book. Now she's a mummy living in a big house in the boondocks and malign Kevin is sucking the life out of her. She is resentful and angry, qualities that she transmits to him, through nature and nurture.

Very quietly, the crisis of Eva's post-apocalyptic existence arrives in a subtly moving moment. One of the boys that Kevin attacked – who survived, but is now restricted to using a wheelchair – comes up and asks how she's doing. Eva flinches, expecting a blow or an insult, and can hardly believe that anyone, let alone one of the victims, could feel compassion for her. Eva is too far gone to sob with gratitude and relief. It is another enigmatic fact to be weighed up: could she be guiltless, after all?

Much has been made of the fact that Cannes, this year, is giving more of a chance to women directors. This certainly looks like a more female take on the traditional high school gun tragedy – compared to, say, Gus van Sant's Elephant. Ramsay's superb film reminds us that someone does the dirty, dreary work of explaining, feeling unhappy, going on prison visits and generally carrying the can. And that may well be the mother. As Swinton's Eva wearily washes off the red paint that someone has splattered over her porch, the movie wanly restates the undramatic truth: the mess must be cleaned up somehow, and it isn't the men who wind up doing it.


By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Real Steel

     

Right now, across the globe, a legion of film critics is furiously trying to figure out the best way to fuse the words ‘robot’ and ‘Rocky’: will it be ‘Rockybot’? ‘Robocky’? ‘Steelvester Steelone’? Yes, the underdog boxing story gets a cybernetic twist with ‘Real Steel’, a loud, silly, shamefully enjoyable rust-to-riches tale of the futuristic Worldwide Robot Boxing league, where 20-foot metal behemoths slug it out to the delight of baying, human crowds. When we first meet rough diamond Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), he’s down on his luck. His latest prize robot has just been flattened by a rampaging bull, there are loan sharks after his head and what’s worse, he’s been tasked with taking care of the son he never wanted: tousle-headed ten-year-old Max (Dakota Goyo). Of course, it’s not long before this mismatched pair find a discarded, outmoded Gen 2 robot in a trash pile, clean him up, train him and take him back out on the road...

As the likes of ‘Night at the Museum’ proved, originality is not one of director Shawn Levy’s big strengths: if you’ve seen ‘Rocky’, ‘Lassie’, ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ and ‘Transformers’, you’ve seen ‘Real Steel’. But there’s nothing wrong with an old story if it’s well told, and ‘Real Steel’ is both smart and slick, spicing up its familiar storyline with likeable characters, thunderous action sequences and a nice line in breezy, country-fried shitkicker humour. Jackman is pure roughneck charm in the lead, and his young foil, Goyo, walks the fine line between slappably cocky and lovably irreverent with absolute confidence. The result is a film which, like its pugilistic protagonists, is big, noisy, unsubtle and a little rusty around the edges. But it’s also satisfyingly sturdy and no-nonsense, a multiplex monster smartly constructed from tried-and-trusted parts.


By Tom Huddleston

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Footloose

     

There's one thing to be said for a remake of a 1984 movie that uses the original's screenplay. This 2011 version is so similar - sometimes song for song and line for line - that I was wickedly tempted to reprint my 1984 review, word for word. But That Would be Wrong. I think I could have gotten away with it, though. The movies differ in such tiny details (the hero now moves to Tennessee from Massachusetts, not Chicago) that few would have noticed.

Was there then, or is there now, a town in Tennessee or any other state in which the city council has passed a law against "dancing in public"? There may have been a brief period, soon after Elvis first began grinding his pelvis, and preachers denounced rock 'n' roll as "the devil's music." But for most young moviegoers, this plot point is going to seem so unlikely as to be bizarre.

We again get a plot in which a high school beer party leads to a fatal crash taking the lives of five teenagers. Under the influence of the Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid), the city council bans the music. The Rev. Moore, who seems to be the only preacher in town, acts as the de facto civic moral leader. He is paranoid about his daughter, Ariel (Julianne Hough), a free spirit who attracts the attention of a local bad kid, Chuck Cranston (Patrick John Flueger).

Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) arrives in the hamlet of Bomont from Boston. He's got the Kevin Bacon role but not the Kevin Bacon charisma; the Rev. Shaw Moore should be able to take one look at Ren and figure he's harmless. But Ren gets arrested for playing his car radio too loud, and soon is leading a movement of the town's kids to petition the council to allow dancing - in public, anyway. This is the setup for several dance scenes where those kids seem suspiciously well-choreographed for a town where they have allegedly never danced.

Meanwhile, the loutish Chuck Cranston, who considers Ariel his girl, resents Ren because he's attracting Ariel's smiles. This Chuck is a knuckle-dragging bully who patrols in his pickup truck with a posse of sidekicks. Attention, posse members of bullies: When the local bully tools around in his pickup but makes you guys all ride back there in the truck bed, you are being disrespected. What, aren't you good enough to ride up front with Chuck?

The bad boys and girls in high school movies always have a posse, usually two or three members, who follow close behind their leader and look ominous and slack-jawed. Are they issued instructions? Are they told, "Walk a few steps behind me and look worshipful"?

This new "Footloose" is a film without wit, humor or purpose. It sets up the town elders as old farts who hate rock 'n' roll. Does it have a clue that the Rev. Moore and all the other city council members are young enough that they grew up on rock 'n' roll? The film's message is: A bad movie, if faithfully remade, will produce another bad movie.


BY ROGER EBERT

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Dolphin Tale

     

"Dolphin Tale" is a sweet, feel-good film about a boy who helps save a dolphin, and how the dolphin then helps save him. When we meet young Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), he has withdrawn into a shell and is a remote loner. He builds models in his workshop, plays video games and avoids interaction with anyone - even at the going-away party for his beloved cousin. His father left the family without explanation some years ago, which may account for his isolation; his mother, Lorraine (Ashley Judd), does what she can, but feels closed out.

On the way home from his Florida grade school, Sawyer happens upon a dolphin stranded on the beach, its tail hopelessly twisted in the ropes of a lobster trap. He bonds with the creature until a rescue team arrives from a local animal hospital. Worried about the dolphin, Sawyer skips school to sneak into the animal hospital, where he's befriended by young Hazel Haskett (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), whose dad, Clay (Harry Connick Jr.), runs the facility.

Sawyer at first is so shy he can barely speak, but these outgoing people encourage him to help with the dolphin, now living in a pool, and soon he breaks out of his seclusion and grows enthusiastic about working with the animal. This involves an attempt to preserve its swimming ability after infection requires its tail to be amputated. A prosthetics specialist (Morgan Freeman) at the nearby VA hospital designs artificial tails, finally finding one that will work.

Learning of this story, I thought, aw, come on, give me a break. But it turns out the story is not only based on fact, but the actual dolphin involved, named Winter, stars in the movie as herself. Her new tail functions admirably.

The movie will fascinate kids who love nature, just as "Free Willy" did. And although the real whale in that film was also seen, the interaction here is more believable; Winter doesn't do anything a real dolphin might not do. The film does get a bit carried away with the assumption that Sawyer and Winter find ways to communicate by clicks, whistles and so on. I know dolphins communicate, I know they recognize and respond to humans, and Nelson even cleverly finds a web page devoted to the language of their sounds. But the anthropomorphism of Winter is carried a shade beyond believability.

There are various uplifting subplots. Sawyer's cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell), a champion swimmer, enlists in the Army and returns with a leg injury that will affect his swimming. He is depressed until he gets involved in Winter's recovery. Sawyer's mom and Hazel's dad (Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr.), both heading single-parent families, seem destined for romance, but perhaps that's being reserved for the inevitable sequel. Hazel's grandfather (Kris Kristofferson), who presides over the nearby houseboat where they all live, is invaluable for moments of wisdom.

The movie was directed by Charles Martin Smith, who starred in one of the best of all films about man and nature, "Never Cry Wolf" (1983). He guides his good cast with a firm hand, and steers in the direction of life-affirming lessons. He has made a pleasant family film with an improbable true story at its heart.


BY ROGER EBERT

category: Film Reviews

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Boy done good

     

Oxford leads the way in the new Good Pub Guide, with two of the city’s best loved establishments on the top 10 town pubs list.

The influential book gives the country’s best pubs for eating and drinking and honours the most welcoming landlords.

The latest edition, published this week, shows 138 Oxfordshire pubs given the nod by the Good Pub Guide judges, who carry out their reviewing anonymously.

Singled out for praise are the Black Boy in Headington and the Turf Tavern in Oxford, both on the top 10 town pub list and making Oxford the only city with two listings in the national category.

Abigail Rose, the landlady at the Black Boy, said: “It’s all to do with good food, good service and we love our customers. Really, we have lots of regular customers and then they bring their friends and that’s how we’ve been successful.”

Mrs Rose and business partner Chris Bentham took over the Black Boy in 2008 and they put their success down to affordable food and creating the right atmosphere.

She said: “We don’t try to price ourselves out of anyone’s bracket and we make sure that children can come here and feel valued too.

“This is our first pub venture, after more than 20 years in the catering industry.”

Recommending a visit to the Turf Tavern, the guide says: “Hidden behind the high stone walls of some of the city’s oldest buildings, this is arguably Oxford’s most characterful pub.”

The Kings Arms in Woodstock was a top 10 value pub, with judges seeking a range interesting and inventive food dishes for under £10.

Also raising a glass to the news of a Good Pub Guide listing are the landlords the Blowing Stone in Kingston Lisle, named the Oxfordshire dining pub of the year.

Landlord Angus Tucker said: “The Good Pub Guide is a bit of an institution, so it’s the best accolade.”

Mr Tucker and his wife, Stephanie, previously ran the White Horse at Woolstone, but this is the first listing their new venture.

Mr Tucker said: “Food is very important to us. We don’t ignore our drin-kers, though. We’ve got a very good head chef and plenty of variety on the menu.”

Head chef Robbie Ellis aims to strike a balance between old favourites, such as fish and chips, and exotic dishes such as crab, chilli and lime linguine.

Mr Tucker said the pub’s five full-time staff should be “thoroughly congratulated”.


By Laura Jones

category: Interesting Articles

Oxford hopefuls asked why lions have manes

     

These are just some of the interview questions faced by students hoping to win a place at Oxford University.

The prestigious institution has released a sample of the conundrums posed by tutors to give an insight into its interview process.

Prospective biological science students have been asked to discuss why it matters if tigers become extinct, while those hoping to read materials science have been asked to calculate how hot the air in a hot air balloon would need to be to lift an elephant.

The questions have been released just two weeks before the closing date for students to apply to Oxford.

Owen Lewis of Brasenose College suggested ''why do lions have manes'' as a question for biological science students.

''Some of the best interview questions do not have a ''right'' or a ''wrong'' answer, and can potentially lead off in all sorts of different directions,'' he said.

''Applicants might have picked up ideas about the function of a lion's mane from independent reading or from watching natural history documentaries. That's fine - but I'd follow up their response by asking how they would test their theory.

''When I've used this question in interviews I've had all sorts of innovative suggestions, including experiments where lions have their manes shaved to investigate whether this influences their chances with the opposite sex or helps them win fights over territory.''

Professor Lewis also suggested: ''Ladybirds are red. So are strawberries. Why?'' and ''would it matter if tigers became extinct?'' as other questions.

Liora Lazarus of St Anne's College said law candidates have been asked: ''If the punishment for parking on double yellow lines were death, and therefore nobody did it, would that be a just and effective law?''

And students hoping to read French at St Catherine's College have been faced with the question: ''In a world where English is a global language, why learn French?''

Tutor Dr Stephen Goddard said: ''I might use this question early in an interview in order to set the candidate thinking, and to elicit some idea of their motivation before moving on to more specific questions.''

Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions at Oxford said the university's interviews are an ''important but often misunderstood'' part of the institution's admissions process.

He said that releasing sample questions helps to show students what the interviews are really like.

''The interviews are all about giving candidates the chance to show their real ability and potential - while this may sound intimidating, all it means is that candidates will be pushed to use their knowledge and apply their thinking to new problems in ways that will both challenge them and allow them to shine,'' he said.


Original article source

category: Interesting Articles

Microsoft ‘blacklists’ Oxford University in accidental ‘spam’ overload

     

World leading college, the University of Oxford, has suffered an email outage, causing all outbound email sent to Windows Live accounts to bounce back.

The university’s service update pages points the problem to Microsoft triggering a series of counter-spam measures, after a university department ‘misconfigured’ a mailing list last week. Over a million messages destined for Microsoft’s services, including Windows Live and Hotmail, pushed Microsoft to enact automatic preventative measures to prevent its own systems from crumbling.

The side effects were felt, as describes the Oxford OUCS support pages:

“This meant that mail sent to any domains for which the Hotmail servers handle mail was being rejected. It also caused a worse side-effect (manifesting itself as a mail loop, in some cases rapidly filling the Nexus mailbox) for anyone who had set their Nexus [internal student email] account to forward their email to such addresses.”

As a result, the university mitigated damage by trapping any email destined for a hotmail.com, hotmail.co.uk, live.com, and msn.com email addresses in their servers, creating a massive backlog of emails waiting to be sent.

The trap does not affect regional Windows Live domains, however, allowing students and staff to send email to other countries associated with Windows Live.

By this point, Microsoft had automatically ‘blacklisted’ Oxford’s domain names, in measures normally enacted by spam-producing domains, only days after the initial email error. Oxford has been working with Microsoft to unblock the domain from email servers, to restore normal functioning email sending to Windows Live domains.

Oxford believes that the blacklist has now been removed, which should allow emails to be released from the university’s servers - but in batches as to not overflow the system again and trigger repeat anti-spam countermeasures. Leading nearly into a week since the disruption, email should now begin to be delivered.

Oxford University is to conduct a “full investigation” to determine how a department “caused such disruption” at a critical time of year, just as the new academic session was starting.


By Zack Whittaker

category: Interesting Articles

Oxford named Britain’s best university in major rankings

     

The ancient institution was ranked fourth in the world – two places above its traditional rival – in tables that measure universities against a range of benchmarks including research, teaching and reputation.

In all, seven British universities were named among the top 50 and 32 were in the top 200 – more than any country other than the United States.

But the data – published by Times Higher Education magazine – prompted fresh warnings that Britain’s global standing was at risk from cuts to university teaching and research.

The Russell Group, which represents 20 leading universities, said public funding was already among the lowest in the developed world and Britain would struggle to keep up with universities in the US, Australia, Canada, Korea and Japan in coming years as cash is squeezed further.

It comes just 24 hours after the vice-chancellor of Oxford warned that the university was already losing large numbers of top graduate students because of cuts to research funding.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Higher education is one field where we can rightly, and proudly say, that we are still leading the world.

“Sadly, if we do not urgently rethink plans to slash funding we are going to get left behind.”

The rankings judge universities against 13 performance indicators, including research quality and a major survey of academics.

Harvard was knocked off the top spot for the first time in eight years after being overtaken by the California Institute of Technology. Stanford was joint second – alongside Harvard – and Oxford was fourth.

Cambridge, which was sixth, and Imperial College London – named as the eighth best – were the other two British institutions in the top 10.

Last year, Oxford and Cambridge were joint sixth and Imperial was ninth.

Researchers said the improved performance of Oxford may be down to slight changes in the methodology to ensure institutions with strengths in the arts and humanities were placed on a more equal footing with those specialising in science. Oxford is traditionally stronger in the arts than Cambridge, which is renowned for its natural science facilities, it was claimed
.
In all, seven British universities were in the top 50, compared with five last year, and 32 were in the top 200 – three more than in 2010.

But figures showed Britain had just 12 institutions in the top 100 compared with 14 the year before. It suggests a widening gulf between Britain’s top universities and the rest as the very best cement their position among the elite, while average performers slip slightly.

David Willetts, the universities minister, said the data "brings across very strongly that universities are a public good".

“Our reforms put university funding on to a sustainable footing," he added. "We estimate that the cash going to universities could be 10 per cent higher by 2014-15 than it is now.”


By Graeme Paton, Education Editor

category: Interesting Articles

Friday, 07 October 2011

Film Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

     

Guillermo del Toro has written, produced and generally lent his brand identity to this remake of a cult made-for-TV horror movie of the same name from 1973, which reportedly freaked him out mightily in his childhood. This adaptation – whose director Troy Nixey is making his feature debut – is a labour of love for Del Toro, and it's interesting to see how the original influenced his work, and how he has transferred his own evolved cinematic language back on to this drama. Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes play Alex and Kim, who have moved into a grand Gothic mansion which Alex, an architect, is restoring to its former ornate glory. They are having to look after Sally (Bailee Madison), Alex's troubled 11-year-old daughter from his failed marriage, and Sally claims to be aware of disturbing presences in the house: strange predatory creatures who live in the basement. These creatures are brought to life in a distinctive Del Toro manner, and it is possible to see Don't Be Afraid of the Dark as a B-side to Pan's Labyrinth. Del Toro is in touch with the classic ghost-story trope of the child who is aware of unearthly presences the grownups cannot or will not see. Yet he puts his own stamp on it. A minor Del Toro, perhaps, but a must for his fans.


By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Tyrannosaur

     

Six years ago, Paddy Considine gave an interview to the Observer in which he talked about Dog Altogether, the short film he was developing with Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman; it was to be the starting point for this debut feature. Considine used an expression that was new to me: saying his lead character "goes out on the rage for the day". Not on the booze, or on the pull, but on the rage. Rage is not merely a boiling inner inferno, but a socially created habit, a taste, an addiction, something to be indulged or kept under control like drink: an addiction that erodes the spirit the way chronic bulimia rots the teeth. More than this, rage is a poisonous way of managing or regulating your relationship with the world. For many, particularly those lowest in the food chain, rage is the last pleasure left, or the last respite from unpleasure, and the last source of anything resembling self-respect. For those with no voice, it is a kind of language, but one that distorts and obscures and locks the user into his own unhappy world. And rage is the subject of this powerful, painful and very serious film. Tyrannosaur draws on the work of film-makers such as Ken Loach and Shane Meadows, but establishes Considine as a serious and important director in his own right.

Mullan plays an ageing, greying guy living out a sad endgame of a life. Perhaps in homage to the role Mullan played for Loach in My Name Is Joe, his character has the same name. Joe is a widower, alone in the world; he joylessly drinks and bets, and the aftermath of both futile activities is shown in the unwatchably brutal opening sequence, which demonstrates one of the great truths about angry and violent men: they are forever taking their anger out on someone or something else – someone or something weaker.

One day, to escape from a violent fiasco of his own making, Joe seeks refuge in a charity shop and finds himself being befriended by the shop's manager Hannah, superbly played by Colman. She is a committed Christian who, with a telling mixture of timidity and defiance, insists on attempting to talk to Joe, perhaps to save his soul for Christ. Intensely aware of the grotesque humiliation in being helped by such a person, Joe lavishes terrifying abuse and insults on Hannah, who with a trembling lower lip and eyes brimming with tears, just soaks it up. It is a kind of sado-masochistic relationship between two people drawn together in a symbiosis of misery.

As their relationship continues, and softens, Considine shows this is not simply a sentimental tale of two lonely, damaged souls finding love. Each finds in the other the ghost of someone else. Hannah is in a terrible situation with her unspeakable husband James – a chilling portrayal by Eddie Marsan. And Considine gradually reveals a terrible implication about Joe's past, in doing so disclosing the origin of the film's title, and the awful irony of Joe failing to understand its real meaning.

Part of the film's powerful sadness – and it really is a tough watch – lies in the way it shows how Hannah's whole martyred existence is a self-created mythology she has built up around her to explain away the shame of tolerating abuse. Her earnest volunteering at the charity shop, her putting up with things, even her faith itself, is all a way of giving meaning to her humiliation and pain. The Christianity could simply be a delusional sham, part of the abuse and co-dependency, and a sham in which even James himself sickeningly participates. Colman's Hannah has created a gravitational aura of self-harm, that draws Joe in. But their relationship may still create a kind of escape for them both, even a redemption. And it develops in a very unexpected way.

I have heard Tyrannosaur criticised as a movie that comes too close to miserablist cliche, but that isn't true: it's a visceral, considered dissection of abuse and rage and the dysfunctional relationships that rage creates, which, in turn, perpetuate that rage, and an examination of people who create their own eco-system of anger and unhappiness. The performances of Mullan, Colman and Marsan are excellent and create a compelling human drama. Tyrannosaur is far from a love story, but it is not a simply a hate story, either; it is certainly a very impressive debut from Considine.


By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Midnight in Paris

     

They love Woody Allen in France. And in Midnight in Paris, which just opened the Cannes Film Festival, the Woodman returns the favor. Not since 1979's Manhattan, in which he rhapsodized over the New York of his black-and-white dreams, has Allen used a camera to make such urgent, passionate love to a city.

Midnight in Paris opens with a prologue, shot with a poet's eye by the great Darius Khondji, that shows off the City of Light from dawn to darkness in images of shimmering loveliness. Pity the actors who have to compete with such an object of desire. Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter on a return visit to Paris, this time with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams). "This is where Monet lived and painted," Gil enthuses. Inez isn't into water lilies or Gil's dreams of writing the great American novel like Hemingway and Fitzgerald. She'd rather party with Paul (Michael Sheen), a fake intellectual who thinks he can one-up a Rodin museum tour guide (a playful cameo from France's First Lady, Carla Bruni).

Allen has fired at these targets before. What's fresh about Midnight in Paris is the way he identifies with Gil's idealization of the past, of the Paris that represented art and life at their fullest. Wilson is pitch-perfect at locating the right blend of humor and gravity that the role demands. Gil finds a kindred spirit and a muse in fashion designer Adriana (a superb Marion Cotillard). What's at risk is a lifeline back to the present. As a filmmaker, Allen has grappled with the temptations of repeating himself instead of forging a fresh path. You can feel that conflict here, and watching him work it out is exhilarating.

Midnight in Paris is infused with seductive secrets no review should spoil. But for all the film's bracing humor and ravishing romance, there are also haunting shadows. That alone makes it a keeper.


By Peter Travers

category: Film Reviews

Film review: Johnny English Reborn

     

Spare a thought for the hapless pundits who’ve been crafting their “I thought ONE horribly expensive car crash in a year was bad!” jokes ever since Rowan Atkinson wrapped his McLaren F1 around a signpost in August. The most exasperating thing about Johnny English Reborn is that it isn’t quite as awful as you might expect.

This is a sequel to Atkinson’s appalling 2003 spy spoof which was, in turn, based on a patience-trying Barclaycard advertisement campaign from around 20 years ago. The extra distance seems to have done it a power of good: there’s a sense that nobody involved can really remember the mind-boggling awfulness of the English character and resultantly, the odd piece of decent material has slipped through the net.

After years of training in a mountaintop dojo - I say 'training’, he’s mainly just being repeatedly and unhilariously booted in the crotch - agent English (Atkinson) is re-recruited by MI7 to derail a plot to assassinate the Chinese premier.

An extended, student revue-grade Bond film skit ensues, and at times the humour’s so slight it’s hard to know not only what’s supposed to be funny but also why. The secret service has been rebranded 'Toshiba British Intelligence’, for example. Is that satire? Is it a joke about PFI? It’s hard to know.

Depressingly, some good gags are also squandered: a send-up of Hollywood’s obsession with acrobatic 'free-running’ chases is fluffed thanks to director Oliver Parker’s decision to shoot it like action rather than comedy.

It’s only in the film’s unflashy moments, in which Atkinson bounces off his co-stars (Dominic West, Rosamund Pike and Gillian Anderson), that he’s able to show off the kind of Buster Keaton-esque bungling at which he’s indisputably brilliant. Two pieces of old-fashioned comic business, one involving an office chair and the other an earpiece, are the best things in the film - and proof that cheap is funnier than expensive, simple is funnier than complicated, and Rowan Atkinson is a lot funnier than Johnny English.


By Robbie Collin

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Drive

     

Looking at the trailers, you could be forgiven for thinking Drive is some kind of neon retro-styled entry into the Fast & Furious stable of motor movies. Actually, its basic plot – hotshot driver is drawn into protecting damsel in distress - is as slight and conventional as any of those movies, but its plot is the least crucial element in a stimulatingly amoral cocktail mixing a great central performance, great script and great direction.

Ryan Gosling is perfect as the Driver, an enigmatic figure whose corn-fed good-looks stand in delicious contrast to his watchful wariness. It would have been so easy to cast a scarred, macho sort here: the type of dude who does bad stuff in a bad world, confident in his violent self-righteousness. This was a smarter way to go. Gosling doesn’t fight his looks here; he uses his appearance to play with the tension between what’s on the surface and what’s underneath, creating a character whose sunny laugh glitters on the surface of the murkier depths apparent in darker moods. Depths? Maybe not. Dive in, you’ll break your neck. Murky shallows, then. His gaze is of the thousand yard variety, his superficially easygoing human interactions occluded by a sense of alienation. When he plays at being an avenging angel, you don’t quite buy it. Much like when he drives around the city at night, it’s more that he’s playing at trying to feel something in the darkness. He's an oddly childlike superhero who requires that evil exist, or what would he be for?

Despite Gosling's performance, British scriptwriter Hossein Amini’s piquant adaptation of author James Sallis’s neo-noirish thiller could have easily fallen flat without a director capable of successfully marrying its exploitation trash tropes with engagingly poppy art-house aesthetics. Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy, mystic Viking travelogue Valhalla Rising and fictionalised pop-crime biopic Bronson certainly qualify, and it was Gosling - who also produced the film - who brought the Danish director on board. Good decision: the result deservedly took Best Director at Cannes 2011.

The only bum note is perhaps casting Carey Mulligan in a role where she has barely anything to do. For a character that’s surely an intentionally insipid helpless cipher, it would have been a bolder move to enlist an actress of less prestige, underscoring how much her presence as The Innocence That Must Be Defended is simply a fig-leaf enabling the can't-look-away carnage that follows.


By Catherine Bray

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Three Musketeers

     

Director Paul W.S. Anderson takes a break from fantasy to have a go at one of the most filmed stories of western literature, The Three Musketeers, which stars Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich and Orlando Bloom

SAN SEBASTIAN -- Of the 20-plus adaptations of Alexandre Dumas' 1844 best-seller, Paul W.S. Anderson'sThe Three Musketeers may be the biggest budgeted of the bunch but is mainly notable for being the first 3D version of the tale. A fantastical Pirates of the Caribbean vibe is somewhat incongruously grafted on to what has always been a decidedly earthbound tale of sword-play and derring-do in early 18th-century Europe, and while the strength of this long-established cultural brand remains potent, it's unlikely to translate into a money-spinning franchise along Pirate lines.

This German-French-British co-production was shot in Germany and topped the box office there for two weeks in early September. A softish opening of $3.4 million - on a notably sunny weekend - was followed by a smaller-than-average decline of 13%, indicating positive word-of-mouth for this undemanding if noisy romp aimed principally at a young male audience. This first period picture from Paul W.S. Anderson, a director who's established a following in the futuristic and fantasy genres with various Resident Evil forays, features an American, Logan Lerman, in the lead, with a European supporting cast. It looks a safer prospect at international box offices than in North America, where it may prove the latest example of 3D fatigue when it opens October 21 from Summit Entertainment.

Scriptwriters Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies at times adhere quite closely to Dumas's original narrative, at least in the first half, as peasant lad D'Artagnan (Lerman) travels to Paris with the aim of becoming a Musketeer, one of the elite guard sworn to protect the throne of France, currently occupied by the boyish, vapid Louis (Freddie Fox). In double-quick time he bumps into and antagonizes the three most famous musketeers, the swaggeringly sardonic Athos (Matthew McFadyen), the no-nonsense Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and the guileful Aramis (Luke Evans).

After some initial, very cursory frictions, he joins forces with them just as they are being plunged into pan-European intrigues involving dastardly Englishman, Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) and King Louis's right-hand man, the devious and ambitious Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz). A wild-card element is provided by Milady DeWinter (Milla Jovovich), a former colleague of the musketeers - and a former lover of Athos - who is now plotting with their enemies for her own gain.

Lively channel-hopping shenanigans duly ensue, the perfidious Brits gaining an initial technological advantage thanks to flying boats constructed, in one of the film's few neat historical asides, from stolen Leonardo Da Vinci plans. These unlikely vessels are underwhelming affairs, lacking the loopy grandeur of the similar conveyance devised three decades ago by Terry Gilliam for Time Bandits, and raising unflattering memories of the Pirates pictures. Those films made a romantic lead out of Bloom, who now cuts a dashing but unmenacing figure as one of the picture's multiple villains alongside Waltz, Jovovich and an eye patch-sporting Mads Mikkelsenas the leader of Richelieu's guards.

Jovovich gets a couple of elaborate action sequences, which nod back to her Resident Evil adventures. This time her death-defying, slow-motion gymnastics take place in Pierre-Yves Gayraud's elaborate, scene-stealing period costumes. Otherwise few in the promising cast register much of an impact.

Lerman makes for a distinctly bland lead. D'Artagnan's romance with damsel-in-distress Constance (Gabriella Wilde) is all too lukewarm, as the hero sounds and acts more like a 21st-century American teen than a swordsman of bygone Europe. He's the uninspiring center of a picture largely content to recycle established action-movie stunts while bringing very little new to the table including an unimaginative deployment of 3D effects.

Rather like Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, Anderson's picture ends just as its story should really be kicking into life - there's an unmistakable and frustrating 'end of part one' mood to the final sequence, though making this ending so open and sequel-ready may turn out to be over-optimistic.



by Neil Young

category: Film Reviews

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