Is this a remake of or a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 Antarctic-set alien shocker? The answer is both. The Carpenter version indicated that the neighbouring Norwegian mission in the Antarctic had encountered the shape-shifting extraterrestrial before the Yanks, so here we get to see what happened to the plucky Scandinavians. The set-up, though, is essentially the same – snowbound scientists menaced by a being which can replicate their physicality with such precision it’s hard to be sure who is affected. That’s the core of the 1938 short story (left well alone by the Howard Hawks 1951 movie), and it’s a robust suspense scenario. So this version holds the attention, thanks in part to Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a spirited archaeologist, but offers little that Carpenter didn’t do far better. Efficient enough for newcomers perhaps, but never that chilling, and the predictably dull CGI underlines how far movie magic has regressed in the past couple of decades.
Wednesday, 30 November 2011
Film Review: The Thingtweet this!
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Hugotweet this!
With this 3D family-friendly, kid-oriented fantasy film, Martin Scorsese has executed one of his periodic 180-degree about turns: comparable to his 19th-century costume drama The Age of Innocence, or Kundun, his encomium to the Dalai Lama. In Hugo, nobody gets called a "fuckin' mook", no one's head gets crushed in a vice, no one's body gets buried in the desert outside Las Vegas. Instead, Scorsese has gone all Harry Potter-ish on us, creating an intricately designed and beautifully rendered story aimed squarely at that fabled (and commercially invaluable) point at which childlike fantasy intersects with adult yearning.
The vehicle for all this is the old-young figure of Hugo (Asa Butterfield), a lonely 12-year-old who ekes out an existence – like a junior Quasimodo – pattering around the roof spaces and drainage ducts of a large Parisian railway terminus in the interwar years. Parentless and abandoned, Hugo spends his days winding the station clocks, filching breakfast from the platform food-stalls and doing his best to continue the family tradition of clockwork-building by fixing a much-cherished writing automaton passed on to him by his dead father.
Hugo's two bêtes noires – at least at first – are the buffoonish station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen, doing his damnedest to channel Jacques Clouseau) and toyshop owner Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley). The inspector is forever trying to pack runaway kids off to the orphanage, while the latter nurses an obscure sorrow and is all the more vehement towards Hugo's petty thefts of springs and coils for his repair work. Hugo's principal – indeed only – ally is Papa Georges' niece Isabelle (Chloë Moretz).
It has to be said that, for the first half at least, as Scorsese chronicles Hugo's urgent need to mend his automaton and therefore take delivery of a message his father may or may not have left for him, that the film's brilliant, burnished surfaces contrast somewhat painfully with the self-conscious, deliberate nature of Hugo and Isabelle's "adventure". Where the best kids' films are breathless and excited, Scorsese's is subdued, even mournful, and that despite the multiplicity of vertiginous camera angles and fancy 3D effects. At one point Moretz is forced to spell it out and unsubtly inform the audience what a thrill-ride they're supposed to be experiencing: "It's Neverland and Oz and Treasure Island all wrapped into one." Perhaps Scorsese – still the supreme poet of middle-aged male rage – just can't connect with children in the way that the likes of Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam can; all these directors' films have clearly had an influence on the way Scorsese has gone about Hugo.
Fortunately, things perk up fantastically well in the second half, and I don't think it's a coincidence that it's exactly at the point that the narrative's focus shifts from little intense Hugo towards bitter Papa Georges. Now, we have to tread carefully here, as Papa Georges' identity is a crucial plot revelation, and we don't want to be accused of giving away spoilers, but anyone who is familiar with the source material (Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret), or indeed will know what it is.
Suffice to say, it gives Scorsese a perfect excuse to indulge in a brilliantly imagined potted history of pioneering cinema, the pre-narrative, urtexts of the medium, such as the Arrival of a Train at a Station by the celebrated Lumière brothers.
You can sense this is where Scorsese's heart really is: the reconstruction and evocation of the joyous magic of the very first film-makers. At the same time, the burden of expressing the requisite levels of wonderment devolves on to Kingsley; he acquits himself well, although perhaps in asking this of Kingsley, Scorsese has unconsciously abandoned Butterfield as the point of empathy, and with it the sense that this is a film primarily for kids. Nevertheless, Scorsese has created an exquisite jewel box of a movie, polished and honed to glittering, diamond-hard brilliance.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Happy Feet 2tweet this!
Even with the addition of new characters, such as the ones voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, George Miller's animated sequel just isn't very funny.
What appeared fresh and fun back in 2006 now feels like recycled goods in Happy Feet Two. The first time around, the sight of multicultural penguins singing and dancing in a gorgeous, environmentally threatened setting seemed disarmingly novel. But while a number of new characters have been introduced into the zoologically varied cast, the format and themes have a shopworn air that even the 3D Antarctic vistas and intermittent cleverness can't surmount. Commercially, however, there's no reason this splashy sequel won't perform similarly to the original, which pulled in $385 million worldwide.
It's now been 13 years since George Miller directed a live-action feature and the thought that he's devoted nearly half that time to this sequel, no matter how remunerative, understandably agitates devoted fans anxious for him to get on with his Mad Max retooling or some other project.
On the other hand, tykes will be delighted to return to the icy climes inhabited by Mumble (now a dad), Ramon, Lovelace and a host of new creatures, who face the challenges of life with varying amounts of trepidation and grit. But the minute the film opens with a massive musical number featuring what could be thousands of penguins singing and dancing in precision unison, at least some viewers will want to side with Mumble's little misfit son Erik for not succumbing to the pressure to conform by joining in the forced jubilation.
But, alas, this is not to be a penguin The Catcher in the Rye. While little Erik does run away, accompanied by two fellow Emperor tots and his dad's riffing friend Ramon, it's not really in rebellion, and the script fragments in a way that illustrates the variety of life forms on, under and around the seventh continent,the backdrops of which, as before, are vividly captured in a hyper-realistic animated style.
A more engaging quest of identity than Erik's, all the more appealing for being so absurd, centers on a pair of krill energetically vocalized by Matt Damon and Brad Pitt. Resembling tiny red shrimp, krill exist in uncountable numbers at the lowest end of the underwater food chain, there to be scooped up by the mouthful by a multitude of predators. No creatures could be more anonymous or less prone individualization, so when Will proclaims his unique identity--”I am one in a krillion,” he insists in just one of many such puns - it's hard to not to be taken in by such unlikely hubris. Not only that, but the interplay between Damon and Pitt is especially spirited, giving their scenes an energy that feels natural rather than cranked up by music and in-your-face effects.
The feeling is palpable of Miller and his colleagues searching for new ways to present the Antarctic setting, to come up with something fresh to justify this sequel. But ultimately they fall back on such reliables as comic shtick in a variety of accents and soul/funk/rap numbers mixed with tired '70s and '80s anthem rock refrains. Indeed, the only truly inspired musical touch, which hits like a bolt from the heavens, has little Erik delivering, in a pivotal moment, a unique rendition of the “'E Lucevan Le Stelle” aria from Puccini's Tosca.
As the film bounces along, much of the incident and action feels increasingly arbitrary and unmotivated. Compared to the best recent animated features, the script just isn't very funny, tending towards nutty hijinks rather than wit. Even where the disarming krill are concerned, some of their close shaves feel reminiscent of the misadventures of the desperate squirrel in the Ice Age series.
And speaking of Ice Age, the global warming theme gets another earnest workout here in a way that will win nods of approval from the Al Gore faithful but provoke irritation among those tired of being spoon fed the politically correct line. The penguins' world is seen to be melting, with puddles and wet ice in evidence, and an environmental crisis puts the vast avian population in peril requiring a desperate rescue effort. Scientifically true or not, on this subject, as well as artistically, Happy Feet Two is treading water.
category: Film Reviews
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
This past weekend I was invited by EnergyPR to attend an event at Fallowfields with other bloggers and food writers. The PR team were interested in finding out more about our experiences working with PR companies and how they could work with bloggers more effectively. I was impressed by Louise and Suzanna of EnergyPR, and thought the way they went about designing the day was very smart. What better way to get people to open up about their work and their preferences than to bring them to a lovely country hotel and ply them with food and drink all day?! Well done ladies. Anytime you need any more ideas, just let me know!
I had never been to Fallowfields before, though I'm very aware of it. The owner, Anthony Lloyd, is a big presence in social media, and is quite good at using it to promote his hotel. His understanding of technology and how it can be used to create awareness for a business is really an example, and I applaud him for embracing it so effectively. Using technology to create awareness and bring people to his business is one thing, but once people are there, the business has to sell itself - so has Anthony succeeded there as well?
Absolutely! I was so impressed by Fallowfields. Located in Kingston Bagpuize - about 20 minutes from Oxford - Fallowfields is a small, independent, luxury country house which provides accommodation and fine dining, as well as conference and banqueting. Guests of Fallowfields are encouraged to walk freely around the 12 acres of gardens and farm. On the grounds, you'll find a huge kitchen garden, which provides the kitchen with asparagus, carrots, artichokes, lettuces, strawberries, rhubarb, herbs, and more. There is an orchard where they grow greengages, apples, plums and walnuts. The farm raises Tamworth pigs, Sussex chickens, ducks, quail and Dexter cows - all raised for culinary purpose. There is also a large falconry, with many varieties of falcons, hawks, owls, eagles and turkey vultures. You can find out more about the falconry, or book an experience, by visiting fallowfieldsfalconry.co.uk.
We were taken on a tour of the grounds by Anthony, and his passion for the place and for the animals is obvious. He knew all of the many animals by name, told us their history and explained his reasoning behind each animal he's chosen to raise. Although the purpose for the farm animals is to supply the kitchen one way or another, they live good, happy, free range lives and are obviously well cared for and loved. Anthony is very hands on with the animals, and it's apparent that he cares a great deal for them.
The dining experience at Fallowfields was wonderful! We were introduced to their head chef, Shaun Dickens, who despite his young age, has worked all over the world in the best restaurants, and trained with many Michelin starred chefs. Shaun uses as much as he can from the land at Fallowfields, and designs and changes his menu according to what's in season and what's available. Shaun works with a skilled team of 5 and their goal is to become Michelin starred in the next few years. It's very exciting to me to eat in a restaurant where the staff know exactly how many food miles every ingredient has, and for many ingredients, the food miles are zero! It's also not uncommon for local hunters to bring deer, fowl, or whatever else they have extra of as gifts to the restaurant, which Shaun and his team incorporate into the menu. The front of house at the restaurant is managed by Benjamin Petit, a French sommelier, who warmly makes you feel like you are eating in the finest of restaurants, and will happily help you choose the best wine to match your food.
So what did we have to eat? We started with a Jerusalem artichoke velouté with confit artichoke and truffle oil. It was velvety smooth and mellow and perfect. The artichokes came from the garden. It was paired with Semillon 2007 Mitchell Clare Valley, Australian. For everyone else at the table, this was followed by a venison dish, which they said was excellent. I chose the vegetarian option, which was a wonderful pumpkin risotto with chestnuts and roasted pumpkin seeds. The main was paired with Shiraz 2010 Bush Telegraph Petit Verdot, South Eastern Australia. Next came a pre-dessert of the lightest, fluffiest merlot jam with yoghurt foam and homemade shortbread crumble, and then the actual dessert of honeycomb cheesecake with glazed walnuts, figs, walnut ice-cream and a sticky, sweet red wine jus. Every single dish was delicious - perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, and beautifully presented.
Following the meal, chef Shaun gave us a cooking demonstration. While we watched, we sipped tea/coffee and nibbled on elderflower jelly and chocolate ganache. Shaun prepared quail (from the farm) pan fried with potato and served with honeyed carrots and kale. It was fun watching him cook and hearing him talk about food and preparation and how he works.
The overall feeling I left with was that Fallowfields is filled with people who love what they do and are passionate about it. The hotel, grounds and kitchen are all a work in progress as they have plans to grow and expand and better each area over the coming years. It all feels very hands on, very organic, and very loved. There's a reason why some of the gardeners and staff have been there since the beginning 18 years ago. It seems like a great place to work, and I can assure you it's a great place to visit!
I highly recommend visiting Fallowfields. Go for the food, go for the falcons, go for afternoon tea and a walk around the grounds... just go! If you organise it ahead of time, Anthony will show you around the property. Be sure to bring your wellies!
I'd like to thank EnergyPR and Anthony Lloyd for this fantastic day. I had not been to Fallowfields before, but I can't wait to go back!
(please click on a thumnail to navigate through all photos)
category: Miscellaneous Reviews
category: Thoughts, Ideas and Opinions
Friday, 25 November 2011
Film Review: Moneyballtweet this!
Power, statistics, economics and the rise of the nerd: screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s follow-up to ‘The Social Network’ has similar inspired-by-real-events ingredients as that film, but ‘Capote’ director Bennett Miller’s approach is altogether breezier. Where ‘The Social Network’ was a steely satirical study of privilege run amok, ‘Moneyball’ is a colourful, old-fashioned sports movie – albeit with darker undertones than your average fist-pumping, underdog story.
Brad Pitt essays his best loveable rogue as Billy Beane, manager of baseball’s perennial outsiders the Oakland Athletics, who takes a punt on a statistical system of recruiting players devised by ball-obsessed Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Money-men sneer, commentators scoff and fans moan, but as the season progresses this odd couple find themselves sitting on an unprecedented winning streak.
For viewers unfamiliar with the game, the constant discussion of ‘bunts’, ‘walks’ and ‘flies’, coupled with some intentionally impenetrable statistics chat, renders chunks of ‘Moneyball’ incomprehensible. But Sorkin’s typically prickly, epithet-peppered script, plus winning turns from the entire cast, make for a consistently pleasurable watch.
The problem is one of focus: there are often too many characters to keep track of (Philip Seymour Hoffman is underused as the team’s irascible coach), and while the first two acts deliver one-liners and sporting action in abundance, a muted home stretch is bold but unsatisfying, undermining much of what went before. Nonetheless, as an example of smarter-than-average Hollywood fare – and a sly dig at modern sporting politics – ‘Moneyball’ has all the key bases covered.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: 50/50tweet this!
This is a film, avowedly based on a true story, with substantial critical admirers; I can only say I found it charmless, shallow, smug and unlikable: a bromance weepie about cancer with a very serious "bros before hos" attitude. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a 20-something guy with a sketchily imagined job in public radio. Seth Rogen plays Kyle, his goofy skirt-chasing buddy and wingman. Bryce Dallas Howard plays his artist girlfriend Rachel. One day, Adam complains of back pain and breathlessness and the next thing you know he is diagnosed with a form of cancer that, he learns from the web, gives him a 50/50 chance of survival. However smart and savvy the movie looks at first glance, this is basically yet another example of sentimental Hollywood Cancer: Adam pre-empts the traditionally understood byproducts of chemo by shaving his head and there seem to be no other serious symptoms, other than having to abandon sex with a super-hot girl in midstream because it's too painful. Rachel is aggressively dumped because she cheats on him, and Kyle is bafflingly exultant, actually encouraging him to burn the painting she gave him. Is that supposed to be funny and heroic? Rogen's character just looks boorish, ugly and misogynist. This film leaves a strange taste in the mouth.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: My Week With Marilyntweet this!
In 1956, Marilyn Monroe came to Britain to make a movie at Pinewood Studios with Laurence Olivier. This was the tense and ill-fated light comedy The Prince and the Showgirl, scripted by Terence Rattigan, a film that became a legend for the lack of chemistry between its insecure and incompatible stars. One was a sexy, feminine, sensual and mercurial diva. The other would go on to make Some Like It Hot.
The story is told – or part of it – in this intensely enjoyable, entirely insubstantial movie featuring glorious performances from Kenneth Branagh and Michelle Williams as Olivier and Monroe, participants in a love triangle of two stars and a nobody. The whole thing is seen from the standpoint of the film's star-struck third assistant director, Colin Clark, son of the great art historian Kenneth, and younger brother of the notorious Tory MP Alan. The movie-mad youngster had wangled a job in Olivier's production office, been hired as a dogsbody on the movie, and something in this pretty ingénu caught the eye of Marilyn herself. With her genius for enslaving dazzled men to a courtier's life of gallantry and self-abasement, she made him her confidant and helpmeet. In 1995, Clark published his diaries from that time, but then in 2000, landing a deferred dramatic punch, published a further memoir – on which this film is based – revealing an intimate, romantic week alone with Marilyn when her husband Arthur Miller had gone away. Of course, he fell hard for the bewitching star.
Was Clark on oath with all the details? And could it actually have been his closet gay streak – not mentioned in this film – which Marilyn sensed more shrewdly than Colin himself, and which made her feel safe around him? Maybe. Either way, it is a beguiling adventure. Poor Colin, out of his league and out of his depth.
Eddie Redmayne does a very good job as Colin, but the scene is utterly stolen from him in various ways by the two above-the-title players. Branagh is tremendous as Olivier: this is a part he was born to play. It's a marvel to see the corners of his mouth extend outwards, in a grimace of distaste, and his eyes become dead black discs, like the eyes of a diamondback rattlesnake preparing to digest a large mammal. The Kenny/Larry combination results in a nuclear fission of camp-theatricality. It is a complete joy to see Branagh's Olivier erupt in queeny frustration at Marilyn's lateness, space-cadet vagueness, and preposterous Method acting indulgence. He sometimes appears to be channelling the older and more sinister Olivier of Marathon Man, a movie in which the great man was again paired with a Method performer. But Branagh revives Olivier with wit, intelligence and charm.
However, in art as in life, Olivier's spotlight is taken away by Marilyn, played terrifically well by Williams: this is a figure she recreates, not by hamming up the pouty lips and breathiness, but the scared and brimming eyes, wide with unshed tears – terrified and angered by the thought of another explosion of temper from "Sir Olivier". She is childlike and yet always aware at some unconscious, almost physiological level of how she is shaping and controlling the situation. Olivier is furious at the continued presence of her acting coach, Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker), but Marilyn's key strategic victory comes when Sybil Thorndike, played with robust wit by Judi Dench, sides with Marilyn in an argument and tells Larry not to be a bully in front of the entire crew: a betrayal that sours him permanently. And then Marilyn, to Olivier's bemusement and vague resentment, ups her game while capriciously taking up Colin as her temporary favourite.
Simon Curtis's film shows how sexual intrigue is such a compulsion on a film set that it must always find an outlet somewhere, somehow. Everyone might have expected a sexy spark between Olivier and Monroe but it was not to be because they were both so needy, both so used to adoration. So the sexiness is displaced on to the hapless Colin himself; he is the lightning conductor. The film set is the perfect place for an intense, illusory affair: the idea that a sexual fling "doesn't count on location" is now an industry truism, because it is a world where the rules of the boring outside world are suspended. I was reminded of Truffaut's Day for Night, where the business of filming is itself madly sexy.
As for Clark himself, blinded by the powerful Klieg light of Marilyn's sexy celebrity, did he misremember or misinterpret their week together, making that historically dire film? Not necessarily. But it was clearly the greatest moment of his life, which occurred at a time when stars, however surrounded by courtiers, could still have these serendipitous "morganatic" meetings with ordinary mortals. My Week With Marilyn is light fare: it doesn't pretend to offer any great insight, but it offers a great deal of pleasure and fun, and an unpretentious homage to a terrible British movie that somehow, behind the scenes, generated very tender almost-love story.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: The Deep Blue Seatweet this!
This misery can't last, says Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter ... not even life lasts very long. There is much misery in Terence Davies's new movie, and much of the fear that CS Lewis said was like grief, and also a kind of vertigo and euphoria at looking directly, as if for the first time, at the mystery of existence: the painful, intractable mystery romantic love will never quite be able to solve or explain away.
It's an impressionistic adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play about the young wife of a kindly, dull High Court judge. In 1950, she falls passionately in love with Freddie, a hard-drinking former RAF pilot whom she finds is more in love with his own heroic past. Rachel Weisz performs with enormous intelligence and restraint as Hester; Tom Hiddleston is the prickly airman, horrified by his lover's capacity for self-destruction and despair, and Simon Russell Beale is Sir William Collyer: a stately judge, dominated by his cantankerous mother.
Sir William is icily disgusted with Hester's infidelity, and at first scornful and cruel. But then his anger dissolves into something even more unbearable: a terrible kind of pity and yearning, a desperate need to soothe Hester's cares, to take her back. Russell Beale brings a theatrical clarity to Sir William's gestures and movements, small, beautifully controlled.
As Hester, Rachel gives a very calm, unshowy performance: it is easy to imagine another performer doing something operatic with this, and another director doing the same with more closeups, more music. But Davies and Reisz leave much of Hester's sorrow unexplained. Certainly the awful inadequacy of romantic love is a part of it. Many people in a dull but comfortable marriage assume life would be wonderful if they had a passionate affair. And many people in a chaotic, insecure, passionate affair assume life would be wonderful if all this was wrapped up in marriage. Hester has had both of these experiences: and realises that life is still unsatisfying, still wrong.
Davies brings to Rattigan some of the themes and images from his film The Long Day Closes: gloomy, torpid interiors, seen often through a gauze of cigarette smoke. Most importantly of all, there are singalongs in pubs, the pubs in which Freddie and Hester celebrated their affair, and then where Freddie would stomp off grumpily to be on his own. Pub singalongs are such a vivid madeleine in this film: carrying the action back to earlier sing-songs in the war, and to those memories of bomb damage, still unrepaired in London's streets and now an intolerable metaphor for the damage in people's hearts. The Deep Blue Sea is a melancholy film without a doubt, but with great sweetness and delicacy.
category: Film Reviews
Friday, 18 November 2011
East Oxford food and craft stalls up for national BBC awardtweet this!
ONE of Oxford’s most popular markets has been named amongst the cream of the crop.
East Oxford Farmers’ Market has been held off Cowley Road every Saturday since August 2006.
It has now been named as a finalists in the BBC’s Food and Farming Awards in the category of Best Food Market after being nominated by its loyal customers.
The market, which takes place in East Oxford Primary School, sells food and craft products from within a 30 mile radius of the city and is run almost entirely by volunteers.
Market administrator Helen Hewlett said: “It is very rewarding to see that the customers feel that we are providing a market which is a great place to get quality local food.
“Our stall holders work very hard on farms and in kitchens to produce their items and you can feel the love in their food.
“What is special about the market is the community feel. We have got such a wide variety reflecting some of the communities.”
East Oxford Farmers’ Market currently attracts about 20 stall holders a week and some 500 shoppers.
As well as traditional market stalwarts such as fruit and veg it reflects a large array of cultures with stalls selling food from Japan, Italy and the Middle East.
Charles Bennett runs Sandy Lane Farm in Tiddington with wife Sue and son George, and takes his veg to the market every other week.
He said: “We would be really stuck without the market. It has a real community feel and that is the real joy of these markets because you are not selling to an anonymous crowd.”
Momo Fujita-Clarkson goes to the market from Wolvercote to sell her Japanese food. She said: ”It is a very diverse market and that makes it special because everyone is willing to try different types of food.”
The ceremony will be taking place at Birmingham’s NEC on Wednesday, November 23, hosted by Sheila Dillon, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme.
Other local finalists in the BBC’s foodie awards are Rico’s Pizza Shack in the Best Takeaway category, a mobile wood burning oven which sells pizza around the county in villages such as Deddington and Long Hanborough.
Adrian Dolby of Barrington Park Estate in Burford is a finalist in the Farmer of the Year Award.
category: Interesting Articles
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
Lantern making workshop at MINI Plant Oxford helps city prepare for spectacular Christmas celebratiotweet this!
A special lantern making workshop has been held at MINI Plant Oxford for members of the public wanting to take part in this years Christmas Light Night celebrations.
The day long workshop, which was held in MINI Plant Oxford’s T-Building on Saturday, saw participants create one of the twelve large lanterns that will be carried in the children’s lantern procession on Friday 2 December.
Associates of the Plant worked alongside local artists in order to create the piece – a giant sculpture of Five Gold Rings, to tie in with the processions’ theme The Twelve Days of Christmas. A workshop was also held for families with younger children to make several smaller lanterns for the procession.
Amelia Cross, aged 5, who attended the lantern-making workshop at the MINI Plant, said: “I enjoyed all of the workshop. I especially liked making the stars and the snowflakes to decorate the lanterns with!”
The partnership with MINI Plant Oxford has enabled a number of local school and community lantern making workshops to take place throughout November. With the additional involvement of the Ark-T Centre and Cool-n-Groovy Arts, who led the artistic project, over 300 children will now be given the chance to play a creative role in one of Oxford’s largest community events.
Emily Cooling and Groovy Su, founders of Cool-n-Groovy Arts, are the designers and concept creators for this year’s procession. Working from their Cowley based studio at the Ark-T Centre, the duo have developed the lantern designs based on the popular carol The Twelve Days of Christmas, including a series of four bird lanterns specially commissioned by Oxford Castle.
In total, 16 local primary and secondary schools – including St Joseph’s, Wheatley Park, St Swithun’s, Pegasus Primary, East Oxford and Oxford Spires – will take part in workshops across the city. There have also been two public workshops held in order to widen community participation in the event, as well as involvement by individuals from the newly opened Crisis Skylight Centre at the Old Fire Station.
Associates of MINI Plant Oxford have attended many of the lantern making workshops that have taken place, and will be on hand during the evening itself – helping to ensure that the procession is a success for everyone involved.
Kathelene Weiss, Director of Oxford Inspires, said: “We are delighted that MINI Plant Oxford is supporting the procession again. Not only does their involvement help to ensure the participation of young people in the celebration, but it also demonstrates the Plant’s commitment to supporting arts and culture within the local community.”
Christmas Light Night has become a regular fixture in the Oxford Christmas calendar and is an evening of processions, lights, dance, art, live music and street performance, all thrown together with a generous helping of festive cheer.
The event, which is one of Oxford’s largest community celebrations, also features late night openings of some of the city’s best loved cultural venues, offering local arts and cultural organisations, as well as community and voluntary groups, the chance to be involved.
On the night, over 500 children and community members will take part in the spectacular city centre procession, which will start at the Old Fire Station in Gloucester Green at 6pm before winding its way through Queen Street, Cornmarket Street and St Giles.
Christmas Light Night is being co-ordinated by Oxford Inspires, Oxford City Council and Ian Nolan Events Ltd on behalf of communities and cultural organisations across the city.
For more information about Oxford Inspires, visit their website
category: Interesting Articles
Monday, 14 November 2011
Film Review: The Awakeningtweet this!
This British ghost story, set in 1921 when millions were grieving for those killed during the first world war and in the flu epidemic that followed, begins with a superbly staged scene. A seance involving a couple of dozen people in a smart London house is disrupted by a party of cops and a celebrated female psychic investigator exposing the hosts as confidence tricksters exploiting the vulnerable. There is nothing quite as good in the rest of the movie, in which the ghostbuster (Rebecca Hall) is lured to the Lake District to investigate a suspected murder at a boarding school for boys that's said to be haunted. The movie is best when in sceptical mode. It goes astray when it essays a kind of tragic poetry along the lines of The Turn of the Screw.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Immortalstweet this!
Five years ago the Indian-born, US-based Tarsem Singh made The Fall, a staggeringly beautiful fantasy movie set in a 1920s Californian hospital, shot in 10 countries and, like The Princess Bride, unfolding as a tale told to amuse a child. This dire follow-up is a crude sword-sandals-and-sorcery movie taking place in 1228BC, where the wicked Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) seeks the magical bow of Epirus in order to free the imprisoned Titans, defy the gods and destroy humanity. It's a murky, addled affair, the CGI effects are third-rate and the violence makes it unsuitable for young audiences. The movie does, however, help us understand the origins of the term "unfit for Zeus".
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Wuthering Heightstweet this!
In the version of Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" that he used in his Las Vegas nightclub act in the 1950s, Noël Coward included a celebrated couplet that threw doubts on the much vaunted sexual prowess of America's most macho author while extolling the adventurousness of a 19th-century English country vicar's three daughters. "The Brontës felt that they must do it, Ernest Hemingway could just do it," he sang, and indeed the range of social, psychological and sexual experience Emily, Charlotte and Anne explored in their novels is remarkable. So much so that only one of the several film versions of Emily's Wuthering Heights made over the past 90 years has attempted to encompass the book's 30-odd years of pain, misery and ecstasy and its three generations of man handing on misery to man in the west Yorkshire countryside.
The most famous film, the characteristically polished William Wyler-Sam Goldwyn production of 1939, covers just the novel's first half and was co-scripted by Ben Hecht. One of the five Hollywood movies Hecht worked on that year (the others were Gone With the Wind, Gunga Din, Let Freedom Ring and It's a Wonderful World), it concentrated on the passionate, doomed romance between Laurence Olivier's Byronic Heathcliff and Merle Oberon's stunningly exotic Cathy Earnshaw. It does, however, begin with Lockwood, the wealthy new tenant of the elegant Thrushcross Grange, visiting and being bowled over by his mysterious neighbour up the hill at the windswept Wuthering Heights, and it also uses the housekeeper Nelly Dean (Flora Robson) as what we would now call the tale's unreliable narrator. The only film to draw on the whole book, bringing in the part that might be described as "Heathcliff's Revenge", is the documentarist Peter Kosminsky's otherwise uninteresting 1992 British version. The film announced itself as Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and had Sinead O'Connor as Emily returning to the deserted Wuthering Heights to invent her tale and caution the audience "not to smile at any part of it".
Andrea Arnold, the British realist who directed this new Wuthering Heights, won major prizes at Cannes for her first two feature films, Red Road and Fish Tank, both resolutely set on run-down housing estates in present-day Britain – Glasgow in the first case, the eastern fringe of London in the second. They showed little indication of an interest in or aptitude for making a period movie in a late-18th-century rural setting. In retrospect, however, one can see in the dangerously charming anti-hero played by Michael Fassbender in Fish Tank a likely Heathcliff. When he shows a teenage girl how to catch fish by hand, there are reminders of the idyllic scenes in Ken Loach's Kes where the lonely boy finds transcendence in training his predatory bird in the Yorkshire countryside.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review The Rum Diarytweet this!
Johnny Depp, who played gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson in Terry Gilliam's film of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, apparently discovered the manuscript of the unpublished autobiographical novel The Rum Diary among Thompson's papers and engaged Bruce Robinson, writer-director of the cult film Withnail and I, to adapt it. The result is a lot of myth-making fun with Depp as Thompson's faux-naif 30-year-old alter ego Paul Kemp. In 1960 Kemp escapes from a stultifying Eisenhower-era New York to the corrupt American vacation island of Puerto Rico and a job on the San Juan Star, which plays along with the local land barons and caters to the dream of tourists.
The film paints a colourful picture of the lazy, drunken journalists, and a frightening one of the island's venal politicians and the burgeoning activities of what Eisenhower identified in a farewell 1961 address to the nation as the "military-industrial complex". There's some splendid Front Page-style dialogue, but the movie gets serious, indeed slightly solemn, when Kemp writes an exposé of a crooked US entrepreneur but can't persuade his cynical editor (the excellent Richard Jenkins) to show a little backbone and publish it. "I don't know how to write like me," Kemp moans, but we know when he takes a boat back to the States that he's about to find his own distinctive gonzo voice and accompanying lifestyle.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Arthur Christmastweet this!
In Aardman's latest animation, a graphically accomplished but otherwise rather commonplace 3D seasonal offering, three generations of the Christmas family start arguing about their business (reindeer-drawn sleighs v spaceships) after a present for a little girl in Cornwall is discovered undelivered in the firm's new hi-tech north pole HQ. The accident-prone grandson Arthur comes up trumps after a series of wrong turns. An odd Anglo-American collaboration that will bring a little brief happiness to undemanding children.
category: Film Reviews
Thursday, 03 November 2011
Film Review: The Futuretweet this!
There are some film-makers who are infuriated by the Teflon sensibility of modern cinema audiences and go all out for something that will stick, or get a reaction: astonishment, outrage, a seat-bang, a walkout, anything. Gaspar Noé described how, in his legendary shocker Irréversible, he deliberately used a droning frequency that causes nausea for background white noise. Artist-turned-film-maker Miranda July, renowned for her fey and quirky style, may be part of this tradition, simply by being 20 times more irritating than any normal person can stand.
There is an extraordinary fingernails-down-the-blackboard-up-to-11 quality here, especially in the massively cutesy opening moments of her new film, The Future. But I admit to seeing a deliberate point to it: partly satirical, partly an exercise in pop art amplification. What Jeff Koons does to banal objects, Miranda July does to banal situations, feelings, conversations. It's a kind of affectless sentimentalism, and a commentary on the nature of coupledom, its secular theology. What happens when people in a relationship catch each other's eye and wonder: what is the point of our lives? If what you believe in is the primacy of relationships, then what happens to your belief system when your relationship dies – or, worse, when you can see that your relationship is going dead but that staying inside it is safer and more comforting than being alone?
July and Hamish Linklater play Sophie and Jason, a couple of low-key urban hipsters who live in Los Angeles. They are educated and smart, but intensely aware that in their mid-30s, they are still in jobs that do not satisfy them. She teaches dance to toddlers, and he works from home, giving tech support to computer users: a dedicated landline rings in their shared apartment, and he takes the call with a special headset. If these are just stopgap jobs, then it isn't at all clear what their overall career game-plan is. Our very first view of Sophie and Jason shows them on a couch, staring at their respective laptops, and then going into some excruciatingly sweet shared joke about being able to "stop time".
They are a little like Burt and Verona, the couple in the Sam Mendes comedy Away We Go, co-scripted by Dave Eggers: their conversation, their very mode of being, appears to have a throwaway lightness to it. But Sophie and Jason are experiencing a crisis about their life choices and about the future itself. They have impulsively decided to "adopt" a cat from a nearby animal hospital, a cat with an injured paw that is not ready to be released from medical care for another month – a period of grace that allows the couple to reflect on the implications of their commitment. They will have to look after the animal, to stay home a lot, for about five years, at which time they will be around 40 and their lives will be over. Quietly, but distinctly, they start to panic about what it all means. This shiver of existential anxiety causes the pair to ricochet off in various directions: Jason becomes a desultory environmental campaigner and forms an unlikely friendship with an old man; Sophie finds a phone number written on the back of the sentimental drawing the couple bought at the animal centre, and a dangerous liaison follows from that. And their cat provides an eerie, creepy, miaowy narration on it all, provided off-camera by July herself.
The elephant in the living room would appear to be children: Jason and Sophie don't have any, and perhaps the cat is a substitute. What becomes clear is that they themselves are childlike, in a way that is not necessarily connected with not having children themselves. They have each formed relationships with people who are considerably older, but this throws into perspective the fact that they themselves are distinctly, weirdly un-adult. And there are some very adult life-events coming their way.
The Future reminded me of Douglas Coupland's novel Miss Wyoming, in which one character says he is 37 years old, and at this age "you've pretty much felt all the emotions you're ever likely to feel, and from here on it's reruns. And that totally scares me." It's flippantly phrased, and yet it touches a raw nerve of fear, perhaps because it is true. Jason and Sophie face what they think is a future of reruns, presided over by this absurd cat – a preposterous domestic idol – in which they have, almost accidentally, invested every penny of their emotional capital.
It is a very bizarre and pessimistic film, in many ways, whose cutesy idiom deliberately cloys, an idiom that refocuses your attention on our emotions and feelings, and questions their banality. If we live our lives as intelligent, 21st-century consumers, without religion, or high culture, or a great cause – all things about which we have a well-founded and highly developed scepticism – then what do our lives look like? Like a sugary Woolworths picture of a sweet little cat with an injured paw? July's film-making is a taste I have yet fully to acquire, but she has a distinctive vision, a style, placed before you on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. I took it.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Tower Heisttweet this!
If it had provided me with nothing else, "Tower Heist" would have afforded me the sight of a solid gold automobile being lowered from the penthouse of the Trump Tower with Matthew Broderick dangling from it. Sometimes you appreciate such simple human spectacles. To be sure, Trump Tower has been renamed "The Tower," and the man dangling from the car isn't the Donald, but this is an imperfect world.
This isn't a great heist movie for a lot of reasons, beginning with the stupidity of its heist plan and the impossibility of these characters ever being successful at anything more complex than standing in line. There also is the problem with Ben Stiller being cast as the hero: He was born to play the victim of heists, not the gang leader. He's going against type. The victim here is played by Alan Alda, who is so loathsome he'd make a dartboard for OWS parties.
Quibble, quibble. The movie is broad and clumsy, and the dialogue cannot be described as witty, but a kind of grandeur creeps into the screenplay by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson. It's the kind of story where the executives at a pitch meeting feel they're being bludgeoned over the head with box-office dollars. There is also the novelty that here is a comedy that doesn't go heavy on the excremental, the masturbatory and symphonies of four-letter words. It's funny in an innocent screwball kind of way.
The story: Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the perfectionist building manager at the most luxurious condo skyscraper in New York, which providentially is on Columbus Circle, in the exact footprint of Trump Tower. His team works flawlessly, beginning with the beloved doorman Lester (Stephen Henderson). The penthouse is owned by Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a financial wheeler-dealer, whose walls display priceless modern art. His most prized possession is a bright red 1953 Ferrari, once owned by Steve McQueen. It was taken apart piece by piece, he explains to FBI agent Claire Denham (Tea Leoni), and assembled there.
The FBI is on the job because Shaw has been running a Ponzi scheme, and among his loot are the pension plan and investments of the tower's employees. So dear old Lester and all the others are penniless. Enraged, Kovacs recruits a team to break into the apartment. They're looking for a wall safe, but then discover Shaw's Ferrari is solid gold: $65 million is hidden in plain sight. Obviously, this requires stealing the car from the penthouse, where there's no door or elevator that can handle it.
The team: Lester, of course; Mr. Fitzhugh (Broderick), who is jobless, broke, has lost his family and being evicted from the building, and characters played by Casey Affleck, Michael Pena, Gabourey Sidibe (her second film since her Oscar nomination) as a Jamaican whose father would crack safes, and - well, Kovacs decides they need someone more familiar with crime and enlists Slide (Eddie Murphy), a loud-talking dude from the street in his neighborhood. Murphy, in his first role since 2009, is in full Eddie Murphy mode, with comic riffs and astonished double takes.
I won't describe how they plan to get the car out of the building, especially as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is passing directly below. But let me share with you that I suffer from a fear of heights, and the last thing you could get me to do is stand next to an open window on an floor upper of a high-rise and try to reach out and grab a Ferrari. The notion that no one would notice a bright red car being lowered from the tower is preposterous, but realism is not the point. This movie would fall to pieces if it didn't hurtle headlong through its absurdist plot without ever pausing for explanations.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Machine Gun Preachertweet this!
Gerard Butler is an actor for whom I have a great deal of affection, despite being consistently appalled by the films in which he appears and particularly by his work in them. There’s something about his weaponised Gruffalo schtick that’s undeniably appealing, but it’s yet to be successfully exploited on screen – and Machine Gun Preacher is yet another failed attempt to do just that.
The title might conjure up images of Butler in a cassock and surplice, straddling the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and mowing down the Occupy London protest camp with a Gatling gun; but in actual fact, Machine Gun Preacher is the kind of film marketing departments call “an inspirational true story”. Butler plays Sam Childers, a hard-drinking, drug-abusing biker thug from Minnesota who ‘got religion’ in the late 1990s and flew out to East Africa on a charity mission. While there, he became an unsettling mix of aid worker and vigilante: half on fire for Jesus, half setting bad guys on fire for Jesus.
We first meet Childers (Butler) when he’s released from prison. During his time behind bars, his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) has become a Christian – and not just any Christian, but a hand-wavin’, foot-stompin’ Southern evangelical. She encourages Childers to come to church with her. He does, reluctantly, yet a twinge of conscience makes him stand for prayer. Lo, he gets the bug, and in the weeks that follow, Christianity takes over his life. Lynn, can only look on with the weary resignation of a woman who once suggested it might be nice if her husband took the kids to the model railway shop, and is now watching him remove the last of the furniture from the spare room to make space for a fourth layout.
category: Film Reviews
Wednesday, 02 November 2011
Christmas phenomenon Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night to happen again in Oxfordtweet this!
For the second year running, Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night will weave through the streets of Oxford. This spine-tingling festive street promenade starts at Radcliffe Square, with participants meeting there at 8pm on Friday 2nd December. Once again it forms part of a worldwide phenomenon that started in New York twenty years ago. The event is free and is part of Oxford’s Christmas Light Night.
Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night is a musical creation of twinkling percussion, ethereal voices and resonating bell sounds. It takes the form of a street promenade in which the audience becomes the performer. Anyone joining in is given one of four different Unsilent Night tracks by OCM, which they bring along on the night. Promenaders join OCM at Radcliffe Square and using a ghetto blaster, or anything that amplifies music, simultaneously start their music. They then walk a carefully chosen route through the beautiful streets and lanes of Oxford creating a unique mobile sound sculpture.
Unsilent Night first happened twenty years ago in New York and was so popular that it became an annual tradition. It spread across the USA and to other countries worldwide, becoming an international phenomenon. Other cities holding Unsilent Night this year include Los Angeles, Vancouver and Hong Kong. OCM is proud to make Oxford part of this worldwide festive celebration.
category: Interesting Articles