Thanks to the Oxford University's Department for Continuing Education, you don't have to be a Rhodes Scholar to make your away across the Atlantic and wander the hallowed halls of the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
The Oxford Experience, a residential summer program, is designed for non-academics who want to spend a week learning about say the Bronte sisters or the Royal tombs of Egypt while hanging out in the city Oscar Wilde, one of the university's many famous students called, "the most beautiful thing in England."
Only an hour from London's Paddington Station, Oxford and its legendary skyline is a medieval dreamland, a time warp of sorts where everything from its winding cobblestone lanes to its impeccably manicured gardens is ancient and historical.
Most of the dozens of week-long classes offered during the Oxford Experience are staged at Christ Church, perhaps the most well-known of Oxford's 39 colleges. You'll get an insider's view of life inside Christopher Wren's Tom Tower, the cathedral with its famous choir, the Christ Church meadow and other famous locales.
For five weeks each summer, starting Sunday lunch through the following Saturday, Oxford offers morning classes with afternoons free to explore this magical, misty city. You'll study under Oxford academics, live around a quad, wander through the college's amazing gardens and take afternoon field trips with your fellow students.
In your free time, you can visit Blackwell's Bookshop, a world famous book store that made the Guinness Book of Record for having the most books in one room, the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology or take a punting excursion on the Cherwell or the River Thames, although in Oxford, they call the Thames the Isis.
Oxford also offers dozens of literary tours from Alice and Wonderland locales (Lewis Carroll, a shy mathematics don whose real name was Charles Dodgson came up with his stories for the daughter of the dean, Alice Lidell and her sisters while rowing them down the River Thames) to the haunts of C.S. Lewis and J.RR. Tolkien. Or if you prefer, you can tour scenes from the Harry Potter movies, most of which were shot here.
Oxford's Department for Continuing Education also offers day-long and weekend classes. The day-long classes, again open to anyone, cover everything from archaeology to Bach cantatas.
By studying at Oxford, even if only for a week, you'll join an elite delegation. Oxford has educated 12 kings, 47 Nobel-prize winners, 25 British prime minister, 28 foreign presidents, seven saints, 86 archbishops and at least one pope. You'll join the ranks of Sir Walter Raleigh, John Wesley, Margaret Thatcher, Lewis Carroll, Aldous Huxley, T.E. Lawrence, Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Percy Shelley, W.H. Auden, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Hugh Grant and, yes, Dudley Moore.
Monday, 30 January 2012
Studying At Oxford Is A Great Excuse To Visit Oxfordtweet this!
Thanks to the Oxford University's Department for Continuing Education, you don't have to be a Rhodes Scholar to make your away across the Atlantic and wander the hallowed halls of the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
category: Interesting Articles
Sunday, 29 January 2012
Little book shop making a big name for itselftweet this!
A LITTLE bookshop in a corner of Oxfordshire is making a big name for itself in the world of literature.
The Oxfam bookshop in Thame opened in December 2000 and has since made its mark with creative window displays and rare discoveries.
The most recent find, a set of Arthur Conan Doyle editions including a signed copy of White Company, sold for £1,000 this month.
But it was by no means the first exciting discovery for the shop, which has raised more than £1m for charity within its 500 square feet of retail space.
Manager Dick Jennens, 62, believes its success in unearthing literary gems is a combination of Thame’s location, between London and Oxford, and its ever-increasing reputation.
He said: “It’s fascinating, you never know what you’re going to get in a box of books. It’s like Christmas each day.”
The first find for the store was an original signed copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which sold for £1,800.
But one of his all-time favourite discoveries was when a woman wheeled a giant book in a shopping trolley to the shop.
He said: “She told us it was going into a skip because they were downsizing and their children didn’t want it.”
When they looked at the book it was full of autographs from historical figures such as Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, and letters from US presidents.
It fetched £11,000, which was shared with the owner.
Mr Jennens said: “It’s incredible to think they could have gone in a skip and been lost forever.”
Another rare find was a first edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which sold for £995.
Mr Jennens said: “It’s all about matching the owner with the book they want.
“That’s what makes this job interesting.”
Each week the staff create a new window display, with Titanic, James Bond and the Falklands War set to appear soon.
So far this year the shop has made a profit of £140,000 – up 10 per cent on last year and the boxes of books just keep on coming.
Mr Jennens, who runs the shop with a pool of 70 volunteers, said: “I think people have this misconception that if you donate books to a charity shop, they’ll just sell them all for 50p.
“But we have people here that value everything. One of our volunteers worked for years at the Bodleian Library.”
“The other week a couple drove all the way from Birmingham to drop off some books after reading about us.”
A 109-year-old signed copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s White Company and eight other volumes sold for £1,000 earlier this month.
A valuable first edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm sold for £995 in late 2010.
A signed first edition of Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca sold at auction for £1,800 a few years earlier.
A rare book of historic autographs, including those from Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin sold for £11,000.
category: Interesting Articles
Friday, 27 January 2012
Film Review: The Greytweet this!
A deep thinker with more dark thoughts than even an Irish soul can comfortably accommodate, Ottway (Liam Neeson) stopped running from his personal demons when he reached the end of the world and found a job waiting. All he has to do is keep the wolves from the door of a rundown Alaskan oil-drilling compound staffed by "ex-cons, fugitives, drifters and assholes" too busy boozing, brawling and balling away the memory of whatever lives they led to notice that they're treading on very thin ice. And make note: Neither the ice nor the wolves are metaphorical.
Ottway devotes his off-hours to joyless, solitary drinking, endlessly rewriting and discarding the same letter to the woman he loved and lost and sinking slowly into the suicidal quicksand of bad memories, especially of his brutal, poetry-loving father.
He'd no doubt rather skip the regularly scheduled R&R trips to Juneau. But they're part of the deal, so he goes… It's just a matter of getting through the flight by discouraging friendly overtures and tuning out the chatter about kids the family men (however loosely that term may be defined) rarely see, skanks the young horndogs can't wait to get their hands on, and free-associative bone-headery like the kind that flows endlessly from the mouth of natural-born jerk Flannery (Joe Anderson), who actually manages to piss off a whole planeload of guys who'd flip the Reverend Jim Jones the bird and forget him. Even they don't want to hear Flannery's gross-out babble about why you should never assume the head-between-knees crash position while their own plane is shuddering, ice-cold air rushing through the cabin as the walls pull apart.
Eight men open their eyes in the snow, surrounded by twisted, smoking wreckage, bright blots of luggage and broken, blackened corpses. Within hours they're down to seven, huddled in a piece of fuselage and shaken to the core after watching a guy they've been working and partying with for who knows how long die, lucid until the end. It's Ottway who steps up and talks him through, and it's Ottway - the only man standing with wilderness survival skills - to convey the lay of the land:
If they don't build a fire now, they'll freeze before there's a later.
No one's coming for them: Hiring new roughnecks is cheaper than shaking the trees for a few battered old ones.
If they don't start moving tomorrow, they'll starve.
If they don't work together, they'll all die.
And that's before the wolves, top-of-the-food chain predators with all the high cards: built for the cold, born to hunt and sheltered by the pack, not like the squabbling screw-ups they start picking off with ruthless efficiency.
The Grey isn't the first movie to strip men of their modern advantages - guns, wheels, thermal gear, freeze-dried rations - and pit them against nature at her least forgiving, and it won't be the last. But it's a real kick in the ass, as much because of what it doesn't do as what it does.
What it doesn't do is go all Lord of the Flies: There's plenty of macho posturing and jockeying for position. Personalities clash, muscle bullies reason. But overall, the guys who live for their families - even estranged ones - fare no better or worse than the self-styled tough guys.
It doesn't pull a bunch of cool brain-over-brawn tricks that feel too clever by half: A shotgun shell on the end of a stick is about as MacGyver as it gets. Otherwise, it's all about building fires, picking a camping place you can defend, tying t-shirts together into ropes. The rest is luck.
And what it does with astonishing skill is reveal the characters bit by bit, rather than winding up the types in act one and sending them skittering to their appointed ends. Sure, you know from the get-go that Diaz (mixed-martial artist Frank Grillo) is a bully and suspect there's probably more to quiet-guy Henrick (Dallas Roberts) than he lets on. But director Joe Carnahan and writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers handed the whole cast a golden opportunity and they swallowed it whole.
It's more glaringly obvious that great women's roles are thin on the Hollywood ground, but most men's parts aren't much better. They just pay better; that's why it's a shock to see how good a Gerard Butler or a Clive Owen can be when he's not pretzeled into some formulaic rom-com or thriller. From perpetual almost-ran Dermot Mulroney to former stunt performer Ben Bray, every performance is a low-key, high-impact marvel in a movie that's true to its ruthless self to the very end.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: A Monster in Paristweet this!
The huge success of Martin Scorsese's Hugo in the Oscar nomination list augurs pretty well for this amiable family animation in 3D from French director Bibo Bergeron, which has some similar themes and settings. Originally entitled Un Monstre à Paris, it has now been redubbed by English-speaking performers including Bob Balaban, Danny Huston and Sean Lennon. Vanessa Paradis plays the lead, bilingually, in the French and English versions. In Paris, during the great flood of 1910, a movie-mad cinema projectionist and his wisecracking buddy find themselves mixed up in an adventure involving a monster at large in the city, which, kitted out in a hat and quasi-zoot-suit, turns out to be a gifted guitarist and nightclub musician, providing backing for singer Lucille (Paradis). A wickedly cynical mayor, keen to offer the Parisian public some diversion from its flood-related woes, wants to exploit the monster for his own ends. The film has something of Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, and indeed King Kong, but has an eccentric style of its own: a decent children's film.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Underworld: Awakeningtweet this!
Back in black and cutting no slack, Kate Beckinsale returns as Selene, the kickass vampire warrioress who always shoots first and never bothers to ask questions afterward, in "Underworld Awakening," the fourth entry in the enduringly popular action-horror franchise launched by Len Wiseman's "Underworld" back in 2003. Although the directorial chores have been turned over to Swedish co-helmers Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein (billed jointly as Marlind & Stein), this latest episode extends the mythos and sustains the excitement of its predecessors with sufficient fealty to ensure another killing at the box office and a long afterlife on homevid.
After being conspicuously absent (except for a fleeting cameo) from "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" (2009), a swashbuckling prequel to "Underworld" and "Underworld: Evolution" (2006), Beckinsale slips back into the latex suit to resume Selene's crusade as Death Dealer extraordinaire in the secret, centuries-long battle between vampires and werewolves (aka Lycans).
The big difference here is that humankind finally has caught on to the fact that, well, vampires and Lycans have been battling each other for centuries, and homo sapiens have frequently sustained collateral damage. "Awakening" kicks off with a briskly effective sequence that details the decimation of bloodsuckers and shape-shifters with ruthlessly efficient purges, leaving both species near the point of extinction - and Selene herself captured and cryogenically frozen by Antigen, a biotech firm developing a vaccine against viruses thought responsible for monster making.
More than a decade later, Selene reawakens from her enforced slumber in an Antigen lab. Fortunately, her captors have conveniently stowed her iconic outfit within easy reach - a wink-wink touch sure to please series devotees - so she's able to suit up before cutting a bloody swath through hopelessly outmatched security guards and making her escape.
Outside in the brave new post-purge world, Selene finds once-powerful vampire potentates such as the autocratic Thomas (Charles Dance) have literally gone underground with their covens, and the few remains Lycans seem little more than malnourished nuisances who travel in dwindling packs.
The good news: Selena discovers that, while she was sleeping, she gave birth to Eve (India Eisley), a feral vampire-werewolf hybrid fathered by the presumed-dead Michael (a hybrid played in the first two pics by Scott Speedman). The bad news: Eve is actively pursued by powerful Antigen chief Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea), who plans to use the girl as a very unwilling DNA donor.
Once again, Beckinsale brings an impressive physicality and subzero cool to her portrayal of Selene, only occasionally revealing a flash of vulnerability when the Death Dealer isn't blasting fierce Lycans or dispatching inconvenient humans. It can be argued that what she offers is more presence than performance, but that doubtless will suffice to inflame genre fanboys of all ages.
Working from a script by series co-producer Wiseman and a small army of collaborators, the helmers sustain a suitably rapid-fire pace - without extended closing credits, pic would clock in at under 80 minutes - while noticeably elevating the level of graphic slice-and-dice, run-and-gun mayhem. The action setpieces - including acrobatically choreographed faceoffs, and a basement-set battle royale pitting Selene against a humongous uber-werewolf - are neatly balanced mash-ups of slo-mo posturing and breakneck thrills. And lenser Scott Kevan takes pains to give the Vancouver-lensed pic the distinctively icy blue-gray look that is this franchise's trademark.
Supporting perfs - including those by Michael Ealy as a sympathetic cop and Theo James as a hunky vampire eager to kick Lycan butt - are everything they need be, and the overall tech package indicates that, this time out, producers have raised the budget a few notches (though the use of 3D doesn't add much). Their investment should pay off handsomely.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: The Descendantstweet this!
It's been seven years since Sideways, Alexander Payne's bruise cruise around California wine country with Paul Giamatti's sad sack prof and Thomas Haden Church's arrogant actor – a role for which George Clooney lobbied, but was rejected as too big a star. What's Payne been up to in the meantime? Definitely mellowing, if his latest is anything to go by. As well as featuring Clooney, The Descendants glows with maturity and assurance. It's far from the electric bite of 2002's About Schmidt or 1999's Election's yelps against authority. Rather, it's a primer on passivity: when not to act, how to give in – to grief, or abuse, or betrayal. It's also frequently very funny.
Clooney plays Matt King – a name doubtless chosen carefully by Kaui Hart Hemmings, on whose novel this is based, but which now inexorably brings to mind Peep Show's Super Hans. He's a minted landowner in Hawaii, the trustee of a swath of paradisal coast passed down by his ancestors, which is in the process of being flogged to a developer. Matt works as a local lawyer, a decent, even dull guy, with two daughters and a wife who we see ambulatory only in the opening shot. For the rest she's comatose in a hospital bed, felled by a water-skiing accident. (Payne is bracingly frank about what can happen to a face – the cheeks, the lips, the skin – after a few weeks unconscious.)
For a spell, Matt makes a decent play of trying to keep afloat and handle the children – 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller), just mischievous, and 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), more worrying. But that changes when he learns his wife was having an affair at the time of her accident. Cue a stealth reinvention, plus creeping revelations about the meaning of family, and inheritance.
Clooney is tremendous here, even better perhaps than in his own film, The Ides of March, currently joining this one on the festival circuit. As the Coen brothers exploited to good effect in Burn After Reading, he is eager to play the fool (check out his slapstick jogging), yet here he clings tightly to his dignity while he's doing it. Both children are terrifically good, likewise Nick Krause, who steals a handful of scenes as Sid, Alexandra's goofy friend who gradually emerges as cannier than your average stoner surfer.
At times, the script feels a little too on the button with its snack-pack of metaphors. There's a scene in which Matt likens the islands around Hawaii to a family: distant yet clustered, "always drifting slowly apart". Compared to say, the likes of Joanna Hogg, whose Archipelago tackled similar subjects earlier this year, these moments can leave Payne looking like Michael Bay. At times the pace sags, and the loose ends are either dropped out of view or too stiffly gift-wrapped.
Still, The Descendants, if not quite the Oscar sucker-punch many anticipated, is a drama of unusual nuance. It lingers, spawns thoughts, connections, as a great film ought. Let's just hope we don't have to wait another seven years for the next one.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Like Crazytweet this!
The genius of the online spoof paper the Onion has never been clearer than in this story, headlined 18-Year-Old Miraculously Finds Soulmate in Hometown: "In a miracle that defies statistical probability, Corey Muntner, 18, reported Monday that he found his soulmate, Tammy Gaska, right in his very own hometown … Relationship experts estimate that the chances of meeting someone in your lifetime that you fully connect with on a spiritual, intellectual, and physical level are one in 2.3bn, making the geographic proximity of the soulmates nothing short of astonishing."
I thought of the Onion's report while watching this low-key, unassumingly intelligent movie about romance and bad timing, from indie director Drake Doremus. This is what One Day should have been. Felicity Jones plays Anna, a British college student in Los Angeles who falls for an American, Jacob, played by Anton Yelchin. When the term ends for the summer, so does Anna's student visa. They know that the sensible thing would be for her to go home, and wait just a few months while she gets the cash to come back with the proper documentation. But a few months is a long time when you're in your early 20s, so Anna defies the visa law and sticks around in LA for a glorious summer of love and sex. It is a decision that affects the rest of both their lives.
Once Anna and Jacob are parted, Doremus shows how they are tortured with the agonising thought that other partners, other life choices, are entirely possible. Jennifer Lawrence plays Sam, the assistant at the furniture design workshop Jacob sets up after college. She begins a relationship with him, aware of the claim of this far-off British girl but also aware (as is the audience) of how very good they look together. Meanwhile, Anna gets entangled with a neighbour. The person you met at college need not necessarily be The One. But what if he or she is The One? Are you wasting your life with anyone else?
Alex Kingston and Oliver Muirhead give performances of gentle charm as Anna's caring parents, and guardians of her uncool, middle-class upbringing. Another type of movie would always seek to reassure you that, whatever happens, the soulmates are destined to be together, in some way. Not here. Doremus shows how being young is not the paradise we are encouraged to misremember, but a world of frustration, unhappiness and embarrassment. Apart from everything else, Like Crazy is a reminder of the awful fact that all choices are permanent, to some degree. Life cannot be rewound and done over. It's a grownup love story.
category: Film Reviews
Wednesday, 25 January 2012
Rewind - The 80s Music Festivaltweet this!
Rewind - The 80s Music Festival
Henley-on-Thames from 17th – 19th August 2012
Rewind – The 80s Festival returns for its fourth year from Friday 17th August – Sunday 19th August at Temple Island Meadows, Henley-on-Thames. As with last year’s unforgettable concert performances and audience participation celebrations, this year’s Rewind Festival includes another incredible live outdoor line-up of the crème de la crème of 80s recording artists/performers.
Tickets go on sale to the general public at 9am on Friday 27th January. Full details on ticket outlets and prices are available from the official website - http://www.rewindfestival.com.
This year’s line-up will feature the legendary Kool & The Gang on Saturday 18th August, and synth pop pioneers OMD on Sunday 19th August. Other highlights include rare performances from The Bangles, Grandmaster Flash, Soul II Soul, plus the reformed original line-up of Five Star. Also appearing in anticipation of British medal success at the London 2012 Olympics are Heather Small (Proud, Search for the Hero) and Tony Hadley (Gold), plus Starship, Rick Astley, T’Pau, Wang Chung, Marc Almond, Roland Gift, Sinitta, Right Said Fred, Lightning Seeds and many more.
In addition to the unforgettable jam-packed August weekend of 80s music, Rewind Festival will also features loads of additional highlights ranging from Silent Discos to Live Karaoke bars along with Camping and Glamping (Glamorous Camping) options.
New to the festival in 2012 will be Jamie Oliver’s “Fabulous Feasts” and “The Grand Palace of Entertainment” (as seen on Channel 5’s Fairground Attraction); converted into an acoustic and comedy bar. For those festival goers who want a little extra comfort, we also have new for 2012 the ultimate in festival toilets – When Nature Calls – featuring the state of the art vacuum flush toilets, warm hand wash and uniformed attendants.
Saturday 18th August
Kool & The Gang
Soul II Soul
Right Said Fred
Doctor & The Medics
Sunday 19th August
Special Guest (TBA)
Tickets on sale at 9am on Friday 27th January
Originally launched at Henley-on-Thames in 2009, Rewind The 80s Festival boasts the biggest line-up of 80s artists in the world, and in its first three years has featured such iconic 80s names as: Holly Johnson, Human League, Gloria Gaynor, Kim Wilde, Boy George, Village People, Bananarama, Billy Ocean, Ali Campbell’s UB40 and many more.
Rewind Festival in Henley-on-Thames has proven to be so popular, 2011 saw the launch of its sister festival “Rewind Scotland” at Scone Palace in Perth in July and Rewind South Africa will take place in February 2012. As with the previous incarnations of the Rewind Festival, the Henley weekend is due to sell out in advance, attracting in excess of 40,000 people.
category: Interesting Articles
Monday, 23 January 2012
First Great Western helps passengers get on their bikestweet this!
First Great Western has teamed with two of Oxford’s cycling specialists to keep cyclists on track when commuting from Oxford Station.
Walton Street Cycles and Bainton Bikes will be operating out of a special platform adjacent gazebo and offering a full suite of cycle facilities including repairs and hires.
The services are available to commuters and visitors from 06:30 until 19:30, every Monday. From Spring, the service is expected to expand to seven days a week.
Walton Street Cycles and Bainton Bikes operate from Walton Street in Jericho and this new venture will not affect their current operations.
First Great Western Integrated Transport Manager Andy Saunders said: “Oxford is one of our most popular stations for commuting cyclists, and I’m delighted to partner with Walton Street Cycles and Bainton Bikes to offer this innovative service.”
For further information on First Great Western contact John Ratchford at the First Great Western press office on 0207 3131 192.
For more information visit http://www.spoke.co.uk or phone the Walton Street Cycles Shop - Tel: 01865 311610
category: Interesting Articles
London Oxford Airport welcomes daily scheduled flights to Jersey and the Isle of Man from Maytweet this!
London Oxford Airport kicks off the New Year with the news that it is to gain two popular regional routes. From 8 May it will welcome daily, year round, scheduled flights to the Islands of Jersey and the Isle of Man, when Manx2.com (http://www.manx2.com) makes its debut at the expanding airport. With single fares from £49.95 now on sale on line, flights will depart Oxford for Jersey at 12:25 and for the Isle of Man at 15:15. (Sunday times depart 15:30 for Jersey, 18:20 for IOM)
Isle of Man-Oxford: dep IoM 10:55 arr Oxf 12:05
Oxford-Jersey: dep Oxf 12:25 arr Jer 13:30
Jersey-Oxford: dep Jer 13:50 arr Oxf 14:55
Oxford-Isle of Man: dep Oxf 15:15 arr IoM 16:25
“This is a terrific start to the New Year for the residents of Oxford and our wider catchment area, with more than five million people residing within an hour’s drive of the airport,” said Chris Orphanou, Managing Director. “We are delighted to welcome Manx2.com and its regular Jetstream 31 flights to these two important Crown Dependencies. As Jersey and the Isle of Man no longer have air services to London Heathrow, this service will be a viable alternative for Islanders heading west of London. In addition the new services will benefit the local community with expanded tourism and ancillary revenues. Wealthy creation for the region could be considerable,” he added.
The Isle of Man route will appeal to the leisure market, ideal for short breaks with its stunning scenery and unspoilt beaches, as well as business travellers with interests in offshore banking, aircraft and shipping management, finance and tourism. Jersey has been an extremely popular charter destination, with the airport supporting Saturday services for the past three years. London Oxford Airport can now offer terrific flexibility to the Channel Islands, one of Europe’s top holiday destinations, offering accommodation to suit all tastes from camping to five star luxury hotels.
Noel Hayes, Chairman of Manx2.com said: “London Oxford Airport is a very attractive addition to our route network, located halfway between London and the UK’s industrial centre in the Midlands. Since we launched Manx2.com six years ago, customers repeatedly tell us that they prefer to use the smaller, easy to access regional airports. We are certain they’ll love London Oxford with its award winning, state-of-the-art new passenger terminal, convenient car parking facilities and excellent access to the M40. There is car rental available on site and with a new local rail station at Kidlington opening in early 2013, access to central London will be further enhanced, taking less than an hour via public transport.”
The services from both Jersey and the Isle of Man will connect directly through Oxford, providing Jersey residents with convenient access to the Isle of Man seven days a week, and vice versa.
New commercial services follow a successful year of business aviation growth
The news of these new commercial services comes hard on the heels of what has been a very successful year for London Oxford Airport. The airport outpaced its immediate peer airports, in the UK and Europe generally, with a 13.3% year on year, calendar year end growth in business aviation movements in 2011. In support of this growth, the airport continues to invest in new hangars and office space and in a significant step forward with infrastructure development, it committed a £4.5 million investment in the latest generation radar system last year. The surveillance radar system is currently undergoing testing and will be fully operational by the end of May. It is amongst the most modern and sophisticated radar systems available today and will enable more efficient transits through local airspace.
For more information about the London Oxford Airport, visit their website
category: Interesting Articles
Friday, 20 January 2012
Review: Chinese State Circustweet this!
From the Chinese State Circus website:
"To say the Chinese State Circus is merely a show is grossly to underestimate it; it is the embodiment of a traditional art form which can trace its history back over 2000 years. The presentation lives and breathes with the enthusiasm of its acrobatic artistes whose whole lives centre in the performance. The result is the purest, honest, most abiding and exhilarating circus that is a true privilege to see."
I agree whole heartedly with this. I saw the Chinese State Circus perform their new Yin Yang show at Oxford's New Theatre last night and loved it! I'm a huge fan of people circuses (I strongly dislike animal circuses) and this one did not disappoint! From the very beginning it was non-stop entertainment of very impressive human abilities, tricks and skill. Just when I thought (only once or twice) that I might be able to do a particular stunt, the performers would take it one or two steps further into the 'oh my god I could never do that' realm! There were laughs, occasional gasps of fear from the audience, and tons of applause. It's a great show for the whole family.
There are two more performances tonight - at 5pm and 8pm. It's great fun - go see it while you can!
For more about the Chinese State Circus, visit their website
Tickets can be purchased from the New Theatre box office on George Street, by ringing 0844 871 3020 or by visiting our website at http://www.atgtickets.com/oxford (phone and internet bookings subject to booking/transaction fee). For bookings of 10 or more, please call our dedicated in-house Groups team on 0844 871 3040.
category: Theatre Reviews
Thursday, 19 January 2012
Film Review: The Sittertweet this!
Jonah Hill bites off more than he can chew in this '80s up-all-night comedy.
Replacing Elizabeth Shue with Jonah Hill can't be anyone's idea of an upgrade, but the former's spunky Adventures in Babysitting innocence would be a couple of notches too nice for The Sitter, David Gordon Green's attempt to infuse the 1987 film's setup with the grit and strangeness of other up-all-nighters by Scorsese and Demme. The fusion works far better than Green's sword-and-sandal-and-stoners dud Your Highness, but is unlikely to connect with audiences like his previous '80s riff Pineapple Express.
Hill plays loser Noah Griffith, who facilitates a rare night out for his divorced mom by babysitting her friend's three children - any one of whom would be more than he can handle. A coddled neurotic, a wannabe celebutante, and a Salvadoran foster kid who loves blowing things up, the three adolescent nightmares hint at how broadly screenwriters Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka will draw characters throughout the film, particularly when it comes to African-Americans.
Hill's character may be less thin than the rest, but little effort is put into convincing us he'd make the series of dumb decisions The Sitter requires in order to keep him running through Manhattan and Brooklyn in the wee hours. A transparently dishonest phone call from Marisa (Ari Graynor) is all it takes to make Noah pack the kids into a stolen minivan and go in search of the cocaine he thinks will convince Marisa to have sex with him. (Where, we wonder, are the siblings supposed to wait during this couple's tender moment?) Before the night's out, he'll be responsible for two stolen cars, a pocketful of diamonds, a few demolished bathrooms and enough wasted coke to turn a pool table snow white.
In the midst of the familiar hijinks and confrontations that get between Noah and satisfaction, one is weird enough to remember: Sam Rockwell's "Karl with a K," a gregarious gangster who packs his drugs in dinosaur eggs and hires effeminate bodybuilders as enforcers, isn't really new territory for the actor, but Rockwell gets more than his share of the film's laughs hamming through it.
Hill shows less snark and agitation than usual here, and the restraint serves him well during the one sequence - Noah counseling a kid who doesn't yet know he's gay - in which the movie actually cares more about believability than retro affectations. All things considered, though, the kids would be a lot better off with Elizabeth Shue.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: W.E.tweet this!
Whatever the crimes committed by Wallis Simpson – marrying a king, sparking a constitutional crisis, fraternising with Nazis – it's doubtful that she deserves the treatment meted out to her in W.E., Madonna's jaw-dropping take on "the 20th-century's greatest royal love story". The woman is defiled, humiliated, made to look like a joke. The fact that W.E. comes couched in the guise of a fawning, servile snow-job only makes the punishment feel all the more cruel.
Or could it be that Madonna is in deadly earnest here? If so, her film is more risible than we had any right to expect; a primped and simpering folly, the turkey that dreamed it was a peacock. Andrea Riseborough stars as Wallis, the perky American social climber who meets Edward VIII (James D'Arcy) in London, where she is drawn like a magnet to his pursed lips and peevish air.
Yet Madonna has also taken the decision to run Wallis's story in tandem with the story of Wally (Abbie Cornish), a trophy wife in 1990s New York, who totters in and out of the drama like a doped pony. Wally, it transpires, was named after Wallis and is obsessed by the woman to a degree that struck me as deeply worrying, but which Madonna presents as evidence of impeccable good taste.
From time to time, the ghost of Wallis even pays Wally a call to dispense beauty tips or comfort her when she's lying injured on the bathroom floor. "I'm here," coos Wallis. "I'll always be here." And seldom has a promise sounded more like a threat.
Madonna wants us to see these two as spiritual twins, in that they are both dazzled by expensive trinkets and searching desperately for love. We know instantly that Wallis's first husband is a wrong 'un because he drags her from the bath and beats her, and we are invited to take a similar view of Wally's spouse when he starts claiming that Wallis and Edward were Nazi-sympathisers, which is patently absurd. "They might have been naive," Wally scolds him. "That doesn't mean that they were Nazis."
What an extraordinarily silly, preening, fatally mishandled film this is. It may even surpass 2008's Filth and Wisdom, Madonna's calamitous first outing as a film-maker. Her direction is so all over the shop that it barely qualifies as direction at all.
W.E. gives us slo-mo and jump cuts and a crawling crane shot up a tree in Balmoral, but they are all just tricks without a purpose. For her big directoral flourish, Madonna has Wallis bound on stage to dance with a Masai tribesman while Pretty Vacant blares on the soundtrack. But why? What point is she making? That social-climbing Wallis-Simpson was the world's first punk-rocker? That – see! – a genuine Nazi-sympathiser would never dream of dancing with an African? Who can say? My guess is that she could have had Wallis dressed as a clown, bungee jumping off the Eiffel Tower to the strains of The Birdy Song and it would have served her story just as well.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: J. Edgartweet this!
Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio have joined forces to present a sombre biopic of the American lawman who kept a vice-like grip on the FBI for almost 40 years. On paper it's the perfect pairing, but in the event they have delivered a laboured, morally questionable portrait of the would-be power broker that, moreover, is badly undermined by some dubious special-effects decisions.
These revolve around the decision to have DiCaprio play Hoover throughout his entire adult life. The same goes for Armie Hammer, who plays Hoover's loyal sidekick Clyde Tolson, and Naomi Watts as his longtime secretary Helen Gandy. For the middle and later decades, the three actors' faces are smothered in increasingly formidable layers of latex until, in their 70-year-old versions, they all look like cast-offs from some animatronic Museum of American Bureaucrats.
Be that as it may, it reads like Eastwood's film was conceived and greenlit as a studious attempt to gauge the personal sacrifices needed to maintain the American polity, the kind of post-9/11 superpatriotism that has been invoked in the fight against al-Qaida – which, in effect, means handing over law enforcement to the kind of rule-bending-and-breaking obsessives that Hoover typified.
But historical events have made this assessment redundant: we are now also in the age of phone hacking and Occupy, and it's plain that Hoover's secret file system – the use of wire-tap evidence to bludgeon and blackmail, and the systemisation of police brutality – are the real contemporary resonances.
Plenty of complaints have been made about the selective nature of the narrative, which focuses mainly on Hoover's solving of the Lindbergh kidnapping case and glances only briefly at his harassment of civil rights activists and notorious lack of interest in tackling organised crime. Moreover, Eastwood rather too obviously positions his subject in moral terms: Hoover objects to extended batterings of anarchists; he doesn't seem to mind an African American stenographer; he is dusted with a little more principle than is given to Richard Nixon.
Scriptwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for his biopic of Harvey Milk, tries to humanise Hoover's unquenchable professional preoccupation by summoning up his reputed double life as a closet case and cross-dresser; the gaudy after-death rumour that was so joyously taken up by the liberal Left, for whom Hoover was such a bête noire. Here's where we are shown the emotional self-suppression required to maintain such dogged commitment to the cause. Unable to express himself sexually, and subjugated Norman Bates-style to his domineering mother Anna Marie (Judi Dench), Hoover channels it all into his work.
In the end, J Edgar hedges its bets with a specious final twist that suggests Hoover's biggest sin is that he was economical with the truth when it came to telling his own story. Future cultural historians may be saying the same thing about J Edgar itself.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Coriolanustweet this!
In choosing his first film to direct, Ralph Fiennes could easily have set himself an easier task than Coriolanus. It helps that he’s familiar with the material, having played the title role on the London stage a decade ago. But unlike, say, Hamlet or Henry V, this is hardly an audience favourite in the Shakespearean canon, and Coriolanus is anything but a crowd-pleasing hero; indeed, his downfall stems from his contempt for the Roman people’s opinion of him.
Still, this is a strikingly imaginative adaptation. Working with screenwriter John Logan, Fiennes has trimmed, clarified and rebooted the play, shooting it in Belgrade and setting it in a modern war zone. He plays Coriolanus like a Nineties Balkan warlord: hair close-cropped, he slouches with legs splayed wide in a gesture of macho arrogance. His portrayal of disdain for humankind matches his Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List.
On the whole, the modernising elements pay off. Street demonstrations in “Rome” are captured by protesters with smart phones. Civil unrest is reported on a rolling TV news channel (amusingly, with Jon Snow declaiming as an anchorman). Grenade launchers are the weapons of choice in Rome’s skirmishes with the Volsci.
This adds up to an audacious approach, and the film gathers momentum and confidence as it progresses. Fiennes has chosen his collaborators cannily, and they serve him well. British cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker), as is his wont, puts his cameras right in the middle of brutal combat scenes, lending them real immediacy.
And the casting is impeccably thoughtful, down to the smallest roles (the great Belgian-Moroccan actress Lubna Azabal, star of Incendies, plays a street protester). Paul Jesson, better known as a stage actor, shines as the earnestly reasonable tribune Brutus. Gerard Butler, straying outside his action-hero comfort zone, is a good fit as the Volsci warrior Aufidius.
Yet Vanessa Redgrave as Coriolanus’s mother Volumnia comes to dominate the film’s final third with a towering performance. In turns she is vivacious, icy and furious, chiding her son, who has fought so nobly for Rome, for vengefully turning against it. In terms of lines, Volumnia is not a leading role, but it’s hard to avert your gaze from Redgrave. She’s the clinching virtue of a solid, impressive work that marks a laudable debut for director Fiennes.
category: Film Reviews
Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Oxford’s bid for 2014 World Book Capital title receives Government backingtweet this!
Oxford’s bid to become UNESCO World Book Capital in 2014 has just received official Government backing.
Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, has written to the steering committee for Oxford’s bid to confirm that the city would receive the Government’s full backing for its campaign.
UNESCO has nominated a World Book Capital city every year since 2001, in order to acknowledge the best year long programme to promote books and encourage reading. Successful bids involve cooperation with local, national and international professional organisations representing writers, publishers, booksellers and librarians, as well as communities and groups.
If successful, Oxford would host a programme of events – running from April 2014 to April 2015 – for visitors as well as city and county residents to take part in.
Included in the extensive programme would be the redesign and opening of the Bodleian Weston Library, as well as the completion of the Story Museum, a magical new centre of children’s literature and storytelling. The bid will also allow Oxford to highlight the debate on child literacy, and will see a number of organisations work together to raise the overall literacy attainment in the classroom.
Since Oxford’s intention to bid for the title was announced in September 2010, the steering committee has been keen to generate as much support from individuals, organisations and companies as possible.
So far, endorsements have come from all sectors, including professional groups such as the Publishing Association, CILIP, the Reading Agency and the Society of Authors. Individual authors, librarians, MPs and academics are also eager to see the prestigious designation awarded to Oxford.
In Mr Vaizey’s letter, he said: “It is entirely appropriate that a city with such long-standing connections with books, literacy and learning should already be viewed as a world benchmark through institutions such as its premiere University and the Oxford English Dictionary.
“I am delighted therefore to support this bid, which, if successful, would recognise the weight of the contribution to world and especially English speaking culture that the city of Oxford has made over many centuries.”
UNESCO officially opened the application process at the end of 2011, giving all interested parties a deadline of Friday 27th April 2012 to submit their bids. To date, no other UK city has announced its interest in competing for the title.
It is expected that the winning city will be announced during the summer of 2012.
For more information about Oxford’s campaign to become World Book Capital in 2014, and to sign up in support of the bid, visit http://www.oxfordworldbookcapital.org.
category: Interesting Articles
Sunday, 15 January 2012
Station set to hit radio airwavestweet this!
OXFORD’S first permanent community radio station is just weeks away from hitting the airwaves.
The finishing touches are being put to a brand new studio at the Blackbird Leys Community Centre in time for the launch of OX4U.
The station – formerly known as OX4 FM – had been searching for a permanent home after a successful pilot back in 2006.
Chairman Geno Humphrey said: “It is very exciting, we are busy but it’s fantastic to finally be in this position.
“It’s progressed really quickly. All the building work will be finished by the end of the month.”
The station, which will provide a mix of music and community news, is now working towards a launch date of February 27.
It had originally looked set to take off in 2009 after receiving a five-year licence from Ofcom and a £13,000 grant from Oxford City Council.
But negotiations over studio space at Blackbird Leys Community Centre took longer than expected.
Mr Humphrey, a former BBC presenter and producer, said: “In the past few weeks, the planning application for the antenna has been approved and all the equipment has been installed.
“So all the legal aspects are now done and we’re in the run-up to our opening date now. The website will go live this month.”
The station first went live in a 10-day pilot in 2006 from Jubilee Hall, followed by two more one-off broadcasts.
It aims to provide permanent round-the-clock music, entertainment and information, as well as being a venue for the community to discuss issues.
The station will broadcast on 105.1FM across South and East Oxford.
Mr Humphrey added: ”It’s been a real struggle, but we’re finally there.”
The station eventually aims to become self-sufficient, with help from businesses. It is also calling for any volunteers to come forward, particularly female presenters. Free training is available.
If you would like to get involved call Mr Humphrey on 07775 435286.
category: Interesting Articles
Friday, 13 January 2012
Royal visit to ethical cafetweet this!
Prince Edward launched a new community fund and opted for an ethical lunch during a visit to the Turl Street kitchens this Wednesday.
The Earl of Wessex, who is seventh in line to the throne, visited the charity Oxford Hub’s premises, situated above the restaurant, to launch the Jubilee Fund for Oxfordshire.
In a gastronomic extravaganza the Prince was served local cheeses, Cotswold trout and Earl Grey cupcakes. He was also presented with pink macaroons, though he was not seen to eat any of them.
However, Head Chef Carl Isham said: “It’s a great opportunity to showcase our food and we hope all the guests enjoyed it.”
The Oxford Hub is a local charity, which enables students to volunteer in the local community helping with projects such as tutoring and conservation. It also played host to representatives from many local charities who have supported the foundation.
Tim Stevenson, Lord Lieutenant for Oxfordshire and President of the Oxfordshire Community Foundation, said: “I was thrilled that The Earl of Wessex could visit Oxford Hub. It is a wonderful initiative bringing students and the local community together.”
Hertford student and Hub volunteer Rachel Nichols met Prince Edward and said: “He was keen to hear how students are getting involved in the local community and really making a difference.”
The Prince’s visit was the first royal visit to Oxford in 2012 and comes shortly after the Duchess of Cornwall’s visit to Queen’s College last term.
The manager of Oxford Hub, Rachel Stephenson, was thrilled that he had visited the charity, explaining: “He told us about his time at Cambridge and how he found it important to get out of the university bubble through joining groups, just like students here who volunteer through Oxford Hub. Overall he really enjoyed the event and lunch at Turl Street Kitchen. Maybe next time he’ll bring the whole family down!” Rachel also added: “We are always looking for new volunteers”.
category: Interesting Articles
Thursday, 12 January 2012
Film Review: Haywiretweet this!
Gina Carano stars as a covert operative who proceeds to whup a succession of macho leading men in addition to assorted anonymous foes.
Imagine an entire action film dedicated to the proposition that every fight possesses the intensity of the classic Sean Connery-Robert Shaw to-the-death scrap in From Russia With Love and you’ll know what Haywire is all about. With all the feel of a vacation from more high-minded and ambitious projects, Steven Soderbergh celebrates making his 25th feature film within 22 years with a kick-ass international action romp toplining mixed martial arts star Gina Carano as a covert operative who proceeds to whup a succession of macho leading men in addition to assorted anonymous foes; she’s Pepper to Angelina’s Salt. World-premiered as a surprise sneak preview at Hollywood’s AFI Fest, this Relativity release should enjoy a solid commercial career with action-seeking male and female audiences upon its Jan. 20 release.
A handsome, black-haired hardbody who wears an evening dress as easily as she does a hoodie, Carano exudes the sort of self-confidence and physical wherewithal that leaves no doubt she can prevail in any situation. This is essential because the film rides upon one’s certainty that her character, Mallory Kane, an international troubleshooter assigned to off-the-books missions, can take out virtually any guy in mano a mano combat. Soderbergh shoots her half-a-dozen or so fight scenes without doubles or cheat editing, emphasizing his star’s abilities to the extent that the semblance and extremity of the combat’s reality becomes the film’s entire raison d’etre.
In this, Haywire entirely and winningly succeeds. In one sequence, she chases a young man across half of Barcelona until she catches up with him and lets him have it. Elsewhere, she bounces off walls, leaps from one building to another, employs a devastating leg lock, exhibits extraordinary backward driving skills, shoots unerringly, slams guys into assorted hard surfaces, knows just where to kick and, once, sensing she’s met a physical complement, makes out with a young hunk.
Soderbergh and scenarist Lem Dobbs, who previously wrote Kafka and The Limey for the director, seem keen to admit that the action scenes are the point of the film, content to construct a plainly generic story around them. It’s a straight revenge tale, with Mallory fighting her way through assorted muscle-bound, well-armed and otherwise formidable obstacles in order to find out who set her up for assassination after she pulled off the Barcelona job.
The script makes no attempt to assert its plausibility or realism; it is, instead, refreshingly frank about what it is, a simple, workable framework for the melees and mayhem.
Haywire gets right down to the business in the opening scene, a very rough tussle between Mallory and an agent (Channing Tatum) with whom she has history. Escaping in a car with a freaked-out young man named Scott (Michael Angarano), she relates what’s led up to this tense moment, beginning with the Barcelona caper, which Mallory pulled off with great panache.
Mallory’s point man (Ewan McGregor, with a very dorky haircut) then sends her to Dublin on unwanted arm-candy duty with another operative, the dashing Paul (Michael Fassbender, in glamor-boy mode). The two are very well matched physically, in their sophistication and their ruthlessness, which becomes apparent when Paul, instead of putting the make on her, tries to kill her. Their prolonged struggle, which demolishes a suite at the Shelbourne Hotel, is a tour de force for the performers, director and whoever else helped work out all the moves.
Now knowing she’s been betrayed, Mallory dedicates herself to getting back to the U.S., but must first contend with a platoon of agents who chase her through the streets and across the rooftops of Dublin. Her international travel difficulties conveniently skipped over, the yarn rejoins the present-day as Mallory and Scott’s getaway is abruptly ended so as to force the story to the grand New Mexico home of Mallory’s father (a very good Bill Paxton). It turns out Mallory is just a daddy’s girl after all, the daughter of a former Marine (as she is, too) who is now a renowned author of modern warfare nonfiction. The house becomes the setting for film’s rough penultimate battle before Mallory settles up accounts with her superiors, who also include the smooth top man played by Michael Douglas and a more shadowy figure portrayed by Antonio Banderas, mostly in a bushy graying beard.
The fine use of locations, elegantly mobile shooting style and hair-trigger editing are all in line with what one expects from Soderbergh. But here the generally larky but serious-when-it-needs-to-be tone is set by the wildly diverse musical contributions of David Holmes, whose film score-sampling background and blues-and-jazz techno orientation yield many different flavors to occasionally jarring but overall bouyant effect.
As solid as all the male actors are, in the end the show belongs to Soderbergh, who took a risk with a largely untested leading lady, and Carano, whose shoulders, and everything else, prove plenty strong enough to carry the film. The director shrewdly determined what she could and perhaps couldn’t do, and she delivered with a turn that makes other actresses who have attempted such roles, no matter how toned and buff they became, look like pretenders.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: The Darkest Hourtweet this!
Apocalyptic fantasy goes to Russia in The Darkest Hour, an alien invasion flick that evidently expects dramatic shots of a depopulated Red Square to make up for a flatlining screenplay and the absence of even a single compelling character. Some diverting effects work and a puzzling (if badly developed) premise may keep audiences from throwing in the towel, but ho-hum word-of-mouth should lead to quickly fizzling box office.
After his intriguing twist on biohazard drama in 2006's Right at Your Door, director Chris Gorak is slavishly obedient to genre expectations here, finding no way to enliven a by-the-numbers survival tale. (Here's hoping Darkest Hour is no indication of what we can expect from screenwriter Jon Spaihts's next credit, the Alien spinoff Prometheus.)
American buddies played by Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella are hitting on two tourists (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor) when a blackout strikes Moscow. Countless small, effervescent clouds descend from the sky, soaking up all electricity and vaporizing any biological entity they can find.
After waiting out the invasion's first stage in a storeroom, the quartet (and a craven hanger-on) decide to head for the American embassy. Though the invaders are invisible except when attacking and make no sound, the kids manage some implausibly astute deductions about how they operate: the vaporous creatures can't sense humans through glass (huh?), and whenever they're nearby, electrical devices spring to life. (The latter fact allows for some nice visual cues involving lightbulb-strewn battlegrounds.)
For one brief sequence, this silliness almost comes to life: Our heroes meet a grizzled, pot-bellied tinkerer who has turned his apartment into a Faraday cage, protecting himself from electro-sensitive aliens while perfecting a microwave raygun he thinks will make them vulnerable. As the inventor, Dato Bakhtadze promises to enliven a wooden ensemble (whose capable young actors have nothing to work with, scriptwise), but the film dispenses with him minutes after his arrival.
Producer Timur Bekmambetov, who created the nonsensical but stylistically imaginative supernatural epics Night Watch and Day Watch, might be expected to bring the film some homebrew quirks, or at least a convincing grime. But outside of Bakhtadze's lair and the funny conductive armor worn by a small band of Russian military survivors (the leader wears chainmail made of stitched-together housekeys), the picture suffers from an oppressive ordinariness. Action beats grow more effective as the short tale nears its climax - though Hirsch's sudden insights into electrical engineering are tough to swallow - but any goodwill evaporates with a shrugworthy denouement, in which a twentysomething's ability to receive text messages is proffered as cause for celebration.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Shametweet this!
The British artist Steve McQueen stormed the film world in 2008 with ‘Hunger’, his film about the death of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. His second film, ‘Shame’, sees Michael Fassbender as a New York bachelor who has a complicated relationship with his sexuality and Carey Mulligan as the younger sister who imposes a rare visit on his Manhattan life. It’s a slightly more conventional film than ‘Hunger’ (no extended floor-washing scenes here) but no less courageous or probing in its investigation of the extremes of human behaviour.
You may hear this described as a film about sex addiction, but that makes ‘Shame’ sound like an ‘issue’ film, which it isn’t. It’s a character study about a man whose sex drive is an outlet for unspoken, unknown agonies. Fassbender is Brandon, a casually slick, charming but reticent man who lives alone in an ordered, characterless flat and works in an aggressively male corporate environment. Away from the stark routines of his working life, he enjoys random encounters with women (and, once, a man), hires prostitutes, indulges in porn and masturbates at work. His ease masks troubles at which this story, set over just a few days, only hints.
McQueen frames episodes in Brandon’s life in a steely, unflinching style, neither gratuitous nor coy. He takes us into various bedrooms and under various sheets but sidesteps eroticism even when bums and breasts are bouncing furiously. There are scenes of startling intensity, such as when Brandon catches the eye of a stranger on a train and we follow their intricate rush-hour flirtation or when we catch him jogging through the city in a single shot. There’s one virtuoso sequence in which McQueen cuts between a fight outside a bar, its aftermath and the flirty encounter that precipitates it.
Brandon’s volatile sister, Sissy (Mulligan), comes to stay, and their relationship is awkward. She thinks nothing of taking Brandon's married work colleague (James Badge Dale) back to her brother’s apartment and bed. Brandon holds her at a distance, yet Sissy crawls under his duvet at night seeking comfort (he screams at her to leave), and when she disturbs him wanking in his bathroom he rushes out in anger and leaps on her, naked apart from a towel around his waist. Mulligan has a mesmerising scene in which she sings a slow version of ‘New York, New York’ in a city bar and McQueen lingers long on her face. You imagine that she and Brandon shared a trauma as kids – but imagining is all we can do. McQueen gives little away. He wants us to judge behaviour not backstories.
The film leaves us with a sense of cycles repeating. There’s a welcome absence of closure, although it’s a shame McQueen and writer Abi Morgan are not bold enough to leave Brandon and Sissy’s immediate story hanging in the same way: they round off with an event that is too conclusive for the film that precedes it. An alternative, subtler climax lies tantalisingly close.
That might trouble in the moment, but it doesn’t sink the film. Far from it. Like ‘Hunger’, ‘Shame’ is interested in the stark immediacy of one man’s world and drawing us into that world without easy explanations. It’s a work that feels, both for our times and of them. It reconfirms McQueen as a filmmaker with an unflinching, microscopic gaze on the world.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadowstweet this!
A crippled veteran, returning to London from Afghanistan and forced to live on a small pension, finds a flatmate who turns out to be a drug addict. They become close friends and this other man eventually tells the ex-soldier that Britain is heading for disaster but will emerge "a cleaner, better, stronger land" and suggests they rush to the bank to cash a cheque before its signatory reneges. The subject of this highly topical story is, as you've probably guessed, Dr John H Watson, narrator of the Sherlock Holmes stories. He's well played by Jude Law in Guy Ritchie's second Holmes movie as a sensible, intelligent, reliable chap, even if he too readily explodes or expostulates when confronted by his flatmate's outrageous behaviour.
But while the film's art director and costume designer give us an attractive version of late Victorian society, Robert Downey Jr's Holmes is from the end of the next century. His stubble is not even of the designer kind, his dress what passes now as "smart casual". The introspective, contemplative, ratiocinative, philosophic aspect of Holmes gets obscured as Ritchie turns him into a 21st-century man of action in the mould of Indiana Jones and Daniel Craig's ultra-tough James Bond. We know that Holmes practised the martial art known as baritsu, but Downey has the fighting skills of an SAS trooper, the agility of a trapeze artist, the stamina of a long-distance runner and the physique of a man with a personal trainer. Like Bond, he endures pain and torture as he's beaten by thugs, injected by deadly poisons and suspended by a meat hook stuck into his chest.
The background mood is right, a complacent, seemingly optimistic 1890s bustling with energy, but with something dangerous rumbling underneath that is more than the tube station being built near 221B Baker Street. A vast conspiracy is being launched by the great mathematician Professor Moriarty, but only Holmes can do the maths necessary to realise that all the bombings and assassinations around Europe are part of the Napoleon of crime's plan to foment war between France and Germany. The aim apparently is to make the professor rich through his recently established control of armament factories that will eventually fulfil his megalomaniac ambitions. But while the intrigue is persuasive and related to many of the concerns of fin-de-siècle politics and the melodramatic literature of the period, the nonstop action is very much of our current cinema. The movie begins with a vast explosion in Strasbourg followed by similar pyrotechnics in London, Paris and Germany, which punctuate endless chases, fights on trains and battles that result in a body count that anticipates the world war Holmes seeks to avert.
The frenzy is actually increased by the device of sudden flashbacks using high-speed editing to explain how the great detective-chessmaster had anticipated, then executed, a succession of clever moves that resulted in the violent triumph we've just witnessed. There is not, however, too much time in this high-octane narrative for the development of character. Naturally, the women don't get their due. Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), the love of Holmes's life, appears fleetingly. In a major comic coup that makes the audience draw its breath and laugh heartlessly, Holmes throws Watson's wife from a train as it crosses a viaduct at night. Noomi Rapace, the striking heroine from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, stalks mysteriously through the picture as a fortune teller as if she'd been told to think she's appearing in the gypsy encampment sequence in From Russia With Love. The three Ms – Moriarty, Moran and Mycroft – come out rather better.
The screenwriters, Michele and Kieran Mulroney, have drawn on Conan Doyle's novel The Valley of Fear for Moriarty's character and background, and on the story "The Final Problem" for the film's climactic encounter between Moriarty and Holmes at an anachronistically named "summit conference" beside the Reichenbach Falls. And Jared Harris plays him as a ratty or foxy type, rather different from the gaunt senior undertaker depicted by Sidney Paget in The Strand Magazine. The ex-army marksman turned assassin Colonel Sebastian Moran is a forceful presence as played by Paul Anderson. Stephen Fry has the right portly build and detached manner for Holmes's older brother, the establishment fixer Mycroft (a part in which Christopher Lee was wholly miscast in Billy Wilder's Holmes movie). He is, however, embarrassing when conducting a breakfast-time conversation with Watson's wife while naked, and he introduces an unnecessarily camp element by addressing Holmes as "Sherly", presumably a reference to the famous "and stop calling me Shirley" joke in Airplane!. Hans Zimmer's melodramatic score incorporates arias from Mozart's Don Giovanni and a jaunty Morricone theme from Two Mules for Sister Sara.
Watching this movie, I was constantly thinking of my friend and colleague, the brilliant wit, critic, novelist, translator and pasticheur Gilbert Adair, who died 10 days ago. Especially his postmodern trilogy of parodic detective stories which conclude at a Sherlock Holmes conference in Meiringen, where Adair himself plunges into the Reichenbach Falls with his own central character. Adair calls non-canonical Watson narratives "Schlock Holmes", but the final book in his series, And Then There Was No One, contains the best Holmes pastiche ever written, a 30-page re-creation of The Giant Rat of Sumatra, a tale referred to by Watson in "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" and called "a story for which the world is not yet prepared". I must declare a slight personal interest here, as there's a pretentious movie critic in the book called Philippe Françaix.
category: Film Reviews
Friday, 06 January 2012
Film Review: Goontweet this!
Brutal, bloody and presided over by a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen, the Canadian ice hockey in this movie is a cross between Rollerball and a prison riot: harking back to the robust certainties of Paul Newman's 1977 bonecruncher Slap Shot. It's a surprisingly watchable, big-hearted yet unsentimental film about a dumb lunk called Doug Glatt, played by Seann William Scott, who has filled out a bit since his American Pie days. Watching a hockey match with his buddy Pat (Jay Baruchel), Doug becomes a local hero for getting into a fight with a player and winds up getting hired on a semi-pro team as a "goon", a violent brawler whose only job is to protect the talented players from getting hospitalised by opponents – by hospitalising them first. Doug's big enemy is veteran bruiser Ross Rhea (Liev Schrieber) with whom he gets an eve-of-battle meeting over coffee, like De Niro and Pacino in Heat. It's a cheerfully crass film but put together with chutzpah, and Alison Pill (Zelda Fitzgerald in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris) is unpretentiously engaging as Eva, the girl with whom poor Doug falls in love.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: The Iron Ladytweet this!
Poor Margaret Thatcher: her transformation into biopic drag queen is now complete. Daringly, screenwriter Abi Morgan and director Phyllida Lloyd have made a movie about Baroness Thatcher's flashback-riddled dementia while their subject is still alive. Britain's most important and controversial postwar prime minister has been recast – rather like Judi Dench's Iris Murdoch 10 years ago – into a bewildered old lady cherished in dramatic terms for her poignant vulnerability and decline, rather than for the mature achievements of her pomp. And, like the screen Iris, she is paired off with kindly Jim Broadbent.
Margaret is played with cunning and gusto by Meryl Streep, and it is a pious critical convention to praise performances like these on the grounds that they go beyond mere impersonation. I'm not entirely certain that Streep does go beyond mere impersonation, but also not certain that there is anything "mere" about it in any case. Technically brilliant mimicking of this standard is much rarer than run-of-the-mill good acting. Meryl Streep's Margaret is very good, though perhaps no better than Andrea Riseborough's portrayal in the BBC drama Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley. Where Streep scores is in her studied imagining of Thatcher's old age, the deterioration, the gaze blurring, the tics and mannerisms decelerating and disintegrating, though like many Hollywood stars doing British accents she can do the slow and deep registers but not the quick chirrup of a certain type of high-flown Englishwoman. For example, Roger Allam here plays Gordon Reece famously instructing the callow Mrs Thatcher in how to change her voice and make it lower. The Prime Minister's Speech, if you will. But actually it doesn't sound all that much different afterwards.
Well, the Meryl Maggie is a very enjoyable and effective turn, effusively and rightly praised by all that have seen it. (The critic Henry Fitzherbert recently asked me to imagine how the American press would react if some British actor-liberal played the Alzheimer's-ridden Ronald Reagan while the Gipper was still alive. They might have been less positive.)
Margaret Thatcher is here an elderly, lonely widow, being kept under virtual house-arrest at a grand London address. She has secretaries and assistants who maintain a light schedule of appearances and photo-ops. At a dinner party she is heard to deride coalitions, yet refers affectionately to the current prime minister as a "bit of a smoothie" – a nice touch, and perhaps a hint of her Cecil Parkinson infatuation. She is attended to by her harassed daughter, Carol (Olivia Colman), but chiefly worries about when and whether to throw away suits belonging to her late husband Denis, who appears to her when she is alone, a cheerful dream-ghost played by Broadbent, Philip to her Elizabeth, telling her to come off it and generally buck up.
News of a terrorist bomb-blast in south Asia triggers memories of the IRA's 1984 Brighton Grand Hotel attack, and Margaret finds herself carried back into the past: her arrival into the Commons (played as a young woman by Alexandra Roach), becoming leader, the 1979 victory, the Falkands, the miners' strike, the Ronald Reagan love-in (very brief, this), the City boom and finally the inevitable 1990 leadership crisis with Anthony Head and Richard E Grant playing Howe and Heseltine. Margaret Thatcher's fear of being "swamped by an alien culture" is very much not mentioned, and neither is her less-than-enthusiastic attitude to Nelson Mandela. The film missed a comic trick in omitting Margaret Thatcher's EU budget rebate victory in 1984, her most spectacular triumph over foreigners since Port Stanley.
Basically, this is a defanged, declawed, depoliticised Margaret Thatcher, whom we are invited to admire on the feeble grounds that she is tougher and gutsier than the men. Yet on the rare occasions when the film does allow her to become nastily political, this Margaret comes alive. At the dinner party, she is asked for her opinion on the current terrorist attacks; after pausing long enough to let the guests squirm with embarrassment, she swims back into focus with a potently non-PC speech about how evil has never been more patient or more avid, and that "western civilisation" must keep up the battle. No balanced pieties about freedom and democracy, just a cool insistence on evil on the one hand and western civilisation on the other. Later, one of the Tory guests, played by Amanda Root, literally kneels before the seated Margaret to say how much she admires her, and a droll Mrs Thatcher, every inch the informal stateswoman, says that nowadays people feel, don't think. Amanda Root's character is glowing with what Alan Clark called the Führerkontakt, the thrill of being in Mrs Thatcher's presence.
There is little actual Kontakt in this film: too benign and celebratory. But it finds an interesting comic register in Margaret Thatcher, a note of distress and self-pity, loneliness and anxiety. Meryl Streep has done more for her than any spin-doctor.
category: Film Reviews
Film Review: The Artisttweet this!
What better way could one year end and another start than with a pair of charming, funny, moving films celebrating the cinema itself? Three weeks ago Martin Scorsese gave us Hugo, a deeply felt picture about the creation of the cinema in France during the final years of the 19th century. Now the French cineaste Michel Hazanavicius returns the compliment with the complementary The Artist, about the coming of sound to Hollywood. The directors of the Nouvelle Vague were born around the time the talkies began. Hazanavicius was born seven years after Truffaut's Les quatre cents coups and Godard's Breathless but is as steeped in movies as they were. His first feature film, La classe américaine, which I haven't seen, was apparently compiled entirely of clips from old Warner Brothers films, re-edited and dubbed into French. His next two, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio, both of which I've seen and didn't think much of, were rather coarse spoofs of 1960s espionage pictures. His new film is a fully achieved work, stylistically at least, and a great leap forward.
From time to time moviemakers have attempted to recapture silent cinema. Anthony Mann, who grew up in the silent era, announced in the mid-1960s that his war film, The Heroes of Telemark, was going to be almost devoid of dialogue, but he was talked out of it. A decade later Mel Brooks made Silent Movie, a strained comedy with one really effective joke: Marcel Marceau is the only person to speak, and has one word, "Non!". Hazanavicius is altogether bolder, more original. The Artist is in black-and-white and is genuinely silent. Set between 1927 and 1933, it focuses on the relationship between the handsome, narcissistic George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), an established movie star, and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a pert actress on her way to stardom. The opening sequence takes place at the premiere of George's latest adventure film, "A Russian Affair", in which he appears with his gifted performing Jack Russell terrier, and we see both the silent movie itself and the silent orchestra and mute black-tie audience in the cinema. The outrageously self-regarding George then takes an onstage bow, largely ignoring his angry female co-star, before greeting fans on the sidewalk outside the cinema where he meets cute with Peppy. There are references here to similar scenes in Singin' in the Rain. George's name echoes Valentino, and his appearance is a wonderful combination of Gene Kelly, John Gilbert and Douglas Fairbanks (later on he actually watches a clip of Fairbanks's The Mark of Zorro). Peppy's name and appearance inevitably invoke Clara Bow, the It Girl with the cloche hats and provocative manner
The pair meet again when she appears in a small role at his studio where they dance before the camera, fall for each other and part without declaring their love. Then sound comes to Hollywood and the industry is transformed, a crisis marked by a surreally comic sequence in which George hears objects around him making noises. Passing girls chatter, a feather falls with a mighty explosion, but he himself is silent, unspeaking and, as he perceives himself, unspeakable. Like Chaplin he decides to buck the trend and continue making silent films, writing, directing and financing his own work. Hazanavicius provides two striking metaphors. First, George meets Peppy on the staircase of what is, I believe, the Bradbury Building, that classic late-Victorian block in downtown Los Angeles with a magnificent atrium, from where the camera frames three floors, catching her going up as he's going down. Second, George's first production, a jungle adventure yarn called "Tears of Love", ends with him sinking into quicksands, a forecast of the disaster that lies ahead.
From here on, Hazanavicius reworks none too subtly A Star is Born as the hero's career goes into freefall while the devoted heroine, her career in the ascendant, looks anxiously on. But he manages simultaneously to maintain not merely a balance between comedy and pathos but to enact both simultaneously. There are references to the crumbling affair between John Gilbert and Greta Garbo (Peppy actually says "I want to be alone"); from Citizen Kane the director borrows the famous mealtime montage marking the erosion of a marriage; and Bernard Herrmann's principal theme from Hitchcock's Vertigo runs behind an extended sequence in which a life is similarly reconstructed and transformed. But to enjoy the film and experience its account of love, loss and recovery, you don't need to recognise the sources of the various homages. And while never mocking the material he's working with, Hazanavicius doesn't take himself with a seriousness that could commit him to a tragic conclusion. Or at least he agrees with the famous remark the novelist William Dean Howells made to Edith Wharton when cheering her up after the failure of a Broadway play she'd written: "What the American public wants… is a tragedy with a happy ending."
Dujardin and Bejo are witty and affecting, both pitch perfect (if such a term can be used of silent performances). Equally good in support are James Cromwell as George's devoted chauffeur and John Goodman as the gruff studio boss, whose suits and haircut recall Millard Mitchell in Singin' in the Rain. Uggy, who plays George's Jack Russell, is up there with Rin Tin Tin and Skippy, the dog who played Asta, Nick and Nora Charles's wire-haired fox terrier in The Thin Man.
category: Film Reviews
Wednesday, 04 January 2012
Latest opportunity to sign up to performing arts courses at Pegasustweet this!
On Thursday January 12th Pegasus is holding the latest Registration Evening to sign up for performing arts courses running from April to July at the venue.
Pegasus run a range of courses and classes throughout the year running during school term times for young people from as young as 6 years old to 19 years and adults. The current year’s theme for classes and courses links in with the UK’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Taking the essence of the Olympic spirit “to build a better world and to reach for a dream”. Most courses running from April will lead to a platform performance in July End of the Rainbow that will feature a number of short performances including drama, dance, music and visual art and craft. A design and technical theatre course will be involved in creating costumes, props, scenery as well as the technical running of the shows.
The Arts Award is a 6 week course in February and March leading to a Bronze award. With professional tutors focus is given to skills sharing and development as well as critical analysis. The award is given through Trinity College London and Arts Council England.
The following courses are available:
Design and Technical for 11-16 years (Mondays from 16 April)
Music for 12-19 years (Mondays from 16 April)
Dance for 11-16 years (Tuesdays from 17 April)
Drama for 11-15 years (Wednesdays from 18 April)
Drama and Dance for 6-7 years (Thursdays from 19 April)
Drama and Dance for 8-10 years (Thursdays from 19 April)
Street Dance for 11-14 years (Fridays from 20 April)
Drama and Music for 6-7 years (Saturday from 21 April)
Drama and Music for 8-10 years (Saturday from 21 April)
Arts Award for 12-19 years (Wednesdays from 22 February)
At Pegasus, Magdalen Road, Oxford OX4 1RE
Thursday 12 January 5pm (for 6-10 year olds)
Thursday 12 January 6.30pm (for 11-19 year olds and adults)
Box Office 01865 812 150
Pegasus website http://www.pegasustheatre.org.uk
category: Interesting Articles