Newsletter Signup

Newsletter Signup


Are You a Fan?

We occasionally give away free goodies to our fans and friends.

FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Categories

Recent Articles

Archives

Syndication:

rss feed


Blog

Monday, 30 April 2012

Freshest food ready for the whole community

     

A new Community and Farmers’ Market opens at 1pm on Friday week at the West Oxford Community centre, off Botley Road, thanks to the enterprising Caroline Casey, who is determined to stage an event that fulfils the need of another local community.

For more than a year Caroline has driven past the centre on her way into Oxford from Witney. Gradually, she began to see it as a really splendid venue for a market, as it offers both a large hall and space outside for traders to set up stalls. As the site includes a well-equipped children’s playground and a delightful little café, she is confident that all the basics are in place. Now all she needs are plenty of producers prepared to sell their products and food enthusiasts that are keen to buy local.

Caroline has been involved in catering all her working life and once became a market trader herself, selling delicious home-made soups. She loved the challenge of trading directly to the public and the buzz that community markets generate. Hence her decision to try to set up one in the Botley/Osney area.

She has managed to book the community centre for the first Friday every month, and has already managed to sign up more than 20 producers, confident that there will be even more by the time the market opens.

Caroline said: “The East Oxford Community market has already proved popular, and was even short-listed for the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme awards. The Botley area is crying out for a similar market; it’s up to me to make it work.”

Jeanette Howse is helping Caroline get the market established. The two got to know each other at Wolvercote Farmers’ Market. She said that they often shared produce. “Caroline makes syrups and vinegars and I use her pulp to make chutneys.”

Jeanette began making jam when she was seven. She said that in her youth she used to go blackberrying and her mum would make apple and blackberry pie. But she could never manage to make jam, so Jeanette used to make it instead.

She said: “It was only a year ago that I discovered why her jam wouldn’t set. Mum constantly stirred the pot of bubbling jam which stopped the mix boiling and thickening.

“When I was older, I started making jams and chutneys for sale at the Didcot Railway Centre, where I ran the catering as a volunteer, using fruit that grew on the site. John Thaw was one of my first customers, as he was filming Morse there at the time, and liked to take home home-made jams such as blackberry and apple for his wife Sheila.

“Then, as a member of Didcot Chamber of Commerce, I organised a Christmas event, and began selling my jams and chutneys at craft fairs.”

Jeanette helped organise the first farmers’ market in Didcot and things have gone on from there, which means she is well qualified to help Caroline get the West Oxford market under way.

The community centre café was taken over by 30-year-old Ailsa Youngson a month ago. It had always been her dream to run her own café, which she now opens six days a week, serving drinks and treats like slices of hot toast smothered with butter and honey, created from bread she makes herself There is also a delightful assortment of home-made cakes. She also serves light lunches. Teas are available in the afternoon.

Naturally she is delighted to discover that on the first Friday of every month she may get extra customers and is already planning a market menu composed of dishes she has cooked herself.

Certainly the café will be worth a visit if you are tempted to attend the first market on Friday, May 4.

Among the produce at the new market you will find freshly-baked bread, cakes, and savouries prepared by Cuisine Bread, Witney, who also bake amazing speciality cakes to order.

Jeanette will be selling her delicious pickles and jams at the market, which are simply amazing. You will never find jams like hers in the supermarkets - they are unique and made from the purest local ingredients.

The Oxford Delhi will be there, too, selling their contemporary interpretation of authentic Moghul cuisine which is made (where possible) with organic ingredients and without artificial colouring, preservatives or GM ingredients.

Mayfield eggs, laid by happy hens roaming free in green fields at New Yatt, will also be on sale, besides stalls with vegetables, and displays by other traders.


By Helen Peacocke

category: Interesting Articles

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Film Review: African Cats

     

Unlike the majority of animal documentaries, Disneynature usually takes a story-led approach to its wildlife films. Their latest, ‘African Cats’, directed by former BBC Natural History Unit stalwarts Alastair Forthergill and Keith Scholey, centres on a pride of Masai Mara lions. In typical anthropomorphic fashion, the filmmakers give the lions names like Fang, Mara and Layla and aim to further tap into our emotions by framing their behaviour within a scripted fiction. This may help younger kids feel some empathy for the creatures on screen, but it’s not so welcome for those of us who prefer to knock back our nature films straight no chaser.

Still, directors Fothergill and Scholey’s ‘Lion King’-style tale is fluidly structured and not without moments of tension and drama. Where ‘African Cats’ falters is in the telling: the dialogue is a stinker and Samuel L Jackson’s voiceover is too earnest and fatherly, as if he’s reading a bedtime story. But hats off to the camera operators who have captured some astonishing wildlife imagery.


By Derek Adams

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Avengers Assemble

     

There has already been a great deal of praise for writer/director Joss Whedon's handling of the epic Marvel mash-up Avengers Assemble (2012), and it's easy to see why. Drawing together a group of impressive Marvel heroes - most of whom have had their own film(s) over the past five years - is no easy task, especially if you are also trying to appeal to a bigger market than simply comic book geeks. Thankfully, Whedon has successfully achieved this feat with humour, action and sheer spectacle.

The banished God of Asgaard, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), has come to earth in order to rain down terror with the aid of an incredible powerful artefact, the Tesseract, which will allow him to open a portal for an invading alien race. Fortunately, the steely mind of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) has a plan to bring together Earth's Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), in order to thwart Loki's evil master plan. The problem is that heroes have big egos and they don't always play nice - but will they finally come together to save (or avenge) the Earth?

Central to the success of this Hollywood blockbuster is its sheer simplicity. Whedon might be a self-confessed comic book geek of epic proportions (sometimes it isn't good to get what you want) but the real reason he was brought in is that he understands characters, a fact demonstrated in the much underrated Firefly, it's big-screen spin-off Serenity (2005) and of course Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Understanding characters means that he understands what makes for a tremendously enjoyable film, jam-packed with heroes that millions know and love. Perhaps most satisfying of all is the way Whedon has crafted the definitive Bruce Banner/Hulk character, expertly portrayed by Ruffalo (with the help of ILM motion capture), who does well to bounce off the playboy wit of Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark.

The action in Avengers Assemble is simply breathtaking. The final action scene, which runs for over half-an-hour, is awe-inspiring in its proportions, with audiences able to witness Manhattan brought to its knees as the half-dozen heroes desperately fight to save it. These impressive final scenes, along with some fantastic comic moments as the heroes squabble in the way only superheroes can, make for a great popcorn action film.

Avengers Assemble is neither hugely sophisticated nor subtle, but is all the better for it. This is a back-to-basics, purist's action movie that should leave audiences fully satisfied, something that none of the previous Marvel films has ever truly achieved. Make sure you also stay in your seats for a mouth-watering post-credits surprise.


By Joe Walsh

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Albert Nobbs

     

One look at Albert Nobbs and you can tell he's not your typical 19th-century butler. Painfully shy, the little man keeps such a low profile, it seems as if he's trying to disappear into the wallpaper - with good reason. In "Albert Nobbs," the pic's namesake isn't a man at all, but a lady so marginalized by male-dominated Irish society she fashioned a new identity for herself, one that comes with a pricetag of subterfuge and loneliness. It's a career-crowning role for Glenn Close. Too bad the film is such a drag, unlikely to break out beyond the arthouse circuit.

The fact that the picture exists at all is a testament to Close's perseverance. After earning rave reviews in the role Off Broadway in 1982, the petite powerhouse actress began looking for ways to bring George Moore's original novella to the screen. Less than a decade ago, she picked up traction with a version that would have been overseen by Hungarian helmer Istvan Szabo (who retains a story credit), but the project fell through, delaying Close's passion project until she could find a director.

Her eventual match, Rodrigo Garcia, has made a career of telling femme-centric stories (from "Nine Lives" to "Mother and Child") and saw in Moore's tale of the poor "old perhapser" a rich opportunity to examine Victorian gender roles through modern eyes. Like much of Garcia's earlier work, however, "Albert Nobbs" is corseted into an intellectually conceptual format where the ideas prove far more engaging than the execution.

As such, the Nobbs we meet onscreen is not so much a character as a construct, so repressed that the film's lone emotional breakthrough occurs during a scene in which the usually joyless Nobbs, who hasn't worn ladies' attire in decades, finally dons a full-length dress and runs free on a deserted beach. It's an exhilarating moment in an otherwise claustrophobic piece that offers ample opportunity to admire Close's performance but little reason to identify with her character's fate.

The trouble starts when housepainter Hubert Page (Janet McTeer, a brassy counterweight to Close's tightly wound turn) stops by Morrison's Hotel, where Nobbs has spent the last few years collecting tips and storing them beneath a loose floorboard in her room. The proprietress (a clucky old flirt played by Pauline Collins) insists Mr. Nobbs share his bed with Mr. Page for the night, a nerve-wracking arrangement during which the old servant manages to blow her own secret. What Nobbs doesn't suspect - but audiences can tell at first glance - is that Page has also been passing as a man.

Nobbs is agog to find someone else perpetrating the same deception, and yet the discovery opens up all sorts of possibilities she'd never considered. For instance, Page describes how she left her abusive husband and shacked up with another lonely woman willing to help keep her cover, encouraging Nobbs to do the same. But how does someone in Nobbs' position find a woman to share her secret? And is love even possible with someone who's repressed her every emotion for so long?

Masculinized through seamless prosthetics, Close brings far more to the part than a boyish haircut, stiff upper lip and deepened voice; the role also calls for a heart-breaking denial of self. Peering into Close's eyes, we may not understand Nobbs' motives, but we sense just how much the character has sacrificed in order to reinvent herself in such a radical way. The film also captures what appear to be the first hints of a smile Nobbs may have ever experienced before the character embarks on a doomed-to-fail attempt to woo one of the hotel's maids, Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska). Nobbs' hesitant and respectful courtship is no match for the sweaty rutting Helen is already getting from the building's grease-smeared handyman (Aaron Johnson), who sees opportunity in the old butler's advances.

Directing his first period piece, Garcia does a fine job of evoking the era, while only partially managing to convey the circumstances that make Nobbs such a magnet for misery. "Albert Nobbs" is relatively unique among cross-dressing stories in that it takes the form of tragedy rather than full-blown farce. A wee bit of humor would have gone a long way in this dour affair, and the few glimpses we get of Victorian vice (an alcoholic butler sneaking sips from guests' half-finished glasses, the sight of Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a wealthy viscount with same-sex persuasions) are scarcely enough to salvage the slow-motion inevitability of looming misfortune.


By PETER DEBRUGE

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Lucky One

     

In "The Lucky One," an occasionally shirtless Zac Efron lifts heavy things, plays the piano, reads "Moby Dick," bonds with a small child and fixes a tractor. Puppies lick his face.

If that got your pulse racing, or if you've bought a Tiger Beat magazine for yourself in the past year, go see "The Lucky One" (rated PG-13), the latest in a long line of treacly romances adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel.

If you've seen any of them before - such as "Dear John," "The Last Song" or the original gold standard, "The Notebook" - then you know what to expect: pretty people and schmaltz.

Efron stars as Logan, a U.S. Marine who narrowly avoids death when he ducks out of the line of fire to pick up a photograph of a beautiful blond woman left lying in the rubble. Logan credits the woman in the photo for saving his life. When he returns to the United States, he sets out to find his guardian angel.

It's not a long search. By the end of the opening credit sequence, he has found Beth (played by Taylor Schilling), a willowy single mother who operates a family-run dog kennel from her home.

Instead of telling her about the photo and how it saved his life, Logan ends up taking a job at the kennel.

The hunky Marine quickly wins over Beth's son (a chess-playing violinist) and her grandmother (played by the always charming Blythe Danner). It's not long before Beth finds herself drooling over Logan as he carries around big bags of dog food in tight shirts.

Romance (or at least lust disguised as romance) is in the air.

The problem? Beth's jealous ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson) is none too pleased to find a young guy with the body of a male underwear model wooing his ex, so he sets about sabotaging the budding romance.

Keith's the bad guy, by the way. And just to make doubly sure you root for Logan, the movie lays on the menace with a trowel.

A power-mad cop in a small Southern town with a judge for a daddy, the constantly scowling, muscle car-driving Keith pushes Beth around, threatens Logan and calls his son a sissy.

If Beth pursues Logan, he warns, he'll take custody of their son. The only way he could be any more villainous is if he had a sinister mustache to twirl.

Efron is a bona fide leading man now, and he ably carries the weight of the romance on his sculpted shoulders. Unfortunately, it's not much to carry.

The bags of dog food have more heft than this plodding, paint-by-the-numbers romance, and Efron isn't given much to do beyond look good in boxer briefs. All the soaking-wet outdoor-shower-sex scenes in the world can't make up for the lack of chemistry.

"The Lucky One" is cinematic junk food. It's "Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Movie," where every landscape shot has the warm glow of a Thomas Kinkade painting.

It plays lip service to the role of fate in our lives, occasionally waxing philosophical about destiny to pave over the script's more outrageous plot points.

But it's all empty calories, and little more than an excuse to watch Zac Efron play with puppies.


By Barbara Vandenburgh Gannett

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: American Pie: Reunion

     

Has Stifler's mom spent the last 13 years upstairs in her room, reclining on her chaise lounge, occasionally touching up her pink lipstick and waiting for one of her son's young friends to wander into her lair? I'm growing concerned for America's most iconic mother. When she made her first appearance in the "American Pie" movies, she landed like a blond bombshell. This time, when her son throws a party downstairs, and she still looks and behaves exactly the same, we get a sense of tragedy. I dread the thought that she has been sitting there for year after year, plumping up her cleavage and sexily brushing a lock of hair back from her eyes.

Stifler's mom (Jennifer Coolidge) and Stifler himself (Seann William Scott) seem to be trapped in a warp in time. The other members of the old high school gang, now in their early 30s, have moved on in one way or another. So much have they matured, indeed, that when three of the guys plan to get together three days early in the old hometown to get an early start on the class reunion, they actually don't even let Stifler know their plans. They still like the Stifmeister, but they keenly recall the trouble that he got them into in their previous meetings.

"American Pie" (1999), "American Pie 2" (2001) and "American Wedding" (2003) have made the cast so familiar that this movie actually feels sort of like our reunion with them. We get an update. Oz (Chris Klein) has become a sports expert on an ESPN-like channel. Jim and Michelle (Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan) are still married and have a baby boy as consolation for the fact that their sex life has ground to a halt. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has apparently morphed into an adventurer who scales mountains and roars through exotic nightclubs.

Though Jim is a straight-arrow type, he finds himself alarmingly aroused by Kara (Ali Cobrin), once the little neighbor he baby-sat, who's now disturbingly older and nubile.

Another familiar face is back: Jim's dad (Eugene Levy), who you may recall was all too willing to provide his son with tips on masturbation and other topics that Jim recoiled from. A film that seems to have been constructed by typing in cross-references to the earlier films, "American Reunion" breaks new ground in a way by dealing fearlessly with the famous Levy eyebrows; when a girl offers to thin them a little for a makeover, he gets defensive ("They're sort of a trademark"), but she is able to pluck enough hairs to stuff a pillow while making little visible difference.

The charm of "American Pie" was the relative youth and naivete of the characters. It was all happening for the first time, and they had the single-minded obsession with sex typical of many teenagers. "American Reunion" has a sense of deja vu, but it still delivers a lot of nice laughs.

Most of them for me came thanks to Stifler. Seann William Scott, who has a respectable career otherwise, has made the role of Stifler his own, and seems able to morph his face into an entirely new person: narrowed eyes, broad maniacial grin, frightening focus, still with all the zeal for seduction and adventure he had in high school. The ingenuity with which he destroys the jet skis of two jerks can only be admired.

"American Pie" (1999) became infamous for one of the ingredients in its titular pie. That recipe is reprised in the dialogue this time, too. In fact, "American Reunion" seems to depend so much on nostalgia for "Pie" history that I wonder if a first-timer to the series would feel a little out to sea. If you liked the earlier films, I suppose you gotta see this one. Otherwise, I dunno.


BY ROGER EBERT

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Marley

     

Even audiences for whom easing up to dutty riddims is not an habitual pursuit will get an intoxicating whiff of reggae’s soothing powers from Marley, Kevin Macdonald’s blissed-out but sharp-witted documentary about the genre’s indeposable king.

It’s hard to imagine any Bob Marley film, past or future, being more comprehensive than this: over two hours and 25 minutes, Macdonald, on far gentler form here than in his nerve-shredding climbing documentary Touching The Void, tracks his subject from the mist-wreathed hills of Jamaica’s Saint Ann Parish to international stardom, with digressions into his religious beliefs, professional struggles and busy love life.

Most of this comes from an admirably wide range of talking heads, with musical collaborators including Bunny Wailer and Lee 'Scratch’ Perry rubbing shoulders with friends, neighbours and Marley’s own children.

Some of the insight is fairly low-level (Marley’s mixed-race heritage made him an outsider; he turned to religion to find the father figure his real life lacked), but it’s all delivered with such rich, campfire-crackly conviction that the stories feel thrillingly intimate.

Unlike Asif Kapadia’s hugely successful Senna, Macdonald’s film has no video of its subject’s early life, largely because none exists. There is, however, some electrifying concert footage (the climax of the 1978 One Love Peace Concert is a doozy) and a host of black and white photographs: the perfect showcase for Marley’s inscrutable, Easter Island profile.

Bringing everything together, of course, is the music, which even to this reggae sceptic sounded glorious.


By Robbie Collin

category: Film Reviews

Friday, 20 April 2012

Theatre Review: Lord of the Flies

     

image

Whose side are you on? Jack, the choirboy, hunter and murderer, or Ralph, the schoolboy saviour? Whose side are you on is the question of the evening, as the audience of Eat My Box's adaptation of Lord of the Flies is asked to vote as they exit the performance, with the results tallied and posted on online daily.

Whose side was I on? Well I'd feel a bit awkward choosing Jack's, I have to be honest. He's not a very nice boy. The character, I mean. The actor who plays him, Scott Newman, did a great job portraying this public schoolboy choir prefect turned savage hunter and killer. In fact, all of the actors did a great job. Lord of the Flies is not an easy play to watch. It is a startling vision of humanity and the depths we can sink to given certain circumstances. I didn't enjoy reading the book when I was in school, but when I was invited to the opening night of the play, which was to be staged on the Castle mound, I couldn't resist.

Unfortunately for me, and for the producers, the weather wasn't very cooperative on opening night, and the play had to be moved indoors, to a small-ish room under the cafe at the castle. This meant that the play was enacted practically on my lap, and the actors, who have been practising projecting their voices in the large open courtyard of the Castle, sounded a bit on the loud side for the room.

For those who don't know, the story is of the young survivors of a plane crash who land on an island with no adults in site. In an attempt to create some sort of order, they choose a leader, who is quickly challenged, and before long, two opposing sides emerge, with very disturbing consequences. The roles are extremely physical, and the actors really go for it, wrestling, fighting, shouting, dancing, singing and chanting. They got filthy from climbing in and out of the window onto the mound, and a few of them had bruised and scabbed knees. These boys really threw themselves into their roles!

During the intermission, I asked two members of the production company what the staging would have been like had the weather been more dry, and they took me outside to show me. The performance would have been split into three acts. For the first two acts, the audience sits on the large stone steps facing the courtyard, while the actors make use of the large open space. For the third and final act, the audience follows the action up the mound to the top for the climax. I could picture how incredible that would be, as the setting outside is perfect for the story. I'm seriously considering going back on a nice night. Tickets can be bought in advance, but only for the number of seats that fit inside in bad weather. On a nice night, however, I recommend trying to buy on the door, as many more people can attend the outdoor performances.

Eat My Box Productions shows a lot of promise. This first play is brave and well done. I look forward to following them and their productions in the future.


For more information about Eat My Box or Lord of the Flies, visit the website.

Lord of the Flies runs from Thursday 19th - Saturday 28th April at the Oxford Castle Mound.

category: Theatre Reviews

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Vote today in the Big Oxfordshire Artweeks Poll

     

image

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Oxfordshire Artweeks, local web publishers Artistpublishers.com has launched an Oxfordshire-wide public vote for a piece of work being exhibited during Artweeks which particularly sums up living in the county.

30 artists taking part in Oxfordshire Artweeks have submitted a work of their choice – not necessarily a landscape but an image that captures the spirit of the county - for this competition.

Members of the public are being invited to view and vote for the work they feel most reflects Oxfordshire life in a poll taking place from 2nd April to 27th May.

You can vote in person - at Artweeks Taster Exhibition at the Jam Factory from 2-30th April or Online - @ www.artistpublishers.com

Those who place a vote, will be entered into a prize draw to win a beautiful print of one of the “30 Choices” on display while the winning artist will receive £300 worth of printing from Artistpublishers.com

imageEsther Browning, Executive Director of Oxfordshire Artweeks said: “This is a great opportunity for the Artweeks exhibitors and it is wonderful to see the 30 diverse representations of Oxfordshire showcased in this way. I am sure that the public will enjoy this surprising selection of images, that they’ll vote for the one that most captures their heart, and then take the opportunity to visit the artists’ exhibition during May to see more of their artwork.”

Artistpublishers.com is a unique virtual gallery showcasing the work of a fantastic and eclectic mix of working artists from Oxfordshire and throughout Britain.

This website gives artists the chance to “self-publish” their work and enables art lovers, shops and galleries to buy greetings cards and prints by Oxfordshire artists at the click of a button.

Simon Nutbrown from artistpublishers.com said: “We are delighted to be able to support Oxfordshire Artweeks in celebrating this milestone year and to help showcase to the public the wonderful breadth of work and artistic talent across the county. Local art and events such as Oxfordshire Artweeks are part of the lifeblood of the creative arts in this country and artistpublishers.com can help make this wonderful art more accessible through greeting cards and prints.”

imageRobin Wilson, one of the competition entrants exhibiting at the Natural History Museum and at The Strawbale Studio, Duns Tew said “I think artistpublishers.com is a great idea for artists because personally once I have finished a piece of art I move onto the next one and I don’t have the time to then market it. Artistpublishers.com helps me do this for me which is great. It is also a nice way to extend my art to a wider audience. Not everyone has the money to buy or space to display original pieces, but they would maybe buy a piece of my work in card or print formats.”

Rosie Fairfax -Cholmeley another entrant exhibiting at the National History Museum and Duns Tew near Bicester said “Artistpublishers.com helps improve the range of cards available to art lovers. Whenever you go into shops you tend to see the same ranges and this website broadens the range of cards available for individuals to buy and retailers to stock. It also gives local retailers a chance to stock cards by local artists.”


Visit www.artistpublishers.com to buy cards or prints featuring any of these works.

Oxfordshire Artweeks 2012 will run from Saturday 5th – 27th May 2012 and is organised into three geographical areas
North Oxfordshire Exhibitions: Saturday 5th - Sunday 13th May
City Exhibitions: Saturday 12th - Sunday 20th May
South Oxfordshire Exhibitions: Saturday 19th - Sunday 27th May

For more information about all the free Artweeks exhibitions visit www.artweeks.org or collect a free festival guide from The Jam Factory, Hamptons International offices, libraries and local information points.

Image Top Left:Jan Ritchie, Bridge of Sighs
Image Bottom Right: Lorna Marrison, Osney Town sign

category: Interesting Articles

Comedy Review: Josh Widdicombe at Glee Oxford

     

Josh Widdicombe performed at Glee Oxford on Sunday, 15 April 2012

Josh Widdicombe has recently supported stand-up comedians Kevin Bridges, Michael McIntyre, Alan Carr on their respective live tours as well as making positive inroads into tv with a regular spot on "Stand Up For The Week" and writing for a number of panel shows. Josh is currently a star in its ascendancy, a man on the up. Now is the perfect time to assess this new hero of comedy.

Tonight's show is one of juxtaposition. Josh is a performer who revels in the moment. Like Rhod Gilbert before him, Josh is a performer whose act excels when he is off script. However sometimes on script Josh can seem a little flat and a bit over-rehearsed, but these moments are few and far between. Josh's chatty observational comedy style is a well worn one but it is testament to his skills as a comedian that he keeps the laughs coming.

Taking in inconsequential subjects as Neighbourhood Watch, LaserQuest, restaurant chain Wagamama and using his own brand of logic, Josh occasionally creates comedy gold with his witty and occasionally dismissive arguments.

The highlight of tonight's show was definitely Josh's interaction with the audience. On more than one occasion his impromptu gags brought more laugher than most of his scripted material. Josh's quick comedy thinking and his ability to identify and illicit material from his audience was a joy to watch.

On a personal level, sometimes I would have preferred a more irate delivery at times to emphasise some of the scripted comedy, which on occasion feels a little prosaic yet Josh does what he does very well. He has crafted his show very well and you emerge afterwards with a smile on your face.

I have a feeling that Josh Widdicombe will grow further as a comedian and this being his first solo tour, he may well grow into something special.


By Joseph Coyle

category: Theatre Reviews

Film Review: Gone

     

The actress leads a cast that includes Daniel Sunjata, Jennifer Carpenter and Sebastian Stan in director Heitor Dhalia's serial kidnapper drama.

A thriller so fixated on red herrings that viewers may stop caring if anyone's really in danger, Gone is diverting but unlikely to linger long in theaters. It also won't boost the stock of star Amanda Seyfried, whose single-gear performance doesn't suggest an aptitude for imperiled-heroine roles.

Seyfried plays Jill, who narrowly escaped death a year ago when a mysterious man abducted her and held her in a well-like hole somewhere in Portland, Oregon's Forest Park. When investigators found no evidence of the crime after her escape, Jill was institutionalized; since her release she has been obsessed with the case, pestering the police at any hint of a woman's disappearance. Now her sister Molly has gone missing, leaving Jill to play vigilante in an all-day race to find the kidnapper she's certain intended to nab her instead.

The movie cues viewers early and often to wonder if Jill is delusional: She invents a pathological-sounding string of lies while gathering information from neighbors; less sinister explanations for Molly's disappearance sound plausible when coming not just from detectives but Molly's own boyfriend. But Jill is unwavering - grating, in fact - in her belief, and her follow-the-trail detective work is enjoyable, albeit laughably easy: More than once, the first stranger she asks just happens to know exactly the information she needs.

Is the hunt this easy because it's all in Jill's head? Many of the hints the filmmakers throw our way, ranging from a rookie detective's shifty behavior all the way down to the sound mix of a climactic cell phone call, turn out to be not just playful misdirection but acts of bad faith - clashing with facts that eventually emerge and not explainable as part of any altered psychological state.

Mixed messages continue through to the film's coda, in which viewers know what's real and what's not but still have a hard time understanding Jill's reasons for doing what she does. Such a pile-up of ambiguity, in the end, looks less like tricksterism than incompetent storytelling.


by John DeFore

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Lockout

     

Directors Stephen St. Leger and James Mather fill the film's obvious narrative gaps with enough witty banter and tongue-in-cheek humor for audiences to overlook the subpar special effects used throughout.

Guy Pearce reveals impressively bulging biceps and the deadpan delivery of a Borscht Belt comic in Lockout, the new sci-fi actioner in which his character cracks more jokes than he does heads. This low-budget effort produced and co-written by genre specialist Luc Besson compensates for its cheesy special effects and production values, as well as its utter derivativeness, with redeeming doses of tongue-in-cheek humor.

Clearly inspired by John Carpenter’s Escape from New York as well as borrowing a significant plot element from its L.A.-set sequel, the film takes place in the year 2079. It begins with its hero, Snow (Pearce) - one name is much cooler than two in this sort of film - getting beaten to a pulp by a government agent (a glowering Peter Stormare) while responding to each blow with an insouciant wisecrack.

It seems that Snow, a former agent himself, has been falsely accused of a crime and is about to be sent off to begin a 30-year sentence at MS-1, a maximum-security prison in outer space. But when the hundreds of convicts suddenly wake up from their cryogenic state and take hostages, including the president’s daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace), Snow is offered his freedom in return for a solo rescue mission.

There are more complicated aspects to the plot - the prison is also home to the one man who knows the whereabouts of a mysterious briefcase than can prove Snow’s innocence - but they’re handled with such indifference by directors Stephen St. Leger and James Mather, who co-wrote the screenplay with Besson, that they’re hardly worth relating.

Landing on the orbiting prison which resembles a ‘50s era North Korean factory, Snow quickly finds himself battling the jumpsuit-wearing bad guys led by the erudite Alex (Vincent Regan) and his psychotic brother (Joseph Gilgun), who besides engaging in horrific acts of violence speaks with such a thick Scottish brogue that subtitles would have been helpful. Indeed, the prisoners include a strange preponderance of Brits, which makes one wonder about the demographics of futuristic America.

When Snow finally encounters Emilie, she’s near dead from lack of oxygen and he’s forced to revive her with a hypodermic needle to her eye. Unfortunately for him, she proves to be the sort of feisty dame who doesn’t easily cooperate with even a would-be rescuer, so the two are quickly trading insults even while fending off numerous attackers.

The action setpieces - including a motorcycle chase so heavily dependent on ineffective CGI effects that it looks like a decades-old video game - are ultimately far less memorable than the devil-may-care one-liners so breezily tossed off by Pearce. Resembling a two-eyed version of Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken, the actor seems to be having a good time even as he’s no doubt contemplating the film’s franchise prospects.


by Frank Scheck

category: Film Reviews

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Film Review: Salmon Fishing In The Yemen

     

IN A month when Wrath Of The Titans reveals that even on Mount Olympus Sam Worthington is less a Greek hero and more a fullback who has mislaid his ball, and an entire troupe of superheroes take to the skies and yet still no-one discusses the incompatibility of form-fitting spandex and bathroom breaks (Avengers Assemble), the idea of relocating 10,000 salmon to a river in a Middle East desert seems rather less quirky than the filmmakers may have hoped.

“Charming” is one adjective Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is reaching for. Others might be “droll”, “screwball” or “good-looking”. Alas, “lacklustre” and “undernourished” also apply.

“It wasn’t really about fishing at all,” says someone towards the end of the film. Crikey, Yemen does love to cast out fishing metaphors like worms on a hook, but it gets its line snarled up when it should be reeling us in.

Ewan McGregor stars as Fred, a fisheries expert with an awkward social manner and an even more awkward marriage to Rachael Stirling, where marital whoopee concludes with a pat on the shoulder and “There, that should hold you”. Oh yes, she’s a cold fish.

Emily Blunt is Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, a bustling counterpoint who has been given a money-no-object commission by a billionaire sheikh (Amr Waked) to set up a salmon river in his country, which he hopes will bring the land to life, and a peaceful leisure activity to his subjects.

If director Lasse Hallstrom had focused on the satirical possibilities of Paul Torday’s novel, instead of compressing it to a grating Kristin Scott Thomas performance as Alastair Campbell in heels, then this could have been a smart subversive swipe at Anglo-Arab relations, crowd-pleasing politicking, nationalism and the strain of believing ten impossible things before breakfast.

Instead Scott Thomas clacks around being alternately supportive (more than two million voters are keen anglers, apparently) or as frantic as a woman who has just drunk two pots of coffee and can’t find her keys. Yet the film begins promisingly, with Fred being disdainful of both Emily and a paymaster he takes to be a loon who regards his country as his personal Center Parc.

But when the sheikh rocks up as a beatific zen master who owns both an impressive Scottish estate and an anthology of Deepak Chopra quotes, you know that the film has no intention of going against the flow, and spends the rest of its time swooning over fabulous stately palaces, sunsets, rivers and deserts.

This is a shame, because Blunt and McGregor are an inspired pairing, who bring out the best in each other and have a grasp of screwball’s fluid, breezy rhythms.

Blunt is an unusual beauty with crafty eyes and a hinterland of intelligence, and as he gets older, I’m starting to enjoy McGregor more and more anyway. He’s far less emphatic nowadays, and has developed a deft comic touch that cries out for a deft comic script.

At least as Alfred, he has a character arc: blossoming from a nerd with a schoolboy haircut to an altogether more hunky prospect. Blunt doesn’t even get that, just a soppy subplot about a soldier boyfriend who goes missing.

Hallstrom never tames the conflict between sugary romance and tart one-liners, soggy whimsy and plot incidents such as death and terrorism. The result is a fishy tale of cod sensibilities with no particular sense of plaice.


By Siobhan Synnot

category: Film Reviews

Oxford submits its bid for UNESCO World Book Capital and celebrates by marking World Book Night

     

imageOxford will submit its formal bid to become UNESCO World Book Capital in 2014 on Monday 23 April. The bid, which has been co-ordinated by Oxford Inspires on behalf of a steering committee made up of eleven local organisations, takes as its theme Imagination Unbound.

Oxford’s bid for the prestigious designation celebrates the wonder of books, their ability to inspire and unlock our imaginations, and aims to generate a love of reading that can be shared by everyone. The nomination has never previously been held by an English speaking city.

In 2014, Oxford will demonstrate how the book is essential in the global communication of ideas and knowledge and in the city’s own links worldwide. Oxford’s name is closely associated with the global use of English as a constantly evolving universal language of business, science and education. With a centuries-old tradition of learning and publishing, Oxford remains a hub for curious and creative people from all over the world.

Kathelene Weiss, Director of Oxford Inspires says, “We believe that Oxford should become UNESCO World Book Capital in 2014 because the entire bid is about creating a lasting legacy for Oxford and Oxfordshire. The programme for the year will support literacy initiatives with schools and families to promote a love of reading, make the most of the positive impact that the opening of the Story Museum and New Bodleian Library will have on the local community, and encourage investigation into the future of the publishing trade which is especially relevant considering just how many publishers are based in the county.”

“Over the course of 2014/15, a full programme of events will take place aimed at encouraging both residents and tourists to discover the pleasures of opening up a book and reading in any form.”

To celebrate the submission of Oxford’s bid, the steering committee will also take part in World Book Night, a nationwide event designed to spread a love of reading and books. Held annually, the celebration sees tens of thousands of people go out into their communities to hand out free copies of books.

On the day, Oxford’s bid committee will meet in front of the Central Library at 3pm, before several members disperse to hand out their copies in Oxford city centre. A detailed schedule has been included below.

As well as coinciding with World Book Night, the submission of Oxford’s bid on the 23 April is also significant for other reasons. As well as being both the birth and death day of Shakespeare, it is also the anniversary of Cervantes death, and was, for these reasons, designated as ‘World Book and Copyright Day’ by UNESCO in 1995.

Over the course of the year, a full programme of events will take place aimed at encouraging both residents and tourists to discover the pleasures of opening up a book and reading in any form. These include plans for conferences, festivals, plays, writing competitions and much more.

There will also be a number a number of signature moments throughout the year, including the completion of three major literary building projects in Oxford: The Story Museum, a magical new centre of children’s literature and storytelling, The Weston Library, formerly known as The New Bodleian, and The Library at The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.

Visit www.oxfordworldbookcapital.org for further information.


Schedule: Monday 23 April 2012

12pm: Kathelene Weiss, Director of Oxford Inspires will be giving away copies of Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist.
Location: MINI Plant Oxford

1pm: Following on from the author’s recent appearance at The Times Oxford Literary Festival, Tim Griggs will be reading from his new novel Distant Thunder on Monday 23 April as part of Oxfordshire Libraries’ involvement in World Book Night. Tim will also be available to talk about the art of getting published. Free entrance, no tickets.
Location: Oxford Central Library

2pm: Kim Pickin, Joint Director of The Story Museum, will be giving away copies of The Owl and the Pussycat, by Edward Lear, to celebrate Edward Lear’s forthcoming 200th birthday (12th May).
Location: The Story Museum building, Pembroke Street entrance

3pm: The World Book Capital Steering Committee will gather in front of the Central Library for photocall to mark the submission of the bid to UNESCO.
Location: Oxford Central Library

3:30pm Oxford University Press will give out a 100 books – 20 copies of five teenage and adult reads. The books are:
• Children and Teen: Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis and Mortal Chaos by Matt Dickinson
• Adult: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, The Alice Behind Wonderland by Simon Winchester and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.
Location: Around Carfax

4.45pm: Angus Philips, Director of the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies at Oxford Brookes University will be giving away copies of Touching the Void by Joe Simpson to commuters.
Location: Oxford Train Station

5pm: Staff from the Bodleian Library will be giving away books in the Bodleian Quad:
• Richard Ovenden, Deputy Librarian, will give The Road by Cormac McCarthy
• Mike Heaney, Executive Secretary, will give Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
• Margaret Watson, Reader & Faculty Services Librarian, will give I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Location: The Bodleian Library Quad

5pm: Local Writers’ Group Talk. The Turl Street Writers are a local writers’ group who regularly publish volumes of short stories such as The Turl Street Tales all with an Oxford or Turl Street story.  The group has also written books like Midwinter Tales to raise funds for the Maggie’s Centres for cancer sufferers at the Oxford Churchill Hospital. This is a free event open to all.
Location: Oxford Central Library

5:45pm: Blackwell’s have Creation Theatre in the shop (performing The Odyssey) and all attendees to the performance on 23 April will get a special gift in honour of World Book Night.

Staring at 5.45pm on April 23 in the bookshop the production will tell of Odysseus’ epic journey and his encounters with famous heroes and villains; Athena, Zeus and the Cyclops, and those you might not know yet; six-headed Scylla, the whirlpool Charybdis and the lethargic Lotus-Eaters.

The Factory turn their unique spirit of spontaneity, playfulness and imagination to Homer’s epic story this spring. Combining movement, song, text and improvisation, each performance will be an original retelling that recreates the spirit of one of the world’s oldest oral storytelling traditions. To book: http://www.creationtheatre.co.uk
Location: Blackwell’s Bookshop

Other Events: In addition, libraries in Abingdon, Chipping Norton and Didcot are staying open late with author readings for World Book Night. For more information email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

category: Interesting Articles

Monday, 16 April 2012

Theatre Review: Homer’s The Odyssey

     

image

Taking on an epic such as Homer's The Odyssey and condensing it into live theatre is no small undertaking. I couldn't imagine how this co-production between Creation and The Factory could possibly tackle such a task. Turns out they did it well - and with humour, creativity, and finesse.

The Factory is a fairly large group of actors for such a small stage. The actors were engaging, inventive, and occasionally would ad-lib with great result. The Odyssey is made up of 24 'books', or in this case, scenes. Each scene had to be highly condensed, but the main points were skilfully made, and none of the story was lost. To add to the challenge of the play, often with humorous results, the play was designed to be different for every performance, with the structure of each scene dictated by commands written on shards of pottery which the audience picked out at the start of each scene. The actors had no time to prepare how the scene would be played out, based on what was written on the shard, and they never missed a beat, which demonstrates both their skill and preparation. There was a lot of audience interaction and participation throughout the evening - including when one audience member was chosen to stand on the stage and act as a news reporter. Audience members were also asked, at the very start of the play, to lend two items which would help identify Odysseus, who was played by a different actor in every scene.

It took me a scene or two to really get into the inventive and fairly frenetic structure of the play. Once I 'got it', however, I was completely hooked. I enjoyed The Odyssey immensely, and had a great smile on my face the whole way home. I've booked to see the play a second time, as I'm interested in seeing how it differs from night to night, depending on the audience's instructions. I applaud Creation and The Factory for taking such a creative approach to the play. If only I had seen it when I was in grade school, it would have helped me understand the play better, and would have helped me through and exam or two!


Homer’s The Odyssey: 29 March - 28 April
A co-production between Creation and The Factory, directed by Tim Carroll
Performed in the world-famous Norrington Room in Blackwell’s Bookshop, Oxford

To book or for more information go to www.creationtheatre.co.uk

category: Theatre Reviews

Castle caches in on hi-tech fad

     

image IT’S hundreds of years old, yet Oxford Castle is embracing a new technology fad in its latest promotional stunt.

Oxford Castle Unlocked is planting 12 vintage keys in ‘geocaches’ across the county – an activity where people try to hunt hidden containers, called geocaches, using global positioning co-ordinates from satellites (GPS) and clues.

Each of the 12 keys will represent free entry to the castle – and according to the esoteric game’s rules, anyone who uncovers the geocache and finds the key must replace it with a new item.

The outdoor treasure hunt has been around for a while, but it has become increasingly popular as smartphones with inbuilt GPS become more common.

Castle general manager Michael Speight said: “Geocaching is a rewarding, fun and free activity which all ages can enjoy and the adventure and discovery aspect of the activity translates perfectly to Oxford Castle Unlocked’s visitor experience. We’re challenging people across Oxfordshire to get involved and find our hidden geocaches, before being rewarded with a fun free day out at the castle.”

The activity was devised by the Castle’s Ellie Stokes, after she tried her hand at geocaching in Winnersh, near Reading.

She said: “When I first started here one of the things that came up was that a lot of people don't know we are here, we are almost hidden in the city centre.

“We also tell people about Oxford’s hidden history so it occurred to me if we hid these geocaches it would all link up perfectly with the idea behind the attraction.”

The locations have been chosen and the keys will be hidden ready for the beginning of May, when the challenge starts. Five will be within Oxford itself, and the locations have been specifically chosen to relate to the 1000-year-old prison’s history. Clues to the hidden treasures’ whereabouts will be posted on geocaching.com and at oxfordcastleunlocked.co.uk Miss Stokes said: “It’s a nice little trail and hopefully people who visit will learn about it and want to explore Oxfordshire further.”

She anticipates all 12 keys would be found within the month.


image: Oxford Castle Unlocked general manager Michael Speight is inviting people to search for hidden keys

By Fran Bardsley

category: Interesting Articles

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Film Review: The Cold Light of Day

     

The first big difficulty in The Cold Light of Day – trust me, there are many – is buying Bruce Willis as Henry Cavill’s dad. Nothing about their prickly interactions rings true: as it turns out, Willis has been keeping a whopper of a secret from his son since birth, but this newsflash doesn’t concern a drunken swing party some time in the early 1980s.

Instead, Willis is a CIA agent who’s just put their whole family in dire straits. The Shaws have barely embarked on a week’s sailing holiday around Spain before rival intelligence types have kidnapped Cavill’s mum and brother, demanding the return of a briefcase Bruce knows more about than we do. The local cops say “tranquillo” so often you know they’re in on it too.

Back in the day, Hitchcock could plead “MacGuffin” and say no more, but being told precisely nothing about the life-or-death contents of the case is merely irritating in a thriller which fancies itself as post-Bourne.

No Paul Greengrass, French director Mabrouk el Mechri (JCVD) bounds around trying to inject some momentum into these tatty shenanigans, often by sticking the camera behind people’s heads or lining up CGI shots through windshield bullet holes.

We hop to Madrid, where Cavill’s Will is soon left to sort everything out by himself, chasing after a clearly shifty agency honcho called Jean Carrack (Sigourney Weaver) and finding chances to get acquainted with his Spanish half-sister (Veronica Echégui), who spends half her time being thrown off rooftops and the other half chanting “Wheel!”. She knows her dad by a different name, but it’s clear that Bruce has been spreading his seed generously.

The one thing that’s consistently fun to watch here is Weaver, whose prominent if surely rent-inspired role as a ruthless Terminator in pantsuits generates plenty of accidentally funny stuff. There’s not much left of downtown Madrid once she’s emptied her semi-automatic into passing bystanders; even when she’s caught looking very intently in the wrong direction, which is often, her brusque, clock-punching performance isn’t as frazzled and wooden as Cavill’s. Both are hilariously under-directed. “You f**cking amateur!” Sigourney yells at her co-star, though it could just as easily have been el Mechri at the business end of a furious out-take.


By Tim Robey

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Michael

     

Brilliant and macabre, this debut feature from Austrian film-maker Markus Schleinzer shows the ordinary life of a man called Michael, played by Michael Fuith. As well as being a conscientious middle-manager in an insurance office, Michael is a paedophile, keeping a 10-year-old boy locked in a reinforced cellar beneath his bungalow. The film is not merely a chilling insight into the day-to-day banality of evil, but also an unbearably suspenseful and tense drama. I can't think of any other movie recently in which I have wanted so much to yell instructions at the screen – especially in the final five minutes, as we approach, in Graham Greene's words, the worst horror of all.

Schleinzer is a former actor, and a prolific casting director with over 60 features to his credit, a judge of faces who has worked with Ulrich Seidl, Jessica Hausner and, most importantly, Michael Haneke. He has clearly learned a good deal from the master's icy clarity and control. Haneke was reported to have shown an interest in directing Schleinzer's screenplay; I wonder how different this might have looked with Haneke in charge. The adult tormentor of a child in Haneke's Funny Games reveals himself to be armed with a cosmic rewind button – not the case here.

Michael himself is a very boring Pooter-Satan. He is a balding, bespectacled man who appears to be in a permanent, mildly bad mood and possibly clinically depressed. He is grumpy with his prisoner, a boy called Wolfgang (David Rauchenberger), allowing him up out of the cellar after a hard day in the office, fixing him supper, doing the washing-up with him and then permitting some television before bedtime. We see him disappear for certain special visits to Wolfgang's bedroom cell, after which he washes himself in the bathroom and marks off the event in a desk diary.

Occasionally, Michael will take Wolfgang for excruciating days out to the countryside, walking with him as if with an invisible handcuff, in a prisoner-in-transit formation. Heartbreakingly, little Wolfgang looks around at another dad out walking with his son, but such is the miasma of horror in which the film exists, it seems possible that this is just another paedophile with his victim. Michael and Wolfgang's home life is a surreal nightmare: when Wolfgang gets a high temperature, Michael succumbs to a tense, speculative daydream that is indistinguishable from real life. Later, he watches a crude porn film on TV, and it is quite unclear whether the next scene is a dream or waking reality. There are no firm clues about why Michael is like this, although there are some agonisingly clear hints as to how and where he found his victim. At the end, we hear of some innocuous things about Michael's own childhood and about his being "impatient", but nothing to explain things. He and Wolfgang are completing a jigsaw together, and the boy complains that some pieces are missing. Michael explains curtly that it doesn't matter. You can still see what the picture is.

When I first saw Michael last year, I wondered whether this film really told us anything new, for all its brilliance, and for all that it offered us the conventional enticements of plot twists and turns. Arguably, Michael can't compare in horror to the real-life Kampusch and Fritzl cases that have inspired it. But, for me, a second viewing allowed the implications to emerge.

Michael is a scabrous, satirical comment on the Stockholm syndrome inherent in all parent-child relationships. What is disturbing about this story is not simply the sexual abuse, which is kept off-camera, but the way Michael and Wolfgang fall so easily into a grotesque routine that looks like family life: this is the theatre of normality that takes place up on the ground floor. (Here, the movie is comparable to Haneke's The Seventh Continent, another truly horrible vision of violence, secrecy and family dysfunction.) Unlike the paedophiles in Todd Solondz's Happiness (1998) and Nicole Kassell's The Woodsman (2004), or even the child-killer in Fritz Lang's M (1931), Michael is supremely undramatic and dull. He is subdued at work, and testy, unpleasant and cold at home. What has made him like this? What else but the normal, dreary cares and worries of being responsible for a child – the terrible imprisonment of being a single parent?

And the film offers something else: a vision of male relationships themselves. In the brief timespan covered by the movie, Wolfgang begins to grow up, just a little; just perceptibly, he is approaching manhood, horrifyingly shaped and guided by Michael. In one of the film's most mysterious scenes, Wolfgang gives Michael a Christmas card on which he has drawn, not a horribly ironic or parodic daddy-son picture, but two figures of equal height. Has he imagined his grownup future alongside his captor? Michael is more furious and scared by this than anything else: imagining the future, and by that token understanding the present, is something of which Michael is incapable. The performances from Fuith and Rauchenberger are superb, and Schleinzer's direction and Gerald Kerkletz's cinematography have the touch and sheen of cold steel.


By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Delicacy

     

LAST week, a newspaper column caused something of a flurry by claiming that if a woman is beautiful, all other women will hate her. Apparently the writer had forgotten about Audrey Tautou, because surely everyone loves Tautou – women, men, dogs and, above all, cameras. It’s more than a decade since she starred in Amélie, but all she has to do is pull in her lip, or do the black button-eyed twinkle, and many will swoon all over again.

Delicacy takes full advantage of Tautou’s looks and charm to power a mildly off-beat bonbon in which she plays Nathalie, half of a perfect French couple, until she is abruptly widowed. Grief-stricken, she puts her emotions on hold and buries herself in her work for a Swedish firm, ignoring her lovesick co-workers and a creepy boss (Bruno Todeschini) who doesn’t let his marriage, or presumably France’s sexual harassment laws, stop him making a clumsy pass at her.

Then one day, for no reason in particular, she opts to kiss her bumbling subordinate Markus (Belgian actor François Damiens), sparking off a tentative relationship. Markus’s wardrobe of large comfortable jumpers and too-tight running shorts suggests a man who hasn’t considered himself a romantic figure for quite some time, and during their platonic café meetings and dinners, he admits he feels that he is dating out of his league. “It’s as if Liechtenstein is walking with the USA,” he tells her when they essay a romantic stroll through Paris.

Besides being slobby and awkward, he’s also funny, self-deprecating, and a good listener. Yet Nathalie’s friends are hugely dismayed at the ungainly pairing – chiefly because the film is confecting a lecture about judging books by their covers.

Long before then, the film strips its gears shifting between tragedy, social awkwardness and exaggerated whimsy. For a film called Delicacy, this romantic dramedy marks its emotional milestones with the finesse of the One O’Clock gun. I don’t just mean the way the film telegraphs Tautou’s irresistibility by making the men around her act like a bunch of Yogi Bears spotting a picnic basket, but also Markus’s elation at pulling Tautou, which is turned into a very broad fantasy sequence where he walks down the street imagining himself as a babe-magnet.

Yet despite the heavy-handedness, Delicacy is also weightless, and that’s down to first-time directors David and Stéphane Foenkinos, who adapted David’s novel for the screen. If you don’t have nuance or focus, the result is less like a full-functioning feature film, and more like a failed pilot for an aggressively quirky Sunday night series.

On the plus side, at least Delicacy means us no harm, there’s a nice Girl With The Dragon Tattoo joke, and the leads are likeable


By Siobhan Synnot

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Le Havre

     

The Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki has come to France for his latest film, making explicit his indebtedness to figures like Tati and Vigo. It is seductively funny, offbeat and warm-hearted, like the rest of his films, but with a new heartfelt urgency on the subject of northern Europe's attitude to desperate refugees from the developing world. The movie is set in the port city of Le Havre, maybe summoning a distant ghost of L'Atalante, and it has a solid, old-fashioned look; but for the contemporary theme, it could have been made at any time in the last 50 years. André Wilms is Marcel, a phlegmatic shoe-shine guy who plies his trade around the streets as best he can. He discovers a young boy called Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), an illegal immigrant on the run, and hides him from the authorities, including the tough Inspector Monet, superbly played by Jean-Pierre Darroussin. It's a drama that plays out in parallel with private heartbreak: Marcel's gentle wife Arletty, played by Kati Outinen, is in hospital. The drollery and deadpan in Kaurismäki's style in no way undermine the emotional force of this tale; they give it a sweetness and an ingenuous, Chaplinesque simplicity. It's a satisfying and distinctively lovable film.


By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Battleship

     

Universal's noisy alien-invasion tentpole plays like just-add-water "Transformers."

The grid-based board game that provides the jumping-off point for this extravagantly noisy spectacle is not known for its narrative thrust, and neither is Battleship particularly interested in story.

At once silly and overly ponderous, it is a long-winded exercise in cartoonish war games pitting a splinter section of the U.S. Navy against invading aliens - a sort of just-add-water Transformers. But those looking for big, loud sci-fi action will find plenty to like here as director Peter Berg (Hancock, Friday Night Lights) pumps up the volume on clashing military hardware and flag-waving heroics. The Universal release should open strongly in international markets and gather steam heading into its U.S. release on May 18.

A rather niftily engineered sequence midway through Battleship references the board game owned by Hasbro, the company that’s already made millions from its Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises. It’s a rare offering of wit from screenwriting brothers Erich and Jon Hoeber (RED), who otherwise ensure the impressive visual effects and Berg’s epic set pieces fight against an armada of cinematic clichés and some truly awful dialogue.

“Let’s see if we can buy the world another day!” is one veteran soldier’s rallying cry, while elsewhere Taylor Kitsch’s maverick hero weathers a half-hour barrage of alien strikes before muttering, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Risible, yes. But who could expect more from the one-dimensional characters Berg moves around on the board - sorry, screen - as they shout to be heard above the clank and screech of metal and Steve Jablonsky’s blaring score. At least no one’s taking things too seriously, with pop star Rihanna seemingly having the most fun as a plucky weapons specialist who scampers about the USS John Paul Jones making things go boom.

The ship is one of three left stranded inside a force field after a fleet of gigantic alien spaceships interrupts a routine exercise between Japanese and American sailors off the coast of Hawaii.

The extraterrestrials have been summoned by an exploratory signal sent into the depths of space, and although the bristly bearded creatures come across as more curious than overtly hostile, a trigger-happy Navy engages and enters the fray.

Alex Hopper (Kitsch) is the loose-cannon lieutenant suddenly charged with saving the world from what one character solemnly dubs “an extinction-level threat.” He’s a formerly long-haired slacker who has cleaned up his act and joined the Navy after an ultimatum from his straitlaced captain brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgard).

Alex is still hot-headed, though, which gets him in trouble with grouchy Admiral Crane (Liam Neeson in a paycheck role), the father of his lissom fiancee, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker). Samantha is a physical therapist who has her own role to play in saving the world from destruction: Back on shore, she teams up with a double-amputee war hero (real-life Iraq veteran Gregory D. Gadson) and a comic-relief communications nerd (Hamish Linklater) to prevent the ETs from phoning home.

Kitsch, coming off the super-flop John Carter, soft-pedals the charm, exuding just enough charisma to get by. The striking-looking Skarsgard (True Blood) is ramrod-straight and impossibly grave throughout, while Decker’s expression toggles between blank and very blank.

There’s much to admire in the enthusiasm and craft Berg brings to the action, but in the wake of the Transformers movies’ success, the look is obviously funneled through a Michael Bay-shaped aperture.


by Megan Lehmann

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Cabin in the Woods

     

In Keenen Ivory Wayans's Scary Movie, from 2000, a fleeing character is offered two directional options by the masked figure: safety or death. The joke is that there is no choice. No matter how cynical and wised-up everyone is about the horror film and all its various tropes, the genre triumphantly survives, to a great extent by playfully absorbing that cynicism and feeding it back to the fanbase. Drew Goddard plays on this postmodern connoisseurship in this meta-chiller, The Cabin in the Woods, co-written with Joss Whedon. The poster shows the cabin in question floating in the air, tricksily twisting in sections like a Rubik's cube.

It's an affectionately satirical nightmare that asks why horror is so potent: what awful human need is being fed by seeing attractive young people in states of semi-undress who are suddenly, brutally slaughtered, almost as if they are being punished for being young and sexy? Why does the genre adhere so closely to the "final girl" model, the belief that young people in jeopardy have to be picked off singly, leaving that one (female) character who had initially appeared to be so vulnerable and unworldly, but in whom the situation has uncovered extraordinary reserves of heroism and grit? Could there be some anthropological answer to the ritualist behaviour in horror?

The Cabin in the Woods begins by unveiling two sets of characters: one middle-aged and oppressed by the workaday cares of life, the other young and carefree. Richard Jenkins plays Sitterson, a balding, bespectacled guy who resignedly shoots the breeze with his buddy Hadley, played by Bradley Whitford. Then we cut to a suburban home, and a teenage girl's bedroom – both disclosed via a soaring crane shot. This is Dana, played by Kristen Connolly, and genre buffs will smirk at the outrageous way we get to see Dana sauntering around in her underwear, packing for a restorative weekend away with her attractive friends at a cabin in the woods.

Sensitive, bookish Dana is getting over a borderline-inappropriate relationship with her college professor. Her raunchy blond friend Jules (Anna Hutchinson) and Jules's macho jock boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth) are trying to set her up with a cute guy they're bringing along, Holden (Jesse Williams). And just to complete the party, there is Marty (Fran Kranz), a dope-smoking free-thinker, forever railing against the establishment. The five of them turn up to the very creepy cabin after the regulation encounter with the dodgy local. Again, the film is archly aware of how predictable this character is, and overtly tips us a wink by repeatedly showing us the motorbike attached to the back of the camper van the five are travelling in. Could it be that this bike will feature heavily in a final getaway scene?

It isn't long before horrible things happen. But wait. Who were these older guys Sitterson and Hadley? Goddard and Whedon have allowed us to imagine that, being from the older generation, Sitterson is perhaps the harassed dad of one of the teen characters. But it's clear the connection is more disturbing than that.

The Cabin in the Woods is all about the reality conspiracy; mentioning the film's specific forerunners runs the risk of spoilers. The quintet's sadistic, formulaic victimisation is part of a larger picture, one that semi-seriously reproves its own audience for the cynicism and cruelty they have brought to the spectacle. The action climaxes in a sensational, surreal scene in which all the horror demons imaginable meet in a grand encounter not only with each other, but with those whose job it is to keep them under control – a sequence perhaps inspired by the "elevator" scene in The Shining.

It's a smart twist to an enjoyable movie, but there's not a whole lot more to it than that. The final explanation is so perfunctory it could have been devised on the back of a napkin by M Night Shyamalan – though of course this absurdity, acknowledged with stoner fatalism, is part of the comedy.

I am still susceptible to the unironised, undeconstructed haunted-house film, and actually found myself substantially creeped out by the 2010 scary movie from Uruguay, The Silent House, now remade with Elizabeth Olsen. And the Final Destination series, in which a vengeful death angel finds ever more bizarre and black-comic methods of killing off a series of young people, can still deliver a frisson here and there. The Cabin in the Woods is a shrewd, ingenious look the programmatic elements of the genre, a satire that is also a lenient celebration, and it could wind up being a set text in any MA course in horror. But however smart and sophisticated this film is, it may disappoint those who, in their hearts, would still like to be genuinely scared.


By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

An interview with brilliant young stand-up star Josh Widdicombe

     

JOSH WIDDICOMBE
By Dave Freak


imageJust four years on from his stand up debut and rising star Josh Widdicombe has already performed in some of the UK’s biggest venues.

"I have almost forgotten," he smiles. "I did eight nights at the Hammersmith Apollo and most acts can’t even do one night there!"

While Josh certainly has the comedy chops to make it, his appearances at these mighty halls and large theatres were as chosen support act to such household names as Alan Carr, Kevin Bridges and Stephen Merchant.

"Playing big nights with those people you learn a lot - I’ve really improved as a comic. When you go back to a smaller room now, it’s far less stressful. I remember the first time I played The Glee Club and I thought it was so stressful - ‘how am I going to do this in front of an audience that big?’ But now I’ve supported Alan and Stephen, suddenly appearing The Glee is easy.

"After the tour with Stephen I thought ‘wow! I’ve really come on ... before I was rubbish!’"

While Alan and Kevin are stand up veterans, Stephen's debut tour came in the wake of extensive TV sitcom work. But finding himself the more experienced of the two, Josh never presumed to offer the co-creator of The Office, Extras and Life’s Too Short any tips.

"I wouldn’t be so arrogant to give him advise, he was such an excellent stand up," cries Josh, clearly shocked by the suggestion. "I don’t think some people knew what to expect, but Stephen was brilliant. He did stand up before he did The Office, so he’s not completely fresh, but he’s also not an old hand either, but it was exciting for him. It was a real big success, it had great reviews.”

Despite bonding, the chances of seeing Josh in the next Merchant/ Gervais project are slim.

"I’m not that good an actor. Acting is not a strong part of my arsenal” Josh confesses, adding. “I enjoy panel shows, although they are stressful. With stand up you are in control, but with TV panel shows, you have to be confident, get your bit said. If you ever go quiet, you disappear. Doing panel shows is like starting to do stand up all over again – you get more confident as you do more."

Josh’s biggest confidence builder has been as part of the cast of Channel 4’s topical comedy series Stand Up for the Week, alongside Jon Richardson, Rich Hall and Seann Walsh.

“There is pressure,” reports Josh of the series, which returns soon. “When you turn over that amount of material every week, the pressure is massive, but it’s like when you’re at university and you have to do an essay over night, it does become a lot easier the more you do it. Coming out of that experience, I found writing this show much easier. So I’m looking forwarding to doing it again.”

Moving from Dartmoor, Devon, to Manchester for university, Josh eventually tried his hand at stand up in 2008 while doing odd jobs.

"I worked in Waterstones, and worked at the Guardian, on the sport bit on their website. I was freelance doing two shifts a week and then doing stand up for the rest of the week ... and wishing I could do stand up all the time and leave work. Which is what eventually happened.”

Quickly establishing a relaxed and effortless style, Josh picked up a raft of comedy awards and nominations in 2010, including FHM’s Stand Up Hero, with critics comparing him to legendary US comic, Jerry Seinfeld.

"I’ll take it!" he laughs of the comparison. "I’ll settle for that now. It’s always best to be compared to the best, although I have a long way to go on that one – Seinfeld is an unreachable target. I really liked Seinfeld before I started out, and watched loads of him [on DVD]. But I try to watch a lot of different stand ups as if you spend a week just watching Dylan Moran DVDs, you do pick up his rhythms and begin to sound like him – so I think I must have picked up some Seinfeld somewhere along the way.

"He’s good. He has a more laid back approach. I certainly would never say I was like him though... although maybe people should come to both shows and make their own comparisons," he laughs, referring to the American's forthcoming UK appearances.

Josh's debut UK tour, which already includes a string of sell-out performances, is titled simply Spring Tour 2012.

"I don’t go for overtly specific titles as you can get trapped by a title. My title ties me to nothing. In Edinburgh [at the Fringe Festival], people do big complex shows around big themes, but I just like to do an hour and a bit of stand up, not big theme shows, nothing specific. I’m certainly doing stuff on Devon, but also relationships. It’s a whole range of stuff. The joining factor is that I’m uncomfortable with all of it. I’m not very good at life."


Show: Josh Widdicombe - Spring Tour
Date: Sunday 15 April 2012
Doors: 7.00pm
Venue: The Glee Club, 3 Hythe Bridge Street, Oxford, OX1 2EW
Box Office: 0871 472 0400 http://www.glee.co.uk/oxford
Admission: £10 (£6 NUS)

category: Interesting Articles

Wednesday, 04 April 2012

Film Review: Carancho (The Vulture)

     

Some movies are described as explosive: this is positively eardrum-perforating. It's a brutal but very smart contemporary noir from the Argentinian director Pablo Trapero, and it could be his best film to date, the clearest and most effective fusion of his dual gifts for realism and thrills. Something in its inspired cynicism took me back to Trapero's early feature El Bonaerense (2002), about the robber who takes cover by applying to become a cop.

Ricardo Darín, with his ruined and leonine handsomeness, is perfectly cast as Sosa, known as the "Carancho", or vulture. He's a disgraced lawyer now working as an ambulance-chaser, showing up at horrific car wrecks and encouraging the survivors to sue. More than this, he has a crooked scam going, encouraging desperate souls to walk in front of cars to get the compensation; he stages these calamities and tips off complicit ambulance drivers so they can arrive instantly – in return for a cut of the insurance payout, very little of which will trickle down to the ostensible victim. Sosa's vocation – his dodgy contacts among the paramedics call it "social work" for Argentina's underclass – brings him into contact with troubled hospital doctor Luján, played by Trapero regular Martina Gusmán. Luján and Soso fall passionately for each other, an event that triggers a flaring of Sosa's conscience. Their love story has a strange and unexpected nobility in this cynical gangland.

The chaotic and violent finale is breathtakingly horrible, and all too appropriate for a group of people making a good living out of poor people being hit by cars. The final confrontation even has a little of the excitement of the failed heist in Reservoir Dogs.

Darín is convincing in that most difficult male role: the intelligent tough guy. He perpetually endures horrible beatings and needs to be stitched up and mopped down – his face is much of the time discoloured with bruises and caked in blood. Luján is a survivor, enduring a daily war zone in the hospital's emergency room, where fistfights and gunfights break out among the patients. Together, Luján and Sosa have a Bonnie and Clyde heroism. Let's hope Carancho isn't remade. No Hollywood pairing would have a fraction of this steam heat.


Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: A Cat in Paris

     

One of the year’s two Best Animated Feature nominees that took Oscar prognosticators by complete surprise (the other was Chico & Rita), the French-language A Cat in Paris (Une Vie de Chat), is a delightfully stylized caper involving a mute little girl, her pet cat and a cat burglar.

Owing a sly tip of the beret to influences running the gamut from Matisse to Tarantino, the hand-drawn “policier” may not be the most inspired animated import to have crossed our shores (compared to, say, The Triplets of Belleville or The Illusionist) but it nevertheless casts a beguiling spell without requiring 3D glasses or a mass of merchandising.

While it remains to be seen whether that’s enough to take on Puss in Boots and company, A Cat in Paris - slated to be released domestically later this year through GKIDS - has a couple of things going in its favor.

The first is the rare absence of a Pixar threat this year, what with Cars 2 failing to make it through the starting gate.

The second is the Academy’s apparent ongoing love affair with a certain brand of French nostalgia, also generously served up by The Artist, Hugo and Midnight in Paris.

Speaking of the latter, much of this one-hour film takes place during the nocturnal hours across the shadowy rooftops of Paris where Nico (voiced by Bruno Salomone, who happens to play in a band with The Artist’s Jean Dujardin) flees with a rubbery grace after pinching loot from the homes of his sleeping victims.

He’s usually joined on his exploits by Dino, a black cat who leads a double life.

During the daylight hours Dino cuddles up beside Zoe (Oriane Zani), a lonely little girl who has been rendered mute following the death of her father at the hands of Victor Costa (Jean Benguigui), a bully of a gangster who’ll stop at nothing to get his hands on a rare statue known as the Colossus of Nairobi.

Meanwhile Zoe’s widowed mom (Dominique Blanc) a detective in the Parisian police force, is determined to put Costa away for good, and she ends up getting assistance from some an unanticipated direction.

Incorporating an angular graphic style that recalls the work of virtuoso movie title sequence designer Saul Bass, directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol have created a jazzy, noir-tinged storybook rendition of a mythical Paris, backed by a Bernard Herrmann-esque score and a title character that struts its stuff like Audrey Hepburn circa Stanley Donen’s Charade.


by Michael Rechtshaffen

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Titanic 3D

     

Rewatching the affair between Kate Winslet's rebellious haute-monde refugee, Rose, and Leonardo DiCaprio's free-spirited steerage passenger, Jack (as in London), it's hard to find a line that might resonate across generations like a "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." But the power of Titanic didn't come from originality; it came from punching clichés across with a seldom-seen directness and sincerity that seemed pure of heart, "old-fashioned," or plain corny, depending on your perspective.

"Life's a gift," Jack says in a typical homily. "You never know what hand you're gonna get dealt next." The people who release movies, however, like to stack the deck. The ostensible reason for the re-release of Cameron's Titanic is the centennial of the RMS Titanic's abridged voyage. The real reason is that some studio panjandrums have decided that now is the moment in the green-lighting circle of life that this franchise is ready to be taken out of mothballs and relaunched for the key teen-to-35 demographic, ideally appealing to one end of that spread through novelty, the other through nostalgia.

Once a very real $200 million gamble, Titanic's sequel-resistant story offered the particular combination of technophilia and technophobia that Cameron, now tweeting from the ocean floor, adores, as author of movies (The Terminators, Avatar) that warn against the hubris of technological arrogance through vanguard special effects.

But CGI spectacle doesn't age gracefully, not even with a 3-D facelift. Today, Titanic must float or sink on the enduring charisma of its young stars. Winslet's Rose, flipping an anachronistic bird at the patriarchy, suffers from the "feminist" pandering of Cameron's script, which seems today even more over-deliberate in a pop culture glutted with matter-of-fact warrior-women. What is most remarkable, viewed with the hindsight of nearly 15 interceding years, is the sight of DiCaprio, famous bangs bounding as he runs through the ship's endless corridors, flashing a sharp little triangle of a mouth and actually smiling. It was Titanic that properly launched "Leo-Mania," which the actor would spend his subsequent career distancing himself from, finding torturous roles to seam his baby face with worry lines, making the leap from matinee idol to Our Serious Actor. DiCaprio has been unusually successful in this aim, but rewatching Titanic, you wish that his growing gravitas had not completely smothered his ability, wonderfully evident here, to convey simple joy.

The French New Wave director Jacques Rivette analyzed the Titanic phenomenon incisively when it first blew up. Citing Winslet as a placeholder for "inhibited, slightly plump American girls who see the film over and over as if they were on a pilgrimage," Rivette concluded that "they recognize themselves in her, and dream of falling into the arms of the gorgeous Leonardo." Taking a less weightist view of things, Titanic also offered an immersion in the classical romantic Hollywood cinema—yearning, worshipful close-ups; a transporting score; seismic sentiments—to a multiplex-bred generation that had little familiarity with this idiom, and the experience was intoxicating.

Will a contemporary 16-year-old be able to swoon quite the same way for Leo, knowing that Jack has become the burly and brooding DiCaprio of latter years, caked with old-age makeup in J. Edgar, as Robert Pattinson stays eternally young? As for the viewer, like myself, who saw Titanic as a teenager on the first go-round, it is certainly a difficult movie to grow up with, for it has so little use for adulthood. As Kurt Vonnegut noted of A Farewell to Arms, Titanic elides all of the messy stuff of marriage, nipping off the bloom of Rose and Jack's affair while it is still young and perfect—before wilting Rose actually feels the bite of poverty or catches syphilis from one of Jack's Montmartre models. The tragedy of their doomed romance is, then, a Happily Ever After in disguise.


By Nick Pinkerton

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Headhunters

     

What’s the worst thing that can happen to a movie character? Shot, stabbed, beaten, tortured? How about exiled, chased, shot, impaled, betrayed, sacked, savaged by a pitbull, involved in a tractor crash, chucked off a cliff and forced to hide under six feet of human shit?

Luckily, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy. Director Morten Tyldum’s juggernaut thriller, based on Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s bestselling novel, stems from a simple but hugely satisfying idea: serve up an eminently hissable central character, in this case part-time art thief and full-time corporate douchebag Roger (Aksel Hennie, who looks like the love child of Steve Buscemi and Rupert Grint). Then sit back and smile as he tangles with the wrong folks and is subjected to the most humiliating indignities this smart, streamlined script can invent.

When we meet Roger, he’s happily married to a gorgeous woman (Synnøve Macody Lund), having a fling on the side and preparing to help himself to the priceless Munch lithograph owned by high-flying Swedish executive and former elite soldier Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Of course, we know it’s all a ploy – that Greve is luring Roger in for his own devious reasons, and that things are about to go horribly wrong – but it’s how Nesbø and Tyldum spring the trap that’s so enjoyable to watch.

It’s a timely film, too: while Nesbø and Tyldum’s prime directive is to give their audience a good bracing shake, they also find time to throw in a few witty, thoughtful asides about personal responsibility and the ways in which the relentless pursuit of wealth conflict with the achievement of true happiness. Bankers and business types may prickle at their blanket portrayal as greedy, self-serving misanthropes, but it serves to slot the film neatly within the current anti-capitalist zeitgeist.

But none of this would matter a jot if Tyldum didn’t have such a firm grasp of his material. The plot moves like a rocket, the despicable characters are marvellously sketched, and if ‘Headhunters’ is not always entirely convincing (a few twists take a bit of swallowing), it’s always deliriously entertaining. Anyone tired of the surly, leather-jacketed seriousness of the ‘Millennium’ trilogy and looking for more spark and spice in their Scandinavian crime sagas need seek no further. Pure joy.


Author: Tom Huddleston

category: Film Reviews

Add your own review:

Post a review, thought or comment

 

Read comments:


<-- Return to the main blog page