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Thursday, 31 May 2012

Duke of Marlborough receives VisitEngland Lifetime Achievement Award


imageOn Tuesday 22nd May The 11th Duke of Marlborough was presented with a VisitEngland Award for Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award recognising 40 years of unwavering service to English tourism.

2012 marks the first year the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence have awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award. The award served to recognise and celebrate one individual who has dedicated his life to tourism in England. The11th Duke of Marlborough has acted as custodian, visionary and protector of Blenheim Palace ensuring visitors from all over the world can enjoy the remarkable treasure house, now and for years to come.

The 11th Duke of Marlborough was born 13 April 1926, the son of the 10th Duke of Marlborough and Hon. Alexandra Mary Hilda Cadogan and grew up on the estate of Blenheim Palace. In 1972 when the Duke’s father died he became the 11th Duke of Marlborough and has dedicated over 40 years of life to running and managing the estate.

His Grace, the Duke of Marlborough commented: "I am honoured and proud to have received this award. Blenheim Palace is part of our national heritage and a World Heritage Site. It has always been my ambition and desire to try and ensure Blenheim’s future so that people from all over the world can continue to come and enjoy our national treasure in beautiful surroundings.

This is an award that has been given to me on behalf of those who have worked, and are working, at Blenheim Palace. It would not have been possible for me to achieve this award without their hard work and loyalty. For me it has been a shining example of a dedicated team spirit."

Blenheim Palace welcomed over half a million visitors last year, and according to VisitEngland’s 2010 Annual Attractions Report featured in the Top 20 Major Paid for Attractions in the England, the Top 10 Major Historic Attractions in England and is the South East’s fifth most popular attraction. However despite this clear popularity with the visiting public the Duke of Marlborough has dedicated himself to continual improvement and development, and this year is no exception.

In the largest development for over 200 years at Blenheim Palace, 2012 will see extensive new improvements to the retail and catering facilities in response to the huge increase of visitor numbers following the introduction of the ‘free Annual Pass’ ticket offer in 2009. Work began on a new visitor welcome centre and café, The Oxfordshire Pantry, in the East Courtyard in January and is due for completion in the summer this year. The new developments will take place in line with the appointment of Searcys, who will provide the catering services for Blenheim Palace Hospitality bringing new expertise and refreshed offerings, in particular a new Champagne bar in the Water Terraces Café.

It is fitting this year that Blenheim Palace is one of the country’s iconic sporting venues hosting a wide range of exciting events from the GE Blenheim Triathlon in June, The Fidelity International Horse Trials in September and the Blenheim Palace Half Marathon in October. This year also sees the GB Para Cycling Team compete at Bike Blenheim Palace in August, and on the 9 July the Olympic Torch Relay passes through Woodstock and Blenheim Palace as part of its 70-day journey to the Olympic Stadium in London.

The great continuing success of Blenheim Palace is driven by the Dukes vision for the future health and wellbeing of the estate. Blenheim Palace has a dedicated team of staff implementing on-going sustainability projects to reduce pollution, emissions and waste, reduce the use of energy, water and other resources, and encourage environmental awareness amongst staff and visitors. The Duke’s aim is for Blenheim Palace to become an outstanding example of sustainable business and achieve a Gold Green Tourism Award, whilst encouraging visitors to reduce their own environmental footprint.

VisitEngland’s Chief Executive, James Berresford, commented: “The VisitEngland Awards for Excellence represent the highest accolade in English tourism. They champion the very best quality, and continue to help to raise standards across the industry, establishing England’s place as a worldclass destination and a thoroughly fantastic place to visit.

Blenheim Palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and a World Heritage Site. The Palace is situated in Woodstock, just 8 miles from Oxford and is surrounded by 2,000 acres of 'Capability' Brown landscaped parkland, the great lake, and beautiful formal gardens.

For more information about Blenheim Palace visit or call the free 24 hour information line 0800 8496500.

category: Interesting Articles

Film Review: Ill Manors


Ben Drew, better known as Plan B, has had an astonishing career so far. Rising through the ranks as a young MC, with a powerful way with words and a strong social conscience, he changed direction with the release of his 2010 soul-pop concept album, 'The Defamation of Strickland Banks' – and his latest project proves that he has more than one string to his bow...

Last year’s riots and the current state of the nation have got Drew’s back up once again, responding to the recent chaos by releasing his angry rap anthem, 'iLL Manors' – on which he spits ferociously, Rage Against the Machine-style, about his disdain for the current government and his concern for future generations.

His new movie of the same name has a similarly upfront tone. Set in an east London council estate, multiple narratives overlap and interlink. There are many difficult social issues covered in this hard-hitting film: the drugs trade and subsequent addiction, gang violence, prostitution and child abuse. It is certainly not an easy watch and, much like Plan B’s early music, it’s unflinching and unapologetic in its bleak depiction of urban life.

Ed Skrein and Riz Ahmed stand out in particular, with the charismatic Skrein as a frighteningly cruel thug and Ahmed as his softer, more thoughtful sidekick. Anouska Mond shows extraordinary depth as a damaged drug addict who sells her body to feed her addiction and Eloise Smyth is excellent as 'Jody', a schoolgirl caught up in the madness. But perhaps the most hauntingly powerful performance in 'iLL Manors' comes from Ryan De La Cruz Indanda as a young boy called 'Jake', who is recruited by an older gang with heartbreaking consequences.

The camerawork is daring and innovative and there are some great performances. Parts of the drama are narrated by Plan B himself, who spits potent biographical rhymes to accompany shots of the tragic lives of his character. Despite the bitty narrative and some fairly loose links between characters, 'iLL Manors' packs a powerful punch and goes beyond media and politicians’ portrayals of a so-called "broken Britain" in an attempt to examine some of the root causes of these issues. An absolute must-see!

By Laura Vevers

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Two Years at Sea


What a strange and intriguing film. In grainy, woozy monochrome, and all but wordless, it presents the day-to-day life of an old man who lives utterly alone in remote Scotland in a ramshackle house with a broken-down caravan in the grounds – his background is unexplained. Cutting wood, doing chores, fishing from an inflatable raft, sorting through old photos, he has the look of a hermit or bearded Russian patriarch. The title of this study of extreme solitude reminded me of Ted Hughes's poem Wind: "This house has been far out at sea all night." It is influenced by Andrew Kotting, who is thanked in the credits, and possibly the Argentinian film-maker Lisandro Alonso, although one surreal moment with the caravan reminded me of those weirdo/deadpan Guinness commercials Jonathan Glazer made before moving into feature films. Quietly enigmatic, valuable work.

By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Tales of the Night


France's Michel Ocelot made a striking case for the revival of traditional animation techniques with his Kirikou films and Azur & Asmar. His latest is a technological leap of sorts, using the darkening properties of digital 3D to make its silhouetted characters – an old man and two youngsters, enacting global legends on an abandoned cinema stage – pop out even further from vividly shaded backgrounds. The tales, sad, strange and funky, are a riot of wandering accents, nipples, morals and monsters, underpinned by a love of storytelling and pretty things, whether melancholy princesses or illustrations ripped from art history books. The pick-and-mix approach is limiting, but there's no denying these are gorgeous amuse-bouches, likely to be devoured by older, more discerning children and dyed-in-the-wool stoners alike.

By Mike McCahill

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Top Cat


Re-dubbed from the original Mexican, this feature-length frolic for Hanna-Barbera’s felonious feline had only a few pesos to rub together judging by its primitive toonery and makeshift 3D.

Yet what really raises the hackles are its tatty attempts to update the character to a modern New York filled with mobile phones, surveillance cameras and robot cops.

The latter are the brainchild of a vile new police chief whose plans to revolutionise the force impact on kindly Officer Dibble. But why revive an old fave if (a) the tweaks soil the original and (b) you lack the means to do it justice?

By Neil Smith

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Prometheus


Although Ridley Scott’s 3D visual feast is no classic, the oozing alien tentacles hit all the right sci-fi horror notes.

Be careful what you wish for, especially if it involves figuring out who invented humankind.

That's the warning at the heart of Prometheus, a visual feast of a 3D sci-fi movie that has trouble combining its high-minded notions about the origins of the species and its Alien -based obligation to deliver oozy gross-out moments. Ridley Scott's third venture into science fiction, after Alien in 1979 and Blade Runner in 1982, won't become a genre benchmark like those classics despite its equivalent seriousness and ambition, but it does supply enough visual spectacle, tense action and sticky, slithery monster attacks to hit the spot with thrill-seeking audiences worldwide.

The Greek titan Prometheus got in trouble for stealing fire from Zeus and putting man on the same level as the gods. Presuming that humans won't rest until we discover where we came from and how we got here, Prometheus proposes that not very long from now, in 2093 to be precise, a plausible source of human life will not only be found but reached by space explorers backed, not surprisingly, by private, not government, interests.

The striking opening sequence (shot in Iceland) reveals scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) discovering ancient cave paintings indicating the likely arrival on Earth of extraterrestrials many thousands of years ago. Such evidence points to the source as a moon in a small solar system a vast distance away, but not out of reach of a trillion-dollar spacecraft built by Weyland Industries.

The buildup and arrival are the best part of the film, suggesting a sense of inquiry and genuine sort of thoughtfulness that promise a truly weighty slice of speculative fiction. Not that this territory hasn't been amply mined in the past: In fact, the particulars of the ship's interior design, visual projections, hibernating crew members, sports workout routines and Michael Fassbender's robot character as a sort of ambulatory HAL with an obsession to look and speak like Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, which he likes to watch, are unavoidably reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Little by little, however, elements of other, less philosophical films come into play, including Fantastic Voyage, Rosemary's Baby and, inevitably, Alien. Arriving on the rugged, outwardly lifeless moon, the 17 crew members notice pyramid-like structures that were clearly not fashioned by nature. Inside, the elaborate tunnels and chambers possess moisture, elaborate writing, a large statue of a human head and, more alarming, countless small cylinders that produce a sticky mud-like substance, and an apparent human head.

It doesn't take long for the crew's number to be reduced by untoward circumstances, nor for doubt to set in about the true agenda not only of Fassbender's David, who can be quietly amusing, but of Charlize Theron's Meredith Vickers, the chilly Weyland executive on board who condescendingly treats everyone else, including the ship's captain (Idris Elba), as vastly inferior employees.

Elizabeth and her scientist boyfriend Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) continue to spar about the potential momentousness of their journey - she, who wears a cross, hopes to find confirmation of her religious beliefs that will point to the existence of a traditional creator, while he is convinced that what they discover will merely prove once and for all that Darwin was right. But such rarefied considerations are thrown overboard when aliens start materializing, shooting their tentacles where you definitely don't want them, getting someone pregnant and otherwise causing the same sort of mayhem they always have in outer-space monster films.

As the survivors are pared down to a precious few, the grisliness and gross-out quotient increases; a self-inflicted cesarian section may be a screen first (certainly the result of it is), while Fassbender's fate is similarly imaginative and far funnier. This project started life as an intended prequel to Alien but morphed into something else. Unfortunately, the closer it comes to a climax, the more you feel the elements being lined up to set the stage for a sequel to this film, most of all in a coda that feels like a craven teaser trailer for the next installment.

Scott doubles his Alien pleasure with not just one but two strong female roles here. Rapace credibly expresses her character's combined scientific and religious convictions - ”It's what I choose to believe,” she insists - and is more than up to the physical requirements of some very intense scenes. Theron is in ice goddess mode here, with the emphasis on ice (and this just as her turn in Snow White and the Huntsman is about to open) but perfect for the role all the same.

Blonded up, perfect of diction and elegant of body, Fassbender seems almost alarmingly neutered at first as the ship's all-purpose valet but excels as he's allowed to begin injecting droll comedy into his performance. As the captain, Elba has a few strong moments standing up to his “boss,” Theron, while the other actors are mostly cannon fodder, save for an unrecognizable Guy Pearce in a late-on role.

Technically, Prometheus is magnificent. Shot in 3D but without the director taking the process into account in his conceptions or execution, the film absorbs and uses the process seamlessly. There is nary a false or phony note in the effects supervised by Richard Stammers, which build upon the outstanding production design by Arthur Max. Dariusz Wolski's graceful and vivid cinematography synthesizes all the elements beautifully in a film that caters too much to imagined audience expectations when a little more adventurous thought might have taken it to some excitingly unsuspected destinations.

by Todd McCarthy

category: Film Reviews

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Film Review: The Source


Romanian-born filmmaker Radu Mihaileanu offers up another certifiably crowd-pleasing slice of world cinema in The Source (La Source des Femmes), a modern-day fable exploring female empowerment in the Arab world. Never one for subtlety, the writer-director tosses everything he can into this two-hour-plus humanist couscous, stirring in a mix of songs, sentiments and socio-religious questions set beneath breathtaking North African landscapes, and carried by a strong central performance from actress Leila Bekhti. Like his previous films, The Source boasts an Arthouse for Beginners appeal that could reach broad audiences beyond Europe.

A mixed reaction at the first Cannes press screening is telling of how Mihaileanu (The Concert, Live and Become) tends to split viewers, with some appreciating his heartwarming (and often tear-jerking) cross-cultural tales, and others wondering whether he deserves the auteur status of the Official Selection’s usual suspects.

Certainly, the fact that the script (co-written with collaborator Alain-Michel Blanc) deals with such a timely subject matter as women and Islam will make the film a talking point when EuropaCorp releases it in France this coming November. Still, despite what can be deemed a rather earnest call for females to rise up and (literally) take off the veil, there’s an unwieldy, bordering-on-kitsch side to Mihaileanu’s storytelling here, and the mix of colorful local customs and swelling, Middle East-influenced scoring (by Armand Amar, Outside the Law) tends to walk the line between a soap opera and an advertisement for Royal Air Morocco.

At its best when it concentrates on solid acting from a talented cast toplined by rising star Bekhti (All that Glitters), the film presents a universally simplistic parable set in an unnamed contemporary Maghreb village, whose women decide they no longer want to fetch water from a nearby well while their men sit around and watch. Given that Leila (Bekhti), Loubna (Hafsia Herzi) and the loud mouth, Mother Rifle (Biyouna), have very little persuasion over the macho, Koran-quoting males who control the remote enclave, they resort to the Power of the P, which in due course drives their husbands mad with sexual starvation.

As an outsider married to the town’s sole intellectual, Sami (Israeli actor Saleh Bakri, The Time that Remains), Lelia suffers the wrath of an evil mother-in-law and other traditionalists who believe a wife’s place is beside the hearth and nowhere else. When an old flame (Malek Akhmiss) pops up unannounced, he drives a wedge between Sami and Lelia that spills over into the greater struggle for the townswomen to have their way at all costs, leading up to a final, free-spirited battle pitting feminist yearnings against Muslim mores.

Trying to hold this mixed bag together is not always easy, and rather than building a steady dramatic arc, Mihaileanu piles on a succession of scenes, some which delight through their humor and energy, others which disappoint through schmaltzy emotions and a tendency towards dialogue in which every character wears their heart on their djellaba. Thus, a subplot involving the illiterate Loubna’s love for a local boy has the sophistication level of an after-school movie, while a few scenes where the women sing caustic songs (one to a group of ignorant tourists) provide an entertaining example of how they can wage war on their own terms.

Between the vivid, mountainous backdrop and array of radiant costumes, director of photography Glynn Speeckaert (In the Beginning) has plenty of eye-candy to capture with his constantly roving camera, and the attractive imagery helps some of the more cloying medicine go down easily. That, and the sheer vitality of all the players – including ever-amusing Algerian actress Biyouna (Viva Algeria) – manage to give Mihaileanu’s vision a lure that rises above and beyond his more facile, and some would say naive, approach to an issue that one wishes could be solved so smoothly.

by Jordan Mintzer

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Snow White And The Huntsman


Parents need to know that this take on the classic Snow White fairy tale isn't the colorful fun of Enchanted or the more tween-friendly Mirror Mirror. Starring the incredibly popular Kristen Stewart (Twilight) as the Fairest of Them All, Thor's Chris Hemsworth as the woodsman, and Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen, this adaptation is about as far from Disney as the tale can get. Expect teens and even some tweens to want to check it out, but know that the trailer and the buzz make it obvious that there's more violence, more blood, and more intrigue in Snow White and the Huntsman than in comparable fairy tale-based films.

by Sandie Angulo Chen

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom


The sweetness, sadness and charm of Wes Anderson's new film - co-written with Roman Coppola – opened the Cannes film festival in a delicate minor key. In some ways, it might have made a more piquant closing gala.

This was an evocation of young love in a younger, more innocent America. It was a very charming, beautifully wrought, if somehow depthless film - eccentric but heartfelt, and thought through to the tiniest, quirkiest detail in the classic Anderson style: there were the familiar rectilinear shots, and compositions with letters and drawings suddenly filled the screen like courtroom exhibits.

Anderson's movies often mark out their own weirdly regressive, faintly dysfunctional space, from which the modern world has been politely excluded, and where the occupants communicate in a kind of modified, private language. Now he takes us back to 1965, a little coastal town in New England called New Penzance. Perhaps, in its un-swinging quaintness, it is more truthful to the homely values of a small-town America which often looked the same in the 60s as it did in the 50s and 40s, though this is Anderson-America in the Anderson-60s, a knight's-move away from the actual time and place.

Where David Lynch finds a dark horror beneath the wholesome exterior, Anderson sees something else - something exotic but practical and self-possessed, a world that ticks along like an antique toy, much treasured by a precocious child. The homes and buildings often look like giant dolls' houses.

Teenage newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward play Sam and Suzy, two smart, unpopular kids who fall in love. Sam is a member of the local scout troop. An orphan, clever if not precisely wise beyond his years, and affecting a corn-cob pipe, he resembles a young Douglas MacArthur. Suzy likes sci-fi novels and the music of Françoise Hardy, which she plays on a portable Dansette-style record player.

When they run away together, Anderson shows how the ensuing crisis discloses the older generation's unhappiness. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are Suzy's parents; their marriage is in crisis and they are sunk in anxiety and self-pity. Bruce Willis is the police chief – lonely and depressed for reasons of his own – and Edward Norton is the scout troop leader, preposterous yet dignified in his absurd shorts and long socks.

Grownups and kids are united in their fear and loathing of the social services officer, who is keen to put Sam away in an orphanage; she is played by Tilda Swinton in an electric blue outfit, like a hostile insurgent from another planet.

The movie takes its odd but attractive keynote of high-mindedness from the music of Benjamin Britten. Suzy and her siblings listen to Britten's Young Persons' Guide to the Orchestra, and Suzy performs in a church production of Noye's Fludde, the resonance of which work reveals itself in the movie's tempestuous final act. The music is an interesting assertion of the Anglo-Saxon character of this parochial, islanded corner of America – evoked not with conventional nostalgia, but rather with a connoisseurship of how strange and different it seems.

Anderson's movies are vulnerable to the charge of being supercilious oddities, but there is elegance and formal brilliance in Moonrise Kingdom as well as a lot of gentle, winning comedy. His homemade aesthetic is placed at the service of a counter-digital, almost hand-drawn cinema, and he has an extraordinary ability to conjure a complete, distinctive universe, entire of itself. To some, Moonrise Kingdom may be nothing more than a soufflé of strangeness, but it rises superbly.

By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Men In Black 3


QUESTION: Can you randomly select 10 words to make a sentence that has never been spoken, nor written, in the history of all mankind?

Answer: I. Wish. There. Was. A. Third. Men. In. Black. Movie.

(Just to be on the safe side, this has been typed into Google. The only result was a thumbnail picture of Will Smith with his bank manager. Both of them were laughing. I think they were also smoking cigars rolled from million-dollar bills.)

Yes, here by total lack of public demand, is Men In Black 3. This messy, overbearingly loud and barely diverting action comedy happens right in front of you. Then high-tails it out of your memory for good.

You won't be needing a Neuralyzer to be forgetting this in a hurry.

(That's a joke from the first two Men In Blacks. If you don't get it, you've already been Neuralyzed. As a result, read no further. Men In Black 3 may just be the movie for you.)

If the plot for the new MIB often gives you the feeling it was made up on the spot, it is indeed because that is exactly what happened.

In order to catch a tax break that was about to close, production began without a completed script at hand.

Therefore relating a satisfactory synopsis is difficult. And not just because Men In Black 3 is difficult to relate to, and rarely satisfies.

Agent J (Will Smith) must journey back to the 1960s to save the life of his partner, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones).

Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Just wait. Cranky old K is present and accounted for in the first act of the picture. Then he suddenly disappears.

A one-armed alien named Boris the Animal (Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement) has re-written history so that K dies at the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969. Therefore J must buddy up with the younger, groovier K (played by Josh Brolin) and keep him alive so that everything can return to be as it should be. While there is some high-concept stuff going on about disobeying the laws of the time, the viewer's care factor is guaranteed to remain quite low.

Performances are ever so slightly stilted. Brolin does an uncanny impression of a youthful Tommy Lee Jones, but leaves no impression otherwise. Jones can barely feign interest in his sections of the movie.

Clement earns a pass mark as the villain but doesn't get to do anything funny. Given his reputation as a comedian - and a gifted one - the Conchord is denied all chance of lift-off.

Even Will Smith is nowhere near the top of his game. Which is perhaps understandable. It has been four years since he last starred in a movie.

Any positives? Just the visuals. Not so much the effects, mind you, but the composition going on within the frame.

To the naked eye, Men In Black 3 is a beautifully arranged picture. Every person, prop and pixel has been placed to perfection before the camera. Switch off the sound and cut out all the bits where people yap or monsters go splat, and you've got the most striking screen-saver ever made.

By Leigh Paatsch

category: Film Reviews

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Eights Week


imageEights Week, also known as Summer Eights, is a four-day regatta of bumps races which constitutes the University of Oxford's main intercollegiate rowing event of the year. The regatta takes place in May of each year, from the Wednesday to the Saturday of the fifth week of Trinity Term. Men's and women's coxed eights compete in separate divisions for their colleges, with some colleges entering as many as five crews for each sex. Summer VIIIs has seven men's divisions alongside six for women's, encompassing a total of 158 boats and around 1,400 participants. Including the qualifying rounds, in which success is termed 'Rowing On', the number of participants in 2003 was over 1,800.

The racing takes place on the Isis, a length of the River Thames, which is generally too narrow for side by side racing. For each division, thirteen boats line up at the downstream end of the stretch, each cox holding onto a rope attached to the bank, leaving around 1.5 boat lengths between each boat. The start of racing is signalled by the firing of a cannon, each crew attempting to progress up their division by bumping the boat in front, while avoiding being bumped by the boat behind. Once a bump has taken place, both of the crews involved stop racing and move to the side to allow the rest of the division to pass. It is possible to 'over bump' if the 2 crews in front of your boat bump (and so drop out) and your boat can catch the boat that was in front of them. They then swap places for the next day's racing, whether that be the calendar day or the first day of racing in the next year's competition.

The ultimate aim of a crew is to become "Head of the River" (top of the first division) and stay there. This entitles the winning crew to commission trophy oars in their college colours with the names and weights of the successful crew on them - commonly called 'winning blades'. As this is only possible for crews already near the top of division one, another way to win blades is to bump on each day of the competition. As the responsibility for awarding blades to crews rests with the individual colleges concerned, there are slight differences in the criteria required.

Men's Head of River from 1815 Summary
Victories College
33 Christ Church
28 Oriel College
19 Magdalen College
18 Brasenose College
16 New College
12 University College
10 Trinity College
10 Balliol College
7 Exeter College
7 Keble College
5 St. Edmund Hall
3 Pembroke College
3 The Queen's College
2 Corpus Christi College
2 Wadham College
1 Hertford College
1 Merton College

Men's Head of River from 1815
Eight's Week has been held since 1815:
2011 Oriel College
2010 Christ Church
2009 Christ Church
2008 Balliol College
2007 Magdalen College
2006 Magdalen College
2005 Magdalen College
2004 Magdalen College
2003 Pembroke College
2002 Oriel College
2001 Oriel College
2000 Oriel College
1999 Oriel College
1998 Oriel College
1997 Oriel College
1996 Oriel College
1995 Pembroke College
1994 Oriel College
1993 Oriel College
1992 Oriel College
1991 University College
1990 University College
1989 Oriel College
1988 Oriel College
1987 Oriel College
1986 New College
1985 Christ Church
1984 Oriel College
1983 Oriel College
1982 Oriel College
1981 Oriel College
1980 Oriel College
1979 Oriel College
1978 Oriel College
1977 Keble College
1976 Oriel College
1975 Christ Church
1974 Christ Church
1973 Christ Church
1972 Keble College
1971 Christ Church
1970 Keble College
1969 Keble College
1968 Keble College
1967 Keble College
1966 Oriel College
1965 St. Edmund Hall
1964 St. Edmund Hall
1963 Keble College
1962 Christ Church
1961 St. Edmund Hall
1960 St. Edmund Hall
1959 St. Edmund Hall
1958 Christ Church
1957 Queen's College
1956 Balliol College
1955 Balliol College
1954 Magdalen College
1953 Magdalen College
1952 Balliol College
1951 Merton College
1950 New College
1949 Trinity College
1948 Trinity College
1947 Trinity College
1946 Trinity College
1940-45 No races due to World War II
1939 Trinity College
1938 Trinity College
1937 New College
1936 Oriel College
1935 Oriel College
1934 Oriel College
1933 Oriel College
1932 Magdalen College
1931 Brasenose College
1930 Brasenose College
1929 Brasenose College
1928 Brasenose College
1927 Christ Church
1926 Christ Church
1925 Christ Church
1924 Christ Church
1923 Magdalen College
1922 New College
1921 New College
1920 Magdalen College
1915-19 No races due to World War I
1914 University College
1913 New College
1912 New College
1911 New College
1910 Magdalen College
1909 Christ Church
1908 Christ Church
1907 Christ Church
1906 Magdalen College
1905 Magdalen College
1904 New College
1903 New College
1902 University College
1901 New College
1900 Magdalen College
1899 New College
1898 New College
1897 New College
1896 New College
1895 Magdalen College
1894 Magdalen College
1893 Magdalen College
1892 Magdalen College
1891 Brasenose College
1890 Brasenose College
1889 Brasenose College
1888 Brasenose College
1887 New College
1886 Magdalen College
1885 Corpus Christi College
1884 Exeter College
1883 Exeter College
1882 Exeter College
1881 Hertford College
1880 Magdalen College
1879 Balliol College
1878 University College
1877 University College
1876 Brasenose College
1875 University College
1874 University College
1873 Balliol College
1872 Pembroke College
1871 University College
1870 University College
1869 University College
1868 Corpus Christi College
1867 Brasenose College
1866 Brasenose College
1865 Brasenose College
1864 Trinity College
1863 Trinity College
1862 Trinity College
1861 Trinity College
1860 Balliol College
1859 Balliol College
1858 Exeter College
1857 Exeter College
1856 Wadham College
1855 Balliol College
1854 Brasenose College
1853 Brasenose College
1852 Brasenose College
1851 Balliol College
1850 Wadham College
1849 Christ Church
1848 Christ Church
1847 Christ Church
1846 Brasenose College
1845 Brasenose College
1844 Christ Church
1843 University College
1842 Oriel College
1841 University College
1840 Brasenose College
1839 Brasenose College
1838 Exeter College
1837 Queen's College
1836 Christ Church
1835 Christ Church
1834 Christ Church
1833 Queen's College
1832 Christ Church
1831 Christ Church
1830 Christ Church
1829 Christ Church
1828 Christ Church
1827 Brasenose College
1826 Christ Church
1825 Christ Church
1824 Exeter College
1823 no races
1822 Brasenose College
1820–1821 unknown
1819 Christ Church
1818 Christ Church
1817 Christ Church
1816 Brasenose College
1815 Brasenose College

Women's Head of River from 1998
2011 Balliol College
2010 Balliol College
2009 St. Edmund Hall
2008 St. Edmund Hall
2007 St. Edmund Hall
2006 St. Edmund Hall
2005 New College
2004 New College
2003 Pembroke College
2002 Pembroke College
2001 Pembroke College
2000 Pembroke College


category: Interesting Articles

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Halfords Cycling Tour Series, Oxford - 22 May 2012


Britain's top cycling teams will battle it out on Oxford's streets on Tuesday 22 May 2012 from 2pm.

Oxford will welcome The Halfords Tour Series for the first time, as Britain's leading televised cycle race series brings its unique team based competition to the city.

Britain's ten top professional cycling teams will head to Oxford for round three of the series.

Over the course of an hour of fast paced, action packed racing, teams will be battling to place their top riders as high as possible in the finishing positions in order to gain their maximum squad points.

It's not just the elite men's event though. A curtain raising Oxford University vs Cambridge University race will start proceedings before the UK's leading female cyclists take to the circuit in the opening round of the Johnson Health Tech GP Series.

Join us for this fantastic free-to-attend event.

2pm - Support events begin on circuit
3.45pm - University race
5pm - Johnson Health Tech GP Series Round One
5.45pm - Podium ceremony and presentation
6pm - Riders sign-on and warm-up
6.50pm - Riders form up on starting grid with mascots
7pm - The Halfords Tour Series Round Three starts (one hour and five laps)
8.15pm - Race finish
8.30pm - Podium ceremony and presentations

You will be able to watch a recording of the event on ITV 4 on Wednesday 23 May 2012 at 8pm.

More information about the Tour Series, including a route map can be found on the Tour Series website.

Traffic Restrictions

The associated traffic management measures for this event will be in effect for the whole of the 24 hours of 22 May 2012.

The effect of the Order is to prohibit vehicles for public safety reasons from the following roads: St Giles for its entire length and width; Magdalen Street East for its entire length; Magdalen Street West for its entire length; Banbury Road from its junction with Parks Road to junction with St Giles; Beaumont Street from about 20 metres east of its junction with St John Street to St Giles; Pusey Street at its junction with St Giles.

Areas of pay & display and other permitted parking spaces in lengths of the above roads will be temporarily suspended.

Affected bus services will operate via Broad Street, and Taxis from Beaumont Street. Exemptions to the prohibitions will be for police, fire, ambulance services; for emergency works to roads and services; and access for authorised vehicles involved with the organisation and safety of the event.

Arrangements for access to private properties will only be available when safe to do so, and by prior arrangement with the event organisers.

The alternative routes for traffic affected by the closure are via Walton Street, Kingston Road, St Margaret’s Road and Woodstock Road or Banbury Road for northbound traffic and vice versa for southbound traffic.

Those parts of the following Oxfordshire County Council parking orders as are affected by these measures will be temporarily suspended for the whole day: 1. (Central Area Oxford) (Controlled Parking Zone and Waiting Restrictions) Order 2011 (article 15); 2. (Oxford Central Area Designation and Regulation of Street Parking Places) Order 2002 (article 22); and 3. (Disabled Persons Parking Places – Oxford) Order 2010 (article 11).

Detailed documents, including the Order, maps and a Statement of Reasons for the proposed Order, are available for public inspection at County Hall, New Road, Oxford OX1 1ND and Oxford City Council, Town Hall, Oxford from 9.00 am to 4.30 pm Monday to Friday.


category: Interesting Articles

Friday, 18 May 2012

Film Review: Goodbye, First Love


The critic and columnist Alan Brien once told me about a friend consulting him about an autobiography he'd been asked to write. It was the mid-1950s when angry young men were all the rage, the friend was about 30 and clearly the publishers expected him to deliver something socially significant. "In 1939," he asked, referring to his sixth-form days, "whom should I have been reading and what should I have been thinking?" Somewhat mischievously Brien suggested he should have discovered Orwell, become disillusioned with Auden and Isherwood, had a sceptical approach to the Popular Front but a high regard for John Strachey, and so on. When I checked out the eventual book these were precisely the attitudes expressed, though whether these aspects of the author's intellectual development all came from Brien's tuition I can't be sure.

This story came to my mind while contemplating Mia Hansen-Løve's exceptional semi-autobiographical movie Goodbye First Love (aka Un amour de jeunesse), which covers a decade in the life of a middle-class Parisienne, Camille Schaeffer (Lola Créton), starting in 1999, when she's a 15-year-old schoolgirl, and continuing through her years as an architecture student. Surprisingly there are no references to any political events of the sort that have become customary in French autobiographical movies, where the bright heroes and heroines revolt against their bourgeois families, discuss Sartre and Baudrillard, throw stones at the oppressive police and generally become part of the cultural warp and weft of the times. I initially thought this a fault but now see it as part of the film's honesty. Hansen-Løve is trying to see what is essential to her heroine's emotional and intellectual development, not to puff her up or put her down.

The 31-year-old Hansen-Løve has spent most of her life involved in films, as a critic for the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, an actress in the films of her partner, the critic and film-maker Olivier Assayas (some 26 years her senior and most recently the director of an epic movie on the terrorist Carlos the Jackal), and now the writer-director of three feature films. Her last film was the semi-biographical Father of My Children, inspired by the career of Humbert Balsan (producer of Hansen-Løve's first film, Tout est pardonné), who committed suicide after a hectic career of wheeling and dealing in the international film industry. It's one of the most convincing pictures ever made about the complex, fascinating and addictive world of film-making, worthy of a place beside Godard's Le Mépris and Truffaut's Day for Night. One guesses that she has substituted architecture for film-making in Goodbye First Love as a way of giving Camille a profession as creative and collaborative but less exotic and histrionic.

The movie begins just as Camille's first love is about to end. Her good-looking boyfriend, Sullivan, announces that he's dropping out of school to spend a year travelling in Latin America with a couple of friends. His aim is self-discovery and maturity, and he exhibits that splendidly French way of believing he can convince himself and others of the rightness of his every action. His name, Sullivan, is probably a reference to the naive film-maker in Preston Sturges's Sullivan's Travels, who abandons Hollywood and takes to the road to learn about life.

When Sullivan comes into Camille's bedroom via the window she calls him her Romeo, and she's only half joking. A farewell holiday follows at her parents' beautiful country house in the Ardèche, though the idyll has seismic tremors. This episode is set up to be recapitulated at the end of the film. Particular emphasis is given to a straw hat by using a device popular in the silent cinema, the "iris-in" and "iris-out", by which the eye is forced to zero in on one part of an image by fading the rest to black.

The heartbroken Camille traces Sullivan's journey with pins in a map, but eventually the traveller disappears and with him the map. Time passes through casual references: an English teacher puts a date on a blackboard, an item in a newspaper mentions the year. As if sifting memories, Camille moves on in the kind of dream that is time itself. Her parents' marriage breaks up. She goes to university, with a new, insignificant boyfriend but no close female companions. Her development is subtly commented on and defined, not through anything she tells us, but through her attitude to architecture. A teacher praises her design for a new university annexe but sees the students' rooms as monastically cramped; she lacks a larger social sense. Another teacher, Lorenz, a charismatic Norwegian 20 years her senior and on the point of getting a divorce, becomes her mentor and lover. He is introduced through a riveting classroom discussion of the meaning of the term "a glimmer".

In a superbly flowing couple of sequences, Lorenz takes the class on a bus tour of Germany (visiting the Bauhaus building in Dessau) and Denmark, where his lessons on architecture and environment continue on a sunny day at a newly designed beach resort outside Copenhagen. A map accompanies these travels, echoing the one of Sullivan's more seemingly adventurous trips in South America. By chance, Camille and Sullivan meet again and part, an occasion on which they visit the cinema and have a crucial exchange on the way French films shape, romanticise and distort life.

We do not see Camille change, she tells us little, but Lola Créton and Hansen-Løve make us experience the movements of her mind, her growing sense of responsibility, her enlarged emotional understanding of the world. This is a splendid, understated film, unsentimental and wholly without that kind of cynicism that passes for worldly wisdom. It's as precise and ultimately as undefined as life itself.

By Philip French

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Monsieur Lazhar


Briefly described, Monsieur Lazhar sounds like a highly contrived movie. An asylum-seeking Algerian restaurateur, whose wife and family have been killed by terrorists, passes himself off as a teacher to help the staff and pupils of a francophone school in Montreal come to terms with the suicide of a troubled female teacher. In fact it is a serious, unsentimental film of real insight into loss, grief, guilt, exile and the true meaning of education. Fellag, a prominent Algerian actor now working in exile in France, imbues the compassionate, indomitably cheerful Bachir Lazhar with a deep humanity. Equally the French-Canadian director elicits excellent performances from the children.

Lazhar is a man of tact, probity and a rich sense of humour. His understanding of his mixed class of 11-year-olds and their problems is palpable, but there is no immediate or magical transformation, and the mutual healing process is gradual. The end sends you out of the cinema in a positive frame of mind, but it's neither triumphalist nor unrealistic. Some teachers will learn from it. All teachers will find it a reaffirmation of their vocation.

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: 2 Days in New York


Julie Delpy's alter ego Marion deserves her own sitcom. She's a lovable mess of neurotic babble, intellectual uncertainty and unmanageable lies, and after 2007's 2 Days in Paris, it's great to see her again. She's now shacked up in Manhattan with her new partner, played by Chris Rock; each have a child from a previous relationship. But Rock is in for a shock: crashing in like an anarchic French circus come Marion's childish father (Delpy's real-life father, Albert), her bickering sister and her casually racist ex-boyfriend (who's now dating her sister), all of whom we met in the first movie. Family relations and cross-cultural mishaps might be the stuff of Hollywood cliche, but Delpy whisks it all into a delightfully eccentric comedy, here, big on laughs, low on pretense, exaggerated but emotionally sincere – not least in Delpy's dealing with the death of her mother (in real life as well as in the movie). We've rarely seen comedy this smart since Woody Allen and Seinfeld left New York.

By Steve Rose

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: What To Expect When You’re Expecting


What to Expect When You're Expecting presents such pregnancy woes as morning sickness, and frequent urination as a kind of purpose-driven gross-out contest.

What audiences should expect is a tone-deaf, superficial, charmless ensemble rom-com, focused on five attractive, but uninteresting, couples.

Think New Year's Eve with hormone overload. Or Valentine's Day on fertility drugs.

Calling itself "loosely based" on the best-selling pregnancy manual, there's little of any value here. Observations are decidedly shallow: Pregnant women get indigestion and men don't always share women's feelings about having a baby. A satiric look at the nine months of human gestation could have been plenty funny, but bland mockery and tin-eared one-liners don't add up to humor.

Instead, the film recycles clichés and wallows in pregnancy side effects like hemorrhoids, flatulence and cankles.

Those maladies - and more - afflict Wendy (Elizabeth Banks), who owns a retail store called Breast Choice. Though a pregnancy expert, she foolishly expects to glow beatifically through all three trimesters. Her miseries are contrasted with the picture-perfect, bikini-clad pregnancy of her leggy blond stepmother-in-law Skyler (Brooklyn Decker), the trophy wife of blowhard race car driver Ramsey (Dennis Quaid). Inexplicably, Ramsey can't help but compete with his dentist son Gary (Ben Falcone), Wendy's husband. Their rivalry is the source of some of the most inane scenes, especially a golf cart chase that culminates with Gary crashing into his father's pool during his stepmother's over-the-top baby shower.

Cameron Diaz plays TV fitness guru Jules whose romance with Evan (Matthew Morrison), her partner on a celebrity dance show, lands her in the family way. But their busy careers make it hard to be in the same place at the same time. Still, they manage to find time to argue ad nauseam over whether or not to to circumcise their baby.

Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) are a married couple adopting a child. As a baby portrait photographer, Holly is more than ready. But Alex, a music promoter, is less certain. Enter the "Dudes Group."

Alex joins the daddy pack led by Chris Rock for weekly stroller crawls through the park. The dudes are shown walking in slow motion, even drinking from baby bottles. Laughing yet? They delight in sharing their child-rearing battle scars: one found his kid swimming in the toilet, another proclaims his baby ate a cigarette.

A tad less formulaic is the story revolving around rival food truck chefs Rosie (Anna Kendrick) and Marco (Chace Crawford), whose brief dalliance results in a pregnancy.
Director Kirk Jones intertwines these unconvincing characters' stories in a ham-fisted style. For a movie that purports to show audiences that no matter what plans are made, things don't always go as expected, it's maddeningly predictable - from natural-childbirth advocate Wendy's cries for drugs during delivery, to its ultimate support of traditional family values.

By Claudia Puig

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Raid


It was in a delicate, almost feathery mood that I sat down to watch this film: apparently set in Indonesia, probably an evanescent arthouse piece, and called, The Rain, was it … ? Perhaps it would soothe my working London commuter's cares like a cup of elusively scented herbal tea. Perhaps there would be unhurried shots of treetops languidly disturbed by evening breezes, of skies on which mysterious cloudshapes would be inscribed, lakes whose surfaces would be disturbed by whorls from the titular rainfall. In the evening, perhaps there would be enigmatic silences between gentle characters accompanied by the plinkety-plunkety-plink of wind-chimes and later a full and plangent moon.

Actually, no. The Raid is a skull-splinteringly violent, uncompromisingly intense and simply brilliant martial arts action movie in a nightmarish and claustrophobic setting. It has something of Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs or John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York, along with the icy ruthlessness of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs. There's also a reminder of the desperate fight scenes from Park Chan-wook's Oldboy. Occasionally, prior to killing or dismembering someone, a combatant will run up a wall and flip over backwards, surreally like Donald O'Connor. The leading man is Iko Uwais – who is basically the Carlos Acosta of Indonesian martial arts – and it is directed by the Welsh film-maker Gareth Huw Evans, who keeps a 10-tonne weight positioned on the accelerator.

It is sublimely, in fact heroically simple in its desire to deliver gasp-inducingly athletic action setpieces at all times, and the stunts and fight moves are stunning. There are times when the drum-roll of automatic fire is so deafeningly continuous it sounds like the fizz of white noise from a mistuned TV. In Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee famously says: "We need emotional content, not anger." But frankly there seems to be an awful lot of anger here, and I can't believe that the filming ended without some pretty serious hospitalisation for everyone concerned. There really aren't many films that will have you holding clenched fists to the corners of your mouth over an hour and a half. I was forever bleating the two clipped monosyllables of shock: "Ohhhsh … " and "Ohhhhf … "

Uwais is Rama, a young rookie in a highly armed paramilitary special forces unit in Jakarta. On one grim day, he finds himself with his comrades in the back of an unmarked van, hurtling through the streets at dawn towards the nastiest part of town. In their black, bulletproof vests and black helmets, the team are disconcerted to be getting their briefing here, in the vehicle, rather than back at base: they are to launch a raid on a 15-storey building whose top floor is a drugs factory run by sinister crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetaphy).

Tama has turned the building into a virtual gated community for every serious criminal in town, and he is protected by a scary martial-arts hombre nicknamed Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian). The briefing is secret because the raid is secret; Rama and the team discover, chillingly, they are on their own, without official backup, forced to fight their way up the building, floor by floor, corridor by corridor, against fanatical and highly armed criminals. There is just one hope: that the enemy is addicted to the thrill of unarmed combat, and will lay down their assault rifles and meet Rama with bare hands, on equal terms.

The building itself appears to exist in a sort of expressionist-realist universe: the exterior looks like a digital creation, and the interiors, with their endless shabby corridors, are like a bad dream. It looks like a haunted hotel in a novel by Stephen King. The cops have rifles; the bad guys have all manner of weapons, including knives and machetes – everything, it seems, short of the "little friend" of Al Pacino's Scarface.

The Raid does not detain the audience with expositions of character; despite the plot reversals there is no pretence at subtlety or depth, and the comparison with Tarantino does not run to tricksy flashbacks or point-of-view shifts. The action runs at hair-raising speed on one single rail from A to B. It is not for everyone and the mayhem is pretty hard to take, but the brilliance of its choreography can hardly be denied, and as film-making it's fluent and muscular and uninhibited to say the least, the element of absurdity held in deadpan check: this is a superb pulp shocker made with passion and flair.

The action genre has been left too long to lumbering beefcakes like Stallone and Lundgren; melding it with martial arts has given it fresh life here, and Iko Uwais is a new star. Those cinephiles who have taught themselves not to turn up their noses at westerns may wish to think on the same lines about action. The Raid is completely deranged – and completely superb.

By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Oxford Punt


Nightshift presents Oxford Punt 2012 Wednesday 16th May

Twenty acts - five venues - one night. The year's best showcase of new Oxford music

The Oxford Punt runs from 7pm through to 1am, starting at The Purple Turtle and finishing at The Junction. Entry to each venue is £5, except The Duke's Cut, which is free.

The Purple Turtle
7.00 Tamara Parsons-Baker
8.00 Undersmile
9.00 Gunning For Tamar
10.00 Mutagenocide

The Cellar
7.30 Secret Rivals
8.15 The Cellar Family
9.00 Von Braun
10.00 Tiger Mendoza

The Wheatsheaf
8.15 Jess Hall
9.00 Caravan Of Whores
9.45 Kill Murray
10.30 Leftouterjoin

The Duke's Cut
8.15 ToLiesel
9.00 Deer Chicago
9.45 The Old Grinding Young
10.30 Dallas Don't

The Junction
9.00 Band Of Hope
10.00 The Long Insiders
11.00 Half Decent
Midnight Manacles Of Acid

ALL-VENUE PUNT PASSES ON SALE NOW. Only 100 available. £8 (+booking fee) from or Truck Store

category: Interesting Articles

Friday, 11 May 2012

Exhibition Review: Other Worlds at The Story Museum


Other Worlds At Oxford Story Museum

Tucked deep within a dusty, dilapidated building in Oxford, a creative partnership has given birth to a bijou selection of the most exciting exhibitions currently on display anywhere in Britain. They knock the overpriced and overhyped spots off anything by Damien Hirst, for sure, and leave your mind buzzing with excitement from what you’ve experienced and for the potential storyteller within each of us.

The building in question is Oxford’s former post office, former telephone exchange and will become, in 2014 Oxford’s world-class story museum and the cornerstone of their bid to become UNESCO World Book Capital. Their ‘Other Worlds’ exhibition aims to breathe the first signs of life and excitement back into a building for which the future holds great potential.

Imagine, if you can the proposal; to turn a sprawling building with 50 disused rooms in the heart of Oxford, into a museum which brings to life the excitement of the creation and telling of a story. A museum which aims to awaken the child within all of us, appealing to all ages of visitor. It’s a huge challenge which the team there seem to have the ability to pull off and this first step is one in the right direction.

The concept is the work of Dark Angels, a group bringing together business writers keen to keep their creativity sharp. The results are staggering; you might find yourself in the delightful ‘National Audio Sneeze Laboratory’, where the stories from within a sneeze are unveiled through science. You’ll stumble across the ‘Time Traveller’s Bureau’, from where you can post yourself a letter to your future self. The attention to detail here is terrific and each glance reveals another cleverly crafted detail. ‘Word Storm’ is an assault on the senses, as a leaking roof appears to fill a room with words and rhyme.

My two personal favourites are Eileen’s ‘English Society of Lost Things’, within which you’ll discover the oddest curios lost by their owners over the past decades and the unusual circumstances leading to their loss – I could personally spend hours just reading the humorous lables explaining each loss. Also ‘Half heard, in the stillness’ a spellbinding room evoking the lost domain of childhood and raising a lump in your throat as the stark simplicity of the message sinks home. In fact, each and every corner turned reveals another fascinating display which demands careful inspection and which rewards in each instance.

The Other Worlds exhibition is only running until the end of May from each Thursday to Sunday, but it’s certainly a ‘must see’ if you’re anywhere within reach of Oxford. There are 25 rooms, so allow yourself a good pair of hours, more if you can. This is a place you could happily lose yourself for a good, long, rainy afternoon or more and somewhere you arrive with an open mind and leave with one filled with possibilities and great stories.

The Story Museum
Rochester House
42 Pembroke Street

Review by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Other Worlds runs from May 1 - 27 2012

Opening times:
May 1 - 27th inclusive 2012:
Thurs 1-7pm; Fri 1-7pm, Sat 1pm - 5pm,
Sun 10am - 4pm

£3 entry for adults and children. Under 2s free. Tickets on the door.

category: Miscellaneous Reviews

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Film Review: The Dictator


It’s probably best to know as little as possible about Sacha Baron-Cohen’s various starring vehicles (‘Borat’, ‘Brüno’) to garner maximum enjoyment and, of course, shock value out of them. This forthcoming film, teaming the fearless star with director Larry Charles once more, is said to be about a dictator in exile who is desperately trying to keep his country free from the scourge of democracy. Although the cast list includes a host of Proper Actors, among them Anna Faris, Megan Fox, John C Reilly and Sir Ben Kingsley, talk suggests the film will still have the spontaneous, prankish feel of his two previous films. It’s been scheduled for a May 18 2012 release date, but there are no preview screenings of the film until very close to the release, which could be a bad sign. Already, Baron-Cohen has been doing the rounds of publicity in character, as he did before with Bruno and Borat. Also, it will be interesting to see, in the light of the Arab Spring and the death of Gaddafi, whether Baron-Cohen can convincingly sidestep the inevitable and perennial accusations of bad taste.

Review Source

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: All in Good Time


A smart rom-com from writer Ayub Khan-Din (who scripted East is East) about a young Asian couple (Amara Karan and Reece Ritchie) who have to endure living with his parents when their planned honeymoon falls apart.

There are sublime performances from Meera Syal and Harish Patel, who originated the roles on stage when the production was called Rafta Rafta. A wise and witty film about sex – well, actually the lack of it – that’s honest and often laugh-out-loud funny.

By Mark Adams

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Robocop


RoboCop is a comic book movie that's definitely not for kids. The welding of extreme violence with four-letter words is tempered with gut-level humor and technical wizardry.

Roller-coaster ride begins with the near-dismemberment of recently transferred police officer Murphy (Peter Weller), to the southern precinct of the Detroit Police Dept in the not-too-distant future.

There are three organizations inextricably wound into Detroit's anarchical society - the police, a band of sadistic hoodlums, and a multinational conglomerate which has a contract with the city to run the police force.

Weller is blown to bits just at the time an ambitious junior exec at the multinational is ready to develop a prototype cyborg - half-man, half-machine programmed to be an indestructable cop. Thus Weller becomes RoboCop, unleashed to fell the human scum he encounters, not the least among them his killers.

As sicko sadists go, Kurtwood Smith is a well-cast adversary. Nancy Allen as Weller's partner (before he died) provides the only warmth in the film, wanting and encouraging RoboCop to listen to some of the human spirit that survived inside him. RoboCop is as tightly worked as a film can be, not a moment or line wasted.

Review Source

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home


The Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, don’t write and direct indie movies like anyone else. Their characters march to the gently eccentric comic rhythm drumming inside their heads, as in The Puffy Chair, Baghead and the slightly larger Cyrus. The themes are meant to be intuited, not spelled out.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home, being released by a major studio with major names, is still unmistakably Duplass with scripted dialogue that feels improvised. Jeff (Jason Segel) is 30, but still living in the basement of his patient widowed mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), smoking weed and waiting to find his destiny, which doesn’t involve more than Mom asking him to buy glue to fix a shutter. Jeff sits on the toilet and fixates on M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, as if that Mel Gibson film held clues about handling the outside world.

Jeff’s older brother, Pat (Ed Helms), has the supposedly enviable job, home and wife (Judy Greer). But the troubled Pat – exorcising his midlife terrors by buying a Porsche – is convinced that his wife, Linda, is cheating on him and enlists Jeff’s help to catch her in her betrayal.

That ignites the comedy as the brothers play at being private dicks. Sharon has her own adventure at the office when she learns she has a secret admirer. It’s a thin plot. But here’s the magic of the Duplass brothers. With the right actors – and Segel, Helms and Sarandon are beyond wonderful – their films make the small, awkward moments of life resonate with emotional power. The surprisingly big climax, with the characters converging on a traffic-clogged bridge, allows Jeff to reaffirm his faith in destiny. The funny, touching and vital Jeff, Who Lives at Home reaffirms your faith in Jay and Mark Duplass. Their films hit you where you live.


category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Dark Shadows


WHAT a strange film Dark Shadows is. That may seem like an obvious observation to make in reference to a Tim Burton movie, but its oddness has less to do with trademark Burton tropes – kooky weirdos, Gothic settings, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter – as it does the bizarre storytelling choices he makes.

Re-imagined – like the majority of Burton’s films since Planet of the Apes – from a previous screen incarnation (in this case, a largely forgotten Adams Family-esque American soap opera from the late 1960s), Dark Shadows is so messy it almost plays like a purer tribute to Burton’s beloved Ed Wood than Ed Wood.

Of course, it’s hard to believe for a second that this is an intentional artistic choice rather than an excuse for bungled high-concept filmmaking, but viewing it in this way does make it easier to appreciate what minor joys it has to offer.

There are flashes, for instance, of the Burton of old (the one who made Beetlejuice and the knowingly ramshackle big-budget Z-movie Mars Attacks!), especially in the first half of the film when Depp’s now (over)familiar brand of arch Hammer Horror-style acting gives his vampire protagonist, Barnabas Collins, an air of kitschy, kinky unpredictability. Newly exhumed in the year 1972 after two centuries of underground incarceration, Barnabas may be put through lots of groan-inducing, fish-out-of-water scenarios involving lampooning references to The Carpenters, hippies, McDonald’s and the existence of television, but Depp’s delivery of Barnabas’s anachronistic aristocratic dialogue does raise the odd smile. What’s more, this, combined with the fact that Barnabas kills innocent people, succumbs to the base desires of immortality seeking women, and engages in one elaborate, acrobatic, room-trashing bout of supernatural sex, suggests a subversive edge that has been sorely lacking much of Burton’s recent family friendly output.

But this is also part of the film’s problem. The 12A-rated Dark Shadows is, after all, still courting that family audience; indeed its tokenistic theme is the importance of family, something that is spelled out in a 1770s-set prologue in which Barnabas is cursed by Eva Green’s love-spurned witch Angelique and condemned to suffer for eternity as an alabaster-skinned blood-sucker.

Flash forward to 1972 and Barnabas’s sudden arrival coincides with a prolonged period of decline for the Collins family, now represented by a dysfunctional group comprising protective matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her useless brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his ghost-seeing motherless son David (Gulliver McGrath), and Elizabeth’s rebellious teen daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz).

Resolving to restore the Collins family to its former glory, Barnabas sets about reinvigorating their fish-canning business – yes, really! – by hypnotising locals into switching allegiances from the town’s chief employer who, for reasons that left conveniently unexplained, just happens to be his scorned lover Angelique.

Muddled as this sounds, the plot is complicated further by the arrival of a new governess for the bereft and spectre-plagued David. This is Victoria (Bella Heathcote), a similarly haunted young woman who bears a striking resemblance to the love of Barnabas’s life, Josette, whose death two centuries earlier at the hands of Angelique is the real source of Barnabas’s torment. When he first sees Victoria, he thus becomes convinced he’s been given a second chance at love and the film manoeuvres them into place as fated soulmates. Unfortunately it then neglects to spend any time creating chemistry between Heathcote and Depp, expecting us to take it as read that they’re meant for each other because, well, that’s how stories of this sort function.

That’s symptomatic of the character development as a whole, though. Victoria, like the rest of the Collins clan – which also includes a live-in shrink (played by Helena Bonham Carter) who takes an unhealthy interest in Barnabas – are given short thrift by the film as Burton concentrates on Angelique’s unexplained obsession with trying to win Barnabas’s devotion.

That Burton should want to focus on the comic potential of this pair is perhaps understandable given that Green is a far more magnetic screen presence than the barely present Heathcote. But neither character makes much narrative sense and Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (author of best-selling horror mash-up novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) seem to be at such a loss as to what to do with the other characters or subplots that by the time the incident-packed final act rolls around they appear to just give up trying to make it cohere altogether. Plot twists come out of nowhere (one character is suddenly revealed to be a werewolf for no reason whatsoever); Alice Cooper makes an extended cameo appearance; hints are suddenly dropped about darker family secrets, and Barnabas’s murderous instincts are glossed over as proceedings begin to segue into Twilight territory. In the end, while Dark Shadows is fun for a while, there’s only so much that can be excused by Burton’s love of kitschy pop culture.


category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Piranha 3dd


The first film was a tongue-in-cheek remake of the Eighties killer-fish flick, which had Richard Dreyfuss in a half- assed pisstake of his iconic Jaws role.

David Hasselhoff spoofs his Baywatch days here, as this remake/ sequel turns it all the way up to ridiculous, and then some – as its bra-bursting title suggests. Still, if homicidal fish are your idea of cinematic heaven, you’ll love it.

Review Source

category: Film Reviews

Thursday, 03 May 2012

Film Review: Silent House


The second movie by Open Water duo Chris Kentis and Laura Lau has a similar real time gimmick to their first...

But this time the movie unfolds in one unbroken take. Sort of. (They cheat.)

It’s not just a gimmick though. The technique does draw us into the nightmarish experience of Sarah, a young woman who finds herself trapped in a dark old house, without electricity, wifi, phones, or even windows (they have been boarded up to keep out squatters, apparently). This is a country cottage she knows from childhood, and her father and uncle are doing a bit of work on the place before putting it up for sale. Unfortunately they have an argument and the uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) storms off.

When Sarah hears something – or maybe someone – upstairs, her dad volunteers to check it out (“I know how you think”, he tells her with a patronizing air). But damn if he doesn’t check out in a different sense – leaving Sarah to grope around the place with nothing but a lantern, a torch, and her own mounting hysteria for company.

This is actually a remake of a Uruguayan hit, La Casa Muda – which you can watch now on LOVEFiLM Instant. I have to admit I haven’t seen the original, but Silent House worked well enough for me. It’s tense, claustrophobic, and relentlessly creepy – if you like that kind of thing. Some might find it cramped and under nourished.

It helps that Elizabeth Olsen is Sarah. The Martha Marcy May Marlene discovery is constantly either on camera, or the camera is seeing through her eyes and if there is one thing Olsen knows how to do it is express trauma in infinitesimal degrees of acuteness.

Now, as it happens, what she sees is often pitch black, or something very close to it. Kentis and Lau have made something quite old fashioned here, it’s not explicit gore that scares us, but fear of the dark, and what our imagination tells us might be lurking in it.

The murk is so expansive, the movie becomes quite confusing even though the cast list only stretches to four (or is it five?) characters. But that confusion only accentuates the fear… In fact, the movie’s only real miscalculation is the last five minutes, when it feels the need to explain itself. Instead of snapping shut like the most memorable horror films this one squeezes open a metaphorical escape hatch and wanders out into the night. Cold comfort, perhaps, but still we’ll take whatever we can get after a dark ride like this one.

by Tom Charity

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Dinotasia


Dinosaur cool takes a kicking in this dreary, terribly animated mock-doc, in which crudely composited reptiles stalk flat live-action landscapes in search of dinner. Originally broadcast in bite-sized chunks on the Discovery Channel, at feature length its narrative flaws are glaring.

Endless vignettes show the same set-up of predatorson the prowl, repeated over millions of years – and it feels like it. Werner Herzog’s grandiose, unintentionally camp narration adds entertainment value, but there’s zero educational sustenance in the film’s servings of synthetic gore.

By Simon Kinnear

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Damsels in Distress


In college comedy Damsels in Distress, you are the new kid. At first, you don't feel comfortable: everyone you meet is snobbish or neurotic, some chillingly smart, others downright dopey, the most interesting ones both at once.

People have a strange stilted way of talking, as if reciting once-brilliant aperçus from ancient copies of The New Yorker. But don't worry, because by the end of term, you'll feel right at home – and even tapping your feet to the big closing dance number.

Damsels in Distress is a peculiar film, a radically love-it-or-hate-it proposition from the long-absent Whit Stillman. He was one of the stars of the 1980s-1990s US independent wave, but he didn't quite fit in: while other indie directors were all backward baseball caps, Stillman was a dapper Brooks Brothers type, his Metropolitan (1990) an ironic-romantic vignette of Manhattan's preppie set.

Returning 13 years after his third film The Last Days of Disco, Stillman has become markedly more eccentric. With Damsels in Distress, he's thrown caution to the wind and made a film that's a crazy, exuberant objet, a glimmering bauble fashioned for the sheer delight of it.

Set on the leafy, Greek-colonnaded campus of Seven Oaks, Damsels begins with the arrival of wide-eyed Lily (Analeigh Tipton), who is pounced on by three confident young women, as fragrant as their names suggest: Violet (Greta Gerwig), Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and Heather (Carrie MacLemore). Memories of high-school black comedy Heathers make you suspect these alpha maidens are evil snobs out to destroy. Not at all.

They may be snooty – they seize their noses as the college's more brutish boys pass, gagging at the "acrid odour" of "male barbarism". Yet – gauchely, cheerfully conceited as they are – these superior misses simply want to sprinkle their fairy dust upon the world. They run a Suicide Prevention Centre and try to save the despairing by cajoling them to tap dance. Things backfire, however, when one of the centre's female lame ducks takes up with Violet's boyfriend Frank, sending our heroine into a crisis – from which she's saved by a miraculous bar of soap.

That's the kind of film this is – less a coherent narrative than a chain of flip, sometimes arcane conceits. Lily's French boyfriend (Hugo Becker) seduces her into the sexual practices associated with the ancient Cathar religion; suavely-suited Charlie (Adam Brody) is suspected of being what Rose classifies as "a Playboy or Opera-tor [sic] Type"; and Violet pursues her crusade to help humanity by launching a new dance craze, the Sambola! (exclamation mark integral).

Stillman's film may well strike you as anachronistic – the title is a wink at A Damsel in Distress, a 1937 Fred Astaire musical scripted by P G Wodehouse. The characters oddly resemble swains and shepherdesses in 18th-century pastoral, and you wonder when Gerwig will turn up with an attendant baa-lamb. At one point, there's a lecture about the Dandy Tradition in Literature, with reference to the quintessentially precious English novelist Ronald Firbank – and the film plays rather as if Firbank had been brought in to doctor a Woody Allen script.

The result is a tone that may well stick in your craw, and strike you as show-offy and unfunny. But the nature of dandy humour, surely, is that everything should have the ring of sparkling wit, while not necessarily being funny per se. Here the characters are forever dispensing prolix pronouncements that sound like Wildean epigrams, yet are oddly solemn, even laborious: but they are Stillmanisms, and that's their essence. These lines don't sit naturally on modern American lips, and some of the actors deliver them as if they'd learned them phonetically, like Martians having a crack at Molière. The humour is less LOL, Laugh Out Loud, than RQE, Raise Quizzical Eyebrow.

This proudly counter-intuitive confection works partly because of the charm of the cast. Echikunwoke is irresistible as the haughty Rose, an African-American siren who feigns to be English and adopts the lofty diction of Gore Vidal; Ryan Metcalf is a find as the ebulliently lunkish Frank; and Tipton is an unlikely Everygirl, a lolloping beanpole with a rubber-faced cartoon beauty.

As Violet, Gerwig – a long way from her days as face of the "mumblecore" school of indie – is a star turn. She has the robust look of those tennis girls that once set John Betjeman's heart a-flutter, but her earnest, poised delivery, matched with the hurried waddle of her walk, make her Violet a fascinatingly ungainly goddess – Venus as a dork.

The film is gorgeously shot by Doug Emmett, who puts a summery gleam on the marble frontages, and scored by Mark Suozzo and Adam Schlesinger with echoes of breezily vacant 1950s pop. This is a feelgood film, if you must – but not in any way you'll recognise. You'll gape at the sheer improbability of Damsels In Distress, but go with it, and you may find it lifts your soul even as it makes your jaw drop. Whether you also dance the Sambola! is left to your discretion.


category: Film Reviews

Film Review: This Must Be the Place


Paolo Sorrentino's first English-language feature is not quite a misstep, but is less successful than his other films. It is an intriguing co-production oddity, and one in which a disconnect opens up between style and substance; this attempt to absorb an imagined remnant of European history's greatest horror into a quirky road movie in the manner of Wim Wenders does not entirely convince. There's much less political and historical savvy than in Sorrentino's earlier movie Il Divo, about Guilio Andreotti, and less of a solid base on which to rest his unmistakeable mannerisms: the emphatic low-angled establishing shots, the swooping perspectives and zooms, the deadpan closeups and shards of pop – although it's sad, incidentally, to see him here bring out a cliched theme of Arvo Pärt.

What Sorrentino can boast, however, is an authentic star performance from Sean Penn, playing Cheyenne, a retired, tangly haired, mascara'd goth rocker who looks like Robert Smith's depressed older brother or Quentin Crisp's socially fastidious nephew. Penn is one of Hollywood's biggest guns, and you cannot wheel him on without getting a very big bang, and so it proves again here. But he is well controlled and directed. Resembling an elegant black scarecrow, unselfconsciously towing a shopping trolley or wheelie-suitcase, his creation is like a bizarre installation lowered into weird landscapes: a Dublin shopping mall or a New Mexico desert. Penn shows us something we hadn't seen much from him before – a sense of humour.

Cheyenne is living a weird, almost Stella Street existence in Dublin. Having quit the music business decades before, he now lives as a wealthy man in the Irish Republic, presumably for the tax advantages, sharing a luxurious mansion with his unpretentious wife Jane (Frances McDormand), a hardworking firefighter. With an elderly, Truman-Capoteish quavering voice, Cheyenne offers his wacky remarks. "Why is Lady Gaga….?" he wonders aloud, leaving the question to evaporate in the air. Cheyenne has little to do but brood over his share portfolio, go shopping in the local supermarket and hang out with his young friend Mary (Eve Hewson), whose love life he is gently trying to guide, and in whose unhappy family background he takes an interest. Together, they visit the graves of young people who were fans of his music. The key to his private pain is here.

All this is exotic and intricate enough. But then he receives word that his elderly father has died in New York, and on his return there, we find that Cheyenne is Jewish: his given name, from his pre-rockstar existence, is to remain a mystery. He is now tasked with tracking down the Auschwitz guard who tormented his father, and is still at large in the US. With the help of a querulous veteran Nazi hunter, played by Judd Hirsch, he sets out to do just this, in his spacey, laidback rockstar way – although how he locates the relevant clues, and why they have not been located before, is never really clear.

The best scene of the film, by a mile, is one in which Cheyenne meets his old friend David Byrne (playing himself, and performing the Talking Heads' song This Must Be the Place). Their meeting has exactly the right off-the-wall eccentricity and charm, the exactly judged serio-comic taste. Byrne embodies a funky kind of snowy-haired wisdom; he's a confessor figure to Cheyenne who reveals, in anguish, the reason for his current existence in Ireland, and for his unhappiness and guilt. It is very real.

Yet tracking down a wartime camp guard is such a hefty left turn for this story; it takes the movie to the edge, and over the edge, of logistical plausibility, and loads it with an importance that threatens to capsize the movie, while always insisting on a dimension of bleary, rock-star naivete. Of course, it could be that the very unassimilable bizarreness of the Nazi quest is part of the point: a distancing effect. Sorrentino gives us one of his most distinctive touches when Cheyenne is watching a rollerblader whooshing through a park in New York: lithe and super-cool – and then suddenly the guy loses his balance and crashes to the ground. The effect is startling, strange, almost hallucinatory, rather than just absurd or ironic. Sorrentino's films take place in a world of strange things: the audience is jolted, startled, woken up, but woken up into a more intense, more lucid kind of dreaming.

The final moments in the American desert, and then in Dublin, have a strange savour: a kind of resolution that feels not forced exactly, but conjured and unreal. Sorrentino has left his Italian comfort zone for this film, and found an alternative comfort zone of rock music and road-movie tropes, a zone that he tries to give his own flavour and style. It can't be the place where he flourishes the most.

By Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Monk


As the gradually corrupted Capuchin abbot in this amazingly brisk adaptation of Matthew Lewis’s 1796 Gothic doorstop, Vincent Cassel gives good glower. Still, he can’t out-act the weather, which is perfect: inky thunderclouds cling to the monastery turrets and won’t let go.

French thriller specialist Dominik Moll (Lemming) has mounted it with an outstanding cinematographer, Patrick Blossier (Red Lights), and the scoring services of the reliably terrific Alberto Iglesias. Thanks to them, the movie broods like nobody’s business, setting us up for a temptingly black slab of cassocks-off ecclesiastical depravity.

If only it were a thicker slab. The downside of Moll’s slicing, surgical approach is that his movie resembles a trailer for Lewis’s book, not a fully realised interpretation. Without the screen time to register as fully distinct personalities, the three vixens ranged before Cassel’s Ambrosio become thin, temptressy ideas of the feminine, rather than women, and the pacing suffers from opaque motivation all round.

Moll leaves us with mood, and lots of it: the mask worn by a facially deformed novice lends a truly creepy charge to every scene it appears in. The surface chills, but what’s under merely underwhelms: like Moll’s whole stab at this fable of carnal knowledge, it needed more fleshing out.

By Tim Robey

category: Interesting Articles

Film Review: Safe


IN AN AGE when Spandex rules the multiplex and any young actor with a gym membership, a personal trainer and a vat of chest wax can qualify as an action star, Jason Statham stands alone as the go-to-guy for satisfyingly old-school, bone-crunching, throat-punching mayhem.

The sublimely slick and silly Transporter franchise and the gloriously gonzo Crank films – OK, maybe just the first Crank; the second one was a little too free-and-easy with racial slurs and misogynistic banter to qualify as ironic – have thus far been the best showcases for his bald-headed brand of brain bashing, save-the-day heroics.

Yet he’s also proved a solid source of cut-to-the-chase Friday night thrills in limited release movies such as Blitz and The Mechanic, and rescued big-name ensemble vehicles such as Sylvester Stallone’s geriatric men-on-a-mission movie The Expendables and the Robert DeNiro/Clive Owen SAS film Killer Elite from total ignominy. He may not be a superstar in the way that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stallone once were (at least, not yet), but he has become something more interesting: a charismatic, enigmatic and ever reliable above-the-title genre star, the sort whose presence in a film guarantees a good time even if the story around him does not (think of him as a sort of modern day Charles Bronson with the skills of Chuck Norris).

That’s a great thing to be, but at a certain point, star status demands a mainstream star-vehicle that’s more commensurate with what’s being brought to the table. In this respect, Safe is an encouraging step forward. Though by no means his Bruce-Willis-in-Die Hard moment, it is a gratifying and entertainingly put-together action thriller that takes everything that’s great about Statham and deploys it in the service of a propulsive lone-wolf-and-cub-style story in which the hero gets to go kill-crazy on armies of bad guys while protecting a minor.

Statham plays Luke Wright, a former New York cop turned cagefighter who is living on the streets after the Russian mob killed his wife as payback for not throwing a fight. In a deep state of suicidal sorrow (proving he can actually act a bit, there’s a moving scene early on when Statham sheds a solitary tear for his deceased spouse), he’s rescued from his despair by a chance encounter with a young Chinese mathematics prodigy called Mei (Catherine Chan), who is in dire need of some protection – the sort of protection that Statham’s action hero is primed to provide.

Mei, it transpires, has a head for figures and has been press-ganged into service for the local Triads as a sort of human financial database: a way to conduct business without leaving a paper trail of complex and highly illegal transactions. Naturally, this makes her a target for rival gangs and, with New York in the midst of a turf war between the Russians, the Triads and a nefarious band of corrupt cops whose connections go all the way up to City Hall, she runs into Statham’s Luke at just the right time.

All of which is preposterous, of course, but it’s the right kind of preposterous, the kind that gets the balance right between delivering outlandish action and story beats that move the film forward in a reasonably compelling manner. The script, by the film’s director Boaz Yakin, may never be anything more than functional (although Statham’s trademark US-tinged South London growl enables him to carry off a few knowing pre- and post-kill one liners with amusing verve), but it doesn’t defy its own logic either. Even as the plot becomes increasingly convoluted – as it pitches Luke and Mei against a Luke’s old Russian nemeses, his old cop colleagues and Mei’s Triad masters – it remembers to dish out exposition that clarifies the storyline with inventively orchestrated gunplay, car chases and, most satisfyingly, brutal close-quarter combat from Statham. In the midst of all this, Statham also has a nice interplay with his young co-star, who perhaps isn’t quite as self-possessed as Natalie Portman was in the similarly themed Leon, but still manages to hold her own, subverting a few expectations by being savvier and tougher than she at first appears.

Some will doubtless gripe that the film’s rather generic title is a comment on Statham’s career choices, but that’s a little unfair. Making this kind of mid-budget, straight-up action film, at least in the US, seems to be a vanishing skill (just try sitting through The Cold Light of Day without wanting to punch everyone involved in making it) and while Statham plays to his strengths, Safe allows him to expand his range a bit. In the end, it’s not unreasonable to hope that an auteur like Michael Mann might soon recognise his brilliance and cast him in more than a walk-on role (as he did in Collateral). Until that happens, though, this does the business.


category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Beauty And The Beast


Twenty years old, anyway, going on 21. Beauty and the Beast, the Walt Disney Studio’s 30th cartoon feature, cast a quick, sure spell over audiences, critics and the Motion Picture Academy. The first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture, the movie also secured three of the five slots in the Best Original Song category, winning for the title tune. After many permutations on VHS and DVD, the film is back in theaters, tarted up but not tarnished in 3-D, for a new generation of kids and other movie lovers to see as it should be seen: on a giant screen, in a community of the similarly enthralled.

Unlike most films in the Disney-animation canon, B&B is a love story, a union of misfits. Belle is a brainy bookworm in a town of the narrow-minded; like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, she wants to escape, singing of “adventure in the great wide somewhere.” The Beast is the ultimate misfit, a medieval bestiary in one body; animator Glen Keane portrayed him as a ferocious amalgam of lion, buffalo, wolf, bear and wild boar, with only the Prince’s blue eyes to suggest his buried humanity.

The opening narration explains that the old woman’s curse on the Prince will last until “his 21st year” (which, since the household staff mentions that they’ve been bewitched for a decade, means that the Prince made his fatal decision when he was 10!). For all his feral majesty and bass-baritone growl, the Beast is barely out of his teens - a boy uncomfortable in a body and a temperament he can’t control - and as socially gauche as any kid who’s grown up with servants but no family. At first Belle’s giant bully, imprisoning her in his castle, he reveals a glimmer of humanity when he is wounded rescuing the girl from wolves. His convalescence allows Belle to see him as a moody, helpless child; she becomes the dominant partner by providing the maternal care and eventually romantic commitment he needs to break the curse. As Jean-Luc Godard said in his film essay Histoire(s) du Cinema, “Deep inside each love story lurks the story of a nurse.”

The plot’s Other Man is Gaston, a cartoon of masculinity with gigantic jaw and muscles (the torso of a Frank Frazetta warlord) but with a fruity tenor voice. He’s like Dudley Do-Right gone wrong. Gaston’s shallow bigotry, for wanting to marry Belle because she’s the prettiest girl in town (“That makes her the best”), corrodes into malevolence when he consigns Belle’s eccentric father to an asylum and leads the ignorant villagers on a torches-and-pitchforks crusade, reminiscent of the last reel of the 1931 Frankenstein, to kill the Beast. Of course Gaston is the real monster, more vile and predatory than the creature in the castle. Beyond the obvious messages that character is beauty, and tenderness strength, the movie says that all men are beasts, until they soften into suitably domesticated mates.

For the new edition, the 3-D filigree work - which comprises perhaps 30 or 40% of the film, allowing you to watch most of it without the glasses - sends wood shavings, bats, tree leaves and rain hurtling out of the screen. The process is sometimes an ornament, once or twice a distraction, but it doesn’t materially dilute the still-sublime experience.

Trousdale and Wise were still in their 20s when they were called on to direct the movie; Menken and Ashman had done Little Shop of Horrors off-Broadway and The Little Mermaid for Disney - two gifted duos in their early prime. Linda Woolverton (who later scripted Disney’s Alice in Wonderland for Tim Burton) wrote the movie’s screenplay, but it was Ashman’s idea to anthropomorphize the Beast’s household staff. The lyricist died, at 41, eight months before Beauty and the Beast opened, and Menken lost his most imaginative collaborator. The film’s dedication reads: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”

Under Jeffrey Katzenberg’s supervision, the Beauty team created a near-perfect blend of musical-theater expertise and Disney animation technique (mostly traditional “hand-drawn,” but making some use of the CGI format that Pixar would fully exploit in Toy Story four years later). The storytelling is swift and solid, from the opening number (“Belle”), which introduces Belle, her father, Gaston and all the townsfolk, to the near-tragic ending, a lovely gradation of emotional shading from comedy to poignancy. Powerful without seeming manipulative, the movie should have the same hold on viewers today as it did in 1991. Two decades isn’t an eon, but Beauty and the Beast stands the test of time.

“Tale as old as time / True as it can be.”


category: Film Reviews

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