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Thursday, 26 July 2012

Film Review: Women On The 6th Floor


Warm-hearted but silly French comedy, set in 1960 and starring the excellent Fabrice Luchini as a stockbroker in the stuffy world of the Parisian haute bourgeoisie. He falls for the family's new Spanish maid (Natalia Verbeke) and begins a social revolution among the inhabitants of the sixth-floor servants' quarters, who include Almodóvar favourites Carmen Maura and Lola Dueñas.

Jason Solomons

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Players


After the cynicism-free joys and romantic thrills of The Artist, Jean Dujardin plunges into the tawdry sexual maelstrom of French infidelity in a series of sketches featuring serial adulterers.

After sitting through this, you rather fancy he should also plunge into a cold bath.

Nine shorts - lasting from a sexually frustrating two minutes to a carnally impressive twenty - explore the lack of restraint of the Gallic libido and couldn't be more, well, French.

On the raunchy side, Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche head for the bright lights and fleshy temptations of Nevada's Sin City in the segment Las Vegas and play a couple of boorish swordsmen in the opening scene - The Prologue.

More interestingly, Dujardin and his real-life wife Alexandra Lamy each confess to affairs in the morally intriguing The Question while Sandrine Kiberlain amusingly plays a sex addiction counsellor in the genuinely drole The Anonymous Players.

Inevitably, these portmanteau-style affairs prove to be hit and miss and - taken as a whole - these racy glimpses into the duplicitous inclinations of serial adulterers offers all the insight of The Benny Hill Show on permanent loop.

At the end of a tiring day, it's pertinent to note that Dujardin and Lellouche chauvinistically employ the services of a genuine porn star in one scene and that posters for the film were removed from the Paris Metro because it was felt their sexist content might affect Dujardin's Oscar chances for The Artist.

Zut alors!

Review from Sky Movies

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: In Your Hands


THE word slow doesn’t even come close to describing Kristin Scott Thomas’s new drama.

I started watching the film at 6pm last week and, three hours later, looked at my watch to discover it was only 6.15pm. Watching Dulux dehydrating would be more fun.

The actress plays a surgeon called Anna who, returning to her Parisian apartment one night, is threatened at knife-point and bundled into the boot of a car.

Her attacker (Pio Marmai) is the widower of one of her patients who plans to get his revenge by keeping her locked in a room.

Despite clocking in at less than 90 minutes, this goes on and on, with most of the time spent watching Anna pacing her prison.

Insomniacs only.

By David Edwards

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Ted


Adolescent men have long been a staple of American comedies, but the last few years has seen a surge in movies revolving around overgrown boys struggling to leave their childhood obsessions behind. It’s probably no coincidence that these films have coincided with the first generation of blockbuster fans edging into their thirties and forties. Watch any Hollywood comedy (or US sitcom for that matter) and the chances are they’ll feature male protagonists who are fundamentally decent, but also way too immature to realise that just because they saw the Star Wars trilogy when it first came out, doesn’t mean they have a licence to act like a kid for the rest of their lives.

Judd Apatow has become the king of these types of movies, but with his debut feature Ted, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane may just have served up the last word on the subject. Taking the man-child concept to its logical, on-the-nose extreme, Ted revolves around an affable 35-year-old underachiever called John (Mark Wahlberg) whose best friend since childhood happens to be a walking, talking toy bear called Ted.

If that makes the film sound like it’s going to be a one-joke movie – and the fact that Ted also happens to be a randy, pot-smoking, foul mouthed teddy bear doesn’t exactly dispel such preconceptions – then the surprising news is that this joke is consistently amusing.

That’s something that can be attributed to MacFarlane’s decision to play the gag straight. John, for instance, isn’t delusional: he hasn’t imagined Ted, nor is he projecting a split personality – like Mel Gibson in The Beaver – onto an inanimate object. Everyone can see and interact with Ted, a fact we find out early on via a tone-setting Christmas prologue that takes us back to the 1980s suburban Boston John’s childhood where we discover that he’s is so desperately unpopular he wishes that the Teddy Ruxpin-style gift his parents have just given him might come to life and love him like a friend.

Christmas being a time of miracles, the bear promptly comes alive, freaking out John’s parents and becoming a celebrity on the talk show circuit until – “like Corey Feldman” – interest in him wanes and he devotes himself once again to being John’s best pal for life.

Flash forward 27 years and the film catches us up with John and Ted who now live together and spend their spare time getting high and obsessively watching the campy 1980 version of Flash Gordon. Though John has a job – albeit an undemanding one – Ted has, essentially, become crutch, pulling double duty as the archetypal annoying slacker best friend who refuses to grow up and a literal representation of John’s own inability to put away childish things and become a man.

This is rammed home to him by his suddenly faltering relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis), his girlfriend of four years whose tolerance of Ted is starting to waver as it becomes clear that John is never going to amount to anything while Ted is still on hand to, say, climb into bed with them during a thunderstorm in order to provide a terrified John with the requisite soothing words to get him over his childhood fear of inclement weather.

The film is at its best during these scenes. As interspecies best buddies, John and Ted have a wonderfully relaxed chemistry and it’s surprising just how funny crass, juvenile observations on life are simply because they’re coming from the mouth of a toy bear. MacFarlane, of course, provides the voice for Ted and does it mostly in the style of Family Guy’s patriarch Peter Griffin, with some hard “r”-dropping Bostonian vocal inflections providing him with a couple of opportunities for self-referential gags about his lack of range. His work nicely complements Wahlberg, who is always at his best when he’s allowed to let his natural sweetness shine through that provincial working-class toughness behind which he has a tendency to hide on screen. When his and Ted’s inevitable bust-up happens – in a marvellously extended fight scene executed with the demented energy of a Tex Avery cartoon – it’s all the funnier because it’s grounded in a believable friendship going sour.

Fans of Family Guy will also be pleased to know that pop culture gags come thick and fast, and while that’s often a sign of laziness, MacFarlane’s choices here are so specific and unusual they actually reinforce the themes. Not everything works, though. Kunis is given frustratingly little to do (although at least her character isn’t demonised for wanting John to grow up) and a kidnap subplot involving a deranged 1980s-obsessed fan of Ted’s (Giovanni Ribisi) feels a little tacked-on. Yet, for the most part, the film does a good job of skewering this peculiarly male desire to remain a child while squeezing the last drop of humour from it.


category: Film Reviews

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Film Review: The Fairy


After Aki Kaurismäki's colourful fairytale Le Havre, here's another pastel-hued fancy set in the same port town and also featuring African refugees, this one from the physical theatre stylings of Belgium-based mime artists and dancers Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon. He works the night desk in a grubby hotel; she turns up and says she's a fairy and will grant him three wishes. The best that can be said for The Fairy is that it certainly creates its own world. However, it's one I wanted to get out of almost as soon as it began.

Jason Solomons

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Dark Horse


Sexual obsession, sibling rivalry, chilling despair … it can only be a film from Todd Solondz. Interestingly, Dark Horse is a Solondz film that is slightly different from his other movies: a little more muted, a little less alienated, a little more sympathetic.

In the midst of a wedding reception, we are introduced to two non-dancing wallflowers. One is Miranda, played by Selma Blair, whose face is a catatonic mask of indifference and ennui. The other is beefy and unattractive Abe, played by Jordan Gelber, a guy who when not in a tux favours sports-leisure gear that makes him look like an extra from The Sopranos.

To Miranda's obvious discomfort, Abe asks for her number, and his attempt to court her turns out to be a dramatic mid-life gesture. Abe is a loser who wants to reinvent himself as a "dark horse", a guy who can show he's got what it takes to get on in the world – by getting married.

All Solondz fans will naturally be hanging on for an unbearably horrible moment of humiliation comparable to the opening "date" scene in his 1998 film Happiness. But the director is showing us something a little different. When Abe and Miranda kiss, which they do by gingerly moving their heads together close enough for their mouths to touch for a few seconds, Miranda is afterwards awed by an absence of disgust. "That wasn't horrible …" she murmurs wonderingly to herself, "… that could have been so much worse." And Blair's performance underlines the awful truth: having once dreamed of being a writer, Miranda had intended in some way to mortify herself, humiliate herself, to wallow in the defeat and disappointment of settling for marriage and children with such an unprepossessing guy. Yet perhaps there are feelings there after all. After the death-metal of emotional horror in his earlier movies, Solondz gives us quieter chamber music in a minor key.

Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Where Do We Go Now


It's easy to see why Nadine Labaki's cheery Lebanese collective bagged the audience award at last year's Toronto film festival. It's machine-tooled to raise smiles, swell hearts, and tickle tear ducts, yet it does so with sufficient cross-cultural cred you don't feel too yanked. Likewise, it's easy to see why it hasn't followed previous recepients of that award – Slumdog Millionaire, The King's Speech – to Oscar glory. The implication that if ladies were in charge, the Middle East would be peaceful, feels queasy.

Catherine Shoard

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Dr Seuss’ The Lorax


Since its publication in 1971 “The Lorax,” by Dr. Seuss, has occasionally been caught up in squalls of controversy, most of it cooked up by people choosing to be outraged by the book’s mild allegorical moral of ecological responsibility. In our own globally warmed, ideologically fevered moment there has been a minor flurry of predictable, pre-emptive bloviation aimed at Universal’s movie version, “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” which is supposedly part of a left-wing Hollywood conspiracy to brainwash America’s children into hating capitalism and loving trees.

Having donned recyclable 3-D glasses and seen the thing for myself, I’m not sure whether to mock the enemies of “The Lorax” for their cluelessness, to offer them reassurance or to compliment them for being half-right. Thematically the movie, directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda from a script by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul and made under the auspices of the Illumination animation studio, dutifully lectures its audience on the folly of overconsumption and the virtue of conservation. At times the imagery takes on a dark, almost apocalyptic cast as it surveys the smogged-up, denuded landscape where the trees used to be and the shiny, commercialized pseudo-utopia (called Thneedville) that an alienated humanity, having lost the memory of nature, now calls home.

Don’t be fooled. Despite its soft environmentalist message “The Lorax” is an example of what it pretends to oppose. Its relationship to Dr. Seuss’s book is precisely that of the synthetic trees that line the streets of Thneedville to the organic Truffulas they have displaced. The movie is a noisy, useless piece of junk, reverse-engineered into something resembling popular art in accordance with the reigning imperatives of marketing and brand extension.

This is not a matter of hypocrisy or corporate green-washing on the part of the filmmakers, nor of reflexive Loraxian dogmatism on my part. The corporate entertainment system has shown itself perfectly capable of injecting soul into what it sells, and at inflecting some of its products with a critical spirit. “Wall-E” is a transcendent example, brilliantly embracing its own contradictions, but there are plenty of other movies, animated and not, that manage to pay tribute to the beauty of the natural world even as they revel in giddy, merchandising-friendly artifice.

And Theodor Seuss Geisel, it should be noted, was hardly averse to commerce. He started out in advertising and built his middle name into a formidable brand that, like the Once-ler’s empire in “The Lorax,” grew bigger and bigger and bigger. But in his lifetime Geisel exercised strict quality control, a practice that his estate has abandoned, authorizing a series of cinematic abominations both live-action (“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat”) and animated (“Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who!” and now this one).

“The Lorax,” while it nods in the direction of Dr. Seuss’s distinctive, trippy drawing style, treats his sensibility as, at best, a decorative element. The movie’s silliness, like its preachiness, is loud and slightly hysterical, as if young viewers could be entertained only by a ceaseless barrage of sensory stimulus and pop-culture attitude, or instructed by songs that make the collected works of Up With People sound like Metallica. The simple fable of the Lorax and the Once-ler is wrapped in gaudy, familiar business and festooned with grim, forced cheer. What do the kids want? Car chases! Kooky grandmas! Pint-size villains flanked by thuggish minions! Things that fly! Taylor Swift!

“The Lorax” has all that and more. (The grandma is voiced by the meme of the moment Betty White; a villain added for the movie is voiced by Rob Riggle.) It tells parallel stories, one about a young boy named Ted (Zac Efron), who in order to impress a girl (Ms. Swift) sets out to find an actual, living tree. (Of course the girl couldn’t possibly go out and find the tree herself, a sexist assumption that is, unfortunately, the only authentically Seussian aspect of the movie.) He ventures over the metal wall that encloses Thneedville and finds the Once-ler (Ed Helms), a hermit who tells the tale of his own encounter with the cranky orange Lorax (Danny DeVito).

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.” Those words are a permanent part of the literary heritage, and no movie can change that. And when the Lorax is around, warily befriending the ambitious Once-ler, you can almost believe you are in the Seussian universe. The parable of an ambitious entrepreneur who lets his ingenuity curdle into unchecked greed is more or less intact, and his corruption is conveyed in a few memorable, semi-inspired visual flights. But these only emphasize the hectic, willful mediocrity that characterizes the rest of the movie, and far too many of its kind.

In the film as in the book, the Once-ler ravages the landscape and destroys the Truffula trees to manufacture thneeds, knitted garments that have multiple uses but no real utility. Demand for them is insatiable for a while, and then, once the trees are gone, the thneeds are forgotten, partly because nobody really needed them in the first place. There is an obvious metaphor here, but the movie is blind to it, and to everything else that is interesting or true in the story it tries to tell.


category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises


After seven years and two films that have pushed Batman ever deeper into the dark, the director Christopher Nolan has completed his postmodern, post-Sept. 11 epic of ambivalent good versus multidimensional evil with a burst of light. As the title promises, day breaks in “The Dark Knight Rises,” the grave and satisfying finish to Mr. Nolan’s operatic bat-trilogy. His timing couldn’t be better. As the country enters its latest electoral brawl off screen, Batman (Christian Bale) hurtles into a parallel battle that booms with puppet-master anarchy, anti-government rhetoric and soundtrack drums of doom, entering the fray as another lone avenger and emerging as a defender of, well, what?

Truth, justice and the American way? No - and not only because that doctrine belongs to Superman, who was bequeathed that weighty motto on the radio in August 1942, eight months after the United States entered World War II and three years after Batman, Bob Kane’s comic creation, hit. Times change; superheroes and villains too. The enemy is now elusive and the home front as divided as the face of Harvey Dent, a vanquished Batman foe. The politics of partisanship rule and grass-roots movements have sprung up on the right and the left to occupy streets and legislative seats. It can look ugly, but as they like to say - and Dent says in “The Dark Knight,” the second part of the trilogy - the night is darkest before the dawn.

The legacy of Dent, an activist district attorney turned murderous lunatic, looms over this one, the literal and metaphysical personification of good intentions gone disastrously wrong. (He looms even more in Imax, which is the way to see the film.) Eight years later in story time, Batman, having taken the fall for Dent’s death, and mourning the woman both men loved, has retreated into the shadows. Dent has been enshrined as a martyr, held up as an immaculate defender of law-and-order absolutism. Gotham City is quiet and so too is life at Wayne Manor, where its master hobbles about with a cane while a prowler makes off with family jewels (the intensely serious Mr. Nolan isn’t wholly humorless) and Gotham sneers about the playboy who’s mutated into a Howard Hughes recluse.

Batman has always been a head case, of course: the billionaire orphan, a k a Bruce Wayne, who for assorted reasons - like witnessing the murder of his parents when he was a child - fights crime disguised as a big bat. Bruce’s initial metamorphosis, in “Batman Begins,” exacts a high price: by the end of the second film, along with losing the girl and being branded a vigilante, Bruce-Batman rides virtually alone, save for Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the Wayne family butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), a fussy uncle with a remarkable skill set. It’s central to where Mr. Nolan wants to take “The Dark Knight Rises” that Batman will be picking up new acquaintances, including a beat cop, John Blake (a charming Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and a philanthropist, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

Mr. Nolan again sets his machine purring with two set pieces that initiate one of the story’s many dualities, in this case between large spectacle and humanizing intimacies: one, an outlandishly choreographed blowout that introduces a heavy, Bane (Tom Hardy); the other, a quieter cat-and-bat duet between Bruce and a burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). After checking in with his personal armorer, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce-Batman swoops into an intrigue that circles back to the first film and brings the series to a politically resonant conclusion that fans and op-ed bloviators will argue over long after this one leaves theaters. Once again, like his two-faced opponents and the country he’s come to represent, Batman begins, feared as a vigilante, revered as a hero.

Informed by Kane’s original comic and Frank Miller’s resuscitation of the character in the 1980s, Mr. Nolan’s Bruce-Batman has oscillated between seemingly opposite poles, even as he’s always come out a superhero. He is savior and destroyer, human and beast, the ultimate radical individualist and people’s protector. Yet as the series evolved, this binary opposition - echoed by Dent’s rived face - has grown progressively messier, less discrete. Much of the complexity has been directly written into the franchise’s overarching, seemingly blunt story of good versus evil. It’s an old, familiar tale that Mr. Nolan, in between juggling the cool bat toys, demure kisses, hard punches and loud bangs, has layered with open and barely veiled references to terrorism, the surveillance state and vengeance as a moral imperative.

In “The Dark Knight Rises” Mr. Nolan, working from a script he wrote with his brother Jonathan, further muddies the good-and-evil divide with Bane. A swaggering, overmuscled brute with a scar running down his back like a zipper and headgear that obscures his face and turns his cultivated voice into a strangulated wheeze, Bane comes at Batman and Gotham hard. Fortified by armed true believers, Bane first beats Batman in a punishingly visceral, intimate fist-to-foot fight and then commandeers the city with a massive assault that leaves it crippled and - because of the explosions, the dust, the panic and the sweeping aerial shots of a very real-looking New York City - invokes the Sept 11 attacks. It’s unsettling enough that some may find it tough going.

Watching a city collapse should be difficult, maybe especially in a comic-book movie. The specter of Sept. 11 and its aftermath haunt American movies often through their absence though also in action films, which adopt torture as an ineluctable necessity. Mr. Nolan, for his part, has been engaging Sept. 11 in his blockbuster behemoths, specifically in a vision of Batman who stands between right and wrong, principles and their perversions, because he himself incarnates both extremes.

Mr. Nolan has also taken the duality that made the first film into an existential drama and expanded that concept to encompass questions about power, the state and whether change is best effected from inside the system or outside it. Gordon believes in its structures; Bane wants to burn it all down. And Batman? Well, he needs to work it out.

So will viewers, explicitly given the grim, unsettling vision of a lawless city in which the structures of civil society have fallen, structures that Batman has fought outside of. In a formally bravura, disturbingly visceral sequence that clarifies the stakes, Bane stands before a prison and, in a film with several references to the brutal excesses of the French Revolution - including the suitably titled “A Tale of Two Cities” - delivers an apocalyptic speech worthy of Robespierre. Invoking myths of opportunism, Bane promises the Gotham citizenry that courts will be convened, spoils enjoyed. “Do as you please,” he says, as Mr. Nolan cuts to a well-heeled city stretch where women in furs and men in silk robes are attacked in what looks like a paroxysm of revolutionary bloodlust.

If this image of violent revolt resonates strongly, it’s due to Mr. Nolan’s kinetic filmmaking in a scene that pulses with realism and to the primal fear that the people could at any moment, as in the French Revolution, become the mob that drags the rest of us into chaos. Yet little is what it first seems in “The Dark Knight Rises,” whether masked men or raging rhetoric. Mr. Nolan isn’t overtly siding with or taking aim at any group (the wily Bane only talks a good people’s revolution), but as he has done before, he is suggesting a third way. Like Steven Soderbergh in “Contagion,” a science-fiction freak-out in which the heroes are government workers, Mr. Nolan doesn’t advocate burning down the world, but fixing it.

He also, it may be a relief to know, wants to entertain you. He does, for the most part effortlessly, in a Dark Knight saga that is at once lighter and darker than its antecedents. It’s also believable and preposterous, effective as a closing chapter and somewhat of a letdown if only because Mr. Nolan, who continues to refine his cinematic technique, hasn’t surmounted “The Dark Knight” or coaxed forth another performance as mesmerizingly vital as Heath Ledger’s Joker in that film. The ferocious, perversely uglified Mr. Hardy, unencumbered by Bane’s facial appliance, might have been able to dominate this one the way Mr. Ledger did the last, but that sort of monstrous, bigger-than-life turn would have been antithetical to this movie’s gestalt. The accomplished Mr. Bale continues to keep Batman at a remove with a tight performance that jibes with Mr. Nolan’s head-over-heart filmmaking.

After repeatedly sending Batman down Gotham’s mean streets, Mr. Nolan ends by taking him somewhere new. That’s precisely the point of a late sequence in which he shifts between a multitude of characters and as many locations without losing you, his narrative thread or momentum. His playfulness with the scenes-within-scenes in his last movie, “Inception,” has paid off here. The action interludes are more visually coherent than in his previous Batman films and, as in “Inception,” the controlled fragmentation works on a pleasurable, purely cinematic level. But it also serves Mr. Nolan’s larger meaning in “The Dark Knight Rises” and becomes his final say on superheroes and their uses because, as Gotham rages and all seems lost, the action shifts from a lone figure to a group, and hope springs not from one but many.


category: Film Reviews

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Review: Legally Blonde - The Musical



Legally Blonde - The Musical tells the story of Elle Woods, a wealthy, privileged, beautiful blonde with brains somewhere inside that airhead of hers, who aspires to little more than getting married to the perfect man and leading the country club life of her parents. She's obviously capable of greatness - she has a 4.0 grade point average at UCLA (granted, it's in fashion merchandising), and she's president of her sorority. But when her perfect boyfriend breaks up with her before he heads off to Harvard Law because she's not 'serious enough', she vows to get into Harvard Law as well and win him back.

Far fetched? Yes. Unrealistic? Perhaps? But none of that matters because the audience is whisked away into a world of escapist joy, filled with song and dance and tons of laughs. Legally Blonde - The Musical is a high energy, light hearted play with great performances, and appearances by two ridiculously adorable dogs. Faye Brooks plays the role of Elle Woods to a tee. She's bubbly and sweet and adorable, serious when she needs to be, and believably steps in to save the day at the crucial moment. Special mention has to be made for the fantastic Rhona McGregor, who stepped in for Jennifer Ellison as Paulette, and for Lewis Griffiths who was hilarious as the UPS delivery guy, and who stole the show.

Legally Blonde - The Musical is at The New Theatre until Saturday, 21st July. I highly recommend grabbing a friend and seeing the show while you can. It's great fun. The New Theatre even has a special cocktail menu in honour of the show (see below). Cocktails, laughs, and a really hot UPS delivery guy? I might just have to go again while it's still in town!

Legally Blonde Cocktail Menu

Pink Lawsuit - Cointreau, cranberry juice, Pink Lanvin Champagne
One Elle of a Cocktail - Vodka, Malibu, Squeeze of lime and sugar
The Bend and Schnapps - Vodka, Archers Peach Schnapps, cranberry juice, squeeze of lime
(all of the above £6.50 each, 2 for £10 during happy hour 6pm - 7pm)
Blonde Bombshell - low alcohol - Grenadine, pineapple juice, orange juice, cranberry juice, squeeze of lime

Book tickets for Legally Blonde - The Musical online

category: Theatre Reviews

Friday, 13 July 2012

Film Review: Tortoise In Love


There is a sprinkling of gags in this modest romantic comedy from debut film-maker Guy Browning. Occasionally, it achieves a homespun, unassuming daftness. Tom is a young man who chucks in a big-city job and comes back to his home village and takes a lowly position as a gardener. As played by Tom Mitchelson, Tom does a fair bit of Hugh Grant-ish stammering and flinching as he falls in love with a pretty Polish au pair, Anya, played by Alice Zawadski. But silly Tom is as slow as a tortoise when it comes to plucking up the courage to ask her out. The comedy locals have to jolly him along. It's gentle, well-meaning, a bit watery.

Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Electrick Children


The strain of new naive cinema can be so stuffed with quirks, so determinedly guileless that it starts fraying the nerves as well as the seams. But Rebecca Thomas's gauzy debut about a 15-year-old Mormon who believes she's had an immaculate conception after hearing a cover of Blondie's Hanging on the Telephone is so deftly done it's three parts enchantment to one part irritation. Its big draw is Julia Garner – a support in Martha Marcy May Marlene, magnetic in the lead. But the other performances – Aitken as the brother accused of rape, Culkin the rocker she meets in Vegas, even Zane as her sly pastor father – are more finely spun than you'd expect; likewise the portrayal of the community (Thomas grew up Mormon). A genuine nativity, then, rather than just being knowingly naive.

Catherine Shoard

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World


The apocalypse isn’t a bad pretext for hooking up, but it’s somewhat high-risk: what if you regretted your choice of soulmate? The 1998 Canadian film Last Night, which was terrific, wondered what lonely folk might do with their final hours, and didn’t shy away from the possibility of getting them all wrong.

The deadline in the quite-a-lot-less-terrific Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is more like a month. Humanity’s last hope, in the presumed though unseen shape of (say) Bruce Willis in Armageddon, has just failed to deflect an asteroid from its collision course. Many opt for suicide, and it looks like our hero, the groanworthily-named Dodge (Steve Carell), might be heading that way. His wife has walked out, and a career in insurance feels like a cosmic joke.

Enter Penny (Keira Knightley), the helpfully available lass next door, and a character type perfectly defined by the American critic Nathan Rabin as “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”. Natalie Portman played one in Garden State, Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown. Knightley tries her best to outdo them in sunny-yet-neurotic life force. Penny wears ill-matched coats over wispy skirts, scrunches her face a lot, and hugs a cluster of favourite records to her chest. The movie reaches a low point when she extols the tactile joys of vinyl to Carell, who listens with dewy-eyed attention, missing the cue of any sane person to stare skyward and plead with the asteroid to hurtle a bit faster.

I’m being harsh, but Lorene Scafaria’s film unfortunately invites a lethal dose of scepticism towards its cutesy last-ditch matchmaking, obligatory road-trip plotting, and thinly funny jibes at the rest of humankind.

Carell’s rumpled melancholy is a gift, and it’s sad to see it being misappropriated for a project this stunted.

Tim Robey

category: Film Reviews

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Theatre Review: The Merchant of Venice



The Merchant of Venice
07 July - 01 September
Said Rooftop Amphitheatre

"It tackles big issues and challenges complacency and lazy thinking; it's a cautionary tale about gambling and debt, where the gambler gets off scot-free; a challenge to the dangerous stereotypes that can breed in a multicultural society, where the persecuted minority receives the harshest penalty; and a love story, in which the ladies all see their lovers exposed as weak, fickle and cruel. Just when you feel you know where Shakespeare is going he pulls the carpet from under your feet and demands that you question again." - James Erskine, Chief Executive, Creation Theatre Company

In some ways, I'm amazed The Merchant of Venice is still being performed. It's outrageously anti-Semitic and offensive. I was never a huge fan of this particular story. But the play was being put on by Creation Theatre, and I have come to learn that I like everything Creation Theatre do, and I will see any play they perform, knowing I'll enjoy it. This was absolutely no exception - I loved it!


A demanding play, Merchant was performed by 9 very capable and hard-working actors who all performed multiple roles - I recognised some of the actors from The Factory's Hamlet/The Odyssey season at Blackwell's Bookshop. There were songs, dances, quick changes, multiple instruments, a rotating stage, and lots of humour. Creation make Shakespeare simple to follow and understand. There was a girl around 10 years old in the audience, laughing at all the right parts, and who obviously enjoyed herself. I looked around at the audience a few times, and there were smiles plastered on faces of people of all ages. I can't single out any of the actors for their performances because I enjoyed every single one of them, and was impressed by how well they played their parts. I'm particularly impressed by their ability to not only act, but to sing and dance really well and to play instruments!

The play is being performed outdoors at the Said Business School's amphitheatre. Creation make soft cushions with back rests available, as well as blankets. When it started to rain during the intermission, they even handed out plastic raincoats with hoods to the audience at no charge. Putting on shows outdoors in this country is daring and risky, but wonderfully rewarding. Dress appropriately and you'll enjoy it immensely. Live, outdoor theatre needs to be supported. Most nights tickets are available on the door, so please, do them (and yourself) a favour and get out there on a dry (or dry-ish) night and buy a ticket. It's well worth it.


Special showings:
Come along early on Sunday (15th July) and they'll feed you for free! This Sunday they're serving up a delicious brunch of bacon rolls, fruit salad, croissants and americanos from 10am then performing the show in the midday sun from 11am. Tickets are just £20 (instead of the usual £22) and include food.

Make it a family affair when under 12s come for free. Creation pride themselves on making theatre that everyone can enjoy. So if you're aged 6 or 106 come along to one of the 2.30pm family shows on Sunday where, with every full paying adult £20 ticket (usually £22) an under 12 can get in for free.

Ideas Aloud - We want to stir up your creative juices, collect them in little bottles, then display them for the world to see… Okay that image got a little out of hand but you get the gist. Follow live twitter feeds on the night, share all your responses in our online idea boards, and submit your artworks for a special exhibition. Sunday 29 July, 6pm, all tickets £20. Win tickets to this through Oxford City Guide

BOX OFFICE: 01865 766266 (Monday - Saturday, 9.30am-6pm)

All images copyright Creation Theatre and Bill Knight

category: Theatre Reviews

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Oxford pipped at the post for World Book Capital


Oxford pipped at the post but still plans to inspire with year of exciting literary events

The committee behind Oxford’s bid to become UNESCO World Book Capital in 2014 has confirmed today that plans to programme a unique year of literary events will still go ahead – despite the title going to Port Harcourt in Nigeria.

Oxford’s bid, which was coordinated by Oxford Inspires on behalf of a steering committee made up of eleven local organisations, was one of eleven submitted to the judging panel earlier this year.

The bid, which took as its theme Imagination Unbound, aimed to celebrate the wonder of books, their ability to inspire and unlock our imaginations, and generate a love of reading that can be shared by everybody.

UNESCO said that the competition between the bidding cities was incredibly close, with Port Harcourt being awarded the designation because of “its focus on youth, and the impact it will have on improving Nigeria’s culture of books, reading, writing and publishing.”

Exciting literary events planned

Although Oxford will not be an official World Book Capital city in 2014, the Steering Committee are optimistic that plans will still go ahead for some exciting literary events throughout the year.

These will include the hotly anticipated completion of three major literary building projects in Oxford (The Story Museum, The Weston Library and The Library at The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies), as well as events celebrating the anniversaries of William Shakespeare and The Great War (450 and 100 years respectively).

It is also hoped that many other events, including conferences, festivals, plays and writing competitions will still be able to take place – thereby encouraging visitors as well as city and county residents to discover the pleasures of reading in any form.

Unprecedented partnership and collaboration

Since the announcement in September 2010 that Oxford would bid to become UNESCO World Book Capital, a wide range of local and national organisations have voiced their strong support for the city’s campaign – many of which also agreed to participate in the proposed programme. But although Oxford has missed out on the title, the Steering Committee remains dedicated to building on the important work and partnerships that the bid has forged.

Tony Stratton, Chairman of Oxford Inspires, says: “Whilst we are disappointed our bid was unsuccessful, it has been a catalyst for raising awareness of national literacy challenges and for putting real commitment and energy behind working for change; nothing of this work will be wasted.

“During the two-year bidding process, literary experts from different fields have been brought together and new ideas of joint working have burgeoned, which will enhance the activities of Oxfordshire’s libraries, publishers, booksellers and cultural organisations and put a spotlight on reading for all. We wish Port Harcourt the best of luck in 2014.”

Promotion of several special Schools Literacy Programmes will also remain high on the agenda for the year. With local reading levels currently falling short of national targets, the aim is that these programmes will help to inspire a whole new generation of readers and writers across Oxfordshire.

The city’s World Book Capital Bid is also expected to put a spotlight on Oxfordshire’s renowned publishing industry, by working with the Local Enterprise Partnership to promote this cluster of excellence and expertise to the world.

For further information please visit

For more information please visit:
UNESCO World Book Capital

category: Interesting Articles

Olympic Torch Relay and South Park Celebration


The Olympic Torch Relay came through Oxford on the 9th of July 2012 at around 6.30pm. The torch came down Cowley Road, preceded by a parade of police, dancers, sponsor vehicles, and official Olympic vehicles, before rounding The Plain and turning up St Clements and onto Morrell Avenue before reaching South Park. The streets were lined with people, and the community and Olympic spirit was immense! After the torch passed by, the crowds (those lucky enough to have tickets) flooded to South Park, where there was an evening of celebratory entertainment. The highlight of the evening was definitely the Tree of Light - a spectacular and memorable arts project made up of architecture, light, sound, and movement. It's an incredible structure, towering high in the air and powered by bicycle riders, which served as the visual backdrop to a wonderful programme of music and dance. If you missed it in Oxford, I highly recommend catching it in Reading or Henley. For details about the Tree of Light and where it's headed and when, visit their website.


(please click on a thumnail to navigate through all photos)

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category: Interesting Articles

Friday, 06 July 2012

Film Review: The Turin Horse


Béla Tarr's bleak and bitter film is a glacially paced nightmare in which the scare factor has been replaced with desperate melancholy; it is composed with his characteristic long takes, anvil silences and fiercely unsmiling faces, shot in undersea monochrome, and prefaced with Tarr's habitual austere titles in Times Roman. The movie is about the end of time and the end of days. At 56 years old, Tarr has announced that this is his final film.

It is a meditation on Nietzsche who, in Turin in 1889, was said to have seen a horse being thrashed, and protectively threw his arms around the beast, then sobbingly collapsed due to some kind of breakdown, possibly a stroke. Whatever it was, the calamity neither destroyed nor made him stronger, but sent Nietzsche into a long decline that ended with his death in 1900.

Tarr's film imagines what happened to that horse, whose suffering triggered the philosopher's collapse. It is being driven by a hard-faced, bearded man back to his farm, where he gives a terse series of orders to a younger woman, evidently his daughter. We are not obviously anywhere near Turin, or Italy, but rather in Tarr's central European wasteland (it is shot in Hungary), ravaged by a continuous gale that finally makes this setting look like a polar icecap. The orchestral score by Tarr's long-time composer Mihály Víg is as incessant as the wind, repeating and repeating like Philip Glass.

The horse now refuses to work, or to drink, and the old man and younger woman, stricken with dismay, receive disturbing news from a neighbour about an approaching apocalyptic breakdown. Are we witnessing the death of God? Or man? Among the characters, the horse has a Houyhnhnm-like dignity. Perhaps it was the Fool to Nietzsche's Lear, or perhaps Nietzsche has transmigrated into the horse itself, and now impassively watches humanity's final days – though the old man, with one arm incapacitated by a stroke, has himself a faint look of Nietzsche. The movie exerts an eerie grip, with echoes of Bresson, Bergman and Dreyer, but is utterly distinctive: a vision of a world going inexorably into a final darkness.

Peter Bradshaw

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: The Hunter


A hunter stalks the last Tasmanian tiger: it's a great, minimal premise for a movie. And between Dafoe's quiet charisma, the eerie wilderness landscapes and the rich symbolism, there's plenty to hold the attention. Dafoe has been hired by a pharmaceutical company to retrieve samples of the rumoured tiger (which was actually hunted to extinction by the 1930s), but he's constantly being dragged out of the bush and back to town – for warming encounters with his hostess (Frances O'Connor) and run-ins with local loggers and eco-warriors, and a dash of corporate conspiracy. These subplots flesh out the story, but deflate the tension. Still, Dafoe is eminently watchable, and for the most part it's a distinctive, atmospheric movie that cherishes the persistence of mystery.

Steve Rose

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Katy Perry: Part Of Me


If you think you'll see a bubbly singer in colorful candy costumes singing playful pop songs with double entendres in the documentary film Katy Perry: Part of Me, you'd be right on. But in addition to being a fun concert film, the film carries an entire secondary and very unexpected sub-plot: the demise of Perry's marriage to comedian Russell Brand.

The film chronicles the biggest year in Perry's professional career as she embarks on her first-ever world tour. It also traces Perry's rise to fame, introducing viewers to her family and friends, as well showing plenty of archival footage of a young Katy singing, playing guitar and talking in to a video camera of her desire to have an impact on the world.

We see the mini-rises in her career as she takes two steps forward, one step back, hits plateaus and experiences failures. Record companies sign her, pair her up with ill-fated collaborators and drop her. It is only when Perry decides to be herself and take control that things truly take off.

Ultimately it's an inspirational tale of if-Katie-can-do-it-so-can-I and, for her young fans, that's not a bad message to reinforce. It is also eye-opening to see just how much in control Perry has been of her own destiny and of the massive success of a career that has included such milestones as having 5 number one hit singles off of one album, something only singer Michael Jackson has accomplished with Bad.

Perry put in $2 million of her own money into the documentary when she first had the idea for it, shooting her concert at the Los Angles-based Staples Center before other financiers and producers came on board. The singer felt something big was happening in her career and wanted to chronicle it on camera. What she didn't expect was that her marriage would go downhill at the exact time her career was heading skyward - with cameras capturing the fall.

Though Brand and Perry have managed to keep their break-up quiet and without public drama, the film paints a portrait of a new bride who is head over heels in love, going above and beyond the constraints of a grueling work schedule to keep the relationship going - to the point where she's pushing herself to exhaustion. And though any marriage must be a two-way street to thrive, according to the documentary, it appears that in this case one person was putting in more effort than the other.

One must, however, take in to account that Perry is a producer on the film and this is her version of events. And in this version, what the audiences sees is Brand appearing early on in the film, looking a bit self conscious and out-of-place in Perry's world. She, on the other hand, adores his presence and talks openly about her love for him and wanting to have kids.

But soon Russell disappears entirely and Perry is seen crying and taking off her wedding ring while her team - including her sister who works with her - stand helpless. Things get worse when she's nowhere near ready to attend a particular pre-show meet and greet, due to the emotional strains. When her sister suggests canceling it so Perry can get another extra 15 minutes of sleep before hitting the stage, the singer is adamant about not letting her problems affect her work. Next thing we know, Perry enters the room in full bubbly Katy Perry mode, decked out in her sparkling glory, apologizing to her fans for being late. It's both heartbreaking and admirable.

For little girls who idolize Perry, it may be disconcerting to see their infallible idol hurting, but Perry was insistent on showing the good and the bad to humanize herself more to her fans. In the end, it's a positive effect that leaves her fans feeling even closer to her, however planned and calculated it was.

With over 300 hours of footage that was edited down to a 117-minute film, one has to wonder what was left on the cutting room floor for running time reasons, or for image reasons. Hardcore Perry fans will notice other aspects of Perry's trajectory, like her first label single "Ur So Gay" are never even addressed. Perhaps in that case, Perry - who says hearing Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill album was massive influence on her musical career - took a literal cue from the title of Morissette's other album, Under Rug Swept.

Still, the film manages to layer so many aspects of Perry's world - the concert at hand, the crumbling marriage, the family history and the struggle before the fame - in a way that never overwhelms.

For those who thought of Perry as just another a manufactured pop star, the documentary pulls away at the curtain to show that there is no wizard at the controls - Perry is completely in charge of her own Oz.

Zorianna Kit

category: Film Reviews

Film Review: Magic Mike


The hip-pumping studs who work at the Xquisite dance club know a thing or two about making the ladies scream in delight. But nobody works the crowd like Magic Mike (a terrific Channing Tatum), the gyrating main attraction in Steven Soderbergh’s funny, enjoyable romp about male strippers and the American dream. Then again, few directors can sell the goods - whether it’s Che in Cuba or Mike in a thong - as shrewdly as Mr. Soderbergh. A restive talent who toggles between big-studio and low-budget work, he has a genius for wrapping tricky ideas, like capitalism and its discontents, into commercial packages. Never before has he put them into cheek-baring chaps.

Those cheeks, smooth as a hairless Chihuahua, will receive considerable attention, as will the rippling muscles, thrusting pelvises and the dancing, by turns snaky and acrobatic, that are on generous display in “Magic Mike.” Mr. Tatum, who shares producing credit (the movie was written by his production partner Reid Carolin), has said that the story is loosely based on his stint as a stripper in Florida, starting when he was 18, a college dropout and flopping on his sister’s couch. The dropout here is Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who’s crashing with his sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), while trying to get his life together. He receives unexpected help when he takes a job at a construction site, where he meets an older, regular employee, Mike, who’s initially contemptuous of the newcomer.

But Mike has a heart of gold, which becomes evident as soon as he takes Adam under his wing, first at the construction site and then by bringing the younger man to Xquisite. Initially incredulous and unsettled at some of what he sees at the club, Adam changes his mind after he’s pushed onstage and, to the blunt throbbing of “Like a Virgin,” strips. He takes to the stage like an otter to water, slipping and sliding across it and into the lap of an obliging customer. When he comes offstage, a smile on his face and his saggy Jockeys stuffed with bills, he is a man reborn. It’s no wonder that, after this memorably frolicking night, Adam asks if he can be Mike’s best friend.

What happens will be familiar if you’ve ever seen one of those variations on the fallen-woman movie. An elastic genre popular in the 1920s and ’30s, these flicks usually involve a working-class young miss who comically scrambles or crudely tramps her way into a mink, swank digs and finally either tragedy or redemption, depending on whether she’s doomed or saved. Sometimes she also initiates an innocent into her life pretty much the same way Mike brings Adam into his world of sexual play, casual drug use and dance music. In the past the movies were very much preoccupied with the moral regulation of women, but here the stress is on Mike’s struggle to succeed as he juggles his part-time gigs (dancing, auto detailing and construction) with his desire to build custom furniture.

For the most part this isn’t a party scene built for doom, especially when Mike is dancing, bouncing and back-flipping. Set in Tampa (but also shot in California), a palm-lined wasteland that Mr. Soderbergh has washed in somewhat queasy-ugly bleached orange, the movie opens at the club with the owner-M.C., Dallas (a spectacular, amusingly sleazed-out Matthew McConaughey), running down the rules for the female clientele. “This is the ‘What can you touch and not touch’ rule,” Dallas says, the room erupting in appreciative woos. As he ticks off what customers can and can’t grope, his hands grab and graze different parts of his body, and then he wags a finger and repeatedly says “no.” “The law says that you cannot touch,” he continues. “But I think I see a lot of lawbreakers up in this house tonight.”

The legal dos and don’ts suggest that the law of the father has been partly overthrown, even if the naughtiness remains hidden, away from the glare of the outside world. The club is something of a playground, a place where women and men teasingly, raucously switch traditional roles. Yet there’s a serious undertow to their interactions because the women pay men for a sexual pantomime that the men live off of. (The plot also involves Dallas’s plans to open a bigger club in which he’s promised Mike equity, a pledge that keeps Mike dancing and distracted from his own dreams.) From the way that Mr. Soderbergh shoots the opener, the lights shining into the camera and your eyes (you may flash on “All That Jazz”), it’s clear everyone is playing a role, including you.

In “Magic Mike,” men exist to be looked at, and women do the looking, a reverse of the old cinematic divide between the sexes that finds so-called passive women who are looked at by so-called active men. In one school of thought Hollywood movies are always organized for the visual pleasure of the male spectator, which pretty much leaves the female spectator sidelined. There’s no leaving her out any longer - or the gay or confident heterosexual male spectator, either. From the way Mr. Soderbergh shoots the raunchy, often hilarious vamping dance scenes (Village People Plus), his camera lingering on the undulating bodies - the other strippers are played by Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez and Kevin Nash - it’s clear the director is out to maximize everyone’s pleasure.


category: Film Reviews

Wednesday, 04 July 2012

Memorial stone to mark lost Oxford Jewish cemetery


A memorial stone is to be laid at the location of a rediscovered 800-year-old Jewish cemetery in Oxford.

The medieval site is located under the Rose Garden, close to the Oxford Botanic Garden.

Historian Pam Manix found the cemetery's location after searching the archives of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Dr Evie Kemp, from Oxford Jewish Heritage, said: "Their story is little known and pinpointing the location is an important historic breakthrough."

The new stone is 60in (1.5m) by 25in (0.6m) and will be placed between the York stone steps by the Rose Garden.

'Forcibly expelled'
Dr Kemp added: "The cemetery belonged to the Jews of medieval Oxford, who came from France with William the Conqueror and played a key part in the life of the city and the early development of the university throughout the 12th and 13th centuries.

"In 1231, after their original burial ground was confiscated, the Jews were given a small section of wasteland where the modern-day Rose Garden now stands.

"This was their burial ground until 1290, when all Jews were forcibly expelled from England by King Edward I and not allowed to return for 350 years.

"Forbidden from carrying their dead through the city, the cemetery was linked to the medieval Jewish quarter, now St Aldates, by a footpath along Christchurch Meadow."

The path, which is still in use, is known as Deadman's Walk.

A memorial stone was erected on an incorrect spot nearby by Oxford City Council in 1931.

BBC News Oxford

category: Interesting Articles

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