Month: January 2016

Creed

Sylvester Stallone’s Italian Stallion is back for the seventh film in the Rocky series, but the first neither written nor directed by Stallone. Colchester 101’s Andy Oliver reviews the Colchester Odeon’s latest January offering on the big screen.

Creed

If you have loved the Rocky movies, as bad as some of them became, then you, like myself, may find yourself wiping a grateful tear from your eye at some of the wonderfully respectful moments that appear in Creed. The sight of Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) pulling his folding chair out of a tree in a cemetery; the crudely painted ‘Eagles’ graffiti daubed on a bridge; a pair of sneakers hanging from an overhead telephone cable; Cuff and Link, Rocky’s turtles, the only friends he has left now that even the incorrigible Paulie has died. Creed shares many of the same beats as the original Rocky, but it’s sly and canny about them, never letting the previous six movies hold sway over it. Creed is its own movie and, quite honestly, it is absolutely terrific.

So, what if you’ve never seen a Rocky movie before or maybe you’ve only seen a couple, do you need to do a marathon catch-up session to bring you up to speed with Creed? Absolutely not, Creed easily stands alone for the newcomer and everything you need to know is skilfully worked into its exhilarating script. Just sit down and enjoy. If you love it, there’s a six whole movies (of varying quality, it must be said) for you to dip into at a later date.

Adonis Johnson has never known his father and his mother has died whilst in his formative years, the movie begins with a young Adonis in juvenile detention, segregated from the general prison population for fighting. When Mary Anne Creed arrives at the detention centre, young Adonis discovers that he is the illegitimate child of former boxing world champion, Apollo Creed, who died in the ring before he was born.

Creed

Having been adopted by Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), ‘Donnie’ (Michael B. Jordan) grows up in privileged comfort, but the fighter inside him still rules the quieter side of him that has carved out a successful career working in finance, he fights in semi-professional bouts in Mexico by night and the office by day. He has ambitions to be a fighter, like his father, but when he finds that his Los Angeles gym have no interest in training him he moves to Philadelphia to find Apollo’s former-adversary and greatest friend, Rocky Balboa, and convince him to become his trainer.

Although initially reluctant, Rocky decides to help his friend’s son achieve his dream and, when an opportunity to fight for a world title reveals itself, finds that the young man’s life is mirroring his own and rediscovers the fighter within himself.

One of the great appeals of Rocky (the original movie) was not in the fighting but that it’s a really sweet love story about lonely people taking a chance, it’s about taking a leap of faith and trusting that strong arms are there to catch them. Creed also has a great love story that’s not tacked on but is integral to the plot. ‘Donnie’ meets and falls in love with Bianca (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring musician with degenerative hearing loss. The fact that both are pursuing careers that they both love and both understand will ultimately destroy them is what gives this love a remarkable power and an underlying tragedy. Neither ever questions the other’s love of their respective paths and there are no interminably angsty moments where either pleads the insanity of the other’s choice, it’s just an incredibly sweet and supportive love, beautifully imagined and played.

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Jordan is magnetically great as the driven and internally confused ‘Donnie’ Johnson/Creed; he has an explosive temper and an expansive smile and quietly brings the character through a host of emotions; he has a confident swagger, but never comes across as cocky; he has his father’s sense of showmanship and Rocky’s humility. It’s difficult not to love his character.

Tessa Thompson, as ‘Donnie’s’ girlfriend, is sharp and funny and is full of righteous, take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-s**t attitude. She’s as driven as her boyfriend and this is a major part of his attraction to her. She’s no shut-in like Adrian, the love of Rocky’s life, Bianca is her own person, she doesn’t need ‘Donnie’ but her life and her music is enhanced and made greater with him in it.

Rounding out the trio is Sylvester Stallone, reprising the role that first brought him fame nearly forty years ago, and you have to ask, “Where has this Stallone been?” He is superb as the bumbling, shy, lost former world-champion. He has lost everyone he loved and is ready to just fade away until this young man enters his life, in health and in sickness Stallone manages to bring tears to your eyes. It’s a great performance, subtle, funny, heartbreaking and makes you wish you could have seen more of this Stallone rather than the violent, muscle-bound hero roles that seem to have padded out his career to date.

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Fans of the Marvel super-hero Universe will, no doubt, be overjoyed that director, Ryan Coogler, has signed on to make that studio’s Black Panther movie after watching Creed. Coogler keeps the camera moving and, during the fight scenes, gets up close and personal with the boxers, weaving around and between them so that the viewer truly understands the brutality of each hit and the physical intimacy of the combatants. There’s even a single shot during one of the fights that lasts so long that when you finally notice it it leaves you reeling at its pure audacity. These aren’t camera set-ups for the sheer flashy, “Look-how-smart-I-am” bravura of them, Coogler uses his shots to serve the story not to make the viewer appreciate his style, it’s refreshingly honest and effective.

While that camera floats like a butterfly, it is in the emotional honesty that Creed stings like a bee. Whether or not you’re a fan of the Rocky movies, there is almost too much to enjoy in Creed and you may find yourself involuntarily shedding a tear and punching the air by turns.

Andy Oliver

 

 

 

 

Andy Oliver

The Hateful Eight

Whilst Star Wars: The Force Awakens continues to break box office records, Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie, and his second western, The Hateful Eight, has begun its run at the Odeon. Colchester 101’s Andy Oliverwas one of the first to see it and has written this review.

Hateful Eight 1

Without beating around any bushes I’m stating this right at the start of the review: The Hateful Eight is a difficult, brilliant and, sometimes, frustrating movie. It’s a movie that is a hard watch, there’s almost too much going on beneath the brutally harsh surface; it’s a scathing indictment of America not just then, but now; the language shoots bullets at the characters and the audience; the violence is shocking and extraordinarily bloody; and, yes, it’s way too long, some scenes drag out for ages and add nothing to your understanding. The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino at his best and, occasionally, at his most indulgent worst.

Oh, and it’s really, really funny (in a twisted kind of way).

Set during the Reconstruction period following the American Civil War, The Hateful Eight begins with bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) flagging down a ride from a passing stagecoach in the snowbound landscape of Wyoming. The passengers in the stagecoach just happen to be fellow bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his ‘bounty’, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). As the party look to stay ahead of an advancing storm they pick up a second hitcher by way of Sherriff-to-be Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) but find they’ll have to take shelter at a frontier trading post, Minnie’s Haberdashery. It’s here that the majority of the movie’s action plays out in a kind of Agatha Christie one-set stage play, except this is not a Whodunnit as it is a who’s gonna do it?

Hateful Eight 2

Also sheltering in Minnie’s are yet more weird and disparate characters, effete Brit, Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cowboy, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), aged Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) and a Mexican called Bob (Damian Bichir), who may, or may not, have been left in charge of the trading post by its proprietors. As suspicions grow between all those sheltering from the blizzard, it becomes obvious that one, or more, may be there to try to rescue Domergue from imminent demise at the end of the hangman’s noose.

The Hateful Eight is probably Tarantino’s talkiest script since Reservoir Dogs, and the dialogue crackles back and forth as these despicable characters start to engineer the deaths of each other as secret grudges and new recriminations boil to the surface. There will be blood. Lots of it.

The casting of the movie is absolutely en pointe, there’s not a poor performance amongst the ensemble and Jennifer Jason Leigh is standout incredible as the maniacal, terrifying Daisy Domergue. At the start of the film you’ll be shocked and possibly upset by the violence meted out on her character, but there’s a reason she’s in chains: the screen probably hasn’t seen such a dangerous, unhinged and manipulative character since Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. She’s terrific.

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The Hateful Eight feels like a response to Tarantino’s last two movies, Inglorious B*****ds and Django Unchained, both revisionist revenge movies in which the Jews finally get to take a proper revenge on Hitler and a freed slave delivers an explosive two fingered salute to the wrongs exacted upon black plantation workers during the Reconstruction. Where white audiences could feel good about siding with the black man in Django, there is a huge finger pointing us down in The Hateful Eight. A viciously racist Confederate terrorist is raised to the position of lawman, you only have to watch the news or pick up the papers to understand where this is coming from and we, the white audience, are the ones watching from a distance and doing little but tutting. Tarantino has been accused of constantly and flippantly using the “n” word in his movie, here he uses it to devastating effect, it’s as deadly as the bullets that copiously fly in the final act. There’s also a conceit involving a letter that I won’t go into, I’ll let you discover it yourselves, anything I were to say about it would be a major spoiler.

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The more cine-literate of you won’t help but notice Tarantino’s homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing, there’s an unused part of Ennio Morricone’s score to begin with. All these characters are trapped in a snowy waste and one, or more, may be hiding a secret, an infection of hate that continues to plague western society to this day. It’s an incredible use of homage to put across a thematic message that few film-makers working today would even consider, let alone have the skill to pull off.

And, yes, it’s too long. Probably half an hour and this is bound to give ammunition to nay-sayers of Tarantino and, even as a fan, I would agree that he can sometimes be too verbose in his scripts and linger too long on a shot he deems perfect. Brevity, thy name is not Quentin.

The Hateful Eight is not a film that will be universally loved, but it’s not asking to be. It is asking questions of the audience that the audience will not always enjoy finding the answers to. And that is its power.

Andy Oliver

 

 

 

Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for the Remainder of January

Our classical music columnist Liz Leatherdale, founder and owner of Colchester Classics, brings you her second lot of picks of January’s classical music events in and around Colchester

 

The Magic of the Musical

The WEA (Workers’ Educational Association), founded over one hundred years ago, provides education for adults on many topics including Music. Professor Bill Tamblyn is the tutor for “On the Shoulders of Giants”: composers who influenced music history with their large-scale symphonies, such as Havergal Brian, Shostakovich and Vaughan Williams. WEA West Bergholt Branch from January 12 (01206 240512).

Chris Green is the tutor for “The Magic of the Musical”, looking into music theatre from Greek antiquity to current hit musicals: their musical, social and economic place.

This 10-week course is presented by the WEA Colchester Branch from January 14 (01206 502698)

 

On the Bright Side

Saturday 9 January – Chris Green conducts the Trianon Choir and Symphony Orchestra in a concert entitled On the Bright Side with toe-tapping music from Gilbert & Sullivan, Eric Idle, Eric Coates, Rodgers & Hammerstein and John Williams. Some choir and orchestra members will be busking outside the concert venue from 6.40pm in aid of charity. This concert starts at 7.30pm and is in the Ipswich Corn Exchange, IP1 1DH.

Tickets: from £9.50 (01394 283170)

 

Puccini

The Kingfisher Ensemble performs its first concert for 2016 in Lion Walk Church, Colchester at 2.45pm. Founder and leader Beth Spendlove will be joined by Greg Eaton, Wendy Poulston, Susie Davis & Chris Slatter performing Puccini’s  Crisantemi in C#minor, Beethoven’s  String Quartet in Bb No.6 op.18 No.6 and Schubert’s  String Quintet in C op.Posth with two ’cellos

 

Essex Chamber Orchestra

Many musicians based in Colchester and the surrounding area perform with the Essex Chamber Orchestra. This orchestra comes together three times a year for intensive weekend rehearsals followed by a series of concerts.  Its first intensive weekend course for 2016, culminating in a concert on Sunday 10 January 2016 at 7pm. This concert includes popular music including Waldteufel’s Skater’s Waltz, Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube and Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite. Ingatestone & Fryerning Community Centre, 7 High Street, Ingatestone

 

Ian Ray and Geoff Harniess

Following last Tuesday’s lunchtiEssex Chamber Orchestrame concert in Colchester’s iconic Moot Hall, this Wednesday Ian Ray will be accompanying trumpeter Geoff Harniess in their debut lunchtime recital at the Cramphorn Studio in Chelmsford. January 13 at 1pm (01245 606505).

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Start your love affair with Classical Music at www.colchesterclassics.co.uk and take a minute to watch their company video:

 

Liz Leatherdale

 

 

 

 

Liz Leatherdale

The Revenant

The Revenant goes on general release next Friday, but Colchester 101’s movie reviewer Andy Oliver has seen a preview of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárittu’s adventure about survival and the extraordinary power of the human spirit starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Here’s what he has to say about it.

 
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárittu’s sprawling tale of wilderness survival is visually immaculate, occasionally harrowing but, overall, empty, soulless experience. It’s a “York Notes” of a movie: It is representative of a story for people who don’t want to think too much about it; it’s a cheat sheet that lacks any of the nuance, subtlety or character of a real film; you get the story but none of the stuff that makes that story live. It’s all surface with absolutely nothing going on underneath. That wouldn’t be so bad if it were just an all-out action movie, but The Revenant is desperately trying to be something else: It’s trying to be “Important”.

The Revenant 1

The Revenant is (very) loosely based on the story of an ill-fated fur trapping expedition to the upper reaches of the Missouri river which came under attack by native Arikara warriors. About a dozen men managed to escape, amongst them were such frontier badasses and mountain men as Hugh Glass, Thomas Fitzgerald, Jedediah Smith and a young Jim Bridger. Fearing further attacks, the company decided to make an overland escape to Fort Kiowa, some two hundred miles to the south. It is during this escape that Glass was attacked and badly mauled by a bear and left for dead by his company. Glass was close to death and two volunteers, Fitzgerald and Bridger, were recruited to stay with him until he either recovered or died. Claiming they were surprised by a party of Arikaras and that their ward had died, Fitzgerald and Bridger abandoned Glass and later caught up with the rest of their party. Glass, however, survived and managed to crawl as far as the Cheyenne river where he managed to fashion a crude raft which he used to float down the river to the safety of the fort.

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It’s a story you might feel you have seen before and, if you’ve ever seen Man In The Wilderness starring Richard Harris, then you have. Special effects have moved on since then but strangely the bear attack in that movie is so much more terrifying and carries so much more weight than the extended cgi attack in The Revenant. (Please be aware that animals come off second best in this film, especially two rather shocking horse deaths)

There’s a lot of the movie which is fairly true to the story, but a lot of liberties are taken to “Hollywood” it up. There’s a whole bunch of flashback nonsense about a floaty, dead wife and a half-breed son is introduced presumably to “up” the racial injustice angle. There’s also exasperating dream sequences where (beaver trapper) Glass stands before a mountain of buffalo skulls (because beaver skulls are less interesting visually?), playing up the movie’s eco credentials. None of this stuff adds anything except more interminable minutes to an already over-long test of endurance.

The Revenant 3

People are already mooting Leonardo Di Caprio’s performance as Glass as possibly Oscar winning. Apart from one scene toward the end where he manages to capture the white-hot madness of Glass’s thirst for revenge, Di Caprio mainly grunts, growls, vomits and crawls around with a mouth full of dirt and a beard full of frozen snot. On those terms, it’s not a bad performance, but it is little more than adequate. Tom Hardy and Will Poulter, as Fitzgerald and Bridger respectively, are a lot more interesting to be around and there is a palpable feeling of relief every time their story takes centre stage. Hardy’s internalisation and mumbling as the cruel and manipulative Fitzgerald works perfectly and Poulter is great as a young man haunted by the cruelty he has witnessed both perpetrated by and upon the natives who pursue them.

Unfortunately, The Revenant is not their story and so we return to Glass and his epic trek through the stunningly shot wilderness. The cinematography is the real star of the film, all shot in natural light by Oscar winning director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki, it’s just a shame that the film is so empty, it reduces every shot to the equivalent of staring at a slideshow of desktop wallpapers.

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Iñárittu is a frustrating film maker, he knows how to tell a story, he has an incredible eye for detail and yet he is, seemingly, always trying to make “Important” movies rather than focussing on emotional truth and honesty. For all the tales of hardship that have come from the shoot, there is little feeling of jeopardy, pain or bravery from the film. Ultimately, The Revenant fails to grab either emotionally or intellectually, which is a shame because it’s such a great story… Unless you’re a bear… Or a horse.

Andy Oliver

 

Andy Oliver