Month: August 2016

Pete’s Dragon

We can count ourselves lucky at Colchester 101 that our resident movie critic has written this review of Pete’s Dragon as he wasn’t expecting to like it. Instead he loved it.

Petes Dragon 1

It was a very different person who walked out of the darkened cinema to the one that went in. A grumpy, middle-aged cynic took his seat for the remake of Disney’s underwhelming Pete’s Dragon, a cutesy-cute confection of a kid’s film from that studio’s doldrums years; it was a small child, heart full of hope, joy and the possibilities of an unlimited imagination, cheeks still damp from tears, that emerged into the bright Summer sunshine 100 minutes later.

Pete’s Dragon is an absolute gem of a movie, a family film that is enchanting, beautiful, terrifying, funny, glorious. In short, it delivers everything that the very best of cinema promises: it lifts you up, carries you on a journey and leaves you way up high with emotions, characters and story that will live long in your heart.

The film opens with five-year-old Pete and his family heading out for an adventure in America’s densely forested Pacific North-West. Pete is sat in the back of the car reading Elliot Gets Lost when a deer wanders into the road resulting in a devastating crash that kills his parents. Young Pete crawls from the wreckage his picture book in hand and wanders off into the forest. Things go from bad to worse for our young hero when he is set upon by a pack of ravenous wolves, but then a huge, lumbering form intervenes and saves the child from a horrific death a great, green dragon, its shaggy fur bristling with anger and menace. When the child places his hand on the dragon its fur changes from dark to a light, friendly green and I think this was the moment I fell in love with not only Elliot (as Pete names him) but also with the film itself.

Petes Dragon 2

We then skip to six years later and civilisation begins to encroach upon the idyllic, fun existence the boy and his dragon chum enjoy, loggers are clear-cutting the forest in which the pair have played, romped and flown. Only park ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her kindly old dad, Meacham (Robert Redford) stand between the loggers and the destruction of the wilderness, but this is further complicated by the fact that Grace is engaged to Jack (Wes Bentley), the owner of the logging company responsible. Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) is determined to push further and further into the forest and cutting as much as possible and it is here that he encounters the now feral Pete (Oakes Fegley).

Pete is the boy many of us wanted to be, tough, self-sufficient, effortlessly athletic, brave and living his life and adventures with his very best friend. Oakes Fegley is yet another wonderful find in a year stuffed with great child actors, especially in the moments where he realises the other side of the fantasy – the loneliness, fear and isolation, the pull of reality and that first pre-teen love (provided here by Oona Lawrence, Jack’s snappy, street-wise daughter Natalie).

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It’s a great cast and everybody gives nothing less than their best, especially Karl Urban as the movie’s villain, Jack. Whereas the big bad of the original was a two-dimensional cartoon baddie played by Jim Dale, Urban plays Gavin with nuance and depth, a deeply wounded man who is just doing what he believes must be done. And it’s always great to see that winning twinkle in the eyes of Robert Redford.

But it’s Elliot who’s the standout character. Maybe not every shot of him is perfect but every shot he’s in is perfect. With his big eyes, wonky under-bite, stumpy legs and bright green fur it’s impossible not to love him. He’s silly and sad (sometimes in the same scene), exuberantly full of life and love for his forest and for Pete and full of happiness.

Director and writer David Lowery has crafted a beautiful and awe inspiring cinematic experience, that’s not afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve and yet is full of goofy fun and buckets of snot. All the characters are allowed to be fully human, or in Elliot’s case fully dragon, and there are hints of their back stories carefully hidden in plain sight. It’s difficult not to compare Lowery’s approach to that of classic Spielberg, there’s a sense of awe that permeates the entire film and not just those fantastical scenes where Elliot appears. Pete’s Dragon is a big screen movie that is unashamedly big screen, that’s where it was designed to be seen and that’s where you should see it, you’ll thank me later.

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I was glad I saw Pete’s Dragon with a real audience and not in a screening room full of cynical critics (myself included). I revelled in the joy, giggles, awe and occasional sniffles of the children (and some of the parents) in the audience. It’s a movie that makes adults feel nostalgic, not for the original or for toys but for the nostalgia of a time when we felt anything was possible and for younger viewers just starting out on the journey that cinema offers, Pete’s Dragon is a giant, furry, welcoming pair of friendly arms that say, “Come with me, let’s go on an adventure”.

Andy Oliver

Andy Oliver

Suicide Squad

Andy Oliver is fresh back from the Odeon with his review of Suicide Squad. Read on to hear what he thought of it.

Suicide Squad
This is my third attempt at writing a review of Suicide Squad, basically the first two drafts were spent feebly attempting to put a positive spin on what is, possibly, the most disappointing movie of the year, so far. Disappointing mostly because the marketing campaign was so fabulous, a couple of really fun trailers, exciting dayglow posters, star-studded cast, interesting choice of director (David Ayer, known for his visceral, gut-punch style of movie making) and a promise that it would be everything Batman Vs. Superman wasn’t. The problem is that there is so little to like in a movie that looks and feels like that old adage: a camel is a horse designed by a committee. And, boy, is Suicide Squad one ugly looking camel.
As destabilised as the appearance of Superman made the world, his (spoiler) death has created even further chaos and uncertainty. Every nation and terrorist group is desperate for their own super-powered protagonists and, to cope with any potential threat, government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) puts together a task force, a suicide squad, from the super-powered inmates of Belle Reve prison. This is obviously a bad idea, especially when The Enchantress (Cara DeLevigne) manages to escape Waller’s fail-safe and becomes the first major threat the group has to face.

Suicide Squad

In the first thirty minutes of the movie we are introduced to the individuals via flashback/origin tales that play out like extended dvd extras, all to the beat of far too on-the-nose choices of music tracks. Deadshot (Will Smith) is a conflicted assassin, the World’s greatest marksman, who constantly worries that his daughter will she him as a villain. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is a former psychiatrist and psychotic sex-doll girlfriend of The Joker. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is a crocodile skinned killer (obviously). Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtenay) is a notoriously silly Flash villain and comic relief whose name pretty much explains his skills. El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is a tattoo-faced former gang member who can wield fire. The Enchantress is a six-thousand-year-old spirit who inhabits the body of archaeologist June Moon. There’s also Slipknot (Adam Branch), but he disappears from the film so quickly I couldn’t tell you anything about him.
To control this dirty half(ish) dozen is soldier Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and his sidekick: sword-wielding, woman of mystery, Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Can this conglomeration of misfits form a cohesive team and fulfil their appointed assignment? Put their collective differences aside and become an effective force? What do you think?

Suicide Squad

So when The Enchantress sneaks away from Waller and Flagg’s control and resurrects her brother, Incubus (a cgi character so bad it makes The Mummy Returns’ Scorpion King look like the absolute apex of special effects), the squad gains its first major mission. Cue explosions, shouting, incomprehensible action and hordes of blackberry-headed cannon fodder (The Enchantress transforms men into fruity-headed minions. Seriously).

This film is a mess. It’s been well documented that major reshoots were ordered by the studio after initial photography was finished, those reshoots stick out like a sore thumb, poorly edited in in an attempt to inject more humour and “fun”. There are tonal shifts that destroy any flow the story might initially have had; characters disappear without reason, some are introduced multiple times, some are hardly introduced at all; there’s way too much brooding from the male characters and the female characters are either trying to be the brooding male characters or exist purely as fan-boy sex fantasies; the motive of the villains is unclear, if not totally inexplicable (in a movie about bad guys taking on worse guys there really shouls have been stronger villains); an already flawed script is muddied by the obvious reshoots; the editing is all over the place (at one point a character leaves the group and, in the very next scene, is seen walking in slow-motion with the rest of the squad; and then there’s Jared Leto’s Joker…

Suicide Squad

The Joker appears mostly because he’s the only recognisable DC Comics villain/character mainstream audiences will probably know, he’s shoe-horned into the film “Just because” and serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. You could cut virtually all of the five minutes he appears and have no impact on the story at all and he’s such an irritating presence that you’ll wish they had. Leto’s version of The Joker is bad. Really, really bad. So bad that it actually harms the character, the legacy of Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hammill and Heath Ledger is marred by every second he’s on the screen.
Leto is bad, yes, but at least he’s trying to act, Cara DeLevigne on the other hand… DeLevigne is truly awful. She puts in a performance (if you can call it that) that’s not only a career low but might also stand as one of the worst ever captured on film. I have no words…
Ben Affleck appears as Batman for a few minutes but his appearance culminates in a scene so sex-creepy that my jaw almost hit the floor. It’s one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie and so misjudged that it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the character that, and I don’t say this lightly, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable watching Batman on film ever again.

Suicide Squad

Fortunately, Will Smith and Margot Robbie sparkle with on-screen charisma, not enough to save the movie but enough to make it just about watchable. It might sound bizarre but Deadshot is far more heroic than the current Henry Cavill iteration of Superman, he’s the moral centre of the movie and, unlike Cavill’s Superman, he actually wants to be a hero. Stand out for me, though, is Jay Hernandez as El Diablo. Hernandez brings a wounded humanity to his character and in a smaller roster this might well have been a break-out role for him, as it is he is mostly left in the background but when he comes to the front he is both magnificent and tragic.
Suicide Squad has its moments, but they are just that: Moments. Technically Batman Vs. Superman is a worse film but the disappointment I felt coming out of Suicide Squad weighed much more heavily upon me.

Andy Oliver

Andy Oliver

Finding Dory

Our resident movie critic Andy Oliver selflessly taken himself along to Colchester’s Odeon cinema to see Pixar’s 3D computer-animated sequel to Finding Nemo. Here are his thoughts.

Finding Dory
Finding Nemo was a pretty great movie, from the emotionally devastating beginning to its uplifting and exciting finale; it was stuffed full of great characters; there were plenty of laughs and a few tears; oh, and it was beautiful to look at, really, really beautiful.
Dory, the big-hearted Blue Tang with short-term memory loss (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) was a terrific sidekick, but the idea of basing a whole movie around her? I’m not afraid to say I was more than a little sceptical about the idea, I was worried she might just get a little, um, annoying.
Turns out, I was wrong (not for the first time). Dory is a terrific central character, full of warmth, heart and bravery, a fully realised, emotionally vibrant protagonist whose journey every bit as heart-warming and heart-breaking as any Pixar has offered up before.

Finding Dory

It’s such a shame that Finding Dory falls apart in the second act when it moves from the open ocean to an aquarium.
When a memory is sparked by the migration of hundreds of stingrays, Dory sets off in search of her family only to fall into the hands of some well-meaning marine biologists, Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) in pursuit. Dory ends up in an aquarium/fish hospital from which she enlists the aid of a cranky septopus (a seven limbed octopus wonderfully played by Ed O’Neill), a short sighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olsen) and an echo-locationally challenged Beluga whale (Ty Burrell).
Finding Dory begins with a series of flashbacks that lead up to Dory’s first head-on meeting with Marlin and then Finding Nemo happens. The opening scene itself is beautifully touching as Dory’s parents (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) try to teach her coping mechanisms for her short-term memory, parents of special needs children will no doubt recognise the small triumphs and the struggles portrayed here.
The problems begin to appear as Dory first remembers that the aquarium is the place she was raised and tries to get from one pool to the next and then the next and so on. Then she tries to escape, which basically involves trying to get from one pool to the next to the next. Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo are trying to break into the aquarium which involves… well, you get the idea by now. It’s all a bit frantic and, as a consequence, character development suffers, especially for Destiny the whale shark and Bailey the beluga. There’s just too many set pieces and not enough story and by the time you get to a highway car chase (yes, really), it’s all a bit tiresome and exhausting.
It’s a shame because there’s a lot to enjoy and some great comic relief characters like two sea lions played by The Wire alumni, Idris Elba and Dominic West, and a seriously freaky-weird bird called Becky. Ed O’Neill is great as Hank, the escape obsessed septopus, snarky and broken-hearted by turns. A couple of old friends return, there’s cameos by the seagulls and Sigourney Weaver, but not enough of the sea otters (seriously, you can never have too much sea otter “Cuddle party” action).
Dory isn’t as funny as she was in Finding Nemo, but that’s okay, it allows DeGeneres the space to go deeper into the character and note-perfectly plays sad resignation and childish excitement.

Listen, Finding Dory isn’t a bad film, at times it’s really, really good and less demanding audiences won’t complain too much at its repetitive, hyper final two acts. The problem is that Pixar have set the bar so high with so much of their output that it’s really noticeable when they dip slightly under it.

Oh. And if nothing else Finding Dory is really, really beautiful to look at.

Andy Oliver

Andy Oliver

Colchestersoup – Looking Back, Looking Forwards

A few months ago we took a look at Colchestersoup, a simple idea with its origins in Detroit, USA. The Colchestersoup events have come a long way since those early days and Karen Taylor now brings us up to date.

Colchester Soup Logo

Looking back, looking forwards

It’s well over a year now since Colchestersoup first opened the doors in Colchester at the Hythe community centre and it’s been an absolute rollercoaster of a year!

Back in January 2015 the soup concept was a new one to the UK with Colchester being the 3rd town to host soup evenings.

We constantly had to explain the concept… no it’s not a soup kitchen… and we still do. But that’s OK. Since then we’ve met up with the originator of Detroitsoup (who we nicked the idea from) after she was flown over by Richard Branson and have learned that after 6 years of Detroitsoup she still has to explain it to her own father.

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But it’s a whole lot easier now. BBC world news visited us in Colchester town centre in March last year, wrote a stunning write up and soup exploded all over the country. Figuratively.

We’ve been in newspapers, on the radio, in magazines and blogs and visited other soups as far north as Newcastle- They had been trying to get funding for 2 years but nobody ‘got’ the concept. Until the BBC article.

Now there are more than 50 in the UK. We’ve had visitors to Colchester who have flown down from Scotland to see how it works, visitors from the Czech Republic and on no soup night is there a room full of entirely Colchester people – the last one included Lithuanians, Czech and Chelmsford people amongst others.

Colchester Soup Cycle

The idea is simple – we rent a room, provide some soup and invite 3 people to speak about their idea and what they would do with any money won. The 3 people will have already submitted forms telling us about their idea – that way we can select a varied group for the entertainment of the room. Visitors pay a donation at the door for soup and a vote, the money goes in a pot, 3 people speak, everybody has homemade soup and a roll while discussing who they are going to give their vote to. Votes are counted – highest votes takes all the money. On two occasions people have shared with joint top votes. The community in the room decide who gets the cash – not us, not a grant form, not a committee. People for people.

Colchester Soup Firstsite

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We like our numbers here at soup. After all there would be no point if we couldn’t measure the impact so a few statistics…

We’ve run 15 soup events over a period of 17 months.
We’ve run 3 events for councillors where the councillors put their community grants in a pot, one for Essex County Council alongside Harwichsoup to show ECC how it could work, one for Colchester Voluntary Services, and the other 10 were ‘normal’ soups.
At those events 60 people have stood up and talked about their ideas (there are more at councillor events- everybody that asks gets a turn)
Of the 60, 4 were charities, 23 were other organisations, 24 were individuals with good ideas and 1 was a local business.
The councillor pots accounted for £10,000 distributed across 23 different organisations.
The remaining soups have ‘redistributed’ £3,130.68 from visitor pockets to pitcher pockets.

The pitchers have included such ideas as:

Fitting out a van to travel and educate people about autism – Individual
Star ratings for restaurant and business doors showing accessibility – Individual
Clay for free pottery lessons – Individual
Potters wheel for special needs adults – Organisation not related to individual above
Exoskeleton for badly damaged leg – Individual
Funding for book publication – x2 – Individuals
Korfball awareness – Individual – didn’t want to win just wanted to let people know it exists
Minecraft overlaid with Camulodonum – Individual
Grief Counselling – Individual
Disability adjustments to houses – Charity

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Some of those won, some didn’t but let’s use those as examples…

Fitting out a van – his 50th birthday – he raised awareness and gained extra donations outside of soup
Star ratings – someone else in the room offered to create the website which the money was needed for – doubling it’s value – he won
Pottery lessons – they won – someone else in the room gave them access to heavily discounted clay
Potters wheel – they won – it’s probably spinning as you read
Exoskeleton – this was the final amount of money needed for revolutionary health care usually only available to the forces – he won and is the first civilian in the UK with this intervention. He was due to have his leg amputated the following week.
Funding for a book – one is published and has great reviews – the other – watch this space
Korfball – didn’t win – someone else in the room offered an entire team of players
Minecraft overlaid with Camulodonum – hopefully will be in all schools in Essex soon – he won but gave his money away to joint winners Foodbank
Grief counselling – she won – needed money for office space but someone else in the room gave her the office space – free – money used for sourcebooks instead – doubling the value
Disability adjustments – strong East of England charity – there to raise confidence of the presenters speaker skills – he’s come back from devastating injury – now a confident presenter

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With numbers that good we should be really pleased to continue. To be honest it’s the stories at the bottom of the page that are our reason for being. Every time we go home we are buzzing with the new ideas that WILL happen in Colchester just because a group got together in a room for a few hours.

All we did was rent the hall and bring some soup along.
Find out more about soup HERE
Or follow us on twitter @colchestersoup
And like us on Facebook www.facebook.com/Colchestersoup
Listen to soup in action courtesy of brilliant community person Adam Roxby Here.

Karen Taylor

Then and Now

Over the past couple of weeks some extraordinary images of Colchester have been appearing on social media. Combining both old and new photographs of the town local photographer Xav Marseille has been creating a collection of stunning images,  each of which is an incredible fusion of the town as it was decades ago, and as it is now in the 21st century. He aptly has named this collection Then and Now.

If you would like to see more of these amazing photographs, along with Xav’s other work, pay a visit to his website www.about.me/xavmars and follow him on Twitter @XavMars.

In Xav’s own words:

As a Parisian who arrived in Colchester over two decades ago, this town has become part of the fabric of my life. I studied Art and Graphics in France, but photography has always been my real passion and in more recent years I have experimented with a range of editing techniques that has culminated in the production of a series of interesting artwork – some of which prompted a recent exhibition at the Mercury theatre which ran for over 8 weeks.

A recent discovery of some old photographs of Colchester inspired my latest project – which explores how Colchester has changed over the years. It’s been interesting to consider how the landscape of the town has changed and, using various editing techniques coupled with my own modern photographs, fuse the two images together. The results have been both striking and insightful. Part of the project has allowed me to go on a journey delving back into the past, where as a photographer, you suddenly realise that you are standing in the same spot as the photographer 40, 60 or even 80 years ago. The equipment and technology may have moved on, and the landscape may have changed but the desire to capture the essence of the town from that perfect angle remains the same. The project has gathered momentum with the help from locals who have submitted old photographs and suggested ways to incorporate the artwork (postcards, calendars, publishing a book) and generally encouraged me to produce more of the “Then and Now” fusions.

I would like to see the project develop into an exhibition at a local venue where people can perhaps experience the journey that I have taken during the artistic process and step back into the past with the images whist still enjoying what they capture about modern society.

Xav

 

 

 

 

Xav Marseille

 

East Hill

Castle Park

North Hill

River Colne

Sheregate Steps

St Johns Street