Month: October 2016

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is the latest superhero movie from Marvel Studios based on the comic book character of the same name. 101’s movie critic Andy Oliver has been along to the town’s Odeon cinema to bring you this exclusive review.

Dr Strange

The opening act of Doctor Strange has a feeling of familiarity, of déjà vu, of “Haven’t I seen this before?”; by the end of Doctor Strange there is a feeling of vertigo, of wonder, of kaleidoscopic, hallucinatory weirdness you’ll wonder if your popcorn hasn’t been laced with LSD*.

That first act is hugely reminiscent of Iron Man, the movie that kicked off this whole connected Marvel Universe: Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is arrogant, confident, in control of his world until an injury takes everything away from him. His hands crushed in an horrific car crash, the world-class surgeon spends his fortune trying to find a way to mend his damaged digits and, as a last resort, heads to the Himalayas to search for a guru/cult-leader/holy-person he has heard can cure any ailment. In finding The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Strange finds not only a fix for his injured hands but also his for injured soul as he repurposes his destiny as a master of the mystical arts.

Dr Strange

Anyone who’s a sucker for cocky student/inscrutable teacher paradigms (like the many Eastern martial arts movies that Tarantino’s Kill Bill riffed upon and, obviously, Harry Potter) will love the interchanges between Cumberbatch and Swinton as the sceptical, intellectualism of Strange smashes head on with the theosophical platitudes of The Ancient One.

Upon his graduation to the title of Sorcerer Supreme and his return to Manhattan Strange must battle the threat of the movie’s big bad, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson), a former pupil of The Ancient One who believes that Earth would be a better place if magic were allowed to thrive rather than a hidden force that keeps the world in balance and other dimensional threats at bay.

Cumberbatch throws himself into the role of Stephen Strange with deadpan theatrical zeal, relishing the journey from arrogant intellectual through humility to champion warrior of the astral plane. Strange is Sherlock with the rational, intellectual glamour of that character slowly and surely chipped away revealing the hero beneath.

Dr Strange

A lot was made of the “White-washing” of Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One character – The Ancient One was originally portrayed in the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comics as an oriental Methuselah complete with long white beard and crinkly, smiling eyes a la Sam Jaffe’s High Lama in Frank Kapra’s Lost Horizon – when news of her casting was announced. Whatever your opinion of this decision it is hard to argue that Swinton’s other-worldly androgyny makes for an interesting choice and she appears to be having a lot of fun as Strange’s enigmatic mentor.

As with so many of the Marvel movies, Doctor Strange suffers from limited screen time for the supporting cast and a villain that seems a little too under written. Mads Mikkelson doesn’t appear for long enough to present a credible threat but still manages to inject a little complexity and humour into his role. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong appear too infrequently as fellow apostles of The Ancient One: Mordo and Wong (though subsequent movies should feature them more heavily, Wong as Strange’s manservant/librarian of mystical tomes and Mordo as… well, that would be telling but hang around for the post credits scene for a clue). Rachel McAdams stars as doctor Christine Palmer, for whom Strange still carries a torch but, again, she struggles to break out from a role that is little more than “Love interest”. Of the supporting cast it is weirdly Strange’s Cape of Levitation that has the most life and the one you want to see more of, imbued with a personality of its own much like the magic carpet in Disney’s Aladdin.

Dr Strange

But it is in the visuals that Doctor Strange really comes alive, we’ve never really seen sorcery used in such an original way or at such a scale: magical engrams fizz and crackle with blazing intensity; cities and buildings fold, twist and turn inside-out to create Escher-like landscapes; journeys into nightmare alternate dimensions bring Ditko’s weird, exciting comic panels to terrifyingly beautiful life. Director Scott Derrickson keeps the action tight and exciting, using the effects to create a dizzying trip into the unknown but sometimes struggles to keep the attention during the (necessary) talkie bits.

As a movie, Doctor Strange is a bit of a mixed bag and is in no way the best of the Marvel Studios crop but as an eye-popping, energetic thrill-ride it totally delivers the goods.

*Disclaimer: It hasn’t

Andy Oliver

Andy Oliver

Gilly Looks Back… When AC/DC came to Colchester

Can you imagine one of the world’s biggest rock bands playing at a cinema in Colchester? Colchester legend DJ Gilly looks back at the night he roadied for AC/DC when they came to town.

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It may be hard to, but it actually did happen on Thursday 18th May 1978. The band that night was AC/DC and the venue was the old ABC Cinema on St John’s Street, now the Playhouse pub. This was to be the first of two visits to our town, the second coming in October when they returned for a gig at the University as part of the BBC’s Rock Goes To College series. On this occasion though John Hessenthaler, a local promoter, had booked the Aussie heavy rockers, and yours truly was asked to go along and work as a roadie helping the band’s own road crew unload, and later reload, their truck full of amps, guitars, drums and other gear.

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It was an exciting afternoon mixing with the band’s own crew, and even meeting AC/DC themselves, including Angus Young and original vocalist Bon.

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Scott who tragically died less than two years later in London after a night of heavy drinking.

By the time AC/DC took to the stage that evening I was now working in my dual role as part of the security team protecting the band. The show was everything you would expect from them, LOUD and full of energy, the highlights for me coming when Angus disappeared from the stage only to reappear a couple of minutes later in one of the boxes up on the circle playing a guitar solo. He disappeared a second time too with Bon Scott, reappearing together from the back of the auditorium with Angus playing away at his guitar, dry ice pouring from his satchel, whilst sitting on Bon’s shoulders as they made their way back to the stage.

Bon Scott

It really was an amazing day which finally ended, once all the gear was safely back on the tour truck, with me eating pizza, which had been bought by the band, with the rest of the crew.

So next time you are in the Playhouse maybe stop for a moment, cast your eyes towards the stage, and imagine Malcolm, Phil, Bon, Angus and Cliff up there belting out Whole Lotta Rosie, Let There be Rock…

For those AC/DC aficionados amongst you 101 readers the set list that night consisted of:

  1. Riff Raff
  2. Problem Child
  3. Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be
  4. Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation
  5. Dog Eat Dog
  6. Bad Boy Boogie
  7. Down Payment Blues
  8. The Jack
  9. High Voltage
  10. Whole Lotta Rosie
  11. Let There Be Rock
  12. Rocker

I couldn’t find a video of the ABC Cinema gig, but there are a few on YouTube of the university gig. So just to prove AC/DC really did come to town… Let There Be Rock

Gilly

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The Girl on the Train

Andy Oliver has visited Colchester’s Odeon cinema to watch Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train based on Paula Hawkins’  debut novel of the same name. Here is what he thought of it.

The Girl on the Train

There is a separation between page and screen that The Girl on the Train seems unable to understand. The twisting, three-person narrative that made Paula Hawkins’ novel so successful just makes for a confusing and plodding motion picture that will leave fans of the book frustrated and those new to the material, quite frankly, bored. And that’s a shame, what could have been a taught, Hitchcockian thrill-ride is reduced to a prurient, picaresque soap-opera that would better be consigned to one of ITV’s “filler” time slots.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) commutes to Manhattan by train from the leafy suburbs of up-state New York, staring out the windows and constructing fantasy lives for a young couple, Megan and Scott (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans) she spies every morning. One morning she sees the girl in the arms of another man and when Megan subsequently disappears Rachel becomes entangled in the missing person investigation. But there’s more to this story than at first appears: two doors down from the fantasy couple is the house where Rachel used to live and where her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), and his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), are now building their new life together. And there are plenty of witnesses that can place Rachel in the vicinity the night Megan disappeared.

The Girl on the Train

It’s a pretty straight-forward plot convoluted and confused by the film’s often jaw-droppingly unnecessary narrative structure, not only does it skip between characters but between time as well. Add to this the fact that Rachel is an alcoholic who suffers (conveniently placed) black outs and you have a thriller that is so intent on keeping the audience guessing that it forgets to include any thrills. All thrillers rely to some extent on contrivance, but The Girl on the Train pushes its contrivances to the point of viewer exasperation; there are enough red herrings to fill a trawler and secondary characters seem arbitrarily introduced just to further muddy the waters.

Emily Blunt, an actress who has shown that she can play injured, fractured, believable characters in the past (Sicario, The Devil Wears Prada) does her best here but Rachel is such a whingy and relentlessly weepy role that Blunt struggles to break free of her constraints. The rest of the cast fit perfectly with the bland characters presented to them and, apart from Alison Janney as the tough detective in charge of the case, they’re pretty perfunctory and forgettable.

The Girl on the Train

Director Tate Taylor chooses melodrama ahead of tension, pacing or invention and seems as confused by the film’s structure as the audience. That structure is a major problem of a screenplay, by Erin Cressida Wilson, that resolutely refuses to take the core of the story and assign it to a single protagonist rather than stick so rigidly to a structure that can only work on the novel’s page. Had the film stuck with a single point of view, however unreliable the narrator, not only could the pace have been upped, but the sex scenes might not have felt so jarringly voyeuristic rather than the fantasy love making they are presented as.

I think it’s fair to say that, despite the hype, The Girl on the Train was not the next Gone Girl on the page and it is certainly not that on the screen either. The screenplay of Gone Girl understood the difference between the two mediums and wasn’t afraid to cut the stuff that worked in the book but would seem shoe-horned into the film. The Girl on the Train is neither brave enough or smart enough to make either of these decisions and therefore is not only a lesser film it’s a confusing trudge devoid of entertainment. Fans of the book will be as disappointed by it as much as those looking for a movie full of tension and thrills.

Andy Oliver

 Andy Oliver

Shining a Light on Colchester’s Heritage

If you were in Colchester town centre during the evening a couple of weeks ago it would have been hard not to notice Jumbo, the town’s magnificent Victorian water tower, lit up in purple against the night sky. Sadly the lights have now been switched off, but Darius Laws, the man behind this temporary installation, talks to Colchester 101 about his vision to light Jumbo up permanently, along with the town’s Roman walls and other heritage sites.

Jumbo

If you’ve visited cities like Lincoln, York and Newcastle, you can’t fail to be impressed by the way they light up their iconic heritage at night – whether it’s a cathedral, castle or city walls.

I think it’s a great way to express pride in where we live, highlighting its history and creating a strong sense of ‘place’ for residents and visitors alike. It also brings some welcome magic to a town centre’s nightlife.

I’ve long wanted Colchester to follow in the footsteps of these cities. With our iconic water tower, Jumbo, and our unique Roman walls, we could create an atmosphere of positivity and transform our town into a welcoming beacon that could be seen from afar – and by passing visitors travelling through Colchester station.

Jumbo

That’s why I decided to put the concept to the test by lighting up Jumbo with the help of a professional contractor. It was a temporary installation, and it relied on the goodwill of neighbouring businesses* that allowed us to use their electricity supply – but the results were dramatic. I received so much feedback from residents and visitors who wished we could make the lighting permanent.

Just think what we could do. As well as Jumbo and our Roman walls and gates, we could light our war memorial, our churches, and other landmark buildings. We could project videos that tell the story of our history, from Boudicca to Humpty Dumpty to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

Jumbo

I can’t think of an easier, more cost-effective way to make a bold statement about the pride we feel in our town, or of a better way to get potential visitors talking about us. It would pay for itself quickly by increasing tourism and bringing more self-confidence to our night-time economy.

By lighting Jumbo for a week, at the cost of only a few hundred pounds, I’ve shown what is possible if we dare to think creatively. If we could even start lighting up our heritage one step at a time, we’ll compete better with other local towns and our future will be a bright one.

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*special thanks to the Mercury Theatre & Molloy’s Irish Pub for their support.

 

Darius Laws

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