Month: October 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

(BBFC 12A 2hrs 10mins)

With Thor: Ragnarok, New Zealand director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) has ditched the Shakespearean miserabilism of Kenneth Branagh’s crack at the character and the muddled/studio-interference troubles of Alan Taylor’s The Dark World. What he’s done instead is embrace the goofy fun of The Guardians of the Galaxy and the inherent silliness of the whole “Men in capes and lycra” superhero genre to produce a movie that’s garlic and Kryptonite to anyone who doesn’t like fun: a kaleidoscopic romp bursting at the seams with laugh out loud one-liners, great characters and excitingly crazy action scenes.

The plot is pretty standard comic book fare (especially if you were reading Marvel comics in the 1970’s) and won’t stretch any viewer too far, although a little familiarity with previous Marvel movies might be helpful as Thor: Ragnarok picks up a few threads from the earlier entries. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Asgard (the mythical home of the Norse gods) to discover his half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddlestone) has banished their father, Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), and now sits at the throne of the realm.


Unfortunately for the squabbling siblings their long-forgotten sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), has escaped her millennia-old captivity and returned to herald the destruction of the gods and their kingdom (hence Ragnarok, The Doom of the Gods). Thor and Loki are then banished themselves, the god of thunder finding himself on the battle planet Sakaar where, to earn his freedom, hemust fight in gladiatorial games and comes up against an old rival/ally in the form of Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). With the help of allies old and new Thor must find his way back to Asgard to save the realm from his sister who wants only to destroy it.

Thor’s regular supporting cast all put in appearances including Heimdall (Idris Elba), Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) and The Warriors Three (Ray Stephenson, Tadanobu Asano and Zachary Levi), bolstered by all new heroes and villains like Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Hela’s henchman Skurge (Karl Urban) and a gloriously over-the-top Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster. Oh, and as hinted at the end of his own movie, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) makes an appearance as well.

Chris Hemsworth has already shown a deft hand at comedy in the remakes of National Lampoon’s Vacation and Ghostbusters, but here he gets free reign to flex his considerable comedic muscle and grasps that chance with aplomb. When he and Mark Ruffalo (in both his Bruce Banner and Hulk modes) share the screen it’s like Withnail & I in space, permanently trapped on an inter-galactic holiday by mistake. Tom Hiddlestone’s Loki gets probably the best character arc of the movie and even at his most scheming he’s still a likeable presence. Cate Blanchett is clearly relishing her chance to go all-out panto villainess and Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster is Goldblum at his most Goldblum-iest, which is always a joy to behold. Tessa Thompson might be the breakout character though as Valkyrie, a bounty hunter who turns hero, she’s definitely the “Han Solo” of Thor: Ragnarok and Thompson is great in the role.

The baggy plot is not the reason to see Thor: Ragnarok though. It’s just the hook upon which all the fun and goofiness ultimately hangs. No, the real reason to spend your well-earned sheckles is the fun and goofiness. The movie sets out its stall right from the opening scene, in which Hemsworth spins in and out of frame as he engages in a barbed battle of “bants” with a horrifying antagonist whilst, at the same time, delivering a gloriously stylized (and hilarious) voice-over. It’s almost exhaustingly self-aware but never tips over into parody, it’s clear that everyone’s having a great time making this movie and the audience has an open invite to either jump on board or find the nearest exit.

The look of the film is obviously inspired by a thousand Heavy Metal magazine covers (as well as a thousand “heavy metal” album covers), it’s insanely vibrant and harks back to a time when legendary comic book artist Jack “King” Kirby was doing his greatest work on titles like Thor, The New Gods and The Fantastic Four.

There’s bad-ass women, hilarious gags, monsters, Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song and a bonkers 1980’s style synth-pop score by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh; lively and exciting characters that you want to spend the whole movie with; top-notch CGI and practical effects; Jeff Goldblum…

That’s not to say Thor: Ragnarok is not without its problems, some of the world building and lore is flubbed (probably because it wasn’t as much fun to film as making the rest of the film) and a little too much time is spent developing Karl Urban’s Skurge, whose role in the movie is obvious from his first appearance. Because the rest of the movie is so enjoyable you do start to resent the moments when it has to go “serious”, but that’s a minor quibble and there’s really only about ten minutes that it could do without.

Fans who prefer the superhero canon to be a bit more straight-laced and serious faced might well baulk at the irreverence and meta-commentary of Thor: Ragnarok. Waititi obviously doesn’t believe in sacred cows or, if he does he really enjoys hitting them in the bum, and, credit where it’s due, Marvel has been brave enough to hand him a banjo big enough to do it. It was a big risk to let the director indulge in all his favourite idiosyncrasies, but it’s a gamble that Marvel/Disney should now be able to collect on: Thor: Ragnarok manages to make “more of the same” not only feel fresh and shiny-new but provides one of the most enjoyable visits to the cinema this year.

Andy Oliver

Equality for People with Disabilities in Colchester

 

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society.

For those who are not familiar with the the act, it recognises nine ‘protected characteristics’ with disability being one of them. The others are:

  • age
  • being or becoming a transsexual person
  • being married or in a civil partnership
  • being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • religion, belief or lack of religion/belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

In a nutshell it protects people who have a disability from discrimination in the workplace and wider society. It builds on the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995.

One provision relating to Disability is harmonising the thresholds for the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.

It goes even further, under The Equality Act 2010 section 20 there is a duty:

“Where a provision, criterion or practice of A’s puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in relation to relative matters of comparison with persons who are no disabled, to take such steps as it is reasonable to avoid the disadvantage”


My aim is a challenge that the refurbishment of toilet facilities in Castle Park in Colchester should include Changing Places toilets, so that people with disabilities can enjoy the same advantages of toilet facilities as those who are able bodied.

The debatable point will always be, is it reasonable?

In my opinion Castle Park provides playground facilities and sensory experiences for people with disabilities. These facilities are also enjoyed by able bodied children and adults. They enjoy toilet facilities to compliment their experience, so therefore it is reasonable to have equality for people with disabilities and additional sanitary needs to also have the same provision.

I will be bringing this to the attention of Colchester Borough Council, and have already started initial discussions through the back channels with several key council figures to gauge reaction.


In 1970 Lord Morris wrote what was referred to as the ‘Magna Carta’ for the disabled, and he soon became the First UK minister for the Disabled in 1974 (the year I was born). It faced heavy opposition from within his own party and his vision almost died when Harold Wilson PM called a General Election.

He was successful in making Britain the first country in the world to make a law to improve access and support for people with disabilities.

We should be proud of that.

The 1986 Disabled persons act and later the 1995 Disabled Discrimination Act built on Lord Morris’ original vision. It was not until the mid 1990’s that we started to see Disabled Toilets for people in wheelchairs start to become commonplace in public spaces and businesses.


As a nation we have only had Wheelchair accessible toilets for just over 20 years. It is my vision that we complete the circle and go further to include Changing Places toilets, and that in 10 years time Changing Places are commonplace across the UK.

I will also challenge Colchester Borough Council to fully endorse changing places to make Colchester not only a sanctuary town for refugees, but also for people with disabilities and all other characteristics of the Equalities Act.

Previously published on MEDIUM.

Scott Everest

The Snowman & The Ritual

THE SNOWMAN (BBFC 15 1hr 59mins)

 

 

There were 26 years between two of Hollywood’s most iconic chillers, Jaws (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Any hopes that lightning might strike for a third time are fading fast as, 26 years after Hannibal Lecter’s fava bean and chianti sides, the “great white hope”, an adaptation of bestselling Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman, fails to deliver a single shiver.

Based on the seventh of Nesbø’s successful Harry Hole (pronounced Hool-eh, so no jokes about Michael Fassbender’s Hole, okay?) detective novels, The Snowman struggles to find anything new to bring audiences unfamiliar to the author’s work whilst also alienating his existing fanbase. When elite crime-squad detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) investigates the disappearance of a young woman he begins to suspect that the elusive serial killer dubbed “The Snowman” may be on the prowl again after years of hibernation. With the help of brilliant rookie Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), Hole has to connect his investigation to decades-old cold cases if he wants to catch the killer before he (or she) strikes again.

Various characters appear, disappear, deliver exposition and generally muddy the waters of both the investigation and the movie’s plot: J.K. Simmons plays a sinister magazine mogul trying to engineer a major winter-sports event; Charlotte Gainsbourg as Hole’s ex, Rakel, who constantly interrupts proceedings with some crisis or another involving their teenage son Oleg (Michael Yates); James D’Arcy as the hostile husband of the disappeared woman; Chloe Sevigny as identical twin chicken-farmers (one of whom is basically just a head stuck on top of a snowman); and a precariously coiffured Val Kilmer who appears in flashback scenes as the detective in charge of the original Snowman case. The audience is led up and down numerous snow-blind alleys and served up more than a barrel’s worth of pickled red herrings on their way to a finale that’s as bafflingly impractical as it is emotionally unrewarding.

Fassbender is fine as the clinical detective who is only ever really alive when he’s challenged by his work and a hopeless alcoholic when he’s not. Rebecca Ferguson is the standout as the feisty and eager Katrine, though she’s never quite handed enough by the script to really get her teeth into. The rest of the cast do the best they can with what little they’re given, although I’d like to know the reasoning behind the bizarrely bad voice-dubbing of Val Kilmer’s appearances.

The real detective work that hangs around The Snowman though, is how such a fine pedigree of talents (both in front of and behind the camera) managed to produce such a mutt? Director Thomas Alfredson, the man behind the near-impeccable Let the Right One In and the equally classy Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, seems to have not just dropped the ball but left it on the bus on his way home from the shops, a bus that subsequently burst into flames, driven off a bridge and plunged into a lake full of ball-eating piranhas. Where Jaws and Silence of the Lambs relied on a slowly building intensity and an inexorable feeling of inevitable dread, The Snowman goes straight for lurid, grisly shocks straight out of the most basic eighties slasher canon. Martin Scorsese is on board as executive producer and top-notch editors Claire Simpson (Platoon, Wall Street, The Reader) and long-time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker fail to pull the pieces together. Perhaps the fault lies at the feet of the writers? Peter Straughan (Frank, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Wolf Hall and the afore-mentioned Tinker, Tailor) and Hossein Amini (highs: Drive, The Wings of the Dove, lows: 47 Ronin, Snow White and the Huntsman) appear to have forgotten that what appears terrifying on the page may appear ridiculous on the screen, not the least of these being the snowmen which appear at every murder scene just come across as naughty or sad Olafs rather than signposts of evil.

Not the worst movie of the year by a long stretch but The Snowman is pretty abominable.

BONUS REVIEW

THE RITUAL (BBFC 15 1hr 34mins)

 


A bunch of chums (Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton and Robert James-Collier) go hiking in Sweden in memory of their friend Robert who was murdered in a convenience store robbery. Luke (Spall) is especially traumatised because he failed to intervene in the senseless killing and hid behind shelving unit during the crime. When one of the chums twists his ankle, a shortcut through a forest is decided upon with predictable horror movie results.

Dead animal hanging in the trees still dripping blood? Check. Creepy cabin in the woods? Check. Mysterious runes cut into trees/cabin/everything? Check.

Can you see where this is heading?

There’s good, solid performances by all but The Ritual is more of a trudge than a brisk hike. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, in fact there’s probably less. Sometimes you need a creepy local to say, “Stay out of the woods, lads” just to add a bit of context, which is something this movie sorely needs. It’s all a bit dull and you’ve seen it all before (unless this is your first horror movie, in which case you might experience minor goose-pimpling). It’s a calorie free rice cake of a movie, which is fine I suppose, I just like my calorie free rice cakes to be dipped in chocolate and smarties and served between two cream buns.

Andy Oliver

 

Autumn Around Castle Park

I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to to take some autumnal photographs in and around castle park. Until the sky did that weird red/beige thing.







Simon Crow

Blade Runner 2049

 

 

(BBFC 15 2hrs 43mins)


I’ve already booked a ticket to see Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 again.

Not because I loved it, at least not yet. I want to see it again to cement in my mind whether it’s a truly great movie or merely a mediocre picture draped in a hallucinatory coat of many colours; whether, or not, there is actually anything resembling life in its sterility or just an affectation of life; whether there is substance in its style or whether it’s an empty, albeit beautifully crafted, vessel. Or, maybe, the truth lies in all these things.

Set thirty years after the events of Ridley Scott’s original, Blade Runner 2049’s central character is K (Ryan Gosling), a limited-life replicant working as a detective (or Blade Runner) for the LAPD, tracking down the first-generation models who can live as long as, and live as, humans. During a routine mission to apprehend/eliminate one of those rogue replicants K stumbles upon a secret that, if given the oxygen of publicity, could destroy the delicate sense of order that exists between humans and the now million strong sub-caste of androids. Ordered by his police chief Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) to forget what he has learned, K disobeys and begins an investigation that takes him to the ruins of Las Vegas and directly to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who is hiding therein. Meanwhile creepy oligarch Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who now owns the replicant manufacturing corporation, Tyrell, has his own bizarre and ruthless interest in K.


Gosling is back in zero-emotion, Drive/Only God Forgives mode, doing a fine job of channelling Le Samourai era Alain Delon, both enigmatic and unreadable. Harrison Ford is great as the haggard misanthrope Deckard (not really a stretch, I guess, but still…). I’m still not convinced by Jared Leto, he will forever be the poor man’s Daniel Day-Lewis to me, he’s not terrible but he does seem to suck the oxygen out of his every scene. A terrific, and overwhelmingly female, supporting cast is led by Robin Wright as the stern and severe Lt. Joshi, but there’s more than a few performances that one would struggle to describe as other than breakthrough: Sylvia Hoeks as the ruthless Luv, Ana de Armas as K’s designed for pleasure hologram Joi and watch out for an all too brief, but impactful, appearance by In Syria’s Hiam Abbas.

If you’ve seen this year’s earlier entrants in the unofficial competition to melt the audience’s eyeballs, Ghost in the Shell and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets you’ll have some idea of the colourful visual flair on display, but Blade Runner 2049 possesses some things neither of those earlier two seemed to understand: Composition. Through the eye of cinematographer Roger Deakins’ camera lens (director of photography on such classics as Fargo, The Assassination of Jesse James, The Shawshank Redemption, Skyfall amongst many, many others) the images have depth, context, a sense of the surreal, a sense of the monolithic and, above all, an understanding of stillness and beauty. Seriously, virtually every frame is breath-taking, see it on a big screen and take in every inch of neon-lit artistry as you would the work of a great master in a gallery.


Director Denis Villeneuve returns to two of his favourite themes, two recurrent ideas that power all his films: How does man fight monsters without becoming a monster and the inherent hopefulness of female nature. He’s a director whose opus tends toward the exhaustingly tense (Incendies, Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival), so why, many might ask, is Blade Runner 2049 so slow and (I hesitate to say it, but) boring? I think it’s an interesting choice to slow everything down to a crawl, to allow time for the audience to really think about the film as it unfolds, in many ways it’s an imitation of the work of Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Stalker, Andrei Rublev). It’s deliberate, thoughtful and packed but it’s very, very long. People with short attention spans or who hate having to put any thought into a movie might want to avoid and sit at home with their Explody-Robots IV dvd. If you enjoy sci-fi as allegory, fill your boots, there’s plenty to tuck into here.


Despite its undisputed influence on not only movies but upon design and culture, I’ve never really been much of a fan of the original Blade Runner. It’s just too full of holes, lacks a believable through-line, it’s an exercise in design over content and chucks in things because they look or sound cool rather than having any importance. There are multiple versions out there and it took Scott five attempts at recutting it before he actually understood what he was trying to say. Blade Runner 2049 builds upon the aesthetics of Scott’s original, cherry picking the best ideas and expanding upon them to reach a natural conclusion. It’s much closer to Phillip K. Dick’s dystopian vision, in its existential ponderings if nothing else. In fact, the less familiar you are with the original the better, I think it works best if you are not wedded to the mythology of Blade Runner and everything that has been written about it.

Like I say, I’m genuinely torn by Blade Runner 2049 and maybe I should have written this after that second viewing. I think it might be one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made, but I’m not sure.

Andy Oliver

 

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for October 2017

OUR CLASSICAL MUSIC COLUMNIST LIZ LEATHERDALE, FOUNDER AND OWNER OF COLCHESTER CLASSICS, BRINGS YOU HER PICK OF OCTOBER’S CLASSICAL MUSIC EVENTS IN, AND AROUND, COLCHESTER.

Classics

Christina Johnson – Blessing

Although this is all about concerts taking place in October, I would like to kick-off this column with information on a young Suffolk Soprano soloist Christina Johnson who will be singing in Colchester’s St Botolph’s Church on Saturday 30 September at 7pm. Christina is mid-way through her tour promoting her debut CD, Blessing and here is a sneak peek for you to hear and see Christina before her concert on Saturday.

https://youtu.be/8B0hSeeDPDw

Christina Johnston (originally from Framlingham, Suffolk) is said by many to be one of a kind in the vocal world. Despite her young age she is already making a name for herself in the classical world with her vocal range that most could only dream of.

On Saturday, she will be accompanied by the Russian coach, Inga Goldsmith who works with the likes of, Valeri Gergiev at the Marinski Theatre in St Petersburg.

Tickets are available to buy at:

www.ticketline.co.uk/christina-johnston or on the door.

Colchester’s Roman River Music Autumn Festival

Over the last few weeks, the Roman River Music Autumn Festival has brought a wealth of music to the heart of Colchester, such as outstanding international classical musicians, pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, Natalie Clein, The King’s Singers making its festival debut and much, much more.

Not only does it attract outstanding international musicians to our area but the festival continues to form relationships and assist in the development of our aspiring local musicians. The festival ends on Sunday 1 October at 6pm showcasing work with young players from the Colne Valley Youth Orchestra plus contributions from local singers and other musicians joining the Festival Orchestra for its finale.

On Thursday 28 September, The King’s Singer’s made its debut at the festival with music ranging from William Byrd to Bob Chilcott.  This concert kick-started the festival’s residency at St Mary the Virgin in Stoke by Nayland, one of the largest churches in Suffolk, with a history stretching back to the 10th century.  On Friday 29 September at 8pm there is a re-orchestration of another of Mahler’s symphonies and tomorrow evening there is a performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor.

Visit www.romanrivermusic.org.uk

Lunchtime recitals

Early next month, Charles Hine will be performing Clarinet music accompanied by pianist Ian Ray at the launch of the Lion Walk Lunchtime Autumn concert series. Wednesday, October 4, 1pm, Lion Walk United Reformed Church, Colchester. Free concert with retiring collection.

For information on all of the weekly concerts, please visit  www.lionwalkchurch.org/lunchtime-concerts

Ian Ray is also involved in the Moot Hall organ and he will be busy the day before at the launch of the Autumn 2017 lunchtime recitals on the magnificent Edwardian Organ in Colchester’s elegant Town Hall . On  Tuesday at 1pm Daniel Gárdonyi  will be performing music by Kodály and Mendelssohn.

Click here to find out more about the series  www.moothallorgan.co.uk

Music for Children

It seems that every month a new study is published confirming the benefits music can bring. A recent survey carried out by YouGov stated that 47% of people said more children should be inspired to learn an instrument and have the experience of playing and hearing music. Here are a couple of ways to hear Classical Music this October.

Over the October school holidays, the City of London Sinfonia presents its Lullaby Concert series in both Essex and Suffolk. The idea is to present orchestral music in a friendly way to youngsters aged 2 –  7. The first concert is at the Tendring Education Centre on Saturday 21 October.

Further information available from the Clacton Tourist Information Centre (01255 6866633).

The family concert, Around the World in 60 Minutes, presents a musical world tour inspired by each continent. James Mayhew will be providing live illustrations on the stage capturing the spirit of each land to be visited musically. This concert takes place in the award-winning Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden at 3pm on Sunday 1 October.

Tickets: £12 (0845 548 7650)

String Quartets and more

If you enjoy Chamber music, there are plenty of concerts to enjoy in and around Colchester. Here are just a few for you!

Now in its 92nd season, the Ipswich Chamber Music Society continues to hold concerts in the Great Hall in Ipswich School. The Nash Ensemble, a most distinguished group, constantly appearing at London’s Wigmore Hall, are coming to Ipswich to perform Beethoven’s Septet and Schubert’s Octet, opus 166. The venue is intimate with excellent acoustics and fine views of the performers. Tickets are £15. For all details see www.ipswichchambermusic.org.uk

The Castalian String Quartet will be performing at Stour Valley Arts & Music on Sunday 22 October at 4pm. For more information and tickets please visit www.svam.org.uk or telephone 01206 298426

And just like buses ….. there are two concerts on 29 October! First up, The Kingfisher Ensemble will be performing at the Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester at 2.45pm on Sunday 29 October.  Please visit here for www.kingfishersinfonietta.co.uk

And last but by no means least, over in the beautiful church in Wrabness, The Solem String Quartet will be performing String Quartets by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven also on Sunday 29 October at 4pm.

Tickets £12 from Liz Connah  01255 886163

For full information please visit www.romanrivermusic.org.uk

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