Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for April 2017

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

Classics
Like Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter have provided composers from every musical era with a wealth of material to set to music, either drawn from the Bible itself or with themes such as repentance, reflection, comfort and joy.   

Alan Bullard, the established British composer based in Essex, recently told me that he originally wrote his Easter work, Wondrous Cross, for the choir of Lion Walk Church in Colchester. This work has subsequently been performed by many choirs in the UK, USA, and Europe, and recorded by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, director Sarah MacDonald. This month the Clacton Choral Society conducted by Gilli Dulieu will perform Alan’s Easter work  –  described as a meditation based on the traditional ‘Seven Last Words’ of Jesus Christ.  The music presents itself in a similar way to Stainer’s popular Crucifixion with congregational hymns interspersed between the solo and choral items, culminating in ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’.

Clacton Choral Society will also perform extracts from J S Bach’s St John Passion in English. Bach’s oratorio is often sung in English in the UK and Essex-based CD recording label, Chandos, have just released a new recording of this wonderful work performed by the Crouch End Festival Chorus.  This is an important CD release as the last recording in English was released over forty-five years ago and is no longer available!  Colchester Classics is delighted to offer the audience at this concert, recordings of both this new CD and also Alan Bullard’s Wondrous Cross. (Further details – free phone 0800 999 6994 or email liz@colchesterclassics.co.uk).  This concert takes place on Saturday 8 April in St James Church, Tower Road, Clacton at 7.30pm.

Tickets: £8 including programme on the door (pre-order via 01255 221511).

Last month Colin Baldy was one of the soloists in Colchester Choral Society’s performance of Bach’s St John Passion sung in German. This month he will be conducting a performance of this work with the Choir of St Mary’s Church, Maldon. The choir will perform this work in German but with five of the chorales (hymns) sung in English by both the choir and listeners. St Mary’s Church, Church Street, Maldon. Friday, 14 April at 7.30pm.

Free entry with retiring collection.
On 8 April Ipswich Bach Choir, with a team of excellent soloists including Colchester-based Gill Wilson, present a rare opportunity to hear Handel’s superb oratorio Samson. The most famous number is the soprano aria Let the Bright Seraphim (to be sung by Gill Wilson) but conductor Patrick McCarthy assures me that the rest of the work is packed with equally fine choruses and arias. The performance is at 7pm at St John the Baptist Church, Felixstowe.

Tickets: £12 (01394 271538).

Last but not least, the Essex Youth Orchestra under Robin Browning will perform a popular mix of Russian music including Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto with soloist Daniel Lebhardt. This is a ticketed free event on Friday 7 April at 7.30pm and takes place at the Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden.

Please check seat availability by telephoning the box office on 0845 548 7650.

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

Sitting in the Dark – A History of Lost Cinemas in Colchester

It’s strange how certain items or events can spark a memory that sparks another memory that sparks another and then another and then… Well, you get the idea. And those memories, in turn, spark imagination and fire curiosity.


The recent release of Danny Boyle’s T2: Trainspotting, made me reminisce about waiting in line on a Saturday night outside the old Odeon cinema, in Crouch Street, to see the culture-redefining original some twenty years earlier and that I worked in a shop opposite the old ABC cinema at the time, and that the store I was working in used to be part of the old Cameo cinema, and then I started to think about the other cinemas that used to exist in our fair town, all those palaces of light and thrills which had closed their doors and disappeared before I was even born. So, I pored over a lot of dry statistics, academic texts, architectural and business reports and enlightening local histories to discover a story that is sometimes fascinating, sometimes surprising, sometimes quirky and sometimes sad.

Whilst there is some doubt over the date at which moving pictures were first shown in Colchester (some say 1898, others 1908, though the chances are that Victorian Camera Obscura shows may well have visited up to half a century earlier before The Corn Exchange, in the High Street, took a chance on this new-fangled curiosity), there is no questioning the opening of the town’s first cinema. The Electric theatre opened in 1910 in the former Liberal club lecture hall in Headgate and, though no records remain of what films showed, one can easily imagine Edwardian Colcestrians being thrilled by the first screen appearances of Frankenstein and Ebeneezer Scrooge. The cinema was open from 2.30pm until 11pm and, rather than popcorn and hotdogs, the audience could take their refreshments in the custom-built tearoom. A far more elegant solution than rustling sweetie wrappers and vigorous hoovering of soft drinks, I think you’ll agree.

Children queue for a Saturday matinee, The Empire, 1911. Sadly few photo’s remain of this cinema

Within one year Colchester had its second, and first purpose built, cinema in the shape of The Vaudeville Electric on the St. Botolph’s Junction (that is, before it became St. Botolph’s roundabout). Audiences were in awe of its 24-foot wide proscenium, hardly Imax but… baby steps. Audiences at these cinemas would have witnessed not only the debuts of both Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp, Buster Keaton and Mary Pickford and the first ever close-up shot (in D.W. Griffith’s The Lonedale Operator) but also footage direct from the hellish trenches of the first World War. One can only imagine the feelings running through the audience, virtually every family would have had a loved one fighting overseas, as cinema brought the war home to them in sometimes graphic detail.

With the war over and life returning to something resembling normality, in 1920 Colchester’s Grand Palace of Varieties installed the equipment necessary to convert it to our third cinema, The Hippodrome, in the High Street.

One of the few remaining photographs of The Electric Theatre in St. John’s Street

Whilst it may seem alien to younger readers or cinema fans, it should be remembered that cinemas still maintained a stage area where live shows could be seen and in 1924 The Electric (now under new management and renamed The Headgate Theatre) saw the debut of Arthur Askey, later to become one of the country’s favourite comedians, radio and movie stars (there’s still a plaque on the building commemorating this event) and just a few years later the first “talkie” to be seen in the town played here.

1929 saw The Vaudeville under new ownership and renamed The Empire and The Playhouse in St. John’s Street opened, primarily as a theatre but within a year as Colchester’s fourth cinema. In the same year that The Playhouse became a cinema The Corn Exchange also became a cinema and, a year after that, in 1931 the count was up to six as The Regal, in Crouch Street, opened its doors for the first time. Take a moment to think about this: Six cinemas within a one mile radius in a town with approximately one hundred and ten thousand less residents than it has today. And it would stay this way until a year after World War II, when The Corn Exchange reverted back to becoming a theatre and concert venue (where bands like The Troggs and The Who would play in the 1960’s). The Corn Exchange closed its doors as a venue for theatre and music in 1972 and is now The Co-Operative Bank.


In 1938, The Regal, with its Mediterranean-style façade was acquired by cinema entrepreneur Oscar Deutsch and made it part of his Odeon chain (the named derived from the ancient Greek for “Enclosed theatre” and not, as Odeon publicists would have it, a mnemonic for Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation), though the name change didn’t occur until 1961. It soon became the “go to” cinema in Colchester and was thought, during this golden age of cinema, to be the most visited building in Colchester. It too supplemented its silver screen income with live shows in the Fifties and Sixties, Cliff Richard and The Rolling Stones amongst the top-line acts wowing the young and excitable of the area.

It was a golden age that wasn’t to last, unfortunately. During the 1950’s television became more and more popular (I won’t say affordable, most people rented their set from outlets like Rediffusion, Granada and DER and it wasn’t until the 1980’s that people began to buy and own their own telly’s), staying in became the new going out and cinema was the entertainment industry that suffered the most. In 1959, The Empire closed its doors for the last time, the property remained as a furniture warehouse until it was demolished, in 1971, to make way for the concrete brutalism of St. Botolph’s roundabout. Two years later The Hippodrome, also victim to the march of Britain’s two (count them, TWO) television channels and decided that Bingo was the way forward. The Hippodrome remained The Top Rank bingo hall until it closed in 1985, subsequently to re-open as a nightclub after three years of remaining empty when it was acquired by Big R Leisure.

In 1962, The Playhouse became the ABC after a major refit and remained a cinema until it too succumbed to economic pressures and the lure of little clicking-clacking, bouncing balls in 1981, when it became a Coral (and then Gala) bingo hall. On a purely personal level, the ABC is where I truly fell in love with cinema: Back in the day, there were no such things as dvd’s or streaming services or, even, home video, and so, if you wanted to see an old movie you’d have to wait until it was on one of the three (count them, THREE) television channels or re-issued at the cinema. In the wake of Star Wars, cinemas struggled to find another science fiction epic which would rake in the coin, Italian rip-off movies like Starcrash and The Humanoid weren’t cutting it, so distributors starting re-releasing classic sci-fi, and that’s how I got see and have my adolescent mind blown by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a movie I still think about regularly.

But I digress.

When Gala Bingo moved to Osborne Street in 1993, the premises were snapped up by J.D. Wetherspoons who, for better or worse, sympathetically refurbished  the former ABC to create one of the town’s first mega-pubs and reverted back to its earlier name, The Playhouse.

On the other side of the road, The Electric, by 1967 owned by the British Film Institute, became The Cameo, Colchester’s premier arts cinema where countless mothers dragged their curious, unruly offspring hurriedly past posters for I Am Curious (Yellow) or W.R.: Mystery of the Organism or Inga or any of the other European sex movies that “Gentlemen” could go watch and pretend to be all beard-strokey about (mostly, they’re a bit dull rather than titillating, but whatever). The cinema sat in an uncomfortable place with its “Arts” fayre, it was making more money from the kind of movies that attracted, what used to be known as, The Brown Mac’ Brigade (a euphemism for dirty old men) than it could from genuinely interesting films which, mostly, got grouped by local opinion amongst the “smutty” movies. In 1972, the BFI sold The Cameo to Star Group, who knew which side of their bread received the most butter and went all out for the money showing British sex comedies, like The Confessions/Adventures of… series, The Lovebirds and Come Play With Me, or exploitation movies like Prisoner of the Cannibal God (as long as there was a bit of boob in there). Though, I do remember seeing Slade in Flame there, so not all bad. The Cameo closed in 1976, just as I was reaching puberty. Sad Times.


The Odeon, on the other hand, seemed to flourish. Yes, sadly, in 1963 the mighty Wurlitzer organ that greeted patrons and played for their entertainment before shows and during intermissions between the “b” and “feature” movies (yes, children, films used to play as a double bill, two movies for the price of one) departed the cinema for fields anew (well, fairways actually, it is now resident at The Singing Hills Golf Club in Sussex, not far from Brighton where concerts on it are still played every Sunday afternoon). But the times, they were a changing. In 1974, the cinema went under a major remodelling and it became a three-screen multiplex. In 1987, another screen was added and, in 1991, a further two. So, it seemed Odeon must have been doing something right to have survived the proliferation of television stations, satellite channels and home entertainment… or maybe it was because they were last man standing. Odeon closed doors on their Crouch Street premises in 2002 when they opened their purpose built 8-screen cinema in the former Post Office building in Head Street, it was the end of one era and the beginning of a totally new one.

Try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to include a photo of the old Odeon in its current state, it’s just too dismal and depressing. So here it is not long after its closure in 2002

Cinemas are part of our cultural psyche. Yes, they’ve changed, gone are the usherettes with their sometimes illuminating, sometimes incriminating flashlights; gone is the ice cream seller with their little tray of vanilla tubs, wooden spoon-things and Kia-Ora orange drinks; gone is the Mighty Wurlitzer and art-deco exteriors. But what remains is what’s always been there. They are where we go to escape, to laugh, to cry, to hide behind our fingers, to be lifted. And yet, cinemas are so much more than this. Those figures up there on the screen live their lives, sometimes they die, sometimes they fall in love, sometimes they dance, always they are watched but they never watch back. How many stories began there in the dark, expectant faces turned to the flickering images? How many first dates? How many stolen kisses? How many begin their lives together? How many of us are inspired to be more than we are? How many find answers? How many find questions? How many find of us find ourselves? Or understand others? How many just go to sit in the dark because there is no better place to be?

Andy Oliver

Get Out


(BBFC 15, 104 mins)


When young, African-American Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) agrees to visit the parents of white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) he has no idea of the horror awaiting him. A perfect, apparently liberal, community hides a very dark and disturbing reality and Chris has just walked into a nightmare.

Dad (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon and the epitome of middle class liberalism (who would’ve voted for Obama a third time if he could’ve) and his hypnotherapist wife (Catherine Keener) are nothing if not welcoming to Chris. Less so is uber-creepy UFC-loving brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), but it’s only when he meets the family’s blank and humourless black servants that Chris starts to believe something is seriously wrong.

With his first movie writer/director Jordan Peele (one half of comedy duo Key & Peele) has created something incredibly special: a horror movie that delivers not only edge-of-the-seat thrills and suspense and moments of laugh-out-loud comedy but a savage satire of white suburbia so sharp it cuts. Get Out specialises in pulling the rug out from under the viewer, constantly subverting our expectations, twisting its narrative knife in our stomachs and keeping us guessing right up to its final, terrifying denouement.


With a whip-smart script that doesn’t carry an ounce of fat, Get Out is intelligent, nuanced, thematically dense and makes the implausible seem terrifyingly plausible. Peele knows exactly when levity is required to give the audience much needed relief from the ever-building tension and exactly when to dish out the shocks and reveals. It is a very impressive debut feature indeed, finally a new voice in horror worth listening to.

Speaking of listening: As awful as the sound design was in last year’s most successful horror, Don’t Breathe (the noisiest movie ever made about keeping quiet), Get Out’s sound design is remarkable. It replays over and over in your mind long after the movie has finished like an echo of terror (if you struggle with the sound of cutlery on crockery or the high-pitched whine of bone saws you might want to avoid this movie). The sound design creates an extra dimension of fear, probably the best use of sound in a horror movie since The Exorcist, no kidding.

Less a movie that relies on gore or jump-scares (though there is a smidgeon of both), Get Out travels the less-worn (but equally scary) path of psychological horrors such as Rosemary’s Baby or The Stepford Wives (the influence of both it wears proudly on its sleeve). That it throws into the mix themes as diverse as the loss of identity of black America, patronising liberalism and the shadow that slavery still casts upon modern America (amongst others) just makes it all the more remarkable.

And it’s really, really, fun.

Andy Oliver

Beauty and the Beast

 

(BBFC PG, 129mins)



Disney’s 1991 animated version of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s classic fairy tale, one of those movies whose narrative, songs and aesthetic has imprinted itself upon the psyche of generations of little girls, desperately needed a brand new, live action and cgi version, right? Well, frankly, no. Even if it did, this version of Beauty and the Beast is not it. It’s not a bad movie by any means, in fact it’s very good in parts, the problem is that all those good bits are lifted directly from the five-star animated version. It just feels a bit… unnecessary and uninspired.

Everything is there from the 1991 version: bookish Belle (Emma Watson), tired of her life in a provincial French village offers herself as prisoner to the Beast (Dan Stevens) in exchange for her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline) who languishes as the Beast’s captive; the Beast’s retinue – Lumiere (Ewan MacGregor), Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellan), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and her son, Chip (Nathan Mack) – transformed along with him by a witch’s curse for his selfishness (harsh) free Belle from her prison; the vain and jealous Gaston (Luke Evans), who convinces his fellow villagers that the Beast must die; the songs, the costumes, the romance and fun. There’s also a few new songs that don’t quite capture the magic or singalong-ability of the originals and a bit of extended backstory which add an extra forty minutes, but little else.

Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, a thoroughly modern girl trapped in an age that doesn’t cater for her wants and needs. She manages to pull off a tricky mix of strong and yet vulnerable and it would be difficult to see anyone but her in the role. The rest of the cast are good (though the voices of the originals sometimes weirdly ring in your ears), but it’s Luke Evans as the vainglorious Gaston who steals the show, he’s a proper, hiss-able Disney villain who you’ll love to hate.


Whereas Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book (2016) made plenty of references to its animated predecessor whilst creating its own story, Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon sticks (more-or-less) rigidly to his source material. There are whole scenes lifted directly, but played with as-much gusto and verve that you (kind of) forgive it and it’s all very efficient, just not very, you know, exciting.

The fuss over Josh Gad’s Le Fou being an openly gay character is pretty much a storm in a (chipped) tea cup. There’s a blink-and-you-miss-it moment in the film’s closing number, but that’s it, hardly anything to get your “I Heart Trump” knickers in a twist about; gay people exist; gay people have always existed; get over it.

It’s difficult to say anything bad about Beauty and the Beast, but it’s also tricky to say anything gushing about it, either. What you think about it depends on your relationship with the animated version, though I don’t think you’ll hate it.

*Very young viewers may get a bit squirmy in their seats at the film’s (overlong) running time and there are a couple of scenes (especially the wolf attack) that may be upsetting for them (you are in the best position to know your child’s tolerance levels, if in doubt you might want to see the film on your own first).

Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for March 2017

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

Classics

Music-making in March has most certainly sprung into action. Here are just a few of the concerts this month.

In February the Colchester Bach Choir presented An Evening of Mozart in St Botolph’s Church in aid of the Colchester Mayor’s Charities, raising £1,000. Later this month the Mayor, Julie Young, will be hosting a St Patrick’s Day concert. The Children of Lir, an Irish fairytale Cantata by world renowned Irish film composer Patrick Cassidy, will be performed by The Blessington Millennium choir from County Wicklow accompanied by Charles Pearson on the Moot Hall organ on 17 March at 7.30pm in the Colchester Town Hall.

Tickets are £10.00 (01206 282206).

By the way, Patrick Cassidy has composed some beautiful music including the enchanting Vide Cor Meum (See my Heart) first heard during the outdoor opera scene in the film Hannibal.

One of the excellent soloists at An Evening of Mozart was the soprano Gill Wilson.  Gill can also be heard on Wednesday 8 March at 1pm at her recital accompanied by pianist Ian Ray in Lion walk United Reformed Church, Colchester.

On March 11 Gill and also Roderic Knott will be the soloists with Witham Choral and the Colchester Philharmonic in the Last Night of the Proms concert full of favourites such as the Henry Wood Sea Songs Fantasia, opera choruses, Land of Hope and Glory and much more. This concert is on Saturday 11 March at 7.30 pm in the Witham Town Hall.

Tickets £12 (0345 017 8717)

J S Bach’s St John Passion tells the Biblical story of Jesus’ Crucifixion and was first performed on Good Friday in 1724. Rather than expecting the congregation, or, audience to sit back and take in the music, Bach included a number of hymn-like chorales so all could participate in the worship.

If you like your Bach oratorio sung in its original language, this month Colin Baldy will be the bass soloist with the Colchester Choral Society in the St John Passion sung in German accompanied by the John Jenkins Consort with Peter Holman (continuo) conducted by Ian Ray.  Saturday 18 March 2017 in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester (www.colchesterchoralsociety.co.uk)

Next month Colin Baldy will be conducting St Mary’s Church Choir in a performance of the same work in German but this time with five chorales sung in English by the choir with the congregation invited to sing too. This takes place on Good Friday, 14 April at 7.30pm with free entry at St Mary’s Church, Church Street, Maldon CM9 5 JG

By the way, Bach’s St John Passion is often sung in English in the UK and next month’s column will include details of a concert in Clacton and, after a forty-five year wait, information on a new CD of the work sung in English recorded by a Colchester-based international company

Sunday 19 March offers several musical treats such as the Colchester Chamber Choir at St Peter ad Vincula Church, Coggeshall with a programme of 16th and 17th century choral masterpieces including Palestrina and Monteverdi, interwoven with modern jazz improvisations from the internationally-acclaimed jazz guitarist Chris Allard.

Tickets:  £16, under 30s £10 and the concert starts at 7pm www.colchesterchamberchoir.org

Earlier that same day, Anglia Singers under Chris Green will be performing Handel’s much-loved oratorio, Messiah at Our Lady Queen of Peach Church, Braintree at 4pm. Tickets: £8 (01245 350988)

Also at 4pm on that same Sunday, Kammer Philharmonie Europa will be performing at St Mary’s Church in East Bergholt as part of the Stour Valley Arts Music concert series.

For ticket availability and more information please telephone 01206 298426

At 5pm on Sunday 19 March The Pimlott Foundation is hosting a concert in its recently refurbished Barn with a programme of Elizabethan Music by John Cooper, John Dowland and William Lawes and French music for the court  of Louis XIV, The Sun King.  This concert is at 5pm at Old House, Great Horkesley CO6 4EQ. Entry £11 includes refreshments.

Children and students free Tickets and further details; www.pimlottfoundation.org or phone 01206 271291.

World-famous harpsichordist Trevor Pinnock makes a welcome return to Suffolk Village Festival as part of his 70th birthday celebrations. He is joined by his long-term recital partner Jonathan Manson in a programme that brings together some of the greatest Baroque music for viola da gamba and harpsichord with two extraordinary pieces for solo harpsichord. J.S. Bach’s astonishingly bold Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue has been a favourite with virtuoso keyboard players ever since it was written, while Handel’s monumental Chaconne in G is one of his greatest keyboard works.

For further details contact Suffolk Villages Festival, 119 Maldon Road, Colchester, Essex CO3 3AX telephone: 01206 366603, email louise@suffolkvillagesfestival.com  Guess what date this concert is on? Yes, that is right Sunday 19 March at 6pm in St Peter’s Church, Sudbury. Tickets £18 (reserved), £12 (unreserved), reserved seats for two concerts £34.

Colchester Symphony Orchestra returns to St Botolph’s Church on Saturday 25 March, 7.30pm with soloist John Jermy. This concert includes Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto and Beethoven: Symphony No 6 in F major op 68 -The Pastoral. Tickets are £14 and can be reserved via telephone (01206 271128) or more info www.colchestersymphonyorchestra.org.uk

In contrast with the above, if you enjoy choral works the Tiptree Choral Society will be singing Mendelssohn’s Elijah in English– a work for large-scale chorus, soloists including numbers for an octet and women’s trio. The work depicts events in the life of the Biblical prophet Elijah and was composed in the spirit of Mendelssohn’s baroque predecessors Bach and Handel, composers he so admired.

Saturday 25 March at St Luke’s Church, Church Road, Tiptree. Tickets from £10 on the door.

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

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

 

BBFC 12A, 118 mins


Let me chuck this out there right at the start: Kong: Skull Island is audacious, goofy, insane even, and I loved practically every minute of it. It’s a movie that embraces its own ridiculousness, gleefully revelling in action and fun; it’s a Saturday morning cartoon; a theme park ride; it’s the joy of a narrative created by a kid playing with action figures with no regard to which toy-line they belong; it’s Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness channelled through a Guardians of the Galaxy entertainment filter.

It’s 1973 and the United States is facing the humiliation of losing The Vietnam War, the early days of the Watergate scandal and America needs a quick win, something that reasserts their standing on the world stage. A shady government task-force known as Monarch (yes, the same Monarch from the 2014 Godzilla movie, hinting toward a royal rumble?), led by Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), suggests that not only do monsters exist but proving their existence and bringing them under control will show the world just how powerful America is. Nobody’s going to make a monkey of the USA (sorry).

Monarch gathers together an uber-tough crack military team, a war photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and an ex-SAS captain turned tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and takes them into an uncharted region of the Pacific in search of giants. Not unexpectedly, they find them and then some. Cue chaos and a fight for survival, you know the drill.


I don’t want to give away any more of the plot, suffice to say that Kong is not the greatest threat native to the island, but let’s not spoil the fun or thrill of discovery.

Unlike Peter Jackson’s 2005 or John Guillermin’s 1976 King Kong, which were straight remakes of the 1933 original, Kong: Skull Island instead builds upon the mythos of Kong, minus the gurning sentimentalism. This is Kong as King with a capital ‘K’, unassailable, regal, as benevolent as he is ferocious; he’s primal terror, compassionate protector, the soul of a poet trapped in the body of a beast. Plus, you don’t have to wait an interminable portion of the film’s running time before you get to see him (and you’ll want to see him the biggest screen available to you, trust me).

With only one small, independent movie (the rather glorious Kings of Summer) under his belt, director Jordan Vogt Roberts seemed an unusual choice for such an obvious tentpole blockbuster, but where (with a similar CV) Safety Not Guaranteed’s Colin Trevorrow failed with Jurassic World, Vogt Roberts succeeds in spades with Kong: Skull Island. Vogt Roberts picks up the “goofiness ball” of the script and runs with it, he never stops to linger over the nonsense it spews, rather he embraces it with controlled abandon and brio. Admittedly, few of the action scenes match the initial heady excitement of the adrenaline-fuelled Kong versus helicopters set-piece, but neither are they dull or incomprehensible and always full of fresh ideas. Everything moves along at one heckuva lick and never loses sight of how much fun you’re supposed to have watching it.


Although slightly under-written for the central characters the script does a good job of fleshing out the support, giving surprising back-story and depth to characters usually consigned to “fodder”, most notably with Shea Whigham’s Cole, a career soldier who takes a laid-back, philosophical approach to life and the extraordinary events he finds himself in. Samuel L. Jackson chews the scenery with glee, turning up his Samuel L. Jackson-ness to eleven but it’s John C. Reilly’s World War 2 fighter pilot, Hank Marlow who steals the show. When Marlow, who crash-landed on the island during the war, breaks away from his expository role as guide to the island’s weird evolution and fauna he is a joy: with no experience of the outside world he is constantly asking questions and surprised by the answers, imagine leaving the world listening to Glenn Miller and re-entering to Jimi Hendrix.


The special effects are on point, the soundtrack (full of classic rock songs) soars and you may find yourself temporarily deafened by the roaring of monsters, machine guns and explosions (but that’s what you pay your money for, right? So please don’t complain that it’s too noisy). Some scenes may be too distressing for younger viewers and those with a fear of spiders may want to look away at a certain point but Kong: Skull Island delivers all the thrills and boisterous entertainment you could wish for in exchange for two hours of your life.

Oh, and you might never look at a peanut butter sandwich in the same way ever again.

Andy Oliver

 

 

 

Moonlight, Hidden Figures, The Great Wall

MOONLIGHT

 

(BBFC 15)


A story in three chapters that chronicles the boyhood, adolescence and young manhood of Chiron, a gay black character growing up in a rough, drug riven district of Miami. Moonlight is an achingly beautiful examination of life that transcends its settings to tell a story we can all find meaning in.

Like pebbles dropped in a pool people fall into our lives creating ripples and waves that shape who and what we are. Moonlight posits that we have no control over not only our skin colour, our backgrounds or sexuality but that we have no control over who will enter our lives and the effects they will have upon us. The themes are universal and through them director Barry Jenkins allows us to explore a life so alien and different to our own yet so similar. What is it that makes us “us”?

Centring your thoughts on Moonlight being a black movie or a gay movie is missing the point, the film asks you to look at your own life and the influences that subliminally and consciously have brought you to the place you are today. And what happens to us if we decide to create our own narrative. Whilst Chiron (in the third and final chapter, Black) has allowed his past to shape his present, Kevin finds his “happy” in, finally, ejecting his past and the people he allowed to shape decisions.


Everything about Moonlight is next level. Universally great performances; beautiful cinematography; understated yet powerful writing; a melancholy, yet uplifting, score and poetic and subtle direction all combine to create one of the most nuanced and (though I hate the term) “Important” movies of the year (or many years, for that matter). Where Richard Linklater’s wonderful “Boyhood” focused on a single life, Moonlight has implications for all our lives.

Saying it is a coming of age movie or a black movie or a gay movie or a “worthy” movie is missing the point. Yes, it is all these things, but those are “parts”, what make Moonlight so special is the “whole”.

 

HIDDEN FIGURES

 

(BBFC PG)

Hidden Figures tells the spectacularly fascinating, and yet little known, story of the black women who contributed to the early years of NASA’s space program. Unfortunately, it is told in an utterly pedestrian manner that embraces stereotypes and clichés, it’s like buying the very best ingredients and still ending up with egg and chips for dinner.

There’s plenty of solid work from the central trio of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, but the movie has so many problems it’s hard to know where to start in dissecting it: tonally, it’s all over the place never sure whether it wants to be serious or amusing; it embraces so many clichés about black people and black culture that it borders on its own racism; it lacks any focus wanting to tell three stories and only really doing one of them any kind of justice (barely any justice at all actually); nobody is ever called to account for their overt or covert acceptance of institutionalised racism and sexism (and even goes so far as to portray all the white characters as nice guys who are simply misguided or absolute straight arrows); about five minutes in you get the first of Pharrell Williams’ faux Sixties soul tracks which continue to jar and annoy throughout the movie.


Add to this, Kevin Costner chewing the scenery (and an endless supply of gum); Jim Parsons attempting to show that there’s more to him than playing a snippy science nerd in The Big Bang Theory (here he plays a snippy science nerd who’s also a bit racist) and a script so shallow you would struggle to get the soles of your shoes wet were you to step in it. It’s everything that was bad about eighties/nineties movies, more Cool Runnings than Selma, less The Right Stuff and more Spacecamp.

Such a shame as the story of these women genuinely needed to be told and admired. Hidden Figures is just not the film to do it.

 

THE GREAT WALL

 

 


(BBFC 12A)

The Great Wall, although beautifully designed, is such a weird mix of generic Western and Eastern action tropes, Chinese mythology and Communist ideology (yes, really) that it’s difficult to understand exactly where it’s coming from.

Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal play a pair of European mercenaries who travel to ancient China in search of the secret of gunpowder, only to stumble upon an ongoing war between men and monsters. Should the pair use the chaos of battle to steal the secret they came for or stay and fight?

There’s plenty to enjoy in the film’s design (including the creatures and the colourful costumes of the oriental army) and original ideas (especially the female warriors who bungee jump off the wall to attack the dragon-like beasts below and the well-thought creature hierarchy), less so in the story or characters. The Great Wall is an okay action movie, no more, no less. It’s only when you scratch beneath the surface it becomes ideologically troublesome.


Made by House of Flying Daggers and Hero auteur Zhang Yimou for the state-owned China Film Group, The Great Wall is pretty overt in its politics, ie the blind adherence to the state in the face of outside antagonism over individualism (interesting to see how that plays in 2017 America). The nobility is buffoonish and incompetent whereas the strength and sacrifice of those who hold the line for the greater good seems like a polemic straight out of a certain little red book. Admittedly it’s one hive-mind versus another, it’s just that the outside one wants to devour the other.

Yimou is a master of composition and large-scale action and, as propaganda, The Great Wall is not short of spectacle or subtlety, unfortunately it lacks enough plot or character depth to make it a memorable cinematic experience.

Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for February

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

Classics

On Wednesday 1 February at 1pm the The Marenzio Singers will be performing at the first lunchtime concert in 2017 at Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester. The Marenzio Singers are a five-part vocal ensemble and specialise in music from the 16th and 17th centuries plus music from more modern times.

Free entry with a retiring collection.

Last January the University of Essex Choir under the direction of Richard Cooke performed Mozart’s Requiem and other works to a packed audience at the Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall in the university.  Early next month, the choir will be back at the same venue with an intriguing selection of pieces.

The choir’s next concert does not feature one major choral work but instead Richard has chosen a wide selection of music.  I understand that the choir has been thoroughly enjoying rehearsing Holst’s hauntingly beautiful Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda (group 3), for female voices only, and Britten’s The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard, for the male voices.  The concert also includes works for the whole choir in Brahms’ 4 Quartets (Op 92), contrasting with Folksong arrangements by Percy Grainger such as I’m Seventeen Come Sunday and music  by the sadly neglected 20th century Swedish composer, Stenhammar.  The choir will be accompanied by pianists Richard Pearce and Jonathan Beatty who will also perform music by Brahms, Debussy and Grieg.

This concert takes place on Saturday 4 February at 7pm.  Tickets: £22 (www.universityofessexchoir.org) By the way, a short walk from the Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall, Wivenhoe House Hotel is offering pre- or post-concert dining (01206 863666).

On Sunday February 5 at 2.45pm the Kingfisher Ensemble returns to Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester performing Piano Quartets by Schumann and Beethoven.

Tickets: £12 and available on the door.

Colin Nicholson will be joining Ian Ray in Two’s Company in the second concert in the series of three lunchtime Organ Recitals given on the magnificent Moot Hall. A variety of organ duos will be performed on Tuesday 7 February at the Colchester Town Hall .

Free entry with a retiring collection.

Over in Chelmsford, Jeffrey Wilson’s Environ Music promotes creative musical initiatives including a regular Wednesday lunchtime recital series at the Cramphorn Theatre in Chelmsford. This month on Wednesday 15 February the “Sun Trio” (Carol Taylor, clarinet, Paul Arnell, viola, Alison Eales, piano) offer some engaging chamber music.

Further information (01245 606505)

Last year octogenarian Colin Nicholson celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his founding St Botolph’s Music Society in Colchester with his wife, Gill. This month Colin will be conducting the Society’s orchestra in its Gala Concert with a trio of concertos. International pianist Noriko Ogawa performs Grieg’s Piano Concerto – one of the most-loved piano works of all time. (Some of you may recall the classic Morecambe & Wise sketch with Eric attempting to perform this concerto while endlessly annoying conductor Andre Previn). Back to 2017: in the same concert, soloist Philip Smith will perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto and the solo violin part in Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole will be played by Sian Philipps. Saturday 18 February at 7pm in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester.

Tickets: £15 (01206 577905)

Colchester Classics is delighted to be at the Noriko Ogawa concert offering her CDs before her  CD signing in the interval.

The following weekend at the same venue, situated next to the ruins of the Norman priory, Colchester Bach Choir and Orchestra perform their annual concert in aid of the Mayor of Colchester’s Charities. On 25 February the choir will be presenting An Evening of Mozart to include the famous ‘Coronation’ Mass and the Solemn Vespers. Among other pieces, a highlight will be the delightful Flute Concerto in D with Mary Blanchard as soloist. Conductor Patrick McCarthy tells me he also has a Mozartian surprise or two up his sleeve. This will be the 23rd such concert the choir has given for successive Colchester mayors thereby raising many thousands of pounds for their charities.

Tickets £12 (£5 full-time education). Tel (01206) 282206

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

Hacksaw Ridge

 

(BBFC 15)


Calling himself a “Conscientious Co-operator”, Desmond Doss went to war. A Seventh Day Adventist, Doss refused to carry a weapon or work on a Saturday (the Sabbath in said church) and yet he managed to save the lives of seventy-five severely injured men from the blood-soaked killing field beyond the Maeda escarpment (the titular “Hacksaw Ridge”), Okinawa.

The movie begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia where we follow the childhood and adolescence of Desmond (Darcy Bryce), the son of an alcoholic, damaged WWI veteran Thomas Doss (Hugo Weaving). It’s an “Aw, shucks” upbringing straight out of The Waltons, tinged with moments of sudden violence (such as hitting his brother in the head with a brick) and the constant threat of his father’s belt. It’s another belt, though, that provides the momentum to push the story forward when the slightly older Desmond (now played by Andrew Garfield) uses his as a tourniquet to save the life of a man trapped under a car. Not only does this incident provide Doss with a calling, it also brings him into contact with nurse Dorothy Shutte (Teresa Palmer) with whom he is instantly smitten and becomes the love of his life.

When most of his town, including his brother, enlist to serve to fight in World War II Desmond is compelled to join up to become a medic despite/because of his deeply held beliefs and the protestations of his father. Basic training at Fort Baxter becomes pivotal to the story as Doss refuses to pick up a weapon, a decision that brings him into conflict with not only the platoon’s hierarchy (Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington) and his comrades but with the army itself. Life is made hellish for him as he is forced into endless menial and demeaning duties, beaten viciously by his ‘buddies’ and faces a court martial and it is only through the intervention of his father, ironically, that Doss is allowed to remain in the army and go to war.


Which brings us to the literal meat of the movie, the battle for Hacksaw Ridge. Remaining behind after a savage attack and even more bloody retreat, Desmond pulls man after wounded man from the charnel killing field and delivers them to safety. Despite the threat of multiple Japanese patrols, constant danger and exhaustion he continues to venture out to save, “Just one more”.

In many ways, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is a proper, old fashioned “war is hell” war movie on a scale not seen since Stephen Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan or Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, even. It’s a crowd-pleasing epic that tells of one man’s courage in the face of, not just, a relentless enemy but implacable bureaucracy and gung-ho bravado; it’s a tale of heroism that harks back to, and is akin to, classic Hollywood fare starring Gary Cooper or John Wayne or Jeff Chandler and wades through devastated landscapes of violence, action and gore to deliver a (mostly) true-story as inspirational as it is uplifting.


And yet, I found it deeply troubling. It works really well on a surface level but beneath that surface bubbles the director’s politick, a right-wing agenda that plays to Red-States America and the baser side of our nature. Gibson uses techniques perfected by the propagandist movie makers of the 1940’s, films used to drum up enlistments or demonise the enemy:  The movie opens under bucolic Virginian skies, good ol’ boys drinking beer and church choirs assert the way of life under threat; before we even see the Japanese they are referred to as unkillable animals and, when we do see them, they are a horde not unlike the CGI waves of World War Z zombies, faceless, unstoppable and relentless; enemy bullets rip, tear and explode American bodies in huge meaty gouts of blood where allied bullets kill cleanly, humanely, because, remember, atrocities are only what the other guys carry out.

Mel just can’t help being Mel. There is much of his Passion of the Christ in Hacksaw Ridge, the camera lingering over the suffering and pain, the blood and injury, the slow-motion hero posing. There are direct lifts from other movies (most obviously during the basic training section of the movie in which the woeful Vince Vaughn attempts his best Full Metal Jacket) and moments that could only have come directly from the bizarro-mind of Mel (such as a weirdly glaring moment when a soldier uses a dead comrade’s torso as a shield as he charges, gun-blazing, into the enemy).


Hacksaw Ridge
plays in entire counterpoint to Martin Scorsese’s Silence, a movie in which, once again, Andrew Garfield plays a man of faith venturing into the far east to find that his faith is tested. When Garfield’s Rodriguez asks of God all he receives is silence; when Garfield’s proto-Gump asks of God, God answers with explosions and the cries of the dying: “What is it you want of me? I don’t understand” BOOM! “This, you idiot”. Scorsese wants you to think about belief, to question, to find your own answers. Gibson wants you to know that his god is bigger than your god.

I didn’t like Hacksaw Ridge but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. It’s a great story and I have nothing but respect for Desmond Doss, there is nothing about Gibson’s film that you could ever call, “boring”, in fact it’s pretty exciting (albeit in a goofy kind of way). There’s much I don’t agree with in the movie but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining (which is why I gave it a 4-star rating). It’s a 1940’s war film made for a 2017 audience and that is its strength as well as being its weakness.

Andy Oliver

 

Learn All About Colchester’s Coat Exchange Initiative

The other day a clothes airer with a handful of coats on it appeared outside Colchester’s public library and the GO4 Market Cafe. It was the start of a simple coat exchange initiative to help those in need. Before long it was being featured in media outlets including Colchester’s Daily Gazette newspaper, The Independent, the BBC website, and even across the pond on America’s ABC News. Fay Sibley, the Colchester resident behind the initiative, tells us all about it.


A little over two weeks ago, as I embarked upon my train commute home from London, I sat idly scrolling through Facebook, pushing my thumb upwards, passing post after post. Suddenly something grabbed my attention, Spotted in Yorkshire had posted a photo of a coat rail with a few coats outside a shop and a sign that read ‘Need a coat? Take one. Want to help? Leave one.’ I shared the post – thinking this is fab!

A few likes and a couple of smiley faces later a friend got in contact saying she too thought the post I had shared was fab. We both agreed – this simple act of kindness was something we needed in our hometown of Colchester. We discussed the pros and cons of various locations including the Salvation Army and the town hall, deciding that the Salvation Army was too far out of town and the town hall too exposed. Eventually we settled upon the Library behind Holy Trinity Church knowing that GO4 Market Café was based there and already ran several initiatives for the homeless – including a ‘pay it forward’ breakfast scheme.

Galvanised and enthusiastic I told my friend I was just going to do it – I wasn’t going to ask for any specific permissions and if it was taken away ‘oh well what did it matter’. I did, however, contact Will Quince and advised him of what I was going to do, asking him to share it on social media once I had.

My friend and I, along with our families gathered up our old coats. Unable to find a clothes rail at such short notice I grabbed my clothes airer, some string and my freshly laminated sign and on Saturday morning at 07.30 I headed to town. After I had hung the coats and tied on the sign I took a picture and shared it on my Facebook and twitter page – imploring others to do the same.

The response was overwhelming, my post was shared over 900 times and I had never had so many twitter notifications in my life. Within an hour of sharing the photo a local woman got in touch to tell me she had a clothes rail, a short while later she had dropped it to the exchange and added some coats. Others started to get in touch saying they too would donate coats – sending messages of support and encouragement. We started with 12 coats Saturday morning, and by the evening had more than 30!


I think the success of the coat exchange exists in its simplicity – nearly all of us have an old coat or two at home that we no longer need or want. What the rail does is gives people an opportunity to put that coat to good use. It’s a simple gesture of kindness – which can mean so much to someone else. We have deliberately tried to keep the rules simple – anyone needing a coat is welcome to take one, whatever the reason for that need might be. I have met some wonderful people whilst I have been standing at the rail, some donating and others receiving, all touched by act of kindness that lies behind the rail.

If you have a coat or two you would like to leave you can find the rail outside the library Monday – Saturday. The rail is only taken in on a Saturday evening, it is brought back out Monday morning.

Fay Sibley

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