101

American Assassin

 

 

(BBFC18 1Hr 51Mins)


Unlike Mother! the last movie I reviewed, if you want to celebrate toxic masculinity then American Assassin is the movie for you, my friend. A film so rampantly stupid that it doesn’t have the intelligence to recognise just how rampantly stupid it is. If movies wore hats, American Assassin would proudly be donning a red #MAGA baseball cap.

Mitch Rapp (The Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien) is on holiday in Europe with his girlfriend when a Tunisia style beach attack by Islamic terrorists leaves her and many other sun worshippers horribly murdered. Rapp then goes rogue in an attempt to track down the killers. His minor league successes eventually bring him to the attention of CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who quickly recruits him for some kind of black ops unit or other under the auspices and training of Gulf War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Cue training montages and a plethora of blink-and-you-miss-them glamorous locations which are basically pretty backdrops for a lot of punching and shooting and murdering (mostly of young and attractive women). The second half of the movie seems completely at odds with the first half as Rapp is put on the trail of arch-villain “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), a former pupil of Hurley’s (a point, at which, I placed my head in my hands and felt like weeping). It’s all very “Seen it all before”, ho-hum, Jack Ryan/Jason Bourne/Jack Reacher-lite (if any of those movies were rooted in Alt-Right sensibilities, which thankfully they weren’t).

I watched American Assassin with a mixture of dismay, anger, disappointment, confusion, embarrassment and more than once had to bite my tongue to stop myself from shouting at the screen. Did the film-makers have no idea about the irony of America recruiting disenfranchised young men to go kill their enemies? It’s a movie that disgustingly bends over backwards to either humiliate or murder its female characters. It doesn’t have the backbone to stand by its own convictions, heinous as they are, its “White Saviour” storyline morphing into the worst kind of Star Wars Obi-Wan/Darth Vader/Luke rip-off. Even the action sequences can’t save it from ignominy, poorly choreographed, limp and lifeless.

It is an awful, awful movie. Casually racist and misogynistic, it definitely has an audience in mind, probably the kind that carries Tiki torches to rallies, hide behind anime avatars on social media and I think we all know which way they vote in US Presidential elections. Please avoid this movie or they’ll make more.

Andy Oliver

Mother!

Anywhere between

 

and

 

(BBFC 18 2Hrs 1Min)


If you were anticipating my review of Mother! I’m afraid I have to disappoint: Although I tried many times to write a spoiler-free review, I have failed miserably. All I offer here is a kind of steer, a warning to the unwary, a softly whispered piece of advice in the ear of the hopelessly intrigued. In fact, I’m not sure this movie is even reviewable, it is possible to read it on so many levels, all of them right, most of them wrong, very few of them unworthy of friendship destroying argument.

Nominally, Mother! concerns a couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) renovating the man’s childhood home (none of the characters have names, by the way, so this might get confusing), when a stranger (Ed Harris) appears on their doorstep, closely followed by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer). Bardem’s character invites the strangers in and Lawrence’s character begins to doubt her sanity (and their relationship) as more and more people come to the house and Bardem welcomes them all in and offers them free lodging. Where it goes from here is all spoiler territory into which I shall not tread, suffice it to say that the plot spirals into ever more horrific psychological and, eventually, physically violent acts which are not sexual but definitely gender-specific.

Be aware that if you’re handing over your hard-earned money for a ticket it may well be for something you will absolutely hate, I suspect more people will loathe Mother! than love it. It is one of the most divisive movies I’ve ever seen. I’m talking Anti-Christ/Eternal Sunshine/Only God Forgives/Spring Breakers/ Neon Demon level divisiveness. If you think you’re going to see a horror movie, you’re wrong. If you think you’re going to see a marital drama, you’re wrong. If you think everything will be wrapped up with a neat bow or Shyamalan-esque twist, guess what? You’re wrong.

Is it a thesis on toxic masculinity and misogyny? A religious parable? A satire in the mould of Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel (albeit one with a 180⁰ shift)? A damning critique of celebrity relationships? An environmental warning? A puzzle akin to Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad? An anthropological study of solitude versus tribal responsibilities? It’s all these things and more… or some of these things and less… or all of these things and none of them. Listen, how you respond to Mother! will depend exclusively upon you and what you take from it and how much you’re willing to put into it.

Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Noah, Black Swan), everything about Mother! is next level: beautifully shot, designed and lit; incredible performances from everyone in the cast, Lawrence remarkably manages to up her already “A” game and Bardem, Harris and Pfeiffer are nothing if not magnetic, to mention but four of this astonishing ensemble.

I’ve tried to help here but, honestly, nothing can prepare you for Mother! You will love it or you will hate it with venom. Caveat Emptor, my friends, Caveat Emptor. Maybe ask yourself would you watch this if it wasn’t a Jennifer Lawrence movie?

Me? Predictably, I loved it.

Andy Oliver

It

 

IT (BBFC 15, 2hrs 15mins)


It may not be the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel to make it to the screen but it is certainly the most Stephen King adaptation to make it to the screen. It really feels like a Stephen King novel, it understands what it is that makes his novels so readable and, whilst it is not a direct lift of page to screen, it manages to deliver everything that any fan could want (unless you actually want a direct lift of page to screen, that is). King knows that time spent with characters is as important (if not more) as the moments of horror they have to endure or succumb to, we have to know them and empathise with them for the scares to hit home, and It understands this as well: there are as many scenes that will have you laughing and/or crying as there are sequences that will have watching between your fingers. It’s proper scary as well as being lump-in-your-throat inducingly moving.

Something evil stalks the streets of Derry, Maine. Something that eats children and bathes in their fear. Something that haunts the town every twenty-seven years. When little Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott) seemingly vanishes into thin air, his brother Bill (Jaeden Liebeher) and six pals (collectively known as The Losers Club) decide that only they can solve the mystery of a town with a disturbingly high rate of child disappearances. What begins as a Hardy Boys Mystery adventure for the kids soon becomes a battle for their very lives as they uncover the terrifying truth: Derry is the home of an ancient evil, an evil that can shapeshift and become the manifestation of a child’s deepest fear, but most often it appears as uber-creepy clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård).


Director Andy Muschietti plays the horror of Derry on two fronts, there’s Pennywise, of course, but there’s also something about the town that breeds bullying, abuse racism and violence, there’s not only supernatural horror but everyday horror that dwells here. The first half of King’s novel placed The Losers Club’s investigation in the late 1950’s, here Muschietti (along with screenwriters Chase Palmer, Gary Dauberman and Cary Fukunaga) has transposed the action to the late 1980’s and replaced the kids’ fears of The Wolfman and The Mummy with things drawn directly from their psyche to give the film a more contemporary, not to mention relatable, feel. How these fears manifest themselves via Pennywise and his shape changing ability are at once strange and horrifying and pant-wettingly scary, one example *SPOILER*: the sole female member of the gang, Beverly (Sophia Lillis), has a fear of puberty and menstruation, there will be blood. And lots of it.


The young cast are very good indeed, along with the afore mentioned Scott, Liebeher and Lillis there are some great performances from Jeremy Ray Taylor as the chubby nerd Ben, Chosen Jacobs as Mike, Jack Dylan Fraser as germ phobic Eddie, Wyatt Olef as Stanley and, best of all Finn Wolfhard as bespectacled smart aleck Richie. But it’s Pennywise you’ve really come to see and Bill Skarsgård and the make-up and effects department don’t let you down. Although his appearances are kept to a minimum he’s the movie monster that will have grown men sleeping with the lights on. He’s all weird angles, distressing stillness and a fast-forward effect so chilling it gives you goose-bumps in even your warmest of places. Even if you’ve never suffered Coulrophobia (a fear of clowns) there is a distinct possibility you’ll have it in spades after watching It.


However, there are a few structural problems with the film, for example each of the kids’ encounters with their fears/Pennywise feel somewhat disjointed and episodic (an effect that is heightened by the interstices between each that tonally and dramatically give this portion of the film a kind of stop/start momentum). The dialogue tends to get rather heavy-handed and clunky whenever there’s a whiff of exposition and it tends to lean into its 1980’s references a little too heavily. There’s also a lot of connective tissue between It and the Netflix serial Stranger Things, not least being the appearance of Finn Wolfhard in both, and it’s a shame because this might be detrimental to some viewers, but if you can put these qualms to one side you’re in for a fun and scary ride (if a film about child murdering can be fun).

Now, people who’ve read the novel or seen the 1990 mini-series adaptation (you know, the one with John Boy Walton and Tim Curry) might wonder why I haven’t mentioned the second half of the story, the half where The Losers Club come together again as adults to continue the fight. Well, there’s a good reason for that, you see this is only Chapter One, the second (and final) chapter hasn’t even started filming yet so don’t expect it for at least another 18-24 months. Having said that, It stands alone pretty well and there’s a satisfying conclusion to this part that is definitely no lead balloon. So, until Chapter Two comes out you’ll just have to float along on the waves of expectation and anticipation… We all float down here.

Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for September 2017

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

Classics

It’s all happening in Colchester this month!

If, like me, you thoroughly enjoyed the Film Music of John Williams at the BBC Proms on July 20, here is your chance to hear some of these iconic film scores again. On September 9 our excellent Colchester Symphony Orchestra under its strong and stable conductor Chris Phelps, kickstarts its 2017/2018 season with some well-known movie music such as Star Wars and Schindler’s List by John Williams, Walton’s Spitfire Prelude & Fugue, Shostakovich’s The Gadfly and much other popular movie music.

This concert is on Saturday September 9 at 7.30pm in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester and tickets are already available (01206 271128)

Colchester Classics is delighted to be hosting a CD stand crammed full of Film Music and some bargains too! Freephone 0800 999 6994 to find out the type of CDs we will have on offer.

In the early nineteenth century, the guitar enjoyed remarkable popularity among upper and middle-class society throughout Europe. British award-winning mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley with guitarist Jens Franks will be performing many works written in this era by Schubert for voice and guitar in the intimate setting of Colchester’s Headgate Theatre.

Anna has been described as a rising star and presents recitals in the UK and internationally and has recently appeared  in a variety of roles for  English National Opera, Welsh National Opera and English Touring Opera. Her recent CD with Jens, Schubert: Songs for Voice and Guitar has received much praise from music magazines and broadsheet newspapers.

Saturday 9 September at 7.30pm Headgate Theatre. Tickets: £14 (01206 366000). This concert forms part of the Virtuoso Guitar Series at the Headgate.

The next concert in this series is on Friday 17 November at 7.30pm with Tim Pells.

Many Colchester musicians play in  Essex Chamber Orchestra (ECHO) will be meeting for  intensive rehearsals leading to a concert on Sunday evening taking place in Felsted School. It will include Kodaly’s Peacock Variations and Elgar’s Symphony No.1. Sunday 3 September,  Grignon Hall, Felsted School at 7.30pm.

Tickets £10 on the door.

Following last month’s exhilarating concert of Music for Brass and Organ, this month there is a chance for you to pull-out all the stops in a Meet (and Play) the Organ which is housed in Colchester’s beautiful Moot Hall.

The event takes place during this year’s Heritage Open Day from 12 – 2pm on Sunday 10 September in Colchester’s Town Hall in the High Street. Further details (01206 272908).

Colchester’s Roman River Music Autumn Festival brings music to the heart of our town. Outstanding international classical musicians returning to the Festival include pianist Benjamin Grosvenor who will play at All Saints’ Church in Fordham on Saturday 23 September and Natalie Clein will give a cello recital including compositions by women composers in the Colchester Arts Centre on September 17.

Another Festival highlight for me is The King’s Singers making their festival debut on 28 September in Stoke by Nayland Church. For full information please visit www.romanrivermusic.org.uk  Colchester Classics is delighted to be hosting a CD signing with The King’s Singers after its concert on 28 September.

If you subscribe to our e-database we will keep you up-to-date this concert and signing. (Simply email liz@colchesterclassics.co.uk to join our exclusive service.)

The Kingfisher Ensemble launches its Sunday afternoon 2017/2018 concert series on 24 September in the Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester with a performance of a Piano Quintet by the 19th century Hungarian composer, Dohnanyi.

Further details from www.kingfishersinfonietta.co.uk

If singing is your thing – why not join a choir and find out for yourself the benefits of singing? The great Ella Fitzgerald once said “The only thing better than singing is more singing.” Only recently a broadsheet newspaper said that choir practice is healthier than yoga so here are a couple of ideas to get you singing.

First up, Clacton Choral Society is offering an informal ‘Sing-In’ introducing music for its Autumn concert such as Puccini’s sparkling Messa di Gloria. This choir is most welcoming and friendly, with singers being particularly attentive throughout to Gilli Dulieu’s rehearsal requests.

The ‘Sing-In’ takes place on Saturday 2 September and more details are available (01255 427691).

Handel’s Zadok the Priest is the most famous and popular of Handel’s Coronation Anthems. It was composed for King George II in 1727 and has been performed at every Coronation since then and is heard regularly on radio and TV. Next month there is a chance to rehearse this all-time choral favourite and other music at a ‘Come & Sing’ event on Sunday 10 September in the Old House Barn in Great Horkesley.  The choir members on this day will perform in the Roman River Festival’s finale concert on Sunday 1 October.

Further information email info@romanrivermusic.org.uk

Handel’s most famous oratorio, Messiah, tells the story of Jesus’ life from birth to resurrection.  It includes many rousing choruses including the most famous Baroque chorus – Hallelujah! Over in Ipswich its Choral Society will present a ‘Come and Sing Handel’s Messiah’.  The day includes a rehearsal and an evening performance of this great oratorio with young soloists from the Royal Academy of Music, accompanied by the professional period instrument ensemble, Vivace!

Further details on the choral workshop on Sunday September 17 (01473 738324).

There are many other opportunities to sing with local choirs and a good source of information is www.makingmusic.org.uk and www.MusicInEssex.info

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

 

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for August 2017

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

Classics

This month offers more opportunities to explore Classical Music through the BBC Proms with a diverse season of live concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, on BBC TV and BBC Radio 3. With your appetite now whetted for Classical Music, feast your ears and eyes on just a few of the concerts in our musically rich region.

If, like me, you thoroughly enjoyed the Film Music of John Williams at the BBC Proms on July 20, here is your chance to hear some of these iconic film scores again. On September 9 the Colchester Symphony Orchestra under its strong and stable conductor Chris Phelps, kickstarts its 2017/2018 season with some well-known movie music such as Star Wars and Schindler’s List by John Williams, Walton’s Spitfire Prelude & Fugue, Shostakovich’s The Gadfly and much other popular movie music.

This concert is on Saturday September 9 at 7.30pm in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester and tickets are already available (01206 271128)

If you have ever fancied getting up close and personal with Colchester’s magnificent Moot Hall organ and would like the chance to pull out all of the stops, then read on!

First up, tomorrow (Tuesday August 1) the Borough Organist, Ian Ray, will show you how to play the Edwardian organ in a lunchtime recital with music by J S Bach, Vivaldi and Richard Strauss. Ian will be joined by the Seckford Brass Ensemble, led by John Jermy (recently heard as the trumpet soloist with the Colchester Symphony Orchestra). Tuesday August 1 at 1pm in Colchester’s Town Hall.

Free concert with a Retiring collection. Further details (01206 272908).

The Moot Hall’s majestic organ was first installed in 1902 and the Heritage Lottery Fund-sponsored restoration was completed in 2015. On this year’s Heritage Open Day you have the chance to pull-out all the stops in a Meet (and Play) the Organ from 12 – 2pm on Sunday 10 September.

More information coming soon!

With recent reports continuing to extol the beneficial effects of singing in choirs, I thought it would be appropriate to introduce a day of singing, exercise, socialising and learning some new music

Last month I had the privilege of featuring Colchester’s Roman River Summer Music Festival in the beautiful setting of St Peter ad Vincula in Coggeshall. This month I would like to highlight an opportunity for all our many local choral singers to treat themselves to work with the young conductor Ben Vonberg-Clark in a varied programme from the all-time choral favourite, Handel’s Zadok the Priest through to new repertoire by Eric Whitacre. The choral works will be accompanied by an orchestra and be part of the Roman River Festival Finale concert on Sunday 1 October.

For further information click  http://romanrivermusic.org.uk/events/event/come-sing-2017 or email info@romanrivermusic.org.uk

If you can’t get to the above singing day, other opportunities are available! It may interest you to know that The Telegraph has recently been quoted as saying Choir practice is healthier than yoga”After the summer break many choirs and choral societies open their rehearsal doors to new members, so don’t miss your chance to improve your well-being by singing and socialising in your local choir.

A good source of information is www.makingmusic.org.uk and www.MusicInEssex.info

Next month the Roman River Music Autumn Festival brings music to the heart of Colchester. Outstanding international classical musicians returning to the Festival include pianist Benjamin Grosvenor who will play at All Saints’ Church in Fordham on Saturday 23 September and Natalie Clein will give a cello recital including compositions by woman composers in the Colchester Arts Centre on September 17. Another Festival highlight for me is The King’s Singers making their festival debut on 28 September in Stoke by Nayland Church.

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

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

 

(BBFC 12A 2Hrs 17Mins)


Imagine a big empty cardboard box. Now imagine that box wrapped in the most astonishing paper, ribbons, bows and gift tags. Got it? Okay, now imagine that the box and wrapping cost the best part of £200 million and you’ll come close to understanding the experience of watching director Luc Besson’s latest sci-fi extravaganza, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (hereafter just referred to as Valerian in this review for the sake of time and word count). It’s a sprawling epic that blasts beyond the screen with eye-popping visuals and aesthetics but, beyond that, it’s a bit like a bubble-headed Love Island contestant, “… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, as Lady MacBeth once decried.

Alpha, the “City” of the extended title, is an ever-expanding space station, a repository of the collected knowledge and information of a plethora of CGI and practical effects alien races. Into this neon-infused, candy-crush coloured diaspora arrive Special Agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), a couple in all but name, squabbling and babbling inanely, spreading their own unique brand of “banter” as they try to solve I’m not sure what because I’m not sure why. I didn’t really understand what was going on and I suspect nobody involved in the movie did either, the plot has something to do with a Pokemon dinosaur that poops marbles and the destruction of some kind of “Ibiza” inspired planet full of lithe, pale supermodels and an infection/dead zone spreading through the city/space station. None of it makes any sense and there’s over two hours of it.


But what Valerian lacks in plot, characters or plausibility it more than makes up for in its visuals, every frame is crammed full of invention and mind-bending colour. If you’ve ever wanted to know what Aldous Huxley, John Lennon or Doctor Timothy Leary experienced without the hassle and expense of consciousness expanding drugs? Look no further: Memory consuming jellyfish; a bazaar that exists simultaneously on multiple dimensional levels; Cara Delevingne wearing the Universe’s biggest hat; fat-bottomed frogs; fish in spacesuits… you’ll want to check that bucket of popcorn you’re inhaling to make sure it hadn’t been inadvertently switched out with a huge tub of mescaline.


I’ll be honest here and admit that I’ve never truly been aboard the Luc Besson train, his movies leave me cold, he’s a director whose ideas are vacuous and, whilst almost always visually impressive, as a storyteller he has all the panache and craft of Monty Python’s Mister Creosote forcing a last “wafer thin mint” between his bloated, gluttonous lips: yes, there’s a huge explosion of colour on the screen but ultimately his bacchanalian greed leads to disappointment and emptiness. People may leap to his defence citing The Fifth Element (loopy fairy-tale powered by cliché) or Leon The Professional (amoral and smarmy in its Hollywood excess) or The Big Blue (free divers squabble when not holding their breath, tedious), but even they would have a tough time denying the indulgence and sheer lack of soul in Valerian. For a director steeped in self-indulgence, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets surely represents the pinnacle of his achievements.

There are moments of dizzying invention, for instance a chase scene that crashes through multiple dimensions, but it is dazzling empty spectacle and, unfortunately, nothing more.


Both DeHaan and Delevingne struggle to bring anything based in reality to their characters, neither has the charisma or joie de vivre necessary to carry the film or imbue it with any sense of fun. Dane DeHaan is best known for his moody “outsider” roles such as Chronicle (moody teen become moody teen with super-powers), The Amazing Spider-Man (moody, rich teen becomes moody, rich teen with super-powers) and The Cure For Wellness (moody banker becomes moodier banker but with added incest and eels), Valerian should be a crazy, thrill-ride of a character; as quick with his thoughts, actions and quips as he is with his trigger finger; DeHaan, with his permanently furrowed-brow and slow delivery only manages to convey a sense of fatigue. Cara Delevingne, all pouts and eyebrows, is best known for being a coat hanger and for being easily the most appalling thing in the appalling Suicide Squad; like a personality vacuum, she manages to suck all the life from practically every scene she’s in. Valerian and Laureline sound like ingredients in the latest, miracle shampoo but that’s where any analogy to chemistry ends; they bicker like a couple who’ve been together too long, a pair you’d spend two weeks trying to avoid on your holidays, which makes it all the more bewildering when a “Will they, won’t they…” story thread is introduced. Like I said, “NONE OF THIS MAKES SENSE”.

Oh, and Rihanna, Ethan Hawke and Clive Owen turn up as well. Mostly briefly, mostly looking bewildered.

If, like a toddler who delights in the wrapping paper more than the present, there’s probably plenty to enjoy here. Valerian, for the rest of us is just that big old empty box.

“Out, out brief candle”, indeed.

Andy Oliver

Dunkirk

(BBFC 12A, 1hr 46mins)


Nothing can prepare you for the experience of watching director Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk on the big screen (and, let me make this point crystal clear, you absolutely have to see it on the big screen, the bigger the better). It is not thrilling. It is not enjoyable. It is, most definitely, not fun. It is, however, one of the best movies of the year: a visceral, terrifying vision of Hell; it’s harrowing and draining, emotional and triumphant; it shakes the viewer to the core; immerses you in fear and horror; physically shakes you and breaks your heart before tossing you out of the theatre where you stagger, zombie-like, in stunned awe and silence.

At the outbreak of World War 2, the UK government declared war on Germany and sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to support the French and impose an economic blockade on the aggressors. The unified armed forces of Nazi Germany, the Wehrmacht, swept down through Holland and Belgium, however, quickly defeating our allies and pushing the BEF back toward the French coast. In May 1940, four-hundred thousand allied troops were forced onto the beaches to await evacuation. British High Command put into action the hastily formulated Project Dynamo, requisitioning as many sea-worthy craft and crews as they could get their hands on to help the evacuation, from a 15-foot fishing boat to a River Mersey Ferry and a paddle steamer normally used for pleasure cruises, the 700-strong flotilla of “Little Ships” managed to rescue some three-hundred and thirty-eight thousand troops from the blood-soaked beaches.


Over eight long and, one can only imagine, utterly terrifying days and nights the men at Dunkirk waited their turn for rescue, all the while strafed by the Messerschmitt fighters and Stuka bombers of the Luftwaffe (Hitler, crucially, making the mistake of not sending his armoured divisions into battle, thereby saving countless thousands). Great acrobatic dogfights soared and exploded above the men as the Royal Air Force bravely battled to keep the evacuees and ships safe and allow them the time to escape unharmed.

Dunkirk tells its story from four perspectives: a trio of young soldiers awaiting evacuation (including Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles); naval commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh); RAF fighter pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy); and, finally, civilian boat-owner/skipper Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) along with his teenage son and his son’s schoolfriend (Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan). These are not separate sub-plots but all part of the whole sum, just each from the view (and timeline) of the different protagonists. It’s a conceit that allows the story to flow, yet keeps the movie to a tight and manageable running time, there’s absolutely no fat allowed onto the script’s slight, yet muscular, frame. Nolan lets the action do most of the talking, there is little rhetoric or exposition and while the characters are given little in the way of backstory, you feel for every one of them and rejoice in their triumphs, swell at their courage, cry for their losses.


Time is one of Christopher Nolan’s signature themes (look to Memento, Inception, Interstellar and even his Batman trilogy, when taken as a whole, for further proof), and with Dunkirk he has once again created a complex yet intuitive structure that, with most directors may seem like a gimmick, moves the story forward without ever seeming complicated or disjointed. The soldiers’ story covers the full week; Farrier’s a single hour and Mr. Dawson’s a single day. It’s a triumph of story-telling which I would struggle to explain, just rest assured that it works. It works really well.

From a technical standpoint, Dunkirk is nothing short of miraculous. Filmed on 70mm Imax film cameras and using minimal CGI some of the shots on display should be genuinely impossible. Here’s the science bit: a 70mm Imax camera weighs roughly 240lbs as opposed to a 35mm camera which weighs about 40lbs or a digital camera even less (Tangerine, the 2015 indie movie was shot on iPhones, but that’s another story); the size of the film (70mm obvs.) means the camera can only hold about three minutes of film and takes about 20 minutes to reload; it requires special supports and rigging to move it around; on the plus side, and the reason Nolan prefers to use it, you get 12,000 lines of horizontal definition as opposed to the 4,000 of a regular high definition camera. So, because most of the effects are practical, strapping one of these cameras to the side of a Spitfire, filming the inside of a sinking ship and, let’s not forget, filming on a beach mean that this movie really shouldn’t exist and yet it does and we should all be thankful to the geniuses who got it made.


There’s great performances all round and, although I was dreading the slings and arrows from 1 Directioners, I breathe easy saying that, although not a revelation, Harry Styles is pretty good (I stress though, this is not a film I would recommend the youngest of 1D-ers go see, it may prove far too intense for the under-twelves). Mark Rylance shines (again), Tom Hardy is a stoically British hero and Fionn Whitehead has firmly placed his foot on the first step to stardom.

Minor niggles? As good as Hans Zimmer’s score is there’s maybe a little too much of it. The sound mixing (very loud, very intense, the scream of the Stuka’s left me overwhelmed and shaking, the deep growl of the Spitfire’s Merlin engines reverberated through my entire body though, strangely, proud) works so well that, at many times, the musical soundtrack is redundant.


In Nolan’s hands, “The Miracle of Dunkirk” has become the miracle of Dunkirk. This is movie making taken to the next level: the craftsmanship, expertise, genius on display is nothing short of breath taking. While Dunkirk is most definitely not a rollicking good night out it is something that you have to experience.

In a cinema.

Not on a phone.

As a personal postscript I’d just like to mention that my grandfather, Charles King, was one of those young guys waiting patiently on that beach back in 1940, but he never spoke of it. Watching Dunkirk, I can totally understand why, and why, twenty-something years since he passed away, I love him even more and I’m so grateful for the time we got to spend together.

 

Andy Oliver

Spider-Man: Homecoming

 

(BBFC 12A, 2hrs 13mins)


Imagine that The Breakfast Club’s Brian (the dorky, nerdy one) was a superhero, itching to break free of his enforced detention and save the world, and you’ll have pretty much nailed the tone Spider-Man: Homecoming is aiming at. And, for the most part, it manages to sustain that tone and deliver a breezy blast of high-summer fun in a movie that’s very difficult to dislike.

Following directly on from his turn in Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) finds himself back in the New York borough of Queens, living with his aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and dealing with the problems of being a fifteen-year old student, science nerd and superhero. Desperate to be accepted by not only his high school classmates but also his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Peter struggles to balance his homework with his moonlight crime-fighting duties. As if being a teenager weren’t enough, Peter craves greater responsibility than catching bicycle thieves, a bigger challenge than chastising the local hoodlums and, despite Stark’s warnings, he goes all out to prove himself when Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton) enters the frame. When Spidey and The Vulture’s battle of attrition culminates in a spectacular sequence aboard the Staten Island ferry, an exasperated Tony Stark is forced to repossess the super-suit he had gifted to Peter.


Toomes has taken to hawking alien technology and weapons on the black market after Stark puts his construction company out of business and, unlike so many other of Marvel’s villains, he doesn’t want to rule the Universe, he just wants to make a profit.  In many ways Toomes is the anti-Stark, he shirks the responsibility that comes with his high-tech weaponry and is a dark mirror of Stark’s paternal disappointment in his young protégé. It’s all set up for a final confrontation where Peter, now stripped back to his rawest form must use his wits, intelligence and bravery to defeat a foe armed with futuristic firepower, guile, viciousness and little to no conscience.

This being the third restart for Spider-Man in fifteen years (after the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield iterations), fifty-ish years of comic books and countless animated series, Marvel have, wisely, taken the view that there’s no need for this to be yet another origin story. If you’re not on board with all the radioactive spider and Uncle Ben, “With great power…” stuff by now you probably never will be. It’s a bold decision, especially in an age where blockbusters rely so heavily on clunky exposition, to demote the origin story to one line and Uncle Ben’s dying lines to a thematic arc/lesson, to credit the audience with some intelligence, to acknowledge the cultural impact of arguably their most famous property, but one that totally pays off.


Tom Holland shines as Peter/Spider-Man, he’s affable, funny, dorky, clumsy and adorable both in his costume and out. There’s never any disconnect between the two personas, so the kid who trips over his own laces is also the hero who never quite manages to stick his landings, whose teenage bedroom is as messy as the calamity he creates swinging about Queens and bringing down treehouses. He’s a smart kid who’s naïve about the world and battling with not one but two learning curves about growing up and being a hero.

Sadly, Homecoming is not without its problems though. The supporting cast is never quite given enough time to flesh out and you’ll find yourself wishing a little more time had been spent in the trenches of adolescence and a little less spent with Robert Downey Jr popping in and out of the movie. It’s also a shame that Michael Keaton gets little to sink his beak into apart from one chillingly civil conversation with Peter. That said, the support isn’t particularly under written, in fact some are so good you want to see more of them especially Zendaya as Peter’s classmate Michelle, Ned played by Jacob Batalon and Tomei’s aunt May. Oh well, maybe in the inevitable next instalment.


Spider-Man: Homecoming is often more of a teen comedy in the vein of those John Hughes movies like the afore-mentioned Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (which makes a brief appearance) than an all-out superhero slug-fest but manages to carry out both its component parts and create a cohesive and enjoyable whole. Whilst not quite up to the high-water mark of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, by bringing your friendly neighbourhood web-slinger back home (in all senses) Marvel have upped the fun and rediscovered what it is that makes Spider-Man so amazing.

Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for July 2017

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

Classics

Colchester’s Roman River Music presents two annual international festivals in North Essex and this month there is a treasure trove of French music chosen by pianist Tom Poster for its Summer Festival. Tom will be joined by internationally acclaimed tenor Karim Sulayman making his Festival debut, violinist Elena Urioste, the Navarra Quartet and soprano Raphaela Papadakis.

The first concert is on Friday 14 July at 8pm with music including Debussy’s Violin Sonata and Faure’s Piano Quintet and the festival closes on Sunday with a selection of songs by Poulenc. All four festival concerts will be recorded for future broadcast by BBC Radio 3 and take place in Coggeshall’s parish church, St Peter-ad-Vincula.

Further information about each concert and also news on the Autumn Festival can be found here romanrivermusic.org.uk

The Chelmsford Singers have been making music since in 1927 and this month celebrate its 90th anniversary with a Gala Concert in Chelmsford Cathedral including Carl Orff’s secular cantata Carmina Burana.  If like me, you are a child of the 1970s, you will know the famous ‘O Fortuna’ that opens Orff’s work through its use in the Old Spice TV advert. ‘O Fortuna’ is only a few minutes of the work but has been used countless times on TV shows and in films.  The choir will be joined by soloists Colin Baldy, Paul Smy and Elizabeth Roberts, the Cathedral Girls’ Choir, the Cathedral Choristers and Choral Scholars on Saturday 1 July in Chelmsford Cathedral.

Tickets from £15 from www.chelmsfordsingers.co.uk.

It is in association with the Maldon Festival which takes place from 24 June – 8 July visit www.maldonfestival.org.uk

On the same evening in Chelmsford the Essex Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tom Hammond will be performing music by Dvorak and its leader, Philippa Barton, will be the soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.  This concert takes place at 7.30pm on Saturday 1 July at 7.30pm at Christ Church, London Road, Chelmsford. Tickets: £15 (01245 601418).

Philippa Barton is also leader of the Colchester Symphony Orchestra and the following weekend it performs music by Weber and Brahms with Fenella Humphreys as soloist in Bruch’s beautiful First Violin Concerto.  At this concert the prize draw to win two CDs signed by Fenella will take place and she will be available to sign her CDs purchased at Colchester Classics’s CD stand.

More details on the competition here http://colchesterclassics.co.uk/competition-time/

“It’s love that makes the world go round” wrote W.S. Gilbert and this weekend Clacton Choral conducted by Gilli Dulieu will be doing just that by sharing their love of the songs from the  various operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan and giving a full concert performance of  ‘Trial by Jury’. This comic operetta is almost unique as the entire libretto is sung with no spoken dialogue. As always with G&S, the plot is ludicrous, with light-hearted satire sprinkled with toe-tapping tunes. This concert is in aid of Parkinson’s UK and tickets are £6. Saturday 1 July at 5pm in  St James’ Church is in Tower Road, Clacton CO15 1DA.

In complete choral contrast, the highly-acclaimed Colchester Chamber Choir are on a four church tour this weekend and raising money for good causes at the same time.

Click www.colchesterchamberchoir.org

The Last Night of the Harwich Festival Proms takes place this Sunday evening at 7pm in St Nicholas’ Church with the joint choirs of  Witham Choral and the Harwich & Dovercourt Choral Society accompanied by the Colchester Philharmonic conducted by Patrick McCarthy. This concert includes choral favourites such as Handel’s Zadok the Priest, orchestral favourites such as Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs plus Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the brilliant pianist Mengyang Pan.

Further details www.harwichfestival.co.uk

Three talented young local musicians, sponsored by the Hervey Benham Trust, will be accompanied by the St Botolph’s Music Society Orchestra in Baston’s Second Recorder Concerto (soloist Pippa Tallowin), Coates’ Saxophone Rhapsody  (soloist Harriet Maxwell) and Charlie Price will be the soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.

Saturday 1 July at 7.30pm at St Botolph’s Church, Colchester. Tickets: £12 (01206 823662).

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

Baby Driver

 

(BBFC 15 1hr 53mins)


Director Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is the car chase movie you’ve been waiting to see since the 1970’s; it’s a high-octane, effervescently cool, toe-tapping, white knuckle wild ride set to the beats of one of the hippest, most diverse and, occasionally, goofy soundtracks ever insanely committed to film.

Oh, and it doesn’t defy the laws of physics.

Ever.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, a reluctant participant in bank and security van heists paying off his debt to criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby constantly listens to music to drown out the ringing in his ears caused by a car crash that killed both his parents. When Baby meets and falls in love with waitress Debora (Lily James) and, nearing the end of his obligation to Doc, he begins to make plans to leave his life of crime and run away to a fresh beginning. But Doc has different ideas and ropes him into another job alongside the psychotic trio of Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). And when things go bad they go really bad, Baby finds himself running not only from the cops but from three psychopaths hell bent on revenge.

Elgort (charming as was in his breakout role in The Fault in Our Stars) really shines as Baby, all cool confidence in his ability as a driver mixed with intense desperation as his situation spirals beyond his control. It’s a star making role and Elgort grabs his opportunity with both hands.

Edgar Wright once again shows how to cast a movie with Elgort’s surrounding members all on top form. There is never any doubt that Baby’s partners-in-crime are dangerous career criminals not by their words or deeds but by their sheer screen presence. Whilst Foxx clearly relishes being let off the leash as the most overtly psychotic character it is the pure menace that exudes from every single pore of Jon Hamm’s Buddy that will send shivers down your spine when you think of this movie. It is important that we understand the psychopathy of the bad guys, never more than a heartbeat away from pulling the trigger, in contrast with Baby’s innocence, he knows what he’s doing is wrong but doesn’t want to see anyone hurt or even offended by his actions and in this Edgar Wright has delivered a masterclass in casting. Even his selections for minor characters is beyond redoubtable, from Jon Bernthal, Lanny Joon and Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) as supporting criminals to CJ Jones who plays his deaf, elderly foster-father. And, on a personal note, I can’t begin to tell you my delight at the appearance of Paul Williams as a particularly memorable gun runner.


My only minor problem with Baby Driver is with Lily James’ character Debora, she seems, at best, to be representing a goal rather than a fully-formed person. Don’t get me wrong, James does her best but the role is slightly underwritten, the problem is that when the rest of the film is so near-perfect details like this tend to glare. Although we want to see Baby and Debora ride off into the sunset and pray for their success, the film just slightly misses the emotional arcs of, say, Hot Fuzz or even Shaun of the Dead. Like I say, it’s only a minor niggle but it’d be remiss of me not to mention it.

[Excuse the pun, but…] What really drives Baby Driver is the music. The music is not chucked in there because it fits the action, it’s there to serve a symbiotic relationship with the story to create a more dynamic “whole”. It’s an exploration of what music means to us, how it moves us, provides a comfort blanket, brings us together, pushes us apart, provides a soundtrack to our lives. It is doing what all great musicals do, baring the soul and tapping our emotional cores, giving voice to our innermost thoughts and feelings and providing a beat to which we live. There’s a couple of times it’s a little too “on the nose” (such as Nowhere to Run by Martha and the Vandellas or Golden Earring’s Radar Love) but any movie that opens with The John Spencer Blues Explosion’s Bellbottoms, features Bongolia by The Incredible Bongo Band and makes something as goofy as the yodelling bits of Focus’ Hocus Pocus toe-tappingly cool can’t be all bad, right?


Kudos go to Wright who, in an age of an all-out CGI arms race, has chosen to keep all the action practical and the stunts hair-raisingly real. It’s loud and it’s brash and undeniably cool. You’ll maybe spot nods toward classic chase movies like Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway, Walter Hill’s The Driver, Bullitt, Freebie and the Bean and Gone in 60 Seconds, amongst others, but Baby Driver isn’t a re-tread of what’s gone before, it’s a remix and, like all great remixes, it shows us that something new and surprisingly original can be created from those things we thought we knew inside out.

Like a great song heard for the first time Baby Driver makes you want to hear it again straight away, to hit replay, rewind the tape, pick up the needle and place it back at the start of the track. It’s an instant classic and you’ll kick yourself if you don’t catch it.

Andy Oliver