Tollgate Village Takes a Step Closer

Plans have been submitted to Colchester Borough Council for the first phase of the long-awaited Tollgate Village retail and leisure park at Stanway.

An artist’s impression by Corstorphine + Wright Architects

Tollgate Partnership Limited, the Stanway-based family company behind the £70m scheme, have applied for full planning permission to make a series of improvements to Tollgate Retail Park, which will form the first phase of Tollgate Village. These would include external changes to shops, the creation of an additional retail unit between PC World and Office Outlet, the construction of a service road off London Road, alterations to the car park and road improvements.

Daniel Watts and Jayne Gee, Directors of Tollgate Partnership Limited, said: “We are very excited to have reached this milestone for Tollgate Village and be able to submit plans for the first of three phases.

“We are proud to be bringing economic benefits, jobs and sustainable facilities to the Borough of Colchester and we are grateful for the overwhelming public support for Tollgate Village. We will create an exciting place where people can work, shop, meet and relax.”

As part of its full planning application for phase one, Tollgate Partnership Limited has proposed carrying out highways improvements including road widening and the installation of a much-needed toucan crossing at Tollgate West and upgrades to the Tollgate West/Western Bypass roundabout.

Outline planning permission for Tollgate Village was granted by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on August 4 2017.

The next phase of Tollgate Village will be the “leisure hub” to be built on vacant land opposite Tollgate Retail Park. It is expected the third phase will see the development of the former Sainsbury’s site off Tollgate West/Tollgate Road.

Posted by Simon Crow

Vote for The Warm and Toasty Club to Win £50,000

The Warm and Toasty Club have made it to the final of The People Projects for the Anglia East region and we have the chance to win £50,000 of National Lottery funding for our project Memory Afternoons – and we need your VOTE to help us win.

Memory Afternoons are charming befriending and conversation events for older people with delightful live entertainment. These unique events are all about making older folk feel cherished and valued whilst providing development opportunities for young aspiring artists.

With your help, we can invite up to 100 older people every week for a year, to a local community hall to share positive memories of their lives, be entertained by singers and dancers and take part in a range of activities that will help them feel less lonely and isolated.

Memory Afternoons have proved to be extremely successful over the past 4 years with The Warm and Toasty Club having held these afternoon events at retirement establishments in Colchester and Essex.

Our team put their heart and soul into making these events special and we would love to be able to take these events out into the community – your vote can help us deliver a year’s worth of these delightful afternoons at a set local venue with community transport to help bring our less mobile guests in.

Memory Afternoons will support, develop and showcase young emerging artists and provide opportunities for community arts professionals to work directly with the older participants.

Young songwriters will be supported in writing and performing songs about the shared memories, artists will draw and make memento cards and singers, dancers and entertainers will perform as collectively we chat, we laugh, we share and we get happy.

We want to get people away from the TV to act as the catalyst for change by getting them chatting, laughing and making friends, as positive face to face engagement is so good for your physical and mental well-being.

Memory Afternoons also capture people centered positive stories of days gone by for future generations to access on the archives of Essex Sound and Video Archive and Colchester Recalled and via our online podcasts. But this isn’t a dry offering, oh no, this is face to face engagement that is full of fun, laughter, singing and dancing.

By sharing memories of lives well lived we turn the mirror back on participants to celebrate the rich and varied lives they have lived – our events have shown to really work in helping participants feel good about their lives and open up, they feel cherished and appreciated and we have seen that by doing so their loneliness is lessened, their social activities and circle of friends improved, their long term memory and their cognitive skills improve, they get out of the house and their self-worth and confidence greatly improves.

We’ve seen the real difference Memory Afternoons make – giving a new-found joy and confidence so that older folk blossom again.

Feedback from participants:

“Memory Afternoons are a tonic for the soul” 

“You’ve given me my sparkle again” 

“You delivered happiness” 

“We love it, it lifts our spirits high”

“This work wakes us up, makes us think and makes us appreciate what we have today”

“It eliminates loneliness doesn’t it”

“When I walk out of here I feel warm and I feel contented”

We will also hold public entertainment events at Colchester Arts Centre to showcase the worth of our older generation to the wider public.

Winning this money would make such a big difference to the lives of older people in our area and allow us to set up a central local hub which they can attend weekly to chat, laugh and have fun and which they don’t have now. Many older Colchester residents (both living in care homes and independently in the community) face a lack of engagement or activities available and/or relevant to them, particularly when faced with issues of health, mobility and finance, this project will greatly help with that.

This funding will pay for the venue, staff, community transport, food and drink, equipment, singers, dancers and songwriters and give so much back to our community with our people centred approach.

If we win we’ve got big plans to make a big difference to older people’s lives with these lovely afternoon events but we can only do it with your help-please vote for Memory Afternoons 

#MemoryAfternoons Where older folk come to top up their happiness batteries

Email: thewarmandtoastyclub@gmail.com

Telephone: 07986837056

To vote click HERE

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Jumbo’s Restaurant in the Sky Takes a Big Step Closer

After decades of speculation and dashed hopes, plans to renovate Jumbo, Colchester’s unique Victorian water tower, have taken a huge step forward after the submission of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant application which will pave the way for residents and visitors to enjoy the spectacular views across Colchester and beyond that await at the top of the tower.

Photo: Darius Laws

Colchester and North East Essex Building Preservation Trust is working with partners, including the building’s owner Paul Flatman, on the multi-million pound project to conserve and renovate the Victorian Grade ll* listed landmark. The Trust’s plans will see the 34-metre Balkerne Water Tower, affectionately known as Jumbo, preserved and put back to use after 30 years of being vacant.

Trust Chairman, Simon Hall MBE, said: “Everything about the project is big and our Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) application is a step on what will be a long journey to save this magnificent piece of Victorian industrial heritage for Colchester and the nation.

“Jumbo is recognised as the most important municipal water tower in the country and is testament to the skills of the Victorian engineers who built it in 1883. Since it ceased to be used as a water tower in 1987, it has sadly been standing idle and in 1993 it was put on the national Buildings at Risk register.

CNEEBPT/Mike Cameron Photography

“We have received excellent support from across our communities, Colchester Borough Council and heritage experts as we start the process of seeking funds for our plans. Clearly, Jumbo has a big place in the hearts of many people. This first grant would allow us to develop the plans fully before we source additional funds for the conservation and restoration. A second HLF application could then be made next year to allow work to start. If the second application is successful, the owner will grant the Trust a long lease and we will have saved Jumbo.”

Darius Laws (Con) Councillor for Castle Ward, in which Jumbo sits, added: “I know that every single Colchester Councillor, regardless of political colour, is committed to promoting and enhancing our unique heritage, and Jumbo preserved with a restaurant, bar and hire space in the sky represents a massive opportunity for Colchester.

This also an exciting opportunity to work with the Mercury Theatre, the Church Street Tavern, the Arts Centre and other nearby businesses to deliver a brand new public square at the base of Jumbo – just by the original Roman City entrance to Colchester.”

CNEEBPT/Mike Cameron Photography

If everything goes to plan, it will be at least two years before building work can start to give Jumbo its new lease of life. The present proposals include a split level restaurant. The stunning former water tank, with its unrivalled views, will be used as an intimate hire space for dining and arts, as well as a heritage interpretation area. A new floor will be inserted above the top level of brick arches to house a reception area and small gift shop. Above this, the impressive space of the former engineers’ room will become a bar.

The Trust has pledged to work closely with many community groups, including schools and colleges, to ensure everyone has access to Jumbo and can be inspired by this unique piece of industrial heritage.

So hopefully, within the next few years, the dream for many Colchester residents of at last being able to take in the view from the top of this unique building will become a reality, and Jumbo will live on, restored to its former glory and with a new purpose for the generations of Colcestrians to come.

Simon Crow

 

Turtle Bay Colchester – Review

 

I make no secret of my love of the Caribbean and its cuisine, nor of my delight at the opening of Turtle Bay on Colchester’s High Street just before Christmas. Several trips to Jamaica have given me a taste for such local delights as jerk chicken, curry goat and beef patties washed down with Red Stripe beer and rum based cocktails.

So the chance to along to what has fast become one of Colchester’s favourite restaurants to enjoy some of Turtle Bay’s delicious food and let you know what I thought about it was not one I was going to pass by!

We booked for Friday night, traditionally one of the busiest nights of the week, and when we arrived the restaurant was already busy and the standalone ‘island hut’ bar was buzzing with the Friday night crowd enjoying classic cocktails with a Turtle Bay twist made from a choice of a staggering 40+ hand-picked rums from across the Caribbean, as well as a magnificent mix of their signature cocktails too.

The Caribbean laid back vibe is all around you in this beach shack themed restaurant, the design of which is unique to Colchester and includes an open ‘street kitchen’ and a raised veranda seating area at the back of the main dining area, along with reclaimed wood and chequer-plate, lights hanging from beer crates and giant paintings on brick walls to complete the look. And, of course, reggae music playing in the background!

We decided to skip the bar and went straight to our table where we ordered drinks from our waitress. I ordered a Red Stripe to recapture the feeling of that first beer at the hotel pool bar after a long tiring day of travelling to Jamaica, and my partner decided to try a Reggae Rum Punch which apparently “hit the spot.” Nuff said!


After changing our minds several times about our starters thanks to the mouth-watering choices which included my favourite, Beef Patties, as well as such delights as Duck Rolls and the very tempting Jerk Glazed Pit Ribs, which will of course mean further trips back to sample them, we decided to share a Seafood Platter. It did not disappoint and there was ample food for us both, which included curried fish roti flatbread, chilli squid, crispy panko whitebait, sweet corn fritters, mango mole with herb mayo and a green salad. This turned out to be the perfect starter, or ‘cutter’ as they call it down Turtle Bay way.


After a short interval to let our starters go down our main courses were brought by our cheerful waitress. It is so noticeable at Turtle Bay how enthusiastic the staff are, and how knowledgeable they are about the menu, and tonight was to be no different as they took exceptional care of us as usual. I had decided to try the Guyanese Curry Duck. As a big fan of any Caribbean curries, and duck, I thought this might be the perfect marriage. And it proved to be so with the slow braised duck leg perfectly complemented by the citrus fruit flavours of the curry and served with coconut rice ‘n’ peas and dumplings as good as any you will find in the Caribbean.

My partner had no complaints either about her Jerk Chicken with was also served with coconut rice ‘n’ peas with a sour orange chutney, coconut shavings & Caribbean slaw. She said it was amongst the best she has ever eaten. Praise indeed.


Desserts were up next, though with our appetites now well and truly satisfied these were an indulgence rather than a necessity. Caymanas Upside Down Rum cake for me, with just enough of the rum taste coming through to excite the taste buds but without overwhelming the other flavours, and Spiced Rum and Chocolate Pot for my partner which also did not fail to deliver.

So, as ever, a fabulous dining experience at Colchester’s Turtle Bay, one in which you can lose yourself in the tastes, smells and sounds of the Caribbean for an hour or two.

Simon Crow

The Shape of Water

 


BBFC 15 2hrs 3mins

I was lucky enough to have seen Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water at last year’s London Film Festival (it was the hot ticket screening) and I have been thinking about it ever since. It’s a movie that can be enjoyed purely at surface level – a romantic fairy tale about a mute cleaning lady at a top-secret Government research facility who falls in love with a fish man – but it contains multitudes and the more thought I put into it the more pleasure I get from it.


Elisa (Sally Hawkins) lives a lonely, routine life in a shabby apartment above a movie theatre in Baltimore, 1962. Her best friends are Giles (Richard Jenkins), her closeted gay neighbour, and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), her chatty, brassy co-worker with whom she shares her secrets and scrapes gum from the floors of jet-engine laboratories. When a new “asset” arrives at the facility, along with its handler Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), Elisa’s natural curiosity and compassion leads to an unlikely, inter-species relationship. The asset (Doug Jones), you see, is a humanoid, amphibian creature captured from deep within the Amazon by Strickland and brought to the lab’s in the hope that unlocking its secrets will give the US the edge in the Cold War in general and in the “Space Race” specifically. When it transpires that those secrets can only be revealed via the asset’s death and dissection it is up to Elisa and her friends to help it escape the facility and release it to freedom.

Whilst The Shape of Water can be enjoyed at its most basic fairy-tale level, a quirky riff on The Little Mermaid or The Creature From the Black Lagoon, a throwaway genre romance, it is when you start to unpack its many layers and storytelling choices that it reveals its true glory. Key amongst these choices is understanding the viewpoint from which the movie is told: The movie is bookended by Giles’ lyrical narration, how you react to the much of the film (and especially the ending) relies upon whether, or not, you believe him to be a reliable narrator. A subplot involving sympathetic scientist Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Soviet spies which, on first viewing, appears to be ridden with clichés and rather silly makes a lot more sense when you understand that it is coming from Giles, whom it is established is a dyed-in-the-wool romantic fantasist. Just grasping this one simple device, I think, will give you a much more enjoyable and nuanced viewing experience.

Director Guillermo Del Toro (known, not only, for his audience pleasing genre crowd pleasers like Blade II, Pacific Rim and two Hellboy movies but his more arthouse fantasies Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone) has absolutely stuffed the film with references, textures, metaphors and salutes. The Shape of Water is Del Toro’s love letter to Hollywood and, in particular, the movies that have influenced him. It is not difficult to see the spot nods to silent cinema (after all the two main protagonists, Elisa and the asset, are both mute, both silent); there’s a wonderful fantasy pastiche of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” sequence from Follow The Fleet; there’s quiet tributes to Powell & Pressburger, Vincente Minelli and Douglas Sirk and, most obviously, Del Toro’s love of classic monster movies. This is about as close to Del Toro’s Cinema Paradiso as we’re ever likely to get to or hope for, occasionally pausing to take in moments of real Hollywood gold (such as Shirley Temple dancing with Mr. Bojangles, Bill Robinson). Everything is imbued with meaning from individual props, the choice of colours, the choice of language, even Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful score harkens back to Hollywood romanticism. And all these things are not there to be clever or smart, they are there to move the story forward and provide texture and background.

In any other year you would nail on Sally Hawkins performance to win the Best Actress Oscar (such is the quality of her fellow nominees, especially Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). There is never a single moment when you don’t know what she is thinking or feeling (emotionally), it’s a (largely) wordless performance and yet through her face and body language she says more than virtually any other actor on screen. Richard Jenkins is wonderfully sweet and affecting as the gay artist with one foot firmly in the dreams of Hollywood musicals and romantic yearnings for the guy who runs the pie shop. Octavia Spencer, always wonderful, provides the majority of the film’s humour as the sassy, vociferous and loyal Zelda. My only gripe with the film’s casting is that Michael Shannon is too perfectly cast as Strickland, we’ve seen him play similar roles too often for it ever raise a question in our minds as to who is the real monster of the piece? He’s great as a vile, entitled, toxic male who could sadly exist in 1962 or 2018, but as a subversion of the B-movie, lantern-jawed hero he’s just a wee bit too familiar.

Not forgetting Doug Jones who, with a dancer’s physique, poise and grace brings The Asset to beautiful and vibrant life.


It may seem a little strange to give The Shape of Water a Valentines Day release, but it is, ultimately, a film about love and as Guillermo Del Toro so poignantly explained, “…love is like water, it has no shape. It can take the shape of whatever you pour it into. You can fall in love with someone that is twice your age, the same gender, completely opposite religion, the completely wrong political persuasion – it just happens. And it is, like water, the most powerful and malleable element in the universe. And it goes through everything.”

Andy Oliver

Black Panther

BBFC 12A 2hrs 15mins

 

 


Ten years and seventeen (mostly enjoyable) instalments into its existence, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has introduced to a host of colourful characters; explored the far reaches of space and time and unknowable dimensions; dipped its toe into incredible technology, magic, mysticism and mythology; forged friendships and ripped them apart, created conflicts and uneasy alliances and established a blueprint upon which all prospective movie franchises aspire. If I have one problem with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is this: It exists within a bubble. The world/s it has created all serve the stories (and vice versa); it’s a parallel dimension upon which the real world (that is, our world) and real-world concerns never really seem to have any impact.

Until Black Panther, that is. The eighteenth instalment of the MCU creates a world that is very much based in our world, the problems our world face every day are what powers the film, move it forward and provide much food for thought long after the movie ends.

It is also beautiful to look upon, provides the best “villain” of all the Marvel movies so far and is a whole heap of fun to boot.


After the death of his father (as seen in Captain America: Civil War) Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his homeland, the isolated African nation of Wakanda, to take up his rightful mantle of King and Protector. To Western eyes Wakanda appears just another African nation of grasslands, jungle and scrub, the kind of place a certain world leader would refer to as a “S**thole”, but Wakanda hides a secret: It is actually the most technologically advanced country on Earth, blessed with an abundance of rare natural resources, not the least of which is Vibranium (the stuff used to make Captain America’s shield and Black Panther’s super suit). Vibranium is so valuable, in fact, that to control its mines and production could provide the means to fund a whole new empire, a global superpower greater than any which exist today.

Enter Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), an exiled Wakandan who has been living in the United States, who has seen the injustices, inequalities and prejudices perpetrated against people of colour both historical and contemporary. If Killmonger can kill T’Challa and take the throne of Wakanda he could create his own new black empire and take revenge on those nations he believes responsible for his people’s oppression.

The movie pivots on this central dialectic, an argument that is impossible to ignore and creates a moral quandary very few films have the bravery to explore. On one side you have a kingdom in the largest historical sense, a kind of Land That Democracy Forgot, hiding its wealth and technology, jealously guarding its secrets for the good of its people. On the other a world ravaged by the historical inequities of forced slavery, European colonialism, poverty and prejudice, a world in which Wakanda could have easily intervened and fought for the good of a continent instead of living in a self-imposed “Wexit”. It’s a genuinely thought-provoking thesis and, to be honest, something I never thought I’d see explored in a Superhero movie.

And while your mind is being blown by dialectical conundrums your eyes are assaulted by the kind of production design that comes along once in a blood-blue-moon. Wakanda is Afrofuturism writ large, it is at once a science-fiction wonderland of flying cars and monorails and super-suits and fancy gizmojigs but everything feels organically grown from ethnocentric, culturally authentic roots. Black Panther doesn’t stop there though, the world-building is incredibly thorough and believable, and I don’t just mean the architecture, there is more to explore in Wakanda’s culture than a single movie can possibly do justice to. From the politics of power through the veneration of its female warriors; from its spiritual Gnosticism through the ideas that preserve it and so, so much more.

What director Ryan Coogler has created here is a platform to not only explore further aspects of the MCU but a film upon which it is possible to investigate black politics, feminism, exile (self-imposed or otherwise), subjugation… should I go on?

But let’s not forget that this is first and foremost a superhero movie and, as such, it works really well (for the most part, unfortunately some rather shonky and weightless CGI mars the action sequences and, occasionally, the fights are difficult to follow with regards to who’s where and how things are happening). It’s just a shame Coogler didn’t bring the visceral and hard-hitting action over from his previous effort, Creed.

There’s terrific performances from the entire cast. Chadwick Boseman is suitably regal, his face occasionally softening as the young prince not quite ready to lead his people threatens to force its way to the surface. Michael B. Jordan is righteous anger given form, his body marked with a keloid scar tally of all his fallen enemies, an angry Simba who seriously just can’t wait to be king. There’s terrific support from Forrest Whittaker, Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman and (surprise Oscar Nominee) Daniel Kaluuya but special mention has to go to Lupita Nyong’o as T’Challa’s bodyguard and all round badass Nakia (like Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie from Thor: Ragnarok I’d happily pay good money to see her in her own spin-off movie).

Black Panther is a seriously good movie. It’s not the movie I expected just one instalment away from the culmination of where the MCU has been heading for ten years (Avengers: Infinity War Part One lands in May, if you didn’t know) and, while for some this may come as a bit of a disappointment, I really enjoyed the change of pace.

*They don’t show end credit sequences at preview screenings because, you know, spoilers, but I have been assured there is one mid credits and one at the very end so don’t leave your seat too early.

Andy Oliver

Mystery Donor Stuns Rough Sleeper Group

Colchester Rough Sleepers Group’s plans to create a mobile homeless shelter to help the town’s rough sleepers have taken a gigantic step forward after a mystery benefactor contacted us and donated £25,000.

The money has now been used to purchase a second-hand vehicle which we took possession of yesterday, with enough left over to tax and insure it and possibly buy a support vehicle.

This incredible act of generosity came out of the blue after recent coverage of our plans in the Gazette and has stunned and delighted us all.  We had been planning to raise money over the coming months to buy a vehicle and had hoped to be in a position to purchase one in the autumn, ready to be converted and put into use next year. But thanks to our mystery donor we have been able to buy a vehicle we had been keeping an eye on and bring our plans dramatically forwards.”

The vehicle is a double decker touring coach, rather than a double decker bus as originally planned, which we have named Chariot 180. We decided a touring coach would better suit our needs. People will be sleeping on the coach so safety is of paramount importance and our coach has two flights of stairs and emergency doors which would aid evacuation in an emergency. Also, unlike a double decker bus, it already has a water storage tank and plumbing for a toilet, air conditioning and an entertainment system, and as a bonus there is a large storage area underneath to store supplies and residents’ belongings.”


One of the group’s founder members, Pete Hope formerly of GO4 Enterprises who run a pay it forwards breakfast scheme for rough sleepers from the Café on the Rec on Old Heath Recreation ground, said “Like many towns and cities Colchester has a rough sleeper problem and in spite of the amazing work done by organisations such as the Emergency Night Shelter and Beacon House there simply aren’t enough beds to get them all off the streets. Chariot 180 will help with that by working with and supporting existing services, and additionally we plan to use it as a drop in centre during the day. Chariot 180 will literally be helping people to turn their lives around.”

The group, which we founded last year to maximise the impact of the support and community spirit already in place to help rough sleepers, received another boost recently when The Right Reverend Roger Morris Bishop of Colchester offered to become its our patron. We are currently applying for charity status and fundraising will continue, initially to raise money to convert the coach, and long-term to support the project on a day to day basis. We believe we will be able to launch their mobile shelter ready for next winter.

Simon Crow, Vic Flores, Mike Clark & Pete Hope from the Colchester Rough Sleepers Group aborad the coach

Local signage company and vehicle wrappers Premier Signs are donating their time and materials to produce distinctive graphics for the coach which should soon become a familiar sight on the streets on Colchester, and the group would like to hear from any individuals or businesses who would like to make a donation or help raise money, and longer term will need sites where we can park the coach overnight and volunteers to man it.

Anyone interested can contact Colchester Rough Sleepers Group via our Facebook page, email hello@crsgroup.org or by phoning us on 07379 987181.

Simon Crow

 

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

BBFC 12A 2hrs 32mins

 

 

Full disclosure: I have never been a Star Wars fan. I don’t own any toys; I have never read any of the extended universe novels; no posters adorn my walls; the prequels (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and The Revenge of the Sith) didn’t upset me, only bored me; I don’t own any of the dvd’s; I even had to look up the names of the prequels just now.

This, of course, does not mean I don’t recognise their value or, that in any way, I dismiss them as fan-serving fluff. The job of a film reviewer is to try to honestly convey to the reader what they’ve seen up there on the screen, to give a completely unbiased opinion based upon a number of criteria (such as storytelling, direction, acting and technical merits), to be as informed as possible and to try not to bore said reader in the process. Oh, and avoid spoilers… yes, definitely avoid spoilers.

I tell you all of this for one simple reason. I want you to know that Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is not just a great Star Wars movie, it is a really, really great movie in its own right: it achieves exactly what it sets out to do and does so in a way that never is boring, flabby or uninteresting; moves its characters and plot forward in a satisfying and, sometimes, moving arcs; it stays true to the series ethos and mythos whilst introducing new and interesting riffs upon them and, along the way, it corrects a course-direction that the prequels (and even The Force Awakens to some extent) managed to muddle and muddy.

Yes, The Last Jedi works… with a few caveats.

Picking up directly where Episode VII: The Force Awakens ended Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found the now reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on Ahch-To and seeks answers to not only her heritage but to her place in the universe. The Resistance, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher), is on the run from The First Order and fiercely outnumbered. New alliances must be forged and old questions beg answers.

So far, so Empire Strikes Back.

Where The Force Awakens was basically A New Hope remastered, The Last Jedi shares a whole heap of DNA with The Empire Strikes Back. But, unlike its predecessor, Jedi manages to shine despite its familiarity and not because of it. It’s the difference between a Woolworth’s Top of the Pops collection and something like Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions… (the former being a cover version album, the latter taking the familiar and creating something new and exciting with it). Replace Ahch-To with the Dagobah scenes of Luke’s training; the neo-Vegas glitz of Canto Bight with Cloud City; the shock revelation of Rey’s true ancestry and cliff-hanger ending and you’ve got Empire 1.2. What writer/director Rian Johnson manages to achieve though is something always fresh, sometimes surprising and, ultimately, emotionally satisfying.

New layers have been added to familiar characters like Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and even Luke Skywalker. Existing characters are expanded upon giving them both motivation and weight, specifically General Hux (Domhall Gleeson), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) – a villain so repulsive he could easily have risen to power wearing a red “Make The Galaxy Great Again” baseball cap. New characters are introduced that will immediately become fan favourites like Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), DJ (Benicio Del Toro) and purple-haired Resistance fleet Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern). There’s plenty of spectacular battles, an all-timer light sabre duel, emotional highs and devastating losses. There’s even a new shade of grey introduced into what is, essentially, a universe of black hats versus white hats that, if carried forward and expanded upon, will move the Star Wars Universe in a deeper, more nuanced direction.

I’m desperately trying not to give too much away but I have to address the elephant in the room: That The Last Jedi is the slam-bang in the middle of a three act story and, as such, it struggles to be anything but the set-up for the final chapter. This is a problem that all trilogies face and, though it is probably the best instalment since Empire, it’s difficult to judge it as its own thing. The whole Canto Bight storyline will become clearer in the context of the whole, I’m sure, but here it feels slightly crow-barred in and excessive to the needs of the story despite introducing new characters Rose and DJ and that much needed shade of grey. It’s not that the Canto Bight sequences are bad, far from it, but here they tend to feel like something you’d get in an extended edition dvd rather than an essential part of the story.

There’s also a fear that new elements of the film have been added simply for their merchandising potential than as necessary plot points. I’m thinking specifically about the Porgs (cute rabbit/penguin hybrid critters, plushie-toy-friendly creations coming to a Christmas stocking near you) which add little to the plot but potentially enormous earnings beyond the movie.

The tragic loss of Carrie Fisher hangs heavy over The Last Jedi and it would take a hard heart not to break over her final scene as Leia, a scene that even without the actress’s death would have audiences reaching for the handkerchiefs. It’s the kind of emotion we should have had in the previous episode for Han Solo but were denied through awful writing and direction, but alas.

So, did Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi make a fan of me? Only for its two and a half hour running time, but during that time I was as thrilled and invested as any fanboy. It’s a transportive experience, the kind that only great cinema can offer and, trust me, this is great cinema.

Andy Oliver

 

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for December 2017

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

Classics

Celebrate, rejoice, rise up and praise –  the festive season has arrived!

This month is full of music celebrating Christmas with a cornucopia of concerts – some crammed full with carols.

Here Comes Christmas is the popular annual concert of music for voices, brass quintet and organ held in the Edwardian splendour of Colchester’s Town Hall. Colchester Choral Society, conducted by Ian Ray, will be joined by children from both Birch Primary and Heathlands Primary Schools and accompanied by organist Dr Gillian Ward-Russell. After the concert there is a chance to pop to the Mayor’s Parlour for some mulled wine and festive treats. Sunday December 10 at 4pm in Colchester’s Moot Hall.

Tickets: £8 from Manns Music, Colchester.

Next Saturday (16 December), Gillian Ward-Russell will be conducting the Maldon Choral Society in a Christmas Carol Concert featuring the choir of Elm Green School.  Saturday December 16 at 7.30pm in All Saints’ Church, Maldon.

Tickets: £7 on the door.

Often considered to be the music for Christmas, Handel’s popular oratorio, Messiah, is sung in full or part at this time year. On Saturday 9 December, the Choir of St Mary’s Maldon will be joined by its favourite orchestra, Pegasus Baroque, in a full performance of the famous oratorio conducted by Colin Baldy. The performance is on Saturday 9 December at 7.30pm in St Mary’s Church, Church Street, Maldon. CM9 5HP.

Tickets are available from the Maldon Tourist Board (01621 856503) and on Eventbrite.

Also on Saturday 9 December Philip Smith will be directing the St Botolph’s Music Society Orchestra from the keyboard in music by J S Bach. Scarlatti’s Christmas Cantata and the world premiere of Nativity Thoughts, composed by the Society’s founder Colin Nicholson, will be performed by the society’s choir and orchestra.  Saturday December 9 at St Botolph’s Church, Colchester from 7.30pm.

Tickets: £12 www.sbms.org.uk

Conductor Patrick McCarthy and his orchestra, the Colchester Philharmonic, will be accompanying Christmas concerts on the next two Saturdays.  On December 9 they will be at Witham Public Hall with Witham Choral presenting Sing Christmas! at 7.30 p.m. including excerpts from Messiah, audience carols and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols with baritone soloist Alastair Merry.

Tickets £12 and £5 (full-time education) at the door or phone 0345 017 8717.

On 16 December the Harwich & Dovercourt Choral Society will perform Messiah Part One with mezzo Elaine Henson and famous carols by Holst and Rutter plus carols for audience. The concert starts at 7.00 p.m. in St Nicholas’ Church, Harwich.

Tickets are £12 and £3 (full-time education) at the door.

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

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