Sunday, November 30, 2014

advent: we who still wait

I’ve been involved in an Advent project with Proost in collaboration with the very talented Ian Adams, Chris Goan and Si Smith. Si has been the “ideas man” behind the project and writers/poets Ian and Chris have put together some powerful words and reflections for each day of Advent… my contribution has been to provide 100 supporting photographs (four images per day). After Si had suggested 24 daily themes, it was really fascinating to see what Ian, Chris+I independently produced by the end of the process – and how they worked so well together.
I’ve never been involved in anything quite like this before and so it was interesting to “hand over” the completed sections to Proost and for them to put them together in a downloadable resource. Actually, I have to admit that I also found the very end of the process somewhat frustrating! Unsurprisingly, the final layout certainly isn’t how I would have laid out the images and text. For example, I would have had gaps between the small photographs (and would have also have arranged them in a square format) and I’d have liked to have been able to see all the daily texts AND the images on the same page (or double-page)… but, hey, what do I know! Afterall, Proost are the experts in this field and have years of experience behind them.
The poems and reflections are just great and the resource is available here at a ridiculously low price of £3.50/$5.75 (or the bonus version – with pics – is £5/$8). A book version is also due out soon.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

cinema marathon: “2001 – a space odyssey” and “I am ali”

Yesterday was definitely a “first” for me – I went to the cinema TWICE! Actually, that’s not quite true, I only went once… but stayed to watch two films. As I had a relatively free Friday, I’d already decided to go to the Watershed to see “I am Ali” (Clare Lewins excellent documentary on Muhammad Ali) at the end of the afternoon, but then next noticed that Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 – A Space Odyssey” was being shown straight after lunch.
So, somewhat ridiculously, I decided that I go to both!
2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY: I saw “2001” when it first came out in 1968. I can remember being “encouraged” to see it by our amazing art tutor, Tom Porter, at Oxford School of Architecture (actually, it was much more like a three-line whip!). It IS an amazing film (even if you set aside the storyline)… and you have to keep reminding yourself that it was made only 5 years after the first man-on-the-moon, before the internet and long before the world of personal computers and mobile phones. Yes, understandably, there are sections of the film that now look a little “clunky” (eg. push-button computer technology, voice recognition, trays of dehydrated food etc) but, overall, 47 years later(!), it’s still remarkably fresh and visually stunning.
I AM ALI: For me, like lots of other people, Muhammad Ali is a real hero of mine and so I was very keen to see Clare Lewins’ film. I suspect it’s quite easy to make a “bad” documentary about Ali, but pretty difficult to make a “good” one. Fortunately, as far as I was concerned, this IS a very good one. One of its key features is the access Lewins had to Ali’s family and, in particular, to the audio recordings/audio journals that Ali himself had made of conversations with his children. Lewins had originally made a documentary for the BBC a few years ago and it was during this time that she met Gene Kilroy, Ali’s former business manager. During this time, she’d met several members of Ali’s family and had effectively become accepted as a member of the “inner circle”. An absolutely fascinating film… Ali is truly the Greatest!
PS: So, not only did I spend from 2pm until 7.30pm in the cinema, but I also sat in the same seat for both films!! Sad, sad man!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

the ukulele orchestra of great britain

Ruth+I went along to Colston Hall last night to enjoy a wonderful evening of music+fun with the brilliant Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. It was the second time I’d seen them and I just love their quirky “take” on songs. Over their 29 year history, they’ve obviously established a large repertoire of favourite tunes which were duly acclaimed by the knowledgeable, enthusiastic audience (you got the firm feeling that almost everyone there had seen them before!). They're brilliant musicians and singers... and very funny. 
One of those lovely, happy evenings of live performance where you just knew you could relax – safe in the knowledge that you were in the hands of supreme professionals.
Photo: quick snap from last night’s concert.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

the imitation game

Moira and I went along to the Watershed this afternoon to see Morten Tyldum’s acclaimed “The Imitation Game” – the story of how the Nazis’ WW2 “unbreakable” Enigma machine codes were cracked at Bletchley Park. Actually, it’s the story of Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) – the brilliant, but troubled, fragile mathematician and cryptanalyst - who was credited for the success of what must have seemed, at times, like an impossible mission… and how, subsequently, his wartime achievements counted for nothing when his homosexuality came to light. You probably already know how the story pans out, but it’s probably best if I say no more…
I thought Cumberbatch was quite, quite magnificent. Simply stunning.
In my view, it will take an absolutely exceptional performance to prevent him from winning an Oscar.
Although I was familiar with the basic, fascinating story (and the outrageous and sad way in which the authorities in the UK used to treat homosexuals less than a generation ago), I thought the overall film was excellent too – high drama, humour and very good all round performances by all the cast (although I felt Keira Knightly was probably a bit too glamorous to play the part of Joan Clarke!).
So, accept no imitations (gosh, that’s clever isn’t it!).
As far as I’m concerned, you can forget Timothy Spall and “Mr Turner”, Benedict Cumberbatch and “The Imitation Game” is probably the best individual performance and best film I’ve seen this year!
PS: But, of course, what do I know? I’ve just checked out some reviews and they’re pretty mixed (except that there appears to be a general consensus that Cumberbatch was brilliant) – The Independent gave it 4 stars, while The Guardian and Telegraph both only gave it 3 stars.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The kingdom of dreams and madness

I went along to the Watershed yesterday evening to see this fascinating documentary (by Mami Sunada) about Studio Ghibli. Although I’d only come across Studio Ghibli fairly recently (yes, I know… I really DO need to keep up), I’d been familiar with their graphic images for some time – without actually knowing anything about their source. Studio Ghibli – just in case you didn’t know – has made several iconic animation films over the past 30 years or so (eg. “Spirited Away”, “My Neighbour Totoro” and “Porco Rosso”). This is a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their Tokyo studio. It might sound like a strange subject for a feature film (rather than a TV documentary), but I found it absolutely compelling and really rather inspiring. I thought 72 year-old Miyazaki came across as a particularly interesting character – charismatic, impish, melancholic, creative, entertaining – working six days a week, 10 hours a day (he’s involved in river clearance on the seventh day!). Wonderful to watch him (and other members of his team) actually DRAWING images and storyboards. I loved that Miyazaki spent time, EVERY day, on the studio’s roof garden – and encouraged other staff to do the same – just looking at the SAME views but SEEING changes, different skies, nature, different seasons, roofscapes, people moving etc etc.  
Miyazaki announced his retirement earlier in 2014 and, as a result (in August 2014), the studio has temporarily halted other film production pending restructuring.
It might only appeal to a minority audience, but it’s an absolutely captivating and encouraging film.
Photo (left to right): Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli director), Toshio Suzuki (producer and former Studio Ghibli president) and Isao Takahata (Studio Ghibli director).

Saturday, November 01, 2014

mr turner

I went along to the Watershed yesterday lunchtime to see their first showing of Mike Leigh’s film “Mr Turner”, starring Timothy Spall in the title role (I managed to avoid queuing for the special Halloween showing of “ET” just along the corridor!!).
Joseph Mallard William Turner is certainly one of my favourite artists and so I went along with high expectations. But, I have to say, I actually found it all a little disappointing - unremarkable even. Yes, the acting was excellent, the cinematography was beautiful, the pace and the direction were perfect and the film was enjoyable, but that’s about all. Timothy Spall is always good value but, actually, his portrayal of JMW Turner was exactly as I’d imagined it would be (ok, so this means they judged the casting to perfection – but, if I told you he was playing an ageing Turner, you’d probably be able to conjure up the same image too… a rather rougher version of Lord Emsworth in “Blandings” combined with a bit of his Winston Churchill in "The King's Speech" for example?). Yes, I appreciate that he won the “Best Actor” award at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in this film, but I thought it was all just a little predictable. As far as the scenes showing him painting and sketching, I found them totally unconvincing.
However, I’ve just read a couple of reviews of the film and, once again, I’m out on a limb (so what’s new?)… Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian) and Robbie Collin (The Telegraph) have both given the film a five star rating… I would have only given it a three, or a four at best!
Oh dear… but, what do I know!?