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Friday, 31 December 2010

2010 Annual Cultural Tales of Two Cities Awards

Best Film

The Secret In Their Eyes - directed by Juan Jose Campenella

Absolutely deserved its best foreign picture Oscar. Classy film noir. Argentinian romance and crime – a knock out combination in my book.

Runners up

Made In Dagenham – a winning mixture of politics, style, and pure entertainment.

Inception – very clever but not too much for its own good.

A Prophet –violent but also classy and intelligent and thoroughly gripping.

Best Play

1984 – Royal Exchange
Full marks for this spellbinding and terrifying adaption of Orwell’s classic novel.

Runners up

Hamlet – National Theatre – a brilliant performance from Rory Kinnear deserved all the praise it received.

Macbeth – Globe Theatre – imaginative staging of a great tragedy.

Best Exhibition

Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead – British Museum
Made the Pharaohs and their beliefs come to life brilliantly.

Runner Up

Picasso – Peace and Freedom – Tate Liverpool
An unusual take on the master – beautifully done.

Best Book

How to Live – A Life of Montaigne by – Sarah Bakewell
A fascinating portrait of a man unafraid to express just how he feels – totally engaging in every minute detail.

Runners Up

The End of the Party – Andrew Rawnsley - in case you hadn’t realised it – New Labour sucks.

Alone in Berlin – Hans Fallada - a long lost classic which is still just as moving and revelatory today as it was when it was written.

Best Gig

I Am Kloot – Manchester Cathedral The masters at home – total perfection.

Runners Up

Belle and Sebastian – Manchester Apollo
An unexpectedly brilliant evening.

I Am Kloot, Bristol Thekla – my newly discovered brilliant ones again.

Thanks for continuing to read my blog in 2010 - I hope you enjoy reading it just as much as, sadly, I really enjoy writing it.

Happy New Year one and all......

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Theatre - A Christmas Carol - Library Theatre

Star rating – 8/10

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a bit of Dickens, and the Library Theatre’s Christmas productions are fast becoming an annual staple for me too. It’s just so refreshing to be able to take children to see high quality productions, which are classic tales and such good festive entertainment too. This year the Library is in its temporary home at the Lowry, where it is likely to remain for a few more Christmas’s yet.

And Rachel O’Riordan has directed a worthy successor in ‘A Christmas Carol’ to last year’s ‘Grimm Tales’, which she also directed. O’Riordan is leaving soon for Australia to take up her new post as Creative Director of Perth Theatre, so this was a great present to leave us with. The production stays satisfyingly faithful to the original Dickens novella, no need to mess around with brilliance, not that that stops some from trying.

Ebenezer Scrooge, makes his familiar journey during one Christmas Eve night with the three spirits, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come, that change his miserly attitude forever. The set, designed by Gary McCann, makes clever use of the limited space, and the ghouls are just frightening enough, but not over egged, to hit the right note. The acting is great including David Beames as Scrooge, and Jack Lord, in his second Library Christmas outing, as the put upon clerk Bob Cratchit.

One minor quibble would be that the Cratchit family did not look particularly down at heel, and Tiny Tim’s clothes were a bit too fine, but that did not spoil the enjoyment of this great Christmas treat. Another fine antidote to the commerciality of the season, and the excesses of some productions –A Christmas Carol is another seasonal triumph rather than a turkey for the Library.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Film - The Way Back - directed by Peter Weir

Star rating - 6/10

There is no denying the impressiveness of the landscapes in this offering from Peter Weir, but from the director of such dramatically intriguing gems such as ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ I did expect a little more. It is the story, true or otherwise, which is somewhat disputed, of seven escapees from the incredibly harsh Siberian gulag prison under the Soviet Union of Stalin’s leadership.

The men battle against themselves, and the elements to survive the harshest climates, from frozen Siberian wastelands, to desert sandstorms, to cross from Siberia on weary foot right through the Himalayas to India. The group are led by Janusz, played by Jim Sturgess, and also include those veterans of movie making Colin Farrell, who is cast in a somewhat clich├ęd fashion as a lumpen criminal, and Ed Harris, as the elder statesman of the escape party.

The trouble with the film is that, as we are told in the opening frame, seven men battle against all odds in this escape bid, and only three make it through to the other side, the audience is inevitably busy ticking off the numbers to see what happens to the other four along the way. The plot is also a bit clunky, as when they meet a young girl who miraculously uses her feminine wiles to get the, up until then, fairly silent men to open up to each other and start to care and share a whole lot more.

I guess apart from the stunning scenery, there is not a whole lot you can do with the plot – they escape – they walk - and walk – and walk – and then make it through to freedom. As an escape from the Christmas festivities this film is harmless entertainment, but as an in depth piece of film making it is not particularly outstanding.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Films - Catfish - directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost

Star rating – 5/10

Catfish is following a couple of trends in movie making right now, firstly, the transfer of the Facebook generation to celluloid, as seen recently in the wonderful The Social Network; and secondly, the documentary/mockumentary – is it real or is it fake - film school such as Joaquin Phoenix’s latest hoax that had everyone talking for about two minutes.

This time it is the exploits of a 24 year old New York photographer, Nev Schulman that are the subject matter here. He has a photo published in a newspaper and three months later gets a painting of it back through the mail from an unknown 8 year old girl living in Michigan called Abby. They strike up a Facebook friendship, which leads in turn to a friendship with her mother Angela, and also to a quite intense on line romantic attachment with her beautiful older sister Megan.

Nev’s brother, Rel Schulman, and friend Henry Joost are film makers, and they think that this has the makings of a great movie, so Nev agrees to let them film him 24/7 as the story unfolds. But everything it not as it seems. Nev’s doubts are first raised when he realises that both Angela and Megan are passing off songs from the internet by other recording artists as their own to impress him. He has no idea why they would do this, but starts to be more on his guard. And other things start not to add up too.

The three guys have to go to a dance festival across America, and decide to take the relatively short detour on the way back of another plane journey and few hundred miles drive (this is America!) to Michigan to find out what is really going on with Nev’s new on line friends. Far be it from me to spoil anyone else’s fun – so I won’t give the game away about the rest of the film. But I have to say that I was looking for something a little more unpredictable here after the hype the film has received. I am not sure if it is a true story, I suspect not, and frankly I don’t care much either. I don’t think it is all that clever, engaging or entertaining. I was constantly waiting for it to get more interesting, and sadly, for me, it didn’t. Not a patch on The Social Network – which is for my money a much better tale about the Facebook generation if you haven’t seen it yet.