Film Review: Annie

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Mary Clare Waireri on 20 Dec 2014

Will Gluck’s modern Annie updates the story to the streets of Harlem where the eroine is living in a foster home and looking for the parents that abandoned her as a child. Show the rest of this post…

A chance encounter with wealthy businessman and mayoral candidate, Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), transports Annie to a world of wealth and privilege when Stacks fosters Annie to soften his public image and increase his chances of being elected. Predictably, antics ensue and Stacks’ cold heart is eventually warmed by his relationship with Annie.

The latest production of Annie courted controversy last year when it was first announced that Quvenzhané Wallis, an African American actress, would be cast in the leading role – which had in the 1983 and 1999 versions been played by white actresses. Naysayers needn’t have troubled themselves – it is actually Wallis’ streetwise, charming performance that breathes spirit and some semblance of edge into otherwise saccharine, sentimental source material. In essence, this is a re-boot not a re-make, which means that it feels refreshing and relevant to a modern audience. The original 1920s orphanage is exchanged for the run-down foster care system in contemporary New York, Depression-era politics are exchanged for cynical media manipulation and political scheming and songs about the New Deal and president Hoover have been dispensed with for bubbly pop treatments of It’s a Hard-Knock life and Tomorrow. While in the original story Annie is taken in by industrialist Oliver Warbuck, she is now rescued Jamie Foxx’s slick political climber and mobile phone magnate Will Stacks – all these touches nod to the original material while adding character and humour.

Nonetheless there are a still some bum notes. Cameron Diaz puts in a hammy performance as drunken orphanage supervisor Miss Hannigan, that at times borders on pantomime. Also while not entirely sickly sweet, the direction is often lighter and brighter than Wallis’ nuanced, mature performance deserves. Critics clinging to earlier productions and bemoaning casting choices miss the point, what Annie really needed was more bite, not a different leading lady. For instance, it would have been interesting to see Gluck pull back the rose-tinted glasses to create a darker, more hard-nosed world befitting such an intrepid modern heroine. Likewise Gluck seems to shy away from the film’s more poignant moments. The moment Annie reveals that she never learned to read, or the scene in which she is falsely told that Will Stacks sold her to actors pretending to be her parents, are both potentially  heartbreaking but are glossed over too quickly to have any real meaning. Annie has a fun, fizzing feel-good factor but, unfortunately, little in the way of lasting resonance.

2/5

Film Review: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Sam Bathe on 19 Dec 2014

The obligatory threequel in a series that barely had enough steam for first outing alone, Secret of the Tomb stretches the ‘museum exhibits that come alive at night’ idea to breaking point, yet in doing so, manages to provide a pleasing sense of closure for the franchise. Show the rest of this post…

With the magical tablet of Ahkmenrah losing it’s power, night guard Larry (stiller) takes the gang overseas to the British Museum, and seek Ahkmenrah’s parents, Merenkahre and Shepseheret, for help.

There’s nothing new in Secret of the Tomb and the narrative and jokes are thoroughly retreading the same ground, but this film is still a massive improvement on Museum‘s second outing. By this point, Ben Stiller knows the character inside out, and his leading man Larry is much of what’s good about the film. Here he plays a second character in neanderthal Laa with equal aplomb.

The likes of the late Robin Williams and Steve Coogan keep the film ticking over with charismatic segments, while Rebel Wilson is her usual jokey self even if some of here character’s stereotypes quickly grow old. As dastardly villain Sir Lancelot, Dan Stevens is typically dashing too.

There is a wider problem with the comedic tone of the film though and the dumb humour and slapstick didn’t work for me. Frequently too juvenile for adult viewers, there’s nothing clever in the script, just people slip-sliding around amid the toilet jokes.

This is a passable job of the ‘sequel on the road’ plot which will be a lot more fun for younger audiences. It is nice to see the characters round off their franchise arcs, and here giving a central role to Larry’s son (Gisondo) brings an extra element to the film. But the feeling upon the closing credits is more one of relief; with the plot nicely tied up, hopefully Shawn Levy gets  the hint and finally moves on to try new things with his career. Though it’s generally been worth the ride, it’s time for the dust to finally settle on these characters.

2/5

DVHCo’s hand-made leatherworks match streamlined function with a rugged industrial form

Posted in Products, Style
By Sam Bathe on 18 Dec 2014

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All hand-made in his studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Derek VanHeule’s DVHCo label was created out of a desire for products that are strong, simple and well thought-out. Making leather goods for everyday use and everyday people, DVHCo products are necessity-based with no extra frills, making high quality affordable and attainable. Show the rest of this post…

The initial run of DVHCo products includes six products, all made from hand-dyed, vegetable tan leather. The Snap Wallet and Billfold Wallet are both hand-stitched with heavy-waxed nylon thread and military grade SK-30 snaps, the Key Fob features a black over steel button stud, the Belt features holes are spaced closer together for a more personal fit plus a beveled inside edge for comfort, the strong and simple Glasses Case includes a lens protection cloth and the Guitar Straps which are 1″ wide and made to custom lengths. Starting at $35 for the Key Fob, all of DVHCo’s products are available from their online store: www.thedvhco.com

You can follow DVHCo on Instragram here: www.instagram.com/thedvhco

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Temujin Doran documents life in the South Pole station start-up crew in Wes Anderson-inspired documentary ‘Welcome to Union Glacier’

Posted in Film, Short Films, Travel
By Sam Bathe on 17 Dec 2014

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About the small team of people who live and work on the Union Glacier during the Antarctic summer, filmmaker Temujin Doran‘s team was attached to the ill-fated Scott Expedition but after becoming stranded at the camp, began to document daily life on the station. Something of an anti-documentary – they don’t break any records, it’s just simple day-to-day activities – Doran is heavily influenced by Wes Anderson, borrowing his signature centre-framed shots and quirky pull aways. It’s fascinating that even on the South Pole, what people most look forward to their day, is lunch.

Cyclist director Thom Heald proclaims his love for hill climb racing in short ‘Up Up Up’

Posted in Bikes, Film, Short Films
By Sam Bathe on 16 Dec 2014

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An ode to hill climb racing, cyclist and director Thom Heald spends his autumn weekends on England’s quiet country roads for a shot at amateur cycling glory. And to top it off, he rides a fixed. A niche within a niche, the sport lives on through a hardcore band of amateur riders, stripping off their lycra after the finish line to stand roadside and make as much noise as possible for the next competitor.

Panda Bear encounters a magical plant in the mesmerising video for new single ‘Boys Latin’

Posted in Music, Music Videos
By Sam Bathe on 15 Dec 2014

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Discovering a magical plant in the middle of a lush parkland, it sets a man into a technicolour daze, with hypnotic shapes billowing from his every limb. One of the most mesmerising videos of the year, directors Isaiah Saxon and Sean Hellfritsch “tried to bring out the vibe of the alternating melody that Noah is singing”, the dancing spurts of colourful flora playing on the emotional meaning of each particular shape and form. Panda Bear’s upcoming fifth studio album, Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, is out 12th January 2015. Hopefully some more great videos next year too.

Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 12 Dec 2014

The subtitle of the first in Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films adapting JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit was An Unexpected Journey – a play on the opening chapter of the book. It wasn’t particularly unexpected that Jackson returned to Middle Earth, but it was, at least initially, surprising that we were to be given three films. Show the rest of this post…

Like Dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), who in this film becomes maddened by greed, distributors Warner Bros simply couldn’t resist the temptation of another money-spinning three-film extravaganza. Predictably, that decision has hurt the artistic credentials of Jackson’s new epic adaptation. We are lucky, I suppose, that Jackson is comfortable enough in Tolkien’s world that the films have not failed entirely, though it is equally true that Jackson’s vision – essentially pumping up The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings proportions – has caused problems in itself. One wonders where we’d be if Guillermo del Toro had been kept on as director.

I went into The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies no longer expecting an adaptation of the book, so much as a continuation of the uneven, padded out, but generally still enjoyable trilogy which began a couple of years ago. In that respect I got precisely what I was expecting.

At two hours and 20 minutes, The Hobbit 3 is the shortest of the three by some distance, but it doesn’t begin particularly well. Smaug the dragon is reintroduced and dispatched within the opening 10 minutes, then there’s a good deal of set up for the titular battle, which involves a number of parties all interested in laying claim to the mountain, Erebor, which Thorin and Bilbo’s (Martin Freeman) party have just recaptured. While Thorin’s sense of honour dwindles in the face of his mounting greed and selfishness, armies gather outside, and there’s a bit of politicking while the various parties decide who they’d most like to violently slaughter. This stuff is fairly enjoyable, as the key players – including the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), leader of the Elves Thranduil (Lee Pace) and Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) – sort out their allegiances. Meanwhile Bilbo (Martin Freeman), increasingly a supporting character in the trilogy named after him, acts as a sort of go-between until the action kicks off.

When the battle begins, we’re reminded on occasion that Jackson can do big set pieces, and do them well, but actually the fighting is rather anodyne, perhaps because the various parties aren’t hugely well established. The battle begins to drag a little, but thankfully Jackson refocuses his film in the final half an hour to focus on individual battles, and individual outcomes. This is a gratifying and ultimately rewarding decision. Most of the best stuff in The Hobbit 3 comes at the end, which leaves a pleasant taste as the trilogy grinds to a halt with a touching nod to the Lord of the Rings films. I was reminded in these final scenes of how good Jackson can be at working character moments into action films, and pleasingly a decent amount of characters get enjoyable goodbyes.

Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo has probably been the element of Jackson’s films which most closely adheres to the book, and it’s still fun to watch him in the role, even though the films abandoned telling things from his perspective some time ago. The trilogy has simply become too big for its diminutive hero.

Generally speaking, Jackson and his two co-scriptwriters, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, do a decent job with the script (the three of them, plus occasional others, have scripted all six of Jackson’s Middle Earth epics), but there are a few moments of pretty risible dialogue in here. The scripts of this trilogy have never been as sharp or as powerful as those of the previous one, nor have the technical aspects ever risen to quite the same levels. The CGI here, while impressive in places, still lacks the beauty Jackson captured previously, and the soundtrack, while again strong, doesn’t ever reach the same heights.

So it’s pretty much more of the same, but to expect otherwise would’ve been wishful thinking. Thankfully, Jackson bows out of Middle Earth on a relative  high, and fleetingly reminds us how great he once was in this world. Three stars would’ve been four if the first hour and a half could’ve matched that rousing final act.

3/5

Pixar look at what goes on inside your mind in the first full trailer for the smart and hilarious ‘Inside Out’

Posted in Film, Previews, Trailers
By Sam Bathe on 11 Dec 2014

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The first of two eagerly-anticipated releases from Pixar in 2015, Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc and Up) and Ronnie del Carmen’s (Dug’s Special Mission) Inside Out steps insides the minds of pre-teen Riley and her two parents. Follows the young family who uprooting their Midwest life for a new start in San Francisco, though a teaser in the summer let on little about the characters of the film, here we’re introduced to the snappy and hilarious interplay between emotions inside the mind and our failed attempts to communicate with each other.

Starring Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Diane Lane, Lewis Black, Kyle MacLachlan and Phyllis Smith, Inside Out is shaping up to be another Pixar classic when it hits theatres in the States on 19th June 2015, and 24th July 2015 in the UK.

The London List Abroad: Ecuador’s Quilotoa Crater Overlook offers spectacular views over an 800-year-old volcano craterThe London List

By Sam Bathe on 10 Dec 2014

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Deep in the Ecuadorian Andes and some 12,000 feet above sea level, the Quilotoa Crater Overlook teeters over the edge of a collapsed volcano and the stunning Quilotoa Lake. The glass-fronted double platform is made from pre-weathered teak, designed to compliment and blend into its surroundings, and offers two viewpoints from either the top deck “producing an almost vertigo-like sensation” or the lower stairs, “a space for passive viewing.” A project from the Ecuadorian tourist board, the Quilotoa Crater Overlook supports the indigenous Shalalá community who run the area’s facilities and was designed by architects Javier Mera, Jorge Andrade and Daniel Moreno.

A house tuner provides clients with an odd service in Michael Tyburski’s offbeat drama ‘Palimpsest’

Posted in Film, Short Films
By Sam Bathe on 9 Dec 2014

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Starring Joel Nagle and Kathleen Wise, offbeat short Palimpsest follows a successful house tuner who provides clients with a bizarre form of therapy. Visiting houses to fine tune their living space, Michael Tyburski’s film was co-written by producer Ben Nabors and is a bizarre yet captivating short about the little quirks that make us tick. Beautifully shot by Todd Banhazl, the visual style of the film really sets the tone from the start.

FAN THE FIRE is a digital magazine about lifestyle and creative culture. Launching back in 2005 as a digital publication about Sony’s PSP handheld games console, we’ve grown and evolved now covering the arts and lifestyle, architecture, design and travel.

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