Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Local Cinema Round-Up for 11th to 19th February 2015 by Peter Clarke

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

Lancaster sees a good selection of new movies over this valentine period. There is romance, of a sort, with Fifty Shades of Grey (18) and a more light hearted take on love with The Wedding Ringer (15). In addition science fiction adventure is represented with Project Almanac (12A) and family animation includes a re-telling of the story of Snow White in Fairytale: Story of the Seven Dwarves (PG). Finally we have musical drama with Whiplash (15), which is being screened for the first time in Lancaster though it was actually released in January. Children will appreciate the screening of existing and a new episode of Peppa Pig in Peppa Pig: The Golden Boots (U).

Losses this week include Annie; Foxcatcher; Mortdecai and The Gambler. Also the following films look to be near the end of their screening: American Sniper; Birdman; Mr Turner; The Theory of Everything; The Woman in Black: Angel of Death and Unbroken.

Films that have returned to the screen during this period are Boyhood; The Book of Life and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

High culture is rather sparse during this period, thought we do have RSC Live: Love's Labour's Lost and NT: Treasure Island.

Films of note this week are the excellent, if tongue in cheek, drama Kingsman: The Secret Service and family animation as Shaun the Sheep moves from the TV to the big screen. Also of note are two documentaries. One is a telling of the scandal of NSA snooping with Citizenfour, the second a 'look behind the scenes' with National Gallery.

Reviews

American Sniper
Director: Clint Eastwood
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Ben Reed, Luke Grimes.
This is the story of Chris Kyle (Cooper), the most lethal sniper in American History with 160 confirmed kills. Following the attacks of 9/11 Kyle enlisted, and became a Navy SEAL marksman serving four tours of duty in Iraq. The film is based on his autobiography. As a sniper, Kyle was separate from the other troops and was forced to make life and death decisions depending of his perception of whether the person in his rifle cross-hairs was a terrorist or simply an innocent bystander. The film does not address the politics of the Iraq conflict, but is told from Kyles point of view. Thus his is the only character who has any depth (his history and the increasingly strained relationship with his wife is told in flashbacks). This is a tense movie, well acted and thought provoking, if a little one dimensional. Still it merits a trip to the cinema.

Birdman
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Lindsay Duncan, Edward Norton, Michael Keaton, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifiankis, Emma Stone.
Subtitled 'The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance' this is the story of washed up actor Riggan Thomas (Keaton), once famous for playing a movie superhero Birdman. However once he left the franchise, his career never recovered. Thus he is making a last ditch attempt to revive his fortunes by directing and acting in a play at the St James theatre on Broadway. The play is not going well and Riggan is plagued by his inner voice (manifest as the character Birdman), by quarrels with his actors and arguments with his family. The film appears to be shot as a single, cut free. sequence and it contains surreal, 'over the top' interludes. This is a dark comedy, a flight of fancy, about a self absorbed man. The acting is superb (especially Keaton) and the whole is a quirky must see movie that could be the film of 2015. If you can only see one movie, this is the one.

Ex Machina
Director: Alex Garland
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Oscar Issac, Alicia Vikander, Corey Johnson, Domhnall Gleeson.
Caleb (Gleeson) is a twenty-four year old programmer working at the world's largest Internet Company. He wins a competition and so gets to spend a week at the private estate of Nathan Bateman (Issac), the CEO of the company. Nathan unveils his work, a female android Ava (Vikander), and explains to Caleb that his role is to perform a Turing test on her to explore if her thinking and behavior is indistinguishable from that of a human. As Caleb gets to spend time with Ava, she starts to become dominant in their relationship, trying to recruit Caleb for her own ends. The film is reminiscent of Frankenstein, with Nathan increasingly taking the role of mad scientist who does not have the emotional empathy to support his creation. The movie is excellently shot with impressive special effects that do not get in the way of the story. A superb, thought provoking science fiction drama that explores the interaction between man and machine.

Fifty Shades of Grey
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Certificate: 18
Cast includes: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson
This is a much hyped film with a record for ticket pre-sales. It is based on the best selling 2011 novel by E. L. James. Anastasia Steel (Johnson) is a student who interviews the publicity shy billionaire Christian Grey (Dornan) as a college assignment. There is an immediate sexual chemistry between the two and they embark on an affair. However Grey has a desire to control everything in his life and his relationships have a strong sado-masochistic element. Hence he requires Anastasia to sign a contract if she wants the relationship to continue that will allow Grey to subjugate her. The film is an accurate portrayal of the book, though it omits the more sordid sex scenes. Essentially the film is soft porn for a female audience.

Into the Woods
Director: Rob Marshall
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, James Corden, Anna Kendrick
This is a Walt Disney adaptation of Sondheim's 1987 hit musical of the same name. The film posits that the fairy tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel are all happening simultaneously. Meanwhile a Baker and his wife wish to begin a family, but they cannot due to a witches curse. To lift the curse they must collect items from each of the fairy tales. This is a star studded musical with excellent performances, especially from Meryl Streep who plays the wicked witch. The original stage musical had a number of adult themes which are softened for the Disney version, but the end result is a great and entertaining family movie.

Kingsman: The Secret Service
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Michael Caine, Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Firth, Sophie Cookson, Taron Egerton.
A spoof spy adventure based on the comic book series by Dave Gibbons and Mark Miller. Kingsman is an international covert spying agency and they recruit members from street wise misfits. A chavvy gang member Egysy (Egerton) is recruited by the ultra suave agent Harry Hart (Firth). To be accepted Egysy must become both refined and also pass a grueling 'boot camp' where he will learn how to be an agent. In the meantime the eccentric billionaire Valentine (Jackson) is planning to distribution free SIM cards, an act that will trigger the eradication of most of mankind. This is a very 'tongue in cheek' movie, in equal measures a violent action adventure and a comedy. There are outrageous gadgets and wonderful set pieces, with the movie being part James Bond and part every other spy movie you have ever seen. Irreverent and unmissable.

Mr Turner
Director: Mike Leigh
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Timothy Spall, Marion Bailey
A biographical dramatization of the life of English painter J. M. W Turner. The film starts when Turner is aged 51 and working in his London studio. It follows Turner through depression following his father's death up until the painters own death in 1851 when he was living in Chelsea with his mistress Sophie Booth (Barley). Spall gives a great performance as Turner, bringing out his humanity and eccentricity. A very enjoyable movie.

Selma
Director: Ava DuVernay
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson
A slice of American History. The film follows Martin Luther King (Oyelowo) and the events that led up to the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery which preceded President Johnson's (Wilkinson) signing the voting Act of 1965 giving equal voting rights to Afro-American citizens. Not only does this film show the build up to the march, it also portrays something of the humour and character of Martin Luther King and the strain that his work imposed on his marriage to Coretta (Ejogo) and on his friends. It covers much of the political backdrop to the civil rights movement and contains images of violence and racial slurs that were endured by the marchers in their quest for equal voting rights.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Saoirse Ronan, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Tony Revolori
An idiosyncratic movie telling the adventures of Gustav (Fiennes) the concierge at the Budapest hotel and his friend Zero Moustafa (Revolori). The film is full of madcap characters and is filmed in the classic Anderson style. Set in Europe between the wars, the film tells the story of the theft of a Renaissance painting and disputes over fortunes. The movie has a star-studded cast and much of the plot of interlocking stories is told in flashbacks. A fine comedy making this a must see movie.

The Theory of Everything
Director: James Marsh
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox
A biopic of the early years of the world renown physicist Stephen Hawkins, based on the memoir 'Traveling to Infinity: My life with Stephen Hawkins' by Jane Hawkins. At Cambridge, Stephen Hawkins was an active young man who fell in love with literature student Jane Wilde. However, aged 21, Hawkins had an accidental fall which led to his being diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given just two years to live. The film shows the marriage of Stephen and Jane and how she supported him and their children during the years of their marriage (they divorced in 1995). This is a beautiful film likely to leave the audience in tears. The acting is excellent especially Redmayne's portrayal of Hawkins and the movie shows the lighter side of Hawkin's character, his humour and his passion.

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death
Director: Tom Harper
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Phoebe Fox, Oaklee Pendergast
This is the sequel to the film 'The Woman in Black' which was based on the novella by Susan Hills. The Second World War is raging and a group of eight school children are evacuated away from London and the Blitz to rural England. They are accompanied by their Headmistress Jean Hogg (McCrory) and teacher Eve Parkin (Fox). The group occupy the abandoned Eel Marsh House which had been haunted forty years ago. Eve tries to build trust with Edward (Pendergast), one of the vulnerable children, who starts to exhibit trance like stages. Subsequently other children start acting strangely as a dark force is awakened. Eve seeks the cause of the problem aided by a pilot Harry Burnstow (Irvine). The film is a very competent horror movie with some romantic interest. It is well acted and has plenty of frights. However like many sequels, it does not quite live up to the suspense of the original. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

£311,000pa in unclaimed benefits found for local over-75s by Welfare Rights campaign

Nearly 260 people aged 75 and over in Lancaster are better off by a total of £311,000 a year following a benefit take-up campaign.

The campaign was organised by Lancashire County Council's Welfare Rights Service in partnership with Lancaster City Council.

The city council used their records to identify over-75s in their area and then sent out a letter inviting people to apply for a free and confidential benefits check.

Of the 580 people who responded, so far more than 250 - almost half - have been found to be missing out on money they are entitled to.

With the help of welfare rights officers, those households who have already been assessed have secured an average of an extra £55 per week each. For elderly people facing steep fuel bills it will make a real difference.

Free and confidential checks available
And as staff are continuing to work through the requests, many more people could find themselves better off as a result of the campaign. Councillor Abbot Bryning, Lancaster City Council's cabinet member with responsibility for benefits, is hoping that  that more people will come forward for the free and confidential benefits check.

He said said: “Working in partnership with Lancashire County Council has enabled both authorities to encourage some of the district’s most financially vulnerable people to claim the benefits they are entitled to."

County Councillor Azhar Ali, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: "This is great news for older people in Lancaster, who have seen a welcome boost to their incomes.

"As well as the hardworking staff of our Welfare Rights Service, I'd also like to thank our partners at Lancaster City Council for their help in making this campaign such a success.

"The Welfare Rights Service has been running these campaigns very effectively for many years now, and I would urge pensioners to get in touch and ask for a free and confidential benefits check.

"As we have seen in the Lancaster campaign and elsewhere, it really could make all the difference."

People wanting a free and confidential benefit check can phone the Welfare Rights Service on 0300 123 6739 or email infowrs@lancashire.gov.uk.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Adoption and Fostering Information Event in Lancaster

Anyone thinking about adopting a child or becoming a foster carer with Lancashire County Council is invited to attend an event at Lancaster Priory on Thursday 26th February. 

The awareness event is a partnership with Churches Together in Lancashire, an informal network working with each other as Christians to support the local community. 

From 6:30pm – 8:30pm people can hear from experienced staff from the fostering and adoption team, ask questions and meet adoptive parents and foster carers. 

County Councillor Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: "We are always keen to promote adoption and fostering to as many people as possible. 

"We recognise that some of our adoptive parents and foster carers have a religious faith and we're very glad to have this opportunity to work with Churches Together on adoption and fostering for the first time. 

"Everyone is welcome to attend the event whether they have a faith or not. The focus is on getting useful information, help and advice from experienced county council staff and listening to the real-life experiences of adopters and foster carers in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere." 

Anton Muller, Ecumenical Facilitator for Churches Together in Lancashire, said: "We're delighted to be working in partnership with Lancashire County Council to promote the importance of and need for adoptive parents and foster carers across the county, especially in such a stunning venue as Lancaster Priory. 

"I hope that this event will encourage people to think strongly about finding out more." 

  • To find out more about adoption, call the team on 0800 028 6349. 
  • To find out more about fostering, call the team on 0800 195 1183 
  • Visit the website at Lancashire.gov.uk/family