Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Vicar of Dibley

Having re-watched the entire series recently, I felt it would be fun and interesting to write a short article.

A show that is in popular demand years after its creation is a fine thing and the hit British sitcom The Vicar of Dibley is no exception. In 1992 the Church of England endorsed the ordination of female priests, a highly controversial move and not one universally recognised as lawful. Protests ran through the streets of Britain as people openly detested what they believed were unorthodox changes to the churches system. Those against fled to religious teachings such as 1 Timothy 2:12 ‘I suffer not a woman to teach’ in a bid to justify their lack of willingness to accept. Met with such great opposition female priests in training were faced with huge amounts of prejudice. As a hugely topical theme in the early nineties, Richard Curtis brought forth The Vicar of Dibley, a sitcom that uncovered the ongoing conflict in a comedic fashion. The show, which follows the first ordination of a female priest in 1994 has succsessfully found its place in British television history.

Set in the beautiful and fictitious village of Dibley we are introduced to various conservative caricatures, the people of Dibley who are in most cases traditionalist are exposed to the realities of having a female vicar. Geraldine Granger played fittingly by comic actress and writer Dawn French is animated, kind hearted and highly amusing. Her arrival in Dibley is met with diverse views, David Horton (Gary Waldhorn) heads up the opposition with his staunchly orthodox views and love for the conservative way of life. His initial reaction and behaviour is very much a microcosm, representing the hostility toward female vicars in the real world: “Unless they’ve landed us with a woman as some sort of insane joke[1]” Without even allowing the new Vicar to prove herself as a capable candidate he continually tries to remove Geraldine from her position. This notion of utter disgust has been displayed by irate church leaders and conservative thinkers alike throughout the past two decades. Even as recently as July the Vatican has spoken out against the ordination of female priests, aligning it to the same level of severity as sexual abuse (a highly arguable statement, one that has sparked debates worldwide.) This incredibly eccentric level of distain for female ordination reflects how brave and daring The Vicar of Dibley’s production team have been.

As much as David Horton wishes to remove his new female preacher, the majority of Dibley welcomes Geraldine and her humour into their village, acknowledging that change is necessary. David’s gradual acceptance of Geraldine is obvious and parallels societies change in judgment. His growing affection for the bodacious vicar escalates into love and eventually he accepts that Geraldine Granger is in fact a most remarkable woman; “Because of you the churches are full, not empty, and because of you our lives are full, not empty.[2]” From what may have started as a clever comedic stand to promote female ordination, The Vicar of Dibley has become one of Britain’s most loved and charming sitcoms regardless.

With erratic characters verging on the edge of lunacy it’s not hard to love Dibley’s idealistic and odd charm. Owen Newitt played rather realistically by Roger Lloyd-Pack is a frustrated and lonely farmer with a serious swearing problem, his utterly outrageous outlook on life is twinned with a sensitive and love deprived personal. With Newitt’s character the comedy factor gets pushed to a brilliant immoral limit with many stories based around bestiality and sickening violence. Maybe one of the more famous members of Dibley is ‘no no no no’ Jim (Trevor Peacock,) his inability to speak without the incoherent addition of ‘no’ is a trait loved by all fans of Dibley. Frank Pickle (John Bluthul) Is probably one of the only dull individuals with a laughable personality, his obsessive need to explain everything in the tiniest of detail is enough to send anyone into a self induced coma and yet he is part of the great makeup of Dibley. The beautifully adorable couple Alice Tinker (Emmer Chambers) and Hugo Horton (James Fleet) are Dibley’s prime examples of its inhabitants, brainless yet adorable. As farfetched as the characters seem, they have been devised in such a fashion that their melodramatic antics appear quite normal for the quaint little village.

Throughout the two seasons and periodical specials the topic of Geraldine’s gender is brought to light, brief reminders that there are still people that do not accept the ordination of woman. However It is truly fulfilling in the finale episodes to see Geraldine, who has given so much to the people of Dibley, find true love with the oh so romantic Harry Kennedy played charmingly by the handsome Richard Armitage. Episodes which fell under scrutiny by many viewers for its predictable and farfetched plot, despite these criticisms it is my personal opinion that it was the perfect way to mark the end of something beautiful.

The Vicar of Dibely presents a mass of dysfunctional human beings who together have created some of the most memorable scenes in British television. As an intellectual representation of British acceptance of female ordination it is brilliant, as a sitcom it is a pure delight. In the end it is not a question of piety or faith, it is the question of equality and forwardness in an ever progressing world. Throughout the past two decades The Vicar of Dibley has graced our screens with its heart warming comedy and continues to be a popular choice on the shelf - as it will be for many years to come.


[1] (Christmas Special 2004, Gary Waldhorn.)
[2] (Episode 1, Arrival, 1994, Gary Waldhorn)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Batman Begins - The Nolan legacy

A review of Batman Begins (2005) and a look at the successful re-launch of a much loved hero.

‘You’re just an ordinary man in a cape,’ Ra’s Al Ghul’s confident statement is both true and underestimated; it is perhaps Batman’s greatest asset that sets him aside from other comic book heroes. The fact that he bears no super human strength and is simply a man in a bat costume makes him a far more impressive protagonist. Batman as one of DC’s most prominent and recognised superheroes has been in circulation since the 1930s, it has magnificently survived the test of time overcoming various scrutinises and criticisms. It can be said that since Batman’s launch it has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon spanning across all forms of medium including TV and FILM. In 2005 Christopher Nolan (Insomnia 2002) brought Batman spiralling back into the limelight with his hit blockbuster Batman Begins, and thanks to his flawless vision Batman has returned to its dark and haunting origins successfully banishing the light hearted and camp connotations that have recently followed Batman’s image.

The union between Nolan and Batman is like a tragic romance, something so perfect and brilliant drawing to an inevitable end. It is a fact that Nolan will not continue to direct Batman forever as it is also a fact that the next in line will be Nolan’s third and final instalment of his Batman series. Nolan’s confident and superior reconstruction has created something of a cinematic explosion allowing for a new wave of enthusiasm for DC’S marvel. The enormous renovation in style and atmosphere can be sought in its simplest form; the franchise logo. Eradicating the image of a black bat on a yellow background is something no director will ever achieve however the redesign for Nolan’s films is both sophisticated and mature, everything Batman Begins is.

As the title suggests Batman Begins gives us a fresh new look at the beginnings of Bruce Wayne’s Christian Bale earlier years. We are given a compelling visual perspective into Wayne’s haunting past and his painful journey which ultimately leads to his transformation into the caped crusader. The films integral plot is complex and intelligent fusing together characters and stories from across the comic book span. The film is of breathtaking quality with highly charged action scenes and infallible car manoeuvres, there’s hardly a dull moment. It could be said that for a film based upon such a crime busting superhero there isn’t enough action throughout, however in my personal opinion the majority of the film has a well balanced combination of action, drama, humorous one liners and impressive gadgetries and vehicles. Futuristically efficient and fashionably designed The Tumbler, modified to Wayne’s request is the new Batmobile. It’s robotic like exterior is effectively intimidating, while its inner workings promote a stylish and advanced technological wonderment. The Batsuit itself is fetchingly foreboding, an intricate compound capable of transforming a man into a monster or in our case a bat.

Set amongst the fictitious city of Gotham, with excessive amounts of criminal activity and corrupt officials Gotham is a fictional geographical embodiment of everything a civilisation fears. Batman Begins illustrated to us a side of Gotham so worn and dilapidated it is an unbelievable idea that its populace have found reason to stay; from the skylines it is a wealthy site from the streets it’s a sodden and seemingly lost cause. The detailed portrayal of Gotham invigorates a strain of life battling for survival; taking a huge leap from previous depictions Nolan deals with a gritty and uninviting aesthetic rendering previous adaptations less impressive in their design.

The characters have been modelled on the comic book creations and have been given a very convincing refit of their own. Christian Bale who has proven himself on many occasions in films such as American Psycho (2000) and Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) gave both Bruce Wayne and Batman the justice they deserve. As the embittered Bruce Wayne Bale was both emotionally and dramatically believable, as the justice seeking Batman, Bale was smooth, bad ass and of equal praise. Liam Neeson’s calm and stoic appearance worked well for the villainous Ra’s Al Ghul creating a more lifelike villain, his slick and calculating pace was marvellously appropriate. Cillian Murphy was particularly terrifying as Dr Jonathon Crane, perfectly cast Murphy sparked life into the psychotic mind of the Scarecrow. Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, childhood friend and love interest of Bruce Wayne was for me a spot on choice. Holmes played the part with great delicacy bringing a blend of vulnerability and courage to the character, her compassionate nature and wish for justice was incredibly apparent.

Gary Oldman was a respectable and lovable representation of Jim Gordon, down to earth and ready to bring peace to Gotham Oldman is an outstanding actor playing a brilliant developing character. A final note must go to Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, taking the roles of Lucius Fox and Butler Alfred. Freeman offers great one liners and his humour is well timed and executed perfectly. Caine is simply perfect and gives a compelling performance especially when the endangered Batman is in need of his aid.

It can be said though aside from a complex plot; Ra’s Al Ghul’s true identity was in my opinion predictable and disappointingly executed, I feel the twist could have been handled in a less obvious manner eluding the audience to alternative conclusions. Furthermore it felt quite rushed with a very translucent explanation, and in comparison to the rest of the movies effective dramatic emphasis it was an awfully lacking scene. Another downfall to the movie was the fleeting finale, after a huge build up to the films climax a very short and unsatisfying fight scene was carried out. To the audience’s frustration there was very little action between Christian Bale and Liam Neeson, it seemed that the scene was focused far too heavily on the moral and humorous one liners passed between the two enemies. Although the conversation between the two was of good quality, after its intense build up I was waiting for a lengthy action scene between the two, rather that a short and weak fight ending in a less than climatic fashion.

Stripped of pantomime comedy and over theatrical annoyances that has in the past negated Batman, Batman Begins has reinvented the hero, with such a strong new legacy one can only hope that it lasts long after Nolan’s work is complete. To relaunch a franchise as big as Batman takes great courage and vision, Batman Begins showed both of these qualities and aside from a couple of drawbacks the film is well worth a watch. I must stress how impressive the renovations are and how suitable they are for Gothams Dark knight.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A-list heroes.

A short Arctical on the upcoming Movie The Avengers.

Comic book film adaptations are all the rage and with the up to date cinematic technologies we have been exposed to some thrilling movie masterpieces and the future holds little exception. We have seen some of the most prestigious and well loved super heroes ‘kapowing’ away on the big screen, and it’s time again for Marvel and film fanatics alike to get excited as they wait with anticipation for the mighty cry... ‘AVENGERS ASSEMBLE,’ Joss Whedon will take on the mammoth task of directing The Avengers, set to come out in 2012. The film will follow 2011’s Marvel instalments; Captain America: The First Avenger, Directed by Joe Johnston and Thor taken on by Kenneth Branagh. The films boast an A list cast and promotional photos from the motion picture Thor have already sparked discussion on Branagh’s choice of approach. The films will give us a greater insight into the lives of Marvels mightiest team, taking after their predecessors The Incredible Hulk and Ironman the films have a great legacy to live up to.

Diehard fans flocked to San-Diego Comic-con 2010 in order to glimpse sneak previews of all the latest news from their favourite shows, films, comics etc and for those without the means of attending, the internet was a valuable backup resource. It has to be said that fans of the Marvel franchise were indeed given a once in a lifetime treat for example the destroyer emerging through the gates of Asgard, a very early clip of Captain America’s nemesis Red Skull played by the incredible Hugo Weaving and not to mention The Avengers cast assembling on stage in front of ecstatic fans.

The reception so far has been positive and fans appear optimistic with high loads of irrepressible enthusiasm, I am personally looking forward to each director’s stylistic imprint on the movies. It is the director’s effectual passion that nurtures a movie concept to its maximum potential. One of the greatest examples of this is Christopher Nolan, his infusion of dark wit and complexity worked perfectly for the new Batman saga, and it is this type of visionary that is needed in order to produce flawless work and there is no doubt in my mind that Whedon can successfully reinvent Marvels dream team justifying it to its full capacity. It is in my opinion that a movie can only ever be as good as its director and with Joss Whedon’s explosively studious mind we can expect no less than perfection. Whedon’s writing is intelligent, witty and utterly delicious; his work has gained respect from fans and movie producers alike and it truly makes the wait for The Avengers movie an exciting one.

During an interview Whedon was probed for information regarding the relationship between Captain America and Ironman, as we know in the comics their controversial union was heated and war bound. Whedon’s response to the inquiry was delightfully casual: It ended up in Civil War in the comics, in my movie it will be witty banter. [1] This is just the sort of comment that keeps fans positive and begging for more, and it can be said that after Comic-Con 2010 there is a smouldering need for more. It is going to be a long wait for fans and as we scour the net for information and early previews we can join in the unity that is our excitement and anticipation.

And here is that class cast: Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner.

So lets here it...AVENGERS ASSEMBLE.

[1] Joss Whedon: http://io9.com/5595293/will-joss-whedons-avengers-movie-include-marvels-civil-war-we-asked-him

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

'Inception' - A review

A masterful 'leap of faith'
(Beware spoilers)

A film that leaves the spectators mind in a state of contemplation hours after its finish can truly be remarked as a success; Christopher Nolan’s action packed thriller Inception produced this exact reaction, a film daring to delve into the complex study of dreams and their infiltration. Nolan’s ‘leap of faith’ not only tested the mentality of the characters but also fabricated our own conception of what was ‘reality’ and what was an induced ‘dream.’ An idea that has been used repeatedly by brave directors turned out to be incredibly original in its presentation and the movie definitely lived up to its universal hype (One of the only ones to do so this summer I feel.)

The plot was mind blowing and any movie fanatic can appreciate its intricacy, working alongside the layered plot were powerful action scenes immersed in a powerful and emotional journey that Cobb Leonardo DiCaprio undertakes in order to free himself from both guilt and political damnation. The wonders (and dangers) of the imagination and the manipulation of memories led to stunning visuals that are otherwise impossible; for example the paradoxical staircase and the converging of social space were both inspirational and phenomenal concepts. The tragic romance story was also very unique rather than your usual predictable love story, DiCaprio embarked on a compelling journey to let go of his deceased wife’s memory which seems to be haunting his dreams putting his team in mortal danger.

The characters were on the whole very well thought out and the interaction between Cobb DiCaprio and Arthur Joseph Gordon-Levitt was both convincing and commendable. DiCaprio is by far the tour de force of this piece, his performance was riveting and he continues to impress and exert himself, I can say with full confidence he is one of the most inspiring actors of this time. Levitt was cast perfectly and it would be great to see him in more of these types of roles rather than the ‘rom com kid’ we are so used to him playing. Levitt and Tom Hardy provided notable moments of much enjoyed comedy, it should also be said that Hardy who plays Eames, a thief of many trades is incredibly competent at playing the ‘bad ass.’ Alongside the brilliant performance from Ken Watanabe who played what I can only describe as an honourable villain. Cobb’s wife Mal played by Marion Cotillard was a truly complex character that kept audience members on the edge of their seats.

However I do not feel like the character Ariadne gave justice to Ellen Pages acting potential, the character seemed flat and had very little impact as a whole, at times she felt like more of a tool to aid the movie rather than a well rounded character, Page has already proved to audiences that she is a great actress especially her superb performance in Juno, I feel like this particular character let her down, however there was a sweet relationship building between her and Arthur. Cillian Murphy it would seem has provided us with a new insight to his acting abilities showing that he is very much capable of creating an affectionate and vulnerable character, the truly heartfelt deathbed scene was a particular triumph for Murphy.

For anyone who wants to see a fresh original movie after all the let downs and less than impressive sequels which we have been exposed to in recent months, this is a movie NOT to be missed, Nolan has created an action packed film that requires a great deal of thought and I am not ashamed to say that I will probably have to see the movie again in order to pick up every vital piece of information. It is for this precise reason I highly recommend Inception as a more than worthy watch, I am tired of seeing brainless action films dedicated to providing plot-less scenes of violence, Nolan’s new masterpiece I hope has opened other directors minds up to the conception of well thought out stories that are intertwined with impressive action scenes and great writing. There was a strong essence of the idea of playing god and I personally felt that a new line between right and wrong has been defined.
It would be a tremendous first for me to say I have no criticisms but I have to say after a jaw dropping opening there was a brief period where the movie lost my attention and I began worrying that the strong opening was about to be the only good part of the movie, however just as quickly as I began to lose faith the movie picked up and not once did it drop in standard.

The ending to the movie was a real highlight, leaving us on a clever cliff-hanger; remaining true to the films statement it continues to question what is real and what is a vision, the last image of a spinning top was so simple and yet so incredibly powerful it produced much debate of its effectiveness and cohesion with the rest of the movie, a brilliant ending to a brilliant movie.

I have always thought that Nolan’s successful Batman movies (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) were filmed with great confidence boasting a remarkable script and masterful casting, but this thought was always tainted with the notion that Batman itself is a universal wonder. Inception proves that Nolan can devise his own original material and film it with the same confidence and to the same standard if not to a higher standard, I do personally feel that this is Nolan’s first true masterpiece and I hope longingly that he continues to direct such brilliant and beautiful films.

I cannot stress enough that this is not a sit down and hang your coat up movie, but a powerful exploration into the ideologies of dream infiltration and manipulation, If you are simply going to the cinema for a leisurely experience I wouldn’t suggest this movie you need to be on top form to appreciate the immensity that is 'Inception.'

A movie executed marvellously by Nolan, a masterful leap of faith...I personally wait with anticipation for his next movie.