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FILM: December 2009

Recommended briefly in my London Film festival round up and now on general release is THE INFORMANT! (cert. 15 1hr.48mins.). The exclamation mark in the title tells us a lot about the film. It is by no means the straightforward tale of an informer. When Mark Whitacre, (Matt Damon), who is a bright young executive at the enormous food processing organisation, ADM, tells FBI Agents that ADM is involved in a huge worldwide price-fixing crime, a major investigation is begun.

The Informant!

The FBI agents have been called in by his bosses to look at his original accusation of a Japanese competitor sabotaging the production of lysine - a new food additive - with a virus. This is only the beginning of the true-life story of a major whistle-blower. Taking place in the USA in the mid 90s, Whitacre goes underground for the FBI. As we see how he enjoys wearing a "wire," carrying a tape recorder and positioning himself and all those he is involved with at meetings, we begin to suspect that something strange is going on

Director Steven Soderbergh has used the device of a voice-over by Damon as Mark Whitacre, which, in itself is bizarre because he is an unreliable narrator in that even he knows that what he is saying is not factual. It is difficult to say much more about the plot as one of the joys of this most unusual movie is to discover just before the FBI agents and others involved do just what is real and what is the result of Mark's over-active imagination.

One of the amazing sides of this story is that it is based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald which gives the whole story. Another is that Soderbergh manages to inject humour into the tale, partly through the various characters that people it but also through the fantasy narration in which Mark wanders away from the point he is making to discuss any matter he thinks of from 007 to polar bears. Matt Damon is excellent in the main part (do we see an Oscar nomination here?) and there is good support from Melanie Lynskey as his wife and Scott Bakula as the chief FBI agent. The upbeat music by Marvin Hamlisch sets the comedic tone of the film.

The second film in the series of Stephenie Meyer's books is now out to the great excitement of all fans from 13 year-old girls to those of quite a mature age! THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON sees the continuation of the love story between 109 year-old vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) - who, by the way, is permanently a 17 year-old in the present day - and the mortal Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). Bella celebrates her 18th birthday and then Edward abandons her in order to save her from the other vampires. A very unhappy Bella finds she can get some comfort by seeing Edward's image when she faces trouble. She takes ever greater risks in order to try and be with him. One such involves repairing an old motor cycle with the assistance of Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a handsome bare-chested young man, who has his own secrets involving his friends, the Quileute tribe, and a pack of werewolves. Bella follows Edward and comes up against the Volturi, including Jane (played by Dakota Fanning, now 15 but looking most mature here), who are monsters and want Bella dead. The leader of the Volturi is Aro, impressive Michael Sheen with the red eyes and white face of the traditional vampire.

Director Chris Weitz has made an extraordinary detailed film here and has managed to capture the supernatural atmosphere of a world populated by vampires and werewolves. Although the fans are chiefly rooting for Robert Pattinson, I reckon Taylor Lautner will prove quite a rival in the popularity stakes, especially if he continues in future episodes of this saga. I know that Kristen Stewart is also one of the fans' favourites but at times it was hard to understand all that she was saying.

New Moon

I'm sure that I don't need to sell this film to those of you who are already fans and to others interested in fantasy it might well prove attractive.

There are a number of mysteries in Michael Haneke's THE WHITE RIBBON (cert. 15 2hrs. 24mins.). We have to try to understand what is happening, to whom and why. Also the significance of the violence that takes place and its link to the wider political scene at the time the story takes place, - immediately before the First World War. It also has relevance to WW2 and, indeed, to world politics today. Narrated by the school teacher in this small German village, we see a number of violent incidents including the doctor being thrown from his horse due to a thin wire placed in his path and removed immediately after the accident; a vicious attack on the Down's Syndrome son of the local midwife and an attack on the son of the wealthy baron. We are faced with the possibility that these are in return for the sins of the parents. The only light relief is the schoolteacher's courtship of the nanny to the baron's son. I know that many people find Haneke's films difficult to deal with as the viewer is forced to watch really closely and decide for themselves what the meaning is. But this is really worth sticking with and I am sure you will find it worthwhile.

Also recommended: There is much excitement, around PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (cert. 15 1hr. 25mins.), the film made in his own home by Oren Peli about the weird goings-on experienced by a young couple during the night. This manages to be a very scary movie with no gore. Out at the end of December NOWHERE BOY (cert. 15 1hr. 37mins.) is the story of the young Lennon (Aaron Johnson), growing up in Liverpool in the 1950s. Torn between his up-tight Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) who has brought him up and his prodigal mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) who returns full of excitement and rock 'n roll. John is torn between the two women and their very different way of living and his own musical talents which are starting to emerge.


Praise is due to Gregory Doran's production of TWELFTH NIGHT which I saw at Stratford and now comes to the Duke of York's Theatre, London.

Twelth Night

While the play is really about Viola's arrival on the unknown shores of Illyria, alone and forced to dress as a male to survive, the recent emphasis on the casting of Malvolio, the kinsman of Olivia (who is in mourning for her dead brother) has somewhat skewered the emphasis. However, in this production the fine performance by Nancy Carroll as Viola and the very enthusiastic Olivia of Alexandra Gilbreath bring us back to the chief protagonists. The comedy is provided by a group including Sir Toby Belch (Richard McCabe) who play a cruel joke on Malvolio - sending him a letter which he believes comes from Olivia expressing her love for him.

I have always found more pathos than humour in the scene where Malvolio is locked in an underground hole and, indeed, Richard Wilson brings out this pathos extremely well in addition to assuming the comic grin and weird dress as demanded in the pretend letter he receives. If you know this Shakespearean comedy and want to see a new production with a lovely set and a particularly good cast then you will enjoy this version. If, on the other hand you are a Richard Wilson fan - he is a good friend to our pensioner movement - then do visit the Duke of York's between 19 December and 27 February and take pleasure from some fine acting and an inventive production.

Austrian dramatist Ferdinand Bruckner's play, PAINS OF YOUTH (National Theatre until 21 January 2010), in a new version by Martin Crimp, is performed in a more conventional setting than the last few "in the round" sets. As directed by Katie Mitchell we get a vivid picture of a group of medical students in Vienna in 1923. The play shows how they cope with their inter-linking attractions and we get a clear view of how their lives and even the death wish of some of the students fit in with what is happening in Austria during this pre-Nazi period. Bruckner seems to foresee the horror that will be inflicted on humanity in general through his portrayal of just a small group of young people.

There is a lot of listening through doors and spying on others in the boarding house where the students live. They are all concerned with how they should live, particularly as they are young and have to cope with the difficulties of their age and the time in which they live. Their morbid fascination with death is fuelled by Frederer (a suitably sinister portrayal by Geoffrey Streatfield) who works on the maid, Marie, finally bringing about her complete corruption by acting as her pimp as he sends her out on the street. The bisexual Desiree (a strong performance by newcomer Lydia Wilson) is also encouraged by Frederer in her desire for suicide. We see some of the students performing the new Swedish gymnastics, which were popular in this period.

Mitchell has delivered a very interesting production. She has black suited young men and women changing props in full view in a precise manner, even handing the actors a glass of wine or pills and removing them at the end of scenes. Perhaps the more exact translation of the title as "The disease of youth" is more appropriate as this would also give a feeling of the disease of society in general.

Another play that tries to explain the varying emotions of its character, THE PRIORY (Royal Court Theatre until 9 January), a new play by Michael Wynne, shows a group of upwardly mobile thirtysomethings meeting in an isolated old priory to celebrate New Year

With a touch of the ghost story about it, the play deals with the relationships between the group in a mature and humorous fashion. Kate (Jessica Hynes - so good in the film Son of Rambow) hopes to rekindle her love affair with Carl (Rupert Penry-Jones) now that she has split up from her boyfriend, but is somewhat put out when he turns up with his very successful TV producer wife Rebecca (Rachel Stirling). They are joined by their friend Ben who brings another surprise - his fiancée, Laura (Charlotte Riley), whom he had met the previous day, and then there is gay Daniel (Joseph Millson) who turns up alone but is not surprised when an internet date comes to see him.

The Priory

. Kate announces at the beginning that she is looking forward to "a time of peace, quiet and contemplation." So.it's all set for some fireworks and we get those as inner anger shows itself and there is a falling out for some and a coming together for others.

Whilst the dialogue has some very amusing lines, it seems unnecessary to resort to such cheap lines as - in response Daniel's remark that at a work's do all the young secretaries were covering the top of their Bacardi Breezer bottles in case the drinks got spiked - Kate says, "Chance'd be a fine thing." The well-designed set gives a real impression of an old priory with its wood-panelling and stag's head on the wall. Jeremy Herrin's crisp direction emphasises the isolation which is underlined by the inability to make mobile 'phone calls or receive broadband. This is an easy play to watch and the fleeting appearance of a hooded figure brings the right touch to the possibility of a haunted house.

It's obvious that Christmas is in the air and what better way to start the season than visiting CHRISTMAS WITH THE RAT PACK Live from Las Vegas (Adelphi, London but also a touring version during December). Although I wouldn't have thought it would be my cup of tea, I actually found it most enjoyable. This was due not only to the attractive staging and big band sound but also to the infectious humour combined with some attractive performances full of humour. Clearly Louis Hoover couldn't reproduce Frank Sinatra's very special voice but he looked like him and had some funny lines as did Craige Els as Dean Martin. The best of the three on show was Jason Pennycooke as Sammy Davis Jnr. who sang and danced with real verve and all the actors/singers demonstrated the charisma of the originals. The actors presented lines -presumably originally spoken by the stars themselves - well; Martin, "I'm on a diet, a whiskey diet. Last week I lost 4 days."

The surprise of the evening (to me at any rate) was the Burelli Sisters, played by Charlie Bull, Lizzi Hills and Grace Holdstock. The girls looked stunning, could sing very well and also dance! They accompanied Frank, Dean and Sammy in songs and also performed numbers as a threesome. As one not generally a fan of 'tribute' shows I have to say that the re-creation of such iconic songs from the 1950s and 60s as That's Amore, Baby It's Cold Outside, Mr Bojangles, New York New York with seasonal offerings including Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Let It Snow Let It Snow, White Christmas, and finishing with Auld Lang Syne makes for an uplifting evening.

Here’s to raising a glass and many cheers for the festive season.  Wishing you all the very best in 2010.

Carlie Newman

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