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FILM:June/July 2020

Many off us really miss seeing films on the large screen in our local cinema. All is not lost, however, as some good movies are now available to watch in the comfort of your own home. And here are some of them:

TO THE STARS (cert.12 1 hr.49 mins.) ****

Starting out a like a coming-of-age film, this changes into something more sinister. Iris (Kara Hayward) is shy and awkward, laughed at by the girls and teased in a horrible manner by the boys at her school. The boys bully and humiliate the ungainly girl. It all suddenly changes when newcomer Maggie (Liana Liberato) appears on the scene. She is new to the small town of Wakita, Oklahoma, and is forward in her manner. She takes Iris under her wing and gradually changes her by first getting her new friend to take off her glasses and wear more suitable clothes for a girl of her age – a teenager in the early 1960s. They become close buddies.

It is a small town with mean spirits amongst the population. Maggie boasts that her father is a photographer for Life magazine when actually he works for a very ordinary agriculture magazine. Maggie's home life is none too easy as the family blame her for some past misdemeanor. Maggie's unsympathetic, religious father, Gerald (Tony Hale) and his wife, Grace (Malin Akerman) have moved to Wakita to get Maggie away from bad influences. Subjected to physical abuse by her father, who beats her when she stays out late, Maggie has an unhappy home life.

To The Stars

Iris, too, has a difficult mother, Francie (Jordana Spiro), who drinks too much and puts her daughter down. Also in the mix is a hairdresser, Hazel (Adelaide Clemens) who keeps her private life to herself. She shows affection towards Maggie.

The whole feel of the film changes in the second half when a lesbian relationship develops – but not in the way we are expecting. The deeply conservative small town is rocked by the scandal caused by this coupling.

Cinematographer Andrew Reed shows us the wide-open land of Oklahoma, and we see Iris walking along a road that stretches endlessly. Apparently, the film was originally shown in black and white. This is surprising as the version we see is full of bright colours. The colour and particularly good production values give the movie the right feel for period it is set in. A well-written script by Bradley-Colleary gives the two girls an equal chance to display their honest approach to their characters. And the actresses, Kara Hayward and Liana Liberato, show their versatility. Adelaide Clemens, too, gives a low-key portrayal of the hairdresser with hidden desires.

Martha Stephens has directed a film which deals with the themes of female friendship, lesbian romance, coming of age and parent-child relationships. While I always prefer a neat ending, Stephens has opted for something different. In many ways the movie has an old-fashioned feel to it, but that only makes it even more special.

Rating ****

To the Stars is on digital platforms including ITunes, Amazon, Virgin, Chili now.

CITIZENS OF THE WORLD (cert.12 1 hr. 32 mins) ****

When work-shy Giorgetto (Giorgio Colangeli) and his mate 'the Professor' (Gianni Di Gregorio), retired Latin and Greek teacher, both single retired men, decide that their pensions are too small to live on, and that they need to go abroad for a better lifestyle, they enlist the help of Attilio (Ennio Fantastichini), who lives alone but runs a little antiques restoration business. Attilio enjoys his life but boasts, "I'm a citizen of the world. I'm a free man."

Consulting an academic (Roberto Herlitzka) who tells them about the good things they can find in different countries – lovely scenery, beautiful beaches, cheap living – and also the reasons not to go to some countries: Cuba, because you have to get a local wife; Australia, which has deadly jellyfish – the three retirees decide on the Azores which has the cheapest beer!

Citizens of the world

The trio meander around various bars in always-sunny Rome and make enquiries about transferring their pensions, drawing out savings, getting a passport and so on. Every time difficulties arise, they go to a nearby bar and eat and drink and bicker about what and how they should depart from their homes and make their way to a new and better life in the Azores. They seem to be using the planning of the trip as an excuse for eating and drinking together. At one point they manage to have a Portuguese lesson and enjoy a meal with the teacher and her mother, who has cooked the meal. Facing difficulties over ready cash, they decide to pool their resources, and each takes on work or schemes to reach their perceived goal.

Gradually it dawns on Attilio that he will miss his daughter and his dog and, in fact, his life in Italy. The Professor also has doubts about leaving after he finally manages to make a date with a woman he has been fancying from afar. In fact, all three have cold feet about the imminent departure.

Bringing a little of the political outside world is Abu (Salih Saadin Khalid), a refugee from Malia, who goes to Giorgetto's home to take a shower daily. Abu sleeps on the streets. He is an interesting character but has only a small, yet important part in this film.

There are a number of amusing moments, such as the Professor visiting his doctor. The Professor complains, "My liver hurts." "Liver has no nerve endings; it can't hurt!" replies the doctor.

The three actors are delightful. Carefully differentiated, each one puts in an honest characterisation. Sadly, Ennio Fantastichini died before the film was released.

The film is a gentle amble around picturesque Rome over one week. We see the sites as the men travel around but the movie is by no means a travelogue. Nicely paced by the director, Gianni Di Gregorio, who knows exactly what he wants as he co-wrote the film and also plays one of the lead roles.

Citizens of the World is Available on Curzon Home Cinema from 12 June.

A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK (cert.12 1 hr. 32 mins.) ****

In most of his films, the writer/director has a Woody Allen character. In the early films, Allen himself took on that role. Now he is much older, he generally has a young actor speaking Woody Allen type lines.

It is Timothee Chalamet in A Rainy Day in New York who takes on the character. Chalamet plays Gatsby Welles who sees an ideal opportunity to introduce his student girlfriend, Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) to the Manhattan sites in a romantic weekend when she is invited to interview an older filmmaker, Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber) in New York, for her college newspaper. All does not work out as he intends though. During a very rainy weekend first Ashleigh is delayed when a depressed Roland sees an honesty in Ashleigh that he doesn't find elsewhere and invites her to a screening of his current film. Then Pollard disappears and she joins up with his screenwriter, Ted (Jude Law) to try to find him.

All the time, Gatsby is waiting in different wet locations for Ashleigh to join him. She makes one excuse after another and he remains alone. He accidentally meets up with Chan (Selena Gomez), the younger sister of a former girlfriend. At almost the same time, Ashleigh meets a handsome film star, Francisco Vega (Diego Luna) and is bowled over when he invites her to his home. However, it doesn't go well, and Ashleigh has to leave the film star's apartment in a rather undignified manner.

A Rainy Day in New York

Poor Gatsby sees a TV item showing his girlfriend getting into Vega's car and in a moment of pique pays a prostitute (Kelly Rohrbach), who he meets, to play Ashleigh at his parents' house where she is seen by the guests and his mother for what she is. So, love doesn't run smoothly for our young lovers. The ending is not quite what we expect but Allen films it charmingly.

Allen's films always have a lot of film, music and literature references and this one is no different. He composes his films like a series of artistic pictures and his cinematographer (Vittorio Storaro) has done a grand job of showing us around New York. Music, too, is always fitting as Allen not only has a background of playing an instrument but has a real appreciation and knowledge of what works in his films. Here there is a good choice of music and songs and lots of jazz. Elle Fanning is a delightful leading lady – charming and amusing - and Timothee Chalamet does his best to interpret Allen's lines.

The writing is frequently clever and there are some very witty lines. He never puts extra scenes in a movie, so this film is shorter than many inferior rom-coms around at the moment! However, it is certainly not one of Allen's top films. Showing what a romantic comedy can do is what Allen does best and even in this minor film amongst Allen's oeuvres, we frequently recognise a master at work.

Rating ****

Available on digital download from 5 June.

ON A MAGICAL NIGHT (cert. 15 1 hr. 32 mins.) ***

Maria (Chiara Mastrianni) has had many lovers that her husband doesn't know about. When Richard (Benjamin Biolay) accidentally discovers that his wife had been having an affair with one of her students, he is, quite rightly, dismayed and very upset, As she lets slip that, actually, she has had a number of lovers during their 20 year marriage, he locks himself in a room.

Maria decides to leave the marital home and work out what she wants from her marriage and whether, indeed, she wishes to continue to live with her husband. She settles into a hotel immediately opposite her apartment where she can see into her home.

Over one night, Maria observes her distraught husband. She is visited by her husband when young (Richard, aged 20 is played by Vincent Lacoste), by past lovers and by her mother and grandmother. Also coming into her hotel room is Irene (Camille Cottin as Irene when young and Carole Bouquet Irene at 60), Richard's first love, with whom he was closely involved. She was a much older woman who he got to know intimately when she became his piano teacher from childhood. She now appears and insists it is her time to be with Richard.

The action slips from reality to fantasy as we observe the comings and goings of these figures from Maria's past. It is all set in a very Parisian setting and director Christophe Honore gives us a sophisticated French comedy. Maria is a lecturer in law and the couple are obviously well-heeled. There is much talk about love, about ageing and, of course, about marriage.

On a Magical Night

An interesting cast sees Chiara Mastroianni (the daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve) as Maria and, very strangely, her real-life ex-husband, Benjamin Biolay as the contemporary Richard. Chiara and Benjamin have a lovely chemistry together and the rest of the cast are all on form in this very French movie.

A comedy? Well, sort of. It is interesting with an unusual theme, but it is not very funny!

RESISTANCE (cert. 15 2 hrs.) ****

This is the extraordinary story of the young Marcel Marceau before he became the world-famous mime. Most of us have had no idea of the dramatic events which shaped the young man.

The film begins in Nuremberg in 1945 with Ed Harris as General George S. Patton extolling the virtues of a young Frenchman who undertook heroic deeds. Then we go back to 1938 Strasbourg France, where a young Elsbeth (Bella Ramsey) sees her parents shot by the Nazis. We also meet young Marcel (Jesse Eisenberg) who is performing in a small cabaret but also working in his father Charles' Butcher's.

Marcel is keen on Emma (Clemence Poesy) and by chance gets involved in her group of scouts who are rescuing orphaned Jewish children. He helps one group, which young Elsbeth is part of. At one point he entertains them with his mime and leads them outside. Emma and her fellow members of the Resistance soon realise that Marcel has a special gift with forming relationships with the children. He also paints and does artwork, including being able to make new passports. He makes one for himself where he gives himself the new name of Marcel Marceau.

Resistance

The entire population of Strasbourg is evacuated to the south of France. Marcel's family have to leave everything behind, but they believe they will return. They never do. Although his father constantly tells his son that theatre performance is no way to make a living, Marcel finds out that Charles, himself, secretly wanted to sing. He understands when Marcel tells him that he is joining the French resistance.

We see Marcel with the children in Limoges in 1941. German troops occupy France. Marcel and his girlfriend take a group of children, including Elsbeth, across the alps to Switzerland. All the way through the terrible figure of Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer) looms behind Marcel and his group. Marcel personally helped over 100 orphans to escape during the war.

The story is itself really exciting and has the added interest of being about a famous person. The director, Jonathan Jakubowiez, manages to tell the audience what is going on in a simple, straightforward manner. Eisenberg gives a restrained performance but captures the essence of Marcel Marceau well, and Eisenberg can do mime well! The rest of the cast give good characterisations and it is fascinating to learn about the Mime's early years.

RESISTANCE is on digital platforms including ITunes, Amazon, Virgin, Chili now.

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

We are still facing the closure of theatres. No live performances allowed. We need to fight to get the Government to put money into our theatres and concert halls before we lose venues altogether. Already a number have gone into administration.

Meanwhile you can watch some plays, and musical performances on line.

BIRDSONG (AGE GUIDANCE 12+) ****

Is Birdsong film or theatre? Well, it is actually a filmed version of a play! Given to us Online by The Original Theatre Company who mounted a super production, which had a successful London run and an equally great touring success, this has now been produced under lockdown conditions.

The actors – doing their own make-up and placing - filmed themselves against green screens, using zoom. In post-production the editors put in filmed backgrounds, added digital sound and a lovely musical background, which was designed and played by James Findlay. The author of the original 1993 novel, Sebastian Faulks, narrates and fills in the story in the break between the first and second halves. Directors Alistair Whately and Charlotte Peters have put together a very special filmed production.

Set in the First World War, before, during and after the shattering Battle of the Somme, the story tells of the ordinary soldiers and their officers who fought a war that on the first day ended with 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 killed in action. For the number of casualties, it is considered to be the worst day in the history of the British Army. This film airs on 1 July which is the 104th anniversary of that first day.

Birdsong

We first meet Stephen Wraysford (Tom Kay) when he goes to Amiens, France, to the house of Isabelle Azaire (Madeleine Knight), who he falls in love with. Although she, too, is in love with him, she has a controlling and somewhat nasty husband, Rene Azaire (Stephen Boxer) who she is frightened of. She is also stepmother to Azaire's daughter from his first marriage. We learn more about the love affair and what happened as the story develops.

Next time we see Stephen, he is an officer in 1916 helping soldiers to dig tunnels against the advancing Germans. He becomes friendly with Jack Firebrace (Tim Treloar), just an ordinary soldier who receives sad letters from his wife detailing their son's illness and death from diphtheria. Jack and his mates – young Tipper (Max Bowden), Evans (Samuel Martin) and best friend Arthur Shaw (Liam McCormick) – accompany Stephen to the Somme. Here they all take part in the bloody battle where they see terrible events, and many get slaughtered.

The original stage performance that I saw was moving and, in a very different way, this version is emotionally involving as well. There are moving performances from all the actors, bringing the sadness to life. It is difficult at the beginning to accept the zoom view of just heads, sometimes stacked. But the close-ups of each face bring the tragedy right in front of the viewer and the actors soon manage to make you forget that they are all in separate rooms as they pass objects from one person to another.

No curtain call, but a field where poppies grow at the end. There are some lovely filmed images and the music and songs enhance the action. Do take the opportunity to watch this on the biggest screen you can use at home!

Available from Wed 1 July 7:00pm to Sat 4 July 11:59pm via www.birdsongonline.co.uk.

Ticket Prices (including a donation to The Royal British Legion):

Early bird - £10 - if booked before 15 June

Standard - £12.50

Premium - £15, to include: A digital copy of the programme for Birdsong

See website for details of future performances. It will be play again: 7.00pm 16 July to 11.30 pm 18 July. UK only.

Other online shows continue to be streamed. You might like to look at the Globe Theatre's output.

The National Theatre continues to put online plays which are well worth viewing. Currently the NATIONAL THEATRE AT HOME has LES BLANCS from 7 pm on 2 July on the National Theatre's YouTube channel, then on demand for one week until 7 pm on Thursday 9 July, but you will need to start watching by 4.15 on 9 July to see it all!

Les Blancs

Very powerful on stage, it is recommended. The NT describes it as:

An African country teeters on the edge of civil war. A society prepares to drive out its colonial present and claim an independent future. Tshembe, returned home from England for his father's funeral, finds himself in the eye of the storm.

Yaël Farber (Mies Julie, Nirbhaya) directs the final play by Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun): a brave, illuminating and powerful work that confronts the hope and tragedy of revolution.

This play is about imperialism, racism, and colonialism and contains some scenes of racially motivated violence, that some people might find distressing.

     
     
     
     
     
     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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