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FILM:November 2013

It's half-term so look out for CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 (cert U 1 hr. 30 mins.)

Loud and extremely boisterous, the kids will love this animation film, especially in its 3D version. I'm just not quite so sure about their parents. It should be is on at your local cinema now.

The film begins exactly where the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs finished. What…you don't remember the 2009 film? In that one, Flint Lockwood, who has wanted to be an inventor from early childhood, invented a machine that could turn water into food. However, when it got into the atmosphere it began raining food, so that there were cheeseburger rain and spaghetti tornadoes. With the knowledge of the disastrous consequences, Flint was forced to destroy his invention.

We now see Flint (voiced by Bill Hader) being kissed by his girlfriend, the meteorologist Sam (voiced by Anna Faris) and deciding to work together. Our hero's main aim is to "make the world a better place" as he thought he was doing when he destroyed his machine to save the world from disaster. He is then approached by his idol, Chester V (Will Forte), an inventor and TV personality and idol of Lockwood's, who explains that the residents of Swallow Falls must move out so that Chester's green tech company, Live Corp., can clean up. He persuades Lockwood to come and work for him in his factory which is shaped like a light bulb.

The big surprise to Flint, and the main thrust of the story, is that he finds that his machine is still in existence. Although this time, instead of producing edible food, it is spewing out food-animals, or "foodimals." It turns out that Lockwood's machine, which created the edible madness in the previous instalment, is working again. Flint learns that the main beast on the island - a giant cheeseburger with French fry legs - is attempting to swim off the island, which, if it succeeds, means that it could invade other coastal towns. Lockwood and his small gang of helpers need to return to Swallow Falls and destroy the system.

So the inventor is joined by those he wants and those who go along anyway: girlfriend Sam, his once unemotional father Tim (James Caan), who now says he loves his son, his not too bright friend Brent (Andy Samberg), police officer Devereaux (Terry Crews) and weather-girl Sam's resourceful cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt) and, of course, Steve, the Monkey (Neil Patrick Harris), who doesn't speak much. They return to the island where they find a variety of living food.

And it is here where the dreadful (or perhaps very funny, if you are so-minded) puns come in. There are food related jokes galore. The creatures include Bananostrich (yellow banana with ostrich legs), Buffaloaf (buffalo meatloaf), Cantaloupe (antelope made out of a cantloupe) Cheespider (cheeseburger turned into a French fry-legged spider). Now you have the hang of it, you can work out Jellybee, Fruit Cockatiel, Meatbalrus, Mosquitoasts and so on and on… There are jokes along the lines of "we're toast," and "easy as pie."

Directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn keep up the frenetic action and everyone shouts and screams and it is all lit in bright colours. If you like the visuals in your face and lots of puns then this is for you and your youngsters. If not then don't come to this sequel. There are, however many pleasurable moments when the animals or food-creatures make one laugh and the voices are always well-differentiated so that one is aware of who is speaking. The under 12s should lap it up!

Tom Hanks, as the eponymous hero of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (cert 12A 2hrs, 14 mins.), gives his usual good performance as an ordinary man facing unusual circumstances. In this case they are extraordinarily terrifying events. The film had a gala showing at the London Film Festival and is now out on general release.

We first meet the middle-aged, a little overweight, Captain Richard Phillips as he leaves his family (wife Catherine Keener in a mere cameo part here) in Vermont and flies to southern Oman to take command of an American ship which carries commercial goods and also Humanitarian aid supplies. It is on its way to Kenya. The Maersk Alabama is a large multi-storied ship, with a crew of mixed nationalities, all unarmed. We then meet the Somali fishermen who are to become hijackers.

The men are recruited in Eyl, Somalia and we learn a little of the poverty and the consequent eagerness of the men to enlist for piracy missions under the command of a warlord and his recruiters. Led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) the men, carrying guns, set off in two small boats.

The skiffs approach the Alabama but one lot of pirates turns and leaves when Captain Phillips makes a pretend call on his radio pretending to be a rescue mission. However, one of the skiffs, containing four Somalian pirates lead by Muse (Barkhad Abdi), returns and, in spite of water hoses turned on them, boards the container ship. Richard Phillips manages to tell his crew to hide but he is captured and held by the hijackers. His crew are also later discovered and they, too, fear for their lives.

Phillips' tries to negotiate a deal and offers $30,000 in cash if the pirates will leave the ship in the lifeboat. But the pirates renege on the deal taking Phillips with them in the lifeboat and his life is in real danger. But the US Navy is now in pursuit, which makes the pirates even more anxious to harm but not kill their hostage.

While the background to Captain Phillips' journey is given, there is such a brief sketch of the lives of the fishermen back home, who, it is implied, are driven to piracy by the poverty of their existence in Somalia, that we don't really get any true idea of their actual day to day experiences. That the picture was almost all shot on the open water is obvious from the visual look. Experienced cinematographer Barry Ackroyd manages to capture the rolling seas and the very difficult task of the climatic chase in night seas where, in darkness, the US Navy struggles to reach the Maersk Alabama.

Hanks gives a great performance as Captain Phillips, solid under attack but showing emotion from time to time as he faces the peril of his situation. Some of his scenes really do have a strong and even emotional impact. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi, making his first film, excels as Muse, the leader of the pack and brings ferocity as well as a certain humane quality to his performance. Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali as the other three pirates manage to portray their characters with a certain veracity and the four work well together. The dramatic scenes between Muse and Phillips make one watch without moving a muscle as they are so exciting. Director Paul Greengrass has taken the book, based on the real-life hijacking incident, and turned it into a thrilling and suspenseful story. Even for those who know what happened in the end, the film remains constantly engaging and even shocking at times. It is recommended viewing at your local cinema.

The 17th annual UK Jewish Film Festival launches on 30 October with an Opening Night Gala at the BFI Southbank of the UK Premiere of The Jewish Cardinal. This gripping, star-studded historical drama tells the story of Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Jewish-born head of the French Church and close confidant of Pope John-Paul II. With possibly the most mischievous portrayal of a pontiff in cinematic history, The Jewish Cardinal is a tour de force about what it means to walk the tightrope of faith and identity. The festival follows with an exciting array of films and events which run until the Closing Night Gala on 17 November with the UK Premiere of Eytan Fox's Cupcakes. This is a hilarious and heart-warming musical comedy about life, love and friendship.

Other festival Galas include In The Shadow, the impressive debut feature from Czech writer/director David Ondricek who will give a Q&A after the Gala screening. Set in the dark Stalinist days of early 1950's Prague it is an award-winning crime thriller and biting political drama. On 9 November, the UKJF is proud to present a Gala of Fill The Void followed by a review discussion with leading UK film critics including The Telegraph's Robbie Collin. Winner of the Best Actress Award for Hadas Yaron at the Venice Film Festival, Fill The Void is directed by Rama Burshtein. This debut film set amongst Tel Aviv's ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community, won seven Ophir Awards, including Best Film and Best Director, and was the official Israeli submission for this year's Academy Awards.

An Exclusive Preview of The Congress takes place on 10 November as the Imax Gala. Selected as the opening film at this year's Cannes Directors' Fortnight, Ari Folman's follow-up to Waltz With Bashir is a searing indictment of the film business and Hollywood. The cunningly named Miramount Studios is hungry to scan its stable of high profile actors into computer chips, so that it can take full control of their careers and have them remain forever young. With a stellar cast including Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston and Paul Giamatti, this dazzling live-action animation is underlined by a powerful score from Max Richter and is an unforgettable work from an outstanding and visionary director.

The new VOD Channel, which enables outstanding films to go straight to your computer, TV, tablet or phone, was also launched at the official launch of the UK Jewish Film Festival. The 17th UK Jewish Film Festival will feature screenings of over 70 films and other special events across five cities - London, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester - over the course of 19 days from 30th October 2013. Tickets are now on sale, see website http://ukjewishfilm.org/festival/uk-jewish-film-festival-2013

I must express bias towards one of the films in the Festival. THE LADY IN NUMBER 6

Alice, who will be 110 in November, still plays the piano daily and has many visitors from around the world. She is cared for by her two grandsons and friends. She is the most optimistic person I have met and thinks that the world and people in it are wonderful - in spite of her time in the concentration camp - and that all she has, her one room flat and the area, are the best. I am so proud to have her as my neighbour - yes, I live next door to the LADY AT NUMBER 6.

Also recommended: THE NUN (La Religieuse), with subtitles, (cert. 12A 1 hr. 40 mins.). Directed by Guillaume Nicloux with an eye for the composition of the scenes and an understanding of the emotions of those involved, this is an absorbing tale. Sharon Michaels writes:

Based on the 18th. century novel by Denis Diderot, this film tells the story of power, imprisonment, and a profound hunger for freedom. Set in France in 1760s, a young girl, Suzanne Simoni (Pauline Ettienne), whose misfortune is to be the product of her mother's marital infidelity, is sent away by her parents to the confines of a convent to become a nun. Her sisters have been comfortably married off but there is nothing left for Suzanne and though she has faith, she is given little alternative but to agree, with reluctance, to follow her parents wishes. Suzanne just about manages to live in the Convent with the support and kindness of Mother Superior. However when she dies, Sister Christine (Louise Bourgoin) is appointed in her place.

Sister Christine inflicts considerable physical and mental cruelty upon Suzanne, in the name of Jesus, attempting to break Suzanne's will and her desire to leave the Convent. Being confined to a small dark freezing room, no clothes and no proper food is the least of the sadistic treatment and humiliation metered out to her. However Suzanne's courage and desire to be free is resilient. She is resourceful and manages to leave the Covent but is transferred to another only to be faced with yet further trials, literally at the hands of Mother Saint Eutrope (Isabelle Huppert) who is unable to control her inappropriate feelings for Suzanne.

Suzanne's story ends abruptly and has been radically altered from the original book which is a mistake in my view. But do not let this colour the film as a whole which tells a gripping and intriguing tale.

     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

Sitting close up to the action in the very small Maria (the studio theatre) at the Young Vic THE EVENTS (until 2 November) has a huge impact. The play tells the story of the terrible events which befell Claire, a priest, when a young boy burst into the music room and slaughtered those who were there. Claire managed to survive and ever since has been wanting to know exactly why the events took place She tries to come to grips with what happened and wants to understand the boy who caused the mayhem. At the same time she examines her own spiritual and religious life. We learn a little about Claire and something about the boy - he lived with his mother who killed herself when he was 15 - although in response to why he committed the atrocity all he can answer is, " "I kill to protect my tribe from softness."

Written as a response to the slaughter of 77 people by Anders Breivik in Norway in 2011, David Greig's play is powerfully acted by Neve McIntosh as Claire and Rudi Dharmaltingham as the Boy and other parts. The very unusual thing about this production is the presence of a choir and pianist, in the middle and very much a part of the action. There is a different choir at every performance and on the night I attended, it was the Morris Folk Choir, who sang beautifully and spoke lines and generally participated in the action as well as, at times, becoming the audience listening to the story of Claire and the Boy.

NeveMcIntosh and Rudi Dharmalingam in 'The Events'

McIntosh is most moving , with tears in her eyes and Dharmaltingham gives a very physical performance as the Boy and also manages the other roles such as Claire's female lover, with panache. Often difficult to follow, the play requires concentration but the audience is well rewarded.

THE COMMITMENTS (Palace Theatre (booking until 26 January 2012 box office: 0844 482)

Although based on Roddy Doyle's best-selling novel like the film (which came out in 1991), the show gives out very different vibes. As it has been adapted from his novel by the author himself, we must assume that it says what Doyle wants it to say.

As directed by Jamie Lloyd, The Commitments tells the story of Jimmy Rabbitte (Denis Grindel), a young working class music fan, who draws together a motley crew of amateur musicians and his personal friends to form a soul band in Dublin 1986. The musical follows in particular the lives of two members of this group.

At the beginning of the show - in one of the most amusing sequences - Jimmy auditions a number of applicants in response to his advertisement in a music paper. He finally chooses the ones he wants and decides on the name, The Commitments. With lots of banter and even more loud music, the band rehearses and the members and the audience learn what each person is capable of, not just with their instruments but also their individual personalities. They are performing well and getting audiences but it then goes horribly wrong.

This is a large scale musical with lots of songs, mostly sung and played very loudly. The story remains the one familiar from the book and Alan Parker's film version, but because it is hard to make out the words through the music, much of the author's views on sexuality, particularly women's, is lost.

Soutra Gilmour has produced a fascinating set; concrete Dublin circa 1986 surrounds Jimmy's house with different rooms upstairs and downstairs. The scenes change effortlessly and the musical certainly has pace.

There is a fine performance by Killian Donnelly as Deco, who becomes the lead singer and then antagonises the others in the band. Donnelly has a great voice The rest of the big cast of actor-musicians give good performances too with much energy and the music is played really well - just a bit too much music and too little story for my taste. I heard complaints about the large amount of swearing , but I am afraid I must be immune as that aspect didn't trouble me. I must say however, that the rendition of Try a Little Tenderness was excellently performed as a soul number.

If you want lots of soul music and some good songs and are not too concerned about the political and social backgrounds to the era and the story of the growth of the band, then this is for you.

Another triumph for Hampstead Theatre under its artistic director, Edward Hall. And with RAVING (until 23 November Box office 020 7722 9301) he directs the play himself. This show however differs from many of the others in that it is a light farce

Basically the story concerns three very assorted couples who spend a somewhat traumatic weekend in a rented cottage in the Welsh countryside. A nervous couple, Briony (Tamzin Outhwaite) and Keith (Barnaby Kay) who have left their young son for the first time, arrive in a flustered state worrying about their child and are even more concerned when they can't get a mobile signal to their phone and check on his well-being and also find their hosts have not yet arrived.

Tamzin Outhwaite, Issy Van Randwick, Sarah Hadland, Robert Webb (L to R)

The next to arrive are Charles (Nicholas Rowe) and Serena (Issy Van Randwyck) who are very jolly and keen on having sex with each other, they have five children, and behave in rather an obnoxious manner.

Finally the host and hostess turn up: Ross (Robert Webb) and Rosy (Sarah Hadland) pride themselves on their laid back attitude and want their friends, particularly the new parents, to have an easy relaxed weekend. But these are not the entire party, for into their midst comes Serena's niece, the over-sexed teenager, Tabby (Bel Powley).

This combination of characters throws up all sorts of humorous incidents as the middle class characters discuss parenting - Briony has difficulty with her over active breasts filling with milk; she refers to this as "liquid love" as her three year old son is not yet weaned, while her husband likes to drink the breast milk. Ross and Rosy complain of difficulty with au pairs.

Writer Simon Paisley Day, in a rather sub-Ayckbourn style, gets as much fun as he can from the individual characters and their inter-action with each other and he is extremely well served by his cast of actors, who put high energy into their delivery of the quick-fire dialogue. The characters are well differentiated as they behave badly physically as well as verbally.

Edward Hall directs his cast so as to get maximum fun out of the comic business he sets up and there are many laugh-aloud moments such as the appearance of a fanatically religious local farmer armed with a shot gun and enraged because Tabby has been sexually involved with his disabled son. It's enough to put us all off going away for the weekend with friends!

Another excellently designed set by Soutra Gilmour's (see The Commitments above) marks out FROM HERE TO ETERNITY at the Shaftesbury Theatre (until 31 January 2014 Box office: 020-73795399) as a very professional show. It is, of course, necessary to put aside all memories of the 1953 film directed by Fred Zinnemann. Tamara Harvey directs the new musical based on James Jones' 1951 long novel about life on an army base in Hawaii and the time of the story leads up to the attack on Pearl Harbour, December 1941.

The show follows three soldiers at the base: Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Robert Lonsdale), a Private, who refuses to join the army boxing team; the very macho Milt Warden (Darius Campbell), the Company Sergeant who has an affair with the Captain's wife. The last of this little group is Private Angelo Maggio (Ryan Sampson), the American-Italian wide boy who is continuously picked on because of his ethnicity.

The musical is mainly serious. Maggio makes his money by gambling and offering favours to the clients of a gay club.

From Here to Eternity: Darius Campbell as First Sergeant Milt Warden& Rebecca Thornhill as Karen Holmes

At a different club we see the girl that Prewitt has fallen in love with together with the other girls who work there. Lorene (Siubhan Harrison), Prewitt's girlfriend, and her friends presumably offer more than just dancing to the soldiers. Prewitt is mocked at and suffers physical abuse because he refuses to fight.

To my surprise I found that the show works well as a musical, not least because of the strong musical content provided by Tim Rice's lyrics and Stuart Bryson as composer. The score uses a number of different styles, which fit in with what is happening on stage, so we find some military music alongside more blues-type sounds and a strong romantic ballad in Love Me Forever Today.

Obviously everyone waits for the beach scene with memories of Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster rollicking on the beach in the movie. Here it is a more muted affair, although at the end of the scene Rebecca Thornhill's Karen Holmes, the Captain's wife, does strip off.

But Brayson's score captures the feel of the 1940s and Tim Rice's lyrics, though not always easy to hear above the band, display his familiar rhyming flair: I especially liked a couplet about America's motley professional soldiery that runs: "If this is all they can muster/ They can give it back to Custer."

Tamara Harvey's production and design make ingenious use of the stage space by suggesting that the action unfolds against a series of receding, dilapidated proscenium arches. Javier de Frutos's inventive choreography turns military drill into muscular dance routines and captures the sleazy sensuality of the aptly named New Congress Club. And I have no fault to find with the performers: Robert Lonsdale as the doggedly withdrawn Prewitt, Ryan Sampson as the breezily opportunist Maggio, Darius Campbell as Warden and Rebecca Thornhill as the captain's wife.

But it is only in the final 10 minutes, with the evocation of the raid on Pearl Harbour, that the show ascends to another level by giving us a glimpse of the terrors of aerial bombardment. Until that point, the overriding sense is of a musical based on skilled professionalism rather than expressive need.

Tamara Harvey directs with intelligence so that she gets maximum use of the stage and her soldiers are well drilled in military marching rather than the usual type of choreography. Robert Lonsdale gives a convincing performance as Prewitt and I particularly liked the slight figure of Ryan Sampson as Maggio. There are strong performances, too, from Darius Campbell as Warden and Rebecca Thornhill as Karen Holmes. Don't go expecting a reproduction of the film but enjoy this musical version of a meaty book.

THE NUTCRACKER ON ICE at the London Palladium (until 3 November, then see below) provides a very pleasant evening out as performed by the Imperial Ice Stars. The story of Marie who attends her parents' Christmas Eve party and then goes sleepily to bed only to be woken up and go downstairs to find her toys have come alive. Each scene is attractive; some with snow falling and others brightly lit as the toys dance around and Marie dances with her favourite Nutcracker soldier doll.

The Palladium stage has been converted into an ice rink. In fact this is not the first time that there has been an ice rink here. In the 19th century it became the National Skating Palace - a skating rink with real ice. However the rink failed and the Palladium was redesigned by Frank Matcham, the famous theatrical architect. The ice skating is beautiful and the dancers use the whole area with those not dancing standing at the sides or back. The lovely dancing, including the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, is provided with some light relief from Keith Chegwin and his partner Olga Sharutenko. You may remember Keith's hilarious performance on Christopher Dean and Jayne Torvill's TV series Dancing on Ice.

Altogether a most enjoyable show which is suitable for all the family but it will only have a short run in London before continuing its tour:

The Nutcracker on Ice 2013

    8-17 NOV, WALES MILLENNIUM CENTRE, CARDIFF, UK
    19-23 NOV MAYFLOWER THEATRE, SOUTHAMPTON, UK
     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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