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FILM: September 2011

This is ape month! First the fictional RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (cert.12A 1hr. 45mins.), a prequel to the Planet of the Apes films. With the new technology available to film makers, director Rupert Wyatt uses motion-capture to turn actor Andy Serkis into the leading ape. Will (James Franco) is a scientist trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer's disease. While doing his job, he wants to help his father (John Lithgow) who is suffering from dementia. Testing the drug on apes goes awry and the programme is terminated.

In the confusion a baby chimp (who is later named Caesar) is given to Will who takes it home. Will and his father look after Caesar. Will continues to administer the drug to the ape and also gives it to his father who makes a rapid but temporary improvement. Caesar and Will meet up with a vet, Caroline (Freida Pinto), who becomes keen on both of them. However, when Caesar shows signs of aggression he is taken away and put into a Primate Sanctuary which is more like a prison. He develops into a leader and we see the story beginning to lead to the Planet of the Apes. All the apes are well portrayed and the film is engrossing as well as being technically extraordinary.

Very different in structure and yet with similarities of story is the documentary PROJECT NIM (cert.12A 1hr. 39mins.), directed by James Marsh, who made the gripping Man on Wire.

The film begins in 1993 when baby Nim is taken from his mother to become an experiment run by a psychology professor at Columbia University who aims to show how a chimpanzee could learn to communicate in sign language if nurtured and raised like a human child.

He is given to his new mother, who breast feeds him as that is what she has done with her own children. It goes well until Nim is deemed too large and aggressive to live alone and taken to live with other chimps. Sometimes saying more about the sexual behaviour of humans, it is worth seeing for its insight not only into the behaviour of a real ape, but also into how the humans around him live and inter-act.

Project Nim

Finally one to take your grand children to: the unusual thing about THE SMURFS IN 3D (cer.U 1hr. 33mins.), directed by Raja Gosnell, is that it is a real mixture of animation and live action. Although this is difficult to achieve, it is managed extremely well here. The animated characters are the Smurfs, tiny people "just three apples high" who live in their own village, which is entered through a magic portal. They are a happy people except for the one threat, Gargamel, who has been unable to find them. But one day he follows one of the little Smurfs and destroys whole sections of their village, finally forcing them out. They land in our world, in fact in the middle of New York's Central Park. The Smurfs are desperate to get back through the portal to their homeland and need to do this before Gargamel finds them.

The Smurfs in 3D

They find themselves in the home of Patrick and Grace Winslow. Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) is a marketing executive for a New York City based cosmetics firm. He is about to be promoted if he can come up with a new advertising idea. The young couple are expecting their first baby and while Grace (Jayma Mays) is optimistic about their future, Patrick is a bag of nerves. His life is not made easier by the lively group of Smurfs which invades his house, his office and even travel around with him!

A very obvious villain is another real person, the wicked wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria), who, aided by his cat (non-speaking and sometimes played by a real cat, and at other times, animated), is obsessed about finding and destroying the tiny Smurfs.

The Smurfs are a varied set of little creatures, with names based on their characteristics. So we have Papa Smurf (voiced by Jonathan Winters) the leader of the group. Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) is the only female and, as can be expected, has many admirers. As in any set of people, there is always one who causes trouble - inadvertently in the case of Clumsy (Anton Yelchin). He has a good heart and, given the chance, might just occasionally become a hero. Another distinctive character is the Scottish Smurf (Alan Cumming) who introduces some Scottish slang into the dialogue.

The 3D does not add a great deal to the film, which is pretty to look at, but does not necessarily require the special effects that can be produced with 3D. There are some nice lines where the word "smurf" is used to replace words in speech, for example, "What the smurf is this" and "Oh my smurf!" This is a movie very obviously aimed at small children who should enjoy the lives of the little people and their fight against the villainous Gargamel. I think that the adult story about the advertising world will appeal to them less. The invasion of Patrick's office space is, however, funny and the melding of the two worlds - human and animated creatures - is appealing.


THE GLOBE MYSTERIES (which runs at the Globe Theatre until 2 October) is a non-Shakespearean play which continues this season's theme of The Word of God. In a new version by Tony Harrison, based on the well-known English mystery plays (the name coming from the different trades guilds of craftsmen: each play in the cycle being assigned to a different craft or 'mystery'), are presented in an audience friendly manner.

It begins with the creation of earth, then Adam and Eve and so on. While we are presented with a lot of humour which involves winking at the audience and bringing them into the Biblical stories with a nod at their absurdities, there are also some straight forward presented episodes like Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac and Mary speaking to Jesus on the cross, which are genuinely moving.

Director Deborah Bruce gives us some exciting images such as the last supper when the actors suddenly group themselves into the image we know from Da Vinci's Last Supper painting. Tony Harrison's poetic rhyming couplets with pronunciation, delivered with northern British accents, has a nice touch of local colour, "When I'm dead bury me back in Gateshead," and serve his adaptation well.

A cast of 14 perform over 60 parts and manage to convey their differences in a number of quick changes. Williiam Ash gives us an innocent, honest Jesus, particularly when he is raised on the cross (see picture above). I liked God (played by David Hargreaves) sitting up high on an armchair and holding a cup of tea. However, it does come across as somewhat silly to have Adam and Eve wearing white underwear. When they are then made aware of their nakedness and cover themselves with fig leaves, the whole point is lost.

As usual at the Globe, the music is first class and there are some good effects, such as blue material being raised to represent the sea in the flood sequence. Not all the elaborate staging works, though, and after Jesus has risen, the audience is divided, by a barrier in the 'groundlings'area into two halves - "the saved" and "the damned" - but the audience didn't do anything except snigger as Jesus addressed one side and then the other before the barriers were removed. The plays are performed in three hours, which is long enough for the audience, especially for the standing 'groundlings' but rather a rush for the amount of material to be covered. The evening ended, of course, in the usual Globe all-cast dance.

If you want an exciting theatrical experience, head for the glorious production of CRAZY FOR YOU at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park (until 10 September). Timothy Sheader has once again done an excellent job of directing a musical which not only has verve but also some of the best dancing to be seen on the London stage.

The story shows how the banker, Bobby (Sean Palmer), who really wants to be a dancer, travels on the orders of his over-powering mother (Harriet Thorpe) from New York to Deadlock, Nevada to foreclose the little theatre on his mother's behalf.

He falls in love with the owner's daughter, Polly (Clare Foster) and stays to put on a show to save the theatre. Bobby pretends to be the impressario, Bela Zangler, and imports the New York chorus girls and boys. All goes well until the real Bela (David Burt) turns up. There is much fun when Bobby impersonating Bela comes face to face with the real Bela in Nevada.

There are good performances from all the cast - some can sing better than others, but they make up for it with their footwork, which is really superb. On opening night there was a downpour - always a posibility with performances in the open air - but men came on stage and swept the wooden flooring, which was then ready for the dancers once the rain stopped.

This revival of George and Ira Gershwin's musical, with book by Ken Ludwig, gives us some lovely performances. Some of the musicals on in London at the moment are better sung, but none have better dancing with a whole variety of styles for tap dancing to balletic. Added to all this is the wonderful music, played well here under the leadership of Gareth Valentine, with well-known songs such as Someone to Watch Over Me, I Got Rhythm and Nice Work If You Can Get It sung with real musicality and enhanced by the always inventive choreography of Stephen Mear along with the magical lighting which gives us stars in the trees at the end.







Carlie Newman

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