Now it is holiday time, we can look at some light-hearted films that are suitable for all the family. My husband, Steve, went with one of our daughters and family to THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (cert. PG 1hr. 27mins.) and all of them enjoyed the experience.
Although all the characters are well-known from the series shown on TV, this film has its own complete story. Homer's sheer laziness leads to him polluting the town's lake which results in the family being hunted by the rest of the population who are out for revenge. Homer has to earn forgiveness not only from Springfield's citizens but also from his own family. But, as you can see from the comments of my own family below, the story is not of prime importance:
Click on the triangle play button above to play the trailer
Nell, aged 4+, "Best bit - I liked Maggie's first words and Maggie going in and out of the sand-pit."
Alfie, aged 9, "I watch it on TV. This was different 'cos it was longer. I was sad when it said, ' to be continued' but it was OK because it started again immediately. The best bit was where Bart skateboarded naked. I understood most of it and thought it good."
Tracy, Mum, "Good length and fine for both ages; they get different things from it. The best bits were where Bart got friendly with Ned Flanders [father-figure]and then when he made up with his own dad at the end.".
Arry, Dad, "Comparing the film with the TV series, the animation is better here. It was worth the money. I liked all the Homer bits particularly the scene on the roof.
The final member of the group, Steve, enjoyed going with his grandchildren and found the film funny even though he does not watch The Simpsons on TV.
There were a lot of very short scenes. The animation was lively, visually sharp with good dialogue and staging. I agree with the extra commandment, "Thou shalt turn off thy cell phone."
Another holiday film is FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (cert.15 1hr.35mins.), the second instalment (again directed by Tim Story) about the superheroes based on the Marvel Comics' stories. The four leads were delightful when I met them and they appear to have enjoyed filming the extraordinary characters. Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd said that although he had to develop Reed from a nerd, his biggest challenge was to master the American accent. Lovely Jessica Alba thinks that fans have a specific idea of what they want to see.
HAIRSPRAY (cert. PG 1hr. 56mins.), directed by Adam Sankman, is the film of the 2002 musical based on the cult John Waters film of 1988 and tells the story of a fat girl whose dream of appearing on a TV dance show in her home town of Baltimore is realised.
Two traditions from the movie and musical have survived . The lead girl, Tracy is played by an unknown (Nikki Blonsky) and her mother by a man (John Travolta). The political tone of the film whereby Tracy protests verbally and by marching about the exclusion of black dancers is somewhat sugared over. However there is gaiety and some lively dancing and singing and the leads including Michelle Pfeiffer as a rival dancer's mother all perform well.
It is good, rather in the style of Dreamgirls to see a large woman as the star. Perhaps fat really is the new black?
For those who enjoy a well-acted film with women protagonists, SHERRYBABY (cert.15 1hr.36mins.) is well-worth a visit for the fantastic performance of Maggie Gyllenhaal as a young woman who comes out of prison after 3 years and wants to regain custody of her daughter who has been looked after by her brother and his wife.
Also WAITRESS (cert.12A 1hr.44mins.), which is an unusual tale of Jenna, a waitress (Keri Russell) who dreams of leaving her abusive husband and opening her own pie shop. When she falls pregnant by him her hopes seem unlikely to be fulfilled. The film is all the more poignant by the loss of Adrienne Shelly, who wrote, directed and plays the part of another waitress in the film. She was murdered at the age of 40 and her real-life daughter appears in the closing moments of the film as Jenna's child.
A brief mention of the documentary, I HAVE NEVER FORGOTTEN YOU; THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF SIMON WIESENTHAL (cert.12A1hr.45mins.), the story of the life of the holocaust survivor and successful nazi hunter: it should be required viewing in all schools.
THEATRE: AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2007
Lots of musicals flooding the London stage at the moment; none, however, originally created this year. We begin with JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT (Adelphi). Based on Steven Pimlott's direction in 1991, this production is mainly noteworthy for the casting of Lee Mead as Joseph. He won the TV reality show which cast the lead and portrays the favourite son who is resented by his 11 brothers when he is given the famous coat. Lee has a very strong singing voice, looks handsome and has a lot of charm. The production is aimed at the family market with mechanical, talking camels and other audience friendly effects including a participative children's choir and an Elvis look-a-like as the Pharaoh.
While the buzz from the audience contributes to a good night out this one tended to be a bit too noisy. Memorable songs have the audience clapping along with the music at the end, though, I must admit, we came away singing the songs.
At Regent's Park, we find the 1920s musical, LADY BE GOOD, which is somewhat like the show pastiched in The Drowsy Chaperone. Directing for the last time after 20 years as Artistic Director, Ian Talbot brings his usual exuberance to the production. While the story of the penniless siblings, Dick and Susie Trevor (Chris Ellis-Stanton and Kate Nelson), and Dick's efforts to marry a rich woman and his sister's equally strenuous efforts to thwart this, come across in a very amusing fashion, there are only three memorable songs. Fred Astaire and his sister Adele were the first stars of this musical and neither of the present ones can match them in the imaginative choreography by the innovative Bill Deamer. The set is wonderfully conceived - a giant open piano and winding, somewhat perilous drums as steps take up one side of the stage. A delightful show in a lovely setting.
Yet another show billed as a musical, but really more of a concert with short scenes interspersed, BUDDY (Duchess Theatre) about the late, great rock 'n' roll singer Buddy Holly who died in a plane crash on 3 February 1959, aged 22, was first in the West End in1989. It has been touring ever since and now returns to the West End in a lively production which emphasises the jollity and good things in Buddy's life during the years 1956-59, and almost glosses over the plane crash that killed him along with Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. Unfortunately the Duchess Theatre is more suited to small plays than a big musical - not only is the stage somewhat small but so is the auditorium. The well-known songs, such as That'll Be the Day, are presented in a lively manner and well-sung by the cast, particularly Matthew Wycliffe, who was Buddy on press night.
At the end of the show there is a party atmosphere as audience and actors join in an all- singing, clapping experience.
One of the few straight dramas to make it to the West End, THE LAST CONFESSION (Theatre Royal, Haymarket) is a well-written (by Roger Crane), intellectual piece about the mystery surrounding Pope John Paul's sudden death just 33 days after becoming Pope in 1978. David Suchet is clear and positive as the Pope and Richard O'Callaghan and Charles Kay stand out in the all-male line-up.
We need to look to Shakespeare's Globe for more serious theatre and LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST can fit that description although it is a comedy. I find it one of the least successful Shakespearean plays in performance and although the cast make an adequate attempt, the play is wordy and it is difficult to concentrate, particularly on the uncomfortable seating. However the £5 groundlings' entrance price is one of the best bargains around.
A new play by Jack Shepherd, HOLDING FIRE staged at the Globe brings the story of the Chartists to life. It doesn't quite succeed in its attempts to present the political world of the time with its resonance for today. Too many characters, played by the same actors, give rise to confusion. The staging by Mark Rosenblatt is extraordinary with the events that take place on stage extending into the audience in front. I thought the hanging sequence a bit gruesome and I was higher up in the building. But the involvement of the audience as though we are actually present in the 1800's listening to the speeches of William Lovett (Patrick Hamilton Dyer), Henry Vincent (Philip Cumbus) and Feargus O'Connor (Jonathan Moore) is excellent. Who could deny the emotion generated by the Chartists' demands, "A vote by ballot for every man" (women had to wait even longer)?