Jesse Eisenberg made a number of films before his
outstanding performance in the Social Network. HOLY ROLLERS
(cert.15 1 hr. 29.mins.) is one of these. Inspired by actual events
in the late nineties, Eisenberg plays Sam Gold, who, as a member
of a Hassidic (religious Orthodox Jewish) family in Brooklyn, is
studying to be a rabbi. His rebellious neighbour, Yosef (Justin
Bartha, also known for his performance as the lost bridegroom in
The Hangover), tells 20-year-old Sam about bringing medicines to
the USA from Europe. At first he is wary, but when the parents of
the girl to whom he is betrothed withdraw from the marriage contract,
Sam enters into the importing of - what he soon learns to be - drugs.
His business acumen makes him successful, which pleases the gangster
boss, Jackie (Danny A. Abeckaser) and Sam also falls for Jackie's
attractive girlfriend, Rachel (Ari Graynor). Although warned by
his rabbi and his family, Sam becomes more involved and keen on
the money and lifestyle, especially the nightlife his new career
offers. He recruits other Hassidic Jews to participate in the drug
Sam's moral crisis is not clearly defined here. Although Kevin
Asch seems to be directing some scenes for amusement value, the
subject is serious and the best parts deal with the gravity of Sam's
situation. Perhaps the importance of religion to him and his family
is not firmly enough established and at times Eisenberg shows his
anguish, but we are not always sure whether it is at his inability
to pray or to demonstrate his moral uncertainty for his chosen path.
A strong cast - which includes Hallie Eisenberg (Jesse's sister)
as his sister in the film - back up Eisenberg with clearly defined
performances and we get a good picture of life amongst the Hassidim
in the late 90s
TRUST (cert. 15 1 hr. 46 mins.) is a well-directed
film telling an interesting story. It is set in Chicago and has
a great cast of actors. As ever Clive Owen comes across strongly
as Will Cameron, father of three children who finds that his daughter,
Annie, just 14, has become involved with a sexual predator. While
Lynn (Catherine Keener) and her husband Will are busy preparing
their son for college, Annie (newcomer, Liana Libarato) chats to
her new friend Charlie over the internet. She believes him to be
16 but when they reach the stage of swapping photos, he finally
confesses to being 25. When, by arrangement, Annie meets Charlie
in the shopping mall, she is amazed and a little frightened to find
that he is actually around 35. He re-assures her by saying that
they have shared their intimate thoughts online. Flattered by his
compliments, she goes to his hotel room, where he seduces her. After
she tells her best school-friend about "having sex" with an older
man, she finds her friend has alerted the Head, who, in turn has
brought in the police. Annie insists that Charlie really loves her.
Her father is enraged at the harm done to his daughter and her lies
over the age of the boyfriend, and the nature of their online chat.
The character of Annie is well portrayed by young Libarato, who
displays a good mix of teenage surliness, obstinacy and innocence.
While she shines under the attentions of Charlie, she also shows
her innocence in complying with his requests, believing him when
he tells her they are soul mates. Keener gives another fine performance
in a character part and is believable as a mother coming to terms
with the dreadful act committed against her daughter. Owen shows
rage at the rape of his beloved child and demonstrates how his anger
drives him to commit all kinds of illegal acts to attempt to discover
the identity of the predator. Where director David Schwimmer and
his scriptwriters somewhat overdo the irony is in making Dad's job
an advertising executive in charge of campaigns for clothes using
young models. I was concerned that the film might descend into that
of a vigilante action movie - luckily this is avoided. It would
also have been productive to show how grooming has contributed to
the seduction of the young girl. Although harrowing this is a film
that should be seen by all teenagers and those who care for and
With THE INTERRUPTERS (cert. tbc 2 hrs. 20 mins.)
director Steve James has come up with a very interesting and new
documentary outlining the work done by the "violence interrupters"
(this is their own job title) - those who intervene in conflicts
before the incidents become violent. The film follows three people
working to put an end to cycles of violence in Chicago during a
time of great animosity and unrest. Working for the CeaseFire organisation,
volunteers - who themselves have mostly been involved in criminal
activity and now wish to change their lives and at the same time
help others who they see beginning to go down the same path - keep
an ear out for potential problems in neighborhoods and then act
to prevent violence occurring.
The main aim is to "save a life" and Tio Hardiman, the Director
for Ceasefire, explains how the Interrupters need to be both able
to listen and then through talk convince potential perpetrators
to avoid violent confrontations. The back stories of the three Interrupters
we follow are very interesting. Eddie Bocanegra, now 34 and married
with four children, spent 14 years in prison for a murder he committed
when he was 17. He spends time teaching art to children. Ricardo
"Cobe" Williams, 38, lost his father, who was murdered, when he
was 11. He has been in and out of prison for drug related crimes
and attempted murder. He is now trying to turn around the lives
of young people like he used to be. Ameena Matthews is the daughter
of an infamous gang leader, and was herself involved in criminal
activity until she converted to Islam. She is married to an Iman
at a local mosque and has four children. She works hard to change
the mind set of those involved with violence.
We see the Interrupters working with different young people and
having success or not at different times. While their work often
results in disappointment, the successes make it all worth while.
This is a strong and, at times, moving documentary film which can
teach much to those working with similar young people in the UK.
And finally, we have the last film in the Harry Potter franchise.
It really goes out with a bang in HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY
HALLOWS Part 2 (cert. 12A 2 hrs. 10 mins.). This final
adventure, continuing from the exact point where Part 1 finished,
is the second half of the seventh book (if that all makes sense!)
and shows the final battle between good and evil as Harry (helped
by his friends) and the evil Lord Voldemort have a climatic showdown.
. There are many high octane adventures on the way,
of course. All executed with the consummate skill of film craftsmen,
helmed by David Yates, who really know how to achieve the visual
and other special effects now demanded by the HP franchise. Everything
is managed excellently with imposing sets, atmospheric music and,
of course, exciting action sequences.
There are many very well-known British actors in tiny parts - so
we get glimpses of Julie Waters, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, Helena
Bonham Carter and slightly longer with Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman
and Robbie Coltrane. Even Michael Gambon puts in an appearance as
Dumbledore, the former Headmaster who died in an earlier film. Daniel
Radcliffe puts in another sterling performance as HP, while we now
have a quite glamorous Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. Rupert Grint
seems to have learnt to act over the series and presents a worthy
Ron Weasley. The wonderful Ralph Fiennes, without a nose, is a villainous
Voldemort with just the right amount of sinister overtones.
The audience is treated to spectacular entertainment - this time
available in 3D which adds to the overall feeling of excitement.
I missed the usual Quidditch game (which I never understood); instead
we have romance blooming between the young adults who we have followed
for 10 years. If you enjoyed the early HP films you will certainly
like this one and if not, see it and become a fan!
At last we are able to see the result of the combination of the
film and its characters based on William Steig's book. SHREK
THE MUSICAL (Theatre Royal Drury Lane booking until 19
February 2012), which has been revised since its appearance in the
US, has opened in London. It closely follows the film, although
more of the background of Shrek and Princes Fiona is now shown.
The musical is loud, amusing and has some enjoyable
music and performances, brought out well in Jason Moore and Rob
Ashford's production, which makes full use of the large stage and
even has a huge dragon flying over the stalls.
Nigel Lindsay is the Scottish-accented Shrek and puts across his
character's bravura and loneliness nicely. While Amanda Holden has
a pleasant, but not outstanding musical voice, she conveys the feistiness
of Fiona and also her solitude, and joy in finding a soul mate in
Shrek who understands her. The audience very much enjoyed the diminutive
Lord Farquaad (Nigel Harman) who had them roaring approval at his
exaggerated boastful behaviour. I particularly liked lively Richard
Blackwood as the Donkey. This makes a good family outing.
There is a most amusing little musical now on at
the Gielgud Theatre. LEND ME A TENOR (until 19
November). Ian Talbot's staging is as energetic and sharp as his
Regent's Park Theatre musicals used to be. The original 1986 play
has been made into a musical telling what happens when the leading
tenor fails to show up for a performance of Verdi's Otello in Cleveland.
At times running like an old Whitehall farce with characters rushing
through different doors and hiding in cupboards, the show also has
some good musical moments. One of these is demonstrated by the strong
voice of Damian Humbley as the very ordinary guy who takes on the
lead in the play at the last minute.
Another is a very amusing parody of a number of
arias, including Tosca, Desdemona and Violetta, given by Sophie-Louise
Dann in the manner of a grand soprano.
There is some neat, inventive choreography with a chorus of tap-dancing
bellboys and pirouetting chambermaids. Matthew Kelly provides much
of the fun as the bossy theatre manager, while Joanna Riding shows
she can undertake a variety of roles by following her spell in The
Umbrellas of Cherbourg, at this same theatre, with her role
here as the put-upon-wife of the real tenor. The evening will provide
a lot of enjoyment to those who want to re-live an old-fashioned
Harold Pinter's BETRAYAL (Comedy Theatre until
20 August) offers meaty parts, which are seized upon by the three
main actors. Kristin Scott Thomas gives a luminous portrayal of
the wife, Emma, caught up in an affair with her husband's best friend.
This is apparently based on Pinter's own affair with Joan Bakewell.
While Ben Miles is strong in the part of her husband, Robert, Douglas
Henshall as Jerry, Emma's lover, gives a quieter, more emotional
performance. [the picture shows Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Miles]
Pinter's excellently written and moving play deals with an affair
over a seven year period. What is most unusual is that the play
shows the affair in reverse chronological order so that we begin
with the end of the affair and the play finishes at its beginning.
There is one extra character, Jerry's wife, who is
referred to, but never appears. Ian Rickson manages to convey all
the nuances where what is not said is as important as what is. The
play is all about the sense as well as the reality of betrayal;
the characters are unsure how much each of the others knows. Well
served by the actors we see the full range of emotions conveyed
by the merest glance and Scott Thomas demonstrates that she is equally
at home on the stage as on the large screen.
Simon Callow brings off a tour de force when he performs his
one-man show BEING SHAKESPEARE (Trafalgar Studios
until 23 July). He talks intimately to the audience about Shakespeare,
about his life and work and then acts out excerpts from plays and
sonnets. From giving interesting facts about Stratford, its history
and people, and Shakespeare's life there and subsequently in London
he segues easily into the writer's plays.
We learn about his marriage to Anne and the birth
of twins and his daughter Susannah, who married well. Later how
William knew all about the reality of war as all Elizabethans did.
He spent the money he earned on property including purchasing New
End house in Stratford. Callow reminded us that Shakespeare died
on his 52nd birthday and how much he had written in his short life.
Unlike his sometimes over bombastic performances, Callow is much
quieter and more sincere here and performs each role with ease and
honesty. Even when he is far from embodying some of the characters
like Romeo or a female part, such as Juliet, he manages to give
us the essence of the person. He has a lovely voice which is used
to great effect here, funny or moving as the excerpt demands, and
he ably holds the stage for two hours.
The Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park continues to programme well
and keeps coming up with good productions. The latest two are
THE BEGGAR'S OPERA and PERICLES (both
until 23 July). The picture below shows David Caves in the centre
as Captain Macheath in The Beggar's Opera.
John Gay's musical is a boisterous show, set in its original
period, the 1720s. When the curtain is pulled aside, an ingenious
set is revealed, which includes a huge bed on a cart, a gallows
and the outside and then inside of the prison. Director Lucy Bailey
makes the most of opportunities presented for comic business.
Her interpretation of the story of the highwayman
Macheath and his invovement with Polly Meachum, and also Lucy Lockitt,
is spot-on. Captain Macheath, played by the good-looking David Caves,
is attracted to many ladies including the group of prostitutes who
throng the stage in very revealing costumes.
She peoples the stage with a variety of characters and all act
with verve. They are accompanied by the City Waites on period instruments,
bringing in a numbber of British folk songs. Jasper Britton puts
across Peachum's duplicity well, aided by his wife, Janet Fullerlove
who gives a fine comic performance. The two young women are well
contrasted with a charming Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Polly Peachum
and a more fulsome Lucy, played by Beverley Rudd. Phil Daniels makes
a welcome appearance as Lockit. Try to see this show while it is
still on at the lovely Regent's Park theatre.
For younger folk, the Open Air Theatre presents PERICLES
as an abbreviated version of Shakespeare's play. At the matinee
I attended there were children of all ages, who sat quietly watching,
although I felt it was a bit difficult for those under 10. Marina
began by explaining in everyday language how she came to be looked
after by wicked Queen Dionyza.
The play then went back to her father, Pericles,
caught in a storm. Using the words of Shakespeare's play, we learn
that Marina's mother, Thaisa, drowned and her father saved her by
taking her to Dionyza. (The picture shows Gary Milner as Pericles).
The rest of the play is spent with Marina trying to find her father
and Pericles returning to find his daughter.
There are some adult sequences, such as a brothel which is turned
into a fairground show, which have been altered to fit in with the
target audience. Marina is presented at the fairground as a singing
Mermaid rather than a prostitute in 'Madame Bawd's Petting Zoo'!
The Goddess Diana, who carries a wand with a star at the top, looks,
sings and speaks just like the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. The
cast of six perform really well and in no way speak down to the
audience. The youngsters appeared to understand all that was happening
and joined in happily with the songs of the pirates. We all waved
paper boats when the word 'sea' was spoken! It was cheering to hear
the children singing, "A pirate's life for me" as they walked around
in the interval. The set is fine, with a huge sail over the ship
and ropes which are used in the performance. This production makes
a good introduction to a quite difficult Shakespearean play.
The Globe theatre presents a non-Shakespearean play in Doctor
Faustus (until 2 October). The comic parts come across
much better than the serious ones, so we have farting and someone
peeing against a pillar. As usual, with the Globe audience, which
is predominantly young, with the 'groundlings' (those standing)
prepared to laugh frequently, the comedy works better than the serious
The story of the Doctor with his knowledge of divinity,
law, medicine and philosophy, devoting all his time to magic is
basically a tragedy. Faustus conjures up Mephistopheles, the servant
of Lucifer, and in exchange for 24 years of luxury and service,
gives Mephistopheles his soul.
There are some extravagant scenes with extraordinary costumes -
furry animals and puppets and much clowning around which is well
performed by the large cast. Even the tuneful musicians sitting
above the stage wear birds' heads. Arthur Darvill is not quite menacing
enough as Mephistopheles and Paul Hilton's Faustus could be more
powerful (shown together above). This is a visually exciting production
by Matthew Dunster, although not very moving or tragic.
The new theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon is in full swing. The main
stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre has opened with a comparatively
straight forward production of MACBETH and a truly
revolutionary THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, both playing
MACBETH (until 6 October) has some innovative
touches by director, Michael Boyd, although I, along with a number
of others in the audience at the matinee I attended, am not keen
on having children instead of the Weird Sisters. They speak the
lines, but the sense of witchcraft is missing. Three lady cellists
sit on a platform above the action and play evocative music throughout.
However, the set (especially as it is surrounded on three sides)
is most striking and atmospheric - a hall with stained glass windows
that have been broken, and piles of rubble along with broken religious
statues on the floor. Also well done is the banquet scene where
a very bloody Banquo suddenly appears. There is a lot of blood throughout
In the early scenes Jonathan Slinger as Macbeth is not very dynamic,
while Aislin McGuckin's Lady Macbeth is steely, but not very subtle.
Slinger improves when he becomes King and fights for his opportunity
to rule and then has visions and virtually a fit during the banquet
scene. Lady Macbeth also provides us with a convincing sleep-walking
scene as she desperately tries to wash the blood from her hands.
The only really amusing scene in this tale of woe upon woe is when
the Irish Porter scares the audience when he is trying to set off
fireworks near their heads, although they all fizzle out. The episodes
are terribly sad where first Lady Macduff and her children are murdered
and then her husband is informed. But, apart from the odd sparks,
it is not a very exciting production.
There are many of the same actors in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
(until 4 October) and it is really interesting seeing them take
on completely different parts in very different settings.
(The picture shows Susannah Fielding as Portia ) Rupert
Goold's most exciting production sets the tale in modern Las Vegas.
It starts with an energetic scene in a Las Vegas gambling casino
with much movement and even singing, in a gentle American accent,
from an Elvis impersonator, who later turns out to be Launcelot
Gobbo (the excellent Jamie Beamish), servant to Shylock, a wealthy
property owner and money lender.
Portia (a very amusing performance by Susannah Fielding) chooses her future husband through a reality show. She has abundant blond hair and looks like the heroine of LEGALLY BLONDE. We see her other side when she pretends to be a young male lawyer in order to rescue her chosen husband's friend. Each of her suitors has his own particular style - the Prince of Morocco is a boxer in glittering shorts and boxing gloves.
Patrick Stewart is serious as the Jew who lends money to Antonio (who has insulted him in the past), in order for him to help his friend Bassanio win the hand of Portia. Demanding a pound of flesh if Antonio is unable to repay the debt on time, he suffers at the hands of Portia disguised as a male lawyer. For once Portia looks like a realistic man. While the whole production is aimed at comedy there are some moving moments, including Shylock's despair when he realises his daughter has run off with a Christian AND stolen money and jewels. While Shylock is referred to as a Jew and uses bits of Jewish prayers, he is not caricatured.
Although most of the Shakespearean dialogue fits in well, there are some oddities like "on the Rialto." However, everything about the show is innovative and exciting, including the jazz musicians, and the sets. After seeing this vibrant production it will be difficult to ever see the 'normal' play again! I urge you to go and see it for yourselves!