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FILM:August 2011

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 smuggling.

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 about them.

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!

 


 

 

THEATRE TIP

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 farcical musical.

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 parts.

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 in repertory.

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 the play.

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!

 

Carlie Newman

   
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