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FILM:December/January 2005/06

Along comes Christmas and not one but three huge films are on offer. In release date first is the new Harry Potter film, which will continue running during the Christmas period. HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (cert. 12A 2hrs. 37mins.) has a slightly complicated story, which might be difficult to follow if you have neither seen the previous films nor read the books.

Basically the three friends Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) attend the Quidditch World Cup where Harry is troubled by the sign of the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who he last saw the night his parents were murdered. Harry is happy to return to Hogwarts School of Wizardry, under the protection of Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). When it is announced that Hogwarts will host the Triwizard Tournament, Harry is surprised to find himself included as all other contestants are over 17 and Harry is 14. The four contestants battle dragons, under water hazards and navigating a maze with a life of its own. The adolescent boys and girls also have to face choosing partners and attending the Yule Ball.

Harry potter
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Much has been said about the 12A certificate, but the film, besides being extremely long, is much too dark for young children and really scary in parts. But it is full of wonderful effects, with the usual cast plus additions, and, lasting just over two and a half hours, you certainly get your money's worth!

Chronicles of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia

Next we have THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (cert. PG 2 hrs. 20mins.). Based on the fantasy tale by C.S. Lewis, the film tells of 4 children who are evacuated during World War 11 to a country house where they find a magic wardrobe which leads them into the world of Narnia. The White Witch, also known as the Ice Queen (played magnificently by Tilda Swinton) has cast a spell making Narnia always winter.

The children work with the rightful leader, Aslan, the lion (voiced by Liam Neesom) and lots of mythological creatures and other creatures, half human half animal - all of whom talk, of course - to restore Narnia to spring and happiness. As the film includes Father Christmas, who appears in Narnia for the first time in 100 years, it is an ideal Xmas treat. Visually stunning and well directed and acted it is more suitable, apart from the length, for 5 year olds upwards.

And we can also see the massive - in every way - KING KONG (cert. l2A 3hrs. 8mins.). A re-make of the 1933 film, it is, unlike many a re-make, for once, a worthy recreation. Beginning in 1933 in New York during the Great Depression, there is an hour of story telling before we see Kong.

King Kong

Naomi Watts plays out of work and near starvation vaudeville actress Ann Darrow who accompanies filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) to Skull Island, finding King Kong and many enormous prehistoric animals. Lots of fantastic computer generated images and great set pieces culminating, of course, with Kong climbing the Empire State Building. Director Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) has managed to bring the human elements of the story together with the grand set pieces and exciting action sequences. The actors are all good in their parts and this is one spectacle that is well worth seeing.

Mrs Henderson Presents
Mrs Henderson Presents

On a much much smaller scale MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS (cert. 12A 1hr. 45mins) is a film that everyone - over the age of about 12 - can enjoy. Judi Dench is superb as Laura Henderson who, following the death of her husband, buys the Windmill Theatre, employs Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to manage it and sets about making theatrical history. Together they put naked girls on stage in artistic tableaux and run non-stop revue, which continues all through the second world war, "We never closed" was their motto. Will Young has a part here and shows that he is more than just a pretty boy singer and Hoskins gives another sympathetic supporting role performance. Most entertaining. See it and enjoy the holiday season!

Early January sees the release of MATCH POINT (cert. 12A 2hrs.), a somewhat disappointing Woody Allen film, not strong on drama or comedy. The lovely Scarlett Johansson is sadly wasted.

Out just after Christmas is THE PRODUCERS (cert. 12A 2hrs. 15mins) the film of the play of the film. As with the play and indeed the original film, the dialogue is witty and the acting by the two leads - here Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick - excellent. This version has really well-choreographed production numbers and a very sexy Uma Thurman who sings reasonably well and moves even better! Will Ferrell is the very funny neo-Nazi author of Springtime for Hitler.

The Producers
The Producers

While in mid-January we have one of the highlights of this year's London Film Festival, A COCK AND BULL STORY (cert. 15 1hr. 32mins.). Directed by Michael Winterbottam and starring Jeremy Northam, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, it is a film within a film showing Tristram Shandy being filmed. Very well-written, it is also well acted and very funny. Perhaps a little on the literate side, but you don't need to have read the book to enjoy it

Finally, a most unusual film but so good that it is very likely to feature in a number of Academy Award categories. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (cert. 15 2hrs. 14mins.) is a love story, the difference being that it is between two men in the Wyoming area of the USA. Forced by society to live conventional lives, married with children, they meet only intermittently over the years. Based on a very short story by Annie Proulx, the two leads Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are really excellent and Ang Lee has directed a most moving story.

Here's to a New Year full of viewing goodies.


THEATRE TIP

Aladdin
Roger Allam and Ian Mckellen

The top Christmas show must be ALADDIN (Old VicTheatre), starring Sir Ian McKellen as a wondrous Widow Twankey. He dominates the show although other "proper" (as opposed to the usual TV soap actors, that you frequently find in pantomimes), are also good. Roger Allam is loud and clear as the wicked Abbanazar. Unfortunately Aladdin himself and the Princess can neither sing nor act very well. Frances Barber as Dim Sum tries hard but has no singing voice and can't dance either! But it must be worth the price of a ticket to see McKellen in a variety of dazzling costumes. I couldn't take my eyes off him. It's a jolly show with communal singing and many "he's behind you!" No, he isn't." Yes, he is" shouting.

THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (Lyric Theatre) is a very different kettle of fish! As usual Tennessee Williams' dialogue is moving and lyrical and the tale of the de-frocked Priest who comes to rest at the small rooming place owned by the sexy widow Maxine (well played by Claire Higgins) is interesting and unusual. Jenny Seagrove is the spinster who tours around with her very elderly poet grandfather and Woody Harrelson is strong- jawed and always watchable as Shannon, the hellraising ex-Priest who now escorts bus loads of tourists and gets involved with young girls. The connection between the iguana who is chained under the veranda and Shannon who is tied up in the hammock is quite obvious. The set is a bit static but the lighting evokes the hot sunshine of the south.

THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA

The most unusual show around at the moment is the BLUE MAN GROUP (New London Theatre). We were rather worried when we arrived to see that the people in the rows around us were wearing blue macs with hoods, but we were not provided with any! As it happened we were out of the reach of the paint and water that was thrown around. The many young people there seemed to enjoy the show hugely and joined in with the singing and calling out and even volunteered themselves for some hair raising activities like being put in a suit, hung upside down and painted. All of the activities were accompanied by loud rock music and heavy drumming by the performers. More performance art than acting, the show finished with endless streamers covering everything and everyone.

While LIES HAVE BEEN TOLD, the play about Robert Maxwell, continues in the West End at the newest London venue, the tiny Trafalgar Studios 2, a new show takes its place at its former home, the New End Theatre in Hampstead. SOPHIE TUCKER'S ONE NIGHT STAND has Sue Kelvin giving an outstanding performance as the larger than life singer. She puts across Sophie's famous one-liners - "You don't have children! What do you do for aggravation?" with great gusto. The songs, which are always acted out, not just sung, are beautifully accompanied, with comments, by Russell Churney.

Finally, we have an interesting production of TWELFTH NIGHT, which opens the newly restored and re-named Novello Theatre in the Strand. A rather poorly acted Viola with a twin who, I suppose, has been picked because of his height likeness, doesn't present the beautiful lyrical language which Shakespeare uses to show Orsino's love for Olivia as expressed by his servant, "Caesario." The musicians are good, with a particularly expressive jazz singer and Forbes Masson as Feste sings and acts in a suitably plaintive manner. But we are never shown why the twins have clown make-up and what is the significance of the two eyes at the back of the stage?

     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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