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FILM: December 2008

Two films to watch out for in December - both shown at film festivals - THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES (cert.12A 1hr. 45mins.) is set in 1964 during the Civil Rights battles and shows 14 year old Lily (Dakota Fanning, having her first screen kiss) learning to find herself after she leaves her unloving father's home with her black maid (Jennifer Hudson) and makes her way to live with the Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okenedo). There is an evocative music score by Mark Isham. The film is good background to the momentous happenings in the USA today.

The Israeli film LEMON TREE (cert. PG 1hr. 46mins.) is very different although it also deals with conflict, this time between the Israeli Government and a Palestinian woman who objects very forcefully when she is told that her lemon grove has to be destroyed because it forms a security risk to the Israeli Minister living in a house on the other side of the fence next to her.

The Secret Lives of Bees

In Hebrew and Arabic with English sub-titles this is an absorbing story with a truthful performance by Hiam Abbass as the woman and Ali Suliman as her lawyer who becomes intimately involved in her life.

A Street Car Named Desire

For real film-making on an epic scale supported by a cast of giants in the acting world, do go and see, or get the DVD of, the re-released 1951 version of Tennessee Williams' play, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (cert.12A 2hrs. 7mins.) directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando (in one of his towering portrayals),Vivien Leigh (giving a poignant performance, made even more so with our knowledge of her later life) and Kim Hunter and Karl Malden (in less starry, but equally dramatic roles).

And one to take the grandkids to over the coming holiday season - try MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA (cert. PG 1hr. 30mins) - not as interesting as the first Madagascar film but with the same characters plus a few extra. It is lively, fairly amusing, has bright colours and is just the right length for young ones.

May I wish you all a very peaceful 2009 and I hope you enjoy many visits to the cinemas in your local area.


THEATRE TIP

To see real ensemble acting of the highest order do go and see AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (National Theatre). Reminders of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night but with lots of humour thrown in and the setting is bang up to date with comments on the lives of the family under scrutiny echoing the state of America today. Scenes are enacted in front and at the sides of a very attractive open house set. The father of the family starts by quoting TS Eliot and announcing, "I drink; my wife takes pills" to the Native American who has come for the job of housekeeper. When the father goes missing and then commits suicide, the three daughters of the family return home to face their drug-dependent mother as well as each other. One has a husband from whom she is about to separate, the second has a fiancÚ who gropes the teenage daughter of her sister and the third is involved in a secret affair with her cousin.

It is a loud family who are not afraid of voicing their feelings and also acting physically from time to time, and director, Anna D. Shapiro, brings all this out. While the individual actors are excellent - particularly Deanna Dunagan as the matriarch, Amy Morton as the eldest daughter and Sally Murphy and Mariann Mayberry as the other two daughters - it is the ensemble acting by the Steppenwolf Company which is so remarkable.

The scene around the dinner table following the funeral is a gem of timing, action and varied emotions from quiet to fighting between mother and eldest daughter. The only outsider is the new housekeeper who is mainly on the periphery of a number of scenes. There is a lot of humour although some of it comes in the middle of very black moments. This is a very long but always absorbing play with perhaps the finest group performance around.

Osage County

And in West London you might just catch a very lively production of OTHELLO at the Lyric Hammersmith. It begins with a wonderfully evocative dance around a pool table in a pub where Othello and his gang rev up to fight a rival group and the women, chiefly Othello's new wife, Desdemona, and her friend Emilia hang around their men folk.

Othello

As you can tell this is not only a modern dress affair but very much of today with all except Othello speaking in Yorkshire accents. There is as much movement as there is dialogue - Shakespeare's play is severely cut - and the production is great with even the walls moving in this Frantic Assembly endeavour. It looked great except for the lighting which makes the stage occasionally too dark to see faces clearly. What lets it down are the actors: Jimmy Akingbola's Othello is far from noble and we see no reason for Desdemona to fall for him.

There is little poetry in the lines and it is often difficult to work out who some of the characters are. But the movement and choreographed fights are very exciting...it is just a pity that the actors also have to speak.

An actress as well as a singer Maria Friedman uses both skills to great effect in her concert performance MARIA FRIEDMAN: RE-ARRANGED at the Trafalgar Studios. She covers a range of songs using a variety of techniques and manages to get audience members on stage and participating in songs including the worst pies in London from Sweeney Todd. She has a lovely voice and is backed by excellent musicians.

I hope you manage to see a show at a theatre during 2009. Happy holidays!

Carlie Newman

   
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