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FILM:December 2011

Now the screaming has to stop! The answer – at least for this year - is TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN - Part 1 (cert.12A 1 hr. 42mins.). This is the first part of the final two part completion of the Twilight Saga.

Appealing primarily to teenage girls (although some yummy mummies also love the franchise), the film will not disappoint. It is no use the rest of us laughing at the somewhat inane dialogue and the frequent acting by numbers; this is the film that the fans demand and have now got.

Following on with the story - and you will need to know the background, or do some homework before entering the cinema - Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her great love, the vampire-who-looks-human, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) finally get married. Bella wears a lovely dress and the pair (who are a real-life couple) gaze lovingly into each other's eyes. In spite of Edward's worries about hurting his new wife, they go on honeymoon to a beautiful island in Brazil, where they make love.

The honeymoon is curtailed when Bella discovers she is pregnant and after only 14 days the embryo has already grown inside her. Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who turns into a wolf from time to time, still loves Bella but realises that he has now lost her. He has foreseen that her vampire husband will either kill her or change her through having sex.

When he rushes to her side and talks to her he realises that although the pregnancy is making her very ill, she really wants to have the baby. The foetus grows at an alarming rate and all fear that it is crushing Bella from the inside as it is not compatible with her body and they are concerned that her heart will give out. Bella is also in danger from the pack of wolves, but Jacob tries to protect her from his own kind. The film climaxes with the birth of the baby and the consequences to Bella and the other vampires and wolves.

The adaptation of the final book in author Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series has been, probably rightly, divided into two parts as the book is so long. It will obviously make more money for the makers and stars, but the real fans say that the book is too long and it makes sense to split it in this way. Director, Bill Condon has certainly made a more adult film here with the introduction of sex, albeit with much breaking of the bed in which the newly-weds are lying. Kristen Stewart looks very clean and pleasant after seeing her as a prostitute in the new film Welcome to the Rileys which is also released this month. Robert Pattinson acts in a suitably anguished way and Taylor Lautner continues to rip off his shirt as he belts into the woods to change into his wolf persona. Let those who have enjoyed either the book or the previous films, or both, relish this new movie and as for the rest of us - look and learn to love…it is not for much longer as the last of the saga comes out next year.

I do hope that you will support your local cinema and see MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (cert. 15 1hr. 40mins)

When Colin Clark gets a lowly job working on the production of - what became - the film, The Prince and the Showgirl, starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, he never thought that he would be placed in charge of dealing with the most iconic film star of the age. While acting primarily as the "go-for" on the film, he comes into frequent contact with the star, mainly to try and get her to the set; she is generally one or two hours late, leaving all the actors, including Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) waiting. The real trouble is between the two major stars, who work on completely different levels: Olivier is a great stage actor who struggles in film. While Monroe shines in front of the camera but needs help with acting. There is a lack of communication and understanding between the two stars.

23-year-old Colin finds himself the confidante of Marilyn and for one marvellous week he shows her the English countryside. They swim in a lake - Marilyn in the nude and Colin with his underpants on. When Marilyn's new husband (the couple are actually on their honeymoon), the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) goes away as he can no longer work with the circus going on around her, Colin falls in love with her.

Eddie Redmayne is a sweet innocent as Colin and Michelle Williams, suitably padded, is very cute as Marilyn. Julia Ormond captures Vivien Leigh's way of presenting herself but doesn't really look like her. There are many well-known British actors in small parts, including Emily Watson, Derek Jacobi, Dominic Cooper. The shining star is Kenneth Branagh who plays the theatrical legend with fervour and strength. He manages to get Sir Laurence's speech patterns exactly right and even looks like him; at times his eyes having the dead look that Larry achieved in The Entertainer, the play which brought him renewed fame on the London stage.

The screenplay is by Adrian Hodges, based on Colin Clark's diaries, The Prince, the Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn. It is well-written and directed by Simon Curtis, who has an ear for the amusing dialogue as well as capturing the essence of the incomparable Monroe. This is an absolute little gem of a film and it is highly recommended.

TABLOID (cert. 15 1 hr 27 mins.) is an extraordinary and absolutely fascinating documentary about Joyce McKinney's kidnapping of her Mormon lover and keeping him bound-up for sexual activities. It is so strange that one would think it unbelievable if it came out as a fictional movie! Joyce McKinney was a love-struck former beauty queen, who fell for Kirk Anderson (who refuses to be interviewed). When he, seemingly, rejects her and joins the Mormons, she devises a scheme, using her constant admirer, Keith Joseph May (who has since died, so can't be interviewed) to go to England, where Anderson is working, abduct him and take him to her dream cottage in Cornwall.

There are then two versions: Joyce's, which we see her telling in the filmed interviews, relates how he was kidnapped by the Mormons and taken to England against his will. After she rescued him, she says, the couple spent a kind of honeymoon having glorious sex. The tabloids, in particular the British ones, as we hear from Peter Tory who was then a reporter on the Daily Express, reported that Anderson was tied up and held against his will while Joyce effectively raped him. All agree on the fact that she was then arrested. She fled her bail but was never made to return. As can be imagined the British tabloids adored the story and Joyce was on the front page over many weeks.

Joyce tells her version in an amazingly imaginative style. There is a final bizarre extra when she pays an enormous amount to Dr Hong to have her dog Booger cloned so that the puppies become mini-Boogers! The whole film is directed by Award-winning Morris in a tongue in cheek manner and is hilarious to watch. At times Joyce's fantasy world is almost believable but with Morris' editing we have more than serious doubt about the actual truth by the end. However, none of this matters as the film is a truly comic affair with enjoyment and wonder at the bizarre, convoluted story from start to finish. With sex, abduction, rape, possible impotence and finally cloning - there is surely something here for everyone!

Director, Wayne Wang's SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN (cert.12A 1hr. 14mins.) is really two stories in one. There is the basic tale of seven-year-old girls Snow Flower (Gianna Jun) and Lily (Li Bing Bing), who, having had their feet bound in the traditional manner - to ensure a good marriage - are introduced to each other as laotong (friends for life).

When the girls are separated first by their families and then through marriage, they communicate through the exchange of secret messages written between the folds of white silk fans, using a special language only used by women.

Interspersed with the tale of old China is the modern story of two teenage girls, Nina and Sophia, who come together in the 1990s in Shanghai and become lifelong friends. They learn that they are descendants of the earlier laotongs and Sophia writes the old story. They, too, are separated by family, careers and different loves and lifestyles. But when Nina (Li Bing Bing), now a successful business woman, learns that Sophia (Gianna Jun) from whom she has been estranged for a while, has been involved in a bike crash and is lying near-death in hospital, she rushes to her bedside. There are a number of parallels in the two stories: one of the friends in each era making a sacrifice for their friend. The modern day women learn from the past and realise how they must live for each other.

The two actresses although playing similar roles in the past episodes and the present look completely different and convey a sense of old or modern times. Based on Lisa See's best seller, the film has had the modern day part added. It sits rather strangely beside the 19th century tale of the two young girls' with their bound feet. In the ancient story we see a very different world from that depicted in the newly written sections of Nina and Sophie in present day Shanghai. While Wayne Wang has come up with a more than acceptable romantic film with some well composed attractively photographed scenes set in the hidden China of the past, it is disappointing that it is rather "soapy" and sentimental. The dialogue in the modern world is somewhat stilted and the actresses seem ill at ease when they speak. The director's The Joy Luck Club was so delightful that we expect more from him.

Highly recommended: Andrea Arnold's new telling of Emily Bronte's WUTHERING HEIGHTS (cert.15 2hrs. 8mins.), brings the harshness and sounds of the Yorkshire moors to life. The young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave), here rightly seen as black, and young Cathy (Kaya Scodelario) are exactly right. Although the second half doesn't work as well, the film has many dramatic moments to savour. As does THE DEEP BLUE SEA (cert. tbc 1hr. 38mins.), directed by Terence Davies. It stars Rachel Weisz (surely an Oscar winning performance) as Hester, who gives up the love of a decent husband ( Simon Russell Beale, excellent, as always) for the love of Freddy (newcomer Tom Hiddleston), who is unable to commit in the same way.

 


 

 

THEATRE TIP

If you want a meaty outing, you will enjoy THREE DAYS IN MAY (Trafalgar Studios until 3 March 2012), where you might well learn some new facts and see a well-acted, although very wordy, play performed by experienced actors.

Ben Brown's play explores what really happened in a series of Cabinet meetings in 1940. Over three days in May, the Cabinet debated the recommendation put forward by Lord Halifax (Jeremy Clyde) to pursue the French proposal to use Italy with Mussolini as the intermediary to secure a peace with Hitler.

Winston Churchill (Warren Clarke, see picture), the newly elected Prime Minister, has to persuade his Conservative colleague, Chamberlain (Robert Demeger) and use the support of the Labour members,

Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood to reject the proposal. Although somewhat static with men sitting around a table talking, the play brings history to life. It shows us what could have happened if Churchill had not used his excellent negotiating skills to good effect. Clarke is especially good as Churchill, getting his voice, thrusting lower lip and bulldog manner just right. Clyde and Demeger show the different characteristics of men caught in the turmoil of war.

A play deserving of revival is James Saunders' NEXT TIME I'LL SING TO YOU (Orange Tree, Richmond until 10 December). Michael Caine made his West End debut in 1963 as Meff who fluffs his lines when he opens the play by speaking to the audience about the theatre and how it is perceived. Inspired by the tale of the hermit, known as Jimmy Mason, Saunders discourses on metaphysics, existentialism as well as the meaning of what the actors are doing and, in particular, trying to answer the question of the actor (Jamie Newell) who plays the hermit, who wants to know what the motivation of his character is. An intellectual, rather than an emotionally satisfying piece, it is well acted by the cast, particularly Aden Gillett as the enthusiastic "author" of the piece, and Newell.

Another play by a well-known author is also being revived. JUDGEMENT DAY, Mike Poulton's new version of Ibsen's final play, When We Dead Awaken, directed by James Dacre, is at the Print Room, London (until 17 December). A symbolic play, it presents us with distinct yearnings for love and the giving of love. Ibsen portrays himself, not as a writer, but as a sculptor.

On holiday at a hotel with his young wife, Maia (Sara Vickers), he meets his former love, the ethereal Irena (Penny Downie) dressed all in white with a silent nun following her around. We have seen Arnold, the artist, and his wife expressing dislike for each other. Now Arnold (Michael Pennington) tells Irena that he still loves her and considers her his muse and the inspiration for his greatest creation. He tries to get her to return to him, "I need somebody in harmony with me." He believes Irena will help him create once more. Maia is happy to pursue adventure with the lusty Baron Ulfheim (Philip Correia), another guest at the hotel.

The play is very well presented in the tiny theatre. A long platform has the audience on either side. The acting is of a uniformerly high standard so that although the play requires high concentration, the characters are presented with clarity and the audience can believe in the them and in the play's messages.

It is interesting to watch THE LAST OF THE DUCHESS (Hampstead Theatre until 26 November) and compare it with the story of the early romance of Wallis Simpson and the Prince of Wales as shown in Madonna's soon-to-be released film, W.E. Whereas in the film she was set on ensnaring the Prince and was surprised when the British public resented her, in this play we only really hear about her life as a recluse looked after by her lawyer Suzanne Blum, who according to this version based on the journalist Caroline Blackwood's account of her attempt to interview the Duchess, was stealing from her employer. Caroline was continually thwarted by Maitre Blum in her efforts to actually see the Duchess.

Caroline (Anna Chancellor) narrates her version to the audience, while Maitre Blum (Sheila Hancock) preens when she believes she is to be photographed about "her" story of her employer. Chancellor gives a good portrayal as the aristocratic journalist who likes her drink a little too much. Hancock shows that she is more than just a comedienne or light musical star and gives a very good performance.

And there is the excellent THE PITMEN PAINTERS showing older miners in 1934 in Ashington, Northumberland, learning art through doing it themselves, that is now on at the Duchess Theatre (until 21 January 2012). (The picture shows Trevor Fox, Ian Kelly & Michael Hodgson)

This not only shows the educational aspects of learning at any age and for everybody, but also how art has an emotional aspect and learning about painting affects all who try it. The miners gather in a hut for their WEA classes and under the tutelage of an enlightened teacher are encouraged to paint rather than just listen to him talking about paintings that they have never seen. They became known as the Ashington Group, whose first exhibition was held in Gateshead in 1938. The same wonderful cast and production that we saw at the National Theatre once again put across Lee Hall's play in a realistic and straightforward and confident manner.;

DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (in the re-named Harold Pinter Theatre until 21 January 2012) is a revival of the play by Ariel Dorfman, with a star to draw in the public. In fact Thandie Newton is not bad at all as Paulina who believes she recognises the stranger who has come to their house.

Thandie Newton with Anthony Calf

Set in an unnamed, but obviously South American country, Paulina Escobar believes Roberto, the stranger (Anthony Calf) to be the captor who raped and tortured her when she was a political prisoner 15 years ago. In this well-written play, the audience is never sure whether Roberto is in fact the one who was responsible for Paulina's terrible experience but we learn a great deal about human rights, truth and justice (matters dear to the late Pinter).

While Newton is very attractive, she is not experienced enough to get the nuances of the character quite right; she is angry and over intense rather too soon and plays much of it a bit softly and on one note. But she gives a believable performance and is backed up well by Calf and Tom Goodman-Hill as her husband.

Nichola McAuliffe has written an account of her journalist husband's identification of the plight of Mirza Tahir Hussain who faced the death penalty in Pakistan. In A BRITISH SUBJECT (Arts Theatre, London, until 26 November) Daily Mirror's Don Mackay (David Rintoul) was sent to cover the story of the British subject's incarceration of the accidental death of a taxi driver while Hussain (who has dual nationality) was in Pakistan.

He had already been in prison for 18 years. Actress McAuliffe helped her husband desperately search for important people to secure the release of Hussain.

Looking far from glamorous the actress, who also plays other parts, shows the life of the couple at home as a series of minor disagreements and a somewhat muddled existence. Beginning like an illustrated lecture, the play develops into a powerful plea for justice. Mcauliffe is excellent as herself - no mean feat - and David Rintoul is a suitably gruff Scottish journalist. It is a strong play which is highly recommended.

Joanna Lumley as Queen Eleanor and Robert Lindsay as King Henry II

While THE LION IN WINTER (Theatre Royal, Haymarket until 28 January 2012) is certainly not a theatrical masterpiece, I can understand why director, Trevor Nunn has put the play on now. It provides two wonderful roles, and these have been seized upon with gusto by Robert Lindsay playing Henry 11 and Joanne Lumley as Eleanor of Aquitaine. It is 1183 at Henry11's castle in Chinon - and that is about all that is real in this made-up imagined slice of British history, The rest - speech, habit, customs etc are all anachronistic.

The idea is that Henry and his estranged wife Eleanor (who is on temporary release from the prison where Henry has held her for the past 10 years) have come together with their sons to celebrate Christmas and agree on the future of the dynasty. Henry wants their somewhat feeble youngest son, Prince John (Joseph Drake) as his successor, while Eleanor favours the oldest, Prince Richard (Tom Bateman). Nobody roots for the middle son, Prince Geoffrey (James Norton), who plots in the background. There is also Henry's mistress (Sonya Cassidy) and complications about her relationship within the wider group of Royalty!

Owing more than a little to Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, there is much acrimonious verbal banter between the couple. The other characters hover around awaiting their chance to make their feelings known. Lumley is very good as the ageing beauty who sees her sons and her husband's new mistress taking away her power. She puts over the one-liners in a very slick manner. In this she is well-matched by Lindsay, who has a lovely deep melodious voice and good comedy manner. There is also some good visual comedy when all three sons hide behind tapestries at one point to hear the others and Henry plotting.

Jane Juska's book on her experiences with the men who replied to her advert searching for sex with many men has now been made into a play, A ROUND-HEELED WOMAN (see review last month), which is transferring from the Riverside studios and will start performances at the Aldwych Theatre on 24 November, ending on 14 January 2012. It stars Sharon Gless.

 

Carlie Newman

   
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