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FILM:November/December 2021 Film Tips

Three films based on real people and real events (imagined in the first film) are showing now at your local cinemas and will be available online.

SPENCER (cert 12A 1hr. 57 mins.) imagines what might have happened during the final few days of the marriage of Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) and Diana (Kristen Stewart). It is set during the Christmas festivities at the Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk in the early 1990s. We know that the marriage of Charles and his wife has hit rock bottom. Strong rumours of affairs and possible separation and divorce abound as the large royal family meet to enjoy Christmas together. Diana knows what to expect but is reluctant to join in with the eating – she has an eating disorder – drinking shooting and hunting. She is very unkeen on the latter two and does not want her two young sons to take part either. This year not everything will run as usual. This film tells the story of what happens as Diana makes the decision to leave Charles.

With a mixture of fantasy and reality (in the imagined film sense) we see Diana in a series of beautiful costumes wandering around the estate. She has visions of Anne Boleyn – one of King Henry's wives - who was eventually beheaded.

Great production with director Pablo Larrain catching the Queen's displeasure and Diana's mental health problems. The supporting cast, in particular Diana's favourite maid, Maggie played by Sally Hawkins and Timothy Spall as the Equerry who watches and follows Diana around, are exactly right.

Photo: Landmark Media/Alamy

But mainly the film focusses on Diana played by Kristen Stewart. Stewart gives a very good portrayal of the Princess, even getting her English accent spot on. She is meek and quiet at the beginning and then gathers strength to assert her will towards the end of the film. Don't go expecting it to be like the Crown. This is a fictionalised hard-hitting version of part of the Diana story.

Rating ****

KING RICHARD (cert. 12A 2 hrs. 24 mins.) is seemingly a real tale of how the father of Serena and Venus Williams managed to bring up his daughters to conquer the tennis world.

Seeing it numbers Venus and Serena amongst the executive producers, one wonders whether the film is going to give a glamorised version of Richard Williams. In fact, it shows us Richard as frequently stubborn and somewhat egotistical. It is, however, generally a sympathetic portrayal and Will Smith makes the characterisation seem true.

King Richard
Will Smith with Demi Singleton (Serena), left, and Saniyya Sidney (Venus)in King Richard. Photo: Chiabella James

Richard makes a plan to turn two of his daughters into tennis superstars. Living in Compton, a poor area in California with very unkempt tennis courts, it is an uphill battle. He learns himself and then teaches Serena and Venus. Richard is supported by his wife, Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis) and he pushes forward to find coaches and sponsorship for his girls. Although we know the outcome as Venus and Serena are the two best known names in women's tennis, we still watch with eagerness to see how Richard succeeded in his dream.

Rating ****

We see Maurizio Gucci going into his home, we hear a shot. And that is the start of HOUSE OF GUCCI (cert 15 2 hrs. 37 mins.)!

Lady Gaga – following on from her tour de force in A Star is Born – gives a startlingly fine performance in House of Gucci. She shines as Patrizia Reggiani who falls for and then seduces the super-rich Maurizio Gucci, heir to the Gucci empire. Patrizia sets about pushing the Gucci fashion house to greater glory and even more riches.

To the displeasure of his father, Rodolpho (Jeremy Irons), Maurizio marries Patrizia, whose father is an ordinary middle-class tradesman. She enters the Gucci world with enthusiasm and sets out to increase Maurizio's stake by causing difficulties between Maurizio and his cousin, Paulo (Jared Leto), who is assisted by his father (Al Pacino). She also moves to make Maurizio become less family orientated and be more ruthless in his business dealings.

When she has difficulties with Maurizio, Patrizia turns to the psychic, Giuseppina Auriemma (Salma Hayek), a rather outrageous character, for help. But it seems Maurizio has had enough and gradually excludes Patrizia from his life. She has to live separately with their daughter and is not at all content with the idea of losing the Gucci connection.

It’s like watching a soap opera from the past.  The actors are all good except for a rather mix match with the Italian accent.  It comes and goes. Jeremy Irons is a little too laid back at the beginning of the film but livens up in time for his end-of-life scenes.  Jared Leto has a false nose and extra prosthetics to give him a jowly look.  I always find Al Pacino fascinating to watch and here he manages to put across his rather absurd character with style. Adam Driver is a cool character and plays his part well – at the beginning soft and malleable and then hardening as he realises what sort of person he has married.

House of Gucci
Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Lady Gaga has said she studied the accent for many months and, indeed, hers is the strongest and most convincing. She shows that she can really act and that her earlier film was not a one-off. A little whirlwind, her character dominates the film. And director Ridley Scott, now aged 83, keeps the action moving. It is a long film, but it doesn't feel too lengthy when watching it.

Rating ****

The big film of the year was NO TIME TO DIE (cert, PG 13 2 hrs.43 mins.). After many delays, finally, the new James Bond film has arrived. Showing at almost every cinema in the land, it is one of the must-sees for any Bond fan.

This is the last outing for Daniel Craig as James, and naturally there is lots of action, saucy dialogue and dramatic happenings! Not so much casual sex as previously as we are shown more of Bond's heart this time.

The story shouldn't bother you too much – it has the usual absurdities, but we need some kind of tale to hang all the spectacular stunts on! There is a prelude showing a traumatic incident in the life of Dr Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydiux) who is in a close relationship with James.

The main story is about a sinister plot afoot which Bond – who has left active service - is called upon to deal with. M (Ralph Fiennes) is using a dubious scientist to develop 'Heracles,' a biowarfare scheme. In prison now is Blofeld (Christopher Waltz) who, in fact, is directing the sinister plan from his prison cell. Rami Malek plays another of the villains, with a suitably evil look! Lashana Lynch plays a new Agent, bizarrely called 007. And there is a small but delightful cameo from Ana de Armas as Paloma who helps Bond in Cuba.

No Time to Die
Daniel Craig gives his final performance as James Bond© Universal Pictures

But really it is the elaborate set pieces of action and amazing stunts that we look for. The film is rather too long, but director, Cary Fukunaga, has given James Bond plenty to do in his pursuit of the villains. Craig is excellent once again and brings a good deal of British understatement to his scenes. Go see!

Rating ****

And for many of us the just released WEST SIDE STORY (cert. 12A 2 hrs. 36 mins.) is the film we have been waiting for.

With pulsating music, exciting dancing and a beautiful leading lady, the new West Side Story bursts on to our cinema screens. As long as you accept this as a new version of the1957 stage musical and not a re-make of the iconic 1961 film, you will be able to sit back and enjoy it. And most enjoyable it is too!

Director Steven Spielberg has put his own take on to the story. Don't worry the clicks of the fingers are still there, the memorable music remains as do the songs, but it is now 2021 and Spielberg shows us the world of the late 50s through modern eyes.

Inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the film is now set in New York City. There is rivalry between the Sharks – A Puerto Rican gang led by Bernardo (a fiercely angry David Alvarez) - and the Jets – a gang of young white men with the charismatic leader Riff (Mike Faist, a young toughie).

Maria (beautiful Rachel Zegler), Barnardo's sister meets Tony (Ansel Elgort), one of the Jets gang at a dance. They fall instantly in love with one another, and he romances her. Her friend Anita (the vivacious Ariana Debose), who is Barnardo's girlfriend warns Maria against falling for an enemy and Tony's friends are absolutely against his romance with a Puerto Rican girl.

West Side Story
Photo: 20th Century Studios

Tony, backed by Maria, tries desperately to prevent a planned rumble between the two gangs but each side is determined to fight. This leads to disaster for the young men in both gangs and for Tony and Maria.

Lovely though Natalie Woods was in the part of Maria., she was not of the right ethnicity and her voice was dubbed. Rachel Ziegler looks exactly right and has a very sweet voice. One of the main advantages of this version is that all the casting has been done with the ethnicity of the characters to the forefront. So, the Sharks are all of Puerto Rican, or nearby, descent. Spielberg uses his actors appropriately. He allows them to talk in Spanish without any subtitles, but it is always clear to the audience what it is they are saying even though many of us know no Spanish.

Spielberg has a long history of filmmaking, and the choice of actors is spot on. While Elgort's Tony is not a very dramatic characterisation, he manages to put across Tony's very real desire to keep away from violence. Ziegler looks beautiful and comes across as sweet and very much in love. I loved the Anita of DeBose - she is able to dance, sing and act superbly. Delightful to see 89-year-old (at time of filming) Rita Moreno (Anita in the earlier film) as Valentina. She sings Somewhere very movingly.

The young lads, especially the leaders of each gang, Mike Faist as Riff and David Alvarez as Bernardo, are excellent. The diverse cast includes a trans-actor, Iris Meanas as Anybodys and once you see the actor, they are exactly right in the part and give new meaning to the role. Lt Shrank (Corey Stoll) is suitably casual as he expounds very obvious racist views.

With a screenplay by Tony Kushner, original music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by the great Stephen Sondheim, who has recently died, the musical is absolutely riveting. Although long, the wonderful cinematography by Janusz Kaminski and lively choreography make you wish it was even longer! The film is a fantastically successful effort by Spielberg.

Rating *****

     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP:Nov/Dec 2021

Well, it’s good to announce that most theatres have opened although with the rapid expansion of COVID, a number have to cancel performances when main cast members are ill or isolating. 

In London a number opened and finished recently. But they may come back in London or somewhere, hopefully, near you! So this is a catch up at the end of the year…

FOUR QUARTETS was on at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London *****

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

The opening lines of Burnt Norton spoken by Ralph Fiennes makes the audience gasp in wonder. Using his beautiful voice, bare-footed Ralph Fiennes reciting TS Eliot's poetry, gives his own particular interpretation of this four-poem masterpiece. You might think you have seen or heard this before, but it all sounds new in Fiennes' performance. As the poems, written between 1935 and 1941, explore time, belief, love, life and death, we listen and learn. In addition, the Four Quartets deals with places – Burnt Norton, a house in Gloucestershire; East Coker, a village in Somerset: The Dry Salvages, off the coast of Massachusetts; Little Gidding, in Cambridgeshire, a religious community where Charles 1 took refuge in May 1646, after his defeat at the battle of Naseby.

The poems are performed simply in a set comprising one chair next to a desk and one free standing. The set itself has two huge blocks, which Fiennes turns from time to time. They also move mechanically. Spinning around very slowly, they end up each time looking not very different. There is good sound design with crashing waves and evocative lighting which changes with the images of the poems.

Four Quartets
Photo : Matt Humphrey

Only 80 minutes, the performance, directed by Fiennes, is pure joy and highly recommended. Watch out for more performances.

THE CHOIR OF MAN *** (Arts Theatre, London booking until 22 February 2022. Box office: 020 7836 8463)

From one man to nine who bounce around the stage in a very lively manner in THE CHOIR OF MAN.

On stage is an authentic pub setting with real beer which is given FREE to members of the audience at the start of the show and offered to others during the production. So, before the musical even starts, lots of the audience are happily swigging their full pints and are more than happy to enjoy what is on show

The Choir of Man
Photo : Helen May Banks

And what is on show are the nine men – Tom Brandon, Miles Anthony Daley, Daniel Harnett, Alistair Higgins, Freddie Huddleston, Richard Lock, Ben Norris, Tyler Orphe-Baker, Mark Loveday, with names such as The Beast, The Romantic, The Joker. The nine, who sing chorally and individually, dance and tell stories, are backed by four musicians. Some good songs that are well-performed but a few of the little dialogues between songs are somewhat bland.

Director, Nic Doodson stages most of the show well with a particularly expert tap dance.  But the song set in a urinal where we see some of the men peeing is not to my taste!   For those who enjoy pubs and drinking, this is just the show for you.  But for some of us it might be just a little too macho for our liking!

In London we welcome THE SHARK IS BROKEN****, described by promoters as "revealing the hilarious behind-the-scenes drama on one of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters."

Playing at the Ambassadors Theatre in West Street, Covent Garden until 13 February 2022, the play has Ian Shaw embodying his father, Robert Shaw in this tale of waiting around during the difficult filming of the classic 1975 film 'Jaws'. Alongside Ian Shaw we have Demitri Goritsas as Roy Scheider, and Liam Murray as Richard Dreyfuss, the other stars of the film.

As Shaw Jnr co-wrote the play, he has probably got the story, set in 1974, right. Conflict abounds between the three as they wait while the mechanical shark is adjusted to make it work. A good set of a small boat and look and sound-alike actors help to give this production real audience appeal. It's worth noting that the play runs at 90 minutes without an interval.

And do catch the magical and spell-binding National Theatre production of THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE **** at the Duke of York's Theatre, London. Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, this acclaimed play is described as a spectacular and thrilling adventure and a tour de force of imagination and storytelling. So sit back, relax and let your imagination run wild as you watch this impressive production.

We watch the close relationship between a father (Nicholas Tennant), who is struggling to bring up his 12-year-old son (James Bamford) and daughter (Grace Hogg-Robinson) alone. When the Boy (he is not given a name) finds himself on a farm with a family of three females, his story becomes a mixture of fantasy and reality. He makes friends with the daughter, Lettie Hempstock (Nia Towle), her mother, Ginnie (Siubhan Harrison) and grandmother (Penny Layden). Meanwhile his father welcomes a lodger, Ursula (Laura Rogers) into his home. However, Ursula is somewhat scary. The evil Ursula and monsters threatening the farm family provide magic which is sometimes frightening to watch.

The production, with amazing magic and illusions designed by Jamie Harrison and directed with pace and imagination by Katy Rudd, is fantastic. The play is booking until May 2022.

RELATIVELY SPEAKING ****was delightful at the Jermyn Street Theatre, London

The revival of this play brings joy to your hearts! In an evening full of misunderstandings and complete failure of the characters at times to understand what is going on, there are plenty of laughs and much jollity to be seen. Always worth visiting, the little gem that is the Jermyn Theatre has given us another revival to be amused by. The play by Alan Aykbourn has his usual mix of misunderstandings and confusion and is very funny.

When Greg (Christopher Bonwell) suspects his girlfriend Ginny (Lianne Harvey) of not being completely honest with him, he follows her when she goes to visit her parents. The trouble is when he arrives, they are not actually her parents (the couple are played by James Simmons and Rachel Fielding), and don't know anything about him. Ginny arrives at the same house, knowing exactly who the man is but there are more mix ups and mistaken identity!

Relatively speaking
Photo : Joan Marcus

The production is very well designed with costumes, lighting and sets being exactly right and one of the best in-front-of-the audience scene changes I have seen. A superb cast, well directed by Robin Herford, put across Ayckbourn's lines with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humour.

THE MEMORY OF WATER**** was on at the Hampstead Theatre, London

The story of three sisters who come together in the days before the funeral of their mother is well played in this 1996 play written by Shelagh Stephenson and directed by Alice Hamilton. The sisters are very different and clash when they come together although we get a real feel of the love that lies beneath their relationship. As they prepare for the funeral and look though the mother's clothes, they reminisce about the past, dredging up memories which mostly differ from each other.

The sisters, Mary ((Laura Rogers), Vi (Lizzie McInnerney) and Catherine (Carolina Main) are not the only ones onstage. We see Mum before her death and as a kind of ghost afterwards. Also present is Frank, husband of Teresa and Mary's married boyfriend. Their interaction is often humorous, sometimes painful to hear and at other times moving.

The Memory of Water
Photo : Helen Murray

A thoughtful play, which is well-acted and worth catching if it is revived anywhere!.

Hairspray***** London Coliseum

Another musical that began life as a film: Hairspray is based on the 1988 John Waters' film. It was originally on in 2007 with Michael Ball as Edna. I attended the launch of this new production in February 2020 and, at that time, we had Paul Merton as Edna's husband. Owing to a number of postponements of the opening date, the part was taken over by Les Dennis, as Merton is no longer available.

Tracy Turnblad (Lizzie Bea) is a large girl who dreams of stardom. At first, her loud mother, Edna (Michael Ball) thinks she can't make it and then she and her husband, joke shop owner Wilbur (Les Dennis, back her.

Hairspray is set in 1962 when racial segregation was still happening in many parts of America. Tracy and her friend are against this and through her work on the TV show she fights for it to be abolished. She comes up against Velma Von Tussle (Rita Simons), a very aggressive, bigoted woman who pushes her daughter Amber (Georgia Anderson) forward at every opportunity.

Hairspray

Marisha Wallace plays Motormouth Maybelle who has a couple of emotional songs concerning the racial barriers that her son, Seaweed (Ashley Samuels) and his white girlfriend Penny (Mari McGinlay) will face.

Tracy falls for Link Larkin (Jonny Amies) and continues her battle to bring all teenagers of whatever colour together.

Michael Ball is just terrific as Edna – not only can he deliver a song but he is a really good actor and gives his character true meaning. Lizzie Bea makes a wonderful Tracy Turnblad. She has a good voice and the sass to go with it, and she looks just right with her bang-on beehive hairstyle which, obviously, needs lots of hairspray! The trendy costumes seem authentically 1960s.

Wallace had a mid-show standing ovation for her moving rendition of "I know where I've been," her solo spot. There was just not enough of Wallace as she is very fine artist.

This is a lovely, lively well-sung and acted show under the enthusiastic direction of Jack O'Brien and worthy of its five stars. Michael Ball summed up the feelings of the audience during the curtain call on opening night:

"There are a thousand of you here. There should be three [thousand], and you've made the noise of ten!"

AMELIE The Musical **** was on at the Criterion Theatre, London,

I first saw Amelie The Musical when it was on at The Other Palace at the end of 2019. The musical is based on the 2001 film. More recently on at the Criterion Theatre and was equally as impressive as at the original showing.

Amelie Poulain (played again by the lovely Audrey Brisson) is as charming as ever. She organises little touches of joy in the lives of those around her. Amelie manages this unobtrusively so that her friends don't even realise that what she has done. Director Michael Fentiman manages Amelie's journey alongside the most gifted set of actors/musicians since the wondrous Once. Fentiman is greatly helped by the ingenious set which transforms quickly and easily from a bistro to Amelie's attic room, which she reaches by holding on to a lampshade which lifts her up to her room. The various places shown all have a real Parisian feel.

Amelie
Photo : Pamela Raith

We first meet the child Amelie as a puppet who witnesses her mother's death. Later she leaves home and becomes a waitress in 1975 Paris. Here she helps those who are lonely or suffering from unrequited love. Amelie, herself, falls in love with Nino (Chris Jared), who is obsessed with photo booths.

The music – all played by the actors on stage – is mostly very jolly and excellently played by the actor-musicians who at times rather swamp the stage, which is somewhat smaller than the one at the Other Palace.

The French accents and very particular charm and interpretation by Brisson give the musical a touch of real authenticity.

I asked film critic Matthew Turner, who accompanied me and is a fan of the film what he made of the show. Here is his response: "I thought the play was a terrific adaptation of the film. I particularly enjoyed the imaginative staging and the way the actors all played instruments on stage. I thought the songs worked well, although I missed the music from the score – it's a shame that couldn't have been incorporated in some way, even if it was just as music played during the interval. Overall, I thought the whole thing was very charming, with strong performances from the lead and the supporting cast in the cafe. I also liked how the play incorporated lots of little moments you'd only spot if you were a big fan of the film, particularly the moment with the raspberries. Also, it was wonderful to be in the theatre again, the significance of which was acknowledged by the cast during the curtain call, making it an extra special occasion."

And finally: HEATHERS the musical**** was showing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

It's 1989 and we are at Westerberg High School. New girl Veronica (Christina Bennington) goes all out to become part of a small group of three nasty very close friends all called Heather. They are distinguished by the different colour clothes they wear. Heather Chandler (Jodie Steele), Heather Duke (Bobbie Little) Heather McNamara (Myli McCann) in red, green and yellow.

When Veronica becomes friendly with JD (Jordan Luke Gage – on a break from & Juliet) the musical becomes altogether darker as JD sets about organising killings. But in spite of some dark moments including an almost date rape scene, director Andy Fickman manages to give us a quite jolly show! The killings are presented as suicides to the press until Veronica bravely manages to change the story. There is a good little performance by Madison Swan as Martha, Veronica's former best friend who she now neglects in favour of her three new Heather friends.

Heathers
Photo : Pamela Raith

The real stars are Veronica and the Heathers. All four perform well and put across the songs – which are sometimes repetitive – with charm and enthusiasm. The rock musical is based on the 1989 film and reminds me of the music of & Juliet.

Wishing all readers a healthy and happy 2022 with lots of good films and theatre on offer!

     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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