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FILM:February 2006

For me one of the highlights of the recent London Film Festival was WALK THE LINE (cert. 12A 2hrs.17mins.). The story of American singer, Johnny Cash - his early life, music, drug addiction and, above all, his life-long love affair with June Carter, is very moving. Surprisingly Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny and Reese Witherspoon as June actually sing all the Cash and Carter songs very well. Writer-director James Mangold has done an excellent job and the stars and the film are in line for a few Oscars. I should think that the only thing stopping the two stars from gathering Oscars would be the recent achievement of "Ray," the biography of Ray Charles.

Walk the Line

It's now some time since I originally saw Walk the Line and I have just re-visited it. I still think it's really terrific and I was moved by the story and applauded the singing of Witherspoon and Phoenix. It has just been awarded some "Golden Globes" so I can't be all that wrong! It is released this month, as is...

The Worlds Fastest Indian

THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN (cert.12A 2hrs. 7mins.). This must be one of the worst titles for a film! It is actually a really 'nice' little movie. It reminds me of "The Straight Story" (an ageing Iowa farmer drives a lawnmower to Wisconsin to visit his sick brother). Anthony Hopkins gives another good performance as New Zealander Burt Monroe, "Any day that I'm still vertical is a bonus." Another ageing man with a dream, Burt travels to Salt Flats in Utah in 1967 to attempt a new speed record on his 1920 Indian motorcycle. This is a most uplifting film, well-crafted by the director, Roger Donaldson, who knew Burt personally.

Somewhat disappointing was SHOPGIRL (cert.15 1hr. 43mins.). While Steve Martin is back to his original incarnation as a proper actor - without the maniacal pratfalls he employs in most of his recent films - the story is too slight. Claire Danes looks good and is almost believable as the shop assistant of the title, but the film doesn't add up to much. Trying to choose between a somewhat strange rock star groupie, nicely played by Jason Schwartzman and the well-heeled character represented by Martin, Danes agonises with suitable emotion.

FUN WITH DICK AND JANE (cert. 12A 1hr. 30mins.), a remake of the 1977 comedy starring Jane Fonda and George Segal, is a jolly romp. Jim Carrey as Dick, who gains a top job and then loses it within the same day, is full of life and his physical comedy is as active as ever. As his wife Jane, Tea Leone gives a pleasant but not very exciting performance. The couple begin a life of crime after Dick's firm collapses. This gives rise to many disguises and much over the top "comic" activity.


Fun with Dick and Jane

And now for two that really didn't appeal to me and you may well want to consider very carefully before spending your money, or, alternatively, wait until the DVD or video is available. First UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION (cert. 15 1hr. 46mins.) which is a continuation of the UNDERWORLD saga. Lots of vampires, werewolves and hybrids engaged in battles, with Kate Beckinsale, in tight-fitting black leather, hopping around. Half the time I didn't know who was who or what was actually happening! If you are into vampires and werewolves or, indeed, like looking at Ms Beckinsale then you might well enjoy the film, otherwise give it a miss.

A film set in Hong Kong but not showing anything of that lovely city is DRINK DRANK DRUNK (cert. 12A 1hr. 41mins.) about a beer-seller (Miriam Yeung) who joins with a chef (Daniel Wu) who is into French fusion cooking, to set up a restaurant. The film should get an award - this being the Awards season - for the worst acted movie of the year. If she can raise her hands and jump 2ft in the air in horror then that's what Yeung as the heroine does. Stanislavsky eat your heart out!

To end the "just outs" on a high note - HIDDEN (cert. 15 2hrs. 19mins.) - is a superbly constructed French suspense film. It is really scary with Daniel Auteuil and his wife (Juliette Binoche) being filmed on video. They don't know who is doing it or why. It is worth going a bit out of your way to find a cinema showing this film.

Munich

With MUNICH (cert. 15A 2hrs.44mins) we enter - yet again - a world "inspired by true events." This time it is the aftermath of the killing of the 11 Israeli athletes who were first taken hostage in the Olympic village in Munich, West Germany during the 1972 Olympics and then killed as the Palestinian kidnappers were trying to escape. The film tells of a covert hit squad put together by Israeli intelligence to wreak revenge. With Eric Bana as the leader and Daniel Craig - soon to be the new James Bond - as another recruit the film provides an exciting story,

well-told and directed by Steven Spielburg, although with rather too many graphic killings for my liking, and it is well-acted by a group of talented actors.


Somewhat different is THE NEW WORLD (cert. 12A 2hrs. 15mins.) the most beautifully visual of the films around at the moment. Telling the story of Pocahontas, Captain John Smith and John Rolfe and the beginning of the English conquering Virginia in 1602, it is gorgeously photographed with pictures rather than words conveying the emotions of the very young Pochahontas and her kinfolk.There is a luminous debut performance by 15 year-old Q'orianka Kilcher as the young heroine and competent acting from Colin Farrell as Smith and Christan Bale as Rolfe.

The New World

. Terrence Malick has directed another excellent film, which though somewhat slow at times, is well-worth staying with to the end.


THEATRE TIP

More twins in a great production (by the RSC at the Novello) of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS. I have never seen a production where the two sets of twins look so alike: even when together it was difficult to tell them apart. A lively production by Nancy Meckler, lots of fun although we may well criticise the unequal relationship between the two masters and their servants.

Great fun, too, is a terrific production of A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT'S DREAM at the same theatre. More on this next month.

Two plays that are different but didn't greatly appeal to me are NIGHTS AT THE CIRCUS (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith) and A SOLDIER'S TALE (The Old Vic). The first is a strange production of Angela Carter's novel about a sensational performer known as Fevvers who has wings and swings on a trapeze. While well-staged there is a prolonged episode where a clown sings about physically abusing his wife and we later see her in all her misery. While those around me found it most amusing, to me there is nothing funny about domestic violence.

The Old Vic play is a brave attempt at marrying simultaneous spoken and sung versions of The Soldier's Tale with British and Iraqi actors. While the music - both European and Iraqi - is good, the rest suffers by longeurs while we wait for the spoken English to return.

There is an absolutely splendidly acted version of Edward Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF at the Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue. Directed with gusto by Anthony Page, there are magnificent performances by Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin as Martha and George, married for 23 years, who constantly bicker and goad each other to self-destruction. They seem extra ferocious in front of the young couple who come to visit them.

Kathleen Turner is the right age to play Martha and is suitable plump and sexy. Bill Irwin starts gently and increases his range and is a good foil for Turner. George is 6 years younger than his wife and frequently remarks on this.

The set is realistic and the audience gets a real feeling of the New England home of an academic in 1960. There is a lot of humour in this production and the audience when I attended laughed a lot - perhaps too much for such a moving, emotionally challenging play. The play is very well-written and every line has meaning. It is caustic, sharp and very American, "Martha," says George when Honey wishes to use the bathroom, "Can you show her where we keep the euphemism."

It finishes with the telling line that (just about) explains the title. Certainly one of the best plays around at the moment. I strongly recommend it.

     

Carlie Newman

   
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