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FILM: FEBRUARY 2008

At the moment there seem to be a number of films with long and somewhat strange titles. BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD (cert. 15 1hr. 42mins.) has a title that is hard to remember.

It is a very good film, however, telling of two brothers who plan and execute a robbery at their own parents' jewellery store. There are a number of disasters as the plan goes terribly wrong. Excellent acting all round, particularly by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as the brothers in need of cash.

before the devil knows you're dead

Albert Finney is also good, apart from a somewhat dubious American accent, as their father coming to terms with the true nature of the crime. It is all magnificently directed by 83 year-old Sidney Lumet.

There will be blood

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (cert. 12A 2hrs. 38mins.), starring the magnificent Daniel Day-Lewis, is another with a title that is difficult to recall. But the film is definitely memorable, in particular the opening 15 minutes long sequence with no speech at all.

A bit like the film Giant in that it tells the story of a poor man who becomes an oil baron, this is set in California in the early 1900s. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has created a powerful film and in Day-Lewis has found an actor to accurately depict Daniel Plainview who begins as a silver miner bringing up his son alone. We see him change into a ruthless tycoon whose relationship changes with everyone around including his son once he becomes rich through an unexpected oil find. Plainview never attempts to learn sign language to communicate with his deaf son and seems to resent his deafness.

Opening early February, Day-Lewis is already a contender for Best Actor in the coming Award season. When I interviewed him he came across as modest, almost shy, until he spoke about his work. He refuted the idea of a lot of preparation for his roles and said that the press had over exaggerated his efforts to bring authenticity to his roles. However for the role in this film he had relied on his imagination. Paul Dano is also really good as the preacher who comes into conflict with the oil tycoon.

Coming out, too, is JUNO (cert.12A 1hr.31mins.), a sharp, well-written film about a feisty teenage girl who after just one afternoon of sex with her boyfriend finds that she is pregnant. After considering having an abortion, she decides to keep her child and finds good parents for the unborn baby.

Juno

Juno finds a couple she considers ideal as adoptive parents and becomes the lead in the decision-making process rather than just a child. This is almost a Technicolor version of the result of a pregnancy that we see in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the Romanian film which I wrote about last month. This comedy, ably directed by Jason Reitman, is enhanced by an outstanding performance from young Ellen Page as Juno.

Unlike any of the other films on offer, SWEENEY TODD (Cert.18 1hr. 56mins.), is based on a musical by Stephen Sondheim and everyone sings themselves, even though they are actors not singers. The story is told mainly through music and lyrics as opposed to dialogue and using actors ensures that everything has a dramatic effect and is not just music divorced from meaning.

Johnny Depp as sweeney Todd

Director Tim Burton has chosen his cast with care as they have to embody some strange characters. Johnny Depp stars as a man who returns to his home after 15 years imprisonment in Australia for a crime he did not commit. He has vowed to take revenge against Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) who, assisted by his Beadle (Timothy Spall), had him sent away in order that he could steal his wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) and baby daughter from him.

Re-naming himself Sweeny Todd, he has help from Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) who runs a failing pie-making business below his barber's shop.

She tells Sweeney that his wife poisoned herself after the Judge abused her. Sweeney cuts the throats of a number of people before dealing with the Judge and Mrs. Lovett turns the corpses into pies, boosting the popularity of her shop in the process.

Using saturated colour for most of the action, when the director shows us red blood - bathfulls of it - it is all the more shocking.

Helena Bonham Carter in  Sweeney Todd

Depp gives a tremendous performance with a striking singing voice and Bonham Carter looks and sounds just right as his pie-making partner.

A quick mention for Nikolaus Geyrhalter's OUR DAILY BREAD (no cert. 1hr.32mins.), a silent look at the production of food. Set in Europe, the images show a variety of food being processed - still chirping small chicks put live on to a conveyer belt, pigs and cows being slaughtered and cut up and the workers who undertake all this. Alongside the animal cries we have the sound of rubber gloves being put on and sandwiches eaten at lunch time. Very hard to watch, but we enjoy eating.don't we?


THEATRE: FEBRUARY 2008

There is a real little gem, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, at the Menier Theatre, Southwark. The Menier is a tiny theatre with a giant heart. The audience enter a space set up as a cabaret with small tables at the front. I occupied one of these and was glad to have a male companion as from time to time members of the audience were targeted by the actors. The musical - the title is the name of the nightclub run by Georges (Philip Quast) and featuring his lover, Albin (Douglas Hodge) - has good music, great songs and is amusing as well as putting over a message. When Albin learns that his 24 year-old son, the result of a very brief enciounter when he was young, is about to marry the daughter of an uptight politician who wants to meet the boy's parents, he goes to great lengths to exclude the feminine Albin. Albin however plays the part of the son's mother and chaos ensues.

La cage aux folles

Hodge is excellent as the transvestite and shows pain when he sees himself growing old and fears exclusion by his lover, "I was raised Christian; humiliation is my middle name," he announces sadly. Belting out songs such as "I am what I am" Hodge displays a humorous side as well as a tuneful voice. Mrs. Doubtfire he ain't!

Quast is also good with a most pleasant voice and there is a very funny scene when he tries to teach Albin to act in a masculine fashion using his legs and body appropriately. One of the unusual aspects is trying to work out which is the only female in the chorus line-up - the boys make such attractive ladies, even doing the splits! Great to see Una Stubbs on stage again in a small part.

Not so successful is THE PRESIDENT'S HOLIDAY (Hampstead Theatre), which although featuring two good performances by Julian Glover and Isla Blair is somewhat let down by the text.

Set in August 1991 when President Gorbachov (Glover) and his wife Raisa (Blair) are on holiday in the Crimean, it deals with an attempted coup and the proposed removal of Gorbachov. Glover, with the well-known birthmark, gives a good rendering of the Russian president and Blair is strong as his wife whose diaries have apparently inspired this play.

The Presidents Holiday

While there is an attractive set with the sound of water trickling over stones in the front and good sound effects as echoes of the murder of the Tsar Nicholas and family are produced as a counterpoint to the incidents on stage, the play is weak on dramatic tension and denouement. You can catch this till mid February.

     

Carlie Newman

   
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