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FILM: February 2009

There are a number of good films around - not just in my opinion but they are also in the running for a BAFTA (the Golden Globes have taken place) and I expect most to get a nomination for an Oscar. As an actor Mickey Rourke was considered all washed up as is the leading character, Randy "the Ram" in THE WRESTLER (cert. 15 1hr.49mins.). Rourke gives a magnificent performance (well, he seems almost to be playing himself) as the ageing professional wrestler who keeps fighting although his days of glory are long gone. When he has a heart attack he is told to retire and for a while seeks another life. He tries to re-establish a relationship with his daughter and then gets a job working in a delicatessen.

The Wrestler

He comes to realise that he is only truly alive in the ring and returns for a re-match of a famous fight he won in the past. This is a brutal, difficult film to watch as the wrestlers match injuries and throw each other on to barbed wire, staple Randy's body and inflict wounds on themselves so that blood spurts. We can hardly watch at times but when we do we are rewarded with acting of the highest order.

As there is in DOUBT (cert.15 1hr.44mins.) with Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius, the Principal of the school run by a religious Order, becoming certain that Father Flynn (the always excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman) has interfered with one of the schoolboys.

Doubt

She is aided by a fellow nun, Sister James (Amy Adams). Director and writer, John Patrick Shanley has written an intelligent script which he directs in a spare, intense manner. At the press conference I attended Streep - and Adams agreed - said it was liberating to wear the nun's habit daily and no make-up as she didn't have to consider how to dress.

Streep showed that she was unhappy at questions about the Awards 'season' and preferred to publicise a film in July with no 'horse race' involved. She answered a question on research by telling us how she had visited older nuns in their Retirement Home where they are happy to be with their family of nuns and continue working in the community. She has played many leading parts and there is talk of a sequel to Mama Mia. She acknowledged that there was a bit of her in all the characters she has played. Although dialogue is very important in this film, Streep thinks that the most powerful scenes in a film often have no words.

FROST/NIXON (cert.15 2hrs.2mins.) is a dramatic film, with the two main characters very well portrayed by Michael Sheen as David Frost, the British interviewer and Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, the disgraced President of the United States, who resigned before he was forced out. Powerfully directed by Ron Howard the film shows much more than just the interviews - strong as they were - that took place in 1977. There was a real confrontation between the two men which is shown in all its gladiatorial aspects.

In VALKYRIE (cert. 12A 2hrs.) Tom Cruise leads his fellow Nazi officers in a failed plot to execute Hitler in July 1944. Even though we know the outcome the story is exciting to watch.

Brad Pitt is born an old man and gradually becomes younger in THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (cert. 12A 2hrs. 45mins.), adapted from the 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald . Wonderful make-up and prosthetics enhance the ageing and growing younger in the film and there is also great photography. Good acting from Pitt will make him an Oscar contender along with other technical awards for this film I would imagine.

Kate Winslet is again winning awards with REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (cert. 15 1hr.59mins.), a searingly bitter account of an American couple who move to the suburbs and want to leave their humdrum life for Paris. Set in the 1950s both Leonardo DiCaprio as the husband and Winslet as his wife act with passion and conviction, but are both humourless as is the film although well directed by Sam Mendes.

Revolutionary Road

In a way DiCaprio's attractive features militate against him being taken seriously enough as an actor.


THEATRE TIP

If you hurry you may be able to catch a delightful production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (RSC, Novello). Directed in a really lively manner by Gregory Doran there is more magic, including flying, in this than poetry, but the audience was roaring with laughter when Bottom and the other mechnicals performed their play before the Duke and other just married couples.

Midsummer Nights Dream

The mirrors at the back of the stage reflect the huge hanging coloured balls as well as lots of little glass balls which are lit up. The two young male lovers are well-differentiated as are the young women and there is a lot of fun in their chasing each other through the Athenian forest and not seeing the fairies who guide their every movement.

Joe Dixon, with a Birmingham accent, makes a great Bottom, although his voice gets somewhat lost when he wears the huge ass's head. The actors hold small dolls as fairies which they move.

For once The National Theatre misfires with their MRS AFFLECK. Written by Samuel Adamson and set on the Kent coast in 1955 it is closely based on Ibsen's Little Eyolf. Although Marianne Elliott gets as much as she can from the writing, her direction is not able to develop the play into anything satisfying. Claire Skinner, who has done some excellent work on the stage and TV, plays the wife who wishes to keep her husband to herself, even if that means excluding their disabled son and her husband's half-sister. But she performs on one note. A one dimensional performance, too, from Angus Wright as her husband, so perhaps that is how the play is written. There is a very good portrayal of the son by Wesley Nelson who performed throughout with a pronounced limp and displayed a variety of emotions.

However, EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR (National Theatre), shows the NT at their best. This wonderfully well-written play by Tom Stoppard with music by Andre Previn, combining words with a live orchestra on stage, is only 65 minutes long but packs an emotional punch which is hard to beat on the West End stage.

Showing two men sharing a cell in a mental institution, Joseph Millson plays Alexander, a political prisoner and Toby Jones a real mental patient who hears an orchestra playing in his head. It is this music, frequently conducted by Jones in terrific movements of his whole body, that we see and hear on the stage alongside the two actors. Members of the orchestra rise from time to time in a choreographed picture to represent the imprisonment of Alexander's colleagues and friends.

Every Good Boy Deserves a Favour

Jones is always worth watching but Millson shows that he, too, can raise his performance level. The play is very well-written with much humour and performed by all with great verve.

Hampstead Theatre returns to (almost) full glory with a revival of Noel Coward's PRIVATE LIVES (until 28 Feb). The sets are great - the first act shows the two balconies where former married couple Amanda and Elyot meet up a couple of years after divorcing. The only trouble is that she is now on honeymoon with Victor and Elyot with Sybil. When they realise they are still in love they creep off together. The second act shows them in her flat in Paris where their two spouses discover them in the midst of an argument as they have reverted to their former fighting selves. Director Lucy Bailey b rings out the realism in the characters and goes for more than the Coward wit which, of course, is always present. Although lacking in pace in the early part of the play, the dialogue, which needs to have a ping-pong quality in its delivery, picks up and the Amanda of Claire Price and Elyot of Jasper Britton (son of Tony) are soon exchanging the dialogue with the requisite crispness. Good support, too, from Lucy Briggs-Owen and Rufus Wright as the abandoned honeymooners. There is just one part which I found hard to take - the ferocious fight between Elyot and Amanda where he thumps her. Nowadays we would be most concerned that it would lead to a domestic violence offence!

There is a similar situation in the otherwise very jolly OLIVER (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), in which Nancy (played exuberantly by the TV reality show winner Jodie Prenger who sings - what must now be considered - the hymn for battered women As long as he needs me after she has been knocked about by Bill Sykes and before he batters her to death. While Jodie can really sing and belts out her songs, Rowan Atkinson as Fagin holds the tune but does not have much of a voice. What he does have is the ability to really act the part and he works well with the 50 children who at one point occupy the stage. Bill played by Burn Gorman looks sufficiently fearsome. The original sets, which segue beautifully each one into the next, and production are pretty well intact here from the 1994 production but there is still not much of Dickens on display.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane

A really lip-smacking production of ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE (Trafalgar Studios) stars the wonderful Imelda Staunton as the housewife who is attracted to sinister Mr Sloane, her new lodger. He entices her brother, too, but not their father who recognises Mr Sloane as the person he witnessed committing a felony. Staunton has an accent that exactly portrays the frustrated lonely "widow" who yearns for sexual gratification.

Loads of fun here though occasionally Mathew Horne's Mr Sloane seems a little lost. Simon Paisley Day as the brother and Richard Bremmer as dad are both excellent. Director Nick Bagnall working with a great team finds all the wit in Joe Orton's 1950s play.

     
     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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