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FILM: January 2007

The long awaited APOCALYPTO (cert.18 2hr.20mins.) comes out at the beginning of January. Written in part by Mel Gibson who also directed and produced, the film is an exciting story of a man seeking to change the direction of his life and that of his people. The unusual thing is that all the dialogue is in Mayan and the actors are almost all first-time film actors. Dealing with the end of the Mayan civilization it tells the story of Jaguar Paw who is captured and then escapes from brutal attackers. He is forced to make the hazardous journey back to his home to save his very pregnant wife and small son whilst being chased by fierce warriors and terrifying wild animals.

Mel Gibsons Apocalypto

The film lets us glimpse his perilous march through the forest and the courage he shows in facing these challenges. The photography is frequently breathtaking and the film always very exciting to watch. There is violence but not all the gratuitous blood that we saw in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. You really need to see it on the largest screen you can find!

A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION

Not to be missed is a lively and unusual film, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (cert. PG 1hr. 45mins.),which I saw as a "surprise" film (this means the audience doesn't know what the film is going to be when they book or even up till the film starts!) at this year's London Film Festival. It was a really lovely film about the real life radio programme presented by Garrison Keillor and, although this is a fictionalised story, many of the actual artists who are well-known to the over 4 million listeners who tune in to the 558 radio stations across the United States appear in the film.

In this the last film of Robert Altman he directs an excellent cast that includes Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as the last two sisters remaining in what was once a four sister country music act, Lindsay Lohan as Streep's daughter and Garrison Keillor as himself. In addition Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly play two very amusing singing cowboys and Kevin Cline is a security guard who acts as though he is in a Raymond Chandler novel! While Tomlin's voice is only average, both Streep and Lohan are, surprisingly, good singers. It's a very unusual film and, if you get the opportunity, do pay it a visit.

Another film dealing with a real person is INFAMOUS (cert.15 1hr. 58mins.). Shown at the London Film Festival, this time it is Truman Capote and it follows much of the same story line as last year's CAPOTE, with him identifying the two murderers of a whole family in Kansas, his meeting with them and taking up and then writing about the case. Having said that, there is a terrific central performance by Toby Jones who is well supported by Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, Jeff Daniels and others in a really sharp script by the director, Douglas McGrath.

Actually this must be the year of the fictionalised real lives film festival as we also have BOBBY (cert.12A 1hr. 30mins.), which although dealing with the impact on 22 fictional characters who find themselves in close proximity to the shooting at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, has footage of the real Robert Kennedy arriving at the hotel and later being assassinated. At the press conference after the screening of the film Emilio Estevez, who both directed and played one of the key characters, was most articulate in his presentation of how he visited the hotel and then filmed there just before it was demolished

Bobby

At one point he had writer's block and went away to write. He chanced upon a motel where the receptionist had actually been present on the fatal night of the assassination. Emilio was then able to complete his script. There are terrific performances particularly from Demi Moore as an alcoholic singer with Emilio as her put-upon manager and husband, Sharon Stone, virtually unrecognisable, as the hotel's hairdresser who is told that her husband, the hotel manager (William H. Macy), is having an affair and Freddy Rodriguez who plays the Latino kitchen worker who is forced to stay working that night instead of going to see his favourite team's pivotal baseball match. If I tell you that the cast also includes, among other well-known actors, Harry Belafonte, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne - many in small parts - you will realise that it is well worth seeing!

Miss Potter

Also out is the delightful MISS POTTER (cert. PG 2hrs.6mins.), a very interesting biography about a certain period in Beatrix Potter's life. This is an imagined version of the way in which the successful children's author secretly falls in love and becomes engaged to her publisher, Norman Warne. Renee Zellweger puts in another sterling performance as Beatrix and Ewan McGregor, as Norman, manages not to smile too much and thus give a better performance than some of his more recent efforts.

A quick mention of another LFF film with lots of good vibes around it: BABEL (cert.15 2hrs. 23mins.), the latest offering from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. It takes place on three continents and stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal as well as first time and non-actors. Looks wonderful and the stories are very good - one wishes that each of the three had been developed into separate films!

Very well worth seeing, too, is FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (cert. 15 2hrs.42mins.). Directed by Clint Eastwood and co-produced with Steven Spielberg, it comes across as a genuine war film. By that I mean it doesn't glorify war but, dealing both with what happened at Iowa Jima in 1945 and the feting of three of the survivors of the famous picture of 5 American soldiers and one sailor raising the flag, as well as their later life, it shows in desaturated colour, the horror of warfare and the unreality of glorifying survivors of a bloody battle.

Flags of our Fathers

THEATRE: JANUARY 2007

Having just returned from our TOFF trip to Cuba, we were anxious to see Marianne Elliott's production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHNG for the RSC at the Novello Theatre, London.

Much ado about Nothing

Although set in pre-Castro Cuba 1953, the play, being Shakespeare, obviously makes no mention of the political situation at all. However there is an authentic feel of Cuba in the set which gives the impression of this really hot country. There are iron railings around the area and a neon bar sign leading to the bar itself where we see salsa dancing to a good score by Olly Fox and, above all, a pervasive and rather noxious smell of cigars!

The story itself is all Shakespeare with the somewhat unusual "wooing" of Beatrice by Benedict, encouraged by the comic machinations of their friends and complicated by the evil accusations of Don John (Jonny Weir) against the innocent Hero (Morvern Christie), Beatrice's cousin, who was all set to marry Claudio (Adam Rayner).

This production brings out all the humour - and sometimes farce - of the play and Joseph Millson as Benedict is very manly and funny as the "eternal bachelor" while Tamsin Grieg, the obvious star of the play, is tremendously good in all the amusing parts but doesn't always develop the more emotional quieter side of the character. The comic timing of the whole cast is virtually faultless and the musical setting both unusual and effective. At the present time it is only running until 6 January so hurry along!

Another jolly production for the holiday season is PETER PAN at the King's Head Theatre, Islington, London. The new adaptation of J.M. Barrie's play, with a score by Leonard Bernstein, is performed on a tiny stage and sometimes the fairly large cast seem about to fall off into the laps of those of us at the front. Adapted and directed by Stephanie Sinclaire, the play is always lively with a particularly good Peter Land playing two parts as the mild Mr Darling and the dastardly Captain Hook who is well hissed at by the audience.

Peter Pan

An effective Wendy (Katherine Kastin), a tiny, cute Tinkerbell and the other cast members are more than adequate in this romp. Peter Pan, although lacking a little projection, looks good and leads the flying sequences with panache.

The small stage is always well utilised and the audience - with those of 8 as well as 80 - completely absorbed. There were not many songs and they were not fantastic. In fact the music was rather disappointing. But the costumes were great and, for a little theatre, the show is actually quite magical.

     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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