The block buster for this month is surely THE
HOBBIT (cert. 12A 2hrs 50 mins.), which is the first in
a trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, directed by Peter Jackson.
Set in Middle-earth 60 years before The Lord of the
Rings, Martin Freeman (pictured here) stars as the young Bilbo Baggins,
who we first see as an old man (played by Ian Holm) telling his
story to his nephew, Frodo (a tiny part here for Elijah Wood). He
tells of his great adventure when the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen)
virtually forces him to join a small band of 13 Dwarves led by the
legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to reclaim
their homeland - the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor - from the terrifying
Dragon Smaug. Bilbo is most unwilling to leave his home, but realises
he needs to find the courage to do so. The group battle with Goblins,
Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, as well as very difficult
As he journeys towards the Lonely Mountain Bilbo
meets the creature, Gollum (another wonderful performance by Andy
Serkis), who will be responsible for ultimately changing Bilbo's
life. The far from heroic Bilbo discovers that he indeed has the
wit and courage to outmanoeuvre Gollum and also to gain possession
of Gollum's "precious" ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities.
Peter Jackson directs - with Andy Serkis as Second Unit director
- another film with magical qualities. In his choice of actors for
the new characters, particularly Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Richard
Armitage as Thorin, as well as re-using the marvellously accomplished
Serkis as Gollum and McKellen as Gandalf, Jackson demonstrates good
understanding of his audience as well as Tolkien and has given us
a film that is pleasing to the eye as well as the ear.
The one drawback is the length of the film: at nearly three hours
there are just too many tumbles from mountains and treks through
picturesque forests and hills. However, the photography is superb
and the use of new technology (shot in 3D 48 frames-per-second,
since you ask!) allows Jackson to present us with a well lit movie
and it is never necessary to peer through the dark as is customary
with other 3D films. There is an appropriate musical background
and some impressive set pieces including huge flying birds carrying
the characters over the countryside. Do try to see the film in 3D
- it is on at your local cinema now!
Most films dealing with the Middle East come down heavily in support
of one side or the other. Unusually, and to its credit, this film
treats the two communities equally. Director Eran Riklis (who made
the excellent The Lemon Tree), sets ZAYTOUN (cert
15 107 mins) in Lebanon in 1982.
When his plane is shot down in hostile territory
over Beirut and he is captured, Yoni, the Israeli pilot, (Stephen
Dorf) never expects to be freed. That is without knowing about Fahad
(Abdallah El Akal), a 12-year old Palestinian refugee, living with
his widower father, who believes that he will one day return to
his own village and replant the olive tree which he insists on cultivating.
Fahad regularly skips school to hang around with his friends, who
sell cigarettes on the streets.
Having seen his father killed by enemy fire, Fahad has a dream
- to carry his father's olive tree to the village and find his parents'
house to plant it. Left to guard the Israeli prisoner, Fahad strikes
a bargain with Yoni: if Fahad can free the Israeli then Yoni promises
that he will take him home. As they travel through a war-torn country
the two companions learn about each other and both bear witness
to the difficulties faced by their two homelands. They are forced
to rely on the skills of each other and gradually come to respect
Visually the picture is striking as the camera follows
the two from city centre to the camps and through the countryside.
Stephen Dorff plays the pilot with integrity and we can actually
believe that he has a past as well as a future. The young Arab boy
playing Fahad is very talented and locals play some of the minor
A clever combination of a road movie, a buddy film and a political
thriller Zaytoun almost succeeds in pulling this off, except for
the fact that a number of the incidents and escapes are just a bit
too contrived. For all that, there are some exciting moments in
which the director manages to make us eager to know how the friendship
between the two will develop and we also wonder what will be the
fate of Fahad.
The film was shown at the 2012 UK Jewish Film Festival.
Out in January is Dustin Hoffman's directorial film debut, QUARTET
(cert. 12A 1hr 38 mins.), featuring an outstanding British cast
including Dame Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline
Collins and Michael Gambon. Lots of old real-life musicians appear
in small parts and it is good to see older actors gainfully employed!
Taking place in a retirement home for former musicians,
the story, which Ronald Harwood has adapted from his own stage play,
centres on a trio of singers (Courtenay, Connolly, Collins) and
their director, Cedric (Michael Gambon, in a full bohemian character
study), who are preparing to put on a concert to celebrate the birthday
of Verdi and also raise funds to keep their home going.
Maggie Smith and Pauline Collins
The equilibrium is upset when the former wife of
one of the residents, the well-known soprano Jean (Maggie Smith)
arrives and is met by applause from the seniors who gather around
the entrance and clap as she walks in. Jean throws the home into
a tizzy, especially her ex-husband Reg (Tom Courtenay). The trio
of singers, Reg, sex-crazy Wilf (Billy Connolly) and forgetful Cissy
(Pauline Collins) are worried about the effect that Jean's arrival
will have on their little group as she used to be part of the Quartet.
They make a big effort to try to get Jean to re-join them so that
the original quartet of singers can sing again.
All aged, the characters are portrayed with a real sense of humour
but also awareness of their sadness as they try to cope with becoming
old and losing their voices and, in Cissy's case, their minds. Director,
Dustin Hoffman, in his first directing effort, after many years
of acting, has brought real feeling to this well-written film, which
is easy to watch with many a laugh.
He uses music throughout - there is a delightful scene when Reg
uses rap music with a group of young people to try and get across
the commonality between the teenagers' music and classical music.
There are some lovely little comedic touches with some of the characters,
in particular Connolly who chases women with particular attention
to the young doctor (Sheridan Smith). Collins is delightful as Cissy
and has some poignant moments as she begins to become more forgetful
- is an Award awaiting her? Maggie Smith puts in another grand performance
full of character as she breezes into the home and disrupts everything.
Older folk will find the story, the great cast, the setting, and
indeed the complete film particularly charming. It is the acting,
rather than the slight story, which gives the film that extra touch
of magic. It is gratifying for older folk to see a number of movies
finally concentrating on the older age group. We have had The Best
Exotic Marigold Hotel and also on release is Michael Haneke's Amour,
while coming soon is Vanessa Redgrave in the sad but uplifting A
Song for Marion.
The documentary WEST OF MEMPHIS (cert. 15 2hrs.
27mins.). Written and directed by Amy Berg, West of Memphis tells
the story behind an extraordinary and desperate fight to stop the
State of Arkansas from killing an innocent man and keeping two others
incarcerated in prison. The film examines the police investigation
into the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys in the small
town of West Memphis, Arkansas, and uncovers new evidence surrounding
the arrest and conviction of the other three victims of this shocking
crime - Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. They
were teenagers when they became the target of the police investigation;
all three went on to lose 18 years of their lives - imprisoned for
crimes they did not commit. Amidst widespread hysteria, alleged
ringleader Damien Echols was sentenced to death, while Jason Baldwin
and Jessie Misskelley received life sentences, but critics of the
case pointed to serious anomalies in the evidence that seemed to
prove their innocence, sparking a 20 year campaign that finally
resulted in their eventual release in 2011, with a plea bargaining
which leaves them guilty but free. The investigation was much helped
by money and time from Peter Jackson (the director of the Lord of
the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit). See this documentary to learn
what could happen to anyone of us!
In SMASHED (cert. 15 1hr. 21mins.) Kate (Mary
Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) are a young married
couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and,
above all, drinking. Kate, a school teacher, realises that she is
in danger of losing her job and possibly affecting her health for
ever, and decides to finally seek help. Against her husband's wishes
she joins AA to get sober. With the help of her friend and sponsor
Jenny (the excellent Octavia Spencer), and the vice principal at
her school, the awkward, but well intentioned, Mr. Davies, Kate
keeps to the AA regime., which is very difficult for her with her
husband, Charlie and his mates sitting around drinking in her home.
Her new lifestyle brings to the surface a troubling relationship
with her mother, who is also a drinker, facing the lies she's told
her employer and calls into question whether or not her relationship
with Charlie is built on love or is just boozy diversion from adulthood.
Well-directed by James Ponsoldt, the acting is extremely good with
Winstead hitting just the right note as a recovering alcoholic.
Naomi Watts and Tom Holland
in The Impossible
Telling the story of just one family caught in the dreadful tsunami
which hit Thailand in 2004, THE IMPOSSIBLE (cert.
12A 1hr. 54mins.) stars Ewan McGregor as the father and Naomi Watts
as the mother of three boys. In the original novel the family are
Spanish but director J.A. Bayona has them as an English family on
holiday for Christmas.
How they survive and cope with the traumatic events is shown in
graphic detail. We get a real feeling of the terrifying disaster
and the acting, particularly by Ewan McGregor is just wonderful.
The three boys cope well and Tom Holland comes across especially
strongly. A good, on-the-edge of your seat film which should appeal
to all ages over about 10.
Let's finish with the other big blockbuster for January:
LES MISERABLES (cert. 2hrs. 38mins.) tells Victor
Hugo's story, which was made into a stage musical and is still on
in London (Les Misérables originally opened in London at the Barbican
Theatre on 8 October, 1985, transferred to the Palace Theatre on
4 December 1985, and after 19 years moved to its current home at
the Queen's Theatre) and, indeed, all over the world.
Hugh Jackman as Valjean and
Isabelle Allen as young Cosette in Les Misérables
The film is set in 19th-century France and shows
the prisoner Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) being released on parole.
When he breaks that parole he is hunted for decades by the ruthless
policeman, Javert (Russelll Crowe). Valjean befriends a poor factory
worker, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and when she dies takes over the
care of her young daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen). Cosette (Amanda
Seyfried) falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne) as a young
adult and they plan a life together. At first Valjean is wary of
Marius' intentions towards his adopted child, but comes around to
help the student rebel later on. The young lovers are assisted by
Eponine (newcomer Samantha Barks) who loves Marius but realises
that he only has eyes for Cosette.
There are not many laughs in this movie, and, in fact, the only
comic characters are the innkeeper Monsieur Theanardier (Sacha Baron
Cohen) and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter), who manage to get all
the fun they can out of their fairly small parts. The film is virtually
sung-through and the well-known, lovely songs from the stage musical
are all here - I Dreamed a Dream, One More day, Bring Him Home and
so on. The joy is that the stars have really good voices and, in
spite of having to sing live as director Tom Hooper (of The King's
Speech) shot the film, all perform most competently. Eddie Redmayne
has a glorious voice which I hope he uses on the London stage in
the near future. The music is by Claude-Michel Schönberg, and the
lyrics are by Herbert Kretzmer. Some might find the film depressing,
but the great music and lovely performances give it life and joy.
Not until I saw the new musical VIVA FOREVER!
"based on the songs of the Spice Girls" did I realise that
that only three of their songs are memorable in any way, with the
rest just mediocre. Expecting a plot like Mama Mia, it is disappointing
to find the story, with a very ordinary script by the usually witty
Jennifer Saunders, to be an average tale of a young girl being chosen
at a reality talent show to become a big star. There are some amusing
lines, but they don't advance the plot - what plot? Whilst Hanna
John-Kamen, who stars as Viva, the member of the group of four girls
who is picked out from the others and made into a star, has a pleasant
enough voice, it is not outstanding.
The other three (Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Lucy Phelps, Siobhan
Athwal) are fairly ordinary. Sally Dexter as Simone, the bitchy
older reality show judge is somewhat of a caricature but fits in
with the style of the musical. Sally Dexter puts in a feisty portrait
of Viva's adoptive mother and is cheered when she appears in a Union
Jack dress (reminiscent of Gerri Halliwell's famous attire) at the
I must say that the audience, largely consisting
of young women in their 20s or early 30s (some with their mums)
really liked the show. They had obviously enjoyed the Spice Girls
when young. Screams of delight greeted the first notes from the
band and their enthusiasm continued throughout the show, right up
to the obligatory stand-up-and-clap- along at the end. This reminded
me of my young daughters singing along to the film of Grease alongside
the rest of the audience many moons ago. The young ones whistled
at the dancing boys in their gym outfits. I rather think that Viva
Forever is critic proof - a bit like Wicked - and will continue
for some time.
||Piccadilly Theatre booking until
1 June 2013 - 0844 412 6666
If you want to see a musical with a good story
and some great singing, make your way to the Adelphi Theatre and
become part of the audience for THE BODYGUARD.
Using Lawrence Kasdan's orignal screenplay for the film starring
Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, the musical, as in the 1992 film,
tells of a famous singing star, who has to employ a bodyguard, to
protect her. In the stage show the pop singer, Rachel Marron (Heather
Headley) is frightened by a stalker and has Frank Farmer (Lloyd
Owen) employed to protect her and her 10-year-old son.
Frank works to a strict code: he never gets personally
involved with his clients. However, when he falls in love with the
diva he is there to protect, his work and personal life collide.
Director, Thea Sharrock, has brought the characters, choreography
and plot into a smooth flowing, well-oiled show. The songs arise
out of the dialogue and are put across well and with meaning. A
number of the songs are those she performs as an artist and the
emotion is shown in the effect the song has on the listener on stage
as well as audience.
Heather Headley as Rachel
The sets, swinging half-round at a time to produce
different venues, are moved swiftly and easily, and the costumes
are most impressive with Headley appearing in a variety of dazzling
clothes and rising on a dais in a silver dress at the end.
Heather Headley has a lovely voice and puts across her numbers
well, but she isn't Houston who we miss most in "I will always love
you" (actually written by Dolly Parton). The singer who is a real
revelation is Debbie Kurup who plays Rachel Marron's sister, Nicki.
She has a beautiful voice which soars above our heads and one wishes
she had more songs.
||Adelphi Theatre booking until 27
April 2013 -0844 579 0094
Maureen Lipman gives us another wonderful character
in her portrayal of Joyce in a new comedy at the Hampstead Theatre.
OLD MONEY (until 12 January 2013 020 7722 9301)
is written by Sarah Wooley and directed by Terry Johnson. In a number
of very short scenes, we see Joyce at the beginning laughing at
the funeral of her husband. Her daughter, Fiona (Tracy-Ann Oberman)
is astounded to see her very drab, conventional mother break out
in this manner.
After 45 years of a very unexciting marriage, Joyce is determined
to have some fun. Fiona, who is pregnant with her third baby, is
not so content with her lot either. Her husband has managed to lose
their house by not bothering about getting a permanent job to pay
the mortgage. She expects her mother to provide her with money to
indulge in the lifestyle they want. Instead Joyce's first act is
to buy a red coat and say she can't look after the children as she
is going to town - she lives in Cheam.
Joyce, "I've got one life; I want another."
Joyce makes friends with strippers and prefers their company to
that of her elderly mother Pearl (Helen Ryan) who still grumbles
at her after treating her appallingly throughout her childhood.
Reminding us of Oscar Wilde's Lady Harbury in The Importance of
Being Ernest (spoken of but never seen), a new widow who "looks
quite twenty years younger…living entirely for pleasure… [her hair
has] turned quite gold with grief." Failure to communicate leaves
Fiona amazed at the way her mother can ignore the needs of her own
mother and those of her daughter too.
Lipman manages to show us the grief at life itself that lies behind
her wish to enjoy the freedom that her new widowhood has given her
and Oberman puts in an almost sympathetic portrayal of the daughter
who expects her mother to provide for her both in time caring for
her grandchildren and providing monetary support to them all. Perhaps
more suited to television than the theatre, the play has more depth
than at first appears and will surely speak to a number of people
who are coping with any of the three age groups dealt with here.
At its studio theatre, Hampstead Downstairs, you can see TU
I TERAZ (HERE AND NOW) until 19 January, by Nicola Werenowska,
directed by Sam Potter. Telling the story of Polish immigrants,
the play is well acted and the director brings out the difference
between those who wish to blend in and be part of British life and
others who cling to their own country even when they are living
far from it.
Marysia (Ania Sowinski) has been in England a long time. She has
worked hard to start a new life and provide well for herself and
her son Kuba, now a teenager (Mark Strepan). She is joined by her
sister Anna (Anna Elijasz), who comes from Poland and makes Marysia
think again about her lifestyle and the choices she has made. Has
she done the right thing? And how has it affected her son?
This is another play with many short scenes. It is an interesting
little play with an all-Polish cast, giving us a view on immigration
and how some of the very many Polish folk in this country manage
to reconcile their past and present lives. Unfortunately a lot of
the dialogue is in Polish with no translation, leaving most of us
And now just time to catch a few Christmas shows: Let's start with
ALADDIN: a Wish Come True,
Apart from Paul O'Grady, in her Lily Savage persona,
there is little to rejoice at in this show. Lily Savage has gorgeous
dresses and extravagant hairdo and she puts across the lines with
excellent timing and gets deserved laughs. The rest of the cast
are very average and the two side-kicks, shown in the picture above,
have little charisma and go on interminably. While the dancing and
singing are nothing to get excited about, there are two lovely little
panto elephants and an excellently devised flying carpet scene which
goes over the heads of the audience, reminiscent of the one flying
out in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium a few years
Lily Savage as Widow Twankey
It doesn't help that there is no proper heating in
this temporary theatre at the O2 and an audience sitting huddled
in their coats is not going to receive a lukewarm pantomime with
||The Theatre at the O2 until 5 January
0844 844 0444
While not really a Christmas show, THE
ARABIAN NIGHTS ) has magic in the stories it tells and
is most suitable for a family outing.
Adapted from The Book of a Thousand and One Nights by Mary Zimmerman,
who was motivated by the 1991 Gulf War to show a different side
of Arabic culture, the show gives us the well-known tale in a new
and very simply told version. Here we have Scheherazade (Adura Onashile)
literally fighting for her life after being given to a murderous
husband. For three years King Shahryar (Sandy Grierson) has taken
a young virgin as his new bride each night and killed her the following
Using her wit and imagination, Scheherazade manages
to avoid death by telling story after story to the King. She conjures
up a variety of tales which segue easily from one to the other and
are acted out by other members of the cast, all of whom take on
multiple roles, backed by dancing and very interesting music from
the Iranian indie band, Take It Easy Hospital. She also stops each
evening at an exciting point leaving the King in suspense so that
he wants to hear more the next night. Some of the stories are funnier
than others. I particularly liked the one about a jester's faithless
wife, who hides her lovers in the toilet, and children will enjoy
the one about a loud fart!
Lu Kemp's direction has echoes of some of Peter Brook's work particularly
in the use of a multi-national cast. The actors perform well with
each other and put across the various characters with enough variety
to ensure that each story come across as a fresh tale.
||Tricycle Theatre, London until12
January 2013 - 020-7328 1000
Again, not your usual pantomime fare, or indeed
the Cinderella story we expect, but CINDERELLA: A Fairytale
is the traditional Brothers' Grimm version with all
the cutting-off toes and gouging out eyes parts as in the original
- still the children at the performance I went to seemed to be really
enjoying themselves! Director Sally Cookson achieves marvels with
her little band of actors, who besides taking on different characters
also sing and dance, play musical instruments and even interact
with the audience.
Ella (Lisa Kerr) has a close relationship with her
father until he remarries. She doesn't want a new mother and is
very unhappy when her father dies and her stepmother reduces her
life to that of a skivvy serving her stepbrother and sister. Cleaning
the hearth, Ella is told to sleep "with the cinders Ella" and becomes
This Cinderella is a tomboy and her best friends are the birds
in whom she finds the spirit of her dead father. She meets a birdwatcher,
a young man who is a bit of a nerd - he turns out to be the Prince
- and invites Ella to a ball at the Palace. The birds help to defy
the orders of the Stepmother and Ella is suitably attired.
There are a number of quirky touches in the production. The stepbrother
turns up at the ball in a pretty skirt as his mother is most anxious
that one of her two children marries the Prince. There is some lovely
jazz music which is well sung and the birds are depicted by paper
ones being floated around the stage by the actors. The father transforms
into the stepmother by putting on a dress and hat, so the same actor
can play both parts. Lisa Kerr makes a delightful Cinderella and
this show is yet another triumph for the upwardly moving new St
||St. James Theatre - 0844 264 2140