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FILM: JULY 2005

Batman Begins

With BATMAN BEGINS (cert. 12A 2hrs.20mins) we have another film, like the latest Star Wars, that looks back to before the fully developed character of the earlier films. This prequel shows how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) gradually recovers from the childhood trauma of seeing his parents shot and, aided by his butler Albert (an excellent performance from an English sounding Michael Caine), a laid back weaponry expert (Morgan Freeman), and another ally, Gordon, the good cop (an unrecognisable Gary Oldman), Bruce is set to become Batman at will. With the enigmatic Liam Neeson hovering over him, and Rachel (Katie Holmes), his childhood friend, the stage is set for a dark story, occasionally too dimly lit, but interesting, if a bit too lengthy!

MR AND MRS SMITH (cert.15 2hrs) is a comedy thriller, with not much memorable about it other than it stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, whose private lives may - or more probably will not be - of interest to you. The two play a seemingly ordinary suburban couple going through a period of marital boredom after 6 years of marriage. They re-discover magic in their relationship when they find that not only do they both work as hired assassins, but they have been instructed to kill each other.

Mr and Mrs Smith
Brad and Angelina as Mr and Mrs Smith

Jolie acts like a female James Bond and is very attractive; however, Pitt has become somewhat fulsome in the jowls area. Both are good with the hardware and move athletically. Great acting is neither required nor seen.

Kings and Queen
Emmanuelle Devos as Nora

There is, however, good acting in a somewhat long French film - most are lengthy these days - by the director, Arnaud Desplechin. KINGS AND QUEEN (Rois et Reine) (cert. 15 2hrs. 33mins.) is a clever film weaving two separate stories together. One shows Nora about to marry a suitable husband after two fairly disastrous relationships. The other has her second husband, Ismael, taken away to a mental hospital protesting his sanity in spite of signs of deep disturbance.

Nora asks Ismael to adopt her son who has been looked after by her father who is now suffering with the last stages of terminal cancer. There is an emotionally fraught scene when the old father tells his daughter that he has never liked her. Competent performances from Emmanuelle Devos as Nora and Mathieu Amalric as Ismael, with a cameo by Catherine Deneuve, raise this film on relationships to a high level.

The new John Sayles film, SILVER CITY (cert. 15 2hrs. 4mins.), tells an interesting story of corruption combined with a right-on political viewpoint in the wake of the 2004 Presidential election (as much about African-American people losing out on their voting rights as about chads!). An American film about the political scene is as welcome as a Michael Moore film and this one has attracted the acting talents of Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss, Mario Bello, Danny Huston and Daryl Hannah

Silver City

Now we have Steven Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS (cert.12A 1hr. 56mins.)Those of us weaned on science fiction (or science romance as it was called at the time H.G.Wells wrote the original story), have become used to modern treatments of this classic over the years. From Orson Welles' legendary radio broadcast in the 30's, that caused panic in the streets, until our time, each generation of storytellers put their own gloss on the original Victorian and very English storyline.

War of the Worlds
11 year old Dakota Fanning

This film, whilst strong on the visual images of the aliens and their space vessels which are very well realised, emphasises the "human interest" aspects of the people caught up in the extraordinary events following the invasion of the aliens. I found it well filmed, competently acted (yes Cruise can act when given the chance!)

Look out for Tim Robbins in a cameo role, and plaudits are due to 11 year old Dakota Fanning who is astonishingly good and a fine supporting cast.

Forget H.G. and Orson, Spielberg has created a "War of the Worlds" for our time and it is definitely worth seeing.


THEATRE TIP

I have hardly stopped praising BILLY ELLIOT - the Musical at the Victoria Palace Theatre, since I saw it. One of the best British musicals ever, it has taken what was an excellent film and enhanced it with a combination of fantastic choreography performed by wonderful child actors, a good book and lyrics by the original author, Lee Hall, and a mixture of music to suit the scenes by Elton John (yes, I too was surprised at the variety of gospel, folk, contemporary, and modern styles).

I saw Liam Mower as Billy and doubt if he could be bettered. His dancing covers a variety of styles including tap, ballet and even acrobatics.

In addition he has a very good singing voice! Stephen Daldry, who also directed the film, is able to bring out the very best in his actors. This is shown in the rest of the cast who all perform excellently.

I wasn't very keen on the scene where the young boys dress in women's clothes, but the choreography was so inventive that even that scene worked well. Although there were comic moments, it was a most moving show and I spent most of the time in tears. The HOUSE FULL signs were up and I suspect they will remain there until the present actor playing Billy is old enough to bring his own kids.

Just when we were bemoaning the lack of good musicals, along come two!

GUYS AND DOLLS at the Piccadilly Theatre is different in that it is full of hummable - if not singable, with my voice - songs. Michael Grandage's new production takes us back to Damon Runyon's original stories and the players are first and foremost actors rather than singers, although Jenna Russell as Sara, the 'missionary doll' and Jane Krakowska as Adelaide sing sweetly. Douglas Hodge is excellent as Nathan Detroit and Ewan McGregor is a generous actor who has more charm than power as a singer.

Guys and Dolls at the Piccadilly Theatre

And for the rest: we have a difficult to follow THE TEMPEST at Shakespeare's Globe, with 3 actors playing all parts, along with Corin Redgrave moving as PERICLES (he is ill now and Mark Rylance has taken over). Also at the Globe is an "original practices" THE WINTER'S TALE. A clear, good production of a difficult play.

While the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park is showing a simple TWELTH NIGHT where Malvolio (Martin Jarvis)- rightly in my view - is shown as a sad person to be pitied as much as laughed at, and a clear, descriptive production of CYMBELINE

The Abbey Theatre's production of THE SHAUGRAUN at the Albery is staged as a laugh-a-minute melodrama complete with a hero, heroine and villain to be hissed at!

And THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE has a too quiet Val Kilmer in an otherwise atmospheric production at the Playhouse.


Carlie Newman

   
 
     
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