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FILM: July 2007

DIE HARD 4.0 (cert.15 2hrs. 9mins.), is a very well-made film. There is plenty of action with minimal, almost irrelevant, dialogue. The action sequences are really exciting with large vehicles crashing into each, over bridges and blocking roads, chases, people jumping from one building to the other and even helicopters fighting against cars!

What spoils the excitement is that we know that Bruce Willis as the hero, New York City detective, John McClane, will always survive. Willis, however, comes across as the nice guy I am sure he is (he once called me Ma'am!).

Die Hard 4
Shrek the third

We have yet another number 3 - this time SHREK the THIRD (cert. U 1hr. 33mins.). While the plot is different from the other Shrek films it is very much more of the same - characters, actors and even jokes have all been seen and heard before. Critics have said that it is not so funny, but this must be largely due to the fact that the films are no longer a surprise.

Views of the 3 children I took were:

Katrina aged 8: I found it funny - it was brilliant and it's a film I'd LOVE to watch again and again. It was as good as the other two, with laughs all the time. It was 'SIMPLY SHREKTACULAR'. Ha Ha Ha!

Gemma aged 12: Very entertaining - I found it enjoyable the whole way through I would recommend this to all of my family and friends. Good for children and adults.

Jessica, aged 15: Absolutly hilarious and just perfect for all the family. The music during the film was well chosen and cheerful. The characters were imaginative, and well stereotyped, making fun of the 'expectation' of their fairy tale counterparts.

GROW YOUR OWN (cert. PG 1hr. 35mins.) is a delightful film about a group of disparate people coming together on an allotment site in Liverpool. We see the conflict between very traditional British types and newer refugees and asylum seekers, who are trying to come to terms with their new life in England and also deal with memories of atrocities they were subjected to in their homeland.

Through this little film, directed by Richard Laxton, we get one view of race relations at work in Britain today. Some good humorous moments, mainly aimed against the entrenched views of the local white community, lighten the tone. There is good acting all round, particularly from Benedict Wong, who conveys a multitude of thoughts and feelings without speech, and Eddie Marsan, who, since "Vera Drake," has excelled in a number of films.

Grow your own

And.last, but by no means least, we have HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (cert. 12A 2hrs.18mins.), directed by David Yates. This is certainly not just another sequel and, although it is too dark for young children and too much of a school story - albeit a magic school - for adults, it is extremely well-crafted and, as usual, the casting absolutely suits the characters. Having seen Daniel Radcliffe on stage, I was not surprised to find him performing well as maturing Harry and, for the first time, I thought that Rupert Grint came across as a realistic Ron Weasley, HP's best friend. As before, one of the best performances came from Emma Watson as Hermione the third in the trio of friends.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix

In fact the actors are the chief delight (to me, at any rate) of these films. Michael Gambon makes an excellent headmaster and Ralph Fiennes as the villain of the piece, Robbie Coltrane as very large Hagrid, the caretaker and Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman and Robert Hardy as returning characters, along with a wide range of British actors here for the first time or reprising their roles from the previous films are all impressive.

But joining the cast for the first time Imelda Staunton is really outstanding as the very ambitious and quite nasty Dolores Umbridge. Again, as before, there are many magical moments like the pictures of cats who are vocal and active on the plates lining Professor Umbridge's office walls.


THEATRE: JULY 2007

Two very different musicals have just opened. The magnificent musical version of LORD OF THE RINGS (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane) is the most spectacular theatrical event that I have witnessed. First, the producers should be congratulated on condensing the Tolkien books into three hours. The stories of Middle Earth always sound complicated when spelt out, but in this show I found that I could follow the journey of Frodo Baggins (James Loye) and hobbit chums from their home to Mount Doom to dispose of the Ring, which corrupts anyone who has it is their possession. On their journey the little people meet up with a tormented creature known as Gollum (Michael Therriault), the wizard Gandolf (Malcolm Story), the mystical Lady Galdriel (Laura Michelle Kelly), the elf Legolas (Michel Rouse) and many other non or part-humans. The acting is no great shakes and there are a few 'pantomime' voices. But Gollum is very creepy and (almost) as good as the films' Andy Serkis.

The Lord of the Rings

But the first prize must go to the special effects. From the moment one walks into the theatre, which has been turned into a veritable Middle-earth, and greeted by characters mixing with the audience, one believes in the magical properties on show. The scenery dances around the characters as it moves around people singing. The sinister black riders (actors on stilts) are most impressive, although a bit frightening for the very young, and I loved the acrobatic Orcs. There is real magic on show as well, such as Bilbo Baggins being made to suddenly disappear. The costumes are extraordinary too, and worthy of an exhibition in their own right.

I first saw the new musical comedy THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Novello) in New York last year and was looking forward to seeing the British version. Bob Martin, who is the author, plays the Man in Chair who brings a pastiche of a 1920s musical (it finishes with four weddings!) to life as he listens to an old record. The novelty device of someone not only telling the story and commenting on the action, but also filling the audience in on the lives of the original stars, works charmingly. I thought the musical within the story was delightful in any case and is well enough presented to stand on its own. The dialogue is witty, beginning with the narrator's statement, "I hate theatre"

Elaine Paige in the Drowsy Chaperone
Bob Martin in the Drowsy Chaperone

The woman with a lovely voice, Elaine Page, puts across the somewhat drunken - and hence, drowsy, chaperone very well and the other characters are amusing and also dance well, particularly John Partridge as Robert, the heroine's fiancÚ, who executes a terrific tap dance and later skates wearing a blindfold . The star of the evening, however, is Summer Strallen as Janet Van De Graff, who is also the star of the 1920s story. She has a great dance wherein she moves her long legs in a gravity-defying manner.

And how did it differ from the US version? Well, the chief difference was the audience. While the Novello spectators certainly enjoyed the show, the Americans showed their enjoyment in an extremely loud fashion, guffawing and clapping at every funny remark!

This gentle show without extravagant technology - the sets are like a children's book - will certainly appeal to many of you.

     

Carlie Newman

   
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