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FILM:June 2014

It's the beginning of a summer of big blockbusters and films don't come much bigger than X MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST cert.12A 2hrs. 11 mins.) In 3D.

Although one needs to know far more about the X Men franchise than I do, it is possible to sort of follow the story and enjoy the overall spectacular. Director, Bryan Singer returns to the franchise he helped to start. He knows the story-line well and with this film develops his themes to bring characters from the past together with those who have played the parts recently. So we have two Professor Xs (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart) and two Magnetos (Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen) as well as Raven, now called Mystique, (Jennifer Lawrence) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in substantial roles.

The Mutants of the future are under threat of extinction by Sentinels by a nasty little Professor (Peter Dinklage). It is decided to send Wolverine back to the '70s to prevent Mystique committing an assassination and, by stopping her, save the mutants from annihilation at the hands of the Sentinels. For this to happen, Logan must convince Professor X to reunite with Magneto to prevent a rogue Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from shaping their future.

Co-written by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Simon Kinberg, the team behind 2011 reboot X-Men: First Class, this should appeal to fans as it gives them the chance to see both sets of actors. Although events sometimes become confusing, there are some amusing moments and lots of visual excitement. Hugh Jackman is well-buffed and James McAvoy's long hair is mesmerising. Michael Fassbender reminds us how attractive he is too and Nicholas Hoult - once a child star - plays Hank McCoy/Beast, who he played in First Class.

The 3D is used to good effect here to provide all round excitement especially in the flying scenes.

FADING GIGOLO (cert.15 1 hr. 30 mins.), although directed by the actor John Turturro, is really Woody Allen's film.

Woody Allen plays Murray, a book store owner, who talks his friend Fioravante (John Turturro) into becoming a gigolo in order to earn extra cash. His first customer is a dermatologist, Dr Parker (Sharon Stone) so Fioravante doesn't find his task too difficult. Progressing to Dr Parker's equally attractive friend Selima (Sofia Vergara) Fioravante is more than happy he agreed to Murray's suggestion.

A different kind of client comes to Murray's attention: Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), also lovely looking, but the widow of a Jewish Hassidic Rabbi. She lives a cloistered life and is finally aroused by Fioravante's touch on her back. She is watched over by the jealous Dovi (Live Schreiber). Suddenly Murray is confronted by complications in his work as a pimp.

It's great to be able to enjoy Allen as an actor after seeing so many of the recent films that he has directed where another actor does a somewhat poor Woody impression. Here we get Woody himself speaking lines that seem to have been written by him but are in fact Turturro's. Very funny, Allen puts in a superb performance and Turturro is a good foil. The only really unbelievable part - well, the whole film is an older male's fantasy - is that the women are too beautiful to ever need to pay for sex!

Also recommended:

BEYOND THE EDGE 3D (cert. PG 1 hr. 40 mins.), the story in documentary form of the journey and ascent to the top of Mt Everest by the quiet beekeeper from New Zealand, Edmund Hillary, and the experienced Nepalese Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay. Much of the journey has had to be re-created and there is the most astonishing photography which, as it is in 3D, takes you over crevices and up sharp rocks with breath-taking realism. The summit was reached on 29 May 1953, 60 years' ago, the news reaching the world on the very day that Elizabeth 11 was crowned queen.

Another documentary that is equally as compelling is NOW: IN THE WINGS ON A WORLD STAGE (cert. 15 1 hr. 33 mins.), a stupendously good film about Kevin Spacey, Sam Mendes and their Bridge Project Company as they prepare for, then rehearse and perform in England at the Old Vic and finally travel to many places around the world performing Shakespeare's Richard III.

Directed by Jeremy Whelehan, it is really for those who are knowledgeable or very keen on the theatre. Giving its audience the nearest to a theatrical experience that cinema can provide, there are interviews with the director, Sam Mendes, his co-founder and Richard, Kevin Spacey and a number of British and American actors who form the company which provides a bridge across the continent to bring together this troupe of British and American actors. Wonderful!

Ken Loach has announced that JIMMY'S HALL (cert. 12A 1 hr. 46 mins.), will be his last fictional film and that he will henceforth concentrate on making documentaries. It's an engrossing endeavour - much softer than his other films with a touch of romance and less overtly political, although of course in depicting the lives of those suffering financial hardship it is political in the non-Party political sense.

Set in 1930s Ireland, it tells the true story (well, "inspired by") of Communist activist James Gralton (Barry Ward) who has returned home after 10 years forced exile in New York. He went away when the dance hall he ran was closed down. Now the local youngsters persuade him to re-open the Pearse-Connolly Hall. He finds people to teach poetry, art, hold discussions and also puts on dances to which adults and children can attend. Jimmy also resumes contact with his childhood sweetheart Oonagh (Simone Kirby), but she is now married to someone else so the relationship cannot really proceed far.

Unfortunately he falls foul of both the Catholic Church and the local landowners as they are afraid of Jimmy's influence which undermines their own authority. They don't like his left-wing politics or the American jazz he plays. As usual Loach has cast non-actors in many roles. While they all look and sound exactly right, not all can act well. The woman playing Jimmy's mother carries on making tea and is as disturbed by the police coming to arrest and deport her son as though she has mislaid an item of clothing.

Loach has cast his main characters well and Ward as Jimmy, Jim Norton as the main priest and the other actors playing Jimmy's close friends all portray their characters with vigour and honesty. As in other films Loach has used the witty and abundantly knowledgeable Paul Laverty as his writer. It will be a real loss if we are unable to see another Loach film like this one.

T.S. SPIVET (cert. 12A 1 hr. 45 mins) in 3D, is film that is suitable for all, so not a "family" film so much as a film that has appeal to those of all ages - children, parents and grandparents! Although it is set in Montana USA, the film was actually shot in Canada. The scenery is lovely and the 3D enhances this. The film tells of a 10-year-old boy who invents a perpetual motion machine and then travels alone to collect his prize in Washington.

The boy, Kyle Catlett, is very good, however Helena Bonham Carter as his mother gives another of her honest and moving characterisations. She shows what an underrated artist she is.

     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

Here is a round-up of what is new in the theatre :

My summer officially starts when I can go to a theatre in the open air. There are two such shows on currently:

The Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park has Arthur Miller's ALL MY SONS (until 7 June. Box office 0844 826 4242). It seems an unlikely play to put on in this setting, but I guess the theatre saw how well To Kill A Mockingbird did last year (it returns to the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park 28 August - 13 September) so decided that another serious play would go down well. And this is certainly serious enough.

Beginning in 1947, Joe Keller (Tom Mannion) and his wife Kate (Brid Brennan) still mourn their son Larry who was listed missing in action. Everyone accepts that he is dead except Kate who insists that he will come back. The youngest son Chris (Charles Aitken) wants to marry his brother's fiancée, Ann (Amy Deever) but is afraid to upset his mother. Matters are brought to a head when Ann visits the Kellers. We learn that Joe Keller's partner is in prison for supplying defective engines which were responsible for the deaths of many young pilots. Did Joe know about this?

Joe (Tom Mannion) and Kate (Brid Brennan) isn All My Sons

As the play takes place within one day, it comes across as realistic. Miller's play is so well-written and builds up each character - showing us how they are flawed - so vividly that it would be difficult to spoil. It's a powerful play with themes of guilt and retribution all pervasive. After a slow start to Timothy Sheader's production, the night darkens as does the play and the actors rise to Miller's words. Brid Brennan is particularly moving as a mother who fears that her husband's actions could have caused his death. The audience, who often seem to be somewhat flighty - going in and out of the auditorium - sat quietly wrapped up in the story on stage. The play and the Open Air theatre are well worth a visit.

As is the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre which has ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (playing until 24 August. Box office 020 7401 9919)

This production has not got off to a good start. Clive Wood, who plays Antony, had to miss a number of preview performances because of illness and then James Hayes, who plays three parts, was injured and on press night his parts were read from a script by Christopher Saul but Clive Wood was present. Although it didn't rain, there was a cold wind and at times it was hard to catch all that was being said on stage. In spite of these mishaps, the play went ahead and it is on the whole a worthy production.

To portray Cleopatra, the most beautiful and captivating woman of her time, we have Eve Best, who does a grand job showing the Egyptian Queen's ambition. She has managed to seduce Mark Antony one of the three rulers of the Roman Empire and their love threatens the two nations. Best puts across Cleopatra's toughness and Clive Wood is equally as good in his role as a fighter and admirer of the Queen. What is lacking is any real passion of the one for the other.

The poetry comes through - one of the most beautifully written of Shakespeare's works, although it is strange to hear Phil Daniels as Enobarbus speaking the verse with a distinct cockney accent - in Jonathan Munby's production and there are, as with all Globe shows, a number of comic bits of business involving the audience. We can only wish the Globe better luck in the rest of the season.

I'll grant you that although it might be 'my' summer, many days are not suitable for outdoor viewing. So we are lucky that in London there are two new smashing musicals to see. Go to one or both to cheer yourself up on an inclement day.

Although cheery might not be the right word with which to approach MISS SAIGON (Prince Edward Theatre, it has already been extended until 25 April 2015. Box office 0844 482 5155)

Returning 25 years after its premiere at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1989, this musical has a story that is interesting, good songs and music and a cast who can really sing and act.

Based on Puccini's Madame Butterfly, the musical Miss Saigon is transported to Vietnam during the war when the US army occupied Saigon. We meet newly arrived Kim (Eva Noblezada) as she arrives to work at Dreamland, a somewhat seedy nightclub owned by a man always on the lookout to make money for himself and known as The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones). Kim meets an American GI called Chris (Alistair Brammer) and they fall in love. They are separated in the chaos surrounding the fall of Saigon and Chris returns alone to America. Some years later he returns to find Kim with his child. Romance …yes, but tinged with a lot of sadness.

Alistair Brammer as Chris & Eva Noblezada as Kim

I remember two things from seeing the original production: when the helicopter takes off (very exciting) and the mesmerising performance of Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer. Here there is a projected image of a helicopter which hovers over the scene and then dissolves to reveal the "real" thing landing in the embassy grounds. Jon Jon Briones is a sleazier character than Pryce's Engineer. Briones has a lot of vitality and puts across the comic business in an obvious and energetic manner.

The performances are more than adequate with Brammer singing strongly and coming across well without great acting. However, Noblezda, who is new to the London stage, is magnificent. Vocally she is very impressive and puts across the vulnerability of a young girl in a big city with the strength of a mother who is sure that what she is doing for her child is the right thing to do. Remember her name when it comes to the next lot of theatrical awards.

Director Laurence Connor has a good feel for the music, by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, and the style of the show and he manages to get a long musical moving along briskly. It is good to see that the political elements are well to the fore such as the Vietnamese/American children who are lost in limbo between two worlds and the Vietnamese army dancing in a well-drilled formation in front of a huge bust of Ho Chi Minh and the equally well-drilled chorus girls of The American dream in front of The Statue Of Liberty. We can remember such lovely songs as Sun and moon, The Engineer's The American dream (here sung as the Engineer drools over a Cadillac car) and, of course, the very sad I'd give my life for you.

The audience cheered at the end - quite rightly as it is an excellent show with a wondrous debut by 18-year-old Eve Noblezada.

The exuberance and sheer professionalism of the dancing is what makes THE PAJAMA GAME (Shaftesbury theatre, London until 13 September 2014. Box office 020-7379 5399) into a very special show.

When I saw The Pajama Game in 1954, it was the songs and sexy production number, Steam Heat that were the stand-out features. Now Richard Eyre brings the show to the Shaftesbury with a cast who sing well and dance superbly. It's good, too, to have a musical that has something to say about Unions and shop-floor politics, especially in a positive manner which is not anti-Union. This is not to say that the piece is heavy. It is certainly not - there is a romantic theme attached to this tale of a confrontation between a new superintendent in a pyjama factory in Ohio and the militant Union Representative of the Complaints Committee. As Babe (Joanna Riding) fights for a 7 1/2 cents per hour rise in pay for the workers and Sid (Michael Xavier), who has to put forward Management's position, tries to impose his opposite view, the growing love between the two seems doomed.

Stephen Mear's choreography

Joanna Riding has a strong, tuneful voice which she uses to great effect as Babe. She is well-matched by Michael Xavier's Sid and there is a real spark of chemistry between them. There is a comic sub plot involving the shop floor time and motion man, Vernon (Peter Polycarpou; the part will be taken by Gary Wilmot from 2 June), who is extremely jealous of his girlfriend, Gladys (Alexis Owen-Hobbs). He promises Sid's middle-aged secretary, (Claire Machin) that "I'll never be jealous again" - a great song, performed with panache.

 

Whereas Elizaberth Seal was a real bombshell in the original London production, Owen-Hobbs is not so sultry in the song steam heat. She is better putting across the well-known Hernando's hideaway.

The office picnic is reminiscent of that in Carousel, and has the lovely number once-a-year day. Stephen Mear's choreography is full of life and every number is performed in a lively, excitingly original manner. Highly recommended.

The RSC's new season at its Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon has a feminine theme for the four plays on offer. That's fine as is its choice of THE ROARING GIRL (until 30 September Box office 0844 800 1110) for the first play. What I was not keen on was the updating of Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton's play of 1611 to Victorian England. It doesn't even keep to the 1890s as Moll, the 'roaring girl' of the title, has tattoos and the music played sounds modern. I would have liked to see director Jo Davies's interpretation as a Jacobean play.

To have the story of Moll Cutpurse (Lisa Dillon) in its rightful era would have shown how feminist ideas of independence from men and equality were present in this early period.

The play is performed in a very lively and energetic manner. There are a number of overlapping story lines which all finally come together. The two main ones are firstly that of Sebastian (Joe Bannister) whose father (David Rintoul) is against his son marrying Mary (Faye Castelow), a lowly seamstress. Sebastian pretends to be courting Moll. The second of the main sub-plots concerns an apothecary's wife, Mistress Gallipot (Lizzie Hopley),

L. to R.. Joe Bannister, Lisa Dillon, Faye Castelow

who believes that one of the Gallants, Laxton (Keir Charles) loves her so that she tricks her husband into parting with money for him. Laxton also eyes Moll, believing (wrongly) her to be an easy catch as she is so bold in dress and behaviour.

Lisa Dillon is always lively as Moll and sings and bounds around the stage enthusiastically. It is a pity that the play is set in an era that doesn't tie in with the language or behaviour of the characters as it is very well performed, well dressed, with an attractive set and is at times highly amusing.

Last Saturday I undertook a marathon; no, not the normal running type, but watching the performances of four plays by Simon Gray (who died in 2008). The first play began at 11 a.m. and the last finished just before 10 p.m. with intervals and meal breaks. Under the title, IN THE VALE OF HEALTH (Hampstead, London theatre until 14 June. Box office 020 7722 9301) the plays JAPES, MICHAEL, JAPES TOO, MISSING DATES are a remarkable achievement.

L to R Jamie Ballard (Michael), Laura Rees (Anita), Gethin Anthony (Japes) in Japes Too from In the Vale of Health at Hampstead theatre

Simon Gray saw his play, JAPES directed by Peter Hall in 2001 and thought that his characters could be developed further and that there was also the possibility of different endings. So he followed Japes with the other three plays - I understand that there are yet another two, but Artistic Director Edward Hall and his colleagues at Hampstead Theatre decided that four were enough!

The plays deal with the lives of three main characters, Jason (nicknamed Japes), his brother Michael and Anita. Michael loves and marries Anita, although she is also having a secret affair with Japes.

Both brothers write, but for most of the time, Michael is the more successful. Alcohol plays a major part in all their lives.

The plays progress in time and the story-line alters in each one. There are, however, many repetitions and one has to listen very carefully to notice the minute changes. Some scenes are repeated virtually in full, with just one or two words or sentences different from the previous enactment of the same scene. It is rather like Alan Ackbourn's trilogy NORMAN CONQUESTS in which each play depicts the same six characters over the same weekend in a different part of a house, although here there is one set only.

Our interest stays with the triangle of the two brothers and their love of Anita. Two other characters are introduced: the daughter, Wendy (Imogen Doel) who is as unsure as the other three about which brother is her father, and Wendy's former drug addicted boyfriend and later her husband, Dominic (Tom Mothersdale).

The acting by Gethin Anthony as Japes, Jamie Ballard as Michael and Laura Rees as Anita - with a good teenager in Doel's performance and a lively, amusing characterisation by Mothersdale, is fine and they should be doubly admired for having the energy and sustainability to perform all four plays, with so much repetition and just tiny changes, over a whole day and evening.

Simon Gray, using a lot of his personal life as source material, writes in a witty way, using everyday speech to convey a lot of hidden emotion and alternative meaning. Although the plays can be viewed separately, there is a lot to be got out of seeing them consecutively, on the same day if possible or over two days.

I passed the real Vale of Health NW3 the day after seeing the plays: there is a variety of Houses, some large ones divided into apartments as well as pretty individual cottages - a good setting for this marathon accomplishment at Hampstead Theatre.

     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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