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Films June / July 2017

In this very hot weather you might like to cool off in a nice comfortable cinema!

Let's start with an unusual film from Sweden: A MAN CALLED OVE (cert.15 1 hr. 56mins.). Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is angry all the time. In fact, since his wife's death just six months ago and recently being made redundant, he lives alone with no friends.

He spends his time checking that the rules of the housing estate where he lives are kept and visiting his wife's grave. Ove plans to commit suicide and join his wife.

But he is interrupted as he makes preparations by pregnant Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and her very lively family who move in next door to Ove. As he becomes more involved in the life of his neighbours, Ove's life changes. This is an amusing and thoughtful film which deals with life and the past and living with one's neighbours. The movie, based on the best-selling novel by Frederick Backman and directed by Hannes Holm, has lots to say about coming to terms with grief.

ALONE IN BERLIN (cert.12A 1 hr. 43 mins.)

Starting with the death of their only son in Germany in 1940, Otto (Brendan Gleeson) and Elsi Hampel (Emma Thompson), who live in Berlin, are completely devastated. While Elsi is very obviously shattered, Otto seems to be dealing with his loss in a calmer manner. But in the film, we see how the death of his son makes Otto completely re-evaluate his life. Joined by his wife, Otto writes cards encouraging people to protest. against Hitler. He and Anna leave the postcards in places throughout Berlin. Detective, Kriminal Inspektor Escherich (Daniel Bruhl) is set on apprehending the perpetrator and follows his leads on the cards. Their acts of resistance to Hitler's regime bring Otto and his wife closer together.

If it wasn't for the two stars it would be doubtful if the film would succeed. But Emma Thompson's quiet, thoughtful performance and Gleeson's sensitively played, determined characterisation make the film worthy of a view. The main trouble is that director Vincent Perez has inflicted a very strange accent on the couple. They speak English but with a German accent! This wouldn't be so bad if everything else was in English but the writing on the cards and everywhere else is in German.

The movie, based on a true story, comes from Hans Fallada's 1947 novel which wasn't translated into English until 2009. More about a marriage than a thriller, this is a film which is worth seeing in spite of its faults.

Rating ***

Also recommended:

THE MIDWIFE (cert. 12 A 1 hr. 57 mins.) provides a platform for two terrific French actors. Catherine Frot plays Claire, a hard-working, very capable senior midwife in a clinic in Paris. She is surprised by the re-appearance of her father's former mistress, Beatrice (played by Catherine Deneuve). Although Claire is not keen to meet the woman who drove her father to commit suicide when she left him, she agrees and thus begins an unusual relationship. Deneuve gives her part a blowsy full-bodied characterisation while Frot's performance is subtler showing us an inhibited woman. The two actresses work well together.

TOMMY'S HONOUR (cert. PG 1 hr. 42 mins.) is directed by Jason Connery (son of Sean) and tells the story of the Morris family, who are said to have started the game of golf as it is played today. It is late 1860s in Scotland and young Tommy (Jack Lowden) is becoming an expert golfer under the tutelage of his father Tom Morris (Peter Mullan). But Tom would prefer his son became a caddie like him rather than a professional golfer. There is a lot of golf in the film, so for a non-golfer like me I feared it would be too much. However, there is a very human story behind the game - that of Tommy's love for a woman disapproved of by his parents because she had an illegitimate child. Mullan give his usual solid performance and we see young Jack Lowden improving with every performance.

THE LAST WORD (cert. 15 1 hr. 47 mins.) sees Shirley MacLaine in full actress mode. She plays, Harriet Lauler, a retired business woman who likes to control everything. She decides that a local obituary writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) should write her obituary while she is still alive to make sure that it reflects her in a good light. The trouble is that the journalist can't find anyone to say a good word about her. Harriet sets out to re-invent herself and Anne has to accompany her. As the two get to know each other, a bond is formed. While the script is not very well-written, the two actresses work well together and it is always a pleasure to watch Shirly MacLaine.

CARS 3 (cert. U 1 hr. 48 mins.) is a Pixar animated film which, obviously, follows the story on from the previous two.

Lightening McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) realises he is getting old when he loses a race to new upstart Jackson Storm (Arnie Hammer). Thinking of retirement, he is persuaded to carry on and be taught new technology by Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). She wants to be a racer herself and the two cars manage to work out their future together.

It is surprising how human the cars are and the film works on quite a few levels: a female trainer, facing up to old age and realising that it might be time to call it a day. The film is a bit long for very young kids but all the rest of the family should enjoy it.

A CHANGE IN THE WEATHER (cert. PG 1 hr. 38 mins.) is a film that plays like a documentary. Set in France the film shows a group of actors spending time in a house to talk about a new play that the playwright (Bob Goody) is preparing. Director Jon Sanders, working closely with the actors who are led by Sanders' wife, Anna Mottram, gives us a film which is sometimes puzzling but one which looks at ageing and the relationship between art and reality.

THE BEGUILED (cert. 15 1 hr. 34 mins.)

Director Sofia Coppola has given us a movie that is lovely to look at and acted with finesse by a top raft of actors. The script, by Coppola, is intelligent and even the length of the film is just right.

Using both the Clint Eastwood film directed by Don Siegel in 1971 and the original 1966 novel by Thomas Cullinan as foundation, she brings the story to our screens in a new way. Set in 1864 during the US civil war, a badly wounded Union soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), is found by a school girl (Oona Laurence) and taken back to the seminary run by headmistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) and her assistant Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst). The adults and the female students soon succumb to John's charms.

Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst

Things turn rather nasty when John goes too far with sexually aware Alicia (Elle Fanning). Once again Sofia Coppola has given us a first-rate movie.

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP June 2017

The draw for ANNIE (Piccadilly Theatre, London (booking until 6 January 2018. Note: Miranda Hart performing as Miss Hannigan until 17 September 2017. Box office: 0844 871 7630) is Miranda Hart who plays Miss Hannigan, the horrible head of the Orphanage. And, indeed, Hart gives a lively interpretation as the drink swilling orphanage boss who dislikes children so much and loves money so much more that she later agrees to the dastardly plot of her brother.

Heroine of the piece is the child orphan Annie - at the performance I saw she was sweetly played by Madeleine Haynes - who desperately wants to find her parents even after so long without them. All she has to remember them by is half a locket. When she is chosen to spend Christmas with the billionaire Oliver Warbucks (a fine-voiced Alex Bourne), everyone is very happy for her except for Miss Hannigan who hates Annie. Very disappointed that Annie turns down the offer of adoption by Warbucks because she is waiting for her real family, he generously offers to help her find her parents. Of course, there is money involved and it is now that Miss Hannigan's brother (Jonny Fines) and his girlfriend, Lily (Djalanga Scott) come up with the idea of pretending to be Annie's mother and father. Only Miss Hannigan knows of Annie's background and in order to fool everyone the couple get all the information they need from her.

The musical is set in New York City in 1933. It is the time of the Depression and a couple of the songs refer to these hard times. But songs such as Hard knock life are sung with such an upbeat tempo that it is difficult to equate the music with life lived on the breadline.

But the songs are sung extremely well especially by Bourne and by Holly Dale Spencer as Warbucks' assistant. The musical, which has music by Charles Strouse with lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan is well directed by Nikolai Foster. A lively chorus who sing well and dance with dexterity add to the enjoyment. An interesting set composed of a kind of jigsaw-puzzle of New York forms a fascinating background. It's another show with a live animal for the audience to goo over and the dog is very obedient and follows Annie around.

Miranda Hart is the star who has encouraged the audience to come to the show, and she is always worth watching as an actress. Her singing voice is not very good but she manages a few dance steps and hers is a lovely performance. The main character is Annie and in the curtain call - which sees Hart come in galloping as though on a hobby horse as in her TV show, it is the actress playing Annie who comes in last - quite right to.

It's a delightful production which is well- suited for all ages so come with your family and friends while Hart is still in the show.

Rating ****

Well at least you won't be able to say you couldn't hear Bat Out of Hell! It's a big, noisy very lively rock musical for the young and the middle-aged and, in fact, anyone who will enjoy an exhilarating night out. BAT OUT OF HELL is at the London Coliseum (booking until 5 August 2017. Box office: 020 7845 9300). With book, music and lyrics by Jim Steinman, it's Meat Loaf's albums put on stage to mark the 40th anniversary of the first album's release.

The story, which is very slight and hardly worth bothering about, is a mixture of a Romeo and Juliet plot line mixed with a touch of Peter Pan. Set in the future, we meet a tribe of young people, called the Lost, who following a catastrophe, are frozen forever into their age at the time - 18. The leader of the Lost, Strat (Andrew Polec) falls in love with Raven (Christina Bennington) who has been protected by her parents and kept in her safe bedroom. Strat manages to get into the high tower owned by her parents, the dictator Falco (Rob Fowler) and his wife, Sloane ((Sharon Sexton) who are rich enough to own the property - a Trump like touch here, and they control the citizens except for the young ones who live in their own area.

The London Coliseum is known to be in financial trouble and people have questioned if that is why this theatre has been chosen to stage the commercial spectacle. The space is, however, exactly right for this huge production. The set is magnificent with broken TVs and a crashed car around the Lost and a high bedroom half way up the tower where Raven spends her time. A touch of Wagner in the loud choruses suits this venue.

The dialogue might be poor, but all the actors sing very well and there are some good performances by the leads. The choreography is, however, repetitive, and the chorus seems to flap around. The rock music more than makes up for any faults in the dancing as well-known numbers including the title song and I'd do anything for love are belted out exuberantly. Andrew Polec in the role of Strat is mesmerising and has more than a touch of a superstar about him. It is well worth making the effort to see this outstanding spectacle.

Rating ****

Also recommended:

ON THE TOWN (Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London. Just time to take people to see this lovely musical at the Open Air Theatre.

Forget the film, this is a lovely revival directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie who brings out all the vitality of the leading actors who sing and dance in a boisterous fashion led by Danny Mac. The chorus tackle the dances with professionalism and there is not a dud moment in the show. Great songs and an amusing story makes this a magical evening, especially when the sun is shining in the park. I am sure this will return next year and hopefully might even come on in the West End.

L to R Samuel Edwards, Danny Mac, Miriam-Teak Lee, Lizzy Connolly and Jacob Maynard

Another very different musical is LA STRADA (The Other Palace Theatre, London booking until 8 July. Box office: 0207 087 7900) which is based on Frederico Fellini's famous film which won an Oscar in 1957. Directed by Sally Cookson, with songs performed by the actors who also play all the instruments live on stage. We see little Gelsomina sold by her poor mother to a circus performer, the strongman and see her treated roughly by him. She is awakened to a more confident life when she meets Ill Matto, the tightrope walker. A sad story told with a lot of visual imagination by the performers.

Just finished at the Royal Court Theatre, KILLOLOGY by Gary Owen is a very modern piece dealing with gaming - devising a new game and how it affects people. Given that the game is about rewarding the players for creating new ways to torture their victims, you can see that it is not very jolly. But well written and very well acted, it is always watchable as well as being pretty horrific.

Not a lot of laughs in ANATOMY OF A SUICIDE (Royal Court Theatre, London 8 July. Box office: 020-7565 5000.). This is superb experimental theatre. We are shown three generations of mothers and daughters and scenes play alongside each other showing different years and the three lots of characters living in their own period. Director Katie Mitchell clearly differentiates between the years and between the women in Alice Birch's intelligent play. Excellent casting of Kate O'Flynn, Hattie Morahan and Jodie McNee gives us a play that feeds the intelligence as well as the emotions.

Go quickly to catch Brecht's LIFE OF GALILEO at the Young Vic. Joe Wright mounts an interesting production, which is sometimes difficult to follow but always exciting to watch, Brendan Cowell plays Galileo and bounds around the stage along with the other actors. In modern dress, the play poses questions including asking if we know what is really happening around us.

     
     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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