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FILM:March 2012

If you want to have an enjoyable evening watching a group of senior British actors show with some humour their life as middle-income unwanted oldies in modern Britain, then head immediately to THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (cert.12A 2hrs. 4mins.). We observe the old folk - Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton - in England as they attempt to cope with modern technology, the diminution of income, the loss of family contact, illness and the general tribulations of old age.

The seven strangers separately find a very attractive advertisement for a retirement home in India. The first time that they meet is at the airport when they are forced together by their circumstances. Dev Patel plays Sonny, the young owner of the "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Retired and the Beautiful" in Jaipur. Each of the retired British folk is played extremely well and all are very different: each has their moment of pathos as well as humour.

Best for her comic timing and wonderful sense of her elderly cockney character, initially with racist and very closed ideas, "If I can't pronounce it, I don't want to eat it" is Maggie Smith.

Based somewhat loosely on Deborah Moggach's novel, director John Madden has given us some lovely pictures of India with warm sunshine and interesting locations. This is a film that doesn't require a lot of deep thought, but will make you laugh with the odd tear in your eyes.

Hyperactive 9-year-old Oskar (Thomas Horn) had a very close relationship with his father. In EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE (12A 2 hrs. 9 mins.) we observe Oscar in the aftermath of 9/11 when his father is killed. Wealthy jeweller, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) used to go on quests with his son and after what Oskar calls "The Worst Day" little Oskar is heartbroken. A year after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, Oskar discovers a key in his deceased father's belongings. He believes that finding the lock that his father's key will open will bring him closer to his late father.

He sets off on his own personal quest to find the right lock. Devising a system of dividing New York into its five boroughs and searching through all the clues around the name Black which was attached to the key, Oskcar is sure that he will find the answer. Joining him is the strange mute man (Max von Sydow) who rents a room in his father's house. While his mother (Sandra Bullock) is concerned, she lets her son get on with his search.

Stephen Daldry directs this film, which is based on Jonathan Safran Foer's 2005 novel. Daldry - following his success with the young boy playing Billy Elliot - uses Thomas Horn in the role of Oskar with extreme sensitivity. Although the story is seen from the child's point of view, Oskar is suffering from a type of Asperger's - we never see him playing with other children - so very often there is an adult's perception. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock play well together and alongside the young lad.

There are some images such as smoke coming from the twin towers which remind us (of course, those in New York today need no reminders of this terrible event) of the reality behind the fiction. Well photographed by Chris Menges, the story is always interesting, although about half an hour too lengthy, but whether it is aimed at children or adults is debatable; it falls somewhere between the two.

Alma Har'el's documentary BOMBAY BEACH (no cert. 1 hr. 20 mins.) gives us a good picture of some of the 100 people living in one of the poorest communities in southern California. As we are shown in an excerpt from a 1950s newsreel advertising Bombay Beach, it was once part of the American dream: a new development and vacation destination located on the shores of the Salton Sea, a man-made sea in the middle of the Colorado Desert.

Director Alma Har'el focuses on the stories of three of the inhabitants of this run-down area. We first meet Benny Parrish, who became "difficult" and "different" when he was returned to his parents after their prison sentences. At only three weeks he was taken away and fostered for two years. Now suffering (probably from bipolar disorder) he finds it hard to fit in at school and with his playmates. His family appear loving but they were originally investigated for having a dirty house and neglecting their children.

On investigation father, Mike, was found to have an arsenal of weapons and small bombs. Refused entry to the army because of his lack of educational qualifications, he developed a hobby of filming his explosions. Unfortunately his wife was put into custody as well.

They are trying to turn their lives around and do their best for their kids, particularly Benny, who is taken to a variety of doctors and consultants. He is given Ritalin to calm him down. When he develops petty seizures he is given more drugs! Although they have little to offer, the family now appear loving and caring.

Then we have CeeJay Thompson, a black teenager who has moved to Bombay Beach from Los Angeles where the murder of his cousin by a gang of youths made him determined to get away from the violence and drugs of the big town. He wants to play professional football and has come to live in Bombay Beach full of hope. If he can win a football scholarship then he will be the first in his family to go to college. We see him fall in love and witness the courtship rituals of the young couple including a lyrical dance where the teenagers wear white masks.

Finally an old man, Red, smoking constantly, remembers his past life, wife and children that he hasn't seen for many years. Born in Kansas, Red left home at 13 to go and work in the oil fields. From then he has spent his life living in many different places, travelling around in his trailer. Now living at Bombay Beach, he has found an Indian reservation where he can buy cigarettes without tax. He then sells these on at Slab City, 24 miles from Bombay beach. After suffering a "baby stroke" Red finds himself carted off to hospital, but fights to return home.

Har'el spent four months living in the local community and she has certainly given us an in-depth study of the residents she has documented in her film. She uses music - by singer Zach Condon and his band Beirut and Bob Dylan - and there are some choreographed dances which blend seamlessly into the rest of the documentary. The one thing that lets down the film is the sound. That the director knows this is shown by her use of sub-titles for some of the film. Unfortunately at other times - whether because of the quality of the sound or the lack of clarity in the speakers' voices - it is difficult to understand what they are saying. This is a pity as the film has a number of interesting things to communicate about poor communities in America, the health service and living in a close community.

Starting like the usual type of rom-com, THE VOW (cert. 12A 1 hr. 44 mins.) develops quite soon into a different genre altogether. Perhaps because it is "inspired by true events" it has a real vein of truth running through it. We first meet the married couple who are obviously happy and very much in love as they set off in their car on a very snowy night. As they stop to spoon, their stationary car is knocked into from behind and while Leo (Channing Tatum) is alright, Paige (Rachel McAdams) suffers a very bad head injury which makes her lose all memory of the last five years and her relationship with Leo.

With a voice-over by Leo, we flash back four years to the start of the couple's relationship. We see them fall in love and marry using their own vows. Back to the present where Paige wakes up after the crash and doesn't recognise Leo at all. She remembers the time before she met him and believes that she is still studying at law school, living with her parents and engaged to good-looking business man, Jeremy (Scott Speedman). Her parents (Jessica Lange and Sam Neill) are pleased to welcome back the old Paige from whom they have been estranged for some while (we learn why some time later).

Leo is very anxious when he sees Paige look at Jeremy with admiration and her husband with bewilderment. He tries to interest Paige in the things she used to enjoy - her art work, her studio and their old life together, but seems to have no success in making his wife fall in love with him again. He battles on for some while and courts her afresh believing that the vow he made to her on their wedding day must be kept. When he still has no success, he despairs of ever winning her again.

Set in Chicago, director Michael Sucsy shows an appreciation of the city in various seasons and the city itself forms a good background to the story. Neill portrays the father who cares for his daughter but is keener on getting her back into the family and confirming to his idea of what her life should be like rather than allowing her to re-discover her old life when she was truly content.

The film will work or not work for you according to whether you can believe in the coupleas a romantic pair. While McAdams is charming in depicting Paige's early days with her future husband, Tatum finds it harder to show his romantic nature. Always having been known for his action parts, it is more difficult to accept him in a romantic guise. However the story holds one's attention.

Michael Fassbender deservedly won the British Actor of the Year award at the London Critics Circle Awards for his performance as Brandon in Steve McQueen's compelling SHAME (cert. 18 1hr. 40mins.). Fassbender gives a strong performance as the sex-addicted man who is in danger of falling to pieces when his sister (another exceptional performance by Carey Mulligan) comes to stay bringing her own problems associated with the inability to form long-lasting meaningful relationships.

     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

If you have enjoyed "Strictly Come Dancing" or appreciate Latin American dance forms, then MIDNIGHT TANGO (Aldwych Theatre until 31 March then touring) is for you.

Starring Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone and set in a Buenos Aires bar, it has a story of rivalry between Vincent and the dancer who plays the villain of the piece for the lovely Flavia, and a mildly funny sub-plot concerning the bar owner (Teddy Kempner) and his wife (Tricia Deighton).

Beautifully supported by their company of 10 tango dancers, Vincent is quick footed and an ideal partner for the graceful Flavia with her lovely arms and swift foot movements. It would be even better, however, to have a pure 90 minutes dance show rather than a somewhat cumbersome scenario built around the dances.

Alan Ayckbourn's plays always have something truthful to tell us about human interaction and the revival of ABSENT FRIENDS (Harold Pinter Theatre booking until 14 April) has a magnificent cast who interpret the play with gusto. Recently bereaved Colin is invited to a tea party by friends who then spend their time bickering with each other and their spouses.

Diana (Katherine Parkinson), the over-wrought, somewhat emotional hostess, is convinced that her husband, Paul (Steffan Rhodri), a bit of a bully, is having an affair with one of the guests, Evelyn (Kara Tointon), a very laid-back mum, reluctantly at the party with her baby, but keener on reading a magazine than joining in with the conversation. She is married to David Armand, who plays the cuckolded John in a restless, constantly moving around manner. He becomes almost visibly white-faced at any mention of death. Also at the party is Marge who, childless, bustles around everyone and ministers to her (constantly) sick husband over the telephone.

Surprisingly it is Colin (Reece Shearsmith) who is the most sanguine of the lot. He mourns his drowned fiancée in a very positive way, remembering the good times they had together and trying to show his photos to his disinterested friends. Full of optimism, Colin believes he knows the characteristics of those present and in a most insensitive manner succeeds in making matters worse.

Reece Shearsmith as Colin with Kara Tointon as Evelyn

Jeremy Herrin's revival of Ayckbourn's 1974 play catches the comedy in the writing and he is also able to point the audience in a different direction when the play calls for a deeper, sombre response as the couples dissolve into emotional disarray.

All the performances are very good and we are moved between a lot of laughter and quite a few almost tearful moments.

The play is a comic take on bereavement that actually works well and it is certainly one of Ayckbourn's finest. This production shows the playt at its best.

Based on a class given by Maria Callas at the Juilliard School in 1971, MASTER CLASS (booking until 28 April) shows Callas (Tyne Daly) conducting the class and at the same time reminiscing about her past life on stage and with her first husband and then her lover, Aristotle Onassis.

Callas addresses the audience directly, telling us that "this is not a theatre. This is a master class." So that tells us what we are to expect! She talks about the importance of listening to the music, knowing the story of the opera and the emotions behind the words and being an actress as well as a singer when interpreting the great roles - exactly what Callas herself did so brilliantly as we are reminded when she talks about the past and we hear Callas' actual voice.

Naomi O'Connell as Sharon Graham and Tyne Daly as Maria Callas in Master Class

Callas talks to her pianist and makes feeble attempts at humour. She is quite fierce to the three students who appear before her, criticising their dress and their manner of singing, telling one girl she needs to know her Shakespeare before attempting Verdi's Lady Macbeth and another that a singer needs good diction and to put their own deep feelings into every performance, like she does. While repetition in a real class can be interesting, it becomes a bit tiring here. Callas praises her third student, a tenor, who is pleased he managed to sing further than the soprano who preceded him.

While Daly has a touch of the renowned singer she has neither her beauty nor her charisma - although, to be fair, she is actually playing the older Callas here. It is a good touch to have Daly in the same black trouser suit throughout and not to wear a different outfit just for the sake of change.

Director, Stephen Wadsworth, has tried to bring some variety to the play and to a large extent succeeds. It was interesting that while some of the audience said they liked the parts where the singers are being coached best, others of us found the tales of her younger self both on and off the stage more enthralling.

THE PITCHFORK DISNEY (Arcola Theatre until 17 March) is a play which remains in one's mind long after its end. In the intimate setting of the small Arcola theatre, the revival of Philip Ridley's frightening story with its images of a scary serial killer, fear of foreigners and a kind of sexual hysteria is very much in the audience's face.

We meet Haley (Mariah Gale) and her twin Presley (Chris New), who, although adults, are agoraphobic, use a variety of medicine left some time ago by their parents, love buying and eating chocolate and make up a fantasy existence: that they are the only ones left in the world following a disaster whereby the world around them is reduced to a wasteland. They are disturbed by the outside world in the form of Cosmo Disney (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), a physically beautiful showman who enters their home and kills cockroaches and encourages Presley to do the same. He brings in the very weird Pitchfork who is dressed all in black, with a rubberised mask covering his face: most menacing.

Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Chris New in The Pitchfork Disney

The play comes across as a gothic nightmare and the actors, led by director Edward Dicks, put across the atmosphere well. The audience is in close proximity to the stage, which makes some parts even more frightening. All the actors are good although Stewart-Jarrett is a little on one note. Chris New (from the film "Weekend") plays the main character and is an actor to look out for in the future.

Travel a little further from London - or perhaps nearer where you live when it is on tour - and see the new play by the Royal Shakespeare Company currently at Stratford-upon-Avon. My colleague GEORGE SAVVIDES reviews it below:

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW: ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE

A giant bed fills the entire stage of the RCS's wonderful new theatre in Stratford-Upon Avon in Lucy Bailey's impressive production. Christopher Sly (Nick Holder) lies comfortably in the enormous bed as he watches the action unravel.

Padua gentleman Batista (Terence Wilton) is desperate to find a suitor for his elder daughter Katherina (Lisa Dillon) before he marries off his younger daughter Bianca (Elizabeth Cadwallader) but no one would touch Katherina with a barge pole until Petruchio (David Caves) arrives from Verona with his loyal servant Grumio (Simon Gregor).

Caves is tall and muscular and makes it clear from the very first moment that he lays eyes on Kate that he fancies her and sets about a most unusual seduction.

Dillon's feisty Kate is very effective and conveys beautifully her independence and love for Petruchio in the famously difficult speech in the final scene.

The Bianca subplot is muddled and not very well realised with three lazily sketched suitors but is balanced by Wilton's strong performance as the long suffering father. Gregor gives also a very physical performance and matches that of his master in an impressive double act. It is an enjoyable production despite Ruth Sutcliffe's impractical design.

Plays until the 18th of February then tours:

  • NEWCASTLE THEATRE ROYAL 23 FEB-3 MARCH
  • MILTON KEYNES THEATRE 6-10 MARCH
  • THEATRE ROYAL NOTTINGHAM 13-17 MARCH
  • RICHMOND THEATRE 20-24 MARCH
  • THEATRE ROYAL BATH 27-31 MARCH)

What a glorious feeling! Yes, you will certainly come away from this show full of light and happiness. Hopefully not too wet, although be warned: the first few rows of the stalls are liable to be splashed! SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (Palace Theatre booking until 29 September), while closely based on the well-known film, is a worthy musical in its own right.

Tying in nicely with the current popularity of silent films, including the BAFTA winning The Artist, this musical tells of Don Lockwood (Adam Cooper) who stars alongside Lina Lamont (Katherine Kingsley) in silent films in 1927. When talkies come, the film they are making is transformed first into a talkie and then into a musical. Unfortunately Lina cannot speak in anything but a terribly grating screeching voice. Don has become friendly with Kathy (Scarlett Strallen), who has a lovely singing voice and she is persuaded to act as the speaking and singing star of the new film, while Lina acts on stage. When she discovers that the film-makers have not used her voice, Lina is furious and puts out publicity saying that she has performed everything herself. This seems to have the effect of forcing Kathy to continue as Lina's voice for ever, thereby giving up her own career.

The songs from the film are all in the stage show and the chorus along with the three main stars perform really well, putting flesh on to such numbers as "Moses Supposes" and "Beautiful Girls." Don's friend Cosmo Brown (Daniel Crossley) is very funny in "Make 'em Laugh" with inventive choreography by Andrew Wright, who has assembled a very talented group of dancers - the chorus taps its way fluently and speedily through many numbers. Strallen and Cooper are delightful together as they fall in love crooning "you were meant for me" to each other. Cooper is an ex-Royal Ballet dancer and his singing is not as strong as Strallen's, who can dance as well as sing sweetly, but his dancing is very graceful and he extends (as they say in Dancing on Ice) right to his finger tips.

Director Jonathan Church together with the choreographer has given us a show with much that is gorgeous for the eyes, the ears and even the senses - as the water pours down. The highlight of the first half is Cooper's splashing through gallons of real water on the stage for the title song and then the whole cast get wet in the final moments of the show as it rains down again. I haven't seen so many happy faces leaving a show for a long while! Hurry and book your tickets now!

     

Carlie Newman

   
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