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FILM:March 2013

Sometimes the old ones are the best! Certainly one of the better films around currently is the re-release of Max Ophuls MADAME DE…(cert. U 1 hr. 45 mins.), a fairly simple story told in a lovely way with small details giving a touch of lightness and veracity to the film. Made in 1953 in black and white, the French movie, based on a novella by Louise de Vilmorin is concerned with a pair of earrings. First given to Madame Louise de (Danielle Darrieux) by her husband, General Andre de… (Charles Boyer), she sells them to pay her debts, deceiving her husband and friends by saying she has lost them.

When her husband learns the truth from the jeweler, he buys then back and then gives them to his mistress. She then sells them when she loses at gambling and a diplomat, Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio de Sica) buys them. When he falls in love with Madame de…he gives her the earrings and she keeps quiet about their origin. However, when her husband once more discovers what has happened and learns her secret, he tells the Baron who gives her up. Later the diplomat is challenged to a dual by the husband.

Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux in Madame de...

At times witty and at other times moving, Darrieux looks lovely and glides through her scenes, moving from a careless flirt to a woman really in love with the Baron, while Boyer is suitably dashing as her husband and de Sica looks and acts like a nobleman. The film is beautifully shot with extensive shots encompassing an opulent world, shown to the full in the sequence of ballroom scenes where Madame De dances with her lover in a light flirtatious manner until they both realise their true love for each other and then she knows that tragedy awaits them. Ophuls, in his penultimate film, shows his distinctive visual style. He takes small incidents like the men on duty at the opera who are trying to sleep while the show is on and keep being disturbed by Boyer who is searching for his wife's earrings, with elaborate camera movements and shimmering, ornate decor that shows us a domestic world dominated by the earrings as a symbol.

Surprisingly, grumpy Arthur (Terence Stamp) and his cheery wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) get on well. There is obviously a great deal of love between them in SONG FOR MARION (cert. PG 1 hr. 36 mins.). Arthur is not even keen to take his wife to singing practice at the local community centre, where she is a member of a choir of jolly pensioners, called the OAPZ, who, under the leadership of conductor Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), sing contemporary and rock sings, often with lively or sexual connotations.

Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp in Song for Marion

When Marion is told she's dying of cancer, he insists she gives up the choir as he feels it is too much for her. She refuses and, in spite of Arthur, continues to find ways to attend. While she acts very bravely, he becomes even crosser and finds himself virtually estranged from their only son, James (Christopher Eccleston). The upcoming choir contest provides strong motivation for Marion who is determined to take part and this is a real challenge for her husband who is equally determined that she needs to rest up and save her strength for her battle with cancer.

Arthur absolutely refuses to join the choir and we see him standing outside the rehearsals silently smoking rollups in the open air until it's time to leave.

Arhur finds it very difficult to express his love for his son but, with the steady perseverance of Elizabeth, Arthur begins to find a way to come out of his shell and in the process forms a touching relationship with Elizabeth as well as a desire to build bridges with his son.

While there is a fair amount of comedy in the film, there are also many moving moments such as the members of the choir standing outside Marion's bedroom window singing in the rain to try and encourage her to regain the strength to rejoin them. There is also a tears-inducing moment when Marion sings a solo - really a love song to her husband.

Writer and director Paul Andrew Williams' film joins the group of movies about elderly musicians which are around at the moment: Amour, Quartet, The Late Quartet and now Song for Marion. It is good, however, to see another film aimed at the older age group. Although the film is rather one dimensional, the acting can't be faulted and it is well-made with star performances particularly from Redgrave and Stamp.

What a strange film! Is it a road movie? Is it a drama about a divorcing couple fighting for custody of their young daughter? Or is FOR ELLEN (cert. 15 1hr. 33 mins.) about a father attempting to bond with his child? Well, it's all of these and yet there's something more - a sense of other worldliness. Mainly the film is about its star, Paul Dano who shines throughout.

We first meet Joby (Dano), a struggling musician, driving through atrocious weather on a long journey to meet with his estranged wife, Claire (Margarita Levieva) and their lawyers to agree terms of their divorce. It is only after the meeting that Joby realises that in order to get his share of his former home he has to relinquish all custody of his daughter.

In a last bid to form a relationship with his six year old daughter, Ellen (Shaylena Mandigo), he blackmails his wife into allowing him a short outing with her. Ellen questions why her father has had no contact with her and he gives what he knows to be poor excuses about working with his band. Gradually the two become friends but there is unlikely to be a happy ending.

Director and writer So Yong Kim draws heavily on other films, particularly Five Easy Pieces for the ending, but she manages a lovely lyrical feeling of her own. She uses her cast well and gets a sympathetic performanvce from Jon Heder, as Fred, Joby's kindly lawyer, who befriends his client, taking him to his own home for a meal with his mother. Shaylena Mandigo has the calm seriousness that one sometimes finds in youngsters and she displays considerable maturity in her portrayal of a child told to spend time with a virtual stranger, who she is supposed to acknowledge as her father.

However the film belongs to Dano whose sensitive face is mesmerising and shows all his emotions - and there are many - as they chase each other across his face.The film is, at times, difficult to warm to as we are given virtually no information about how and why the couple became estranged and exactly why Joby made no earlier effort to get to know his young daughter. It's a slow film that remains with one after watching it, mainly because of Dano but also the camera work which shows the full extent of a very bad winter in the US.

Let me also recommend three documentaries: FIRE IN THE BLOOD (cert.- 1hr. 22 mins.), written, directed and produced by Dylan Mohan Gray, tells the story of how Western pharmaceutical companies and governments blocked access to low-cost AIDS drugs for the countries which most needed them, causing ten million or more unnecessary deaths. It also tells of a small but very courageous group of people who came togther to first question and then break the blockade, thus enabling poor people in Africa and elsewhere to gain access to drugs and saving millions of lives.

And MEA MAXIMA CULPA: Silence in the House of God (cert. 15 1hr. 46mins.) is a truly shocking (in the full meaning of the word) expose of the sexual abuse of boys by those in positions of authority within the Catholic Church. By concentrating on the abuse of over 200 deaf children in a school for deaf children under the control of a priest who committed the crimes over a period of decades, filmmaker Alex Gibney shows how the cover-up led to the highest realms of the Vatican. At all stages, those in power tried to protest the priests rather than the victims along with Omerta (code of silence).

Ken Loach's SPIRIT OF '45 (cert. 15 1 hr. 35 mins.) is truly inspiring.

In 1945 the country was in a bad state, having come through the Second World War which began only 20 years after the First World War finished. People had come together and fought for a better country and they didn't want to give that up. They voted in a Labour Government, under Clement Attlee with a Socialist agenda. The government set out a plan to build houses, create a health service, transport system and to make goods needed for reconstruction.

The central idea was common ownership and the central electricity system. gas, the health service and other public service were brought into public ownership.

The film points out that today we face the loss of so much with industry after industry being privatised.

Speaker after speaker, including Tony Benn, former miners, GPs, nurses, economists, talk on the film about what the '45 Government gave them in terms of bringing them out of poverty/providing jobs/a free health service and so on. The passion behind the making of the film and those expressing their views combined with the subject matter make this film a must-see for anyone interested in making sure the NHS at the very least remains a National service for all.

In 2003 a charming computer-animated film from Pixar was wildly acclaimed. Now we have the same film, FINDING NEMO 3D version (cert. U 1hr 44 mins.) in a new re-formulated version in 3D.

The film is about the journey of two clownfish, Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould) and his widower father, Marlin (Albert Brooks), who live in the Great Barrier Reef. Trying to get away from his father's continuous commands, Nemo - on his first day at school - swims away from the other fish into the open sea and is captured by a scuba diver. He is then taken away and put into a fish tank in a dental office in Sydney, Australia.

Marlin sets out to find his son. On the way he meets up with Dory, a blue tang fish with short term memory loss (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) and she remains with him on his search for Nemo. We see the two encountering many dangers including huge sea creatures such as sharks, and other dangerous ones such as jellyfish.

Meanwhile Nemo makes friends with other fish in the tank in which he has been placed and together they devise a plan to escape from their new home and be free to return home and live their lives as before. Although his father starts out timid and scared of the open seas, he has to conquer his fear and the wide ocean in order to find is son. Nemo also has to learn the lesson about listening to his father.

Where the original film was attractive, this one is really pretty with the underwater scenery enhanced by the 3D effects. The visuals are given depth, texture and brighter colours, so that the corals and plants as well as the fish come across very clearly. Obviously this movie has the same witty script and the actors who voice the characters seem exactly right. There is no violence or bad language and it is a lovely film for young children to watch. Viewers can be assured that they will enter the ocean and meet many delightful underwater creatures and be transported for the length of the film.

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

The play OLD TIMES (Harold Pinter Theatre until 6 April) begins with Kate and her husband Deeley awaiting the arrival of Kate's old friend Anna, who shared a home with her 20 years ago. When Anna arrives, she boasts of past times shared with Kate. While Kate says very little, Deeley responds with the story of how he and Kate met.

He and Anna continue vying with each other about who knows Kate best. Kate decides to take a bath and Deeley seems to surprise Anna when he tells her that they met when she was young. When Kate returns the two compete for her attention. Kate says nothing, until she eventually describes seeing Anna dead.

Harold Pinter's play, first performed in 1971, is at times difficult to follow: what are they saying? Why are they doing this? What does it all mean? Pinter's plays need exceptional actors to put across his words and the very important silences that accompany them. And in Ian Rickson's carefully managed production the actors use their abundant talent to great effect. Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams alternate the roles of the women and Rufus Sewell takes on the man. I saw Scott Thomas as the enigmatic Kate and Williams as her more down to earth friend Anna.


Our Country's Good at St James theatre, London

Easier to understand but equally engrossing is OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD (St. James Theatre until 23 March). The play, by Timberlake Wertenbaker, tells the story (based on a true incident) of a group of convicts performing Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer at a Penal Colony in New South Wales, where they have been transported.

In an amazing production by Max Stafford Clark we learn about justice and punishment and how to treat offenders and the benefits of theatre (take heed, our British Government which wants to cut grants to the arts!).

Rowan Atkinson shows there is more to him than Mr Bean when he portrays the diffident and lonely St John Quartermaine, a teacher of English to foreigners in a school in Cambridge.

In QUARTERMAINE'S TERMS (Wyndham's Theatre until 13 April) we see how he prefers sitting in the same leather chair in the staff room to actually teaching. The other staff have their own problems: there's Mark (Matthew Cottle) whose wife has left him, Melanie (Felicity Montague), desperately coping with her cantankerous elderly mother and the accident-prone new teacher (Will Keen).

Although there are too many teachers with their own stories to present more than a superficial glimpse into their lives, this revival of Simon Gray's play is well worth seeing, not just for Atkinson but for a strong cast and well-written intelligent, often witty, dialogue.


Rowan Atkinson as Sir John Quartermaine in Quartermaine's Terms

There's a rather strange production of GREAT EXPECTATIONS at the Vaudeville Theatre (until 1 June).

Paula Wilcox as Miss Haversham in Great Expectations at the Vaudeville theatre, London.

In director Graham McLaren's production there is just one large set - Miss Haversham's wedding breakfast room, now decaying and covered in cobwebs. Actors appear as if from the walls and play out short scenes in front of a large table.

While I found the realistic-looking characters believable, I was not so happy with the white faced caricatures of Jaggers and others.

Paula Wicox's Miss Haversham is well presented as are the younger and older Pip, Taylor Jay-Davies and Paul Niveson respectively.

My colleague, TED CRAIG reviews two plays:

I cannot recommend IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE END (Somerset House, Strand, London) more highly.

The innovative company, dreamthinkspeak, haven't released much detail about their new production except to say that it was inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, The Book of Revelation and the ever-evolving world of Mechatronics, and at the finish when you are given a programme you are even sworn to secrecy about the detail of what you've just seen … all of which makes it quite hard to review, except to say - 'Go for a captivating and exhilarating experience!'

This fine promenade / installation by Tristan Sharps takes small groups at five-minute intervals on a trip through the vast maze-like underground passages and into previously unseen areas of Kings College and Somerset House. You are invited to look into rooms in which all types of scenarios are being played out - there were only five people in my group and we quickly relished the idea of being privileged viewers of scenes we would not normally be part of everyday.

For instance, we were invited into a room laid out for a meeting with a large table and chairs. On a large screen at the end you see a meeting taking place that increasingly becomes very agitated - and then it suddenly burst into our room and we become instantly involved. Then a wall suddenly opens and we escape into rooms full of machines with flickering lights and we are encouraged to push knobs and turn handles. At the end was an office where all the walls are filled with mathematical equations and a scientist was endlessly rubbing out and re-writing his equations.

Then the delicious experience of visiting Fusion International, the offices and showrooms of a company making all sorts of futurist gadgets and robots. This section is beautifully crafted technically and engagingly handled by the performers in charge of their not always well-behaved robotic machines - I could have stayed much longer here.

Along the way there are some beautiful images - a room with large windows with incredible events happening through the glass, and a magnificent moving image involving one of the many beautiful staircases in the building.

I advise early booking as it is sure to sell out. I have already booked another viewing.


  28 January - 30 March 2013 Entry times at 5 minute intervals from 6.30pm - 9.30pm nightly. Tel: 020 7452 3000

Robert Weine's film The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari became an instant box office hit in 1920 and was notable for extraordinary painted sets with distorted perspectives and performances to match. This artistic distortion of reality started the movie genre of 'Expressionism' and was much copied both in Germany and the rest of the world. It gave a sense of a waking dream or nightmare that was very appropriate for the mysterious Dr Caligari's fairground act with the somnambulist Cesare, in which he would awake for a moment from his death-like sleep to answer a question from the audience. When one evening Cesare is asked about the questioner's future and answers 'you will die before dawn' and is proved right, it unleashes an enthralling chain of events.

This seems like a worthy project for the critically acclaimed theatre collective, simple8, to bring to the stage but strangely they give a fairly straight version of the story and throw away the expressionism, which is extremely disappointing. The plot has been tinkered with and given some social context, which improves the rather simplistic film script, but it is played on a bare stage with few props and basic lighting.

And while the company play their parts with flare and the production is very tight and disciplined it is a bit of a cheat to trade on the film's notoriety while not acknowledging what it was famous for. (Oh, there is an exception - a murder is committed in shadow behind a sheet, but the image is a pinch from Murnau's1922 film, 'Nosferatu'!).

An enjoyably short evening that doesn't outstay its welcome, but a missed opportunity.

Ted Craig


12 February - 16th March Arcola Theatre (Studio 2), Dalston, London. Tel 020 7503 1646 FREE www.arcolatheatre.com £17 (£12 concs)

FEAST (Young Vic until 23 February) is part of World Stages London, a collaboration between eight leading London theatres and 12 UK and international co-producers that celebrated the diversity of London.

Sometimes it is hard to follow the narrative but it is always easy and rewarding to just wallow in the beat of the music, the wild dancing and general exuberance of the performers.

A group of five writers have come together to celebrate the rich Yoruba culture and to show how its influence has reverberated from Nigeria across the world. There are scenes set over the years from 1713 in West Africa via Brazil in 1888, America in 1960 to Cuba in 2008 and the UK in 2012, celebrating the Olympics.

Rufus Norris brings out the vibrancy of the performers and there is some amazing dancing and even more amazing transformation of the characters as they start off as one person and seamlessly change into another as they move behind a screen and straight out again. This is definitely a feast for the senses: the costumes are bright and unusual, lighting and shadow effects excellent and there is even a live chicken!

MAURICE'S JUBILEE (Richmond Theatre) begins in a somewhat unsubtle way with amusing tales about old age and caring for someone, but it develops in a surprising way into a most moving account of how to keep the spirit going when the body is weak. Keeping the wit inherent in the dialogue, Nichola McAuliffe (who has written the play) manages to invest the characters with real emotions. Hannah Eidinow directs with humour and sensitivity.

L to R Julian Glover as Maurice, Sheila Reid as Helena, Nichola McAuliffe as Kate

89 year-old Maurice (Julian Glover) and his wife Helena (Sheila Reid) welcome Kate (Nichola McAuliffe), a new palliative carer into their home. They talk of their past exotic holidays and their present life in their bungalow in Penge. Whilst jeweler Maurice was once wealthy, they now have to skimp. It is established that Kate will remain until Maurice dies from the brain tumours which are growing.

He is determined, however, to stay alive until his 90th birthday when he plans a birthday tea for the Queen in his home, the day before her jubilee. He tells Kate how he was in charge of collecting the jewels for the coronation and spent time talking and dancing with the young Queen and how she promised to come to him on his 90th birthday, when she will be 86. He confesses that she is the love of his life. Kate, with Helena's help plans to make Maurice's dream come true and purchases clothes that her Majesty would wear.

There is a great ending and the actors all perform extremely well, although Julian Glover as Maurice certainly doesn't look in his late 80s (he is actually 78). The audience is able to indulge in some tears and much laughter.

Maurice's Jubilee Richmond Theatre (19-23 February), Brighton Theatre Royal (26 February - 2 March) Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre (5-9 March), Malvern (11 - 16 March), Bromley Churchill Theatre (26-30 March) Cambridge Arts Theatre (2-6 April) Windsor Theatre Royal (8-13 April) and Oxford Playhouse (15-20 April).

A story, hitherto unknown to me, is told in THE TAILOR-MADE MAN (Arts Theatre, London).

Winning the New Faces talent show in 1922, William Haines (Dylan Turner) goes on to become a Hollywood legend. He is a star of silent films and then talkies. There is just one difficulty - he is not only gay but has a long-term partner, Jimmy Shields (Bradley Clarkson), who he refuses to hide away. Although ordered by Louis B Mayer (Mike McShane) to marry Pola Negri, William refuses and, when he chases sailors rather too publically in Los Angelis, is sacked by Mayer, who also warns off other studios from employing him. William and his partner actually have a second career when they become successful interior designers and the darling of celebrities.

The play was originally written by Claudio Marco and Amy Rosenthal has now collaborated to turn it into a musical. Together they have put in some typical Hollywood witticisms. While the music is tuneful, it is not very memorable and at times reminds one of some of the songs in Kiss Me Kate. However, it is very attractively put together and Turner makes a good-looking all-American star. Turner sings well as does Clarkson as his mate.

William (Dylan Turner) L and his mate Jimmy (Bradley Clarkson)

There are good characterisations from Faye Tozer as the acerbic Marion Davies, who is one of the few stars to remain loyal to the pair and Mike McShane looks so much like Louis B Mayer that one can readily accept him as the mogul.

Claudio Marco directs with a light and amusing touch and gets the best out of his cast and musicians. The dancers manage to adjust to the limitations of the small stage It's a light musical and one in which nothing bad happens to our hero in spite of his breaking of the accepted Hollywood code of the time and Haines remains with his partner for 50 years.


Until 6 April Tel. 020 7836 8463

It is good to see a young couple as the leads in MACBETH (Trafalgar Studios, London) and James McAvoy's natural Scottish accent is to be welcomed. McAvoy's Macbeth is full of energy: he bounds around the stage, shimmies down a ladder, jumps on and off a table and is generally seen as athletic.

James McAvoy with Claire Foy in Macbeth

He is pushed into considering murdering the King by his wife (Claire Foy) but once he accepts her desire to have Macbeth made King in accordance with the witches' prophecy, he embraces the idea so full heartedly that he becomes over-enthusiastic in his killing. When he returns from the war and places his hand on his wife's belly, one can sense in her piteous expression the loss of their child and there is a hint that their subsequent acts are the result of their loss and wish to achieve power instead.

Director Jamie Lloyd, in this new season, has mounted a particularly bloody production. Macbeth and his lady are covered in blood and the killing of Lady Macduff and her young son is most harrowing. It is not just the leads who excel here: there is a most moving scene when Macduff (Jamie Ballard) and a particularly strong Banquo (Forbes Masson). A simple stage nevertheless has appropriate props - perhaps too real when we see Macbeth vomiting into an on-stage toilet!

The play is set in a dystopian future (we see the witches' wearing gas masks and sounding as though they are underwater) and the adaptation of the stage - it is now raised and extends over the first four rows so that the audience is much closer to the action - helps to create a sense of immediacy. In addition there are some 70 seats actually at the back of the stage so they are right on top of the mud and gore.

McAvoy shows that he is not just a film star but has some real acting skills which are on display here in a vivid and passionate performance. Apart from the fact that one of Shakespeare's shortest plays here runs for almost three hours, the production is highly recommended.


Until 27 April Tel 0844871 7627

Carlie Newman

   
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