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FILM:March 2014

Volgograd appears to be just another small town in southern Russia. I went there last year and as we were visiting the area it became clear that this little town was something special. It used to be called Stalingrad and it was here that the famous battle of Stalingrad took place in 1942. There is a huge diorama of the battle, the largest panorama in the world. I climbed five floors in order to view it and it was actually worthwhile. I also visited Pavlov's House where the action of the film takes place.

So I was eager to see STALINGRAD (cert.15 2 hrs. 11 mins.), Russia's first IMAX 3D movie.

Inspired by real life events around saving the strategically-positioned historical building known as Pavlov's House, director Fedor Bondarchuk combines a war movie with the very personal stories of some of those involved.

The film begins in the present day in the rubble of a Japanese earthquake. The Narrator, who is one of those helping to dig out survivors, tells his story.

He says he had five fathers and then looks back at the events in the autumn of 1942 when these men met while fighting Germans in the town of Stalingrad. The five men rescue the narrator's mother, the very traumatised Katya ((Mariya Smolnikova), an 18 year old girl who refuses to leave the building, where she has lived in peacetime and continues living there during the war as she insists that it is her home. This little group of ordinary Russian soldiers led by Captain Gromov (Pyotr Fyodorov), strives valiantly to repel the Germans and stop them advancing and also protect young Katya.

We are also introduced to the leader of the Nazis in this area, Captain Kahn (Thomas Kretschmann), who has fallen for a lovely blond Russian girl, Masha (Yana Studilina), who is then shunned by her neighbours because of her liaison with a Nazi (the two are shown in the picture above).

Although the film is shot on a huge scale, there are some nice little human touches, such as when the soldiers throw a party for Katya on her 19th birthday. They renovate an old bath and fill it with hot water to please her.

It's not just the size of the IMAX screen which is impressive but also the battle scenes. There is one particular image which remains long after seeing the film: a spectacular special effects sequence following a gigantic explosion, in which Russian soldiers continue to advance on their enemies despite being engulfed in flames.

This is a well-acted war movie with some amazing battle scenes and a slight but human story, well-acted by the group of Russian (and a few German) actors in a most realistic manner.

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (cert. 18 2 hrs. 3 mins.) is not your usual type of vampire movie.

Sure the main characters are vampires, but the whole film and depiction of the chief characters is very subtly done. This film has standout performances from Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, a witty script and a great soundtrack. Director Jim Jarmusch has made the movie a very personal take on the vampire genre.

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive

Tilda Swinton plays Eve and Tom Hiddleston is Adam, a pair of British vampires who have been in love for centuries (at one point we see a photo from their third wedding, in 1868). As the film begins, Eve is spending time in Tangiers with Christopher 'Kit' Marlowe (John Hurt), while reclusive Adam, a sort of rock star, is holed up in a Gothic house in Detroit, endlessly listening to vinyl records and occasionally buying vintage guitars from his friend Ian (Anton Yelchin).

When Eve returns to Detroit, the pair are delighted to be back together and settle into a routine of sex, obtaining high quality blood from Doctor Watson (Jeffrey Wright), driving around the ruins of Detroit and reminiscing about what happened in past centuries. However, their vampiric idyll is disrupted by the arrival of Eve's thrill-seeking younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who appears to lack anything resembling impulse control. She causes trouble.

Swinton is excellent as a vampire. She looks just right and is super as Eve, while Tom Hiddleston is delightfully deadpan as Adam, reminding us a little of Mick Jagger, and a bit of Bowie. They also work really well together and you can feel the chemistry between them. Their mutual passion still burns after centuries. The supporting cast are also very good. John Hurt looks right and makes a convincing Marlowe, even referring to how he was the one who wrote all of Shakespeare's plays, and Mia Wasikowska gives a really great performance as Ava, despite only appearing in a small number of scenes.

If you are familiar with Jarmusch's previous films you will already be expecting some deadpan humour and you get that here in the witty, intelligent dialogue, which is a pleasure to listen to, in spite of there being very little actual plot. The film is further enhanced by a suitably moody soundtrack courtesy of Jozef van Wissem and Jarmusch's own band SQÜRL.

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, this particular vampire movie is stylishly written, has good photography, is amusing and very well-acted. The ending is worth waiting for, too. You should be able to catch it in your local cinema still.

Also recommended: Liam Neesom stars as U.S. Air Marshall Bill Marks in exciting thriller, NON-STOP (cert. 12A 1 hr. 36 mins.) set on a plane. Bill receives a series of texts saying that unless $150 million is paid into a numbered account, one person will die every 20 minutes. It becomes even more worrying for Bill when he is accused of being the terrorist on board! The movie is, of course, a lot of baloney, but fun to watch…unless you are about to travel by plane!

     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

Our roving theatre reporter, TED CRAIG has been out and about and reports on the launch of the LONDON INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THEATRE 2014. The programme for this year's LIFT has just been launched and is on sale now.

It seemed particularly appropriate for the festival to launch on the 31st floor of Centre Point with its spectacular views. As the sun set over London and LIFT 2014 was ushered in we caught a glimpse of the football pitches and favelas of Brazil, the shopping malls of Japan, funeral processions of Haiti, the hidden archives and spaces of the Royal Academy and Somerset House…and much more in between.

LIFT 2014 will bring together artists from 13 countries, in 15 venues across the capital. The programme draws on some of the seismic changes that face the world in 2014 and on extraordinary personal stories. It will be marking the centenary of the First World War and exploring international perspectives on its echoes today in a building-wide take-over of Battersea Arts Centre - this promises intense visual experiences and enthralling tales, on the streets, in theatres, museums and online digital space.

The festival brochure has also re-invented this year, working with Maddy Costa to create a new publication containing the full festival programme alongside interviews, articles and new writing that digs deeper into the heart of LIFT 2014 and the themes and ideas our artists are inspired by. Now the cat's out of the bag LIFT 2014 tickets are selling fast - so book now to avoid missing out on the 360 degree-voodoo-street-dance-international-football-frenzy that's in store for London this summer. Check out what the lovely twittering folk have had to say at #LIFT2014. If you can't wait to encounter the brochure as it spreads across London you can see it in its digital glory at: http://www.liftfestival.com/content_category/1495/lift_2014

TED CRAIG also reviews the play at the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (Globe, London). I have been there and it is, indeed, worth a visit.

THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until Sunday 30 March 2014 Box Office: 020 7401 9919)

It was a great pleasure to attend this very beautiful new theatre for the first time: intimate, warm and candle-lit, you're made to feel welcome by the cordial attendants and feel ready for an enjoyable theatre experience. And you certainly get it with this delightful production.

Phil Daniels as The Citizen

The play starts in typical Globe fashion. The cast bounce on and announce they are going to do a piece called The London Merchant, a new comedy of manners by Francis Beaumont; but before they can begin properly, there's a commotion in the audience - two people in the front row - a London merchant - a grocer in the Strand (Phil Daniels) and his wife (Pauline McLynn) who demand that the company include a part for their apprentice, Rafe, who wants to play an heroic Knight.

The company argues that there isn't any kind of Knight in their play, but after some very funny to and fro, the company reluctantly give in and the rather dim Rafe (an excellent Matthew Needham) becomes the Knight of the burning pestle in a strange sub-plot that involves some Don Quixote-like antics. The action proceeds with continual hilarious interruptions from the front row including the very noisy eating of popcorn (until the bag is confiscated by one of the company!).

The play combines salty colloquial prose with charming songs, a great score by Nigel Hess and there are some delightful performances including Paul Rider's somewhat demented Old Merrythought who looks like a cabbage on legs and sings on every entrance. Director Adele Thomas's production skips along at a nifty pace and Hannah Clark's costumes are a feast for the eyes.

In 1607 The Knight of the Burning Pestle was one of the first madcap, mash-up, screwball comedies to hit the English stage and this production celebrates that with great wit and style. Highly recommended.

We should be grateful that we once again have the chance to see the excellent play SIZWE BANZI IS DEAD, a co-production with Eclipse Theatre, in the attractive Studio Theatre at the Young Vic (until 15March, then touring*. Box office: 020 7922 2922)

I first saw this play, created in 1972 by (white) Athol Fugard and the black actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona, many years ago with the original cast. In Matthew Xia's revival, the difference between the first comic part and the more serious second half seems to be more clearly brought out. The terrible treatment of black people in the apartheid regime comes to our attention immediately as there is an attempt to segregate the audience by race on entering the theatre.

Sibusiso Mamba as Sizwe Banzi & Tonderai Munyevi as Styles
 

The trio devised plays that were able to show how those under apartheid managed to show dignity in the face of awful treatment. Quite obviously the authorities in South Africa disliked their work.

The first part, which is very funny shows Styles, (Tonderai Munyevi) working in his small photographic studio in Port Elizabeth. He chatters away to the audience in a very lively manner, bouncing around and talking non-stop about his former work. He is now very content being his own boss, working as a photographer of black South Africans.

Suddenly the whole tone of the play changes: a smart black man comes in, not quite sure of his name. As he tells how he came to be in the studio, we realise that his story shows the dark side of South Africa. With Munyevi now playing the part of Buntu, who encourages Sizwe to take on the identity and use the passbook of a dead man, we learn how Sizwe is forced to undertake this deception in order to keep working and thus support his wife and four children.

Tonderai Munyevu is very entertaining as Styles, acting with his whole body and charming all of us with his banter. He is also good in the second half in an entirely different kind of role, but key to the story of Sizwe Banzi. Sibusiso Mamba moves us considerably as Sizwe who is loth to give up his identity, "I don't want to lose my name" he asserts.

In its short running time - only 90 minutes - the play is an attack on the apartheid pass laws that determined where black people could and couldn't live and work. It is a truly great play, well written and in this production by Matthew Xia, both parts are finely delineated and the whole show is very well acted.

  • *7 May to 10 May: Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office: 01752 267 222
  • 20 to 24 May : Crucible Studio Theatre Box Office: 0114 249 6000
  • 27 to 31 May: The Albany, Deptford Box Office: 020 8692 4446
  • 5 to 7 June: Mac Birmingham, Box Office: 0121 446 3232
  • 10 to 14 June: Liverpool Playhouse Studio Box Office: 0151 709 4776

Without even thinking about it, so many words from the play 1984 are in common usage today, such as doublethink and, of course, Room 101 and Big Brother, both of which are now part of Reality shows. But these were all new when George Orwell's manuscript was first published in 1949. Not only do we have the words but in our present day life we also have surveillance cameras and reality TV, both of which were envisaged in Orwell's novel. Not only do cameras watch people on the street but we find cameras in nurseries so that parents can observe their children from screens at work!

The new adaptation by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan of the play 1984 (Almeida Theatre until 29 March Box Office: 020 7359 4404) is a co-production with Headlong and Nottingham Playhouse. Unusually it begins at the end of the novel, the appendix, with a group of people looking back on events and the audience can see their reactions. It works well and brings the terrifying story of Winston to life.

Seated Mark Arends as Winston with the rest of the cast

Most of the action takes place in a kind of office with files, archives and so on. The narrator tells us about Winston writing a diary "for the future." We see a group examining and talking about the novel. The audience watches events unfold and also listens to the group discussing these events. And some are truly awful - the worst, to my mind, being the removal of Winston's nails (we presume as his finger tips are all bloodied) in the dreaded Room 101. Winston is tortured until he agrees that "If the Party says not 4 but 5 fingers" then he is to acquiesce. And what Winston fears most - rats - are introduced into Room 101 and they are not the friendly ones we see in I'm a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here!

When Winston has sex with his girlfriend Julia he is reminded of the past but berates her, "You're only a rebel from the waist downwards." Big Brother on a large screen is omnipresent.

The production is strong with some very chilling moments. Sound and lighting effects are most evocative and contribute greatly to the frightening atmosphere. Mark Arends is a nervous hero, who realises exactly what he is doing when he begins writing - by disobeying the rules he is likely to die. There are, too, good performances by Hara Yannas as Julia and Tim Dutton as the interrogator, O'Brien. It is a very good idea to let the play run for an hour and a half with no interval - the level of tension in the cast and audience remains high.

One of the most enjoyable nights I have had in the theatre recently was watching THE FULL MONTY (Noel Coward Theatre booking until 14 June 2014 Box office: 0844 482 5141)

Although there is much fun to be had from the performance by the unemployed lads in Sheffield who decide to put on a strip show to get cash when there is no work to be had, the poignancy of the men's situation is also conveyed in a moving and at times much quieter manner. The production builds up nicely showing us how the men live and how they cope, or, in most cases, do not cope very well, with being unemployed.

Simon Beaufoy, the writer of the hit film, The Full Monty, made in 1997, has adapted it into this stage play. Now directed by Daniel Evans, the pair manage to show the terrible plight facing the men who have no jobs and no prospect of finding any in a lively and at times uproariously funny manner. There is nothing against putting across tragedy in a comic manner - Shakespeare did it many, many years ago.

Here we meet Gaz Kenny Doughty), who is in danger of losing access to his son if he doesn't give his wife maintenance payments. We also meet obese Dave (Roger Morlidge), who has become impotent through the loss of his masculinity through being unemployed. There is, too, Lomper, (Craig Gazey), who is suicidal as he has no friends until he realises he is gay. And the men's previous foreman, Gerald (Simon Rouse) who pretends to his wife that he still has a job and goes off to "work" every day while she continues spending money they now haven't got. Another of the characters we come across is Horse (Sidney Cole), a black guy who whispers that he has this nickname because he is not built that way.

Having lost their jobs, the men are also facing the loss of their self-respect and self-worth, so when Gaz suggests a way of regaining their confidence and also earning a lot of money they reluctantly agree. Of course the show wouldn't be anything without the two iconic scenes from the movie - the auditions and the dole queue when the strippers begin to dance to "their" tune on the radio.

Set in Thatcher's Britain in the late 70s, a strong political point about work and pay and the rights to both, is made. The era is caught nicely by the wives of the male strippers who appear in appropriate beehive hairdos and clothes of the period. There is a superb set, a decaying steelworks box designed by Robert Jones. The whole cast perform with gusto and the individuals are well delineated. A moving little performance of Gaz's young son was given on the night I went by Jack Hollington. The audience loved the show and the end….well, that would be telling, but it well deserved the huge standing ovation it was given.


Carlie Newman

   
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