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FILM: May 2007

Forget that it received an Oscar for Best Foreign Film this year, THE LIVES OF OTHERS (cert.15 2hrs.18mins.) is the best film - in any language - so far this year. Just as an exciting political thriller, director and writer, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has pulled off a marvellous achievement, but this is so much more. Relationships between the characters and their relationship with the political masters of the day, lie at its core.

It is 1984 in East Germany and the successful dramatist Georg Dreyman and his longtime companion Christa-Maria Sieland, a popular actress, are big intellectual stars in the socialist state, although we learn that they are not always in tune with the party line. One day, the Minister of Culture becomes interested in Christa,

The Lives of Others

so the Stasi secret service agent Wiesler is instructed to observe the couple to see if they are true to the State's view, but their life, which is very different from his regimented existence in a characterless apartment in Berlin, fascinates him more and more and we see him undergo major changes.

When I interviewed Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, I asked him whether he knew of anybody who, like Wiesler, had changed in such a major manner. In response, he cited Mikhail Gorbachev as someone who completely destroyed what Stalinism had done. He added that Wiesler is a passive hero and glides into acts. "Heroism is seen in retrospect" and its essence is sacrifice. He thinks that it was very important that he was the writer as well as the director and really knew what he wanted to say and how he wanted the actors - all major German players - to portray the fictional characters.

Lives of Others

The acting is of an extremely high standard. Ulrich Muhe as the Stasi spy is just right while Sebastian Koch as the writer and Martina Gedeck as the actress look beautiful and convey the difficulty of remaining true to their convictions while hiding their beliefs in such a way that they are able to continue working under an oppressive regime.

The acting is of an extremely high standard. Ulrich Muhe as the Stasi spy is just right while Sebastian Koch as the writer and Martina Gedeck as the actress look beautiful and convey the difficulty of remaining true to their convictions while hiding their beliefs in such a way that they are able to continue working under an oppressive regime.

When asked what he would say to the 'man in the street' about his film, the director replied that he would tell him to forget the historical background. The film is really about how it feels when someone wants you to believe what you don't want to believe.

Not quite in the same league 28 WEEKS LATER (cert.18 1hr. 40mins.) is a well-made sequel to "28 Days Later" which came out in 2003. It picks up six months after the virus that makes infected people violent with rage has annihilated Britain. The US army take over the country and put those who have been quarantined into a holding area. Robert Carlyle plays Don who has survived by abandoning his wife. He is reunited with his two children who had been on holiday on Spain when the virus struck. When the children set out to find some photos of their dead mother the virus is re-released into the community.

Not as outrageous as Danny Boyle's original film when my memory is of rampaging infected people, it is nevertheless extremely gory and quite violent.

At their press conference, the Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresinadillo had to face questions on why he was chosen. He admitted that he had never spent more than two weeks at a time in England but Executive Producers Boyle and (original writer) Alex Garland wanted a fresh look at a deserted London

28 Weeks Later

There is certainly a very different perspective here as the children go through a deserted Shaftesbury Avenue, across the Millennium Bridge into Hyde Park and end up at Wembley Stadium! Good to see a witty Harold Perrineau away from his LOST role and Mackintosh Muggleton (the 12 year-old boy) was cute as he explained how, before he started working on the film, he thought it would be all about fame and glamour, but quickly came to realise that it was 97% hard work! Another newcomer is Imogen Poots who, at 17, said she had to take a break from her 3 'A' levels to do the filming, but enjoyed travelling on an empty underground system. The film has a "what if" quality about it and will keep you on the edge of your seats.

Provoked

Another film which resulted in a change in the law is PROVOKED (cert. 12A 2hrs 2mins.), which tells how Kiranjit Ahluwalia burns her husband so badly that he dies from his injuries. We learn this is as a result of abuse, rape and violence from her husband over ten years often observed by the couple's two young sons.

Until her appeal from imprisonment for murder was successful the law of provocation stated that the provocation had to be immediately before the act, not over a longer period - in the Ahluwalia case she had been injured two hours previously. Some poorly acted small parts do not detract from the overall quality of the film with the Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai showing that she can really act in her role of the Punjabi victim of domestic violence and Miranda Richardson putting in a brave performance as the cellmate who encourages her to tell the whole story and thus gain her freedom.

Here is another of our occasional reviews of science fiction films by Steve: SUNSHINE (cert.15 1hr 47mins.), "I love Science Fiction in all its manifestations: novels, short stories, TV (even Doctor Who!) especially films. 2001 - A Space Odyssey is an all-time classic. What can I say positively about Director Danny Boyle's SUNSHINE? The visuals are terrific as is the soundtrack. The cast however do not seem to know what or whom they are portraying or why!!

The story line (a second space vehicle is sent to deliver a nuclear device to reignite our fading sun after the first one sent seven years before apparently fails), meanders all over the place and neither we (nor the characters) know what is going on. Many of the scenes and images are unconnected with what (you think!) is the story. I didn't care about the outcome, I begged for an early release, as a critic you really shouldn't walk out before the end of the film! There is no narrative line, the characters and the action gets confused and I finished up not caring how it turned out. Sorry, not for me, 3/10 at best!"

Sunshine

Also worth seeing this month is a lovely adapatation of the Somerset Maugham novel, THE PAINTED VEIL (cert. 12A 2hrs. 5mins.). A well-crafted film, it is beautifully filmed in China and stars Edward Norton as an uptight English doctor and Naomi Watts as his new wife who marries him to get away from her mother. After a brief affair she is punished by her husband by being taken to a cholera infected region. While there they get to know each other in a more loving manner.

And those of you who wish to see SPIDER-MAN 3 (cert. 12A) will certainly get your money's worth as it runs for almost two and a half hours and has a fantastic array of special effects. But the somewhat convoluted plot and pedestrian dialogue, and, in some cases, acting, make it rather tedious so that I was quite glad when it finished! As it shows the dark side of Peter Parker it is definitely not suitable for young children as it may well give them nightmares!


THEATRE TIP: May 2007

I was surprised to find myself really enjoying the spoof version of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (Duchess Theatre). Based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's well known book as adapted by Peepolykus (try saying this), it is very funny and actually, at times, quite scary. Three actors portray all the characters. Javier Marzin is particularly hilarious as a Spanish Sherlock Holmes while John Nicholson and Jason Thorpe join him in playing all other parts, including women, changing clothes as necessary

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Director Orla O'Laughlin has devised some great staging including a range of unusual sound effects, such as a creaking gate, which are mimed by the actors. She also uses lighting well and at one point has a spinning globe overhead which throws light on Sir Henry Baskerville and a 'female' dancing a tango together while the third actor plays a trumpet.

The audience is fully involved throughout; the play is stopped after the first five minutes and the house lights go on for the cast to warn the audience that there might be some frightening parts! Later the play is stopped again to re-enact the first half.but this time at speed. When someone in the audience sneezes, there is an immediate "God bless you!" ad lib. The play is cleverly written and performed and offers a most enjoyable night out.

     

Carlie Newman

   
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