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FILM:May 2008

I liked HONEYDRIPPER (cert. PG 2hrs. 2mins.) which is an unusual film written, directed and edited by John Sayles. Starring Danny Glover as Tyrone, a former piano player, who, in a small town in Alabama in 1950, is the broke owner of the Honeydripper Lounge which although now mostly empty has a real old blues singer (Mable John). Across the road a lively club catering for younger folk attracts a big crowd with up to date music.

honeydripper

Tyrone sacks the blues singer, who dies soon after, and books a well-known guitar player in a last chance effort to drum up business. When the guitarist fails to turn up he has to employ a young man, Sonny (Gary Clarke Jnr.) with an unusual hand-made guitar. A simple story is enhanced by some great music as the new rock and roll style using a guitar battles with the old-style piano. Showing the genesis of rock and roll in the Deep South the film is well-written, has good photography and through small touches like showing separate “white” and "coloured" entrances gives a real flavour of life at that time.

In Bruge

IN BRUGES (cert. 18 1hr.46mins.) stars the lovely, though unshaven, Colin Farrell as Rafe, who along with fellow Irish criminal Ken (Brendon Fraser) has come to the beautiful old city of Bruges to hide out after a killing that went wrong. Only Rafe does not appreciate Bruges and in a series of very funny scenes we see his disinterest in the Belgian city and attraction to a young woman he meets.

While Ken enjoys tourist attractions Rafe mopes. Ruled by their absent boss (Ralph Fiennes) the men become involved with a dwarf American actor, Dutch prostitutes and other unusual characters. While it is not the usual Farrell here, he nevertheless has a certain charm about him and Gleeson is completely at home in his part.

You will need to be quite strong to face THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK (no cert. 1hr. 27mins.), a documentary that explains the genocide of black Africans that is happening in Darfur. It exposes the terrible attacks being inflicted by the Arab dominated Government using militia called the Janjaweed (devil on horseback) through the eyes of former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle. Brian had been an official military observer but resigned to tell the world what is actually happening in Darfur, showing photos as evidence of the brutal slaughtering of men, women and children. The film features interviews with many of those who have lost all or some of their families and women tell how they have been taken, raped and returned only to find that their men then left them because they brought shame to their communities. More than 400,000 have been killed in Darfur and almost 3 million forced from their homes. If the thought of visiting a cinema to see this is too much then it will be released on DVD shortly and probably shown on the BBC.

Although a documentary, too, SHINE A LIGHT (cert. 12A 2hrs. 2mins.) is a very different film from the one above. For a start Martin Scorsese's documentary was filmed at the Beacon Theatre, New York 2006 in front of a wildly cheering audience which included Bill Clinton, his wife and mother. Secondly a concert starring the Rolling Stones is a lively, noisy affair full of the Stones' well-known songs.

Shine a light

Once the bad boys of pop - as indicated in interviews filmed over the years and inserted into this documentary - they show themselves as true survivors where many of their contempories, including members of the Beatles, have passed away. Displaying an obvious love for performing, Mick Jagger never stops moving. Even when standing still he generates energy and to see him literally running across the stage and skipping down towards the audience shows us how to really keep fit. The extremely wrinkled faces of Mick, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood have somehow morphed into each other so that they now look alike and only Charlie Watts, with his quiet persona and un-dyed hair looks fairly smooth skinned. There are interesting backstage moments and the Stones are joined by others on stage including the sweet-voiced Jack White who shows up Mick's not very musical voice. There are some droll touches from Scorsese including him saying, "We want the effect, but we can't burn Mick Jagger." I would really like to see them live in concert but the film was very noisy and I gather that being present at an on-stage performance would seem even louder, so, I guess, I'll just enjoy the film, which indeed I did.


THEATRE TIP: MAY 2008

Heralding spring we have one new musical and three plays - not bad for the London Theatre.

The Jersey Boys

THE JERSEY BOYS (Prince Edward) is another story of the rise from a poor background through hardship to become one of the foremost pop groups of the 60s, in this case Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The difference with this group is that they were from and appealed to the blue-collar workers of America.

Telling how Frankie, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi came together and the ups and downs of their subsequent relationship this is a lively show with many of the group's songs delivered in an almost exact copy of the originals' style. Frankie had (well, to be accurate, presumably has as he is still living) this unusual high voice which Ryan Molloy reproduces authentically. The story and some of the scenes mark the difference between a tribute show and a musical like this. And, of course, there are some very well-known songs such as Sherry and Big Girls Don't Cry and Can't Take My Eyes Off You that had the audience literally dancing for joy.

GOD OF CARNAGE (Gielgud) is a very well-written play by Yasmina Reza translated by Christopher Hampton, beautifully acted by Ralph Fiennes, Tamsin Greig, Janet McTeer and Ken Stott. Director Matthew Warcus manages to develop the characterisations of all four using subtlety at the beginning as the two couples meet to discuss in a civilised manner the hitting of the 11 year-old son of one of the couples by his fellow pupil, the son of the other couple. This gradually changes to antagonism and fighting not only between the couples but also with each other. The red-walled set and evocative lighting assist in the presentation. This is a witty play which clearly shows its Gallic origins.

God of Carnage

It is highly recommended as is NEVER SO GOOD at the NT: a new play by Howard Brenton outlining Harold Macmillan's rise to become Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963 and how this fitted into the end of the post-war era and the start of a more prosperous period. Looking back in this way gives Macmillan a more significant place in history than perhaps we realised at the time. Pip Carter as the young Macmillan and Jeremy Irons in the senior role give believable impressions of the man although Irons is much better looking than Harold ever was. As he speaks to the audience Macmillan has some witty asides, "In politics one learns to play the tart." he offers near the beginning. Later he rehearses his "wind of change blowing through Africa." speech showing his more serious, intellectual vein. This is an interesting though somewhat crowded production. Dances of each period are executed vigorously on stage. The title comes, of course, from his "Most of our people have never had it so good." One feels sorry for him when he hears from his wife about her long-term affair with Bob (Robert Boothby), although he says he already knows. There are also good cameos from Anna Carteret as his mother and Anna Chancellor as his wife, Dorothy.

A modern play but with a somewhat old-fashioned feel about it is VISITING MR GREEN (Trafalgar Studios) by Jeff Baron. A very American atmosphere in this Manhattan home of widower Mr Green (Warren Mitchell) who has lost his wife, Yetta, after 59 years of marriage. He is called on by young Ross (Gideon Turner) who has been given community service as a punishment for reckless driving. As the two become closer they learn of each other's solitary life, Mr Green because he is too depressed to eat properly or care for himself and Ross who is too afraid of his father to express his real sexual orientation. Mr Green uses Yiddish expressions so we have a glossary in the programme, but from the mouth of Mitchell they are clearly understood anyway as he is so expressive. At 82 Mitchell completely inhabits this part and Turner is very good as a young man helping the older one cope with his present life while facing his own demons. The slightly out of date quality about the play is brought about by our doubt that in today's very Jewish New York the young man would be wary of showing either his Jewishness or his gayness.

War and Peace

For me the peace episodes were more effective than the war in WAR AND PEACE (Hampstead Theatre, London till 11 May, Cheltenham Everyman 15-18 May). Staging this vast novel with its myriad characters is always going to be difficult but Nancy Meckler and Polly Teale have co-directed a production which is full of movement and characters that move the story along at a cracking pace.

Staged in two parts there are some memorable performances: Barnaby Kay is a thoughtful Pierre, and Louise Ford manages to begin as a very young Natasha and develop into a mature woman. There is a very moving performance by Sophie Roberts as Sonia expressing unrequited love and remaining loyal to Nikolai even after rejection. The various events are well-staged in a minimalist fashion and the story is surprisingly easy to follow given the length and density of Tolstoy's book. Helen Edmundson has managed the adaptation with a straightforward and comprehensive skill.

Carlie Newman

   
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