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FILM: MAY/JUNE 2005

This month's main film must be THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (cert. PG 1hr.45) . Steve Newman accompanied me to the screening and, as he really knows all about the oeuvre, has written the review:

"H2 G2 - as the publicity people want us to call it - now there's a catchy title, is directed by Garth Jennings. Everyone who has either read Douglas Adams' books, listened to the radio series (in many people's opinion the finest rendition of his work because one's own imagination contributes so much to bringing the characters to life), or seen it on TV, has a vision of how it should be portrayed.

It is important when reviewing this film to remember that out of 100 people seeing it you could have 100 different mental pictures of how it should look and sound and reactions ranging from "it's a masterpiece" to "what have they done to it!" There, my concerns declared early, my initial reaction to the film was - it's not funny enough! My recollections of the books, radio series etc was they were all funny - at times laugh out loud funny!


The story briefly -- for the small percentage of inhabitants of our galaxy who somehow don't already know it, such as Carlie. At the same time as our (anti) hero Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman from "The Office") is fighting - passively - to prevent his home being demolished by the local council to make way for an unnecessary bypass, the entire planet Earth is being removed to accommodate a hyperspace bypass! Ford Prefect (Mos Def), who is a roving reporter for the Guide, has been stranded on Earth for years.

A scene from the film Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

When he sees the giant Vogon space fleet deployed to destroy the planet, he gets himself and Arthur, plus a towel, which is apparently indispensable for intergalactic travel, on board to escape imminent certain death using a gadget he happens to have with him. And so on.


Plus points about the film: -

   

Stephen Fry is very good as the Narrator; Martin Freeman is acceptable as Arthur although having watched him in Jonathan Ross' TV programme he is much funnier in real life. Bill Nighy is great as Slartibartfast, the planet builder although very different from previous portrayals.


Minus points: -

   

Oh dear what a lot! Alan Rickman is allowed to contribute very little as the voice of Marvin the lugubrious robot (Warwick Davis wears the - very good - costume and does the actions). Constraints on the running time, a concern for how American audiences would react, whatever the reasons, Marvin, one of the major characters, is reduced to a side show. Zaphod Breeblebox as betrayed (rather than portrayed by Sam Rockwell) is awful.


The nicest thing I can say about Mos Def, who as Ford Prefect is an absolutely crucial character in the story, is that he doesn't get in the way much. He knows his lines and doesn't trip over the scenery!


In what appears to be a desperate attempt to engage an American film audience, the essential Englishness of Hitchhikers has been so played down as to almost disappear. The actual "Guide" is now an electronic notebook and is well realised. The Vogons are 7ft tall animatronics creations by the (late) Jim Henson's Creative Shop and are splendidly disgusting.

I found the direction was sloppy, too many pointless longeurs between the action sequences. The relationship between Arthur and Trillian (Zooey Deschamel), another evacuee, courtesy of being picked up by Zaphod at a pre-destruction Earth party, is so poorly developed that you wonder why she wants to be with him at the end!

The "special" effects are not always that special, they sometimes detract from the narrative rather than enhancing it. The planet-creating factory is beautifully portrayed thanks to computer generated imaging, as is the process of reproducing the planet Earth.

Verdict (remember it's my personal view!): watchable most of the time, NOT Hitchhikers as I know and love it, but worth going to see it for yourselves and make up your own minds."


And for others worth considering in May.THE INTERPRETER (cert. 12A 2hs. 9mins.) is well worth your time.

It's a political thriller, with good central performances. A UN interpreter, Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), alleges that she has overheard a threat to kill an African head of state. The threat was made in an African dialect which Silvia, but very few others, understands. She becomes a hunted target for the killers and federal agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) is sent to protect her. He investigates both the threat and Silvia and, as he delves into her past, he becomes suspicious that she herself might be involved in the conspiracy. Is Sylvia a victim? A suspect? And can Tobin, who is coping with his own personal heartache, keep her safe? We have to decide the answers to these questions.

The first film to be shot in the UN headquarters, the film, although a bit difficult to follow at times, is always engrossing, frequently exciting and it is certainly worth seeing Sydney Pollack's latest effort.


STANDER (cert. 15 1hr. 53mins), directed by Bronwyn Hughes, is based on the true story of a South African police captain who rebels against the brutal killings of rioting blacks that he is forced to carry out in the line of duty. Andre Stander decides to break away and he devises an audacious crime spree, which involves robbing banks in disguise then returning to the scene of the crime later to investigate. Even when he is caught and imprisoned, he uses his wits to escape with 2 others. Known as the 'Stander Gang' they go on to commit a large number of bank and other robberies. Although the public treat them as heroes, the police force goes after them as the most wanted men around. An interesting film, with some strong performance, particularly by Thomas Jane as Stander and Deborah Kara Unger as his wife, it is on release at the end of May.


I thought that TWIN SISTERS (cert. 12A 1hr.55mins) was an effective film. Through the story of twins who were separated as small children - Anna to stay in Holland with a brutal peasant family and Lotte to Germany with a rich couple - the film deals with how people cope with guilt through association with evil. Anna marries an SS Officer and Lotte becomes engaged to a Jew, who is later sent to a concentration camp. Both men do not survive the war. The twins become reacquainted as young women but grow apart when Anna learns of Lotte's sympathies. They finally meet as very old women. As a different view of war and its consequences the film is worth viewing.


As is a new print of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (cert. PG 1hr. 41mins.). If you can't get to a cinema then you can obtain it on a DVD or video. Directed by Nicholas Ray in colour and cinemascope, the story of three troubled teenagers - the very young Sal Mineo, lovely Natalie Wood and, of course, James Dean (all of whom died in tragic circumstances) resonates as much today as 50 years ago.

Dean's plea to his father to stand up for him, Mineo's need for a loving family and Wood's desperate desire for a show of affection from her father are as moving as ever. Great acting from the whole cast. I must confess that I cried as much at the recent screening as many years ago.


GUERILLA:THE TAKING OF PATTY HEARST (cert. 12A 1hr. 29mins.) is an interesting documentary of events that took place in the 1970s. It has a lot of political and archival material


THEATRE TIP
MAY/JUNE 2005

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS (Warehouse, Croydon), unfortunately finishes on 22 May, but is worth seeing for the performance of Susannah York. Written by Sara Mason, it is a kind of sub-Pinteresque play (and the real Pinter is so much superior, see below). In the first act we are as unsure as the older lady, Elaine (York), seemingly imprisoned in a house in Primrose Hill - now there's a nice place to spend some time - who doesn't know where she is, who the people are with her and why she is being held. There is a distinct atmosphere of middle-European angst, with Elaine saying her mother was gassed and York is excellent as the very anguished lost soul. At one point she flirts very obviously with the young black man who is 'guarding' her and is antagonistic towards his partner - a very pregnant youngish woman. All becomes clear to us in the second act, but not to York who remains confused to the end.

Susannah York

There is much repetition and the play doesn't hold up strongly. While York is most watchable, the author, playing the pregnant woman is not very convincing.

Concessions of £6-50 (except Sat.) are a good bargain for a wonderful actress in an unusual venue.

Eileen Atkins as Meg and Henry Goodman as Petey

The real Harold Pinter as author can be seen in a great production of THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, at the Duchess Theatre now and continuing. I find myself with more questions than answers after seeing it. Stanley is the only boarder of the seaside house run by Meg and Petey. He seems to be content with his monotonous life until Goldberg and McCann arrive. They may or may not be known to Stanley, but help Meg to throw a birthday party for him. A neighbour, Lulu, joins in and the party ends with an atmosphere of real terror.

Who or what the menacing strangers have come for we never know, but the writing and taut direction by Lindsay Posner keep the audience in the edge of their seats. Eileen Atkins as Meg is absolutely superb, attempting to recapture her youth by floating around in her best dress at the party or gazing adoringly at Stanley or taking part in trite conversations at the breakfast table with her husband. As Petey Henry Goodman is equally good even though his part is less showy than Atkins. In fact, all the parts are well acted and interpret Pinter's structured writing with true justice.


Somewhat different is ELMINA'S KITCHEN, which has transferred from the National to the Garrick Theatre. Written by the prize-winning Kwame Kwei-Armah, it is set in a run down West Indian café in Hackney. It is basically the story of a father single-handedly bringing up his son to be as unlike his criminal friends as possible. Deli takes on a feisty new waitress to assist him, while his son, Ashley tries to join Digger in underground activities, whilst Deli's own father and his best friend have their own ideas for self-improvement.

There is much humour in the early scenes - I liked, "fast and West Indian is a contradiction in terms" - but everything becomes much more sombre later on. Kwei-Armah plays Deli with feeling and Don Warrington as his father is especially effective.

A very moving play which shows another side to the perceived rising crime amongst young men. Good to see a play like this at a major West End Theatre and attracting a great mixed audience.


THE FAR PAVILIONS at the Palace theatre, based on MM Kaye's book has good lighting, effective - though somewhat flat - scenery, pretty costumes and nice looking actors with pleasant singing voices, and .is, I am afraid, fairly hard to remember after a few weeks! Still, if you enjoy a romantic story, this is it!

Space doesn't permit me to say more than there is a fantastic BILLY ELLIOTT musical at the Victoria Palace, a very moving DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Lyric and an interesting, but not terribly well-done THE PHILADELPHIA STORY at the Old Vic, and a production of THE TEMPEST with just three actors playing all the parts (assisted by 3 dancers and 6 singers) to herald the new season at the Globe.

More of all of them in our next edition!


Carlie Newman    

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