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FILM:November 2008

The chief topic of discussion this month is obviously going to be QUANTUM OF SOLACE (cert. 12A 1hr.46mins.), first aired as part of the BFI London Film Festival .

The latest outing for James Bond (played for the second time by the craggy Daniel Craig) has good chases - on foot, in cars, boats, planes - the sets are suitably exotic, the two women beautiful, the music well-executed, the villain (French actor, Mathieu Amalric, at a great distance from his static role in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) nasty enough and the general tone as good as any other Bond movie. However, it lacks the Bond humour of the early films and only Judi Dench as M displays any kind of light tone.

James Bond

Some ingenious set pieces make one sit up such as 007 gradually discovering who the plotters (don't expect me to tell you what they are plotting, I wouldn't even if I fully understood it myself) are when they are scattered in different seats amongst a throng at the Opera. So the film is competent if somewhat pedestrian. The whole thing is a fantasy and Bond manages to go through fire, glass, be bashed around and so on without suffering any lasting harm.


hunger

As different from this as it is possible to be, HUNGER (cert.15 1hr. 35mins.) tells the gut-wrenching story of the hunger strike by Irish Republican prisoners in the Maze prison in 1981, in particular that of Bobby Sands, the first of ten men to die. In his first film director Steve McQueen, captures what it is really like to be in that prison at that time. As an artist his is very much a visual interpretation and we see the "dirty protest" in such detail that one can almost smell the excrement that has been smeared on the walls.

The last few weeks of Bobby Sands' life can be interpreted as those of a martyr or terrorist as McQueen shows both sides as far as possible - a man dying for his beliefs and being violently beaten up by the prison officers and at the same time Republicans carrying out brutal murders. Much of the atmosphere is conveyed without words - the brutality in the prison, the horrible conditions that the prisoners, to a large extent, have created for themselves. There is one very powerful scene at the centre of the film where dialogue comes into its own and that is the 22 minute sequence composed in one camera take (profile) of Sands discussing the situation and how he is going to act with his Priest (played by Liam Cunningham). Michael Fassbender gives an amazing interpretation of Bobby Sands; his emaciated body is very hard to look at in the final sequence.


Hunger might be described as an art film in that it is not in the category of a large Hollywood blockbuster, but for acting and film making it will be hard to beat. In a different way OF TIME AND THE CITY (cert.12A 1hr.12mins.) is an art film, too. As one of the events organised by the London Film Festival a group from TOFF (Trips for Older Females & Fellows) went to see and very much enjoy Terence Davies' hymn to the Liverpool of his childhood and early manhood. Mainly in black and white there are touches of colour such as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Of time and the city

As we see the visual aspects of the city lovingly re-created using archive material and laugh or feel nostalgic at the huge crowds at football matches - all in black and white - and see children playing games and chanting the old rhymes, we also listen to the mellifluous tones of Davies telling of how it was for him in his childhood, quoting T.S. Eliot and other poets and speaking of his feelings in connection with religion and sexuality, we marvel at how life has changed and yet how similar many things are to today.


Modern history also has its place and W (cert.15 1hr. 40mins.) is Oliver Stone's view of George W. Bush, who is just about to finish his Presdiency of the USA. As a background to the fervour and challenge of the present election it is interesting to see how - in this version - W progresses from a drunken playboy to probably the most powerful elected position anywhere. Josh Brolin is extraordinary as Bush - capturing the inflections in his speech as well as his physical tics. He tries throughout to gain the approval of his father (well played by Richard Jenkins). Thandie Newton is a good look-alike for Condoleezza Rice.


THEATRE TIP

Directed by Mikel Murfi, Enda Walsh's play THE WALWORTH FARCE (National) is a fast, energetic piece in which two brothers and their father repeatedly re-enact their father's last days in Cork before he fled to England. This exaggerated version is played by the three male actors who rush around changing wigs and enacting all the parts until a shop assistant from Tesco comes to the flat with a bag of groceries that one of the sons had mistakenly left behind. At this point the comedy becomes very black and there are no laughs at the end. Frenetically performed by Denis Conway, Tadhg Murphy, Garrett Lombarf and Mercy Ojelade.

Some of the energy shown here would have been welcome in GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING (Haymarket), the story of how Vermeer came to paint his famous picture. As in the excellent film of Tracy Chevalier's novel, we see how Griet (Kimberley Nixon) came to work in the household of Vermeer (Adrian Dunbar) and became indispensable as a helper and sitter. Lacking the passion and emotion of the film this production fails to take off although the sets and costumes are impressive.

Another play taken from a film is RAIN MAN (Apollo) which really adds nothing to the film and is chiefly of interest for the Charlie Babbitt of Josh Hartnett and his autistic brother Raymond played by Adam Godley. The developing journey that the brothers make in the film is here represented in a few short episodes and the growing bond between the two is not really in evidence.

I have only managed to see one of the plays in Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy THE NORMAN CONQUESTS now revived at the Old Vic. Well-written, humorous dialogue and an unusual idea - the three plays take place at the same time but in different parts of the house and garden and can be seen, and enjoyed, in any order. Although it was very well-acted by a cast which includes Stephen Mangan as Norman and Jessica Hynes as Annie, with whom Norman has an affair, I didn't laugh as much as when I first saw it - perhaps, as it was written in 1973, it is a little dated now.

Which brings me on to another good performance by David Tennant at Stratford upon Avon. LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST is not the easiest of plays to perform. The best version I have seen was Kenneth Branagh's film with himself and Emma Thompson in the leading parts.

Love labours lost

Here Tennant excels as Berowne, one of the King of Navarre's companions. Berowne initially tries to talk the King and his friends out of signing up to a vow to keep away from women during the three years they are studying. When he is unable to talk them out of it, he, too, signs. Of course the comedy occurs when the men meet The Princess of France and her ladies and Berowne falls for the sharp-witted Rosaline (Nina Sosanya) at the same time as the others fall for the other women they encounter.

Gregory Doran directs with a light touch - perhaps a bit too light in that there is a lot of broad comedy and inter-action with the audience: Tennant throws his hat on to a branch of a tree and acknowledges the applause of the audience, saying "Every time." There are some lovely costumes, the colours blending and contrasting according to the characters wearing them and the set serves its purpose well with a particularly good scene where each of the men hides to hear the others declaring their love for a woman. The ending brings everyone back to earth and changes the mood to one of solemnity. But once again it is Tennant that the audience - particularly the large contingent of young women present - have come to see and once again he delivers a sterling Shakespearian performance, this time using his own soft Scottish accent.

Pam Gems' 1979 play. PIAF was never the reason people went to see it. The story of Edith Piaf, the tiny French songstress, is just the peg on which to hang her moving songs linked to her true-life loves and stage triumphs. And if you have a performance like that of Elena Roger in the latest production at the Vaudeville Theatre then the words and spoken scenes are only a hyphen between the songs. Directed in a competent manner by Jamie Lloyd, this short show (1hr. 35mins.) has Roger singing her heart out in an embodiment rather than just an impersonation of Piaf. Her accent is Spanish rather than French when she speaks Gems' English words as well as when she sings in French. While she is not the actress that Jane Lapotaire was in the original production, her voice is superb and to hear her interpretation of Piaf's songs is pure magic.

OEDIPUS (National Theatre) stands or falls by its title character. At the beginning I thought that Ralph Fiennes was too intellectual and not emotional enough, but his intelligent portrayal saved its emotional impact until late in the play - quite rightly as the story and its viewing is so painful that it would be impossible to have it all played at the highest pitch throughout. In a new version of Sophocles' play by Frank McGuiness, some of the modern turns of phrase sound a bit awkward. I can't criticise the chorus who chant most of their lines in a nice sounding but mainly incomprehensive manner. Oedipus, the man, begins by being so sure that he has managed to escape the curse of the gods and Jocasta, the widow of Laius, King of Thebes, echoes this by insisting that the gods can do nothing to her as she too has escaped their curse as her husband was killed by a stranger, not his son as the prophecy forecast. As he gradually learns the truth of his birth, his slaying of his real father and subsequent marriage to his mother, Fiennes as Oedipus becomes wrecked before our eyes. As, too, does Jocasta (in an extraordinarily moving moment by Clare Higgins), who realises at an earlier stage exactly what has happened. The end scene with the self-blinded Oedipus and his four children is another horrific moment. Good performances also from Alan Howard as Teiresias and Alfred Burke as the Shepherd who tells the origins of the terrible tale.

     

Carlie Newman

   
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