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FILM:November 2011

While it is good to see THE LION KING 3D (U) again, we do not necessarily need to see it in the brand new 3D version. However, there are still many moments that bring enjoyment even after all these years, and it is one that all the family can see from grandparents down to young kids, separately or together. First shown in 1994, Disney's animated film tells of the birth of the lion cub, Simba, to the wife of King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones), the ruler of the Pride Lands area. The King tries to prepare young Simba for his future life leading the other animals wisely and justly, but the youngster only wants to play with his friend Nala. The King's wicked brother, Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons), who wants to get rid of the King and Simba so that he can rule, leads Simba into danger and Mufasa dies saving his son from wildebeest. Simba, believing he has caused his father's death, flees. He survives with the help of Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella), a kindly warthog and a meerkat called Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane). When he grows into an adult (voiced by Matthew Broderick), Simba realises that maybe it is time to return and become the Lion King.

 

Most of the voices fit the characters exactly. Irons brings an effective sinister, slimy quality to the evil Scar, while Lane and Sabella are just right as the two animals who save Simba when he is alone. Their song "Hakuna Matata" (meaning: no worries) reverberates in one's head long after the end. Rowan Atkinson is far better as Zazu, the hornbill - who is a loyal servant to King Mufasa and tries to control young Simba - than he is as the hapless Johnny English in his new film! James Earl has a beautifully mellow voice as King Mufasa. The lovely songs, by Tim Rice and Elton John, add to the story. Does the 3D increase our enjoyment? Well, not really, except in some sequences such as the birds flying or leaves falling around. What's next? Bambi 3D?

We have a very different film with TYRANNOSAUR (cert.18 1hr. 32mins.). Directed by Paddy Considine, it stars Peter Mullan as Joseph, a very angry widower who becomes even more aggressive when drunk. When he meets charity shop worker, Hannah (Olivia Colman) it seems as though she can save him. However Hannah is hiding her own secret: her husband (Eddie Marsan) is violent and abusive. Together Hannah and Joseph confront each other, their lives and her husband. Although this is a really harrowing film, the quality of the acting and directing is of the highest order and you are urged to see it.

Different again is THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD (cert. 12A 1hr. 30mins.). Directed by Morgan Spurlock (who made the excellent Super Size Me), the film exposes product placement - or, as it is now known - co-promotions. Apart from parts where Spurlock enjoys himself rather too much in obtaining sponsorship for this film, we learn a lot. If you see it you will never watch a film in the same way again; I now notice drinks, cars etc in all the big Hollywood movies!

Starting in 1967 with Martin Luther King Junior speaking at a large rally, BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975 (cert. 12A 1hr. 36mins.) shows us a mixtape of historical and contemporary interviews and audio reports into racism in the US leading up to the rise of the Black Power Movement in the African-American community from 1967 to 1975. The documentary is made by a Swedish director and shows the evolution of black power. The commentary gives us the Swedish point of view. Director, Goran Olsson brings to a wider audience newly discovered footage that had been lying in the vaults of Swedish television for the last 30 years.

The year by year account of the historical events backed by the authentic voices of leading African-American artists, musicians, activists and scholars brings meaning to this particular period. Starting with Stokely Carmichael in 1967, we move on to the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. Apart from the voice of Angela Davis, we also hear from Harry Belafonte and see film of him with Luther King. 1968 also has the assassination of Robert Kennedy, which brought despair to the black community that had looked upon him as a supporter.

Nixon is elected and we see interviews with Eldridge Cleaver and Bobby Searle and learn of the rise of their Black Panther Party - a militant black organisation - in 1969. Angela Davis is connected with the Panthers (she was accused of being implicated in a shoot out at a court) and during 1970 and 1971 we learn how the FBI tried to neutralise the effects of the Black Panthers and put Davis on their most wanted list. Davis' trial in 1972, following that of Huey Newton, led to her becoming an icon and an interview in prison by a Swedish reporter. She was tried, acquitted and released after 18 months' incarceration.

1973/4 sees the rise of drug-related violence in Harlem and the resignation of Nixon. We also learn of the rise of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam, and belief that the white race is the race of devils. The film ends in 1975 with the end of the war in Vietnam.

The whole film is a mini-account of the way the dominant white people in power tried over the years to suppress the struggles of the black African-American community to achieve equality. Using a variation of the newish mixtape formula, Olsson manages to convey both the difficulties faced by the black people in America as well as their heroic and, occasionally, deadly efforts to have the same rewards as their white neighbours. Well, we now have Obama, but the ordinary black African-American working man is still battling on.

Also recommended: FOOTLOOSE (cert.12A 1hr. 53mins.), which is virtually a re-make of the 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormick, the outsider who comes into the small town in America and questions the banning of dancing. It tells the same story now brought forward and updated. Kenny Wormald plays Ren here, with Julianne Hough as the preacher's rebel daughter. Dennis Quaid is the preacher, who joins the town council in forbidding dancing following the death of his son and four other teenagers in a car accident after they had been out partying with music and dancing.

Worth seeing, too: Lynne Ramsay's WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (cert. 15 1hr. 42mins.), harrowing but very well acted by Tilda Swinton as the mother of Kevin (played by Ezra Miller) who finds it very difficult to bond with her seemingly evil child. When he commits a terrible crime, she questions the way she has dealt with him. There is a wonderful little boy in this. Rocky Duer plays Kevin as a toddler and has a really evil look in his eyes.


THEATRE TIP

The first three plays this month are all better known for their filmed versions. Alfred Uhry’s DRIVING MISS DAISY (Wyndham’s until 17December), is now a vehicle for the talents of Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. Redgrave plays Daisy Wertham, an elderly Jewish widow, who is very firm in her initial refusal to have the chauffeur that her son (Boyd Gaines) tells her she needs. When she finally admits to frailty, the black Hoke (Earl Jones) faces quite a challenge in persuading Miss Daisy to make use of his services. Gradually they develop a touching relationship.

We see them together over the years from 1948 to 1973, through the Civil Rights period and slow lead up to desegregation, with Miss Daisy having to confront her prejudices. Director, David Esbjornson uses a simple set with back projections and a wooden chair with a bench behind and a wheel to represent the car.

Both actors give us a lesson in acting and Boyd Gaines manages to hold his own as the caring, and at times, despairing son. Redgrave's depiction of extreme old age at the end is very moving and Earl Jones shows us the caring side of the chauffeur, who, no longer working, visits and feeds her.

Set in the 1940s, COOL HAND LUKE (Aldwych until 7 January) is, in fact, based on the 1965 novel by Donn Pearce. However, it is impossible to see the play without being reminded of lovely Paul Newman in the title role. Here one of Luke's fellow convicts describes how Luke, imprisoned for "decapitating" parking meters, became a hero to his fellow inmates on a chain gang in Florida.

Eating 50 eggs at a time, escaping three times, holding a snake
while the guard kills it and generally being insolent to the guards,
Luke, always playing it cool, rises to become a legend.

Although the film conveys more of the reality of the prisoners' lives, there are some dramatic moments here. Marc Warren, looking too slim and not muscular enough for an ex-soldier, puts across Luke's bravado well. He is particularly good in the scene calling for Luke to consume 50 hard boiled eggs in an hour.

Although we don't see him eat 50, he swallows a considerable number…we can only hope that he uses sleight of hand (although it doesn't look like it) otherwise he is going to be very ill by the end of the run! He also strums the banjo and plays a mouth organ.

Unlike most of the musicals about real-life stars or groups, the stage version of Iain Softley's 1994 film, BACKBEAT (Duke of York's booking until 24 March 2012) deals with a part of their life rather than being merely a compilation of hits. As such it works well, and, although the lads do not resemble their real-life counterparts, they sound like them and put across the dialogue and songs with enthusiasm.

Andrew Knott as John Lennon with Daniel Healy as Paul McCartney

Dealing with how the Beatles became the best known group in the world, the story is mainly centered around Stuart Sutcliffe (Nick Bood), his relatioship with the photographer and first "stylist" of the group, Astrid Kircher (Ruta Gedmintas) and his very close friendship with John Lennon (Andrew Knot). We see them in Hamburg, Liverpool and London during the period 1960-1963. The group at this time consisted of Paul (Daniel Healy), John, George (Will Payne) and Stuart followed by the change to Pete Best (Oliver Bennett) and finally Ringo. If you have ever been interested in the Beatles and their fantastic music you should certainly find this a play to savour.

Out of the rain (literally) comes CRAZY FOR YOU now transferred to the Novello Theatre from the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park and running until 10 July 2012.

If you want an exciting theatrical experience, then this is the one for you. The whole cast remains in the transfer. Director, Timothy Sheader has once again done an excellent job of directing a musical which not only has verve but also the best dancing to be seen in a musical on the London stage.

We have a real story -line here: the play shows how the banker, Bobby (Sean Palmer), who really wants to be a dancer, travels on the orders of his over-powering mother (Harriet Thorpe) from New York to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose the little theatre on his mother's behalf.

He falls in love with the owner's daughter, Polly (Clare Foster) and stays to put on a show to save the theatre. Bobby pretends to be the impressario, Bela Zangler, and imports the New York chorus girls and boys. All goes well until the real Bela (David Burt) turns up. There is much fun when Bobby impersonating Bela comes face to face with the real Bela in Nevada.

There are good performances from all the cast - some can sing better than others, but they make up for it with their footwork, which is really superb. This revival of George and Ira Gershwin's musical, with book by Ken Ludwig, gives us some lovely performances. Some of the musicals on in London at the moment may be better sung, but none have more inventive dancing with a whole variety of styles from tap dancing to balletic. Added to all this is the wonderful music, played well here under the leadership of Gareth Valentine, with well-known songs such as Someone to Watch Over Me, I Got Rhythm and Nice Work If You Can Get It sung with real musicality and enhanced by the always inventive choreography of Stephen Mear along with the magical lighting which gives us stars at the back and a crescent moon in the trees at the end.

Another play that has just transferred is the excellent THE PITMEN PAINTERS which is now on at the Duchess Theatre - more next month!

The lovely Rose Theatre, Kingston has the short play Granville Barker's FAREWELL TO THE THEATRE and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST both directed by Stephen Unwin and starring Jane Asher until 30 October. Harley Granville Barker's play, although written in 1916, is being premiered here! Jane Asher stars as Dorothy, a real diva of an actress, who visits her lawyer (Richard Cordery) to tell him that she is making her final appearance as her theatre has no money to continue. He has loved her for many years, but she has consistently refused him. While the two actors do their best, the play is just somewhat stilted talk, and not very exciting.

Much better value is Oscar Wilde's Importance. Stephen Unwin's production is performed with style and much wit. The two men play very well together and with the young women. Jane Asher is Lady Bracknell and, although younger and more glamorous than we are used to for the imperious mother of Gwendolyn (Kirsty Besterman), she comes across well and is suitably high-handed in her interview with her potential son-in-law, and rejection of him on discovery that he was found in a handbag.

There are excellent performances from the whole cast. While Jack (Daniel Brocklebank) is small and neat, Algernon (Bruce Mackinnon) is large and a little camp. Gwendolyn, we can see, will turn into her mother and little Cecily is very ambitious and knows what (or whom) she is after. Richard Cordery shows his versatility in the very different performance he gives here as a timid Reverent Chasuble falling for the dowdy governess, Miss Prism (Ishia Bennison, another good performance), far from the staid lawyer he played in Farewell to the Theatre. It is a beautifully written play, acted with enthusiasm and expertise.

One could say the same for the RSC's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (at Stratford-upon-Avon until 5 November). Set in the 1960s, Nancy Meckler's production of this frequently performed Shakespeare comedy is full of invention. At first I was very worried at the sight of what looked like an underground garage as the Athenian court. However the characterisations are good and we are gradually caught up in the drama between the four young lovers and equally with the battle between Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Pippa Nixon) and Theseus, Duke of Athens (Jo Stone-Fewings) and Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the fairies, (acted by the same actors who play Theseus and Hippolyta).

The workmen wear some kind of boiler suit and led by Bottom (Marc Wootton) get all the comedy they can from their scenes together and performing their play of Pyramus and Thisbe before the court at the end. Meckler really works her magic on the lovers. Often played as a bland mix of young love, here we have an awkward, gawky Helena (Lucy Briggs-Owen) and a small fierce Hermia (Matti Houghton). Helena comes across as a sad person as she declares her love for Demetrius (Alex Hassell). He and Lysander (Nathaniel Martello-White) have a wonderful scene together where they rush around the stage, sliding and falling over each other as they square up to a fight over the two girls. There are lots of laughs and a really enjoyable experience - even for those of us who have seen many productions of this play.

It is difficult to get the part of George just right in THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (Arts Theatre until 29 October). The actress has to be careful not to make George too butch or too emphatic. Meera Syal as June Buckeridge, known as George, the part she plays in the radio soap, almost succeeds as she sits on a chair with her legs apart, upbraiding her companion Alice (Elizabeth Cadwallader) for not obeying her quickly enough.

The play, set in the late 1960s, deals with a different era from ours, one when Lesbianism was not shown openly on stage. So Alice is referred to as George's companion. Cadwallader shows how her character holds all the cards at the end. She looks good and puts Alice across well, although I found her voice rather too squeaky. Belinda Lang is strong as Mercy from the BBC who tells George that her character in the soap is to be killed off. She entices Alice to go and live with her with the offer of being free from George's bullying. The three women are shown in the picture above.

"Before I turn 67 - next March - I would like to have sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me" reads the advert that retired 66-year-old Jane Juska puts in a New York literatry magazine when she realises that she has not only not had sex for 30 years, but has not been touched by a man. Her book on her experiences with the 63 men who replied has now been made into a play, A ROUND-HEELED WOMAN (Riverside Studios until 20 November). Written for the stage and directed by Jane Prowse, it stars Sharon Gless (still best known as one half of Cagney & Lacey) as Jane Juska.

Having missed out on sexual experiences, Jane now enjoys dating a number of men, most of whom reject her as "being too needy2 or "too demanding". Her first encounter is pleased to meet a "trollop" of a woman - she has to explain who Trollope is. However, she does come to know her estranged son again and to form a good friendship with a young man who reminds her of her son. She is ably backed by multi-rolled Barry McCarthy, Neil McCaul and Michael Thomson as the men in her life and Jane Bertish,and Betty Cordingly as her friends and other women. The audience certainly enjoyed the play, laughing at the sexual innuendos as well as the outright sexy content. I am still bruised from the elbows of my companion nudging me! While the dialogue is amusing, I found mush of it poignant. Surely it is sad that the 66 year-old woman has had no cuddling for 30 odd years?

Carlie Newman

   
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