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FILM: October 2008

In the school of farts and funnies TROPIC THUNDER (cert. 15 1hr. 47mins.) meets its objective: a spoof of Hollywood, its stars with massive egos and the making of a big action film. Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. play three stars, who are all famous in their own right, who come together to star in a war film being made with an English Director (Steve Coogan) about an action hero in Vietnam.

Tugg Speedman (Stiller) is an action hero who is past his prime, and following a somewhat misjudged movie about a mentally impaired farm hand, is relying on this movie to win him an Oscar. Jeff Portnoy (Black) is the star of a comedy series where a whole family of fatties have flatulence problems- in the Eddie Murphy mode. He wants to show the world that there is more to him. Australian actor Kirk Lazarus (Downey) has won five Oscars and is using an extreme sort of method acting to achieve a special character for this movie.

Tropic Thunder

He has his skin dyed to portray a black man. Alongside these three is Alpha Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) a black singer who wants to be an actor and Kevin Sandinsky (Jay Baruchel) who is new to films. The director of the movie being made which is called "Tropic Thunder" has such trouble with his cast that he falls way behind schedule and the studio head threatens to shut the film down. The director refuses and decides to make the unsuspecting actors take part in a real war. There are many funny moments as the actors think they are taking part in a movie with other actors but really they are being hunted and, at one point, taken captive by drug bandits. Jeff gets high on drugs while Tugg displays his muscles as the brave all-action hero. And you will see Tom Cruise as you have never seen him before!

Stiller directs with a good comedic feel to the scenes and while the humour is robust it does not have a real satirical edge. Still, in these times of financial anxiety it is a true escapist film and can be enjoyed by all.

While TROPIC THUNDER is on at local cinemas THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS (cert.12A 1hr.34mins.) will need to be searched for as it is a foreign language film. When Bruno, the 8-year-old son of an important Nazi officer in 1940s Germany, has to accompany his family from Berlin to a new area he makes friends with a boy living on the nearby "farm." Schmuel, however, is Jewish, hungry and stuck behind barbed wire wearing striped pyjamas. The two become close and talk and play games across the fence. They decide to dig a hole so one of them can get to the other side. This story of the holocaust, told in a new way using the lives of children, could have been mawkish or had a romantic outcome. That this is moving and dramatic until the end is due not only to John Boyne's novel that the film is based on but also the director and writer of the screenplay, Mark Harmon, who has crafted a poignant tale with a good cast who have done their home work and are able to show real people rather than caricatures.

The BFI London Film Festival runs 15-30 October 2008 and there are as usual many good films and events on offer. Many of these are free so it is worth getting hold of the programme to see what you fancy. Cinemas involved are not just in the West End but include Greenwich, Brixton, Kilburn etc. Free screenings of High Treason and London Loves in Trafalgar Square at 6.30pm on 23 and 24 October should be interesting. A special education event for Seniors is being held on 21 Oct: Of Time and the City is the new film by Terence Davies. The film is a personal journey through the Liverpool of the past and present and comes with high recommendations. The film starts at 4.15pm and is followed by a Q&A with the director. Phone 020 7815 1332 for (limited number) free tickets.

As I write this there is news of the death of Paul Newman at the age of 83 - a worthy man who was not just a great actor but also an activist who undertook charity work as well.



The last of this summer's productions at the Globe theatre, LIBERTY by Glynn Maxwell, based on Anatole France's novel, Les Dieux Ont Soif, is a somewhat violent depiction about a young artist called Evariste Gamelin who becomes a Magistrate in a Tribunal in Revolutionary France in 1793-4, although during the Reign of Terror the months had names such as "Month of Meadows, Year1." Gamelin changes from being an idealist believing that the war is for freedom and equality to a person with power who appears to enjoy sending many who disagree with the State to their bloody deaths - our Magistrates wouldn't last long if they behaved in this manner!

With suitable revolutionary songs and music the play proceeds with numerous short scenes showing Gamelin's relationship with his fellow Justices and also with his best friend and the girl he professes to love.

Both Hampstead Theatre and the Tricycle have short runs so you may miss their current productions or hope they are extended or return at a future date. TWELFTH NIGHT (Tricycle) is particularly worth seeing. It is very different from any other recent presentation. Short with lots of music of all kinds, it uses Shakespeare's words but - as Eric Morecambe might have said - not necessarily in the right order.or even from the right play! An excellent, lively show directed by Sean Holmes for the company known as Filter. Brecht's TURANDOT comes across as a kind of intellectual pantomime in the Hampstead version directed by Anthony Clark. Brecht is making statements about corruption, the bourgeoisie and the rise of National Socialism but a lot is lost in the general comic behaviour of the chacters on stage.

And finally.there is a light, amusing new musical at the tiny Warehouse theatre in Croydon (right by East Croydon station). MISS SIGN-ON has some good songs, funny little bits of dancing and some in your face performances by Marnie Boumer as the Diva who is forced to sign on at the DSS job centre (there is a good scene when the interviewer asks a man what "gender" he is as she works her way down the list of compulsory questions) when she is unemployed and all the other actors who not only play several roles each but also supply the music. Elizabeth Park has managed to direct the cast in a series of scenes with minimum scenery and props but maximum impact. There is a serious undertone as the Diva keeps insisting that she is 26 although many of the characters try to remind her that she has been that age for many years. It is obvious that she is not getting the parts for which she auditions because of her age. This Diva on the dole play is a little gem and I am looking forward to the time when the Warehouse gets its brand new theatre as part of the local development scheme.

There is a most inventive production of SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR (Gielgud) directed by Rupert Goold. In an updated version of Pirandello's play the director along with Ben Power has constructed a story set in today's world involving a TV drama-documentary producer who is confronted by the Father, Mother, Stepdaughter and two young children who demand that she finishes their story.

Six Characters in Search of an Author, Gielgud, London

The acting is full bloodied and Denise Gough is particularly strong as the Stepdaughter who is the unwitting recipient of the Father (played with an air of suitable menace by Ian McDiarmid)'s almost incestuous behaviour. There is a good, flexible set with a huge tank of water that hosts one of the play's tragedies.

I liked the production of IVANOV (Wyndham's) and Tom Stoppard's translation of Chekov brings clarity to the story. The trouble is I am not madly keen on this play. The hero, Ivanov (Kenneth Branagh) is not a very likeable bloke. This is the first in the Donmar season at this theatre and Michael Grandage - the Donmar's artistic director and also director of Ivanov - has attracted good actors in what looks like an exciting group of plays. He brings out the humour in this play about a man heavily in debt, no longer in love with his wife who gave up her Jewish family to marry him and is now dying while he is courting the young daughter of his friends. The director has a light touch and the amusing scene of the group of four all crying at the wedding of Ivanov and his new bride uses his actors and the mood of the play particularly well. Gina McKee as Ivanov's Jewish wife and Tom Hiddleston as her protective doctor and Branagh as the depressive Ivanov always questioning his actions are absolutely right in their portrayals. Ivanov soliloquizes and compares himself to Hamlet.

Which brings me on to the wonderful HAMLET that I saw at Stratford upon Avon where it continues until 15 November and then opens at the Novello in London at the beginning of December. For most people the big draw is Dr Who or David Tennant as the Prince. I am not a fan of the TV series but, having seen the terrifically energetic, thoughtful and sensitive portrait of the Dane I now consider Tennant an actor to be reckoned with. Actually I am certain that much of the praise should go to Gregory Doran, who directs as though this play has never been performed before; he brings lightness, humour and variety to the play and the younger folk in the audience certainly responded favourably. Not knowing the story the interval break came just after Hamlet has raised his dagger to kill the King, leaving a number believing that he would kill Claudius at this point.

Using a mirrored background - somewhat like Branagh's filmed Hamlet - Doran creates a variety of settings and develops all the characters who circle the Prince, including a vulnerable Ophelia played by Mariah Gale and the sympathetic Gertrude of Penny Downie and, of course, Patrick Stewart puts in another weighty performance as the Ghost of the dead King and Claudius. The surprise is Oliver Ford Davies as the garrulous, somewhat tedious Polonius, who is a delight to listen to here. Doran inserts a number of modern touches like Ophelia pulling two condoms out of her brother's travelling case. For once I accepted the modern dress in this inventive production, and I won't forget Tennant's cry of "Whee" as he is pushed out in a chair after he has killed Polonius.


Carlie Newman

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