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FILM:October 2012

It's the beginning of the major award season and to start the ball rolling and continue the celebrations of the summer in London, we have the 56th BFI London Film Festival, which will run from 10-21 October 2012. BFI's new Head of Exhibition and Festival Director is Clare Stewart, who has brought together a diverse programme of international films and events from both established and upcoming talent over a 12 day celebration of cinema. The Festival will screen a total of 225 fiction and documentary features, including 12 World Premieres, 12 International Premieres and 35 European Premieres. There will also be screenings of 111 live action and animated shorts and a great line-up of directors, cast and crew are expected to take part in career interviews, master classes, and other special events.

This year sees the introduction of several changes to the Festival's format. In addition to the Leicester Square cinemas and the BFI Southbank there will be four additional new venues - Hackney Picturehouse, Renoir, Everyman Screen on the Green and Rich Mix, to join existing London venues the ICA,Curzon Mayfair, Ritzy Brixton and Ciné Lumière. The Festival opens with the European Premiere Gala of Tim Burton's 3D animation FRANKENWEENIE, whilst Mike Newell's visually stunning adaptation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes, will close the Festival. Other Galas include CROSSFIRE HURRICANE, a documentary celebrating 50 years of rock legends, The Rolling Stones; Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, QUARTET, featuring an outstanding British cast including Dame Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon; and Ben Affleck directs and stars in the political thriller ARGO.

This year, for the first time, the BFI are introducing competitive sections including The Best Film Award, Best First Feature,

Films to look out for: Michael Winterbottom's EVERYDAY, Sally Potter's Ginger and Rosa, Deepa Mehta's Midnight's Children, Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths together with UK premieres of Michel Franco's After Lucia and David Ayer's End Of. Others worth seeing: Sally El Hosaini's My Brother the Devil , Scott Graham's Shell, Shola Lynch's Free Angela and All Political Prisoners.

Closing the Awards section is the prize for Best British Newcomer. This year's nominees are:

    1. Rowan Athale - director/screenwriter Wasteland
    2. Sally El Hosaini - director/screenwriter My Brother the Devil
    3. Fady Elsayed - actor My Brother the Devil
    4. Scott Graham - director/screenwriter Shell
    5. Eloise Laurence - actor Broken
    6. Rufus Norris - director Broken
    7. Chloe Pirrie actor Shell
    8. Tom Shkolnik - director/screenwriter The Comedian

While all this looks very interesting, more difficult to follow is the division into "focused categories" which the BFI have decided upon - Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic and Family.

As usual one of the highlights is Treasures, which brings recently restored cinematic treasures from archives around the world to the Festival. This year's Archive Gala is the World Premiere of the restoration of Alfred Hitchcock's THE MANXMAN at the Empire Leicester Square with a live accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Lots more of interest and much excitement around the Masterclasses, Celebrity guests and Interviews. For further details and to book contact: Telephone Bookings: 0207 928 3232 between 09.30 - 20.30. Online: www.bfi.org.uk/lff (no booking or postal fee), In person: BFI Southbank Office: 11.30 - 20.30

It is great to finally have a film dealing with mature adults rather than late teenagers as most of the current popular ones seem to. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star as a couple (pictured below) whose marriage has become tired and unrewarding, especially for Kay (Streep) the woman in the partnership. She doesn't just sit and wait for better times but actively seeks help. SHARON MICHAELS reviews HOPE SPRINGS (cert 12A 1hr. 40mins.):

With nothing much to look forward to after 31 years of marriage, children grown up and now being treated as a comfortable old sofa, Kay, brilliantly played by Meryl Streep decides to take matters into her own hands. With a marriage lacking all intimacy and excitement, Kay has little to lose when she decides to use her savings and seek the help of intensive marriage therapy provided by Dr Feld (Steve Carell).

Not realising that separate bedrooms are no longer acceptable to Kay, Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), reluctant and grumbling, joins Kay on a week of self-discovery and counselling.

Steve Carell plays his character well, especially in his dealings with Arnold who considers him a very expensive charlatan in business only to mend something that is not broken. With persuasion and concern, Dr Feld teases out the problems in this couple's faded marriage, setting out 'homework' to be undertaken by the pair. Dr Feld's practice is widely known in the little town of Great Hope Springs as the parties attempt to follow instructions, though unfortunately for them, also under the eyes of the townsfolk. Carell delivers his part with understanding and sensitivity.

Whilst the story is rather predictable, this film is hugely enjoyable, sympathetic, insightful and funny. The sterling efforts of Carell, together with the glorious acting of Streep, who, once again shows that she is an outstanding film actress, and Lee Jones, who we are more used to seeing in action roles, takes it to a class of its own. Lee Jones shows that he can deliver a character with sensitivity.

This film is accurately described as drama, romance and comedy and one can see why. Seeing that the old sofa needs recovering and being willing to get down to doing it, can lead to all sorts of adventures. Director David Frankel shows how it works out with his talents as a director (and appreciation of upholstery!). Frankel (director of Devil Wears Prada and Marley and Me) deserves great credit for taking on so challenging a subject which is not often talked about.

MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED (cert.PG 1hr. 33 mins.) is on locally during October and would make a good half-term visit for children and their parents or grandparents. MICHELLE MOORE reviews:

We first saw Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo back in 2005 when they became shipwrecked in Madagascar. We have seen them battle through the tough times and meet many new friends along the way. They made their way to Africa in the second installment but it is this third film in the franchise, Europe's Most Wanted, which finally sees them return home to the New York Zoo.

The movie continues on from where the previous left off but quickly spins into a new story all of its own. Their journey this time takes them through Europe with a failing travelling circus while they escape the grasp of the Captain of the Monaco Animal Control. As the story evolves, relationships build, such as that between a tricycle-riding bear named Sonya and Julien the lemur king and the comedy instantly begins and doesn't stop until the credits roll. A focus remains on the values of friendships, not leaving one another behind and sticking together through thick and thin.

This is the first installment of the successful franchise to be in 3D and some fantastic aspects have been created. The landscapes, particularly those in Africa at the start of the movie, are beautiful and set the distances between characters and the trees well. Scenes that feature fireworks, explosions, car chases and people catapulted through the air in 3D make it come alive from the screen. The finest piece of 3D imagery comes as the circus animals put on their show. Between animals flying through the air on a trapeze, others walking the tightrope, dogs on fiery roller-skates and a bear on a bicycle, combined with bright lights and lively neon colours (and Katy Perry's Fireworks) this sequence of events in particular is the movie's finest scene and most breath-taking piece of 3D imagery seen in an animated movie for some time.

One aspect that makes this franchise so successful with each and every new instalment is the reoccurrence of the four main characters and their actors. Ben Stiller remains the main protagonist, Alex the lion, who comes to the conclusion he no longer needs the attention he has gained while at the zoo and makes friends elsewhere. Chris Rock returns as the hilarious Marty, who when dressed in a polka-dot outfit with a multi-coloured wig singing and dancing will make adults as well as children chuckle (and sing along for a while after). The romance between David Schwimmer's character, Melman and Gloria voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith doesn't really blossom, but their film character personalities do entertain well. There is also the Lemur King, penguins, monkeys and some other cuddly creatures to make you giggle. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is an incredibly fast paced movie which will keep viewers entertained no matter their age.

Am I good a Socialist? How would I act if my sense of what is right conflicts with the needs of my family? Would I help a young criminal? All these questions and more confront Michel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his wife, Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride) in THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO (cert.15 1hr. 47mins.).

The couple (pictured left) have always stuck to their socialist principles and worked together to build a life founded on truth and justice for all. Michel is a Union representative who has been made redundant when he opted to take an equal part in a lottery to decide who leaves. When the couple, along with Marie-Claire's sister and husband, are robbed, Michel is faced with a dilemma once he discovers the youngster who committed the crime. Director and joint writer, Robert Guediguian, examines a man sticking to old fashioned socialist ideals and questions his motives and the way he acts.

The couple have a loving marriage and support each other in their quest for an honest life. The audience can also see the other side when their adult children question their convictions and accuse them of preferring others to their own grandkids. Well worth seeing, this French film is intelligent and acted with much charm by the two main characters.

Has director Joe Wright made his film of ANNA KARENINA (cert.12A 2hrs. 10mins.) in an exaggerated theatrical style in order to be different? Does this stylised version of Tolstoy's novel add to the story? Does it work for its audience? The simple answers are that Wright seems to have wanted to make a film that differed from the usual straight-forward presentation of other films and TV series of Anna Karenina and he has certainly succeeded in this. As for adding to the tale, well, not really and the choreographed movements (for example of the clerks at work who stamp their papers in unison) distracts somewhat from the dramatic events. And you will have to judge for yourself whether it works for an audience.

The script by Tom Stoppard is intelligent and individual scenes are often moving and played with full dramatic effect. But too often the introduction of the scene-setting real stage from which the action is supposed to emanate distracts from the involvement of our emotions. Jude Law is particularly good in a strong, unshowy performance as the almost emotionless Karenin. The less important roles are also played well and Matthew Mcfadyen as Anna's amorous brother caught in an affair by his wife and Domhnall Gleeson as the thwarted-in-love Levin are impressive. Keira Knightly, who has to carry the main role, manages to show not only a woman desperately in love with the handsome Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) but also the cruelty in her character. The artificiality of the filming does get in the way but when not there the rest comes across as well-written and well-performed.

     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

BAGGAGE (Arts Theatre until 6 October) is a play in desperate need of editing, writes SHARON MICHAELS. The premise is okay - the perils of internet dating and the structuring has a Neil LaBute tinge. But the execution is too slow, the play too long and the numerous scenes too short - the latter a curse on those who see most of their drama on television or in film.

Unfortunately the scene changes are rather cumbersome and the result is a play that drags along, its plot strung out and populated by characters who are either a cliché or too unexceptional for the stage. These are problems that could be ironed out by an experienced producer or an unfettered director. But writers John Muirhead and Mike Charlesworth produced this themselves - never a good sign on a first effort.

Richard Mylan (Adam) and Nicola Stapleton (Sandy) in Baggage at the Arts Theatre, London

Considering this is a first effort the cast is impressive. Suzanne Shaw, as vampy fashion industry something Geraldine, lessens the blow of the production with her understanding of comic timing. She really is a versatile actress.

Nicola Stapleton and Richard Mylan have a harder task as internet-crossed lovers Sandy and Adam. Their characters, while pleasant and quite 'real' in their dialogue and interaction - something for which the writers deserve praise - are underwritten. 'Normal' doesn't play on stage. Even the everyman character has to be written bigger just to avoid being swamped by the space. The actors fill their roles, but those roles aren't big enough to fill the stage.

For Charlie De'Ath the opposite problem - his boorish womaniser is cliched and outdated, a relic of Men Behaving Badly or the Loaded generation. It's a pity, as his character could go on an interesting emotional journey, but De'Ath is relegated to spouting quick one-liners more suited to a 1990s Channel Four comedy.

Baggage could be a decent touring production, with cuts. As it stands, there's just too much baggage.

GEORGE SAVVIDES reviews: AN INCIDENT AT THE BORDER (Trafalgar Studios until 15 September):

Kieran Lynn's likable comedy was first seen at the Finborough Theatre in Earl's Court before transferring to this equally small but attractive studio. The action takes place in a park by a lake and Sophia Simensky's pleasing design makes great use of the space. There is grass surrounded by water and a bench in front of a bush.

A couple are here for a romantic day out, Arthur (Tom Bennet) is feeding the ducks while his attractive girlfriend Olivia (Florence Hall) is sitting on the bench reading the paper. She reads aloud to an indifferent Arthur that their country has turned into a new Republic and almost miraculously a border guard (Marc Pickering) suddenly appears from behind the bush and promptly divides the space with a tape announcing that this is the new border. The couple find themselves on different sides and Reiver, the guard is determined to keep Arthur away from his girlfriend- "He is prohibited to cross the country without permission" he adamantly claims. Olivia is obviously flabbergasted and tries to convince him otherwise and insists that her boyfriend "is the opposite of dangerous".

It is a silly but fun premise in the style of Eastern European absurdist drama where reality spirals out of control and becomes a living nightmare. Lynn has a good ear for dialogue and has created fully fleshed characters but can't hide the fact that his one idea play feels more like an over extended sketch. All three actors deliver committed performances but are in desperate need of a subplot. Bennet is excellent as the good natured and always smiling Arthur who keeps on telling them that "I wish I was a duck" rather than face the reality of the situation. Pickering is suitably eccentric as the bureaucratic guard who blindly obeys orders without a second thought while Hall is very effective in the more difficult part of Olivia, the only person on stage desperate to keep a sense of reality amongst the absurd circumstances. Overall it is an enjoyable production and director Bruce Guthrie keeps the bizarre state of affairs flowing till the very end.

Tamsin Greig stars as Hilary, a woman approaching 50 who faces many problems in JUMPY (Duke of York's (until 3 November). She has an unexciting marriage to Mark (Ewan Stewart) and a very difficult teenage daughter, Tilly (Bel Powley). Facing the prospect of losing her job because of Government cuts, she walks into her home and goes straight to the bottle for a couple of glasses of wine each day.

One should not dismiss her troubles as just menopausal as the issues she faces are very real and not just due to hormones. Agreed she is dealing with a mid-life crisis but the reasons for her melt-down are concrete. April De Angelis's comedy has many lines that are extremely amusing and there is much laughter in the theatre, particularly from parents who are having or have gone through a 15 year-old's "You're ruining my life," phase.

Hilary, who was once an active feminist with participation at the Greenham Common rallies, now questions modern feminism, "What happened to it? What is left?" Although the writer does not dwell on sexual politics and feminism, we are shown other aspects of Hilary's life. In particular, her run-ins with her daughter who has to deal with her own problems around her personal sexuality, as well as trying to keep up a front with her mother. Hilary and her friend Frances (Doon Mackichan), a woman working desperately hard to remain sexually active, discuss the loss of Hilary's attractiveness as her daughter develops both physically and emotionally. Doon Mackichan gives a bravado comic turn when, as Frances, she executes a burlesque dance in provocative clothes.

The play is well-written and there are good parts for all the characters, even the more minor ones such as Tilly's friend (Seline Hizli), who becomes a teenage mother and Tilly's boyfriends, young Josh (James Musgrave) and Cam (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), who is attracted to the older woman, Hilary. Simple sets depict Hilary's living-room and bedroom and later scenes, which are all quite brief, beside the sea. I would have liked to hear more political (small 'p') discussion, but this play is a must see for Greig's versatile portrayal of a woman on the verge of losing her self-esteem, her marriage and her daughter's respect. In a flash she brings laughter to our lips followed swiftly by feelings of sympathy and some sadness at her predicament.

There are two shows currently on at the Trafalgar Studios, (Box office: 0844 871 7632) both running for under two hours. GEORGE SAVVIDES reviews CELEBRITY NIGHT AT THE CAFE RED (until 6 October):

Lily Bevan's likable but uneven comedy takes place on a Saturday Night at the new Milton Keynes Cafe Red. This French chain restaurant is fully booked. We only see three tables on the small stage, but these beautifully fill Giuseppe and Emma Belli's attractive set. The clientele is eager to taste the adventurous cuisine of Celebrity Chef Roly Ryan (Mike Wozniak) who is visiting this branch for one night only as part of a competition with other Cafe Reds - "the cooking Olympics" Roly boasts.

Ben (James Rastall) is on a date with the French Sabine (Sarah Lambie), who hardly speaks any English while the quietly shy Harry (Leo Staar) is celebrating his sixth month anniversary with the more extrovert and forthcoming Hillary (Lily Bevan). It is also Lizzie's (Lorna Beckett) birthday who arrives with her best friends Lucy (Jeany Spark) and Brianca (Victoria Lloyd). Brianca is very happy to be there and is eager to lay eyes on Roly with whom she had a one night stand the week before...

Writer Lily Bevan not only plays Hillary but also directs. She inspires her actors to have fun - perhaps more than the audience - but unfortunately her direction lacks focus especially when the action shifts from one table to another. Luckily there is the strong presence of Fred Machin and Alyi Metcalf as the Maitre D' and waitress, who provide brief but fun entertainment with their mime and singing interludes between the scenes. But that is not enough to raise this production above mediocrity!


Running concurrently is ZELDA (until 4 October), directed by Robert E. Goss, which features Kelly Burke, as the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. In a solo performance lasting 70 minutes, Burke presents a lively, constantly mood-changing presentation of the Alabama heiress who won the heart of the great American writer. She talks directly to the audience which sits on three sides of the small stage area of Trafalgar Studios 2.

Burke has written the show herself with quotes from Zelda Fitzgerald's writings. We find out that Zelda is in a psychiatric hospital against her will and that she has been diagnosed a schizophrenic.

Zelda looks back to her first meeting with Scott, their courtship and marriage and remembers other incidents from her past. She is keen to write but the authorities try to stop her especially when Scott finds out that she is writing a novel about the couple's time spent at the French Riviera. Scott is in the process of writing Tender is the Night drawing on the same material and Zelda quotes from her novel, Save Me the Waltz (eventually published in an unedited form) and Scott's. Zelda frequently refers to herself as 'she' and the couple as 'they.' She recalls drawing pictures of Gatsby for 9 hours to assist her husband, and tells us of her affairs.

One of the best parts is seeing Burke show us Zelda's sudden passion for ballet at the age of 27 and her training to achieve success. We see her descend into a manic state. Burke performs with energy and we are able to appreciate the creativity that has gone into preparing the material and presenting it in an artistic and mesmerising fashion.

Another great writer - this time Irish - is shown in two life-changing episodes from his life. After virtually walking through his part in the new film, Hysteria, Rupert Everett is superb as Oscar Wilde in THE JUDAS KISS (Hampstead Theatre until 13 October), a revival of the 1998 play written by David Hare and now directed by Neil Armfield. He is neither camp nor over-flamboyant but is genuinely moving in the two episodes of Wilde's life depicted on stage.

Freddie Fox and Rupert Everett in The Judas Kiss at Hampstead theatre, London.

In the first act we see Oscar Wilde, following the failure of his libel suit against the Marquess of Queensberry, coming to the Cadogan hotel in 1895. He refuses to leave and go into exile to save himself from a prison sentence. We watch as Everett as the middle-aged Wilde takes his time in ordering and eating a luxurious meal. In his inter-action with his young lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie, (Freddie Fox) Wilde treats his peculiar views as equally important to those of his long-term friend, Robbie Ross (Cal MacAninch), who desperately wants Wilde to leave quickly and travel to safety in France. Oscar, "I've always had a low opinion of action," stays in England.

In the second act, a broken Wilde, having served his two years in prison, is back with Bosie who has invited Oscar to join him in Naples. Bosie has no money to support the now broke Wilde but tries to carry on a gay life-style. Some of the audience seemed very excited at the sight of the handsome naked fisherman (Tom Colley), who is most at ease sitting and talking to Oscar. It is only now that Wilde is able to comprehend the true nature of his boy love - his complete selfishness and self-absorption. Staying with Bosie loses Oscar the support of his wife. Everett's Wilde looks older and ill now.

Alongside Everett, Fox's Bosie proves a good-looking, somewhat hysterical partner who is used to having what he wants when he wants it. He is a little too screechy at times. The small parts are all played as real people not just caricatures and the set design manages to depict the two different settings admirably: the large double bed in Act I replaced by a single bed in Act 2. In order to have his mother's money, Bosie leaves Oscar alone.

The play is more than worthy of a West End transfer.

HEDDA GABLER is now playing at the Old Vic (until 10 November),

It is difficult to achieve the right balance between showing Hedda as a woman restricted to a narrow life and trying to expand her horizons and the wickedness she displays particularly in her dealings with Thea. Sheridan Smith manages to portray the complete woman. The variety of her little smiles to her husband as he waxes lyrical about his boring research, to the aunt when she deliberately mistakes her new hat for one belonging to the maid are a lesson in subtle acting.

Sheridan Smith and Daniel Lapaine in Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic

Hedda finds it hard to welcome Thea Elvsted (Fenella Woolgar), who she tormented at school, as a visitor to her new home and deliberately sets out to encourage Eilert Loevborg (Daniel Lapaine) to misbehave socially and eventually lead him to suicide. Director Anna Mackmin has directed her cast well and the design of the stage showing a house in 1890 looks fine. The only trouble is that the constant opening and closing of the doors from the living room through to the inner room and the doors at either side to other rooms becomes a nuisance.

Woolgar shows her secret love for Eilert in a sensitive performance, while Daniel D'Silva as Judge Brack is villainous without being too obviously so. I enjoyed the subtlety of Adrian Scarborough's George Tesman; he is able to show his great love for his wife alongside his complete ignorance of her and any understanding of her true character. As usual Anne Reid gives a good little performance in her characterisation of George's Aunt Juliana. Smith stands beautifully upright and her Hedda encourages Eilert to die "beautifully". When he doesn't perform to her satisfaction, she feels compelled to act. The ending is a bit more dramatic than usual and we actually see the blood.

While there are some peculiarities in Brian Friel's translation, such as an extra speech by Tesman about his wonderful slippers, the production is well performed and Sheridan Smith is amazingly good.

Also worth seeing: BULLY BOY (St James Theatre until 27 October), in which Anthony Andrews stars as Oscar the Officer in charge of the investigation and Joshua Miles as Eddie, a member of the Bully Boys gang. Eddie has been deemed responsible for the death of a young Arab boy. The actors, in a number of short scenes, show a variety of emotions alone and involving each other. The play, well-written by Sandi Toksvig, is directed by Patrick Sandford in a dramatic fashion so that the quiet, contemplative scenes are followed by those full of action, and the 90 minutes running time speeds by. The two actors respond well to each other and the play has a certain vitality although little jollity.

The new St James Theatre should be proud of its first show. It is good, too, to have a bar with bar food in addition to a restaurant, on the premises. The whole place is accessible by lift although the steps inside the main auditorium are steep.

Another short show can be seen at the Print Room Theatre, London. THOM PAIN (Based on Nothing) By Will Eno (until 13 October). Lasting just 60 minutes, Will Eno's play is directed by Simon Evans with John Light as Thom Pain. Thom talks directly to the audience about his life - childhood through to adulthood. It often seems as though Thom is improvising as he goes along, but, in fact, it is all carefully scripted and there is even a copy of the play on sale at the theatre. There is a little incident about 10 minutes into the show, when a man in the middle of the second row rises from his seat and leaves quietly and Thom comments on this - all in the script!

He tells little anecdotes, deviating in the middle of a story and throwing in non-sequitors, "I have a shirt like that" to a member of the audience. The monologue is well-written and performed on a simply set stage area. Most of it is amusing but there are also dramatic events described in detail. The actor's stand-up comedian routine is amusing, "I strike people as a person who just left," but he is not as good as other "real" stand-up performers. As usual the lovely little Print Room uses its stage space imaginatively.

WHAT YOU WILL (Apollo Theatre, London until 6 October) is another short show (90 minutes), although this time on a West End stage. Roger Rees presents excerpts from Shakespeare in a very friendly manner. He tells amusing or dramatic old theatrical anecdotes and stories about past actors, including David Garrick and Ralph Richardson who performed Shakespeare.

On a stage littered with props (he actually only uses a dagger) he shows us a living Shakespeare, commenting on his own life and his rise from the ranks of the RSC, alongside Ben Kingsley, to starring status - I remember him best as a magnetic Nicholas Nickleby in the excellent production of the same name. Rees throws in comments from other actors and reads out very funny schoolboy howlers, "Shakespeare wrote in Islamic pentameters." This is an enjoyable, easy to follow production.

     

Carlie Newman

   
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