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FILM:October 2014

The WIZARD OF OZ (cert. PG 1hr. 43 mins.) is a gorgeous film which first came out in 1939 and has been shown periodically in the cinema and on television since then. We love the film for its story, the characters, the colour and above all the acting of the leading parts and the wonderful voice of young Judy Garland. How then can it be bettered or, indeed, can it be improved? The answer surprisingly is yes in the new version on 3D on the Imax screen.

The story remains the same: orphan Dorothy (Judy Garland) who lives in Texas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry along with her dog Toto has a pleasant life except for a neighbour who objects to her dog and wants him put down. She is caught up in a tornado and knocked unconscious. Dorothy awakes to find the house spinning in the tornado and then she is put down in the Land of Oz.

It's Munchkinland and the film changes from black and white to technicolour. Glinda (Billie Burke) greets Dorothy and explains that she is the Good Witch of the North and she and the Munchkins (little people) are pleased because the house has landed on and killed the Wicked Witch of the East. Her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), tries to claim the magic ruby slippers worn by her dead sister but Glinda gives them to Dorothy. Dorothy just wants to get back home and Glinda tells her to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, where the Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) might be able to help her.

On the way Dorothy meets the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) who wants a brain, the Tin Man (Jack Haley) who desires a heart and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) who needs courage. They join her and thwart the witch's attempts to stop them getting to the Emerald City. The film has some exciting moments as well as some comic ones and can be enjoyed by all - except for the under 5s for whom it might be a little too scary - as it has been for many years,

Judy Garland has a lovely light voice and puts across the yearning as well as innocence of the young girl in the song, "Somewhere over the Rainbow." Her three companions are played beautifully by Bolger, Lahr and Haley and Hamilton's witch is suitably gruesome. Director Victor Fleming captures the heart of the story and has made a great film.

The original colour is still there and it remains a magical moment when Dorothy finds herself in the Land Of Oz and all is colour. The colour is now enhanced and the depth of the scenery is brought out by the use of 3D. The Imax screen gives the whole movie a sense that one is actually partaking of the magic alongside Dorothy.

Gay activists helping to raise money for the miners during the strike in 1984 seems an unlikely subject for a hit British film. But that is what is happening with PRIDE (cert. 15 2 hrs.), a political film which should appeal to a wide public in the same way that Brassed Off and Billy Elliot did. During a Gay Pride march in 1984 a group decide to support the striking miners because they share the same feelings as the miners of being outcast and want to show solidarity. They pick a small mining village in Wales and turn up to the amazement of the locals and disgust of some of the macho men.

Based on a true story we see the very obvious clash of cultures between the group of London gay activists who call themselves "Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners" and the traditionally inclined mining community. The story is built around Joe (George MacKay), from Bromley, who is so afraid of his family's reaction to his being gay that he has not told them and, as he becomes more involved with the gay activists, pretends he is attending a catering course. He is looked after by the charismatic Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) who is the leader of this little group.

Accompanied by the theatrical Jonathon (Dominic West) they get to know the Welsh miners and their wives. While some of the wives - including the magnificent Imelda Staunton as Hefina and Jessica Gunning as Sian - welcome them warmly others remain aloof along with their homophobic menfolk. How they gradually gel is very moving but there are also comic touches. Bill Nighy shows that he is a really good actor not just a guffaw and the other parts are played equally well.

As soon as the film started with We shall overcome my eyes filled with tears and I remained pretty tearful throughout, though frequently in a contented way as the miners and gay activists establish common ground. I believe this film is for all not just those who remember the strike or want to celebrate equality. If you enjoyed The Full Monty you will, I hope, like this film. It's a tremendous movie - go see!

These days one always worries when another Woody Allen film comes out because we fear that his talent may be ebbing away. But with his latest MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (cert.12A 1hr. 28 mins.) we can forget our worries. This is a most pleasant film - no loud bangs or heart-in-the-mouth chases with writer and director Woody Allen. Instead we have the story, set in the 1920s, of an arrogant magician, Stanley (Colin Firth) who, dressed as a Chinese conjuror, performs amazing tricks including making people and things disappear.

When his old friend, Howard (Simon McBurney) asks him to expose a fake medium who, he says, is about to fleece his friends the Catledge family, Stanley leaves his fiancée in London and hotfoots it to the Riviera. Here he meets the lovely Sophie (Emma Stone) and sets about exposing her as a fake psychic medium. He also meets Sophie's mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and the Catledge family - mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), son Brice (Hamish Linklater), and daughter Caroline (Erica Leerhsen).

Emma Stone& Colin Firth in Magic in the Moonlight

Brice has fallen for Sophie and wants to marry her and support her work. She is very attracted to the young very rich son of the house and has Grace, who really believes she is making contact with her beloved dead husband, eating out of her hand and prepared to back Sophie's work financially. Stanley tells his aunt (Eileen Atkins) who lives nearby that it is impossible to find any flaws in Sophie who knows everything about everyone present. Stanley even begins to question his own beliefs. He wonders whether Sophie is indeed genuine and whether there is an actual God.

Woody Allen has the knack of acquiring top actors and in Colin Firth he has found one of the best exponents of his witty dialogue. Firth is able portray the egocentric magician and is fine at putting across his belief in his own superiority and absolute conviction that he can not only spot a fraud but is always able to expose such person. He is not so good at eating humble pie or giving a realistic portrait of this character's romantic side.

Allen continues his habit of putting older male actors with young beautiful women and while Emma Stone is not the prettiest of Allen's leading ladies, she is certainly attractive and definitely young and a good few years Firth's junior (Firth is actually 54 and Stone 26). She is rather cute as the medium and puts across her act with conviction.

The rest of the cast are also good and with lovely scenery and a smart story we can forgive the featherweight production and just enjoy the amusing romp.

Also recommended: A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (cert. 15 1 hr. 55 mins.), which stars Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder. Matt used to be a New York cop but now works as an unlicensed private detective. He reluctantly agrees to help Kenny (Dan Stevens) track down the murderers of Kenny's wife. Matt is not keen on the job as Kenny and his associates are drug dealers. The film is very much Neeson's show piece and if you like this actor you will enjoy this movie. I do and I did.

THE RIOT CLUB (cert.15 1 hr. 29 mins.), directed by Lone Scherfig, is a thinly disguised version of the Bullingdon Club in Oxford (of which Conservative trio David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson were all members). Based on Laura Wades' hit play POSH, it shows the exclusive Oxford University drinking club in action. They are basically a group of spoilt brats from Public Schools who do some awful things to the dining-room of the pub where they hold their dinner and to the landlord himself. Starring most competent actors, the 10 members include the actors Freddie Fox, Max Irons, Sam Reid and Sam Claflin. Holliday Grainger plays the state school girlfriend of Miles (Max Irons).

Very well acted, although the actors are much older than any real life group of young undergraduates would be, the story is horrific in its depiction of upper class louts in action after a heavy drinking session.

Once again it is time for the BFI London Film Festival. It runs from 8-19 October 2014 in venues across London and also for audiences across the UK, who can enjoy the Festival via simultaneous screenings in their local cinemas.

The 58th BFI London Film Festival opens with the European Premiere of The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, about Alan Turing, one of the world's greatest innovators and pioneer of modern-day computing, who is credited with cracking the German Enigma code. The European Premiere of Fury will close the Festival. This Second World War epic stars Brad Pitt as a battle-hardened army sergeant who commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines.

I am looking forward to seeing Bennett Miller's Fox the unlikely and ultimately tragic relationship between an eccentric multimillionaire and two champion wrestlers, starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo and the European Premiere of biopic-drama Wild starring Reese Witherspoon, adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby from Cheryl Strayed's extraordinary account of her 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trails.

Other exciting sounding films are the Testament of Youth based on Vera Brittain's memoir of World War 1 and Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner starring Timothy Spall as the great British artist J.M.W Turner. The Archive Gala is the World Premiere of the BFI National Archive restoration of The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands. Both Opening and Closing events will have a cinecast from the red carpet and simultaneous screenings taking place at cinemas across the UK.

The Imperial War Museum has restored and completed German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (1945/2014), following the original filmmakers' directions and drawing on seventeen hours of footage documenting the horrors discovered following the liberation of the concentration camps in 1944 and '45.

The Best Film Award will again be handed out in Official Competition; the Sutherland Award in the First Feature Competition and the Grierson Award in Documentary Competition. Each section is open to international and British films.

A star studied line-up of directors, cast and crew will take part in career interviews, master classes, Q&As and other special events. There are many famous film folk attending the Festival's gala screenings including: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Alex Lawther, Charles Dance, Rory Kinnear, Mark Strong, Matthew Beard, David Ayer, Brad Pitt, Bennett Miller, Steve Carrel, Sienna Miller, Damien Chazelle, J.K Simmons, Jason Reitman, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever, Reese Witherspoon, Nick Hornby, Cheryl Strayed, James Kent, Kit Harrington, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Colin Morgan, Mike Leigh, Jon Stewart, Maziar Bahari, Alan Rickman, Damian Szifron, Kristian Levring, Jacob Cheung, Nick Fenton, Peter Strickland, Björk, Tomm Moore, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan and David Rawle.

Details and booking from bfi.org.uk/lff. 020 7928 3232

     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

I was surprised to find myself at a play about miners on the very day that I saw Pride (see above). However, LAND OF OUR FATHERS (Trafalgar Studios, London booking until 12 October Box office 0844 871 7632) is very different. It's a serious play about six miners trapped by an explosion in a mine in South Wales. The characters are well differentiated with the young Mostyn (Joshua Price) passing his early days working in a mine and now finding himself in the midst of a disaster. He chats to Bomber (Clive Merrison) a real old-timer who has seen and done it all before, but is now suffering from ill health which is made worse because he hasn't got enough pills with him. The other miners gradually join these two - there's the leader Chopper (Patrick Brennan) who hides a secret concerning Mostyn, Hovis, a Polish war veteran (Robert East), Curly (Lyle Rees) who is worried about his younger brother Chewy (Taylor Jay-Davis) who intends to leave Wales and go to art school in London. Mostyn is given the nickname Julie after Julie Andrews and his expressed love of musicals.

They talk about sex and the outside world - it is 1979 and Margaret Thatcher is about to become Prime Minister. Mainly they talk about food and their lack of it as the days stretch out and they are desperately worried about being rescued. At one point they sing together. But there are also disputes about the best way to go about saving themselves and, inevitably, whether Chopper is the right person to lead them.

The play, written by Chris Urch and ably directed by Paul Robinson, is set in a black underground hole - the small Trafalgar Studio 2 is aptly suited to this - with a black coal floor and black walls. The story does not always ring true in the second act but it is so powerfully written, acted and directed that the audience remains completely spellbound right until the end.


Taylor Jay-Davies and Patrick Brennan in Land of Our Fathers

In Philip Breen's well-staged revival of the very well written 1980 play TRUE WEST (Tricycle Theatre, London booking until 4 October Box office 020-7328 1000) by Sam Shepherd, we observe the inter-play between two brothers and the devastating consequences of their reunion.

Screenwriter Austin (Eugene O'Hare) is looking after his mother's home in California while she is on holiday in Alaska. He is busy putting the finishing touches to an outline of a story for a movie when he is disturbed by the arrival of his brother Lee (Alex Ferns), who he has not seen for five years. The dishevelled Lee, who is a petty thief, has been living out in the Mojave desert and seems determined to interrupt his brother's work. Finally Austin lends him his car to get him away from the house. But Lee doesn't stay out long enough and interrupts Austin's meeting with the wealthy producer, Saul (Steven Elliot) of his new film. Lee manages to sell the Hollywood producer his 'true' story about the west only with the proviso that it is instead of Austin's story and that Austin writes it.

The result is some pretty violent brotherly confrontation and the acquisition of many toasters which are then scattered around the floor and over every surface. In a drunken wild scene the brothers commence trashing their mother's home.

The two actors portray the rival brothers to perfection. Fearns is particularly good at inhabiting the wild outlaw while O'Hare shows us how close the civilised soul is to changing quickly to almost animal-like behaviour. The actors work really well together and the play is enhanced by the sound effects - particularly the coyotes howling just outside. This is a real black comedy which deals with more than just sibling rivalry: we observe the American dream being destroyed and can ponder on the true interpretation of culture.

There is a very different theatrical experience to be had at Michael Flatley's new show LORD OF THE DANCE: DANGEROUS GAMES (London Palladium until 26 October then touring. Box Office 0844 412 4655). Said to be Flatley's last stage appearance, he only comes on at the end of the show. When he does we see that his magnetic stage presence remains even though his legs don't go quite as high as they once did.

There is a story in the dance show - it's about good versus evil with various dancers depicting characters belonging to one or other group. But one doesn't go for the story or even the singing - although Nadine Coyle, from Girls Aloud, has a good strong voice and puts across the songs dramatically. They are however rather dull songs and don't add much to the show.

The dancing, however, is just wonderful. There are three leading men who attempt to make up for the absence of Flatley himself and they are, indeed, of a very high standard and look good too! James Keegan, Matt Smith and Morgan Comer excel as the new Lords of the Dance. The dancers are able to mix traditional Irish dancing with a more show business version along with tap dancing and even some ballet.

Helped by great costumes, impressive back projections and a holograph of Flatley dancing, the performance is a true West End experience and even for those not over keen on dancing, there is always excitement and just rip-roaring movement making for a most enjoyable night out.

The Park Theatre continues to put on innovative plays. The latest is the World premierof Anna Jordan's CHICKEN SHOP (Park 90, London until 28 September Box Office 020 7870 6876), The play centres around Hendrix (Jesse Rutherford), who is 16 and living in Hounslow. He is worried about his sexuality after he is bullied when the children at his school discover that his mother is a lesbian. Hendrix lives with his mother Hilary (Angela Bull) and the younger Katie (Millie Reeves), her partner. Hendrix dislikes Katie and still feels close to his mother's former girlfriend, Meg.

Trying to assert his hetrosexuality by losing his virginity Hendrix visits a brothel above a fried chicken shop.

Working at the brothel is a young woman, Luminita (Lucy Roslyn), who has been brought to London from Moldova and made to work as a prostitute by her Hungarian boss Leko (John Last) who gives her drugs. But Hendrix is too nervous to actually have sex. Instead he chats to Luminita and lets her use his mobile phone to call home and speak to her younger sister to stop her from following her path.. Luminita has been virtually made a prisoner in her room above the chicken shop. She passes her days working as a prostitute, cleaning and sleeping. When Hendrix opens the window to get some air she welcomes the sunshine.

Angela Bull & Jesse Rutherford

Hendreix continues to visit the brotherl and becomes very friendly with Luminita. He wants to help her escape. Luminita is however fearful as Leko threatens to find her younger sister if Luminita leaves.

There is an effective single set, divided into three parts: Hendrix's living room and his bedroom and Luminita's room at the brothel. Deftly directd by Jemma Gross who does her best to combine the scenes in the lesbian household with the more obvious coming of age story of the young boy at the brothel, and also with showing us the plight of modern day slaves working in the sex trade. The play does, perhaps, try to cover too many issues and the scenes in the brothel work best. Jesse Rutherford is a young actor to watch out for in the future.

It's good to see Tamzin Outwaite shedding her New Tricks persona to star as a very different character in the lovely new comedy by Ben Ockrent, BREEDERS (St James Theatre, London until 4 October Box Office: 0844 264 2140). Here she plays Andrea who lives with her partner Caroline (Angela Griffin) and the two want a child.

The young women have an unusual suggestion to make to Andrea's brother Jimmy (Nicholas Burns): Andrea asks him to donate his sperm to Caroline. Furhermore Andrea wants Jimmy and his girlfriend Sharon (Jemima Roper) to move in with them and become their helpers in return for free accomodation.

Tamzin Outhwaite & Angela Griffin in Breeders.

Director Tamara Harvey gets all the laughs she can with her enegetic production. The four actors give good physical performances in a play, which, while it is insular in so far as it concentrates on the interaction between the two couples and seems to forget about the outside world, nevertheless it has some good points to make about parenthood and raising a child in the modern world and what makes a satisfactory relationship between a couple.

It is all fine with the actors giving realistic portrayals of their characters and having some fun with the comedy including using a bag of flour as the baby when they are practising looking after their infant. The only jarring point is the weird device of having popular songs such as 'Do they know it's Christmas' sung in Swedish between scenes.

With this Shakesperarean comedy you get double for your money: two pairs of twins are sepatated soon after birth, the two brothers both called Antipholus and their servants, also twin boys and both called Dromio. In THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, London until 12 October Box Office: 020-7401 9919) director Blanche McIntyre provides the audience with an hilarious version as the confused twins run around the stage in a series of misunderstandings and there is much comedic business. At one point the characters hurl props around the stage including almost destroying the construction of the set itself.

The two Antipholus look so alike that it is often difficult for us to work out which is which. Simon Harrison as Antipholus of Syracuse and Matthew Needham as Antipholus of Ephesus along with Brodie Ross as Dromio of Syracuse and Jamie Wilkes as Dromio of Ephesus are able to give us both the physical comedy demanded by the director as well as a clear rendition of Shakespeare's verse.

Matthew Needham as Antipholus of Ephesus & Jamie Wilkes as Dromio of Ephesus in Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

The other characters act suitably confused or annoyed as the text demands. The audience - predominantly made up of those new to Shakespeare and taking advantage of the £5 standing tickets - were obviously able to follow what was happening on stage as they roared with laughter and even cheered when a joke concerning washing hanging on a line, which started before the play began, concluded at the end. There was, too, a quiet moving piece at the end when the two Dromoios get together recognising each other as their brother.

Also recommended:

THE LIBERATION OF COLETTE SIMPLE (Jackson's Lane Theatre, London until 4 October Box Office: 020 8341 4421) is a very strange animal. Not a fully fledged musical or indeed a play, it is extremely short, running for just an hour. I suppose it is accurartely described as a cabaret in that there are two actors and a small group of musicians on stage.

Based on an early Tennessee Williams play The Case of the Crushed Petunias, it has been made into a musical by composer Vincent Guibert and eight lyricists. The draw here is Amy Rosenthal, who, in fact has only written one of the songs! The story is about Colette (Nathalie Carrington) who looks after her petunias outside her shop. She is at first devastated when she discovers that her flowers have been destroyed, but she is helped to come to terms with the tragedy with the help of a mysterios stranger who admits to being the perpetrator. He teaches Colette to break out of her confined world and be free.

Gary Tushaw plays all the other parts including Colette's canary -Tushaw puts on a yellow beak - and a female in a dress. To delineate the characters he puts on wigs, and both change their costumes as required. Tushaw gets into the characters very well and both he and Cartrington have pleasant voices. The band is so loud, however, that at times it is very dificult to make out the words, particularly those of Colette. This is a nice little show without very much depth. Even the songs don't grab one emotionally.

Here is another musical where it is difficult to make out all the words and they are important in this revival of the musical EVITA by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Dominion Theatre, London (until 1 November Box Office: 0845 200 7982). This well-sung Evita is a welcome return to the London stage. The musical stands up well to the passing of time. There are some great songs of which 'Don't cry for me Argentina' is not necessarily the best.

The show looks good with a basic set with pillars and a movable balcony which serves well in Eva's tomb scene and also in the cafe scene where we see the pre-Peron Eva and in the couple's stately home as well as the famous balcony scene where Eva appeals for support from the populace.

Marti Pellow gives a good rendition of Che, acting the part of the narrator effectively and communicationg with Eva from time to tiome. He is the one to put across the political perspective of the show with first ordinary people and then the army officers being taken away with sacks over their heads.

Madalena Alberto as Eva Perón and Marti Pellow as Che in Evita

But it is Madelena Alberto as Eva who is the most memorable aspect to the show. She has a lovely voice and is able to act well. Her dying scene is one of the most realistic of any that I have seen on the London stage in recent times. She has the ability to put across the songs well and with feeling as well as musicality. It is a pity that the show has such a short run, but it is well worth making the effort to see.

And now for a play that gives its audience exactly what it promises:

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG (Duchess Theatre, London booking until 1 February 2015 Box Office: 0844 412 4659) shows us Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society putting on a play set in the 1920s. It is a murder mystery called Murder at Haversham Manor although you wouldn't know that from the way the actors over-act and the set and props continually malfunctioning. At the entrance to the theatre there is a notice, 'Tom Cruise will not be appearing tonight.' Even before the peformance starts various members of the audience are called upon to hold up the mantelpiece or carry something.

Before they even start their own play the director (in the play within a play) refers to often being short of cast members and we assume he is excusing in advance the poor performances.The actors are superb and the set seems to disintegrate of its own accord, often looking really dangerous as bits collapse around and on top of the cast members. The dialogue is well-written, too. "This is your father in the portrait" one actor says pointing at a picture - only it happens to be of a dog.

'The Play That Goes Wrong' at the Duchess Theatre. Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer try to move Greg Tannahill

I was glad that on this occasion I had a mate with me as there is so much loud laughter around that it is good to share the hilarity. The play provides a night of genuine enjoyment - go see!

     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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