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ON A CLEAR DAY (cert.12A 1hr. 38mins.) is an excellent film - and it's British! Frank (Peter Mullan) is a hard-working 55 year-old, respected in his local community, who suddenly finds himself without a job. For the first time in his life, Frank is without direction. When his friend Danny (Billy Boyd) jokes that on a clear day he could swim to France, an idea is planted in Frank's mind.

On a Clear Day

Concealing his plans from his loving wife Joan (Brenda Blethyn) Frank determines to put his life back together by attempting the ultimate test of endurance - to swim the English Channel. In so doing he repairs a broken relationship with his grown up son.

Peter Mullan gives a wonderfully moving performance as Frank who is made redundant and has to cope with a seemingly meaningless life as well as a past family tragedy. The film has a well-written script and is imaginatively directed by Gaby Dellal. She manages the ensemble playing by an excellent group of British actors, including Jamie Sives, Billy Boyd, Benedict Wong, with dexterity. You never quite know how the story will end and that is how it should be with a gripping film like this!

It's worth catching up with CRASH (cert. 15 1hr. 22mins.). Written and directed by Paul Haggis, the film deals with the complexities of racial conflict and everyday relationships in post 9/11 Los Angeles. A variety of characters of different racial backgrounds come together at the scene of a car crash. But as the story shows us, through the happenings of the previous day, many have come into contact before.

Thandie Newton

Detailing each character might make it all seem a bit too glib, but the story justifies the portrayal of the various types. In a multi-ethnic cast, all of whom are excellent, Thandie Newton stands out as the well-heeled wife of a black television executive who, along with her husband (Terrence Howard) have to question both their lifestyle and relationship when they are confronted by Matt Dillon as a racist cop, who also has another side to his character shown early on when we see him looking after his ailing father.

Don Cheadle is an older black police detective, working with his Latina partner (in both senses of the term) who is the only character who touches most of the lives in the story. He gives a really truthful, quietly restrained performance. Even Sandra Bullock, as a wealthy woman whose car is hijacked, which awakens her character to the emptiness of her "safe" life, gives a believable performance!

The film might be accused of having too many coincidences, but the clever inter-weaving of the lives of the characters, showing two sides - good and bad - to almost everyone makes us question our own prejudices as those in the story are forced to look at theirs. It has aroused controversy in some quarters, but do go and see it and judge for yourselves. Highly recommended.

THE BUSINESS (cert. 18 1hr. 36mins.) is one of those films which is well-crafted, has an intelligent script and good acting all round, but. I can't really say that I enjoyed it. Why? Well, for a start it's very violent and swearing is rampant; it shows women in a derogatory light - they are there just to titillate men and as decoration.

The story, however, is interesting. Frankie (Danny Dyer) is on the run from South London. He meets up with master criminal Charlie (Tamer Hassan) on Spain's Costa Del Crime and becomes involved in a life of "crime, women & drugs" as Frankie describes it. Hounded by the ultra-violent Sammy (Geoff Bell) who is described as a "Geezer who was so hard that even his f.ing nightmares were afraid of him," Frankie has to fight to save his life.

It is a film full of excrement - literally as well as visual - and not terribly pleasant to watch. Still, as I said it's well-made, with a good sound track and directed with panache by the director of The Football Factory, Nick Love.

Another short film is THE MAN (cert. 12A 1hr. 23mins.). The unlikely pairing of Samuel Jackson and Eugene Levy brings a light comedic touch to this story of an affable, optimistic dental supply salesman (Levy) on a two-day trip to a convention in Detroit who is mistaken for "the man" aka federal agent (Jackson). Although he looks a bit strange in a new haircut, Jackson is a good actor and manages this role with ease. Levy - remember him as the dad in the American Pie films? - is always good in comedy roles. There are some witty lines; I particularly liked Levy's advice to Jackson to add "for crying out loud" each time he uses the f.word (which Jackson does all the time) and he will find that eventually he will find himself just saying "for crying out loud" instead of "f." Shall we all try that?

THEATRE TIP : September 2005

I had expected to write about BEHIND THE IRON MASK at the Duchess Theatre, but unfortunately - or, actually, fortunately in this case - it closed after a couple of weeks. A terrible play: badly written, acted and sung! The main character wore a kind of coal scuttle over his head all the time and you couldn't see his face or lips at all! How an earth a theatrical management decided to put this on beats me!

It's given me the opportunity, however, to pen a few words on MARY POPPINS which I managed to catch up with (having been away when it started in December).

A terrific show, ideally suited to young children based on a good story, with a well-written interpretation by Julian Fellowes, and lovely songs, pretty costumes and excellent scenery. I would have liked some better choreography - there was only one outstanding dance with a group of chimney sweeps - but after BILLY ELLIOTT all other shows seem lacking in this respect. Laura Michelle Kelly is excellent in the title role; I particularly liked the small steps she took to mount the stairs, although I missed the sliding up the banister which was shown in the film.

Whilst not my cup of tea, TOM, DICK AND HARRY at the Duke of York's Theatre, is a well-written and acted farce by Ray and Michael Cooney.

Directed by Ray Cooney, it has all the element s of a Cooney play with lots of doors and a window where people are pushed out of and through.

Joe McGann plays the husband of a couple who are trying to adopt a baby and two other McGann brothers, Stephen and Mark, play Joe's brothers who disrupt the proceedings. Oh, yes there are a couple of asylum seekers from Kosovo who add to the general confusion and an adoption lady who is also bustled in and out of rooms during the action. Actually I find it hard to laugh at asylum seekers, too. Perhaps I am just an old misery!


Carlie Newman

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