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FILM:September 2014

GOD'S POCKET (cert.15 1 hr. 29 mins.) shows us the world of blue collar workers and those who report on their activities. It is an impressive film due to the acting of the main characters. In particular the late Philip Seymour Hoffman reminds us - if we need reminding as he can still be seen in a number of films that have come out this year - just what a great film actor he is and how much we shall miss his performances in future.

The film is set in the early 1980s in a small town called God's Pocket. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Mickey, the husband of Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) who is heartbroken at the sudden death of her son, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) and wants Mickey to find the answers to how he died. We see Leon as a young man who acts tough. He works on a construction site and bad mouths a man, who then hits him in the back of the head, killing him. The other workers cover up the murder, telling the police it is an accident but Jeanie suspects something is not quite right about her son’s death.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (left) & John Turturro in God's Pocket

Mickey is an outsider so doesn't quite fit into the community and he also has a lot of financial troubles. He needs to get money to pay for Leon's funeral to the slimy Smilin' Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan). Mickey's friend, Bird (John Turturro), another small-time crook, owes Mickey money but he also owes more dangerous guys like Sal (Domenick Lombardozzi). However, Mickey turns to Bird, who prefers betting on horses to trying to re-pay Mickey his share of the most recent truck hijacking.

And then we have another outsider, reporter Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins), who is at the end of his career. It is Shellburn who introduces us to God's Pocket at the beginning of the film. An alcoholic himself, Shellburn describes the town as a community of hard drinkers, gambling addicts, tough workers, and the women who love them. Surprisingly Jeanie succumbs to Shellburn's overtures.

On the whole director John Slattery has done a competent job in giving us a good thriller with some comic moments. Unfortunately, although the story, which is based on a Pete Dexter novel, is dramatic, the dialogue is poor and even the good actors here can't make it seem right either for the characters or for the drama unfolding.

Eddie Marsan is fine as the serpent-like funeral director who is only concerned with getting his money and Turturro gives an energetic performance as Mickey's friend. While Christina Hendrick's Jeanie is lovely to look at it is hard to understand firstly what she sees in Hoffman's Mickey and secondly why on earth she allows the Shellburn of Jenkins to seduce her.

But Philip Seymour Hoffman is spot-on as the man at the heart of events. He sweats and acts most discomfited the majority of the time. He struggles with the unrealistic dialogue but as usual ends up giving us another performace to cherish.

It is rather weird to find Philip Seymour Hoffman appearing in so many films after his death. We have recently had an outstanding performance from him in God's Pocket and now we see him portray another completely different character:

A MOST WANTED MAN (cert. 15 2hrs. 12 mins.), which is based on a novel by John Le Carré, is a thriller set in Hamburg. Philip Seymour Hoffman is Gunter Bachmann, the head of a secret anti-terrorist unit in Hamburg, the city where the terrorist attacks of September 2001 were plotted. He and his team are investigating an illegal immigrant, Issa Karpov (Grigory Dobrygin), who has been identified by Interpol as a possible terror suspect and who has turned up in Hamburg to lay claim to his father's ill-gotten fortune. Bachmann is operating a low key "softly softly" approach, in the hope that Karpov will help him nail Muslim philanthropist Dr Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), whom Bachmann suspects is one of the financiers of the terror campaign. This brings him into conflict with the German intelligence service and the CIA, in the form of agent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright). With time constraints, Gunter is forced to hurry his team along, interacting with Karpov's lawyer, Rachel McAdams on the way.

Director Anton Corbijn brings out the thriller elements in a taut exciting movie which concentrates more on characters than big action sequences. Corbijn is concerned with the psychological interplay between the characters. Gunter never knows if he can trust the American Agent, Martha, and she in turn is unsure of the information that she is being given.

Robin Wright & Philip Seymour Hoffman

Hoffman is such a natural actor that one forgets he is playing a part as he huffs and puffs his way around the well-photographed streets of Hamburg. Chain smoking and drinking, the over-weight Gunter is devoted to his job and seems to work night and day with little time to pursue leisure activities. However, he cares for the people he is looking after and tries his best for them. It is hard and very sad to believe we won't be seeing him in any new films.

Also recommended:

TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT (cert. 15 1 hr. 35 mins.), a French film in which Marion Cotillard gives an outstanding performance as a woman faced with the loss of her job. She plays Sandra who discovers on a Friday that her fellow workers have been offered 1,000 Euros bonus but only if she is sacked. On a vote they decide overwhelmingly to accept the bonus. The boss agrees to hold a second vote on Monday. Sandra's husband (a very good performance by Fabrizio Rongione) persuades the depressed Sandra to fight for her job. Over the weekend she visits each of the workers who voted against her to get them to change their minds. In the film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne the journey is more important than the ending.

MILLION DOLLAR ARM (cert. PG 2 hrs. 4 mins.) is a jolly film about training two young men to the standard where they can be chosen to join an American baseball team. The boys have never played baseball but show potential and go to America to train and are completely out of their depth. Their little adventures are good fun and the two boys (Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittel) together with their trainer (Jon Hamm) provide us with an amusing film.






Leafy Regent's Park in the midddle of London is not a setting where you would expect to find Catfish Row in Georgia, but this wondrous version of the Gershwins' PORGY AND BESS (Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London until 23 August Box Office 0844 826 4242) works very well here. It's a lavish production with a large cast of actors and singers and a 15 strong orchestra.

It's not a jolly musical. Porgy (Rufus Bonds Jnr), who can't walk unaided, is often seen sitting in a little cart propelling himself along with his hands, but here just uses a stick. Porgy, living in poverty along with his black neighbours in the 1920s, has difficulty earning a living and holding his own agaianst the local toughs. He is described as "a cripple and a beggar." Chief amongst the bad guys is Crown (Phillip Boykin) who will allow no contrary opinions and goes as far as murder.

Nicola Hughes as Bess and Rufus Bonds Jnr as Porgy at the Open Air Theatres

Crown's girl is Bess (Niclola Hughes), a flamboyant goodtime girl in a red dress aroused as much by the 'happy dust' supplied by Sporting Life (Cedric Neal) as by the muscular Crown. When Crown runs away from the police, all except Porgy turn their backs on her. He takes Bess into his home and soon a most unlikely romance grows between them. Porgy is happy as the pair settle into life living and loving together. The song "I got plenty of nothing" which Porgy sings, illustrates this beautifully. The two sing "Bess you is my woman" and Bess, too, is content to now find herself drug-free and accepted by the community having been an outsider for so long, until she is enticed away once again by drugs and the sexiness of Crown.

Catfish Row is a fishing community and this is illustarted by fishing tackle lying around. The set is simple with a huge brass structure at the back of the stage which becomes more part of the atmosphere as lighting changes its colour. Director Timothy Sheader uses the little furniture there is on stage most effectively so that the tables and chairs become a boat or a platform for Porgy to walk along.

There is most stirring music with some memorable songs from the lovely lullaby "Summertime" sung first by Jade Ewen as Clara then by Bess to Sporting Life's "It ain't necessarily so" given real clarity when sung by Cedric Neal. The singers and dancers all have excellent voices and can act and dance well too. The minor parts are extremely well cast and Golda Rosheuvel as Serena shows her prowess as a singer/actress. A moving performance is also provided by the Mariah of Sharon D. Clarke

Hughes gives an energetic portrayal of Bess, the bad woman who tries so hard to conform. Her lovely soprano voice is balanced well by the voices of her leading men and Bonds Jnr wrings one's heart as the very happily in love Porgy whose misery we feel when Bess leaves him.

The excellent direction, using a great cast and good musicians make this a really exciting production. Let's hope it gets taken up by another theatre very soon.

Last year's fine production of To Kill a Mockingbird returns to the Open Air Theatre 28 August -13 Septmber and then touring in the UK (www.openairtheatre.com). It's well worth a visit.

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (Young Vic, London, until 21 September)

Ben Foster (Stanley Kowalski) & Gillian Anderson (Blanche DuBois)

While it is hard to banish Vivien Leigh's performance from our minds, Gillian Anderson gives such a tremendous performance, albeit with a very different take on Blanche Du Bois, that we are able to put Leigh out of our minds. She is almost matched by Ben Foster's powerful Stanley, her brother in law. Vanessa Kirby gives a strong performance as Blanches's sister, Stella.

Blanche's arrival at the home in New Orleans of her sister and brother-in-law Stella and Stanley Kowlaski is both unexpected and not very welcome. Stella does her best to cope with her sister's eccenticities and neediness, "I love to be waited on" Blanche informs her sister, but Stanley finds it hard to put up with Blanche's constant criticism of their home and his roughness. She calls him a Pollack but he insists that he is completely American. He overhears Blanche tell Stella that he is an animal and reacts badly. His anger including throwing china on the floor and at his wife invariably culminates in Stanley and Stella making boisterous love which Blanche listens to. The situation escalates when Stanley discovers that Blanche is far from being a lily white innocent.

Director Benedict Andrews has set the play completely in the round; the set constantly moves so we get a glimpse of the three rooms in which the action is set. I found the spinning a little disconcerting at times but mostly the revolve is very slow and the set turns the other way after the interval!

Foster is a very masculine, burly man with strength in his arms. He gives a very natural portrait of a man who, while seemimg just a bad tempered roughneck, has the sensitivity to feel hurt by Blanche's remarks about him. Stella, as played by Kirby is very much in love with Stanley and has adjusted to the rough neighbourhood. She is looking forward to having a baby. She expresses her acceptance of Stanley's bad behaviour and even finds his physical abuse exciting.

Anderson gives a superb portrayal of the lonely southern woman who has lost her home, her job and her whole lifestyle. She comes to her sister as a last resort and then hopes she has at last found a safe haven in Mitch, a friend of Stanley's, who believes her fantasies until Stanley reveals his sister-in-law's true past to him and he turns on Blanche. All this is conveyed by Anderson in a consumate performance that will provide a lasting memory to all as we feel her sadness when she is let down once again. You are urged to try to catch it.

It's difficult to go wrong with GUYS AND DOLLS but in Gordon Greenberg's production (at Chichester Festival Theatre until 21 September) we see something very special.

The songs and music are well-known and beautifully put across by a cast full of actors who sing (unlike Porgy and Bess which has singers who also act). As a result the story comes across very well and the songs are integrated into the tale so that it is all one delightful whole.

Sky Masterson (Jamie Parker) responds to a bet for $1.00 which forces him to seduce and take a Salvation Army girl, Sarah Brown (Clare Foster), on a date to Havana in return for having 12 "sinners" attend the Army's prayer meeting. There is a lot of fun with the group of card players, an amazing set of gamblers, who have been given descriptive names like Nicely-Nicely Johnson.

There is also a sub-plot with the showgirl Miss Adelaide (Sophie Thompson) and her fiance of 14 years Nathan Detroit (Peter Polycarpou).

Sophie Thompson in Guys and Dolls in Chichester

On an apron stage, different bits of the set are wheeled on, but the surrounding arch with advertisng all over it and bright lights remains throughout. The music seems to swell up from within the set. Director Gordon Greenberg manages the set and the actors deftly and he is greatly helped by the lively choreography of the great Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta who really comes into his own in the Havana scene. There are some very athletic dancers who move deftly around the stage.

Based on the story and characters written by Damon Runyon with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, this production exactly captures the New York speech of the guys and their dolls as written by Runyon. All the lines are well and amusingly put across. "I never want to see him again and have him call me here," says Miss Adelaide when Nathan lets her down once again.

It is really good to see Big Julie actually played by someone genuinely very tall and Nic Greenshields depicts Big Julie's limited intelligence very well. All the actors deseve praise from Harry Morrison as Nicely-Nicely Johnson who puts over the spiritual sounding "Sit down, you're rockin' the boat" to the ever-lying Nathan of Polycarpou.

While Foster and Parker are well-matched and give us a believable couple who sing "I'll know" with real feeling, the star of the show is undoubtedly Sophie Thompson. Her Miss Adelaide is a tremendous comic performance. She manages to put across each of her songs in a different way so that her song about developing a cold through lack of commitment from her fiance Nathan varies considerabloy from her take on "Take back your mink" which she sings with her Hotbox Girls. Her whole body shows her emotions. A fine comice performace in a superb musical. Head to Chichester now, although I am sure it will make its way to London in the not too distant future.


Carlie Newman

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