THE LION KING
“We are all connected to the circle of life” the proud Lion King Mufasa (voice by the great James Earl Jones) advises his wide eyed young cub Simba in this live action remake of the 1994 Disney animation which looks absolutely stunning on the big screen but inevitably it has the feeling of overfamiliarity. The original has been reissued several times including a conversion into IMAX but perhaps the story is better known across the globe from Julie Taymor’s remarkable Broadway show which is still packing them in the West End.
Taymor acts as executive producer here while THE JUNGLE BOOK director Jon Favreau gets behind the camera. The CGI effects are to die for even though it takes a while to get accustomed to the animals not only speaking but also singing their little hearts out to Elton John’s memorable songs with lyrics from Tim Rice. Chiwetel Ejiofor lends his voice to great effect as the nasty uncle Scar who tries to kill Simba in order to lay his paws on the throne. Donald Glover is also effective as the voice of the adult Simba who shares the lovely song “Can you Feel the Love Tonight” with Beyoncé as his childhood sweetheart Nala, while Seth Rogen threatens to steal the show as Pumbaa, the gluttonous warthog.
It is aesthetically splendid with many memorable set pieces including the wild stampede and the vile hyena chase that will probably upset younger children but overall it is solid family entertainment!
William McGregor’s hauntingly beautiful film takes place in Snowdonia, North Wales in 1855 and follows the story of a teenage girl Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) and her younger sister Mari (Jodie James), who try to live a normal life despite their poverty and the plague of cholera that surrounds them. Their father is absent while their hard working mother Elen (Maxine Peake) struggles to make ends meet as well as stand up to the ruthless mining company that wants to take over their land…
It is a bleak but compelling film thanks to outstanding performances particularly from rising star Worthington-Cox as the eponymous heroine. McGregor makes a remarkable feature film debut whose distinct vison captures the harsh yet beautiful landscape magnificently.
TELL IT TO THE BEES
Annabel Jankel’s gentle, lovely film of forbidden love was recently showcased at the Flare BFI London Film Festival. The story based on Fiona Shaw’s (not the acclaimed thespian with the same name) takes place in a small Scottish town during the fifties. Dr Jean Markham (Anna Paquin) returns home to take over her father’s practice following years of absence abroad.
Meanwhile Lydia (Holliday Grainger) struggles to pay the rent after her husband abandons her. When her son becomes ill Lydia begins an unlikely friendship with his doctor, who makes her a job offer and a place to stay…
It is a tender love story that flourishes despite the prejudices of their blinkered community and boasts strong performances by both leading ladies, who share an endearing chemistry.
VARDA BY AGNES
The name of Greek French pioneer of the Nouvelle Vague Agnes Varda has almost become synonymous with delightfully original films and engaging, ground-breaking documentaries. Her last project completed just before her untimely death earlier this year celebrates her work which started in the fifties and sixties.
It is a touching and joyous cinematic experience in which the great visual artist talks candidly about her work and aspirations. This delightful film is accompanied by clips from her earlier films as well as interviews including Sandrine Bonnaire, who talks about her collaboration with Varda in VAGABOND. An illuminating film and a fine tribute to an amazing, talent!
MAKING NOISE QUIETLY
I liked a lot the original production of Robert Holman’s trilogy of short plays when I saw it at the Bush Theatre in 1986. Now theatre director Dominic Dromgoole makes his cinema debut with this adaptation which explores the impact of war on ordinary lives.
The first story “Being Friends” takes place in 1944 in Kent and follows the chance encounter of two young men – Oliver Bell (Luke Thompson) a pacifist Quaker who works on a farm instead of joining the war and Eric Faber (Matthew Tennyson) an openly gay artist and writer.
The second story “Lost” set in Redcar in 1982 tells the story of May Appleton (Barbara Marten) a middle aged woman visited by a naval officer (Geofrey Streatfeild), who informs her about her estranged son’s death in the Falklands War.
The last story “Making Noise Quietly” takes place in 1996 in the Black Forest (in the play it was set in 1986) and follows the story of a holocaust survivor (Deborah Findley) who gets an unexpected visit from a troubled British soldier and his disturbed young boy.
Although the play works well on stage, Dromgoole’s wooden and uninspired direction fails to take advantage of its full cinematic potential.
MY FRIEND THE POLISH GIRL
This faux documentary follows Alicja, a Polish woman living in post Brexit London. She is a struggling actress, who works as an usher at the BFI IMAX and impresses Katie, the first time, amateur American filmmaker at her film audition by confessing that her English boyfriend is dying from cancer. From then on Katie (Emman Friedman-Cohen) invades Alicja’s (Aneta Piotrwska) privacy and even moves into her apartment in order to capture her life and inner thoughts 24-hours a day.
It starts well with some fun moments especially when Alicja is offered a role of a Russian prostitute in a British gangster film but unfortunately the project runs out of steam specially towards the end with a pretentious false ending. However, first time directors Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek show a lot of promise – I am intrigued and look forward to seeing whatever they are doing next!