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Gillian Anderson has the X-factor

August 1, 2014

THEATRE A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE Young Vic | By Alex Dymoke hhhhh Is there room in that hot, sweaty, studio-flat for more than one great performance? Gillian Anderson runs away with it in this, Benedict Andrews' brilliant, sultry, disorientating, modern dress production. There are strong supporting turns from Vanessa Kirby and Ben Foster but Anderson owns the stage with a captivating interpretation of the fantasist Blanche Dubois. Blanche and her younger sister Stella haven't seen each other for ten years. After an upper-middle class upbringing Stella moved to the grimy industrial French quarter of New Orleans to marry Polish factory worker Stanley Kowalski, while the demure Blanche has been working as an English teacher ever since. Now, for reasons that are unclear, Blanche has sought out her sister. "I won't stay long," she promises, unconvincingly.

In a tiny flat, in suffocating proximity to Stella and her husband, she gets a close up view of the volatility of their relationship. Her presence in the house aggravates Stanley, but in a sense she isn't present, occupying instead a softfurnished fantasy world.

Stella and Stanley's marriage is driven by a sexual intensity that regularly spills over into violence. In an armour of lace and fur, Blanche spars with the brawny Stanley and remonstrates with Stellar about the primitiveness of her relationship. She's right: Stella maintains she's happy, but ultimately she's an abuse victim.

Tennessee Williams identifies the dysfunction of both sisters, presenting two polar opposite characters who plausibly come from the same place. Both have escaped: Stella to a blind, hyper-sexual present; Blanche to a world of makebelieve. Perhaps Belle RÊve - the family home to which they nostalgically refer - wasn't so beautiful after all.

Instead of walls the space is loosely framed by bars and curtains that combine to make an area that's simultaneously illdefined and claustrophobic. It's not the dirt or the noise that hems you in, as in Williams' original version. Instead there's a contemporary, plasticky oppressiveness; lots of cheap stuff in not very much space.

The stage revolves, with the audience encircling the action. It's a clever trick that adds to the feeling of voyeurism and reflects the theme of people in motion going nowhere at all.

FILM GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Cert 12A | By Steve Dinneen hhhhh The Guardians of the Galaxy marketing team have been flogging their horse so long and hard it's a wonder it's not already dead. With hype so merciless and protracted, the latest Marvel movie seemed destined to disappoint. Factor in that it's based on a relatively minor branch of the Marvel comics universe and stars a talking raccoon and a tree, and you'd be forgiven for expecting a car crash.

But it's not: it's smart, funny, slick, often touching and always visually stunning.

It has the obligatory convoluted plot involving a mysterious object with the power to destroy the universe, but it's never over-explained, with the emphasis on the relationships between the titular space adventurers.

Chris Pratt seems like a leftfield choice to play Peter Quill, the swaggering hero of the piece, given he's best known for his role as nicebut-dim Andy Dwyer in Parks and Recreation - a role in which he's at his best as a foil for Aubrey Plaza's dour receptionist. But he's got charisma in spades, not to mention impeccable timing.

It brilliantly juggles its ensemble cast, with no less than five heroes all given space to develop. And while Pratt shines, it's WWE wrestler Dave Bautista who steals the show as the deadpan Drax, a musclebound alien meathead who lacks an irony detector (when Peter quips "you're siding with the walking thesaurus?" Drax responds "Don't ever call me a thesaurus again"). The Bradley Cooper-voiced raccoon Rocket is a miracle of CGI and is every bit as emotionally engaging as his human counterparts, while Vin Diesel manages to make his sentient tree less wooden than any of his other roles to date.

They're helped out by a pitchperfect script that makes the interaction between characters a constant joy - some of the rapidfire dialogue makes even fellow Marvel movie writer Joss Whedon seem clunky by comparison. That it subtly ties in with the wider Marvel movie universe - arch-villain Thanos is set to appear in the upcoming Avengers follow-up - bodes well for future Marvel titles.

Let's hope JJ Abrams is paying close attention as filming begins for Star Wars episode VII, because this film is a masterclass in how to make a blockbuster space-opera that flits effortlessly between comedy and melodrama. Or maybe it's already too late: Guardians of the Galaxy might just be the Star Wars for a whole new generation.

FILM A PROMISE Cert 12a | By Melissa York hhiii Director Patrice Leconte's A Promise is an implausible, often ridiculous period drama revolving around a predictably doomed love affair.

Richard Madden stars as brooding Friedrich, an ambitious clerk in a steelworks in early 20th century Germany. He catches the eye of the boss Herr Hoffmeister, played by an austere Alan Rickman, who recruits Friedrich to be his private secretary. The promotion requires him to leave his life and wife in a working-class garrett to live in Rickman's large manor house, which he enjoys because Rebecca Hall lives there.

She plays Lotte, Herr Hoffmeister's young wife. Flirtatious glances and sensuous touches abound, but nothing comes of the illicit affair until Hall, with rotten timing, reveals her feelings the night before he sets sail for Mexico. They vow to get married when he returns, but World War I gets in the way.

Leconte has far too much fun playing will-they-won't-they, and as a result his film feels unbalanced and unbelievable. Poor Hall is left to convey a decade of longing and anguish in about 20 minutes. The melodrama often tips over into the ridiculous, too, such as in one extended scene where Friedrich sniffs hungrily for Lotte's scent at the keys of her piano.

Despite decent performances - especially from Rickman - A Promise doesn't answer whether love can stand the test of time; it proves you need more time to tell a convincing love story.

ART PRIMROSE: EARLY COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHY IN RUSSIA The Photographer's Gallery | By Alex Dymoke hhhhi Primrose charts colour photography in Russia from experiments with paint and pearl fragments in the mid 19th century to to the 1970s when amateur and established photographers recorded the reality behind offi-cial versions of events.

If Russia's present often seems dark and inscrutable, what about its past? The last century was full of darkness, and then light, and then more darkness, but when it came to photography, there was one colour that dominated (in spirit at least) - red. That was because up until just after the second world war, the only Russians who had access to the complex - mainly German and American - machines allowing for colour photography were high profile individuals working for government approved publications.

These political photographs and socialist realist photomontages played an important role in the vast Soviet propaganda machine. They are striking but familiar. Much more interesting are the photographs taken (and displayed using projectors) in secret by intellectuals keen to provide a record of the reality of late Soviet life. Boris Mikhailov's pictures from the seventies are intimate and mundane, capturing moments of joyful banality where the pressures of ideology seem a lightyears away.

FILM MOOD INDIGO Cert 12A | By Steve Dinneen hhhii Mood Indigo is a return to form for the tirelessly creative French director Michel Gondry, albeit one with some rather large caveats. The surreal, densely-packed opus combines the DIY aesthetic of his Be Kind Rewind with the darker, more psychological tone of the sublime Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and, thankfully, nothing at all of The Green Hornet).

Based on cult French novel L'Ecume Des Jours (translated as Froth on the Daydream), it follows a beautiful, prosperous young couple, Colin and ChloÉ, as they traverse an increasingly treacherous path through life, from the blissful early days of love through to destitution and illness.

At every turn, Gondry chooses the difficult path: people don't just shake hands, their entire wrists rotate; the door bell doesn't just ring, it scuttles across the wall until it's smashed into a multitude of smaller doorbells.

Stylistically, it harks back to the director's earliest work, not least his first collaboration with Bjork on the Human Behaviour music video, combining stop-motion animation with live action, and showing a propensity to dress people up in animal costumes.

Storytelling itself is an implicit theme, with the suggestion that the surreal elements are an imagined escape from the more banal and cruel elements of everyday life.

It's often charming to the point of twee - at least to begin with - but brilliant turns from Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris as the lovers ensure it never becomes grating.

It is though, rather tiring. The relentless visual flourishes eventually suffer from diminishing returns, and have the unwanted side-effect of alienating you from the characters. ChloÉ's descent into a cancer-like illness caused by a lily growing inside her lung, for instance, doesn't elicit the emotional response it deserves.

It's the kind of film that craves to be rewatched, and then rewatched again. It's so richly textured it will doubtless pay dividends to those willing to invest. It falls short, however, of being the masterpiece it sometimes threatens to be.

Book now!

Rembrandt: The Late Works Rembrandt's last years produced some of his darkest, most moving paintings. This exhibition at the National Gallery in October is sure to be a hit, make sure you get a ticket by booking early.


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Source: City A.M. (UK)

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