LOVE IS STRANGE
The last time Alfred Molina was in a gay partnership on-screen, he bludgeoned his other half to death. That was in Prick Up Your Ears, the Joe Orton biopic brilliantly scripted by Alan Bennett. Love Is Strange has George (Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow) as gay New Yorkers who find themselves homeless when the Catholic school where George teaches music fires him after he and Ben get married. The diocese was okay with them being cohabiting homos, but as married homos they put themselves beyond the pale. I'd like to think that the Big Apple is less bigoted than this; apparently not.
Anyway, the mortgage on their apartment is now unaffordable, so they have to move out. George crashes on the sofa of a pair of gay cops, Ben moves in with his nephew and his famous writer wife (Marisa Tomei), sharing bunk beds with their son Joey (Charlie Tahan), a troubled teen. Ben's presence drives Joey and his mom crazy; George doesn't fit in with the cops' booze-and-card-games lifestyle. Ben and George have been together for almost 40 years: they don't function when they're apart.
This is a very slender story about ordinary people - unless you still think gays are extraordinary.. Not much happens. There are some slow scenes, since these people live undramatic lives. But the core of the movie is the relationship between George and Ben. They are not screaming queens, just two dear old poufs who can't live without each other. Molina and Lithgow give understated performances that make the viewer really care about them. At the movie's bitter-sweet climax there is a sudden shift of viewpoint which initially seems wrong but is actually exactly right.
Slender and slight, yes, but deeply touching.
KINGSMAN: the secret service
If Austin Powers was a Monty Python take on James Bond, Kingsman is more for fans of South Park, pitched at teenagers and older viewers (you know who you are) with a taste for teenage smut and violence.
The Kingsmen are a group of upper-class officer types licensed to kill Her Majesty's enemies at home and overseas. Operating out of Savile Row and styled on the Knights of the Round Table, their leader is Arthur (Michael Caine) and their trainer-cum-quartermaster (Mark Strong) is Merlin. Top agent Harry Hart, aka 'Galahad' (Colin Firth), is more John Steed than James Bond, an umbrella-sporting kung-fu killer - if this sounds a bit daft, daft is what it's meant to be!. His favourite of the new intake of recruits, Gary, aka 'Eggsy' (Taron Egerton) is a potty-mouthed sink-estate kid whose dad was a Kingsman and saved Harry's life.
After their gruelling beyond-SAS training the new intake is reduced to one (spoiler to be avoided here) who is soon helping the Kingsmen tackle zillionaire philanthropist and would-be world dominator Valentine (Samel L. Jackson, sporting a camp lisp and presumably spoofing Javier Basrdem in Skyfall). Valentine has a female sidekick on Pistorius-like blades that are more lethal than Oddjob's bowler hat.
Co-written by Mrs Jonathan Ross (Jane Goldman) and director Matthew Vaughan, this is a smutty action comedy from the Fast and Furious school. Megabucks have clearly been spent on the fight scenes and CGI. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are visibly enjoying letting their hair down (Mark of course is bald), although Michael Caine looks as if he's uncomfortable slumming (not for the first time, Michael: we haven't forgotten Jaws 3D, hardly your finest hour). Taron Egerton, more Bourne than Bond, appears to have been cloned from Daniel Craig.
The death toll is like a war movie. The level of violence and the f-word quotient are probably way too high, but this is, as I observed earlier, a film firmly pitched at the teenager in all of us; it certainly found the teenager in me and my companion, both of us clearly not kids but more clearly still kids at heart.
INTO THE WOODS
I'm a big fan of Steven Sondheim but not, I must confess, of Into the Woods, so I wasn't expecting to like this. However, I enjoyed it more than the stage show. CGI - vanishing witches, the Beanstalk, the giant (giantess) - works much better than clumsy stage effects and helps to link this subversive musical to the Disneyfied Grimm Brothers' stories that it incorporates.
Meryl Streep, who as we know from Mama Mia really can sing, steals the show dramatically and musically as the wicked Witch who bargains the Baker and his Wife into stealing Jack's cow and Cinderella's slipper and other memorabilia to break the curse on her. Chris Pine is the best of the supporting cast, totally ditching his action boy image to play a Prince with a (very) roving eye.
In the good old days, musical-wise, it was common to cast actors who couldn't sing and dub them with singers who presumably couldn't act (West Side Story, Carmen Jones, etc, etc). Now actors who can't - or shouldn't - sing do their own singing, often with painful results. Think Piers Brosnan, think Russell Crowe. In Into the Woods James Corden is the one whose singing voice is - how can I put this? - less than a joy for the listener.
Sondheim's lyrics have never been less than brilliant (all the way back to West Side Story) and they are very clever here (occasionally a bit "clever-clogs" clever). The tunes are not the kind of thing you walk out humming (rarely the case with today's musicals - excuse me while I have a whinge). But the structure of this revisionist fairy-tale is amusingly intricate and la Streep is (when isn't she?) on fine form. A show worth popping into on a grim - Grimm! - winter's day.