Robin Hood *****

Summer in Guildford has officially started (in my diary at least) with the start of the Guildford Shakespeare Companies Open-Air Season.

The first of their two productions is Robin Hood, a retelling of the legend in period costume and modern language, for all the family.

I attended the Saturday matinee performance at the lovely, wild sanctuary in Racks Close, located of Quarry Street.  This is actually part of the original quarry from which the Guildford Castle stone was mined, now long neglected but revived for the second time by the GSC.

Robin Hood is the latest in a series of family friendly non-Shakespeare productions.  Previous hits have included, Alice in Wonderland and The Legend of King Arthur.  This was visibly succeeding as the audience with me had a very high proportion of children. This created a fun atmosphere throughout the play.

The action opens with a minstrel interacting with the audience as he sang a ballad about our hero. Then he is interrupted by the arrival of the Sheriff with all the evil intent of the best pantomime villains.

Hissing and booing as appropriate, the audience was captivated by the evil threats and the challenging insults from our wandering minstrel.

And so the play continues in high quality pantomime mode, with specially written songs enlivening the cast and audience alike.

I will not name any of the cast in particular because this was full of very good actors, both young and old, all of whom deserve credit.  (See linked # on blog page for list).

I recommend purchasing the programme, which covers both plays in the season, and putting it away safely for future reference.  I believe many new stars are making their earliest performances in this play and it may become a collector’s item.

As so often, I award the full 5 out of five stars to this GSC production.

Looking forward to the next play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, at the Collage of Law, St Catherine’s, next month.

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Book Club *****

What a relief!  I have been losing my enthusiasm for the interminable action, sci-fi, crime and violence filled films that now dominate our cinema screens.

Book Club is the antidote. It brings a really nice, gentle, funny, well-written story, with actors at the top of their craft, delivering a satisfying and enjoyable couple of hours entertainment.

This story is about four adult women friends and the consequences of their latest book club selection.

It is told with great humour and sympathy.  Reflective and uplifting, I found myself truly inspired by the end of the tale.

The four lead actors, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen are well supported by a male cast of supporting stars including Andy Garcia, Craig T Nelson, Don Johnson and Richard Dreyfuss to name but a few.

I think there are few adults who have lived a life that will not find something to smile about in this great, human sized, drama.

It won’t win any Oscars or break box office records but, it does get 5 stars out of five from this grateful audience member.

Finding Your Feet ****

Finding your feet is a lovely little film, in the English tradition of light domestic stories told with emotion and humour.

Full of British TV and Film stars, most notably Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, David Hayman, Celia Imrie, and Joanna Lumley.

It is produced and directed by even more of our great British talented people, including those behind the wonderful A Street Cat Named Bob just last year.

The plot encompasses loss in many forms and also survival from those losses.  It also features the best death scene ever, certainly the way I would like to go.

It is told with great kindness for the characters.  There are no big villains, although some are very cruel by their unthinking actions, eventually to be saved.

Happy endings for every character; a feeling of having been hugged for the audience.

I can imagine watching this film again at home over Christmas in front of a warm fire with cosy slippers and a nice glass of sherry.

A well earned 4 out of 5 stars.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle *****

Many of you will fondly remember the 1996 Jumanji film, starring Robin Williams and Kirsten Dunst. You can rest assured that the new chapter of Jumanji will not tarnish those memories but add another set of family memories.Jumanji 1

The story picks up on the Jumanji Box that contained the original board game and what happened to it since 1996.

The writers have come up with a believable fantasy that whisks you back to the game with tremendous passion, humour and originality.

The four adult actors, Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan, give fantastic portrayals of juveniles thrust into adulthood and coming of age.

Indeed, I would claim that these are probably the best performances they have ever given.

This is far and away the best family film of the season, if not the year.

I would go so far as to say, this beats the pants off Star Wars (and I am an avid Star Wars fan).

So for my best family film of 2017, the full 5 stars out of five.

The Man Who Invented Christmas *****

This is a beautiful little film about how and why our most cherished author, Charles Dickens, came to write A Christmas Carol.

The cast consists of a large ensemble of top British acting talents. The script is sharp, humorous without descending into farce and very entertaining.

It does not take a straight biographical narrative but turns the story into an allegory, in the style of Dickens himself.

The fearful side of early 19th century London life is well represented, while at the same time; the viewers’ sympathetic and nostalgic emotions are gently stirred to a crescendo at the climax of the story.

I predict this film will become a staple television entertainment of Christmases yet to come, just as the Christmas Carol itself has.

First class family entertainment so 5 stars out of five for this seasonal treat.

Thor: Ragnarok *****

The latest offering from the Marvel universe, Thor Ragnarok, sees the return of Thor, as brought to life by Chris Hemsworth.

Aimed at the 12-year-old audience, the violence is almost bloodless and profanities are kept to the mild end of the spectrum. Layered on top of this is a plethora of adult targeted jokes and characterisations that should keep most grownups laughing.

In this story Thor faces two different baddies. The first is Cate Blanchett as Thor’s very bad, big sister Hela. The second is Jeff Goldblum as possibly the funniest and campest dictator in cinema history.

I felt rather sorry for Ms Blanchett, great actor as she is, because Goldblum dominates the story with a far richer and funnier part.

The action sequences are very impressive as is normal now, but for once, the script is equally good, blending the various story lines smoothly, while keeping the plot moving and maintaining the very funny humour.

I laughed out loud frequently and left the cinema feeling refreshed and happy.

I can’t expect much more than that from any film.

The result is therefore 5 out of five stars for this outstanding superhero tale.

Logan Lucky **

This is a comedy crime caper story set around the American motor sports world. Sounds exciting but sadly there is minimal car racing involved.

It draws on the idea that stupid and ignorant people, trying to do something complicated, is a legitimate type of humour. I found is shallow and without merit.

Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play brothers. One is a disabled veteran, the other is down at heel and struggling to maintain access to his child.

Carrying the story is an experienced criminal, almost unidentifiable as Daniel Craig, using a strange Appalachian accent and bleach blond hair.

maxresdefaultThe plot is pleasingly complex and contains some good twists and surprises.

However, the overall experience is not as good as one might have expected from this cast.

As crime thrillers go, this is not The Sting but more like a poor Dukes of Hazzard.

A disappointing 2 out of five stars.