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Friday, November 25, 2011

The Rum Diaries review: Johnny Depp and a bit of a rum do

This is a rambling comedy with enough good moments and witty lines to compensate for its messiness.

It’s based on a quasi-autobiographical novel by Hunter S. Thompson about how he found his voice as a writer, and started to feel outraged by capitalism.

As in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Johnny Depp (pictured) plays Thompson’s alcoholic, drug-taking alter ego.

Johnny Depp in The Rum Diaries: This is a rambling comedy with enough good moments and witty lines to compensate for its messiness

Paul Kemp’s a failed author who takes over as resident astrologer at the San Juan Star  in Puerto Rico.

He becomes obsessed by the beautiful girlfriend (Amber Heard) of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), a shady property developer.

Sanderson wants Paul to compromise his ideals and help despoil a nearby island.

'Writer-director Bruce Robinson — still most famous for Withnail And I — is clearly in love with his anti-hero’s more rackety aspect'

The film is really the story of how Paul belatedly gets some moral fibre.

However, writer-director Bruce Robinson — still most famous for Withnail And I — is clearly in love with his anti-hero’s more rackety aspects, and his weird friendship with the even more hopeless photographer (Michael Rispoli).

The film scores highly for love of language — the line ‘Your tongue is like an accusatory giblet’ could come straight out of Withnail.

It’s odd, though, that a movie about an author finding his voice should spend nearly two hours not doing so.

Robinson is clearly more interested in our hero getting the girl and becoming politicised, which don’t amount to the same thing.

TOWIE star Mick Norcross shows off the dilapidated hotel he plans to renovate with son Kirk

Mick Norcross and his son Kirk have frequently discussed their new hotel venture on the most recent series of The Only Way Is Essex.

But it appears the Norcross family will have quite a challenge on their hands given the state of the hotel in question.

Sugar Hut club owner Mick, 48, let cameras into see the debilitated The Grand Hotel in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex ahead of its transformation into a plush boutique hotel.

Up for the challenge: TOWIE star Mick Norcross stands on the overgrown steps of The Grand hotel in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex

After buying the rundown Victoria hotel for ?4.3million, Mick is expected to plough ?3million into the extensive renovation.

Building work begins in January to turn the ruined building into a boutique hotel, restaurant and spa.

While father Mick will focus on the main hotel, he has given his son Kirk, 23, charge of setting up the spa.

All quiet: The stage and dancefloor looks in need of a drastic makeover

Mick told the Thurrock Gazette in September: 'We want to turn it into a boutique hotel. Obviously it all depends on whether we get planning permission.

'I just think it is a beautiful building in a fantastic location in a high quality area.'

Mick stressed he didn't want to turn the red brick building into a club or a pub - which is where his previous experience lies as owner of the Sugar Hut club in Brentwood.

It looks like last orders were called quite some time ago: The Grand Hotel went into administration three years ago

The Grand was built in 1896 and was said to have had Laurel and Hardy as its guests at one time.

In the Eighties, it became known to locals as a good live music venue.

But as these photos show, the stage in the ballroom area is looking in desperate need of some tender loving care.

The Grand has been boarded up with 2008 when its former owners Orchid Group went into administration.

Historic: The Grand hotel has stood in Leigh-On-Sea since Victorian times and played host to Laurel and Hardy

Over the last few years, plants have grown over the exterior of the building, with vandals breaking in to destroy parts of the hotel.

To fund the project, Mick has put his ?3.4million converted farmhouse in Bulphan up for sale.

He paid ?1.2million for the house in 2005 and spent between ?300,000 and ?400,000 renovating it.

The show featured heavily in the three series of TOWIE for many scenes featuring Kirk and Mick.

The way it was: The Grand hotel in 2007 - a year before it closed down

Welcome To The Rileys film review: Humourless and laboriously directed

Kristen Stewart whinges again as an impoverished, foul-mouthed 16-year-old runaway, stripper and prostitute in Welcome To The Rileys.

Presumably released in an attempt to cash in on the Twilight franchise, this is a weak American indie film about a middle-aged man (James Gandolfini) and his agoraphobic, pill-popping wife (Melissa Leo).

Runaway stripper: Kristen Stewart plays a 16-year-old stripper and prostitute in Welcome To The Rileys

After their own daughter is killed in a car crash, they try to adopt Stewart’s character as a surrogate replacement.

Ponderously directed by Jake Scott, son of Ridley, this is what is euphemistically described as an ‘actors’ piece’.

In other words, it’s seriously under-plotted, glacially paced and wears its good-heartedness on its sleeve so blatantly it loses its moorings in reality.

Cashing in: The film was presumably released to cash in on the Twilight franchise, also staring Miss Stewart (pictured)

Co-stars: Actor James Gandolfini (pictured left) plays a middle-aged man who adopts Kristen Stewart's character

Leo comes out of it least badly, showing a softer, shyer side than usual.

But her ability to snap out of agoraphobia is ridiculously abrupt.

No doubt the actors welcomed a script that’s virtually a three-hander.

But it’s so humourlessly and laboriously directed, it’s unlikely to attract an audience.

Who'll play tragic Amy? Winehouse's life and death could be made into a sensational film

Amy Winehouse's extraordinary life, and death, could be made into a sensational film (pictured with Tony Bennett)

Amy Winehouse’s extraordinary life, and death, could be made into a sensational film.

Several Hollywood producers are considering buying the screen rights to a book about the hugely gifted, but fatally flawed, North London singer.

There’s no screenplay and there isn’t a director yet, and any film is still a long way off.

But there is a tome called Saving Amy, written last year by celebrity journalist Daphne Barak, who also made a documentary of the same name for Channel 4.

It details Barak’s friendship with Amy and how she accompanied her to St Lucia and kept an eye on her while she was ‘resting’ at various hospitals in England.

Barak also befriended Winehouse’s ex Blake Fielder-Civil and her father Mitch.

If the right calibre of script writer can be found to turn Ms Barak’s jottings into a decent screenplay, and an A-list director hired to direct, then there might be hope for such a project.

But the most important factor is to find an actress to portray Winehouse.

It should be someone who can sing and act and she would need to be someone with spirit, energy and talent, not some nobody  from some TV talent show and certainly not Lady Gaga — that would be a travesty. 

David Hare pointed out the other night, at a fabulous tribute to Vanessa Redgrave hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, that actors are vital contributors to any movie, often more vital than the director.

Such a person is needed for the Winehouse film.

I gather that Tessa Ross from Film4, one of the executive producers of the Margaret Thatcher film The Iron Lady, and Jeff Berg from ICM in Los Angeles are in talks about the Winehouse film and how to develop it.

A stage musical version of the film Finding Neverland, which starred Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, is being planned for the West End.

Julian Ovenden as J. M. Barrie and Jenna Russell as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (her sons inspired Barrie to write Peter Pan) will perform in two workshops of the show with a full cast in London on December 12 .

Film version: Kate Winslet (left) and Johnny Depp (right) starred in the 2004 film Finding Neverland

Rob Ashford, who will direct and choreograph the show, told me that initially it was going to open in the U.S. but he suggested to Harvey Weinstein — who was behind the film and is producing the musical — that they work on it in London.

The show’s composer is Scott Frankel, who wrote Grey Gardens.

Lyrics are  by Michael Korie and the book is by Allan Knee, whose novel was adapted into the film.

‘It’s more a character piece with music and dancing than a full-blown piece like 42nd Street or Singing In The Rain,’ says Ashord.

A friend who heard the score at a workshop in New York described it as ‘beautiful and moving’, a point echoed by Ovenden, who said he was struck by how much the piece moved him.

He hailed Frankel and Korie as ‘musical heirs to Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Lerner and Loewe’. 

The idea is to run Neverland at a regional theatre, then bring it to the West End next autumn or early in 2013, or as theatre availability permits.

Directorial debut: Dustin Hoffman is directing Quartet, starring Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay (pictured)

Dustin Hoffman is on the set of Quartet and the joint’s jumping.

There’s a chap playing rag on the piano and another on saxophone.

This is during a break from filming. There’s energy in the room and everyone is smiling.

Dustin seems to be having the time of his life. He’s 74 and making his directorial debut working with Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay (above) — who suggested to Ronald Harwood that his play Quartet, set in a home for retired opera singers and musicians, be turned into a movie — Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and a host of great character actors.

Producer Finola Dwyer looked on and marvelled. ‘To have had the career he’s had and to be doing this in this act of his life is remarkable,’ she said.

Courtenay said Hoffman is a master of timing. ‘He makes jokes the whole time and it keeps the energy levels up. Maggie loves being directed by him.’

An executive from film distributor Momentum watched the rushes and told Dwyer he’d just seen the movie’s main action scene. ‘What’s that?’ she asked. ‘The croquet,’ he replied.

Francesca Annis at 'Company' Rehearsals at The Youth Arts Theatre in Battersea

As rehearsals for Stephen Sondheim’s seminal musical Company kicked into action, Francesca Annis (left) lifted up her knee and grabbed her derriere as her fellow actresses launched into a song about poor Bobby, a friend they believe is stuck at home playing solitaire.

‘The women have a view of Bobby. They think he’s on his own waiting for the phone to ring,’ says Francesca’s co-star Samantha Spiro. ‘But the men know he’s out fornicating.’

Bobby, or Robert, as he’s variously known by his married friends, is played by Daniel Evans.

As Francesca and Samantha join Anna-Jane Casey, Samantha Seager and Claire Price to lament about their ‘poor baby’ being all alone, he is romping on a bed with Lucy Montgomery, who plays an air hostess.

Lynne Page, the choreographer, moved in to suggest that Daniel and Lucy rough up the sheets a bit more and that her ladies ‘thrust’ out this way and that so the dance movements represent, she later explained to me, ‘their sexual frustration and their longing for Bobby’.

Observing all of this was Jonathan Munby, who is directing Sondheim’s 1970 show about Bobby, who, through the course of the musical, goes on a journey of self-discovery.

Munby was rehearsing with his cast in Battersea, South London, before decamping to Sheffield, where Company will begin previews at the Crucible on November 29.

Munby, Samantha and Francesca explained that though Company is set at the heart of cultural change, Bobby would have gone to university in the Fifties and so would have spent his formative years in a conservative milieu.

‘He’s not the generation of change and he’s under pressure from his peers to get married,’  said Munby.

The director has cast his production with actors armed with the ability to probe Sondheim’s lyrics.

And it’s hard to fathom that Company was considered such an experimental piece when first staged in New York 40 years ago.

‘It’s not a show of standard chorus numbers or linear narrative. They  thought they were going to be laughed out of the room,’ Munby told me.

Daniel, who’s also the artistic director of the Sheffield Theatres, already has two award-winning Sondheim roles under his belt — Merrily We Roll Along (which he did with Samantha at the Donmar) and Sunday In the Park With George.

And all of the cast have real humdingers to sing.

One of the most famous is The Ladies Who Lunch, which brings Francesca (who plays the acerbic Joanne) back to musicals after a long gap.

This is her first foray into the genre since she appeared in John Barry’s Passion Flower Hotel in the Sixties.

‘I did that when I was very young — ugh,’ she told me, making a gagging noise.

‘It was a nightmare, so I haven’t sung since, until now,’ she said. Singing teacher Mary Hammond advised her to sing at home.

‘But I was so traumatised from that early musical that I couldn’t think of a single song. I’ve never sung in the bath or in my car. I think I blocked it,’ she said, as Munby declared that he and the cast have liberated her.

As well as her musical trauma, Francesca also suffered physical aches and pains after rehearsals when she awoke to find her sides, knees and back hurt because of the singing and dancing.

She said: ‘It has taken some time, but I’m getting there. Now I sing all the time!’

Sally Hawkins will be in Nick Payne's play Constellations

Sally Hawkins, who will join Rafe Spall in Nick Payne’s play Constellations at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, from January 13.

It’s a return to the London stage for the actress, who won a Golden Globe for her role in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky and acclaim for parts in Dagenham Girls, Never Let Me Go and the movie Submarine, which has garnered her a nomination in the forthcoming Moet British Independent Film Awards.

Sally said the stage part came up very quickly. She read for the playwright and director Michael Longhurst to get the role.

The play charts the beginnings of a relationship between the characters played by Sally and Rafe. ‘It deals with various things in their life such as love and death and illness across many different dimensions, universes and timelines’, the actress told me.

As we chatted we both agreed that the piece reminded us of Charlie Kaufman’s film Synecdoche, New York and, perhaps, a little of Terrence Malick’s work. First, though, Sally will play Mrs Joe, Pip’s violent sister in Mike Newell’s film Great Expectations. She will use a tickler, more like a whip, she said. ‘Can’t wait to use it’!

Jacqueline Bisset who will join leading men Chiwetal Ejiofor and Matthew Goode in Stephen Pioliakoff’s five-part drama Dancing On The Edge for BBC2. It’s a drama set in the Thirties about a popular black jazz band that gets caught up in high society, royal patronage and a mysterious death.

The cast also includes Angel Coulby (Guinevere in Merlin), Janet Montgomery, Mel Smith, Anthony Head, Jane Asher, Tom Hughes and Caroline Quentin.

Jacqueline Bisset who will star in in Stephen Pioliakoff's five-part drama Dancing On The Edge for BBC2

Emma Fielding, Joss Ackland and Ian McNeice who will portray, respectively, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), George V and Winston Churchill in the stage adaptation of The King’s Speech by David Seidler who won an Oscar for his screenplay.

I told you a while back that Charles Edwards and Jonathan Hyde would be playing George VI and Lionel Logue the speech expert who helped the monarch cope with his speech impediment.

The production, directed by Adrian Noble and designed by Anthony Ward will run at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford from February 1 through February 11 before touring Nottingham, Bath, Brighton, Richmond and Newcastle — and then it will head into the West End.

Anna Chancellor and Nicholas Farrell who will bring into the West End the David Hare-Terence Rattigan double bill of Hare’s South Downs, written in response to Rattigan’s The Browning Version. Both works played to much acclaim at the Chichester Festival Theatre in the summer.

Hare told me the plays would move into ‘town’ once Ms Chancellor completes a second series of Abi Morgan’s BBC TV drama The Hour.

Jackie Mason, the famed Jewish stand-up comic, will be making what he insists will be his last appearance on the London stage when his new show Fearless! comes to Wyndham’s Theatre for a five-week season from February 13.


X Factor 2011 finalists joined by One Direction and JLS for charity single 'Wishing On A Star'

It must have been Simon Cowell's dream to merge the X Factor finalists with former groups from the hit show - and now he has done just that.

The reality show's 15 acts were joined by boy bands JLS and One Direction today as they filmed the music video for their cover of the Rose Royce hit, Wishing On A Star.

The famous faces looked all wrapped up as they donned Winter coats and jumpers for the Autumnal-themed shoot.

Living the dream: The 15 X Factor finalists recorded the music video for their charity single in which they collaborate with JLS and One Direction

The X Factor hopefuls who were voted off the show in recent weeks looked just as pleased to be there as the competition's remaining contestants.

Johnny Robinson, Sophie Habibis and Sami Brookes were pictured together in between takes and still looked like the best of friends.

Kitty Brucknell and 2 Shoes member, Charley Bird were also relaxing behind the scenes as they had their hair and make-up done.

Remaining finalist, Janet Devlin, preferred to relax on her own as he listened to music via headphones on a sofa, but once the 15 acts were all back together to film their scenes, they looked happy to be reunited.

'Absolute pleasure': Foursome JLS wrapped up for the Autumnal shoot alongside the finalists

We're back: One Direction were invited back to sing on a charity single for a second time by Simon Cowell

Movember supporter, Marcus Collins, was seen filming his own solo wearing a black leather jacket and surrounded by Autumn leaves.

And Johnny joined Craig Colton - who left the show last weekend - to belt out the tune.

Foursome JLS looked like true professionals as they sang alongside one another and showed off their best hand gestures.

One Direction were also surrounded by piles of leaves as they recorded their part for the charity single.

Simon Cowell's music label, SyCo has announced they will be donating 100% of the single's profits to the children and young people's charity, Together For Short Lives.

Doing their bit: Girl group Little Mix joined the rest of the finalists to record their part for the music video

'Having worked close hand with this charity and seeing the amazing work they do for kids and their families who need help and support, I am thrilled that the X Factor charity single this year will benefit this charity,' the music mogul said.

The groups recorded the single in London, and it is the fourth charity release from the x Factor.

'We are delighted to be the beneficiary of this year’s X Factor charity single,' said Barbara Gelb, CEO of Together For Lives.

'The money raised from this single gives us the opportunity to improve the lives of these children and families – and crucially raise awareness of the valuable support they need, wherever they live and for as long as they need it.

  Past and present: Former contestants Johnny Robinson and Craig Colton (L) and current finalist Marcus Collins recorded their own scenes amongst the Autumn leaves

Still together: Boy band The Risk looked close as they sung with each other whilst being filmed

'The addition of two chart topping groups to sing with the contestants means that we can now tell even more people all about what it's like for children who are unlikely to reach adulthood and their families and, we hope, raise even more money to support them. Every single bought will make such a difference.'

It seems the famous boy bands were more than happy to comply with JLS saying: 'It's an absolute pleasure to have been invited by Simon to feature on the new X Factor charity single.

'Working with all the finalists and of course One Direction will be amazing. It's all for a great cause.'

Enjoying her own company: Janet Devlin was spotted listening to some music in between takes

And the five young singers agreed, saying: 'We're really excited to be singing on the X Factor charity single for a second year in a row.

'Together For Short Lives is an amazing and important charity and we're honoured to be asked by Simon to help raise lots of money for them.'

Luckily the seventies classic is a hit amongst the show's finalists.

'It's a fantastic song choice, filled with hope,' said Marcus. 'This song is one of my favourites of all time.'

  Enjoying the perks: 2 Shoes member Charley Bird (L) and Kitty Brucknell looked relaxed as they had their hair and make-up done ahead of the shoot

And his close friend, Craig agreed with him, saying: 'It's an honour to record this song, and an honour to be a part of a charity with such a great cause.'

Marks and Spencer will be selling the single, following their collaboration with the finalists for their Christmas advert.

It will be available to download on November 27 and to buy as a CD the following day.

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