A corporate hit-man with a heart


Cert: 15

IN an age when films are sometimes made two years before they are released, Up in the Air’s most obvious selling point is its timeliness. Jason Reitman, director of Oscar-winning Juno, has made a film about people who fire people, and one of its most touching aspects is the real-life footage he collected of people talking about how they felt when they were sacked during this recession.

But although this lends it poignancy, Up in the Air is really about George Clooney playing a character we can laugh at, tut at, but most of all relate to as a product of Western (in this case decidedly American) corporate culture. The brilliance of the film is that though he is a corporate hit-man, he’s lovable. He cares about nobody, but we care about him.

Clooney only feels at home in transit – much of the film is shot in the chipper drear of America’s airports and airport hotels. When he meets the beautiful Alex, also a relentless business traveller, for the first time in his life he feels a tug of something real and more permanent than he’s ever felt before. Bingham’s a brilliant antihero – as endearing as he is cold, as clever as he childish. And this is a brilliant film.
Zoe Strimpel

Cert: 18

WITH the same writing team as the brilliant gangster flick Sexy Beast (2000), this tale of nasty London hard-men shares that film’s lyrical profanity, but little of its intrigue or style. After Ray Winstone’s nouveau riche geezer Colin Diamond is devastated by his wife’s infidelity, his gangster mates kidnap the waiter she had an affair with, lock him in a cupboard in a derelict house, and wait for Colin to summon up the courage to do him in. That’s the unlikely set-up, and the majority of the film sees these colourfully unpleasant men standing around shooting the breeze while Winstone goes through a dark night of the soul. With the likes of Ian McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson and Stephen Dillane wrapping themselves around the baroque dialogue – not to mention Winstone himself and a cameo from Stephen Berkoff – there’s more ham on display than you’d find in an East End butcher’s. Unfortunately the film slips quickly into inertia, even resorting to a hoary old dream sequence to escape its dramatic cul de sac. However much meaty dialogue the cast chomp their way through, it’s a drama that has very little to say.
Timothy Barber


Royal Opera House

THIS is one ballet that – no matter how it is performed – concerns a story so sad and strange that it’s hard not to be moved. and when you are sitting before the plush scenery and costumes of the Royal Opera House, and the expressive dancing of a cast headed up by Tamara Roja and Carlos Acosta, the old tale of the star-crossed lovers is utterly compelling.

Only Acosta was injured on Tuesday’s opening night rendition of Kenneth MacMillan’s legendary 1965 production of Prokofiev’s opera, and taking his place was the relatively underwhelming and unfeasible blonde Rupert Pennefather, who seemed a bit clunky during his solos and just didn’t look or feel like Romeo. But the beautiful and brilliant Roja made up for it.

The supporting dancers were strong; Mercutio (José Martin) and Tybalt (Gary Avis) were especially spirited. If you love Romeo & Juliet then this attractive, well-acted and finely tuned production is certainly worth seeing. If you’re ambivalent, it might just lack the sparkle and pizzazz to reel you in.
Zoe Strimpel


Savoy Theatre

THE film starring Reese Witherspoon is a classic girly favourite. But I rolled my eyes at the prospect of seeing it in musical form; surely there is nothing more to add to Witherspoon and co’s performance?

How wrong I was. This is a smarter, more self-aware script, and with songs it becomes hysterically funny. The refrain of the fantastic opening number, sung by Elle’s friends at their sorority Delta Nu, goes “Omigod you guys” in reference to Elle’s impending engagement. If it sounds dumb, it is brilliant in the flesh, blazing forth with an eye and earful of comedy, singing and dancing – like the rest of the musical, it’s a blend of parody, out and out showmanship (in this case show-womanship) and a catchy tune.

Sheridan Smith (claim to fame: Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps) is no beauty but she’s a fantastic, chirpy little Elle and just the thing for the wildly-singing and dancing, revealingly-clad and – oddly enough – really quite clever character she’s playing here. Her counterpart Duncan James, formerly of the boy band Blue, is just the stud for the part of Warren, Elle’s macho, brainless ex, and her inspiration for applying to Harvard Law School to prove she’s “serious”. A surprise star is Jill Halfpenny as Paulette, Elle’s manicurist and confidante – she’s odd, obsessed with Ireland and a complete tour de force. If you can get a ticket, do – it’s so good even men will enjoy it.
Zoe Strimpel