FROM PARIS WITH LOVE
YOU certainly can’t accuse this action comedy of being slow – its 90 minutes whistle by in a hale of bullets, explosions, cars, bodies and dodgy wisecracks. So it should be entertaining, shouldn’t it? Well, whether you find it so probably depends on your tolerance both for John Travolta’s goatee, and for knuckle-dragging, morally dubious, comedy-free, connect-the-dots nonsense of the kind you need $55m and cynicism beyond belief to create.
Travolta plays Charlie Wax, a CIA hit man who comes to France to wipe out bad guys on an industrial scale. His sidekick, played by Brit charisma void Jonathan Rhys Meyers, is James Reece, a nerdy office boy in the US’s Paris embassy who does a little snooping for the CIA on the side. He gets more than he bargained for when he finds himself paired off with walking apocalypse Wax.
Travolta, whose shaven head and aforementioned dyed-black goatee give him the look of a boiled egg that someone’s drawn on with a felt-tip pen, turns the hammy overacting up to 100 as he gets to work with fists, guns and a bazooka on the Parisian underworld – or rather, the Parisian immigrant population, for that is always where the bad people are to be found in films like this.
Chinese drug dealers and Middle Eastern terrorists by the coach load get waxed by Wax, and American might wins out. The title might seem like an ironic wink to the style and fun of the Bond movies, but once you’ve seen the film you realise it’s more of a brutish sneer with a flicked V-sign.
The thing about this film is, you really don’t need to see it to have seen it. Travolta overacts, Rhys Meyers looks pretty, lots of funny foreign men of various castes get elaborately done in, and there are some explosions. It’s exactly as you’d imagine it – unless you imagine it with good jokes, in which case it’s even worse.
In Iain Glen’s production of Ibsen’s play Ghosts, set in the house of a woman opening an orphanage as a memorial to her late husband, much of the action is offstage, with buried grievances surfacing in a series of extended dialogues. If that sounds like a recipe for dullness, it isn’t.
Ibsen’s “problem play” is the forerunner of every family-secrets drama you can think of, from Arthur Miller to American Beauty. In Glen’s hands, Ibsen’s skewering of bourgeois niceties is rendered as a kind of screwball tragedy, aided by an exhilarating performance by Lesley Sharp as widowed mother Helene. Sharp delivers her lines with alternating melancholy and bitter wit, hinting at painful memories only the audience’s imagination can make live. Glen himself takes the part of pompous Pastor Manders, who finds his worldview challenged through contact with Helene’s son, young bohemian Oswald, played with gangly intensity by Harry Treadaway.
The production has plenty of comic relief, helped by impeccable pacing and timing. It’s only in the inevitably doomy climax that the play teeters into melodrama, losing its composure at the final hurdle.
Most people’s idea of Henry Moore’s sculpture is probably of his public works, those large, reclining figures that you find in sculpture parks – beautiful art to some, nebulous lumps to others. Moore, whose career spanned six decades from the 1920s onwards, was a huge figure in 20th century art, yet one it can seem difficult to get to know closely. Not anymore.
Covering Moore’s work from the 1920s to the 1960s, the Tate’s exhibition has plenty of smaller works showing the progression of his ideas and the probing imagination behind them. Moore’s obsession was the human body and the shapes and ideas that he could spin from that. His early, simplified stone renderings of female forms – a 1932 Mother and Child in grey marble is beautifully tender, the maternal figure’s sturdy, extended hip and shoulder enveloping the feeding baby – show the seeds of those great public works from 50 years later. In between, his investigations with abstraction show that he was as interested in texture, light, surface and space as he was in shape and form. There are works in polished pynkado wood, burnished bronze, sanded marble and dark stone, all undulating, fluid and sensuous.
It’s complicated, satisfying art, and finishes in an elegant crescendo with some of those larger, twisting figures for which Moore is best known. Seeing how he got there is fascinating.