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What's in the box? Not very much

Film<br /><strong>THE BOX<br /></strong>Cert: 12A<br /><br />WHAT would you do if a stranger with half a face offered you a box, and explained that if you pressed the button inside it you could win $1m but a stranger would die? Probably send him packing and check what you&rsquo;d been drinking, but if you were Cameron Diaz and James Marsden&rsquo;s unfortunate couple, you&rsquo;d be launched into an unendurable cosmic thriller taking in Sartre, Nasa, aliens, Arthur C Clarke and some very bad wallpaper.&nbsp; <br /><br />The man to blame is Richard Kelly, who previously made cult favourite Donnie Darko &ndash; if it&rsquo;s said that some authors have one good book in them, Kelly seems to be proving the same can be true of filmmakers. He&rsquo;s taken an old Twilight Zone premise and expanded it into a clunky existential drama full of supernatural suggestions and cosmic allusions, with absolutely no point. <br /><br />Diaz and Marsden live in 1970s suburbia &ndash; hence their drastically awful wallpaper &ndash; with their son. Marsden&rsquo;s a scientist hoping to be an astronaut; Diaz is an English teacher foisting Sartre on her teenage pupils for metaphorical reasons that are probably plain to Kelly. Frank Langella plays Steward, a man so disfigured by a lighting strike that you can see his teeth through the side of his face, who gives them the box. Is he a vessel for aliens? Is there a government conspiracy? Why do people keep making hippy V-signs? Who are &ldquo;the people who control the lighting&rdquo;? <br /><br />Who cares? Kelly doesn&rsquo;t come close to creating any sort of coherent drama as the film meanders deeper and ever more ponderously into its own black hole. The only thing in this particular box is this Christmas season&rsquo;s real turkey.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <br />Timothy Barber<br /><br />Theatre<br /><strong>CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF<br /></strong>Novello Theatre<br /><br />FEATURING an all-black cast, and shifted from 1950s Mississippi into the slightly more tolerant 1980s, Debbie Allen&rsquo;s production of Tennessee Williams&rsquo; Pulitzer Prize winning play demonstrates just how universal the themes it confronts are.<br /><br />Screen superstar James Earl Jones is magnificent as family patriarch Big Daddy, spouting expletives, and locking horns with his favourite son in a desperate bid to understand his confused sexuality and remorseless slide into alcoholism. Rather than the white, brash and vulgar plantation owner Williams had in mind, Jones&rsquo; furious growls and bullying are fused with a sense of vulnerability that make him seem as pathetic as he is monstrous.<br /><br />Filled with heartache and desperation, the performances still manage to bring touches of comedy to the piece, without subverting the drama of the play.<br /><br />Sanaa Lathan sizzles as Maggie, the sexy yet ignored and desperate cat on a hot tin roof, while Adrian Lester&rsquo;s portrayal of her husband Brick &ndash; who won&rsquo;t go to bed with her because the love of his life was a man who has died &ndash; is painfully convincing.<br /><br />Fifty-two years on from the first London production of the play, the decision to cast only black actors in a traditionally white production seems to prove that race, at least here, is not an issue.<br />Lora Coventry<br /><br />Museums<br /><strong>MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE GALLERIES<br /></strong>Victoria &amp; Albert Museum<br /><br />The V&amp;A&rsquo;s new galleries of medieval and Renaissance objects, spread over three floors of an entirely redesigned wing, make up one of the most dynamic and engrossing museum displays around.<br /><br />It covers an era beginning with the end of the Roman Empire in 300, up to the culmination of the High Renaissance in 1600. For a lot of people, the idea of the Middle Ages will be summed up by that opening scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: mud, plague, superstition and more mud. The V&amp;A has brought the Dark Ages gloriously into the light, revealing the craftsmanship and beauty in which the era was steeped. Saints and apostles are everywhere, from intricate ivory carvings, to gleaming reliquary caskets, stained glass windows to huge carved pillars. There are miraculous tapestries and textiles, wedding boxes, manuscripts, candlesticks and crucifixes. And that&rsquo;s just the first floor.<br /><br />Head upstairs and be overwhelmed by the splendour of the Renaissance &ndash; Romanesque statues, huge marble facades, paintings by Botticelli and sculptures by Donatello. Stumble into a newly-covered courtyard where a fantastical wooden staircase from France spirals up to the light, adorned with gargoyles and saints.<br /><br />The space is beautifully organised and arranged, full of space and light, with labels that are helpful without being overly-detailed. There is room to look and to contemplate &ndash; this is not about education so much as exploration. Expect to keep exploring, again and again.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <br />TB