Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Films on Freeview TV : wednesday 24th of December

WALL-E (2008 94min.) [BBC1 11.00am]
Animated sci-fi comedy featuring the voices of Sigourney Weaver, Ben Burtt and Elissa Knight. On a refuse-covered Earth of the future, a lonely robot called WALL-E is carrying out its function to compress and form litter into towers, a task it was programmed to do by the humans who abandoned the barren planet centuries ago. Then a visit from a probe called EVE brings hope that Earth could be populated once more.

Pixar's Oscar winning eco-message animation starts with a very long dialogue free section that is absolutely beautiful to watch. The 'love' story between is Wall-E and Eve is touching and the film only sags a bit when the human characters turn up. A absolute joy and a pleasure.

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005 81min.) [BBC1 1.45pm]
Animated comedy adventure featuring the voices of Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter. As the annual Giant Vegetable Competition approaches, enterprising Wallace and Gromit cash in with their humane pest-control outfit, "Anti-Pesto". But business turns sour when a huge, mysterious beast begins destroying every garden in the area.

Wallace and Gromit are as charming as ever in this affectionate horror movie send-up. The cheese-loving inventor and his dog (not just a loyal hound but business partner, housewife, fixer) try to catch the mutated rabbit that's threatening to devour the village's annual crop of giant vegetables.
The painstaking stop-motion, Peter Sallis' Yorkshire accent, vicars and village fêtes all hark back to Watch with Mother, though children’s TV was never this stuffed with puns, double entendres and so many pop culture references you'd need several viewings to catch them all.

The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938 101min.) [Ch5 1.50pm&+1]
Classic swashbuckling adventure starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Robin Hood and his band of followers fight to protect King Richard's throne from evil Prince John and his villainous accomplice Sir Guy of Gisbourne.

The Grinch (2000 100min.) [Ch4 2.45pm &+1]
Comedy fantasy based on the book by Dr Seuss, starring Jim Carrey. It's Christmas in Whoville and preparations are well underway. Meanwhile, up in his mountain lair, cold-hearted hermit the Grinch sits alone resenting the Whovians' happiness. But then he's befriended by a little girl.

(1951 86min.) [Ch5 3.50pm &+1]
Classic British version of Charles Dickens's Christmas tale, starring Alastair Sim. On Christmas Eve, a tight-fisted businessman is visited by three ghosts who remind him of the true spirit of Christmas.

Says here they are showing the black and white original rather than the vile ‘colorised’ version which keeps popping up elsewhere. In which case it’s pretty much unmissable.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946 125min.) [More 4 4.10pm&+1]
Frank Capra's classic fantasy drama, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore. George Bailey is a small-town businessman who believes he has been a failure. Contemplating suicide, George meets his guardian angel and discovers what life in his home town of Bedford Falls would have been like had he never lived.

One Hundred And One Dalmatians (1960 76min.) [BBC1 4.45pm]
Freeview premiere
Disney's classic animated adventure based on the novel by Dodie Smith, featuring the voice of Rod Taylor. When love blossoms between Londoners Roger and Anita, the same also occurs for their dalmatian dogs Pongo and Perdita. But when the two pooches have a litter of puppies, Anita's old schoolfriend Cruella De Vil is determined to have them at any cost. Her purpose: to make a coat from their pelts.

Cruella De Vil is one of the great Disney character creations and the ‘midnight bark’ sequence is an absolute joy. This is a film made by a studio working at the top of their game and a stand-out work in their canon. Despite the advances in animation technology since there still lots to enjoy in this hand-drawn classic and, at 76 minutes, hardly a moment is wasted.

Muppet Christmas Carol (1992 85min.) [Ch4 4.50pm &+1]
The inimitable puppets are joined by Michael Caine for their own special interpretation of the classic Dickens Christmas tale in which miserly Scrooge is visited by ghosts to help him mend his selfish ways.

Genuinely funny retelling of the Dickens classic with the added bonuses of some great songs and Michael Caine as Scrooge.

Toy Story 3 (2010 98min) [BBC1 6.25pm]
Animated comedy adventure sequel, with the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. Andy's heading off to college and plans to give most of his toys to a day-care centre. But when Woody and the gang are accidentally donated, too, they must embark on a daring and dangerous mission to escape.

Some great new characters, especially the villainous Lotso the bear, and a strong script helped the Toy Story franchise end (or pause) with some style.

Stand out moments include Barbie’s growing frustration with Ken and Buzz Lightyear becoming stuck in Spanish language mode.

Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 73min.) [ITV2 7.20pm &+1]
Animated musical drama featuring the voices of Chris Sarandon and Catherine O'Hara. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, longs to escape the routine of Halloweentown. Through a door in a tree, he stumbles upon Christmastown where he engineers the kidnapping of Santa Claus and wreaks havoc among the inhabitants.

Top quality stop-motion animation with some great songs, sets, characters and voice work. Not just for kids and goths!
Superb set of songs by Danny Elfman too.

The Raid (2011 96min.) [Film4 11.40pm &+1]

A cop joins a SWAT team as they undertake a deadly mission - to infiltrate the tenement that contains the lair of a powerful drug kingpin. However, they soon learn they have walked into a trap - all routes out of the building are blocked, the gangster's henchmen are surrounding them and they will have to fight their way out. Action thriller, starring Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim.

Gareth Evans film is a superbly constructed mixture of Die Hard, Assault On Precinct 13, the Hong Kong action films of John Woo and any number of role-playing shoot em up video games.

Every second of the running time is filled with action : there's no attempt at telling backstory or character development ; the plot is lightweight and there's minimal dialogue.
But the film still has the ability to grip the viewer from beginning to end ; there are some superb action sequences and a genuine air of peril and danger.

It's bloody and violent and, if that's not your sort of thing, you should steer well clear as you won't enjoy The Raid at all.
However if you think you would enjoy a tense thriller with a pounding electronic soundtrack set in a claustrophobic space with some dazzling martial arts sequences and superbly done shoot outs then you'll have to go a long way to find a better recent example than this film.

Rare Exports From The Land of the Original Santa Claus (2010 79min.) [Ch4 1.55am &+1]
Dark seasonal fantasy starring Jorma Tommila and Onni Tommila. Santa Claus's tomb is unearthed in Lapland, just before local children begin disappearing. It seems he isn't quite the jolly soul of Christmas legend.

Wonderfully bonkers Finnish horror-comedy that messes around with the Santa Claus story and creates a brilliantly realised alternative universe in which an evil Santa rules despotically over a world of ensalved elves and helpers.

Terrific fun!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Films on Freeview TV : Tuesday 23rd of December

Chicken Run (2000 80min.) [BBC1 1.45pm]
Animated comedy adventure, with the voices of Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks, Miranda Richardson and Mel Gibson. A clutch of hens, led by head chick Ginger, suffers life on a grim 1950s egg farm. When the avaricious owners decide to move into the meat-pie business, the chickens fear the worst. With the help of American rooster Rocky, the birds start to plan a prisoner-of-war-style escape.

Made by Aardman Animation but lacks the warmth and grace of the Wallace & Gromit stories : still, it’s fun for a young audience although I do wonder how many of the references to POW camp films like The Great Escape and Stalag 17 will mean anything to them.

Destry Rides Again (1939 90mins. ) [ITV4 1.50pm &+1]
Western comedy drama starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart. Mild-mannered lawman Tom Destry is mocked by the inhabitants of Bottleneck when he tries to clean up the town. He comes up against Frenchy, a brassy showgirl and girlfriend of Kent, corrupt owner of the local saloon.

Wonderfully entertaining comedy western with the two leads in sparkling form – Dietrich sings ‘See What The Boys In The Back room Will Have’, Stewart makes hte absolute most of his first lead role in a western and there’s a superb supporting cast including Brian Donlevy as the black hat and Mischa Auer, Charles Winninger and Allen Jenkins.
Great fun.

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951 77min.) [Film4 2.35pm &+1]
Classic Ealing crime comedy starring Alec Guinness. Meek, respectable Henry Holland supervises gold bullion deliveries to the bank where he is a trusted employee. But behind his modest exterior lurks a criminal mind harbouring unbounded ambition. His dream of stealing one million in gold bars starts to assume reality when he teams up with foundry owner Pendlebury and two professional crooks.

It's one of the two totemic non plus ultra of the Ealing comedy films, starring Alec Guinness as Henry Holland and Stanley Holloway as the holiday souvenir manufacturer who helps him melt down the loot and refashion it as scale models of the Eiffel Tower - but then the plan to smuggle them out of the country goes horribly wrong.

Watch out for a young Audrey Hepburn, who has a tiny role in the opening scene as a Latin American ingenue called Chiquita.

Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964 117min.) [BBC4 7.00pm]
The Chicago underworld is shaken when a racketeer and a corrupt sheriff conspire to kill the biggest gang boss in town. A mobster strives to keep his territory out of the killers' hands, but when he uses some of his ill-gotten gains to help an orphanage, he finds himself becoming a local legend. Comedy, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Bing Crosby and Peter Falk.

It’s the Rat Pack Gangster Movie – what more do you need to know?
Great songs, some decent acting and plenty of laughs. Enjoy!

Independence Day (1996 138min.) [Film4 9,00pm &+1]
A fleet of vast flying saucers launches a devastating and unprovoked attack on Earth. As survivors try to flee the seemingly unstoppable alien invaders, the courageous US president, an ace pilot and a computer genius come up with a plan to take the fight to the enemy and save the human race. Roland Emmerich's sci-fi adventure, starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia and Harry Connick Jr.

Sometimes what you want from a film is to be able to park your brain in neutral and be entertained by an adventure story with lots of explosions and some cool special effects. (What sniffy film theorists call "an empty experience").

If tonight is such a night then you're in luck.
"Independence Day" has a story of sorts but it's mainly an excuse for some "oooooh!" moments as well known global landmarks (mainly in the US!) are blown to bits by pesky aliens.

There's some bits and bobs of acting in there : the always reliable Bill Pullman as the gung-ho action hero POTUS, Jeff Goldblum doing his nutty professor turn, Will Smith as the wise cracking pilot and Vivica A Fox as the token kick-ass female.
Director Roland Emmerich handles the CGI elements well and obviously enjoyed the experience as he reprised the trick with varying degrees of success in "Godzilla" (1997) "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004) "10,000 BC (2008) and last year's godawful "2012".

Carlito’s Way (1993 138min.) [ITV4 10.15pm &+1]
Gangster drama starring Al Pacino, Sean Penn and Penelope Ann Miller. Heroin dealer Carlito Brigante is released from prison after serving five years of a 30-year sentence, and wants to go straight. But old acquaintances conspire to turn him back to crime.

Director Brian De Palma makes the absolute most out of the New York location and he has great fun placing the characters in seedy bars and nightclubs. David Koepp’s script is sharp and witty and there’s a sly, restrained turn from Pacino.
The 15 minute subway chase is visually thrilling and there’s plenty of other moments to keep you interested. A really entertaining film that suffers only from being a touch too long.

The Sixth Sense (1999 [Film4 11.50pm &+1]
Supernatural drama starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment. On the same night that he receives an award for his achievements, child psychologist Malcolm Crowe is injured after a confrontation with disturbed ex-patient Vincent Gray. Nevertheless, several months later he decides to take on the case of a nine-year-old boy, who claims he can see dead people, just as Gray had done.

Willis is excellent as Dr Malcolm Crowe, a psychologist who tries to compensate for past professional errors and a crumbling marriage by helping an eight-year-old boy who claims to see ghosts.
Haley Joel Osment's performance as the child with issues is quiet extraordinary.

A film stands up to repeated viewing - mainly because, unlike most of the rest of his output, there is a great deal more to it than just a (fairly obvious) narrative twist.
SPOILER : "She" is actually a sledge!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Films on Freeview TV : Monday 22nd of December

White Christmas (1954 115min. ) [Ch4 11.50am &+1]

Musical starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Old army buddies Phil Davis and Bob Wallace travel with the glamorous Haynes sisters to the Columbia Inn in Vermont. There, Phil and Bob are reunited with their old commanding officer, General Waverly, who is now struggling to keep the hotel going. The visitors decide there's only one answer - to put on a show.

There’s two really good thing on show here : Danny Kaye’s show stealing performance and the direction by Hollywood veteran Michael Curtiz (who also directed Casablanca). Bing gets to sing That Song and Vera-Ellen’s dancing is seriously impressive.

Red River (1948 127min.)( [5USA 12.10pm)
Conflict grows between a tough Texan rancher and his foster son during a long-distance cattle drive to Missouri. The older man's uncompromising methods and unyielding outlook lead his workers to mutiny - and finally pit father against son. Howard Hawks' Western, starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru and Coleen Gray.

Not only one of the greatest Westerns ever to be made by Hollywood but also one of the classics of twentieth century mainstream US film making.
You have John Wayne’s best ever performance, Howard Hawks’ startling direction, Russell Harlan’s sumptuous photography, a mesmerising turn from a yong Montgomery Clift and a stirring Dimitri Tiomkin score.
A fantastic film that can be watched and enjoyed by those who don’t think they like westerns or John Wayne films and repays repeated watching by those who do. Superb.

The War Of The Worlds (1953 81min.) [Film4 12.50pm &+1]
Science-fiction adventure, starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. With their civilisation on the verge of extinction, the Martians scan the solar system and conclude that only the Earth is fit for colonisation. The human race faces its greatest challenge as a Martian invasion force is launched.

Terrific 1950s US sci-fi genre telling of the classic HG Wells story. Gene Barry is a confident, rugged leading man well used by skilled director Byron Haskin who also makes the very best of Gordon Jennings' well done special effects as well as getting believable performances from the cast and many extras, who have to react to the effects that they (obviously) can’t see.

The Railway Children (1970 104min.) [ITV 2.55pm &+1]
Classic period drama based on the novel by E Nesbit, starring Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett and Gary Warren. When a government official is arrested on suspicion of treason, his wife and three children are forced to leave their London home and move to a small cottage in Yorkshire. While their mother fights for her husband's release, the children have marvellous adventures.

"Daddy! My Daddy!" blub

Cinderella (1950 74min.) [BBC1 4.00pm]
Freeview premiere
Classic animated romantic fantasy from Disney, based on the popular children's story by Charles Perrault. The beautiful Cinderella endures a life of hardship with her malicious stepmother. But when the downtrodden girl loses her shoe at a ball, Prince Charming is determined to find its owner.

Not in the first rank of Disney Golden Age films but the songs are good ( Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo and Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes) and younger viewers will get pleasure from seeing the familiar story told in a slightly different way thanks to the Disney additions of an evil cat and singing mice.

Guys And Dolls (1955 143min.) [BBC4 7.00pm]
Musical comedy based on Damon Runyon's short stories, starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Frank Sinatra. Hustler Nathan Detroit searches for a new location for his dice game while being pursued by the police. When he finds a suitable garage, he makes a $1,000 bet with slick gambler Sky Masterson to raise the necessary finance. However, that means Sky must persuade a pious young missionary to go to Havana to have dinner, or else he loses the wager.

A spectacular success that could so easily have been a total disaster. Everything about the film is perfect – from the incorporation of Runyon’s heavily stylised speech patterns & use of slang in the original stories – through the casting of a non-singer and a non-dancer in roles that required them to sing and dance and the fantastic use that’s made of Jean Simmons .
There’s Stubby Kaye’s amusing comedy turn in the supporting cast, some wonderful Frank Loesser songs, great chorography from Michael Kidd and Joseph L Mankiewicz’s confident, assured, light touch direction.
A real treat.

The Tree Of Life (2010 133min.) [Ch4 1.55am &+1]
Drama from director Terrence Malick, starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain. The origins of life on Earth provide a backdrop to a middle-aged man's musings about his upbringing in Waco, Texas, in the 1950s.
Critics and audiences had wildly different views of Malick’s ambitious fifth film.
For the record : I loved it.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Freeview film of the day : friday 19th of December

Boyz N The Hood (1991 112min.) [BBC2 11.35pm]

Urban drama starring Larry Fishburne, Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr. South Central Los Angeles, 1984: young Tre's mother decides it would be in his best interest to live with his estranged but disciplined dad. Seven years on, he has managed to steer clear of the drugs and the violence but, as the teenage gang wars begin to invade his neighbourhood, it becomes almost impossible for him and his friends to avoid trouble.

John Singleton's debut feature was an assured and committed film reflecting the lives of boys growing up amid the chaos and confusion of Reaganite America. Set in south central Los Angeles we follow Tré (Cuba Gooding), Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and Doughboy (Ice Cube) as they turn from children to street urchins to young men with destinies.

In a remarkable, concise style Singleton let's us eavesdrop on the boys growing up and witness the way in which the choices they make each step along the way will, in the end, come to shape their futures.

It's a film bursting with ideas and with plenty to say, but very seldom do you get the feeling that you're being lectured. Too many films ( both of this time and later) that attempted to look at the state of the States ended up as finger wagging polemic or just plain dull.

Singleton sets out to tell a story, albeit a story with a purpose and a moral, but each of the central characters does have a story arc and the film remains true to itself at all times. At no point do we think "s/he wouldn't have done that" - nor do we feel like we're being insulted or patronised for not being part of the target audience.

It's not a seperatist film, the film (rightly) condones the idea that black-on-black killing is an acceptable thing and challenges a lot of the preconceptions that the audience would bring with them.

Tré's father is played by Laurence Fishburne in his first leading role. Jason Styles , known to all as Furious, is a man deeply steeped in the history of the black man in the US , radicalised by the Civil Rights movement. At the time of the film we find him operating a home loans company, aiming to provide funds for his black customers to move on up.

It's to (the excellent) Fishburne that the script turns to deliver it's one moment of out and out politicising. Taking Tré and Ricky into Compton, in an attempt to show them the eternal truth of "the other man's grass is always more yellow", he begins a street corner sermon on the lot of the black in (then) present day America.
As he warms to his theme a small crowd gathers and an imprompteu Q&A / call and response is set in motion.

[referring to drug epidemic] I know every time you turn on the TV thats what you see, Black People, pushing the rock, selling the rock, that's what you see. But see that wasn't a problem as long as it was here [referring to Compton, Watts, other Black ghettos] It wasn't a problem until it was in Iowa or on Wall Street where there are hardly any black people.

And this is the central message of the film - the young characters are in need of someone like "Furious" to point these things out to them. For all the clamour in the popular US press the sad truth is that then (and now) the people who were in the centre of all this shit were the very same ones that were most cut off from any sense of why they were who they were or where they were.
Doughboy says : Tre, your pops is like muthafuckin Malcolm... Farrakhan
He knows the names, he knows that they are people to be listened to, but in his juiced up brain all that they amount to is a jumble of vaguely related names.

A word on the soundtrack. Superb, especially the use of Ice's "How To Survive In South Central" and Dr.Buzzard's "Sun Shower"

The poster tagline "increase the peace" is also the last words on the screen when the credits stop rolling - this was the writer/director's plea and, to an extent, he got his wish.

Sadly, a director this talented couldn't stay outside the mainstrean's radar for long and he ends up working on the reamke of Shaft (2000) and the truly awful 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) - nice irony in the title.

But in 1991 John Singleton wrote and directed one of the most astonishing debut features since Citizen Kane.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 10th of December

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011 97min.) [Film4 10.40pm &+1]
Freeview premiere
Drama starring Elizabeth Olsen. Lucy receives a phone call from her estranged sister Martha, asking if she can come and collect her from a bus station in upstate New York. When the pair return to the summer house Lucy shares with her partner, Martha's erratic behaviour suggests that she has undergone a traumatic experience while she has been away.

This is a really fine piece of film making by writer/director Sean Durkin, his cast and crew.
An enigmatic mystery drama about identity, self, love and loyalty (and misplaced loyalty) that plays out slowly and makes fantastic use of the simple trick of withholding all of the information from the viewer ; telling us only as much as we need to allow us to enjoy the ride - right up to the unresolved ending.

Elizabeth Olsen is superb in the title role(s) - disorientated, confused, changeable and seemingly capable of astonishing mood swings and emotional surges. It's a great part and Olsen grabs it with both hands and wrings every drop from it.
John Hawkes gives another in his string of startling supporting role performances (as in Winter's Bone) and Sarah Paulson does good work with the slightly underwritten part of Martha's sister.

One of those films that stays with you for a few days after watching. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 26th of November

Le Serpent (2006 121min.) [Film 4 1.10am thursday &+1]

Thriller starring Yvan Attal and Clovis Cornillac. A photographer is manoeuvred into a web of blackmail and murder by a vengeful former classmate.

From the same school of paranoid mystery thriller as Cache [Hidden] (2005) and Ne Le Dis A Personne [Tell No One] (2006) "Le Serpent" revolves around "why is he doing this to him?" rather than "why is this happening to them/him?" .

Although it's not as gripping or enthralling as either of the two previously mentioned near contemporary films, nonetheless there's enough of interest to keep you watching and entertained for two hours.

Not from the top drawer and not essential - but an interesting and worthwhile addition to the burgeoning canon of 21st. century French thrillers.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Freeview film of the day : monday 17th of November

Hero (2002 95min.) [Film4 7.00pm &+1]

Martial arts fantasy starring Jet Li. A Chinese warrior arrives at the palace of the mighty ruler of Qin to relate how he has slain three would-be assassins - but all may not be as it seems.

Absolutely terrific film - beautifully shot and directed by Zhang Yimou who uses light and coloured filters to dazzling effect and starring three of the very best Asian actors of their generation : Jet Li, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung.

The story itself is interesting enough, but when you add in some astonishing fight scenes, great acting and sublime direction you arrive at something very special.

Thoroughly recommended, even if martial arts films aren't normally your thing.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Freeview film of the day : monday 10th of November

The Station Agent (2003 86min.) [Film4 11.05pm &+1]

Comedy drama starring Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale. A dwarf inherits a disused rural railway station in New Jersey and chooses to live the life of a hermit. However, he unexpectedly and reluctantly befriends a Cuban fast-food salesman and a bereaved mother.

Stars the always good Peter Dinklage as Fin (hobbies : model railways and train spotting).

Thomas McCarthy's film is warm and involving and as Fin falls in with two local misfits (Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale - both excellent) we become increasingly involved with their lives; although all they do is talk, eat, sleep and spot trains.

A mesmeric and slightly surreal viewing experience but one that's extremely rewarding. A remarkable and terrific film.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Freeview film of the day : friday 3rd of October

Panic Room (2002 107min.) [Film4 11.00pm &+1]

Thriller starring Jodie Foster. During the first night in their new home, a lone mother and daughter become trapped by intruders. Securing themselves in a safe room designed to protect a family under siege, they wait for the criminals to take what they came for. But the loot is actually hidden inside their refuge and the robbers will do anything in their power to get to it.

Following up Fight Club was always going to be a tough act for director David Fincher but he gives a good account of himself with this smart home invasion thriller aided by a hyper-taut performance by Jodie Foster and good support work by Forest Whittaker.

At times the direction threatens to overwhelm the action but it's still a very effective thriller made with obvious skill and very well acted.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Freeview film of the day : saturday 27th of September

Margin Call (2011 102 min.) [BBC2 10.30pm]
Freeview premiere

Drama starring Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany and Jeremy Irons. When risk management expert Eric Dale is laid off from a top investment bank, he passes information to junior analyst Peter Sullivan that indicates financial disaster is looming. The next 36 hours will prove crucial for the survival of the bank and the executives who run it.

The financial crash of 2008 (the bank at the heart of this story is a lightly disguised Lehman Brothers) is, at the same time, an obvious gift and a problem to film makers.

There's the attraction of impending doom, a race against time and huge amounts of money on the plus side but on the downside there's the esoteric and mysterious language of the investment banking world and the need to attempt to explain the very obtuse world which they inhabit without filling the screentime with yards of exposition.

Talented writer/director JC Chandor attempts to solve the problem by humanising the men at the centre of the story and adding personal dramas which mirror those of their professional world.

It's a very assured first big budget film for the director and the world he creates is believable - most of the action takes place at night lit by the dim flicker of computer monitors and subdued office lighting.

It's lacking a little in depth and seems to pull it's punches when it comes to the moral aspect of what the characters are doing ; however, it's an entertaining watch even if it's almost immediately forgettable afterwards.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Freeview film of the day : friday 19th of September

The Troll Hunter (2010 99min.) [Ch4 12.10am saturday &+1]

Horror thriller starring Otto Jespersen. Present-day Norway: a student film crew sets out to investigate who's responsible for a series of bear killings. But when they track down Hans, the grizzled loner who they believe to be the culprit, they discover he's actually hunting creatures that belong in the realm of local folklore.

Oh! How much fun is this film? – the whole thing is predicated on the idea that trolls are real and that they aren’t small grumpy types who live under bridges but enormous tree pulling-up monsters that roam the forests inside the Arctic circle.

The Norweigan government is involved in an enormous cover-up in order to prevent the world discovering the exsistence of these beats and employ a squad of troll hunters to keep them from coming into contact with the population.

Hans the Troll Hunter is a wonderfully downbeat character, the Scooby Gang he falls in with are perfectly written and the CGI monsters are very well realised.

Terrific, daft, thrilling and funny.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 9th ofSeptember

Night Of The Demon (aka Curse Of The Demon) (1957 91min.) [Film4 12.50am wednesday &+1]

Horror based on the story by MR James, starring Dana Andrews. American psychologist John Holden remains sceptical of the work of sinister occultist Dr Karswell, until his own life is threatened.

Director Jacques Tourneur, who made several classic psychological thrillers for Hollywood in the 1940's (including the brilliant Cat People) was brought to England to handle this adaptation of the MR James story Casting the Runes.

Dana Andrews plays the rational scientist who tangles with a reclusive mystic (superbly played by Niall MacGinnis). The film is an exercise in creating tension and atmosphere from the story, rather than stringing together a series of shocks.

In fact, Tourneur fought hard against the studio's insistence on showing the monster at the climax of the film (and lost) ; however the compromise makes for a genuinely thrilling ending to a superbly constructed and delivered example of film making on a limited budget.

Terrific cast, locations, sets and superb direction combine to deliver a classic of British fifties cinema.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Freeview film of the day : sunday 7th of September

Chico & Rita (2010 89min.) [BBC4 10.30pm]
Freeview premiere

Animated 1940s-set romantic musical about a philandering Havana jazz pianist and his talented singer girlfriend who travel the world to crack the big time.

Gorgeous to look at and with a cracking soundtrack of post-war jazz and Cuban rhythms the film is let down slightly by lapses in the screenplay and some less than state of the art animation (especially when the characters are required to express emotion).

However, it's packed with good things, moves along at a storming pace and is a riot of colour and sound.

Recommended with the proviso that it's an adult film and despite being an animated love story there are scenes which mean it's not suitable for all the family!
(It was released in the UK with a 15 certificate)

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 20th of August

Antichrist (2009 101min.) [Film4 12.55am thursday &+1]

Controversial horror drama directed by Lars von Trier, starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. A woman descends into madness following a family tragedy, despite the efforts of her therapist husband to help her come to terms with the loss.

Lars Von Trier can be a frustrating auteur, his deeply personal films range from the irritating (The Idiots) to the joyous (Dancer In The Dark) and even reach moments of magnificence (Melancholia).

This arthouse horror movie covers most of these bases and is certainly not for the squeamish.
Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe play a couple known only as He and She. Their small son dies in an accident while they're having (explicitly filmed) sex. He tries to treat her grief with therapy and a trip to their isiolated cabin in the woods; to say it all goes horribly wrong would be the understatement of the century.
Nature has rarely seemed so ominous as it does here; the sounds of wind through trees, acorns dropping on to a roof, even a fake-looking talking fox are enough to give you the heebie-jeebies long before a crescendo of gore that will have viewers of both sexes crossing their legs and squirming.
Like the best horror movies, much of it defies rational analysis, but there's enough brooding symbolism to give you bad dreams for weeks.

Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle's photography is striking : the opening sequence (where The Tragedy occurs) is a beautifully shot ultra-slow motion combination of intensity and breathtaking impending catostrophe. In the later scenes set in the depths of the forest the glorious natural background slowly takes on an increasingly threatening edge as the natural tones turn from a lush green to a washed-out brown and black landscape, against which the end game of the couples mental collapse is played out.

There's not much in the way of coherent narrative or much action to speak of, the film is a series of impressions and sketches charting the mental disintegration of Charlotte Gainsbourg's character and there are moments when you want to sit von Trier down and give him a stern talking to.

Overall though, it's an interesting if disturbing watch and one of the most important films in the development of this talented, inventive writer-director.

Approached with caution it's a rewarding watch - but it's certainly not to everybody's taste.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 19th of August

Berberian Sound Studio (2012 88min.) [Film4 12.55am wednesday &+1]

Horror starring Toby Jones. A reserved sound engineer from Surrey is hired to work on a grubby Italian horror film and becomes ever more disturbed by the experience.

Toby Jones is superb as the shy man thrown into a world he neither likes nor understands as he works with a group of largely unlikeable people on his newest project; including the world's most unhelpful secretary, a sleazy director, a demented producer and surly voice talent.

Some knowledge or affection for 60s and 70s Italian horror cinema might be helpful; but Peter Strickland's film (like his previous work Katrina Varga) is a very watchable story of an individual adrift in an alien landscape attempting to make sense of the world in which they find themselves.

The sound design is (as you would expect) spectacular and the final reel drags the viewer into Jones' nightmare in a most intriguing way.
A very interesting, well made, curio.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Freeview film of the day : Friday 15th of August

Dog Day Afternoon (1975 119min.) [ITV 10.40 &+1]

Crime drama starring Al Pacino, John Cazale and Charles Durning. On a hot August day in 1972, Sonny Wortzik and two accomplices enter a Brooklyn bank and hold the staff at gunpoint. But the robbery goes wrong and when police surround the building, Sonny and his morose friend Sal become trapped inside with their hostages.

Sidney Lumet's film is one of the classics of seventies US "new cinema". The film is a jittery jive through a scorching hot day in New York, with that and the nervous, hyped up energy of the two leads being perfectly reflected through the camera's constant movement and the bleached out, sun baked tones of the photography.

The three leads are all excellent and in the hands of such a skilled craftsman as Lumet the whole thing is pulled together and propelled forward in an utterly engaging and relentless fashion.

A magnificent piece of work and an absolute credit to all those involved.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 13th of August

The Birds (1963 113min.) [Film4 10.45pm &+1]

Classic chiller starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. A chance meeting in a San Francisco pet shop impels wealthy playgirl Melanie Daniels to track down lawyer Mitch Brenner at his mother's home in Bodega Bay, 70 miles away. As a gift, she takes a pair of lovebirds with her. This seemingly innocuous act unleashes the forces of nature in an unexpected and terrifying way as Bodega Bay becomes prey to "the Birds".

The ne plus ultra of the fifties/early sixties 'nature bites back' sub-genre - brilliantly shot and constructed with some magnificent set pieces (the children leaving the school, the attack on the gas station) and shot through with dark humour and a proto-eco concern message.

Psycho gets all the plaudits from the horror fans and Vertigo from the critics but The Birds is the third corner of the triangle where moments of gory blood letting are juxtaposed with a genuine sense of psychological terror in face of the unknown.

Rod Taylor is reliably handsome and brave as the leading man but it's Tippi Hedren's performance that really makes the film, with able support from Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette and (especially) Ruth McDevitt as Mrs MacGruder, the local bird watcher and Cassandra of doom.

The really long prologue, before the action shifts to Bodega Bay, might have newcomers scratching their head and wondering what on earth is going on; but it brilliantly sets up and foreshadows the events that follow.

Hitchcock was a master of the cinema at the height of his powers when he made this film, and it's structure, look and message all had a huge influence on generations of future film makers.
Superb in every department.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 12th of August

Let The Right One In (2008 109min.) [Film4 12.55am wednesday &+1]

Horror starring Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson. In a small town in 1980s Sweden, bullied 12-year-old Oskar befriends Eli, who appears to be a normal girl his own age but is actually a vampire.

Sweden has almost no tradition of horror films so the release and subsequent success of Tomas Alfredson's film version of John Ajvide Linqvist's screenplay from his own best selling book came as a real surprise.

Easily one of the best films released anywhere in the world in 2008, it's the multi-award winning (but overlooked by the Oscars due to the stupidity of their nomination process) story of lonely twelve year old Oskar's developing relationship with his new female same-age neighbour Eli and is beautifully realised with extraordinary performances by the two young leads.
There are some moments of gruesomeness but the overall tone is subtle, gentle and soulful - beautifully done and pretty much essential viewing.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Freeview film of the day : monday 11th of August

Animal Kingdom (2009 108min.) [Film4 10.50pm &+1]

Australian crime drama starring Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Mike from Neighbours and James Frecheville. After his mother dies of an overdose, young Joshua Cody takes up his grandmother's offer of a home. But he must also gain the acceptance of his three career-criminal uncles, who are under investigation by the local police.

Australian writer/director David Michôd's feature debut is a terrific piece of film making with a gritty but realistic central story that spins off in any number of directions and includes at least three "oh no!" moments of genuine shock.

Packed with great performances, but special mention for Jacki Weaver who received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the mater familias to this trio of hard-bitten, brutal but fading would-be gangsters.

It's a remarkable film that is highly recommened to everyone, but especially to those who found Chopper (to which this film has a stylistic resemblance) to be a gripping and taut piece of cinema back in 2000.

A really, really well made crime drama

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Freeview film of the day : thursday 7th of August

Limitless (2011 100min.) [Film4 11.10pm &+1]

Sci-fi thriller starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. One of life's losers is transformed into a high-achieving dynamo thanks to a mysterious new drug, but his overnight success attracts the wrong kind of attention from those keen to profit from the discovery.

A fairly routine fear of the future thriller is made into an above average film by Bradley Cooper's believable everyman whose life suddenly becomes filled with impossible highs and equally violent lows and by the skilled direction of Neil Burger who creates a visual world to match these changes of mood.

Not essential by a long way but interesting enough.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 5th of August

Talk To Her (2001 108min.) [Film4 1.40am wednesday & +1]

Romantic drama directed by Pedro Almodóvar, and starring Javier Cámara and Darío Grandinetti. Male nurse Benigno and journalist Marco meet in a hospital ward where they're waiting for a ballerina and a female bullfighter to emerge from comas. As the days go by, Benigno and Marco become friends.

A low key Almodóvar, lacking some of the flamboyance and high camp with which he is usually associated but still a beautifully crafted, shot and realised film.

It's more a series of inter-connected scenes than a fully functioning narrative; there are flashbacks, dream sequences and even musical numbers in and around the main story.

However, it's a very worthwhile (and in places funny) film and it uses the components well to make it's points about the nature of love, male bonding and the survival of the less strong in a highly developed society.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Freeview film of the day : monday 4th of August

Sunshine (2007 103min.) [Film4 12.25am tuesday &+1]

Science-fiction thriller starring Chris Evans, Cillian Murphy and Rose Byrne. As the Sun begins to die, spelling disaster for life on Earth, a group of astronauts is sent on a hazardous journey to re-ignite the star with a nuclear device.

Written by Alex Garland, directed by Danny Boyle.

Garland and Boyle, having done British social commentary and zombies (as well as the less than wonderful The Beach (2000) ), turn their attention to sc-fi.

Whenever science fiction films are mentioned people tend to roll their eyes upwards and mutter darkly about "spods, yet there is a lot more to the genre than the "Star Wars" franchise and the numerous copycat films that followed in it's all consuming box office wake.

There's a tradition of well made, thoughtful sci-fi films which include (but not limited to) John Carpenter's Dark Star (1974), Doug Trumbulls' Silent Running (1972) and the less successful but worthy Event Horizon (1997) and of course Kubrick's 2001:A Space Odyssey(1968).

Boyle's obviously seen all of these and a lot more beside. The film is packed with references to the tradition, some obvious some more subtle.

The visual style of the film is remarkable : to describe it as "retina scorching" is not over stating the case. There's a lot of CGI work involved; but it enhances rather than detracts or distracts, as is too often the case in sci-fi films.

Although it's essentially an ensemble piece (like Alien) it's Cillian Murphy who puts in the star turn, a believable and honest performance from an actor who, when he's on his game, has a lot to offer.

There's excellent support work from the likes of Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh and Mark Strong as well.
Underworld's Karl Hyde provides a score that underpins, illuminates and works beautifully with the visuals.

Sunshine's message and meaning may not be obvious at first, but it will seep into your consciousness over the course of a few days after viewing. It also bears repeated watching, usually the sign of a rather special film.

Thoroughly recommended, even to the non-spod!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Freeview film of the day : sunday 3rd of August

Winter's Bone (2010 95min.) [BBC2 10.30pm]

Oscar-nominated thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes. Seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly lives in a poor rural backwater in the Ozark Mountains and struggles to look after her mentally ill mother and younger brother and sister. So when she finds out that her drug-dealing father has skipped bail after putting their house up as collateral, she's forced to go looking for him. Her dogged investigations lead to warnings, threats and, finally, violence.

A wonderful film, staggeringly beautiful in places. Directed with a real feel for the subject matter by Debra Granik.

It's not a warm film in any sense of the word : the atmosphere and tone is of a blood-freezing chill, the landscape is wrapped in a blanket of winter throughout and none of the characters are truly sympatheic or likeable.

Jennifer Lawrence (who was 20 at the time she made the film) puts in a perfectly judged perfomance of steely determination and resolve and the ensemble supporting cast are all note perfect.


Thursday, 24 July 2014

Freeview film of the day : thursday 24th of July

Audition (1999 110min.) [Film4 1.15am friday &+1]

Psychological horror. Seven years after the death of his wife, a lonely man is persuaded by a friend to hold auditions for a new bride, with the candidates under the impression they are trying out for a film. He becomes capitivated by a demure young woman who seems to be everything he wants, but appearances prove deceptive.

Terrific Japanese/Korean thriller superbly directed by Takashi Miike and with a thoroughly disturbing air of menace and dread.
There's an outstanding performace by Eihi Shiina and one of the best "jump" moments in recent cinema.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Freeview films of the day : wednesday 23rd of July

If you've watched/recorded the first two Alien films over the past couple of nights you should also consider the least favoured of the trilogy Alien 3 (1992 109min.) [Film 4 11.00pm &+1]

Science-fiction action thriller, starring Sigourney Weaver, Charles S Dutton and Charles Dance. The third in the Alien series finds Warrant Officer Ripley, the only survivor of a crash-landing, stranded on a planet inhabited by convicts who are being killed by a mysterious foe.

David Fincher takes over from James Cameron as director and the film has a distinctly different tone and feel to the first two. In my opinion it's a worthwhile addition to the series but it does tend to polarise opinion, for example :

For the cinephile with an interest in European film :

The Red Desert (1964 111min.) [Film4 1.15am thursday &+1]

A depressed plant manager's wife in Ravenna is befriended by an engineer.

Michelangelo Antonioni's film isn't up there with his earlier work (L'Avventura, La Notte and The Eclipse) but still has things of interest, not least the early warning about the dangers of industrial pollution.

Stars the wonderful Monica Vitti but also a horribly mis-cast and underused Richard Harris.

For the cinephile with an interest in older Hollywood films :

The Outrage (1964 92min.) [ Ch4 1.50am thurday &+1]

Western remake of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, starring Paul Newman and Laurence Harvey. At the trial of a Mexican bandit accused of the rape of a woman and the murder of her husband, witnesses offer widely differing accounts of what happened.

Martin Ritt's direction is laboured but the cast (even William Shatner) are exceptionally good. Interesting late cycle western.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Freeview film of the day : sunday 20th of July

Grand Prix (1966 175min.) [BBC2 4.15pm]

After causing a crash in which a colegue is badly injured, an American driver tries to fight his way back to the top.

On the day that we lost the wonderful James Garner it's good to be able to recommend the best of his many films.

Although he's best remembered for two long-running and very successful TV shows (Maverick and The Rockford Files) he was an in-demand film actor during the mid- and late sixties.

He had the ability (shared with Paul Newman) to take on a 'tough guy' role and add warmth, humour and an inate sense of goodness to the part.

Grand Prix is a spectacular film (made for the short-lived Cinerama format - triple width screens housed in a circus tent!) and is part of the last throes of Old Hollywood where the thought was that huge budget + action sequences + enormous cast on the screen would equal a big payday at the box office.
There was also the idea that if you sprinkled a few continental European actors in the cast you could suggest jet-set elegance to the viewer : here Yves Montand and Francoise Hardy turn up for no real reason other than to look glamorous.

The race scenes were filmed at Brands Hatch and several figures from F1 that viewers of a certain age will recall pop-up in cameos : Raymond Baxter is a TV interviewer, Jim Clark & Jack Brabham appear as themselves.

It's far too long at a touch under three hours (most of these would-be epics had enormous running times) but there's no denying that the action sequences are superbly done.
But away from the track it's Garner's film as he turms in an engaging peformance as the racing driver dealing with his own demons while attempting to reclaim his career and make amends for his past mistakes.

There's also a pulsating soundtrack from Maurice Jarre to add to the pleasure.

A fitting tribute to a superbly talented actor.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Freeview film of the day : sunday 13th of July

Everlasting Moments (2008 106min.) [BBC4 10.45pm]
freeview premiere

Period drama based on a true story, starring Maria Heiskanen. Sweden in the 1900s: Maria is a mother and the wife of a hard-working labourer whose drinking increasingly puts a strain on their marriage. However, Maria's acquisition of a box camera and the photographs it enables her to take allows her some respite from a life of toil and sacrifice.

Jan Troell's film is based on the life of a friend of his wife. It's a small intimate picture that makes the absolute most of the lives of the working class Swedes which it follows in the years leading up to the world changing events of 1914.

Maria Heiskanen is a startling lead and brings a real warmth to her part as the woman who discovers a path to independence through the viewfinder of her camera.

It's a beautifully constructed film that tells it's simple story in a series of gorgeously photographed, surperbly composed scenes.

A lovely little film that deserves (and rewards) your attention.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Freeview film of the day : saturday 12th of July

The Others (2001 99min.) [Film4 11.20pm &+1]

Atmospheric period horror thriller starring Nicole Kidman. In a remote mansion on the Channel Island of Jersey at the end of the Second World War, Grace is praying for news of her husband, who has been declared missing in action. Her children have an allergy to sunlight and cannot leave the house, so Grace advertises for some home help. Three people respond to her request, but their arrival coincides with a series of sinister occurrences.

Nicole Kidman gives a spirited (!) performance and director Alejandro Amenábar uses a style which will be familiar to those who have seen classic chillers such as The Haunting (1963) and The Innocents (1961) - shocks are delivered by suggestion and atmosphere, rather than CGI gore and guts.

The end result is a deeply satisfying, subtle and enjoyable film that, even when you know or work out the twist, still has plenty to offer.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Freeview film of the day : friday 11th of July

The Raid (2011 96min.) [Film4 10.55pm &+1]
freeview premiere

A cop joins a SWAT team as they undertake a deadly mission - to infiltrate the tenement that contains the lair of a powerful drug kingpin. However, they soon learn they have walked into a trap - all routes out of the building are blocked, the gangster's henchmen are surrounding them and they will have to fight their way out. Action thriller, starring Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim.

Gareth Evans film is a superbly constructed mixture of Die Hard, Assault On Precinct 13, the Hong Kong action films of John Woo and any number of role-playing shoot em up video games.

Every second of the running time is filled with action : there's no attempt at telling backstory or character development ; the plot is lightweight and there's minimal dialogue.
But the film still has the ability to grip the viewer from beginning to end ; there are some superb action sequences and a genuine air of peril and danger.

It's bloody and violent and, if that's not your sort of thing, you should steer well clear as you won't enjoy The Raid at all.
However if you think you would enjoy a tense thriller with a pounding electronic soundtrack set in a claustrophobic space with some dazzling martial arts sequences and superbly done shoot outs then you'll have to go a long way to find a better recent example than this film.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 8th of July

American Graffiti (1973 107min.) [Film4 1.15am wednesday &+1]

Coming-of-age comedy drama directed by George Lucas, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard (billed here as Ronny). California 1962: four high-school graduates face up to their futures during a summer's night spent driving around the streets and chasing girls.

"Where were you in '62?"

With High School behind them and their futures due to start in the morning a group of friends spend the night cruising the strip in their small California hometown, listening to Wolfman Jack on the radio and getting involved in small but significant adventures.

Lucas graduated from the same film school as Francis Ford Coppola and Spielberg and while the former had The Godfather (1972) on his CV already and the latter was just a couple of years from changing the face of mainstream US cinema for ever with Jaws, Lucas only had the failure of his debut feature THX 1138 (1971), a dreary and dull sci-fi film to show for his talent and ambition.

Taking a back-to-basics approach he decided that if audiences didn't want to join him in a journey into the future he would take them back into his past. American Graffiti is an amalgam of events and people he recalled from his teenage years growing up in Modesto, California.

The central characters are composite stereotypes - Richard Dreyfus is the smart, sensitive loner; Ron(ny) Howard the conflicted All American teen; Paul Le Mat is John, the grease monkey car enthusiast whose interests extend no further than the Strip and his place on it and Charlie Martin Smith is the partial outsider - the nerd/dweeb whose loyalty and friendship is valued sufficently by the "cool kids" to allow them to tolerate his presence on the fringes of their activity.

From these building blocks Lucas and his co-writers then fashioned a believable world for them to live in - a world where small events are inflated to life-changing proportions and where it's safe to stay out all night and indulge in your favourite pastimes while the police and parents take a "boys will be boys" atttitude and the worst that can happen is your car gets wrecked or your heart gets (temporarily) broken.

The script, the cast, the recognisable near-past world and the direction are all spot on the money : it's a beautifully paced movie with moments of high energy counterpointed by smaller, quieter ones of reflection and repose. And it's funny; the script crackles and fizzes with great lines, clever physical gags and an overall sense of fun and innocence.

And then there's the soundtrack : a perfectly chosen selection of pre-Beatles teen pop that both acts as a background for events and as a commentary upon them. The inclusion of the voice of legendary cult rock'n'roll DJ Wolfman Jack and his anarchic links between records is inspired and adds another layer to the beautifully constructed sense of time and place.

Yet nagging away in the background all the time is the spectre of Vietnam : the kids of American Graffiti's world were the last for a generation who were able to indulge in such simple pleasures and dream of brighter futures without the fear of the draft and death in a foreign country hanging over them at every step. The war is never mentioned but it's there in the background all the time; as is the looming moment when American youth lost it's sense of innocence for ever.

JFK gets a passing mention, just enough to jerk you back from the lost fantasy world to the cold hard reality that's about to impinge on the lives of these (mostly) carefree young people in the most brutal way.

Lucas adds a postscript screen card that updates the story of the four main players ; two are dead, both well before their time, in senseless killings while two others have lived out their lives in almost excatly the way that we would have imagined. The physical location given for the grown-up Curt suggests that the Vietnam War was also a life changing event for him even though he never fought in it.

American Graffiti is an outstanding film that shows a film maker finding his populist touch and creating a fully functioning world for his characters to live in; an ability that he would develop further with his next projects which would reward him with enormous financial wealth but declining artistic recognition and respect.

For the time it's on screen the film is perfect, loveable and wholly believable - the kids are alright and so is everything else in the world. It's only as the end credits role that we realise that these certanties were to be gone for ever within a few short months and that there's no going back in the real world to a time of soda pop and fries at the drive-in with the thumping beat of rock'n'roll radio as your constant companion.

A genuine classic of mainstream American cinema.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Freeview film of the day : monday 7th of July

Star Trek (2009 121min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

JJ Abrams reboots the Star Trek universe in this prequel to the sci-fi franchise. Rebellious youth James Kirk is persuaded to join the Starfleet Academy, where he befriends Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy and clashes with officer Spock. When an evil Romulan arrives from the future, the young crew of the USS Enterprise find themselves in the thick of the action.

If you're tired/bored/never bothered with the original TV series, it's multi-headed offspring and the increasingly daft film franchise in which the original TV cast grow older, fatter and slower then you might dismiss this as another entry in a pointless franchise.

But JJ Abrams' film cleverly turns the clock back so that we meet younger versions of the familiar crew members as they meet for the first time, undergo training and take part in their first mission on the then new Enterprise.

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto lead the cast and are both excellent - not impersonating Shatner and Nimoy but dropping in enough physical and verbal references to remind us that we are watching the characters who will become the Kirk and Spock that we know.

It's a clever, witty, smart and fast paced adventure story that requries no knowledge of the original output in order to enjoy the very well handled action sequences and entertaining story.

The only off-note is Simon Pegg's cameo as a comedy Scotty but the rest of the supporting cast are perfect in their roles (Karl Urban's McCoy especially so).

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Freeview films of the day : saturday 28th of June

Hard Candy (2005 99min.) [BBC2 1.30am sunday]

Psychological thriller starring Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page. A 32-year-old paedophile meets up with the 14-year-old girl he's been grooming on the internet and discovers that she has a secret agenda.

Before the wonderful Juno (2007) Ellen Page starred in this taut little two-hander with the versatile but always engaging Patrick Wilson.

Director David Slade has a background in low-budget horror films and he brings that sense of the gritty and realistic to this vigilante Little Red Riding Hood story of a meeting between a teenage girl and an older man that starts off as one thing and quickly develops into something else. Page is spectacularly good as the Lolita from hell and Slade keeps the action shifting along at a breakneck pace.

May be a little too intense for those of a sensitive nature and male viewers will feel a specific discomfort during one especially visceral scene.

Don't look Now (1973 105min.) [Film4 1.45am sunday &+1]
Film of the day

Nicolas Roeg's supernatural thriller, adapted from Daphne du Maurier's short story, starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. Following the tragic drowning of their young daughter, John and Laura Baxter go to Venice - he to work, she to recuperate. There they meet two sisters, one of whom claims to be able to communicate with the dead child. Caught up in the bizarre events that follow, the Baxters are drawn inexorably toward a mysterious and forbidding fate.

Nicolas Roeg's near-masterpiece ; one of the five hundred best films ever made.

The Troll Hunter (2010 99min.) [Film4 11.40pm &+1]

Horror thriller starring Otto Jespersen. Present-day Norway: a student film crew sets out to investigate who's responsible for a series of bear killings. But when they track down Hans, the grizzled loner who they believe to be the culprit, they discover he's actually hunting creatures that belong in the realm of local folklore.

Oh! How much fun is this film? – the whole thing is predicated on the idea that trolls are real and that they aren’t small grumpy types who live under bridges but enormous tree pulling-up monsters that roam the forests inside the Arctic circle.

The Norweigan government is involved in an enormous cover-up in order to prevent the world discovering the exsistence of these beats and employ a squad of troll hunters to keep them from coming into contact with the population.

Hans the Troll Hunter is a wonderfully downbeat character, the Scooby Gang he falls in with are perfectly written and the CGI monsters are very well realised.

Terrific, daft, thrilling and funny.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Freeview film of the day : friday 20th of June

Coraline (2008 96min.) [C4 6.45pm &+1]

Animated fantasy, featuring the voices of Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher. A little girl finds a hidden door that leads to an eerie parallel world where her "Other Mother" lavishes her with attention, but she soon feels stifled and wants to go home.

Henry Selick, who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, adapted this deliciously creepy stop-motion animation fantasy from the children's book by Neil Gaiman.

Coraline (superbly voiced by Dakota Fanning) is bored in the big old house she's just moved into with her parents, who are too busy to talk to her, so she goes through a door leading to a parallel world where mum and dad are lots more fun, even if they do have buttons for eyes, and where the already weird neighbours (Ian McShane as a Russian acrobat with a mouse circus; French and Saunders as ageing burlesque stars with Scottie dogs) are even weirder.

There's even more to this magical parallel world than meets the eye, and some of it turns out to be not very pleasant.

There's a slightly ill-judged addition of a young male character who wasn't in the original book but adults as well as children should enjoy this spooky, imaginative modern children's classic, almost worthy of being set alongside Spirited Away.

Just a note of caution : some of the more intense scenes may not be suitable for the under tens.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Freeview films of the day : monday 9th of June

Stalag 17 (1953 115min.) [Film4 4.40pm &+1]

Director Billy Wilder's classic Second World War drama, starring William Holden, Don Taylor and Otto Preminger. When two American prisoners, attempting to escape from Stalag 17, run into a German ambush, it becomes clear that one of the men in Barrack 4 must be an informer. The obvious suspect is Sefton, who spends his time trading with the guards and organising gambling among the prisoners.

Terrific drama directed by Wilder with all of his usual skill, wit and invention. He creates a thoroughly believable claustrophobic world for his characters to live in and gets a terrific performance from William Holden in a role that is effectivly an anti-hero, a decade before such roles were to become a popular move for a big name Hollywood star.

Among the supporting cast film director Otto Preminger is a revelation as a thoroughly corrupt Nazi and Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck are wonderful among Holden's fellow inmates.

Uzak (2003 106min.) [Film4 1.30am tuesday &+1]

A photographer living in Istanbul slips into a mid-life crisis when his wife leaves him. However, he is shaken out of his misery by a visit from his eccentric, penniless cousin who has come to the city seeking new employment to support his ailing mother. Drama, starring Muzaffer Ozdemir and Emin Toprak.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a rather special film maker and Uzak is a beautifully constructed, photographed and acted study in isolation, disillusionment and the difficulties caused by a lack of communication, even between people sharing the same living space.

It's not an easy watch but it is a superbly controlled charcter study that is both moving and absorbing. The two leads shared the Cannes best actor prize for their superb realisation of charcters who are both facing their own (very different) personal crisis.

An extremely good film that probably won't be everyone's cup of tea but, if you buy into the world Ceylan and his actors create, a hugely rewarding one.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 4th of June

Hanna (2011 106min.) [Film 4 9.00pm &+1]

Action thriller starring Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan. Teenager Hanna has never left her home in the Finnish wilderness and has spent years in isolation being trained to be the perfect assassin by her ex-CIA father Erik. But Erik has unfinished business with the Agency and so he leaves Hanna, who is soon forced to put her skills into practice to elude the murderous attentions of a ruthless intelligence officer.

The absurdly talented Saoirse Ronan leads the cast in director Joe Wright's spirited attempt to mix together the conventions of the conspiracy thriller and the surrealism of European fairy tales.

A very strong supporting cast (Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett , Olivia Williams, Tom Hollander and Jason Flemyng) add depth and weight in the acting department and the visual style is suitably dreamlike and off-kilter to match the oddly twisted storyline.

Distinctly odd but also enjoyable.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 3rd of June

Swingers (1996 92min.) [BBC1 11.45pm]

Comedy drama starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn. Six months after ending a relationship, actor/comedian Mike still seems to be having trouble forgetting about his old girlfriend. Sick of his obsession, best friend Trent takes Mike on a trip to Las Vegas to cheer him up.

Setting this film in the world of the short-lived US craze for jump or swing dancing is a smart idea. It allows the film to create it's own world by using a sub-culture whith which most viewers will be unfamiliar.
This, in turn, means that the film makers can emphasise the closeness of those connected to the small scene and also make best use of the mores and slang of those involved (most noticeably the now ubiquitous "you're so money")

There's some strong performances among the cast of (then) virtual unknowns, especially Vince Vaughn and Jon Faverau (who also wrote the script). Director Doug Liman, whose next film was the uber cult Go, handles the material, the dance scenes and the atmosphere with great skill.

Sadly, neither the two lead actors nor the director have so far this century been able to recapture the magic and excitement that makes Swingers such a pleasure to watch.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Freeview films of the day : saturday 17th of May

Monsters (2010 90min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Science-fiction drama starring Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy. Six years after an alien life-form has spread throughout Mexico, a cash-strapped photographer escorts the daughter of his newspaper-magnate boss out of the quarantined region and back to the US, fully intending to give the area infected by aliens a wide berth.

Debut feature film by Gareth Edwards who for many years was one of the most highly regarded digital special effects people working in the British film and TV industry.

It's a very slight story made watchable by the likeable lead characters, the direction and the special effects. Part road-trip adventure part character drama - all underpinned by some very expensive looking CGI monsters and effects.

The fact that Edwards did all the special effects work on his computer at home is startling and impressive; the way he uses this skill to deliver a film that looks as though it costs several million times it's tiny budget even more so.

The tiny details and obvious care just add to the enjoyment - as does the guerilla film making style; the cast and crew shot many scenes on the fly without official permissions and with little more than a bare bones script and a couple of lightweight cameras.
This gives the film a real sense of urgency and a fantastic pace.

His work on this film got Gareth Edwards the job of directing the mega-million dollar Godzilla re-vamp that's currently in cinemas everywhere.

Mesrine : Killer Instinct (2008 108min.) [BBC2 12.25am sunday]

Biographical crime drama starring Vincent Cassel. The first part of the story of notorious French criminal Jacques Mesrine, from small beginnings as a Paris thug and armed raider, to fugitive bank-robber and jail-breaker, until he was eventually declared Canada's Public Enemy Number One.

Extraordinarily powerful film full tot he brim with great performances and superbly directed by Jean-Francois Richet.

Brazil (1985 137min.) [Ch.4 1.35am sunday &+1]

Science-fiction fantasy starring Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro and Katherine Helmond. Sam Lowry's frequent flights of fantasy take him away from the drab reality of his job at the Ministry of Information. Then a mistake in the system plummets Sam into a nightmare world of renegade heating engineers, storm troopers, terrorists and torturers.

Terry Gilliam's fantasy film has a lot of fun with the conventions and form associated with 1984 style imagined future worlds.
The totaliterian regime is depicted as a top-heavy bureaucracy obsessed with paperwork and the rituals of office life and Gilliam's visual flair is given free reign to contrast the grimness and tattered decay of Sam Lowry's "real" world with the glorious beauty of his inner fantasy existence.

Pryce is excellent in the lead role, Robert De Niro has great fun as an SAS-style repair man and there's some neat counter-type casting of Michael Palin.

It's the dark reverse of The Wizard Of Oz and it rattles along at a decent pace; thoroughly entertaining and a significant film in the development of Gilliam's career from animator to top level fantasy director.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Freeview film of the day : friday 16th of May

Lone Star (1995 129min.) [BBC2 12.10am saturday]

Murder mystery drama starring Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson and Matthew McConaughey. When small-town Texas sheriff Sam Deeds discovers the skeleton of corrupt predecessor Charlie Wade - supposedly run out of town years before by Sam's father and local legend Buddy Deeds - he initiates an investigation which will reveal a hidden past with disturbing consequences.

John Sayles is a really interesting writer/director who consistently manages to create believable worlds populated by people who it's easy to recognise as real, no matter how far from our experience the events of the story may be.

He produces films with small ensemble casts that are beautifully shot and constructed and focuses on the personal and inter-personal rather than the spectacular. When he gets it right he's among the best storytellers working in the US cinema mainstream; and in Lone Star he gets it absolutely right.

A terrific piece of film making with an outstanding cast.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 14th of May

Sunset Blvd. (1950 105min.) [Ch4 2.35am thursday &+1]

Drama starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim. Screenwriter Joe Gillis floats dead in the swimming pool of a neglected Hollywood mansion. Six months earlier, out of work and desperate, he'd been hired as a writer by former silent screen star Norma Desmond, who was hoping to make a triumphant comeback.

Utterly superb film, directed with great care by master craftsman Billy Wilder.
Part thriller, part domestic drama, part love poem to a lost Hollywood it's a dark, witty, brooding film shot in pin-sharp black and white.

Everyone in the small cast is perfect : in addition to the three headliners Nancy Olson and Jack Webb grab your attention and there's some beautifully judged cameos by the likes of Hedda Hopper and Buster Keaton.

A masterpiece of twentieth century US mainstream cinema.

Earlier ....

Nowhere Boy (2010 93min.) [Film4 11.00pm &+1]

Aaron Johnson stars as a 15-year-old John Lennon in Sam Taylor-Wood's biographical drama. The young Lennon, who lives with his aunt and uncle, is prompted to visit his real mother after his uncle dies from a heart attack. While forming a complex relationship with his mother, their shared love of music leads to the rebellious John getting his first guitar and forming a band called the Quarrymen.

Artist turned director Sam Tatlor-Wood's film about the fifteen year old John Lennon is more than just another Beatles hagiograpy as she focusues more on the relationship between Lennon and the two women who direct and influence his life and attitude.

The very talented Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) is Lennon, and very convincing he his is too. Anne-Marie Duff is Julia, his mother and Kristin Scott Thomas is beyond excellent (as usual) as his Aunt Mimi.

In among the top draw supporting cast Thomas Brodie Sangster deserves special mention as the young Paul McCartney.

No prior knowledge or affection for the subject is required - it's a classy, well put together drama with warm and likeable central performances and a good sense of period and setting.

A bouncy of-the-time soundtrack is a terrific bonus.

earlier still....

The League Of Gentlemen(1960 108min.) [Film4 4,45pm &+1]

Crime caper starring Jack Hawkins and Nigel Patrick. Infuriated by his enforced retirement from the army, an ex-officer plans a huge bank robbery using his military experience and a group of old service colleagues.

Great British crime caper with Jack Hawkins in a career best performance and a cast full of fifties character actors at the top of their collective game.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Freeview film of the day : saturday 10th of May

Telstar : The Joe Meek Story (2008 111min.) [BBC2 11.45pm]

Biographical drama starring Con O'Neill and Kevin Spacey. In the 1960s, music producer Joe Meek invented new methods of recording that resulted in a string of hit records. But behind the genius lay a troubled soul who struggled to come to terms with his sexuality and was prone to violent outbursts, which would ultimately lead to tragedy.

Terrific film which not only tells the life story of the troubled pop genius but is also filled with amusing little scenes from the history of 60s British pop.

As well as the spot-on central performance by O'Neill and a charming cameo from Spacey there's great work by Pam Ferris as Meek's put-upon landlady and downstairs neighbour (there's a priceless scene where plaster cascades from the ceiling as Meek attempts to get just the right 'stomp' sound on a Honeycombs recording).

Good work too from JJ Feild as Heinz, Tom Burke (songwriter Geoff Goddard) and Ralf Little as a young Chas Hodges. Even James Cordon (as Clem Cattini) can't ruin the mood.

Novelty casting to look out for includes: Justin Hawkins as Screaming Lord Such and Carl Libertine as Gene Vincent; and there's a host of familiar faces in tiny roles (including Hodges himself, John Leyton, Mike Sarne and Rita Tushingham).

A thoroughly entertaining period piece - there's a tragic story at it's heart but the strength of the script and the acting are such that it entertains while telling it's story.

Highly recommend.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Freeview film of the day : friday 9th of May

Frozen (2009 89min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Thriller starring Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers and Emma Bell. Three snowboarders stranded on a ski lift halfway up a mountain are forced to make terrifying choices to stay alive.

Rather well done, low budget lost-in-the-wild thriller which explains why you should never muck about on a chair lift.
There's a stand-out performance by Emma Bell and a moment (and a sound effect) that will make you wince and grimace with pain.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 7th of May

DOA (1949 83min.) [Ch.4 1.45am thursday &+1]

Film noir starring Edmond O'Brien. When Frank Bigelow discovers he has been given a deadly, slow-acting poison, he desperately races around San Francisco trying to hunt down his own killer.

Not in the top drawer of post-War film noir thrillers but it does have several things going for it including the neat set-up whereby the hero is effectively searching for his own killer, some great LA location shooting, Dimitri Tiomkin's cracking score and a strong lead performance by O'Brien.

Takes a while to get going but once it does Rudolph Mate's film is a great example of the second division of the genre.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Freeview film of the day : saturday 26th of April

Confessions (2010 106min.) [Film4 12.30am sunday &+1]

Psychological thriller starring Takako Matsu. On the last day of term in a Japanese school, a mild-mannered teacher tells her class she knows the identity of the students responsible for the death of her four-year-old daughter, and reveals how she plans to take her revenge.

It's a genuinely thrilling film : superbly plotted, scripted, acted, photographed, edited and directed.
Based on a novel by Kinae Minato, Tetsuya Nakashima's film is complex and compelling as the narrative switches focus between several people - all of whom were involved in events that led up to or resulted from the central tragedy.

Like all the best films in this genre it disorientates the viewer early on and never lets the narrative settle in such a way as to make you comfortable or make the outcome predictable.
Multiple time-lines, flashbacks, varying narrative focus and fantasy sequences are all used to dizzying effect.

Takako Matsu is excellent in the lead role but there any number of superb performances all the way down the cast list.

One of the best of the large number of superb thriller/horror films to emerge from Asia in recent years. Very highly recommended.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 23rd of April

Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003 95min.) [BBC4 9.00pm]

Peter Webber's film isn't going to fit the bill if you're looking for car chases, hilarity, flesh eating zombies or amazing special effects.

If, however, you think that a ninety minute imagined backstory about 17th. century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer's most famous painting sounds like perfect wednesday night viewing, then this is the film for you.

Beautifully shot, using colour and stillness perfectly to reflect Vermeer's painting style, the story moves along at a lethargic pace and yet still manages to retain the viewer's interest through it's arresting visual style.

Superb work on the acting front by Scarlett Johansson and the always excellent Colin Firth. There's also an excellent supporting cast (including Cillian Murphy, Judy Parfitt and Tom Wilkinson.)

It's a film that depends very much on the viewer entering into the mood of the piece.

I thoroughly enjoyed it at the cinema where there were no distractions and I could just focus on the film, the photography, the story and the acting.

I've watched it on DVD twice : once with the usual household noises and distractions going on around me - found the pacing and the stillness irritating; and once after everyone else was in bed one night when it spun it's magic all over again.

Nice music too. A satisfying and assured film.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 22nd of April

The Searchers (1956 113min.) [Film4 4.10pm &+1]

Classic western starring John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter and Natalie Wood. John Ford's masterpiece tells the story of Ethan Edwards and his five-year search for the last surviving member of his murdered family - a young girl captured by Comanches.

One of the definitive Hollywood westerns in which John Wayne undertakes a grisly mission of revenge and redemption following a personal tragedy.
The film has a lot to say about the racist nature of many frontier pioneers, but it says it quietly in the service of the story rather than bashing you round the head with the message.
It's about people who are lost and attempting to find themselves in all senses of the words; all wrapped up in a beautifully photographed package.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 15th of April

Uzak (2003 106min.) [Film4 1.50am wednesday &+1]

A photographer living in Istanbul slips into a mid-life crisis when his wife leaves him. However, he is shaken out of his misery by a visit from his eccentric, penniless cousin who has come to the city seeking new employment to support his ailing mother. Drama, starring Muzaffer Ozdemir and Emin Toprak.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a rather special film maker and Uzak is a beautifully constructed, photographed and acted study in isolation, disillusionment and the difficulties caused by a lack of communication, even between people sharing the same living space.

It's not an easy watch but it is a superbly controlled charcter study that is both moving and absorbing. The two leads shared the Cannes best actor prize for their superb realisation of charcters who are both facing their own (very different) personal crisis.

An extremely good film that probably won't be everyone's cup of tea but, if you buy into the world Ceylan and his actors create, a hugely rewarding one.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Freeview film of the day : monday 14th of April

(with apologies for the short notice)

Bye Bye Birdie (1963 110min.) [BBC2 12.25pm]

Musical comedy starring Janet Leigh, Dick Van Dyke and Ann-Margret. The last performance by pop idol Conrad Birdie before he enters the army is to take place in the town of Sweet Apple, Iowa. While local songwriter Albert Peterson tries to get Birdie to record one of his songs, young fan Kim McAfee is equally determined to meet him.

Fans of the TV series Mad Men will be familiar with the superb opening and closing sequence, featuring Ann-Margaret on a travelator, which played an important part in the story arc of one the show's original characters.

The film itself is a lively, infectious adaptation of a hit Broadway show - a satire on the teen idol phenomenon that had recently swept across the United States, with specific reference to Elvis' stint in the army.

There's some great songs, Dick Van Dyke is entertaining as the Col. Tom Parker style promoter and the young Ann-Margaret is an absolute joy as Kim, a bundle of energy and sunshine.

Huge fun from a simpler time directed with care by George Sidney whose CV also includes the classic Anchors Aweigh (1945).

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Freeview films of the day : thursday 10th of April

Compliance  (2012 90min.) [Film4 11.20pm &+1]

Thriller based on a true story, starring Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker. A man claiming to be a police officer calls a diner and asks the manager to assist in detaining a female employee who is accused of theft. But his instructions on how to deal with the suspect become increasingly heavy-handed.

There's an interesting idea at the heart of this film - the role of authority figures in our lives and how much trust and faith we place in them.
Sadly, even at an hour and a half, this idea is stretched far too thin and the story becomes a little repetitive and lacking in interest as a result.
It also wanders a little too close to old fashioned exploitation in several scenes for comfort.

Dreama Walker is excellent in the lead role but she could have done with a better supporting cast and script to make an average film into a very good one.

and also, Film4's Kurosawa mini-season ends with

Sanjuro (1962 91min.) [Film4 1.05am friday &+1]

Nine naive young warriors plan to overthrow the corrupt officials who rule their town, but prove hopelessly ill-equipped for the task. An unkempt wandering samurai comes to their aid, tutoring them in the harsh realities of fighting and honour. Akira Kurosawa's action adventure sequel to Yojimbo, starring Toshiro Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai. In Japanese.

For the most part this is a light hearted romp compared to the full-on drama of Yojimbo. The film makers have a lot of fun with the conventions of the samurai and period costume drama while telling a slight but entertaining story.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Freeview film of the day : friday 4th of April

Michael Clayton (2007 114min.) [BBC2 11.05pm]

Conspiracy thriller starring George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson, and featuring Sydney Pollack. Michael Clayton is a troubleshooter for a top-ranking New York law firm embroiled in a multibillion dollar lawsuit. With personal troubles - debt and divorce - playing on his mind, Clayton is asked to find Arthur Edens, a colleague involved in the lawsuit, whose behaviour has become increasingly erratic. But Arthur has decided to stop taking his medication and is unwilling to co-operate.

As the film opens Clooney's seen at work advising one of his firm's clients following a traffic accident; he's called away by an emergency phone call: one of the senior partners (Arthur Edens- Tom Wilkinson) appears to be undergoing a mental breakdown and Clayton is needed to resolve the ensuing chaos.

It transpires that Arthur has spent several years working to defend a chemical company against a multi billion dollar class-action suit brought be people who believe their new product has seriously damaged their health.

And the film plays out from there...... Clooney/Clayton is dragged further and further into the conspiracy that Edens/Wilkinson is involved in and as he does so comes to understand more about the nature of the case and the pressures that his colleague was working under. As he moves slowly closer to the truth it becomes clear that someone is very determined to prevent him from uncovering some significant evidence.

In bald outline this approach to the legal drama will be very familiar to anyone who's watched TV over the past decade or so, especially the three series of the superior US show "Damages" which worked in much the same sort of area.

However, while the story is (over) familiar and littered with genre cliches, the film works perfectly well - probably because of the ability of the actors in the main roles - Clooney, Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton paying the rent as lead counsel for the petro-chemical giant.

There's also a nice enlarged cameo from Sydney Pollack as the senior partner at Clayton's firm.

Clooney's problem as an actor, which slightly unbalances the first half of this film, is that he has such a clearly defined screen image as a charming, well meaning, wise-cracking leading man that it's difficult to believe the proposition that he's an amoral louse with no shred of conscience.

It's what we are asked to believe of him here as we were in Up In The Air (2009) and The American (2010) and, as with those films, there's a lack of conviction in the part as it soon becomes obvious that Clooney's character is nowhere near as wholly black as he's at first painted- fairly quickly allowing us to glimpse his inner George despite the outer veneer of slick venality.

Clooney seems to be suffering the same problem as Cary Grant did at the height of his fame : his obvious acting ability being obscured by his looks, his established on-screen persona and his off screen fame and reputation; it would be nice to see him get his teeth into a wholly irredeemable character once in a while.

"Michael Clayton" is a well made, nicely structured and strongly acted piece which, though very short on surprises and having a wholly predictable narrative is certainly entertaining enough while it's playing. Clooney and Swinton are engaging in their roles and Wilkinson is, as ever, solid and dependable.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Freeview film of the day : saturday 29th of March

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011 107mins.) [BBC2 10.30pm]
Freeview premiere

Drama based on the bestselling novel by Lionel Shriver, starring Tilda Swinton, John C Reilly and Ezra Miller. Eva is a former travel writer who gave up her career for her husband and two children, but her home is not a happy one. She is driven to the edge of sanity by her son, Kevin, who appears to have sociopathic tendencies that eventually bring the family - and their surrounding community - to snapping point.

The strength of the film comes from two women - Tilda Swinton is mesmerising in the lead role ; worn down, battered by life, pushed to the limits by her increasingly fraught relationship with her son. It's an astonishing and beautifully delivered performance from an actress who is greatly under appreciated, even in her homeland.

Director Lynne Ramsay belies her relative inexperience (this was only her third feature film) and keeps the multiple storylines and broken-back narrative structure under control. She also delivers a believable world for the characters to live in and builds a truly disturbing atmosphere around the central characters.

Newcomer Ezra Miller is excellent as Kevin and there's strong support from John C. Reilly as Swinton's husband.

A disturbing but beautifully crafted adaptation of the source material delivered with great style.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 26th of March

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008 92min.) [Ch4 12.00am &+1]

Directed and written by Woody Allen.
"Life is the ultimate work of art"

Woody Allen's romantic drama starring Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall and Penélope Cruz. While on holiday in the beautiful Catalan countryside, Cristina and her soon-to-be-wed friend Vicky fall under the spell of seductive local artist Juan Antonio. But the arrival of Juan's volatile ex-wife Maria Elena soon complicates matters.

Down to earth, sensible, engaged to be married Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and her free-spirited friend Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) travel to Barcelona where they encounter a bohemian painter (Javier Bardem) and both become, to various degrees, enmeshed in his world and life.

Every time that Allen releases a new film the critics and reviewers go into paroxysms and attempt to divine whether it's "a return to form", "a partial return to form" or "shows no signs of a return to form".
There's two points to be made about this attitude and approach to his work :
1) It's highly unlikely that Allen even wants to make films like Love And Death, Manhattan or Annie Hall any more. He's an older man with changed priorities, to not evolve over the course of the thirty years since Manhattan would be much more of a crime than to no longer be producing films that make mainstream cinema goers laugh.
2) It's a remarkable achievement that a man in his seventies still has the energy and desire to produce a new film every single year without failure. It should also be celebrated that he seems to do so with a dedication to the independent spirit, steering clear of big studio money wherever possible and, thus, avoiding any sort of conflict with his artistic vision.

From this stand point "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" stands as a perfectly fine and reasonably amusing film. It's not got huge messages to send, instead looking gently at the way that people of different temperament and background react when faced with something outside their previous experience.
The two titular leads are both very well cast and delivered and Bardem takes the role of the boho artist and adds some depth, life, charm and sensitivity.

The city plays it's part in the film too, providing an intriguing background to many of the location shots - part of Allen's continuing fascination with cityscapes and architecture (Manhattan, the Venice segment of Everybody Says I Love You.)

The screen is stolen though by Penelope Cruz who turns up at the half way mark to throw in a performance that's all wild hair, bared teeth and barely suppressed natural force. Working in Spanish (for the most part) certainly seems to help too; as with her work with Almodavar she's an alluring and captivating screen presence and Allen makes the absolute most of her ability.

On the downside I could have done without the voice-over narration, on the plus side it's good that Allen no longer feels the need to cast himself as the romantic lead (or at all) in films to which he's physically clearly unsuited.
It's a short, snappy (96 minutes) reminder of why Allen should be allowed to carry on making films for just as long as he feels the need.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 25th of March

Seven Samurai (1954 190min.) [Film4 11.40pm &+1]

Classic action drama starring Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune. In the 17th century, the inhabitants of a small Japanese village hire samurai warriors to defend their property from an annual raid by ruthless bandits.

Epic in scale, ambition, length and precise in it's execution Akira Kurosawa's film is an undisputed classic of twentieth century cinema.

Hugely influential on western (and Western) film makers on it's original release, it's echo can still be found in the action genre to this day.

It's technically breathtaking and the final battle scene alone is worthy of the film's reputation, but the entire work is something very special and will leave a lasting impression.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Freeview film of the day : monday 24th of March

Hanna (2011 106min.) [Film 4 9.00pm &+1]

Action thriller starring Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan. Teenager Hanna has never left her home in the Finnish wilderness and has spent years in isolation being trained to be the perfect assassin by her ex-CIA father Erik. But Erik has unfinished business with the Agency and so he leaves Hanna, who is soon forced to put her skills into practice to elude the murderous attentions of a ruthless intelligence officer.

The absurdly talented Saoirse Ronan leads the cast in director Joe Wright's spirited attempt to mix together the conventions of the conspiracy thriller and the surrealism of European fairy tales.

A very strong supporting cast (Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett , Olivia Williams, Tom Hollander and Jason Flemyng) add depth and weight in the acting department and the visual style is suitably dreamlike and off-kilter to match the oddly twisted storyline.

Distinctly odd but also enjoyable.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Freeview films of the day : friday 21st of March

Juno (2007 92min.) [C4 12.05am saturday &+1]

Oscar-winning coming-of-age comedy drama starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. Discovering that she's pregnant after having sex for the first time, 16-year-old Juno MacGuff weighs up her options. With abortion out of the question, she decides to have the baby adopted, but first she must face her parents.

A sweet, warm and charming story of teen pregnancy. Diablo Cody's snappy, witty and well observed Oscar winning script is the biggest part of the film's appeal; but it's helped by the bright direction of Jason Reitman and a terrific cast headed by Ellen Page (outstanding) and superbly supported by Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman and Allison Janney.

An absolute joy to watch. Thoroughly recommended.

A Prophet (2009 148min.) [Film4 12.50am saturday &+1]

Drama starring Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup. Arriving at a French prison to serve a six-year sentence, uneducated 19-year-old Malik is coerced into working for the resident Corsican gang - but he secretly begins plotting his own ascent to power.

Superb - easily one of the best ten films released anywhere in the world in 2009.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Freeview film of the day : thursday 20th of March

The Keep (1983 91min.) [Film4 1.05am friday &+1]

Horror starring Scott Glenn and Alberta Watson. Romania in the Second World War: at a remote mountain castle, two evil forces clash - on the one hand the Nazi SS, and, on the other, an unseen power. A mysterious traveller arrives to do battle with both and to save the innocents caught between.

Little seen (and never available on DVD) early Michael Mann film, before he went on to create the Miami Vice TV series and direct films such as Heat and Public Enemies.

Gabriel Byrne and Ian McKellen are excellent at the head of a solid cast in a well-made supernatural thriller that has plenty of moments of genuine suspense and shock, a stylish look, a doom-laded atmosphere (and some bits that are just plain silly).
An interesting little curio with a cracking Tangerine Dream score.