Thursday, 27 February 2014

Freeview film of the day : thursday 27th of February

Serenity (2005 114min.) [ITV4 9.00pm &+1]

Sci-fi action adventure from the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starring Nathan Fillion. A maverick space captain and his crew of mercenaries find themselves targeted by the totalitarian Alliance when they allow a mysterious female passenger to take refuge on their spaceship.

Made as a bookend to Joss Whedon cult 2002 TV series "Firefly" it reunites all of the cast from the original show for a guns'n'glory reprise.

The film version is both a explanation of the story-so-far for those who didn't see the series and a wrapping up of loose ends for the fans who were left frustrated by Fox's decision to cancel the show.

It's as smart, witty and literate as you would expect from a Whedon script with plenty of action set pieces but it also has points to make about governments who attempt to impose their idea of how things should be done onto other cultures and societies.

A thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable adjunct to the series that requires no prior knowledge to enjoy it to the full but which will make fans gurgle with delight.


Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 26th of February

Beginners (2010 99min.) [C4 12.05am thursday &+1]
Freeview premiere

Drama starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer. Troubled artist Oliver tries to draw inspiration from his father, Hal, who discovered a new zest for life after coming out as gay at the age of 75.

Beautifully handled by writer-director Mike Mills the film manages to avoid all of the potential pitfalls that the subject matter puts in its way.
There's a subtle performance by Plummer and although McGregor is a bit more ham-fisted the part is so well written that he gets away with it.
Strong support from Goran Visnjic and Mélanie Laurent help create a believable world and deliver a very well constructed little film. Neatly done by all concerned.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007 108min.) [Film4 1.20am thursday &+1]

Drama starring Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu. Romania in 1987, the last days of the Ceausescu regime: Otilia is helping her roommate Gabita obtain an illegal abortion, which is available on the black market along with everything they need to pay for it. A dehumanising process of bartering and begging ensues, bringing the women closer to what could be a dangerous encounter for both of them.

The film has two main themes : to act as a record of the hideous nature of the Ceausescu regime and the depravations it placed on the ordinary citizen, and also as a song of praise to the way in which basic humanity and friendship can still overcome even the most restrictive of circumstances and the callous exploitation of the situation that those with any degree of power are able to exert (see the scene where the women visit Vlad Ivonov's backstreet abortionist).

Superby directed by Cristian Mungiu who focuses on the small detail and the closeness of the two women and beautifully photographed by Oleg Mutu; the film won the Cannes Palme D'Or in 2007 and it's easily one of the ten best films released that year.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 25th of February

10 Things I Hate About You (1999 97min.) [E4 8.00pm &+1]

Romantic comedy, based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. Bianca Stratford is banned by her parents from going on a date until her older sister Katarina has a boyfriend, but unfortunately big sister has an excessively aggressive personality and only manages to send most boys running for cover. However, when a new guy arrives in town, Bianca's suitor Joey hits on a plan that could be the answer to their problem.

Before it fell into cliche and self-parody the US High School drama sub-genre produced some very good films of which this is one of the best.

The two leads are both in great form and give winning performances ably supported by the terrific Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Andrew Keegan.

Director Gil Junger gives the film a great deal of pace and energy and the end result is fun and funny and works really well, even for those well outside the original target audience.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Freeview film of the day : monday 24th of February

Antichrist (2009 101min.) [Film4 11.10pm &+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 isolated 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 catastrophe. 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.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Freeview film of the day : friday 21st of February

Synecdoche, New York (2008 118min.) [BBC2 11.05pm]

Drama starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. Theatre director Caden Cotard has marriage problems and issues with his health, but his artistic talent earns him the prestigious MacArthur Grant. Caden decides to channel all his energies into rehearsing a production based on his own history and experiences, an unending project that takes on an epic life of its own.

Never seen anyone comment on it that didn't fall into either the love it or hate it camp. A film with no middle ground among it's viewers, which is rare.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 19th of February

The Adjustment Bureau (2010 101min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Romantic sci-fi drama starring Emily Blunt and Matt Damon. A seemingly random series of events brings ambitious politician David Norris together with ballet dancer Elise Sellas, with whom he falls in love. But was their meeting down to chance, and are there now supernatural forces conspiring to keep them apart?

Based on a Philip K.Dick short story - there's an awful lot of running about and some very clever visual effects but somewhere along the line they forgot to build any of the tension, surprise, suspense or sense of wonder that's in the source material into the film.

It's very compotent and the leads put in a good shift (especially Emily Blunt who continues to be under valued by Hollywood for some reason) but there's something essential missing from the finished work.

it's a shame and something of a missed opportunity, however it's still a perfectly watchable film thanks to the visual style, the likeable lead actors and John Slattery from Mad Men.

The Straight Story (1999 106min.) [C4 1.45am thursday &+1]

Road movie based on a true story, starring Richard Farnsworth. In 1994, Alvin Straight, a 73-year-old widower, sets out on a journey from Laurens, Iowa, to Mt Zion, Wisconsin, to make peace with his ailing brother. Denied a driver's licence, Straight uses the only means of transport available to him - his 1966 John Deere motorised lawnmower.

David Lynch's beguiling and whimsical film tells the based-on-true-events story of Alvin Straight (a superb performance by the Hollywood veteran Richard Farnsworth) who travels from Iowa to Wisconsin perched on his sit-down lawnmower to visit his ailing brother.

Along the way Straight meets people whose lives are in various degrees of turmoil and attempts to help them by the use of the wisdom of his age and his downhome philosophy.

Lynch leaves aside his normal mind warping visual and narrative tricks to make a remarkably straight-forward film that's gentle and rooted in character, landscape and events, while still throwing in enough bonkers genius to remind us that he's there.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 18th of February

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010 90min.) [Film4 1.55am wednesday &+1]

Werner Herzog's documentary explores the Chauvet caves of Southern France, which contain the oldest examples of cave painting yet discovered. The film explores the 32,000-year-old depictions of people and animals and contemplates why humans have always felt a need to document their lives and the world around them.

If you've seen Herzog's 2007 film Encounters at the End of the World, about life in the Arctic, you'll know that he is very skilled at the documentary form.

This look at the vast Chauvet caverns filled with stunning Paleolithic art (which were only discovered in 1994) is beautifully shot and constructed.

Herzog himself narrates and, though he stays away from his usual obsessions of death and the void, his heavy accent and florid style does veer a bit close to parody at times.

Despite that it's a superb film, especially given the difficulties of filming and the limitations on the amount of equipment available to him.
The assured camera movements, lighting and Ernst Reijseger's score all combine to deliver a fascinating piece of work.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Freeview films of the day : saturday 15th of February

True Grit (2010 105min.) [BBC2 9.00pm]
Freeview premiere

Remake of the John Wayne western from the Coen brothers, starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. When Frank Ross is murdered by a hired hand, his teenage daughter Mattie decides to take the matter in hand and find someone with "true grit" to bring the killer to justice. Mattie's search leads her to "Rooster" Cogburn, a hard-drinking, one-eyed US marshal with a fearsome reputation.

Beautifully shot by Roger Deakins the film adds a wintry tone and atmosphere that was absent from the John Wayne original.
The reworked story and script contains moments of droll humour and there's an outstanding performance by Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross.

Wisely the Coens decided not to mess with climactic shoot-out between Cogburn and the bad guys and the overall tone is one of reverence to the original which, given the mess they made of updating The Ladykillers, is probably wise.

Neatly done with some very strong acting (especially Bridges and Steinfeld) it's certainly worth watching if if you enjoy the genre or the work of the writer/directing siblings.

Scanners (1990 98min.) [Film4 11.50pm &+1]

A man with dangerous psychic powers is recruited by a sinister corporation to infiltrate and destroy an underground movement led by a fanatical renegade telepath intent on taking over the world. David Cronenberg's sci-fi thriller, starring Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Michael Ironside and Jennifer O'Neill.

A much more serious affair as Cronenberg concerns himself with two of his recurring themes : evil multi-nationals bent on world domination and the changes to the human body and psyche that advances in medical science might make possible at some point in the future.

The cast are spot-on (especially Ironside and Lack) and the director's usual fluid (and surreal) style serves the story well.

More a combination of science fiction and political thriller than an out-and-out horror film ; it has plenty to say and delivers both the story and the shock moments very effectively.

Before The Devil Knows Your Dead (2007 111min.) [C4 12.55am sunday & +1]

Crime thriller starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney. When the robbery of a New York jewellery shop goes fatally wrong, the brothers behind the heist soon realise the nightmare has only just begun.

The Arrival Of Wang (2011 82min.) [Film4 1.50am sunday &+1]

Sci-fi horror starring Francesca Cuttica and Ennio Fantastichini. A female interpreter is offered a substantial fee by Italian security forces to translate for a Chinese-speaking detainee under interrogation. She's taken to a secret location to carry out the job, but becomes suspicious when she is not even allowed to even see the mysterious "Wang".

Smart little Italian sci-fi film that plays around with your expectations during it's first half before resolving itself in a slightly more traditonal manner.

Entertaining , well directed and very well played.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Freeview film of the day : thursady 13th of February

35 Shots Of Rum (2008 96min.) {Film4 1.00am friday &+1]

Drama starring Alex Descas and Mati Diop. Train driver Lionel has been raising his daughter Joséphine alone ever since she was a little girl, and they now share a life of cosy domesticity in a Paris flat. But when the now grown-up Joséphine becomes involved with a handsome neighbour, Lionel realises that she will soon fly the nest.

Claire Denis' celebration of the strength of family relationship.

Railway worker Lionel (Alex Descas, superb) is the lone parent father of student Mati Diop; they have a relaxed and intuitve relationship that subtly alters when they both fall in love with neighbours in their apartment block.

You're going to have to trust me on this one - if you want big set-piece action scenes or excitement you're not going to enjoy it - it's a quiet, meditative film focussing on the interaction of a very small group of people.

Such action as there is is brutal, surprising and shocking.
Denis directs with her usual calm assurance and the whole thing is beautifully photographed by Agnes Godard.

A superbly composed and acted film : one of the ten best from the year of it's release.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 12th of February

Attack The Block (2010 84min.) [Film4 11.05pm&+1]

Sci-fi action comedy starring Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker and John Boyega. On the mean streets of South London five teenagers in the process of mugging a woman are disturbed by an alien invader. Soon their housing estate is overrun with beings from outer space and the hunters have become the hunted.

The debut feature film from the Joe half of Adam & Joe, who both wrote and directed, is a fairly straightforward alien-invaders-meet-locals-who-fight-back story made more interesting by the setting and Cornish's sharp script and fluid direction.

The always reliable Jodie Whittaker steals most of the acting honours as the character who starts the film as a victim but discovers herself during the course of the action and there's an amusing cameo by Nick Frost as a high-rise dope dealer.

The story itself isn't up to much but the setting, the tone and the script's neat use of language make the film what it is and Cornish's love of the genre shines through every frame.

An entertaining and (in parts) exciting film with a strong ensemble cast working hard with some interesting ideas.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Freeview film of the day : monday 10th of February

The Runaways (2010 96min.) [Film4 11.15pm &+1]

Biographical music drama.
Five teenagers enjoy a steep ascent to fame as part of 1970s all-girl rock band the Runaways and form an intense bond that is tested by the glare of the spotlight and an incredibly demanding manager.

Rock-pop fans of a certain age may have fond memories of The Runaways, LA based all-girl group whose rock sound was a welcome antidote to the cocaine fuelled laid-back country rock that seemed to be California's stock in trade at the time.

This biopic is based on the memoir of lead singer Cherie Currie and, therefore, is a little biased towards her contribution to the group rather than that of the two principal songwriters.

However, it's a well made film and a well told rags to riches to rags story with three excellent performances : Twilight's Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, the superb Dakota Fanning as Currie herself and Boardwalk Empire's Michael Shannon as legendary LA music mogul Kim Fowley, who becomes their manager.

Throughly good fun.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Freeview films of the day : sunday 9th of February

Master And Commander : The Far Side Of The World (2003 132min.) [MovieMix 9.00pm &+1] [Fr. Ch.32, Freesat 143, Sky 185]

Period adventure drama based on the novels by Patrick O'Brian, starring Russell Crowe. In 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars, British frigate HMS Surprise is out-gunned by a French warship and badly damaged. Despite severe injuries to his crew and his opponent's greater fire power, uncompromising captain Jack Aubrey patches up the Surprise and sets off to seek revenge.

Thoroughly entertaining seafaring adventure story.
Russell Crowe reins it in a bit as the driven but human ship's captain driven to pursue a French pirateer seeking revenge and glory while Paul Bettany gives a quiet, thoughtful but well rounded performance as the ships doctor and resident biologist.

There's some spectacular CGI effects and model work (the rounding of Cape Horn in a full-on storm is especially well done) and Peter Weir spends enough time with the main characters and a strong supporting cast to add some human interest to the action sequences.

Genuinely exciting in places and very well photographed and shot - although it did unconvincing box-office business it's by no means a failure.
Warmly recommended for a cold sunday night.

Black Swan (2010 103min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel. When aspiring ballerina Nina Sayers finally wins the coveted role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, it's a dream come true. But while her demanding choreographer thinks Nina is perfect for the role, he has reservations about her ability to portray the Queen's alter ego, the Black Swan - a part that comes naturally to her sensuous rival Lily. As jealousy consumes Nina, her hold on reality becomes increasingly blurred.

Darren Aronofsky's neo-giallo is a dark, hypnotic study of obsession set in the world of ballet.
The camera moves are superb : creeping hand-held shots, swooping crane , intense close-ups and a whirling camera right in amiong the dancers.

The story is a little overblown in places but Portman is excellent in the lead and there's a terrific came by Winona Ryder.
Very intertesting piece of work.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Freeview films of the day : wednesday 5th of February

Control (2007 116min.) [Film4 12.35am thursday &+1]

Biographical music drama starring Sam Riley and Samantha Morton. Growing up in Macclesfield during the 1970s, Ian Curtis dreams of a career in music, but settles for a job at the unemployment office and life with local girl Debbie. A chance meeting at a Sex Pistols gig changes Curtis's priorities, and he's soon writing songs and singing with the band Warsaw, which will become Joy Division.

A bio-pic of Joy Division's Ian Curtis, directed in atmospheric black and white by photographer Anton Corbijn.
Sam Riley is outstanding in the lead role - part impersonation, part dramatic interpretation of Curtis' slide into mental and physical ill health.
The musical numbers are superb, partly due to the fact that the actors learned to play the songs rather than mime to a playback.
Add to this Samantha Morton (possibly the best British actress of her generation) in the role of Deborah Curtis and you've got a film that works as nostalgia, as a film and as an absorbing drama.

Cloak And Dagger (1946 106min.) [C4 2.35am thursday &+1]

Spy thriller starring Gary Cooper and Lilli Palmer. A mild-mannered atomic scientist is drawn into a complex web of intrigue, murder and romance when he enters war-torn Italy to obtain vital information on Germany's atomic experiments.

Neat little World War II drama enlivened by Fritz Lang's thoughtful direction and a terrific performance from Lili Palmer, in her American film debut.

Gary Cooper is solid and handsome in the lead role and there's good work from the supporting cast, including Robert "Father Of Alan" Alda.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Freeview films of the day : monday 3rd of February

Double Indemnity (1944 103min.) [Film4 2.05pm &+1]

Classic film noir, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G Robinson. "I killed him for money, and for a woman." A dying man records his murder confession before time runs out.

One of the oustanding films of the film noir genre, everything about it is as near to perfect as possible. The script (by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, from a book by James M.Cain) crackles, pops and fizzes with tremendous one-liners, Wilder directs with economy and style, John F Seitz's black and white cinematography is beautiful and it has a wonderful atmospheric score from Miklos Rozsa.

Barbara Stanwyk defines the cool vamp persona that is a vital part of the genre's makeup, Fred MacMurray is the everyman sap caught up in the double and triple crossing, risking everything for misplaced love and Edward G Robinson mooches about chewing a cigar and representing the "real world" where events like this just don't happen.

Glorious piece of Hollywood mainstream film making from it's golden period.

Black Swan (2010 103min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel. When aspiring ballerina Nina Sayers finally wins the coveted role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, it's a dream come true. But while her demanding choreographer thinks Nina is perfect for the role, he has reservations about her ability to portray the Queen's alter ego, the Black Swan - a part that comes naturally to her sensuous rival Lily. As jealousy consumes Nina, her hold on reality becomes increasingly blurred.

Darren Aronofsky's neo-giallo is a dark, hypnotic study of obsession set in the world of ballet.
The camera moves are superb : creeping hand-held shots, swooping crane , intense close-ups and a whirling camera right in amiong the dancers.

The story is a little overblown in places but Portman is excellent in the lead and there's a terrific came by Winona Ryder.
Very intertesting piece of work.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Freeview films of the day : sunday 2nd of February

Drag Me To Hell (2009 94min.)[C5 9.00pm &+1]

Supernatural horror starring Alison Lohman. Christine Brown, an ambitious loan officer at a mortgage company, is in competition with a dynamic new colleague. In an effort to impress her boss she refuses financial help to the mysterious Mrs Ganush, a decision that Christine will soon come to regret.

Director Sam Raimi (who's rather good at this sort of thing) chucks absolutely everything into the mix (including, just for Fink-Nottle in a wildly over-the-top old fashioned jumps'n'scares horror comic.

There's moments of gross-out slapstick which the sensitive should avoid but the whole thing is rather like a funfair thrill ride - it's obvious what's coming next but if you just relax and go with the flow it's terrific fun.

The Skin I Live In (2011 115min.) [BBC4 9.00pm]
Freeview premiere

Drama starring Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya. Following the death of his wife in a car accident, plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard becomes obsessed with synthesising a perfect skin to withstand burns. Ledgard uses a test subject called Vera to aid him in his work, who he keeps incarcerated in a locked room in his luxury mansion. But who is Vera and what is her relationship to the doctor?

Sly old Pedro Almodavar takes the euro-horror/thriller tradition of the likes of Eyes Without A Face and bends it his own needs in this tale of the effects of desire and the nature of identity.

Banderas is on ferocious form and although the journey takes rather a lot of excursions and by-ways it's an outstanding piece of work by a director working at the height of his talents.

The Page Turner (2006 81min.) [Film4 1.35am monday &+1]

Psychological thriller starring Catherine Frot and Déborah François. Ten-year-old Mélanie's budding music career is ruined when a female judge distracts her during a vital piano audition. Years later, she secures a job working for the same woman, renowned musician Ariane, who is now beset with anxieties about her career and in need of a trusted assistant.

There's a great performance by Catherine Frot at the heart of Denis Dercourt's genuinely gripping thriller which is clearly a homage to the superb low-key sixties thrillers of Claude Chabrol. Terrific.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Freeview films of the day : saturday 1st of February

Made In Dagenham (2010 108min.) [BBC2 9.15pm]

Comedy drama based on a true story, starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson. In 1968, workers at the Ford auto plant in Dagenham - one of the biggest employers in the UK - go on strike, demanding equal rights for female staff. The unassuming Rita O'Grady finds herself at the centre of a movement that is destined to change the lives of women for years to come.

A timely reminder of what the British film industry can do apart from frocks'n'bonnets literary adaptations, alleged comedy films with floppy haired posh people and soft-hearted dramas about the elderly.

The always excellent Sally Hawkins leads a solid gold cast : Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson (note perfect as Labour legend Barbara Castle), Daniel Mays, Rosamund Pike, John Sessions (as Harold Wilson), Rupert Graves, Geraldine James and even Toby off of The West Wing and Trigger off of OFAH all pop-up at various points.

A warm, witty, affectionate slice of social history focussing on one of the pivitol moments in the development of British society with a well-realised sense of time and place and a script that makes its points well without feeling the need to bash you about the head with them constantly.
Thoroughly recommended.

Comfort And Joy (1984 100min.) ( [BBC2 1.00am sunday]
(start time subject to the Davis Cup tennis finishing on time)

Comedy starring Bill Paterson. The peaceful life of a Scottish disc jockey is shattered when his partner abruptly leaves him. He then becomes involved in the feud between two families who are out to control Glasgow's ice-cream business.

Wonderfully eccentric film from Bill Forsyth - up there with Local Hero as his best work.