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.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Freeview film of the day : saturday 8th of March

Milk (2008 122min.) [BBC2 11.30pm]

Biopic of American gay rights activist Harvey Milk, whose political career led to him becoming the country's first openly homosexual elected official in the 1970s. This position placed him at the forefront of the fight against a proposed ban on gay people being employed in public schools. Directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn, James Franco and Josh Brolin.

Directed by Gus van Sant, written by Dustin Lance Black.

"His life changed history. His courage changed lives."

"Milk" is a biopic of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), a gay activist who became engaged with the political process and ultimately rose to the position of power in San Francisco before meeting an untimely death at the age of 48 in 1978.

The film follows only the last eight years of his life when, having relocated to the West Coast from New York, Milk opens a shop that becomes a hang-out, information exchange and talking shop for the local gay community. He becomes an organiser and social campaigner (not just for Gay Rights but as representative of all excluded people), runs for city office unsuccessfully several times before finally becoming elected as a City supervisor on the same day as his nemesis, the arch-conservative Dan White (Josh Brolin).

van Sant cleverly mixes archive footage of the United States at the time and of the real Harvey Milk with the scripted portions of the film, giving it a feel closer to a documentary than a drama ; he opens with newsreel of late fifties and early sixties police persecution of gay men (and women) - busting up their drinking places and herding them into paddy wagons in the style of a thirties Speakeasy bust.

It then roles into Penn as Milk living a closeted life in New York. Unhappy and unfulfilled a chance encounter provides the catalyst for a move to San Francisco where the action of the remainder of the film is played out.
Despite the obvious input that van Sant has to the look and feel it's Sean Penn's film from beginning to end - he is in practically every scene and makes Milk a believable real life figure.

As he transforms and evolves from wild-eyed idealist into mainstream political animal not only does the superficial aspect of his appearance (clothes, hair etc.) change so does Penn's physical portrayal - he becomes "bigger" as he emerges from his safety zone and into the larger world. His mannerisms and speech patterns change; the transformation is complete in the final section of the film where Milk has become the establishment figure and the role of fire-brand wielding tyro is passed to others.

A confident, poised and fully engaged Milk emerges from Penn's performance - striding up the steps of the Town Hall to address protesters in conciliatory terms rather than the language of defiance and opposition that he was using earlier.
It's a film with an obvious message but it's delivered in a non-hectoring style; placing the Gay Rights movement within the context of the ongoing civil rights campaign in the United States and delivering a piece of filmed social history that has it's faults (mainly caused by the need to reduce a story with massive scope to a highlights package) but is entertaining, humane, warm and uplifting.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Freeview film of the day : thursday 6th of March

Confessions (2010 106min.) [Film4 1.15am friday &+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.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 4th of March

Silent Running (1971 85min.) [Film4 4.55pm &+1]

A scientist, with the help of his three robot assistants, tends a huge garden aboard a space station, created to replenish an Earth ravaged by nuclear warfare. But his superiors' decision to abandon the project prompts him to embark on a desperate course of action. Ecological sci-fi drama, starring Bruce Dern, with Cliff Potts and Ron Rifkin.

Recommended without reservation (apart from the slightly dull song by Joan Baez on the soundtrack). A perfectly constructed film with a terrific central performance from Bruce Dern and sensational direction by former special effects genius Douglas Trumbull.

Essential viewing.