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.