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 AmenĂ¡bar 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).