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.