Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Films on Freeview TV : wednesday 24th of December

WALL-E (2008 94min.) [BBC1 11.00am]
Animated sci-fi comedy featuring the voices of Sigourney Weaver, Ben Burtt and Elissa Knight. On a refuse-covered Earth of the future, a lonely robot called WALL-E is carrying out its function to compress and form litter into towers, a task it was programmed to do by the humans who abandoned the barren planet centuries ago. Then a visit from a probe called EVE brings hope that Earth could be populated once more.

Pixar's Oscar winning eco-message animation starts with a very long dialogue free section that is absolutely beautiful to watch. The 'love' story between is Wall-E and Eve is touching and the film only sags a bit when the human characters turn up. A absolute joy and a pleasure.

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005 81min.) [BBC1 1.45pm]
Animated comedy adventure featuring the voices of Peter Sallis, Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter. As the annual Giant Vegetable Competition approaches, enterprising Wallace and Gromit cash in with their humane pest-control outfit, "Anti-Pesto". But business turns sour when a huge, mysterious beast begins destroying every garden in the area.

Wallace and Gromit are as charming as ever in this affectionate horror movie send-up. The cheese-loving inventor and his dog (not just a loyal hound but business partner, housewife, fixer) try to catch the mutated rabbit that's threatening to devour the village's annual crop of giant vegetables.
The painstaking stop-motion, Peter Sallis' Yorkshire accent, vicars and village fêtes all hark back to Watch with Mother, though children’s TV was never this stuffed with puns, double entendres and so many pop culture references you'd need several viewings to catch them all.

The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938 101min.) [Ch5 1.50pm&+1]
Classic swashbuckling adventure starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Robin Hood and his band of followers fight to protect King Richard's throne from evil Prince John and his villainous accomplice Sir Guy of Gisbourne.

The Grinch (2000 100min.) [Ch4 2.45pm &+1]
Comedy fantasy based on the book by Dr Seuss, starring Jim Carrey. It's Christmas in Whoville and preparations are well underway. Meanwhile, up in his mountain lair, cold-hearted hermit the Grinch sits alone resenting the Whovians' happiness. But then he's befriended by a little girl.

(1951 86min.) [Ch5 3.50pm &+1]
Classic British version of Charles Dickens's Christmas tale, starring Alastair Sim. On Christmas Eve, a tight-fisted businessman is visited by three ghosts who remind him of the true spirit of Christmas.

Says here they are showing the black and white original rather than the vile ‘colorised’ version which keeps popping up elsewhere. In which case it’s pretty much unmissable.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946 125min.) [More 4 4.10pm&+1]
Frank Capra's classic fantasy drama, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore. George Bailey is a small-town businessman who believes he has been a failure. Contemplating suicide, George meets his guardian angel and discovers what life in his home town of Bedford Falls would have been like had he never lived.

One Hundred And One Dalmatians (1960 76min.) [BBC1 4.45pm]
Freeview premiere
Disney's classic animated adventure based on the novel by Dodie Smith, featuring the voice of Rod Taylor. When love blossoms between Londoners Roger and Anita, the same also occurs for their dalmatian dogs Pongo and Perdita. But when the two pooches have a litter of puppies, Anita's old schoolfriend Cruella De Vil is determined to have them at any cost. Her purpose: to make a coat from their pelts.

Cruella De Vil is one of the great Disney character creations and the ‘midnight bark’ sequence is an absolute joy. This is a film made by a studio working at the top of their game and a stand-out work in their canon. Despite the advances in animation technology since there still lots to enjoy in this hand-drawn classic and, at 76 minutes, hardly a moment is wasted.

Muppet Christmas Carol (1992 85min.) [Ch4 4.50pm &+1]
The inimitable puppets are joined by Michael Caine for their own special interpretation of the classic Dickens Christmas tale in which miserly Scrooge is visited by ghosts to help him mend his selfish ways.

Genuinely funny retelling of the Dickens classic with the added bonuses of some great songs and Michael Caine as Scrooge.

Toy Story 3 (2010 98min) [BBC1 6.25pm]
Animated comedy adventure sequel, with the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. Andy's heading off to college and plans to give most of his toys to a day-care centre. But when Woody and the gang are accidentally donated, too, they must embark on a daring and dangerous mission to escape.

Some great new characters, especially the villainous Lotso the bear, and a strong script helped the Toy Story franchise end (or pause) with some style.

Stand out moments include Barbie’s growing frustration with Ken and Buzz Lightyear becoming stuck in Spanish language mode.

Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 73min.) [ITV2 7.20pm &+1]
Animated musical drama featuring the voices of Chris Sarandon and Catherine O'Hara. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, longs to escape the routine of Halloweentown. Through a door in a tree, he stumbles upon Christmastown where he engineers the kidnapping of Santa Claus and wreaks havoc among the inhabitants.

Top quality stop-motion animation with some great songs, sets, characters and voice work. Not just for kids and goths!
Superb set of songs by Danny Elfman too.

The Raid (2011 96min.) [Film4 11.40pm &+1]

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.

Rare Exports From The Land of the Original Santa Claus (2010 79min.) [Ch4 1.55am &+1]
Dark seasonal fantasy starring Jorma Tommila and Onni Tommila. Santa Claus's tomb is unearthed in Lapland, just before local children begin disappearing. It seems he isn't quite the jolly soul of Christmas legend.

Wonderfully bonkers Finnish horror-comedy that messes around with the Santa Claus story and creates a brilliantly realised alternative universe in which an evil Santa rules despotically over a world of ensalved elves and helpers.

Terrific fun!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Films on Freeview TV : Tuesday 23rd of December

Chicken Run (2000 80min.) [BBC1 1.45pm]
Animated comedy adventure, with the voices of Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks, Miranda Richardson and Mel Gibson. A clutch of hens, led by head chick Ginger, suffers life on a grim 1950s egg farm. When the avaricious owners decide to move into the meat-pie business, the chickens fear the worst. With the help of American rooster Rocky, the birds start to plan a prisoner-of-war-style escape.

Made by Aardman Animation but lacks the warmth and grace of the Wallace & Gromit stories : still, it’s fun for a young audience although I do wonder how many of the references to POW camp films like The Great Escape and Stalag 17 will mean anything to them.

Destry Rides Again (1939 90mins. ) [ITV4 1.50pm &+1]
Western comedy drama starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart. Mild-mannered lawman Tom Destry is mocked by the inhabitants of Bottleneck when he tries to clean up the town. He comes up against Frenchy, a brassy showgirl and girlfriend of Kent, corrupt owner of the local saloon.

Wonderfully entertaining comedy western with the two leads in sparkling form – Dietrich sings ‘See What The Boys In The Back room Will Have’, Stewart makes hte absolute most of his first lead role in a western and there’s a superb supporting cast including Brian Donlevy as the black hat and Mischa Auer, Charles Winninger and Allen Jenkins.
Great fun.

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951 77min.) [Film4 2.35pm &+1]
Classic Ealing crime comedy starring Alec Guinness. Meek, respectable Henry Holland supervises gold bullion deliveries to the bank where he is a trusted employee. But behind his modest exterior lurks a criminal mind harbouring unbounded ambition. His dream of stealing one million in gold bars starts to assume reality when he teams up with foundry owner Pendlebury and two professional crooks.

It's one of the two totemic non plus ultra of the Ealing comedy films, starring Alec Guinness as Henry Holland and Stanley Holloway as the holiday souvenir manufacturer who helps him melt down the loot and refashion it as scale models of the Eiffel Tower - but then the plan to smuggle them out of the country goes horribly wrong.

Watch out for a young Audrey Hepburn, who has a tiny role in the opening scene as a Latin American ingenue called Chiquita.

Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964 117min.) [BBC4 7.00pm]
The Chicago underworld is shaken when a racketeer and a corrupt sheriff conspire to kill the biggest gang boss in town. A mobster strives to keep his territory out of the killers' hands, but when he uses some of his ill-gotten gains to help an orphanage, he finds himself becoming a local legend. Comedy, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Bing Crosby and Peter Falk.

It’s the Rat Pack Gangster Movie – what more do you need to know?
Great songs, some decent acting and plenty of laughs. Enjoy!

Independence Day (1996 138min.) [Film4 9,00pm &+1]
A fleet of vast flying saucers launches a devastating and unprovoked attack on Earth. As survivors try to flee the seemingly unstoppable alien invaders, the courageous US president, an ace pilot and a computer genius come up with a plan to take the fight to the enemy and save the human race. Roland Emmerich's sci-fi adventure, starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia and Harry Connick Jr.

Sometimes what you want from a film is to be able to park your brain in neutral and be entertained by an adventure story with lots of explosions and some cool special effects. (What sniffy film theorists call "an empty experience").

If tonight is such a night then you're in luck.
"Independence Day" has a story of sorts but it's mainly an excuse for some "oooooh!" moments as well known global landmarks (mainly in the US!) are blown to bits by pesky aliens.

There's some bits and bobs of acting in there : the always reliable Bill Pullman as the gung-ho action hero POTUS, Jeff Goldblum doing his nutty professor turn, Will Smith as the wise cracking pilot and Vivica A Fox as the token kick-ass female.
Director Roland Emmerich handles the CGI elements well and obviously enjoyed the experience as he reprised the trick with varying degrees of success in "Godzilla" (1997) "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004) "10,000 BC (2008) and last year's godawful "2012".

Carlito’s Way (1993 138min.) [ITV4 10.15pm &+1]
Gangster drama starring Al Pacino, Sean Penn and Penelope Ann Miller. Heroin dealer Carlito Brigante is released from prison after serving five years of a 30-year sentence, and wants to go straight. But old acquaintances conspire to turn him back to crime.

Director Brian De Palma makes the absolute most out of the New York location and he has great fun placing the characters in seedy bars and nightclubs. David Koepp’s script is sharp and witty and there’s a sly, restrained turn from Pacino.
The 15 minute subway chase is visually thrilling and there’s plenty of other moments to keep you interested. A really entertaining film that suffers only from being a touch too long.

The Sixth Sense (1999 [Film4 11.50pm &+1]
Supernatural drama starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment. On the same night that he receives an award for his achievements, child psychologist Malcolm Crowe is injured after a confrontation with disturbed ex-patient Vincent Gray. Nevertheless, several months later he decides to take on the case of a nine-year-old boy, who claims he can see dead people, just as Gray had done.

Willis is excellent as Dr Malcolm Crowe, a psychologist who tries to compensate for past professional errors and a crumbling marriage by helping an eight-year-old boy who claims to see ghosts.
Haley Joel Osment's performance as the child with issues is quiet extraordinary.

A film stands up to repeated viewing - mainly because, unlike most of the rest of his output, there is a great deal more to it than just a (fairly obvious) narrative twist.
SPOILER : "She" is actually a sledge!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Films on Freeview TV : Monday 22nd of December

White Christmas (1954 115min. ) [Ch4 11.50am &+1]

Musical starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Old army buddies Phil Davis and Bob Wallace travel with the glamorous Haynes sisters to the Columbia Inn in Vermont. There, Phil and Bob are reunited with their old commanding officer, General Waverly, who is now struggling to keep the hotel going. The visitors decide there's only one answer - to put on a show.

There’s two really good thing on show here : Danny Kaye’s show stealing performance and the direction by Hollywood veteran Michael Curtiz (who also directed Casablanca). Bing gets to sing That Song and Vera-Ellen’s dancing is seriously impressive.

Red River (1948 127min.)( [5USA 12.10pm)
Conflict grows between a tough Texan rancher and his foster son during a long-distance cattle drive to Missouri. The older man's uncompromising methods and unyielding outlook lead his workers to mutiny - and finally pit father against son. Howard Hawks' Western, starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru and Coleen Gray.

Not only one of the greatest Westerns ever to be made by Hollywood but also one of the classics of twentieth century mainstream US film making.
You have John Wayne’s best ever performance, Howard Hawks’ startling direction, Russell Harlan’s sumptuous photography, a mesmerising turn from a yong Montgomery Clift and a stirring Dimitri Tiomkin score.
A fantastic film that can be watched and enjoyed by those who don’t think they like westerns or John Wayne films and repays repeated watching by those who do. Superb.

The War Of The Worlds (1953 81min.) [Film4 12.50pm &+1]
Science-fiction adventure, starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. With their civilisation on the verge of extinction, the Martians scan the solar system and conclude that only the Earth is fit for colonisation. The human race faces its greatest challenge as a Martian invasion force is launched.

Terrific 1950s US sci-fi genre telling of the classic HG Wells story. Gene Barry is a confident, rugged leading man well used by skilled director Byron Haskin who also makes the very best of Gordon Jennings' well done special effects as well as getting believable performances from the cast and many extras, who have to react to the effects that they (obviously) can’t see.

The Railway Children (1970 104min.) [ITV 2.55pm &+1]
Classic period drama based on the novel by E Nesbit, starring Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett and Gary Warren. When a government official is arrested on suspicion of treason, his wife and three children are forced to leave their London home and move to a small cottage in Yorkshire. While their mother fights for her husband's release, the children have marvellous adventures.

"Daddy! My Daddy!" blub

Cinderella (1950 74min.) [BBC1 4.00pm]
Freeview premiere
Classic animated romantic fantasy from Disney, based on the popular children's story by Charles Perrault. The beautiful Cinderella endures a life of hardship with her malicious stepmother. But when the downtrodden girl loses her shoe at a ball, Prince Charming is determined to find its owner.

Not in the first rank of Disney Golden Age films but the songs are good ( Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo and Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes) and younger viewers will get pleasure from seeing the familiar story told in a slightly different way thanks to the Disney additions of an evil cat and singing mice.

Guys And Dolls (1955 143min.) [BBC4 7.00pm]
Musical comedy based on Damon Runyon's short stories, starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Frank Sinatra. Hustler Nathan Detroit searches for a new location for his dice game while being pursued by the police. When he finds a suitable garage, he makes a $1,000 bet with slick gambler Sky Masterson to raise the necessary finance. However, that means Sky must persuade a pious young missionary to go to Havana to have dinner, or else he loses the wager.

A spectacular success that could so easily have been a total disaster. Everything about the film is perfect – from the incorporation of Runyon’s heavily stylised speech patterns & use of slang in the original stories – through the casting of a non-singer and a non-dancer in roles that required them to sing and dance and the fantastic use that’s made of Jean Simmons .
There’s Stubby Kaye’s amusing comedy turn in the supporting cast, some wonderful Frank Loesser songs, great chorography from Michael Kidd and Joseph L Mankiewicz’s confident, assured, light touch direction.
A real treat.

The Tree Of Life (2010 133min.) [Ch4 1.55am &+1]
Drama from director Terrence Malick, starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain. The origins of life on Earth provide a backdrop to a middle-aged man's musings about his upbringing in Waco, Texas, in the 1950s.
Critics and audiences had wildly different views of Malick’s ambitious fifth film.
For the record : I loved it.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Freeview film of the day : friday 19th of December

Boyz N The Hood (1991 112min.) [BBC2 11.35pm]

Urban drama starring Larry Fishburne, Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr. South Central Los Angeles, 1984: young Tre's mother decides it would be in his best interest to live with his estranged but disciplined dad. Seven years on, he has managed to steer clear of the drugs and the violence but, as the teenage gang wars begin to invade his neighbourhood, it becomes almost impossible for him and his friends to avoid trouble.

John Singleton's debut feature was an assured and committed film reflecting the lives of boys growing up amid the chaos and confusion of Reaganite America. Set in south central Los Angeles we follow Tré (Cuba Gooding), Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and Doughboy (Ice Cube) as they turn from children to street urchins to young men with destinies.

In a remarkable, concise style Singleton let's us eavesdrop on the boys growing up and witness the way in which the choices they make each step along the way will, in the end, come to shape their futures.

It's a film bursting with ideas and with plenty to say, but very seldom do you get the feeling that you're being lectured. Too many films ( both of this time and later) that attempted to look at the state of the States ended up as finger wagging polemic or just plain dull.

Singleton sets out to tell a story, albeit a story with a purpose and a moral, but each of the central characters does have a story arc and the film remains true to itself at all times. At no point do we think "s/he wouldn't have done that" - nor do we feel like we're being insulted or patronised for not being part of the target audience.

It's not a seperatist film, the film (rightly) condones the idea that black-on-black killing is an acceptable thing and challenges a lot of the preconceptions that the audience would bring with them.

Tré's father is played by Laurence Fishburne in his first leading role. Jason Styles , known to all as Furious, is a man deeply steeped in the history of the black man in the US , radicalised by the Civil Rights movement. At the time of the film we find him operating a home loans company, aiming to provide funds for his black customers to move on up.

It's to (the excellent) Fishburne that the script turns to deliver it's one moment of out and out politicising. Taking Tré and Ricky into Compton, in an attempt to show them the eternal truth of "the other man's grass is always more yellow", he begins a street corner sermon on the lot of the black in (then) present day America.
As he warms to his theme a small crowd gathers and an imprompteu Q&A / call and response is set in motion.

[referring to drug epidemic] I know every time you turn on the TV thats what you see, Black People, pushing the rock, selling the rock, that's what you see. But see that wasn't a problem as long as it was here [referring to Compton, Watts, other Black ghettos] It wasn't a problem until it was in Iowa or on Wall Street where there are hardly any black people.

And this is the central message of the film - the young characters are in need of someone like "Furious" to point these things out to them. For all the clamour in the popular US press the sad truth is that then (and now) the people who were in the centre of all this shit were the very same ones that were most cut off from any sense of why they were who they were or where they were.
Doughboy says : Tre, your pops is like muthafuckin Malcolm... Farrakhan
He knows the names, he knows that they are people to be listened to, but in his juiced up brain all that they amount to is a jumble of vaguely related names.

A word on the soundtrack. Superb, especially the use of Ice's "How To Survive In South Central" and Dr.Buzzard's "Sun Shower"

The poster tagline "increase the peace" is also the last words on the screen when the credits stop rolling - this was the writer/director's plea and, to an extent, he got his wish.

Sadly, a director this talented couldn't stay outside the mainstrean's radar for long and he ends up working on the reamke of Shaft (2000) and the truly awful 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) - nice irony in the title.

But in 1991 John Singleton wrote and directed one of the most astonishing debut features since Citizen Kane.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 10th of December

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011 97min.) [Film4 10.40pm &+1]
Freeview premiere
Drama starring Elizabeth Olsen. Lucy receives a phone call from her estranged sister Martha, asking if she can come and collect her from a bus station in upstate New York. When the pair return to the summer house Lucy shares with her partner, Martha's erratic behaviour suggests that she has undergone a traumatic experience while she has been away.

This is a really fine piece of film making by writer/director Sean Durkin, his cast and crew.
An enigmatic mystery drama about identity, self, love and loyalty (and misplaced loyalty) that plays out slowly and makes fantastic use of the simple trick of withholding all of the information from the viewer ; telling us only as much as we need to allow us to enjoy the ride - right up to the unresolved ending.

Elizabeth Olsen is superb in the title role(s) - disorientated, confused, changeable and seemingly capable of astonishing mood swings and emotional surges. It's a great part and Olsen grabs it with both hands and wrings every drop from it.
John Hawkes gives another in his string of startling supporting role performances (as in Winter's Bone) and Sarah Paulson does good work with the slightly underwritten part of Martha's sister.

One of those films that stays with you for a few days after watching. Highly recommended.