Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 20th of May

Poetry (2010 133min.) [Film4 12.55am thursday &+1]

Drama starring Yoon Jung-hee. A woman's life is changed by two discoveries: first, that her forgetfulness is in fact the early stages of Alzheimer's; and second, by the revelation that her grandson has been involved in a terrible crime.

If films from Korea have had any recognition among western audiences in recent years it tends to be for either a) their horror films (especially ghost stories) which they do remarkably well or b) bloody and violent gangster thrillers (which they also do very well).

However, there is another side to Korean film making, of which Poetry is a fine example. A lyrical and moving study of an older woman who's attempting to redefine her place in the world following two debilitating discoveries.

Yoon Jung-Hee is dazzling in the lead role as the film slowly plays out her story of rediscovery through signing up for night school and a new found love of poetry.

Director Lee Chang-dong takes his time telling the story and allows scenes to develop and play out in a naturalistic way without resorting to flash camera work and editing, and the film is all the better for it.

A restrained but involving piece of work.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

In A Lonely Place (1950) USA 89min.

Directed by Nicholas Ray ; written by Edmund H. North and Andrew Solt.

Starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame.
Given a chance to save his career, a talented but down-at-heel Hollywood scriptwriter baulks at the cheap novel he's been asked to adapt. Deliberating in a bar, he meets a girl who offers to help him, but her involvement only leads to trouble.

Nicholas Ray is best remembered today as the director of James Dean's second starring feature Rebel Without A Cause (1955) and sadly this obscures the fact that he was one of the most talented directors working in the Hollywood mainstream during the middle years of the twentieth century.

Having made his feature debut in 1949 with the startling film noir They live By Night for RKO he then made several films in a very short space of time. In A Lonely Place is his fifth feature despite only being released a year after his debut. RKO released his Born To Be Bad (with Joan Fontaine and Robert Ryan) within months of this picture's theatrical debut.

Despite the speed at which he was working each film is very carefully constructed with beautifully designed shots and a very real sense of time and place. As a former architecture student (under Frank Lloyd Wright!) Ray understood the vital importance of surroundings and setting to establish his characters in the world which they inhabit.
In A Lonely Place has several examples of this : not least in the apartment complex where the two leads live and the use of several very recognisable LA landmarks in the exterior shots.

Based on a justly celebrated 1947 novel by Dorothy B. Hughes the film was made by Bogart's own production company Santana Productions : Ray and his screenwriters made several changes to the original work, including the inspired decision to change the identity of the murderer : a change that adds several new layers to the story.

The opening scene quickly establishes Bogart's character - driving through a luminous LA nightscape (the black &n white photography by Burnett Guffney is quite something throughout) Bogart pulls up at a traffic light where he encounters a young actress with whom he's 'worked' in the past. A brief flirtatious exchange is broken up by the brusque interuption of the actress' new husband : Bogart's hair-trigger temper has him already half way out of his car and ready to slug the other before the lights change and the couple drive away.
In the second scene we learn that he's a screenwriter whose last hit was several years ago ("before the war" according to one of his friends), that he likes a drink and that he values the company of his friends, to whom he's absurdly loyal.

And then the story proper gets underway. (No spoilers here - it really helps if you come to the film with little or no idea of where the story is going to go from this point on.)

Bogart is simply superb in the lead role : we know that he can do the tough guy, is adapt at light comedy and is perfectly capable of doing sullen introspection but in the part of Dixon Steele he parades all these character traits, often in the same scene and sometimes within the same breath. It's an extraordinary performance and a very brave one : the character is deeply flawed and at times very far from likable.

The lead female role is a superb piece of writing : Ginger Rogers and Lauren Bacall were apparently both considered but the producers hit pay-dirt with Gloria Grahame who effectively manages the transition from cool outsider through lovesick and on into a much darker place very skilfully. Attractive enough to be believable as a wannabe actress but not so glamorous as to make the idea of her and Bogart together ridiculous; it's a very smart piece of casting and it pays real dividends in terms of making the story credible and realistic.

In supporting roles there's terrific work from Frank Lovejoy (as the ex-army buddy of Bogart now working as a cop), Art Smith (as Bogart's long time and long suffering agent) and Martha Stewart (not that one!) as the youngster Bogart befriends and the starting point for his troubles.

Often classified as a film noir In A Lonely Place is harder to pin down than that implies : yes there's an element of crime thriller and the police procedural but there's also a profound love story and a psychological drama going on. What Nichols Ray does is keep each of the elements moving forward while blending them together to create a magnificent piece of cinema which is one of the best examples of what could be achieved when an actor not afraid to take risks worked in close collaboration with a director with an elevated sense of what could be achieved within the genre picture.
In A Lonely Place is a very special film and one that deserves every ounce of the critical respect that it has received since it's release.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Freeview film of the day : sunday 17th of May

Made In Dagenham (2010 108min.) [BBC2 10.00pm]

Comedy drama based on a true story, starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson. In 1968, workers at the Ford auto plant in Dagenham - one of the biggest employers in the UK - go on strike, demanding equal rights for female staff. The unassuming Rita O'Grady finds herself at the centre of a movement that is destined to change the lives of women for years to come.

A timely reminder of what the British film industry can do apart from frocks'n'bonnets literary adaptations, alleged comedy films with floppy haired posh people and soft-hearted dramas about the elderly.

The always excellent Sally Hawkins leads a solid gold cast : Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson (note perfect as Labour legend Barbara Castle), Daniel Mays, Rosamund Pike, John Sessions (as Harold Wilson), Rupert Graves, Geraldine James and even Toby off of The West Wing and Trigger off of OFAH all pop-up at various points.

A warm, witty, affectionate slice of social history focussing on one of the pivitol moments in the development of British society with a well-realised sense of time and place and a script that makes its points well without feeling the need to bash you about the head with them constantly.
Thoroughly recommended.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Freeview film of the day : saturday 16th of May

The Raid (2011 96min.) [Film4 11.20pm &+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.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Freeview film of the day : frirday 15th of May

Cape Fear (1991 122min.) [ITV 10.40pm &+1]

Thriller starring Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange. After 14 years behind bars, brutal rapist Max Cady is free to exact revenge on the man who could have kept him out of jail, lawyer Sam Bowden. Too clever to attack his victim directly, the devious ex-convict begins a reign of terror that threatens Bowden's wife and teenage daughter. Determined to crush the family, Cady's sadistic campaign causes underlying tensions to explode with devastating results.

The J.Lee Thompson 1962 version of the story (starring Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum and Polly Bergen) is a masterpiece of tension as Mitchum's truly disturbing villain hunts down the family of the man responsible for sending him to jail, with brutal results.

Scorsese's version suffers by comparison, especially when it attempts to open out the story from the original's very basic and linear narrative; inevitably some of the claustrophobic, mounting fear is lost as the running time expands.

That said : there's a very neat touch in this remake as the Bowden family are changed from an apple pie perfect nuclear family into a bawling mass of unresolved issues and barely functional relationships.

Juliette Lewis is outstanding as the flirtatious yet naive teenage daughter and Jessica Lange is always watchable, but especially so when she's cast as a strong female lead.

Flawed but very watchable.

La Casa Del Fin de los Tiempos / The House At The End Of Time (2013)

Venezuela : directed by Alejandro Hidalgo - 101 minutes

In 1981, Dulce (Ruddy Rodríguez) lived in an old house with her sons Leopoldo (Rosmel Bustamante) and Rodrigo (Hector Mercado), and her husband Juan José (Gonzalo Cubero). During that time, she experienced multiple cases of strange supernatural phenomena, most notably an elderly woman who kept on warning her that Juan José would soon murder their children. Dulce desperately tries to prevent this from happening but ultimately fails to do so. She is completely shocked and ruined when the police arrive and find that her husband has also been killed. As there are no other people in the house, Dulce is arrested and imprisoned for the triple murder. Thirty years later, an elderly Dulce has been released from jail—under the requirement that she serve the rest of her sentence under house arrest in the very house where the murders took place. Once settled, Dulce is visited by a local priest (Guillermo Garcia) who wants desperately to get her to turn back to God as Dulce has lost all her faith in religion. She successfully manages to enlist his help in discovering what exactly happened in her home thirty years ago.

An effective and well made ghost story which had echoes, for me, of Alejandro Amenábar's The Others (2001) and the low budget sci-fi drama Coherence (2013).

Smartly done with a few well staged "jump" moments it's a neat little genre film that has quite a few interesting ideas packed into it's minute running time.