Monday, 21 September 2015

Freeview film of the day : monday 21st of September

Forty Guns (1957 76min.) [Film4 5.05pm &+1]

Western starring Barbara Stanwyck. The powerful influence exerted on Cochise County, Arizona, by domineering rancher Jessica Drummond and her 40 hired cowboys is challenged by the arrival of Marshal Griff Bonnell, a reformed gunslinger, and his two brothers.

It's interesting that, while in most Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s women in leading roles were usually only allowed to be objects of romantic attention or damsels in distress, in the western genre there were plenty of roles for women that allowed them to be of equal stature (in terms of toughness, skill with a gun etc.) as their male counterparts.
This film, along with Joan Crawford's blistering turn in Johnny Guitar, are very good examples of this anomaly; although there is about forty seconds of romantic sloppiness in the final reel!

Directed by genuine mainstream maverick Samuel Fuller Forty Guns grips right from the astonishing title sequence and opening shot as the forty gun hands of the tile thunder across the screen led by Barbara Stanwyck; who's clearly having a whale of a time throughout.

It's light and witty in tone with just enough moments of action and tension to keep the hardcore western fan entertained ; but it's tight running time and skillful direction allows it to reach out from the genre confines and become an entertaining watch even for the non-fan of horse operas.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Freeview film of the day : sunday 20th of september

Hanna (2011 106min.) [E4 9.00pm &+1]

Action thriller starring Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan. Teenager Hanna has never left her home in the Finnish wilderness and has spent years in isolation being trained to be the perfect assassin by her ex-CIA father Erik. But Erik has unfinished business with the Agency and so he leaves Hanna, who is soon forced to put her skills into practice to elude the murderous attentions of a ruthless intelligence officer.

The absurdly talented Saoirse Ronan leads the cast in director Joe Wright's spirited attempt to mix together the conventions of the conspiracy thriller and the surrealism of European fairy tales.

A very strong supporting cast (Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett , Olivia Williams, Tom Hollander and Jason Flemyng) add depth and weight in the acting department and the visual style is suitably dreamlike and off-kilter to match the oddly twisted storyline.

Distinctly odd but also enjoyable.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 16th of september

Rush (2013 117min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Motor racing drama based on a true story, starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. The 1976 Formula One season is dominated by the intense rivalry between two brilliant drivers: the maverick James Hunt and the methodical Niki Lauda. As their quest for dominance of the sport grows more intense, tragedy seems almost inevitable.

Chris Hemsworth plays Hunt as a boozy, lazy, ladies man blessed with natural charm and talent while Daniel Brühl as Lauda is the technically minded perfectionist who scowls and gripes his way through his professional and personal life.

The two ends of the spectrum personalities of the central characters allows scriptwriter Peter Morgan to dig deep into the psyche of the two rivals - the scenes set in pre-race drivers meetings where Hunt teases and mocks Lauda's obsession with safety are superbly done.

Ron Howard's direction of the action scenes is quite thrilling and the sights and sounds (and the constant presence of sudden death) of 1970s Formula 1 are brilliantly re-created.

Olivia Wilde is terrific as Hunt's long suffering girlfriend/wife Suzy and Christian McKay is an absolute joy as Alexander Hesketh, the wealthy playboy who gives Hunt his first drive.

Even if you know nothing about (or care nothing about) Formula 1 racing don't be put off : the film is very low on technical chat and backstory and very big on personal relationships, spectacle and thrills.

Hugely entertaining.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Freeview film of the day : friday 11th of september

Byzantium (2012 113min.) [Ch4 12.45am saturday & +1]

Horror thriller starring Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan. Clara, a beautiful vampire, and her undead daughter Eleanor are eternally on the run from a male-only secret society. They stop at a seaside town where an impressionable man agrees to turn his family home into a bordello where they can sate their need for blood, except that Eleanor has grown weary of their lifestyle.

Director Neil Jordan, of course, has form with Gothic tales having directed both Interview With The Vampire and The Company Of Wolves in the past.
Here he again creates a stylish, glossy world for the characters to inhabit and the two leads are given the freedom to portray their characters as fully rounded individuals rather than cartoon monsters with outsized fangs.

It resembles Abel Ferrara's The Addiction (1995) as it explores the problems of centuries old 'people' attempting to fit in to contemporary society.

It's very well done and works hard to avoid most of the cliches of the vampire genre as well as retaining some of the mystery and sweeping imagination of the best of the field.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Freeview film of the day : saturday 5th of september

Boyz N The Hood (1991 112min.) [BBC2 11.10pm]
Written and driected by John Singleton.

"Increase the peace "

Two line synopsis : the parallel lives of two young black men and the way in which the choices you make can alter your life.

Two line review : a truly outstanding film, with plenty to say, great script, some very fine performances and a killer soundtrack.

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 Angles 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. I trust that is enough to make you watch the film next time you get the chance.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Milk (2008 122min.) [BBC2 11.05pm]

Directed by Gus van Sant, written by Dustin Lance Black.

"His life changed history. His courage changed lives."

"Milk" is a biopic of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), a gay activist who became engaged with the political process and ultimately rose to the position of power in San Francisco before meeting an untimely death at the age of 48 in 1978.

The film follows only the last eight years of his life when, having relocated to the West Coast from New York, Milk opens a shop that becomes a hang-out, information exchange and talking shop for the local gay community. He becomes an organiser and social campaigner (not just for Gay Rights but as representative of all excluded people), runs for city office unsuccessfully several times before finally becoming elected as a City supervisor on the same day as his nemesis, the arch-conservative Dan White (Josh Brolin).

van Sant cleverly mixes archive footage of the United States at the time and of the real Harvey Milk with the scripted portions of the film, giving it a feel closer to a documentary than a drama ; he opens with newsreel of late fifties and early sixties police persecution of gay men (and women) - busting up their drinking places and herding them into paddy wagons in the style of a thirties Speakeasy bust.

It then roles into Penn as Milk living a closeted life in New York. Unhappy and unfulfilled a chance encounter provides the catalyst for a move to San Francisco where the action of the remainder of the film is played out.

Despite the obvious input that van Sant has to the look and feel it's Sean Penn's film from beginning to end - he is in practically every scene and makes Milk a believable real life figure.
As he transforms and evolves from wild-eyed idealist into mainstream political animal not only does the superficial aspect of his appearance (clothes, hair etc.) change so does Penn's physical portrayal - he becomes "bigger" as he emerges from his safety zone and into the larger world. His mannerisms and speech patterns change; the transformation is complete in the final section of the film where Milk has become the establishment figure and the role of fire-brand wielding tyro is passed to others.

A confident, poised and fully engaged Milk emerges from Penn's performance - striding up the steps of the Town Hall to address protesters in conciliatory terms rather than the language of defiance and opposition that he was using earlier.

It's a film with an obvious message but it's delivered in a non-hectoring style; placing the Gay Rights movement within the context of the ongoing civil rights campaign in the United States and delivering a piece of filmed social history that has it's faults (mainly caused by the need to reduce a story with massive scope to a highlights package) but is entertaining, humane, warm and uplifting.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Freeview film of the day : thursday 3rd of September

What Richard Did (2012 83min.) [Film4 11.15pm]
Freeview premiere

A wealthy teenager manages to seduce another student's girlfriend, but his confidence is shaken by her continuing friendship with her ex. His insecurity results in a violent confrontation that has unforeseen consequences, and leads to his seemingly charmed life rapidly falling apart. Drama, starring Jack Reynor and Roisin Murphy.

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (who then went on to make the excellent Frank) this sombre and careful character study follows the descent of the title character (superbly played by newcomer Jack Reynor) as he travels from school golden boy to wretched, haunted misfit.

Seen by some as a parable for the journey the national psyche of the Irish nation went through during it's dramatic economic expansion and equally dramatic fall; it's an ensemble piece that relies on mood, atmosphere and some terrific acting by the young cast backed up by a well cast group of supporting adults - Lars Mikkelsen is especially good as Richards dad.

All of the drama comes from the situations that Richard causes by his actions and the film is so well made that we never feel as though we are wallowing in his predicament, but rather the audience is taken along on the fascinating and compelling journey of a haunted young man.

Not much in the way of laughs - but a sturdy and well developed piece of small scale drama.