Sunday, 29 November 2015

Freeview film of the day : sunday 29th of November

Gran Torino (2008 111min.)[C5 9.00pm &+1]

Drama starring Clint Eastwood. Retired car-assembly worker, widower, Korean veteran and all-round curmudgeon Walt Kowalski is thrown into conflict with his Hmong neighbours after one of the teenage sons tries to steal his prize 1972 Ford Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation rite.

The mature Eastwood's work behind the camera, from Unforgiven (1992) to Changeling (2008) has been uniformly interesting and well executed. The fact that this run also includes Mystic River (2003), The Bridges Of Madison County (1995) and Million Dollar Baby (2004) demonstrates that he's equally comfortable and adept moving across and between different genres, always bringing a quiet and unfussy style to bear on the material and always with a simple grace that makes the film highly watchable.

In "Gran Torino" Nick Schenk's script has Eastwood suddenly alone (his wife has died and his grown-up children have effectively deserted him) in the neighbourhood he's lived in for most of his adult life; the sub-text being that previously he and his wife had been able to live an insular life, ignoring the social changes that were happening around them.

Now he's forced to confront (both physically and emotionally) the changes : most significantly that he's now surrounded by immigrants from South East Asia, with their "alien" customs and practices. As a former conscript in the Korean War he has difficulty recognising that these economic and social refugees are unconnected to the enemy that he was once sent overseas to fight.

Kowalski's racism isn't born of prejudice or fear : it's a conditioned response taught to him by his time in the army. It becomes apparent that it was necessary for him to dehumanise those that he was fighting in order for him to survive his tour of duty and that, previously, he's never had reason to question this indoctrination.

As the film progresses he is forced to adapt and accept his new neighbours, mainly through the continued efforts of his new next door neighbour Sue Lor (Ahney Her) who refuses to accept his initial bluffness and perseveres with him, eventually entrusting her wayward brother Thao (Bee Vang) into his care as a sort of apprentice American.

Kowalski and Thao have a symbiotic relationship : the older man teaching his young protegee about the American way of life while himself learning lessons about acceptance and tolerance.

Eastwood's acting is superbly judged - the growl that signifies displeasure one of the greatest inventions in recent cinema- he beautifully portrays the initial isolation and distrust and then the subsequent mellowing before returning to a steely-eyed determination as the film reaches its (inevitable) climax.

The two young Hmong actors are both excellent and some of the minor characters are superbly realised ( Kowalski's barber and construction gang boss friend, for example).
There are moments of comedy, of quiet poignancy, of genuine pathos and of real tension.

A hugely watchable film that still manages to make it's philosophical points without lecturing, a worthy addition to Eastwood's canon as both actor and director.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Freeview film of the day : saturday 28th of November

Easy A [2010 88min.) [Film4 12.15am saturday &+1]

Comedy starring Emma Stone. When a little white lie about losing her virginity makes the previously anonymous Olive Penderghast the talk of school, she decides to exploit her new-found notoriety to improve her social standing. But being "easy" comes with mixed blessings.

There's a superb performance by (the then relatively unknown) Emma Stone at the heart of this updating of Hawthorne's classic novel The Scarlet Letter.

There's also more than a hint of John Hughes' 1980's High School set comedy films and a terrific supporting cast, including Patricia Clarkson, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell and Stanley Tucci.

If you've seen Juno and enjoyed that film's combination of sharp wit and comic teen angst then Easy A will be right up your street.
The condensed running time means that hardly a moment is wasted and the film moves along with real zip.
It's very, very funny and it's appeal is not limited to younger viewers as all of the characters and situations are given equal weight by director Will Gluck.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Freeview film of the day : Monday 16th of November

Event Horizon (1997 91min.) [MovieMix/moremovies 9.00pm &+1]

Science-fiction horror starring Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill. The year is 2047, and a rescue mission is sent to the outer reaches of our solar system to contact the Event Horizon, a prototype spaceship that has been missing for the last seven years. As the crew members search for survivors, they discover the terrifying secrets that lie within the mysterious spaceship.

Bit of a mess and the lack of budget is sometimes all too evident; but it's still a fun watch.

In many ways it's reminiscent of a 1950s sci-fi/monster B Movie with added guts'n'gore which means that, at times, it's unsure if it wants to be a sci-fi adventure or an out and out horror film.

But there's a strong cast (Fishburne, Neill, Joely Richardson, Kathlenn Quinlan and Sean Pertwee etc.) all of whom do their very best with some seriously under written characters.

Fun if you don't take it too seriously or go in expecting Alien!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Freeview film of the day : Wednesday 11th of November

Zero Dark Thirty (2012 150min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Action thriller based on a true story, starring Jessica Chastain. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden intensifies and pressure grows on CIA agent Maya and her colleagues to bring him to justice. But as the operation stretches over years and spans the world, factions within the security services resort to methods that are not strictly by the book, methods that present a moral challenge for Maya.

If you're familiar with the TV series Homeland you'll be prepared for Jessica Chastain's performance as Maya the hugely driven CIA operative with an obsessive goal.
She burns up the screen with an intensity and passion that occasionally borders on overplaying but is always true to her character.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow with her usual confident style and grace, this is almost a companion piece to her previous film The Hurt Locker. What's refreshing here is that, in among the slew of recent films inspired by the US military actions in Iraq and Afganistan, here we have a female character right at the heart of the action, constantly running rings around her male superiors and demonstrating that there's more than one way to fight an intelligence war.

Kyle Chandler off of Friday Night Lights is good value as the CIA station boss totally out of his depth and Jason Clarke, Mark Strong and Jennifer Ehle add weight to a fine ensemble cast.

It's a gripping and absorbing film and it's to Bigelow's enormous credit that she not only sidelined the machismo element so often present in films like this but presents a coherent and lucid timeline/story from a series of events that many book length examinations have failed to explain with such clarity.

Interesting, informative and very well made and played.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Freeview film of the day : Tuesday 10th of November

The Hurt Locker (2008 125min.) [Film4 11.15pm &+1]

Oscar-winning thriller starring Jeremy Renner. A US Army bomb-disposal team working out the last 38 days of their tour in Iraq are joined by Staff Sgt William James, whose unorthodox methods make him initially unpopular with his colleagues.

The film follows them as the team as go about their potentially deadly missions and uses a variety of techniques (both visual and verbal) to show the enormous pressure that they work under on a daily basis and the lengths that they go to in order to attempt to relax at the end of the day.

The bomb disposal scenes themselves are very well done; there's a real sense of tension and the nearness of death about them. A long central scene away from Baghdad points up the constant threat to their lives even in the most common place situation and we learn more about the characters attitudes and inner lives during this stand-off than from any amount of barrack room exposition.

All of the acting roles are handled with skill and Bigelow directs with the same kinetic energy that she brought to the fantastic "Near Dark" (1987) and "Strange Days" (1995).

It works well on the smaller screen too - the intimate nature of the film making comes over well and there's an added sense of claustrophobia.

An intense and involving film which (as an added bonus) contains Mike from Neighbours!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Freeview film of the day : sunday 8th of November

[b]Looper[/b] (2012 113min.) [BBC2 9.00pm]

Sci-fi action thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. In the year 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past where hitmen like Joe are waiting to execute the contract and dispose of the body. It's a lucrative business for Joe but when he runs into his older self, he realises his employers want to close the loop for good.

Recently voted as one of the ten best science-fiction films released so far this century, it's one of the rash of releases in the time travel sub-genre from the early years of this decade (Source Code, Primer etc.)

There's lots going on and the viewer is required to either keep paying attention or get hopelessly lost among the shifting time frame and non-linear narrative.

But director Rian Johnson keeps everything together and moving forward, there's some impressive action scenes and the three leads are all very good value (Emily Blunt gives another strong performance as a farm owner with whom Levitt seeks refuge) and the whole thing swings along in a confident and posessed way until it reaches it's satisfying conclusion.

Works as both a big budget popcorn movie and an intelligent piece of sci-fi with loads of ideas and style.