Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 27th of January

Someone To Watch Over Me (1987 102min.) [BBC1 12.15am thursday]

Thriller from director Ridley Scott, starring Tom Berenger, Mimi Rogers and Lorraine Bracco. Mike Keegan is a happily married New York detective assigned to protect Claire Gregory, a wealthy socialite who has agreed to testify against the gangster who murdered her friend. But Mike gradually finds his involvement with the witness affecting his family life.

Ah! The eighties thriller - usually a confection of ludicrous plot, consumer-porn housing, cars and accessories, impossibly glamorous people and set among shiny, reflective surfaces all of which are there to distract from the lack of anything worthwhile or interesting happening on screen.

In amongst this great slew of empty headed films there's a few that stand out from the crowd and Someone To watch Over Me is one of them.

Firstly, it's directed by Ridley Scott who has a sure touch and a knack for this sort of material : secondly it's two lead actors are Mimi Rogers and Tom Berenger who are believable as human beings rather than walking, talking clothes horses.

We actually care what happens to these two thanks to a smart script from Howard Franklin which has greater depth and subtly than usually find in thrillers of this time - the subtexts with regard to consumerism and the nature of voyeurism are well handled while the thriller elements keep the story moving forward.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Freeview films of the day : monday 18th of January

Mud (2012 124 min.) [Film4 6.25pm &+1]

Two boys exploring an island on the Mississippi discover a fugitive has made his home there. He tells them he is on the run from bounty hunters after killing a man, and needs their help to be reunited with his lost love. As they ferry messages to the woman in question, the youngsters are forced to come to terms with the complexity of adult relationships. Drama, starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon.

The possible beginning of the re-evaluation of Matthew McConaughey after several years lost in the wasteland of landfill rom-coms.

He plays the title character and puts in a very strong performance while his two young co-stars (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) are both exceptional.

In fact there's some serious acting talent throughout the cast : Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Sarah Paulson, Joe Don Baker and Paul Sparks all turn up at various points.

Neatly handled by writer/director Jeff Nichols and making the absolute most of the scenery of its Mississippi River setting it's a small but tense drama with some very fine performances by all involved.

Interesting and involving.

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.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Freeview film of the day : saturday 16th of January

Spider (2002 94min.) [BBC2 12.45am sunday]

Bleak psychological drama starring Ralph Fiennes. A destitute man recently released from a mental hospital visits East End locations where he thinks he saw his father murder his mother.

David Cronenberg may have made his name and found cult fame with his early 'body horror' films in the 1980s but here he's more concerned with the internal struggle of a mind of a man attempting to come to terms with a traumatic experience in his early life.

Ralph Fiennes turns in a career best performance as Spider, recently released from a mental institution into community care. He spends his time wandering the streets of his youth and attempting to piece together the shocking events of his past that led directly to his present situation.

Cronenberg uses multiple timelines, shifting chronology and compound characters to show Spider's isolation, confusion, angst, sadness and pain. It's a highly effective film making the absolute best of it's East London setting and the dislocation the characters feel from their times.

Complex and rewarding.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Freeview film of the day : thursday 14th of January

Orphan (2009 117min.) [Film4 11.45pm &+1]

Horror thriller starring Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, and Isabelle Fuhrman. When bereaved couple Kate and John adopt nine-year-old Esther from an orphanage, their dreams of family happiness soon descend into a nightmare.

Camp, ever so knowing cuckoo-in-the-nest thriller with an outsanding performance by Isabelle Fuhrman and multiplex pleasing direction by Jaume Collet-Serra.
Very stylish and very entertaining.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 13th of January

What Richard Did (2012 83min.) [Film4 1.25am thursday & +1]

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.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Freeview film of the day : saturday 9th of January

The Hunger Games : Catching Fire (2013 140min.) [Ch4 9.00pm &+1]
Freeview premiere

Katniss Everdeen's victory in a televised death match makes her a focus for revolution against the totalitarian nation she lives in. The rulers of the regime plot to crush dissent with a new series of games, in which past champions battle it out. Sci-fi adventure sequel based on the second book in Suzanne Collins' trilogy of novels, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The second film in the four film franchise picks up where the first finished and provides more of the content that made its predecessor such a delight.

Jennifer Lawrence returns and is once again sensational in the lead role : the support from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer is top quality and Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, the wonderful Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland all add weight to the cast.

Director Francis Lawrence remembers that in among the terrific action sequences and well handled CGI effects there's a story that needs to be told and does so very well indeed. Despite the extended running time the film never flags or lags and the whole thing is expertly held together.

Very, very good with high entertainment value.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Freeview film of the day : friday 8th of January

Amy(2015 122min.) [Ch4 9.00pm &+1]
Freeview premiere

Using archive footage, previously unseen material and contemporary interviews, director Asif Kapadia paints an intimate portrait of singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse, who died at the age of just 27.

Asif Kapadia's previous film was the superb documentary Senna (2010) and he used the same approach when putting together this biography of the doomed singer.

Once again there's no narration or on-screen talking head to guide you through the story ; it's told entirely through archive footage and specially filmed interviews with those who were close to the subject or important to their career during their time in the public eye.

As before you need to have no prior knowledge (or even liking of) the subject to be pulled into and enthralled by the story as it unfolds on screen : the meticulous construction and painstaking care taken with the film means that this is neither a hagiography nor a hatchet job - it's an informed, balanced and respectful look back on a life ended far too soon.

One of the most interesting aspects is how quickly Winehouse's very public failures became a staple of chat show, stand-up and TV panel games 'jokes' - some of the archive footage is very revealing of the nature of 21st. centruy celebrity culture : watching some of these routines back is very uncomfortable with the benefit of hindsight.

Amy is a remarkable film and the wealth of material that Asif Kapadia and his team assembled gives a real sense of depth to the story which they tell with real compassion and style.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Freeview film choices : monday 4th of January

Master And Commander : The Far Side Of The World (2003 132min.) [Film4 6.25pm &+1]

Period adventure drama based on the novels by Patrick O'Brian, starring Russell Crowe. In 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars, British frigate HMS Surprise is out-gunned by a French warship and badly damaged. Despite severe injuries to his crew and his opponent's greater fire power, uncompromising captain Jack Aubrey patches up the Surprise and sets off to seek revenge.

Thoroughly entertaining seafaring adventure story.
Russell Crowe reins it in a bit as the driven but human ship's captain driven to pursue a French pirateer seeking revenge and glory while Paul Bettany gives a quiet, thoughtful but well rounded performance as the ships doctor and resident biologist.

There's some spectacular CGI effects and model work (the rounding of Cape Horn in a full-on storm is especially well done) and Peter Weir spends enough time with the main characters and a strong supporting cast to add some human interest to the action sequences.

Genuinely exciting in places and very well photographed and shot - although it did unconvincing box-office business it's by no means a failure.
Warmly recommended for a chilly evening.

The Next Three Days (2010 133min.) [Ch5 11.00pm &+1]
Freeview premiere

Crime drama starring Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson. The world of academic John Brennan collapses when his wife is arrested for her boss's murder and sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Brennan is convinced of his partner's innocence, but with every legal channel exhausted, this mild-mannered man is forced into taking desperate measures.

Paul Haggis's film is (essentially)a remake of Fred Cavayé's French thriller Pour Elle /Anything For Her (2008) moving the action from Paris to Philadelphia.
Part of the effectiveness of the French film is down to the fact that we believe in Diane Kruger and Vincent Lindon's relationship, and that Lindon's character is capable of the acts that we see him perform in the story.

The addition of Hollywood A List stars and the much larger budget thus creates problems of it's own, problems that the film largely fails to resolve.

However it is beautifully shot by cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine who makes the absolute best of the inner-city & urban setting of much of the film.
It's a perfectly serviceable and enjoyable film in it's own right : but I would urge you to seek out Cavayé's superior original version.

If you enjoyed the BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie's locked room mystery And Then There Were None over Christmas you might be interested in the enjoyable 1974 film version, starring Olive Reed and Richard Attenborough.
It's on ITV3 at 12.05am tuesday &+1

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Freeview film choices : saturday 2nd of January

From Russia With Love (1963 110min.) [ITV1 2.45pm &+1]
Spy adventure starring Sean Connery. James Bond is sent to Istanbul to help a beautiful Russian diplomat defect to the West with an important cipher machine. However, he is unaware that he is being drawn into a trap laid by criminal organisation Spectre.

In most people’s top five Bond films.

Iron Man Three (2013 125min.) [BBC1 7.10pm]
Freeview premiere
Fantasy action adventure starring Robert Downey Jr. Wealthy industrialist Tony Stark must rely on his wits when an attack on his home leaves him without his super suit. To make matters worse he has to square up to an evil scientist from his past and a nefarious new villain called the Mandarin.

Pretty much the package as before, although a distinct improvement on the disappointing first sequel in the franchise. Director Shane Black is very good at this sort of action movie and, with co-writer Drew Pearce, has a lot of fun mixing in dark humour, surprises and wit among the (very spectacular) special effects and robot fights.
A popcorn munching monster of a Saturday night movie.

The Dark Knight (2008 145mins.) [ITV1 9.00pm &+1]
ction fantasy starring Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart and Heath Ledger. Now that Gotham City has its very own masked protector, the heads of the underworld find it more and more difficult to operate. But then they receive an offer they can't refuse from a garishly attired criminal called the Joker. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne's former girlfriend Rachel Dawes has started a relationship with DA Harvey Dent who is pursuing his own crusade against crime in Gotham.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011 100mins.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]
Sci-fi action adventure starring James Franco and Freida Pinto. When scientist Will Rodman's programme of drug experiments to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease is shut down he secretly takes an offspring from one of the chimpanzees he was using into his home and names him Caesar. Caesar has inherited the effects of the trial drug and begins to show remarkable intelligence, a development that will put him on a violent collision course withthe humans who have abused him.

There's justification for the revisiting of the classic Planet Of The Apes film series on the basis that new technology allows the film makers to use motion capture and CGI rather than people in suits to portray the apes.

Caesar, the ape at the centre of the story, is mostly a motion captured Andy Serkis while the team behind Avatar's special effects help to fill the screen with any number of virtual but believable primates.
In the original series Rise came after the Charlton Heston starring first film and it does make sense, if revisiting the series, to begin with the origins of...story.

And it's done rather well...some of the dialogue is a bit clunky and some of the human acting is a bit too knowing for the tone of the piece andthemoral questions raised by the story are largely sidestepped.
But those quibbles aside director Rupert Wyatt delivers some great set-pieces and a touching story and the special effects are very, very good.

A well crafted big-budget Hollywood blockbuster that is extremely watchable.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011 112min.) [Ch4 10.35pm &+1]
Spy thriller adapted from John le Carré's novel and based on the classic television series, starring Gary Oldman and Colin Firth. Following the death of an agent, information is received that a Soviet mole is operating at the heart of the British secret service. Veteran operative George Smiley is called out of retirement to try to uncover the spy and he soon discovers that you can trust no-one - not even those closest to you.

Those who remember the BBC TV adaptation may be slightly disappointed by this film version : the abbreviated running time (compared to the TV series) means there's little room for background or providing depth of character - both of which were an essential part of the series.
This means that it's difficult to work up much empathy with George Smiley or fathom the motives of the mole he's working so hard to uncover.

That said it's a decent enough stand-alone spy thriller, filled with period detail (the gruesome office Christmas party is a standout scene) and enough decent acting talent to keep you watching, even though you may not care too much about the eventual outcome.

Black Death (2010 97min.) [BBC1 midnight sunday]
Horror mystery starring Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne. Medieval England is in the grip of the plague, so when it comes to light that a remote community has been left mysteriously untouched by the pestilence, a young monk and a band of mercenary knights are sent to investigate whether witchcraft is responsible.

Director Christopher Smith moves from the contemporary setting of his two previous films (Severance and the really very good Triangle) to tackle medieval superstition, swordplay and sorcery in this rather good British horror/fantasy.

Sean Bean is reliably gruff and swarthy in the lead role but Eddie Redmayne and the excellent Carice van Houten (Zchwarzbok/Black Book) carry off most of the acting credit.

There's a lot going on : religion, philosophy, fighting, withcraft, re-animation, persecution etc. but Smith keeps a handle on it all and produces a rather smart and thought provoking little film.

Marley (2012 139min.) [ITV1 1.00am Sunday &+1]
Kevin Macdonald's documentary that uses rare footage to trace the life of iconic reggae musician Bob Marley from humble beginnings to world superstar.

A little lightweight and uncritical : but an interesting introduction to the lige and work of the first global reggae superstar.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Freeview film choices : friday 1st of January

Monsters vs Aliens (2009 90min.) [BBC1 10.25am]
Animated sci-fi comedy featuring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen and Hugh Laurie. Susan Murphy is in love and about to marry her weatherman fiancé Derek when she is struck by a meteorite that endows her with extraordinary powers. Codenamed Ginormica, she is enlisted by the military to join other "monsters" in defending the Earth from alien invasion.

We're living in a Golden Age of Animation, but aside from an occasional Disney princess, animated female protagonists are rare in American films, which makes this Dreamworks production all the more welcome.
Fans of 1950s sci-fi will have a field day spotting homages to films like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and The Blob, but even non-fans should enjoy the colourful action, lovely characters and some delightfully subversive little genre tweaks.

Carry On Cabby (1963 88min.) [Ch5 10.50am &+1]
Comedy starring Sidney James and Hattie Jacques. The proprietor of Speedee Taxis gets some unexpected competition when his neglected wife starts up her own firm - the all-female Glamcabs.

The Sound Of Music (1965 167min.) [BBC1 1.15pm]
Classic family musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. When trainee nun Maria begins to have doubts about her vocation, she leaves her convent in Salzburg to become governess to the seven children of Captain Von Trapp, a widower and retired naval officer. The spirited Maria instils a loveof music in the children, but the family's happiness is threatened by the Nazi occupation of Austria.

Being shown in a digitally restored print.
Robert Wise's direction, Julie Andrews and the Rodgers and Hammerstein score are all perfect. One of the great musicals of the sixties.

Dr No (1962 105min.) [ITV1 1.25pm]
Spy adventure, the first in the series of films based on Ian Fleming's famous fictional secret agent, starring Sean Connery and Ursula Andress. James Bond is sent to Jamaica to find out more about the mysterious killing of a fellow agent. With the help of CIA man Felix Leiter, Bond discovers the evil Dr No's plan to hold the United States to ransom by threatening its space programme.

Wreck It Ralph (2012 97min.) [BBC1 4.30pm]
Freeview premiere
Animated adventure featuring the voice of John C Reilly. The villain of a 1980s arcade game sets off on a quest through other state-of-the-art games to prove there's more to him than just being a bad guy.
Great fun for the first two thirds of its running time but the pace seems to flag as it run out of ideas in the final stretch.
I really enjoyed the voice work of John C Reilly as the titular animated character but felt that they could have done just a little bit more with the story. Still, it’s an entertaining enough hour and a half and very well animated.

The Terminal (2004 123min.) [BBC2 5.55pm]
Comedy drama directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones. On a visit to the United States from the eastern European state of Krakozhia, Viktor Navorski suddenly finds himself with no legal status after his country falls to a military coup. Without a valid visa or diplomatic status, the hapless Navorski is therefore confined to JFK airport, much to the irritation of US customs official Frank Dixon who is determined to be rid of the unwanted visitor.

A far better film than it's popular reputation would lead you to believe.

Tangled (2010 96min.) [Ch4 6.00pm &+1]
Freeview premiere
Animated fairy-tale adventure featuring the voices Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi. The long-haired Rapunzel has spent her entire life incarcerated in a tower so when she falls in love with a bandit, she must venture into the outside world for the first time.
From the team that brought you the superior canine animated adventure Bolt (2008) ; this fairy tale animation has several moments of real beauty as the characters are swept along on a series of adventures.
It’s fun to watch, has an uplifting story and several genuine laugh out loud moments.

Independence Day (1996 138min.) [Film4 6.15pm &+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 the godawful "2012".

Despicable Me (2010 90min.) [ITV2 6.50pm &+1]
Animated comedy featuring the voice of Steve Carell. Behind the seemingly tranquil façade of small-town America, super-criminal Gru plots his biggest heist yet: to steal the Moon. But an encounter with orphan sisters Margo, Edith and Agnes proves that even the most dastardly villain has a soft centre.

Skyfall (2012 137min.) [ITV2 8.00pm &+1]
Spy adventure starring Daniel Craig as agent James Bond. When an operation to retrieve a computer hard drive containing the names of agents goes wrong, the authority of MI6 boss M comes under scrutiny. Her only ally seems to be Bond, who is assigned to track down the mastermind behind the theft. It's a mission that will reveal long-hidden secrets from M's and Bond's past.

Shrek 2 (2004 88min.) [BBC3 8.30pm]
Sequel to the hit animated fantasy comedy, featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz. On arriving back from their honeymoon, Shrek and princess Fiona are invited to stay with her parents in the kingdom of Far Far Away. But King Harold is less than enchanted by his new son-in-law, and the Fairy Godmother has good reason to want the ogre out of Fiona's life. Cue assassin-for hire Puss-in-Boots...

Rather disappointing sequel to the rip-roaring original. Some very good sight gags and brilliant animation but the story and some of the voice work let too much daylight in on the magic.

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013 93min.) [Ch4 9.00pm &+1]
Freeview premiere
Action thriller starring Bruce Willis. Tough cop John McClane travels to Moscow to help his estranged son, who has somehow become embroiled in an assassination plot. But when McClane senior arrives he discovers that junior is in much deeper than he imagined.

Awful, terrible, desperate : over done and under scripted. A massive waste of everyone’s time.

Les Miserables (2012 151min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]
Period musical based on the internationally successful stage show and the novel by Victor Hugo, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried. In post-revolutionary France a criminal tries to make amends for his past by raising a young girl as his own. But the policeman who first put him away is unconvinced by the transformation and is determined to expose him.

Catch Me If You Can (2012 134min.) [BBC2 10.20pm]
Comedy drama, based on the true story of conman Frank William Abagnale Jr, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. Shattered by the news that his parents are divorcing, 16-year-old Frank runs away to New York. For six years he lives a life of fraud, cashing over $2 million in bad cheques while impersonating an airline pilot, paediatrician and lawyer, and always staying one step ahead of tenacious FBI agent Carl Hanratty.

An essentially lightweight confection that works because Steven Spielberg knows exactly how to make films like this and because of Leonardo DiCaprio's charisma and charm in the lead role.
Great work in the supporting cast from Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen. Enjoyable nonsense.

Shadow Of A Doubt (1942 103min.) [BBC2 12.30am Saturday]
Classic Hitchcock thriller starring Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright. When Uncle Charlie arrives in the small Californian town of Santa Rosa, he is welcomed with open arms by his family. However, his admiring niece soon begins to harbour doubts about her favourite uncle.

Brilliantly played by the two leads and perfectly directed by Hitchcock (it was his own favourite of his work) it’s a tense thriller which builds to a very satisfying final act.