Saturday, 19 March 2016

Freeview film of the day : saturday 19th of March

Rush (2013 117min.) [Film4 11.05pm &+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.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Freeview film of the day : thursday 17th of March

The Yellow Sea (2010 140min.) [Film4 1.15am friday &+1]

A taxi driver living in an area on the borders of Russia, China and Korea ends up in debt to gangsters due to his gambling habit. A crime boss offers him a clean slate if he goes to South Korea and kills a man. He hopes to track down his missing wife while he is there, but the mission does not go to plan. Crime thriller, starring Jung-woo Ha and Yun-seok Kim. In Korean.

I quite enjoyed this film from the director/star who had previously made (the superior) The Chaser but would stop short of whole hearted recommendation to all viewers.

If you're familiar with (and enjoy) the Korean thriller genre and the tricks that it plays with narrative structure and visual style you will find a lot to admire in Na Hong-jin's film.

The first half is the more successful, with plenty of tension in the set-up and some thrilling set pieces : sadly the second section is largely a succession of (very well shot) shoot-outs, fist fights and car chases - which becomes quite wearying after a while.

The film also suffers from it's failure to resolve not only the central story but also several sub-plots : there's a definite air of setting up a sequel in the final third.

That said, for fans of the genre it's something of a treat as Na Hong-jin really knows his way around an action sequence and the two leads both give strong performance.

Not for everyone but an interesting film for devotees.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Freeview film of the day : saturday 12th of March

Kick-Ass (2009 112 min.) [Film4 12.20am sunday &+1]

Action comedy drama starring Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong and Chloë Moretz. In an effort to improve his image, comic-book nerd Dave Lizewski decides to reinvent himself as a superhero, despite not actually having any special powers. However, this doesn't stop him becoming an internet sensation and attracting the attention of some rather unsavoury characters.

There's two ways of making a film based on a graphic novel or long running comic book : you can treat the source work with reverence (but the danger then is that you end up with Wolverine) or you can accept the fact that the concept of super heroes is inherently absurd and make a film that delivers plenty of fun, fighting and frolics while not taking yourself seriously or treating the material as sacred text.

Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman did some impressive work with their previous film, the charming and very funny adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Stardust, and they apply the same formula here. There's plenty of laugh out loud moments and sly humour in among the expected fists'n'fury set-pieces.

(Then) rising British star Aaron Johnson leads a cast who are firing on all ironic cylinders : Mark Strong as the baddest of all evil doers equally happy dispatching those in his employ who fail him or attempting to stamp on a child's face! ; Nicolas Cage is superbly wooden as the personification of a traditional comic book hero, complete with faltering Adam West speech patterns.

And the astonishing turn by Chloe Moretz as a potty-mouthed tiny teen one-girl wrecking crew, which is superbly handled by the director and executed by the young actor.

Kick-Ass is two hours of brilliantly constructed fun that everybody needs to see at least once.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Freeview film of the day : friday 11th of March

Kill List (2011 91min.) [Film4 10.45pm &+1]

Horror starring Neil Maskell and MyAnna Buring. Ex-soldier-turned-contract killer Jay is talked into doing one last job by friend and fellow hitman Gal. But as the bodies pile up, it soon becomes apparent the pair have become involved in a situation beyond their control.

Terrific British low budget thriller/horror film that casts back to the glory days of Hammer for its inspired air of creepy menace and moments of genuine shock.

Superly directed by Ben Wheatley, off the back of the equally striking Down Terrace, it's a mixture of gangster film, Mike Leigh style improvised domesticity and grand guignol horror.

A thoroughly engaging and satisfying film from beginning to end.

First of a triple bill of films directed by Ben Wheatley : it's followed by the black comedy Sightseers (2012) at 12.35am and the hallucinogenic A Field In England (2013) at 2.15am

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Freeview films of the day : sunday 6th of March

Shifty (2008 85min.) [BBC2 11.40pm]

Crime drama starring Riz Ahmed and Daniel Mays. After four years working in Manchester, Chris visits his old stomping ground on a London estate. He meets up with his drug-dealing best friend Shifty, but Shifty has moved on from just selling weed and is now involved in hardcore drugs, and with that comes danger.

Very well done low budget British film that remembers to put moments of comedy in among the social commentary.
Excellent performances by the three leads and a good sense of time and place. Worth the effort.

The Great Beauty (2013 135min.) [Film4 12.50am monday &+1]

A disillusioned writer leads a luxurious life in Rome's high society, but grows increasingly contemptuous of the shallow people who surround him. He wanders the city in search of inspiration, haunted by his own lost youth and past mistakes.
Comedy drama, starring Toni Servillo and Carlo Verdone.
In Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Chinese.

Paolo Sorrentino's film is something of a rarity in modern cinema - the central character is an older person who's neither a victim nor a burden; instead we join Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) as he wanders around Rome, wryly reflecting on the rather empty experiences enjoyed by certain sections of the population while casting his mind back over his own life and ruminating over missed opportunities.

There's not much in the way of a story or plot beyond that - but Servillo's Jep is such a pleasing companion that the two and a bit hours spent in his company are both rewarding and pleasant.

An original film with a nice wry humour running through it - all beautifully photographed and underpinned by a well chosen soundtrack. Absorbing and entertaining.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Freeview film of the day : saturday 5th of March

Seven Psychopaths (2012 105min.) [Ch4 11.40pm &+1]

Black comedy drama starring Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. Struggling screenwriter Marty finds inspiration for his next script in the dog-napping operation run by his nefarious best friend Billy and his partner Hans. But the target of their next sting is going to put everyone's lives in danger.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh follows up his cult favourite In Bruges (2008) with another darkly comic thriller.
The setting moves from the picturesque fantasy world of Bruges to the vapid fantasy world of the Los Angeles hinterland and the deluded population of would-be Hollywood actors and writers.

McDonagh is well served by a fantastic cast, especially Colin Farrell as the booze soaked lead and Christopher Walken at his wigged-out best; but also Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish and Sam Rockwell.
Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, Zeljko Ivanek, Olga Kurylenko and Michael Pitt also pop up at various points to great effect.

The film suffers a little from a sense of rushing and sometimes trips over it's own feet in it's haste to cover all of the ground it needs to in order to fit in all of the elements of the story.

However, it's hugely entertaining and has moments of genuine hilarity; it just needed a little more care at the editing phase.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Freeview film of the day : friday 4th of March

Drug War (2012 102min.) [Film4 12.50am saturday &+1]

A drug dealer is hospitalised following an accident, which leads to him being identified by the police and facing the death penalty. He agrees to help bring down the criminal organisation he works for in return for his life, assisting undercover officers to infiltrate the syndicate. Gangster thriller, starring Louis Koo and Ka Tung Lam. In Mandarin and Cantonese.

Director Johnnie To is a superstar in his native Hong Kong with a string of well-respected and commercially successful action/thriller films to his name.
Sadly, in the UK his work struggles to get a cinema release and he has become something of a cult figure through the home entertainment releases of his work.

Drug War is a high energy series of set-pieces linked with a slightly confusing plot that features double and triple crosses, identity swaps and multiple timelines.

However, even if you struggle to follow who is doing what to who and why there's loads to enjoy here. It's all really well shot and the action sequences are artfully constructed.
It's the kind of film Asian cinema does really, really well and those who enjoy the work of John Woo, Takashi Miike, Chan-wook Park etc. will find a lot to enjoy and admire here.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Freeview film of the day : thursday 3rd of March

The Skeleton Key (2005 99min.) [MovieMix/moremovies (Freeview 32, Freesat 143, Sky 185) 12.40am friday &+1]

Supernatural thriller, starring Kate Hudson. Live-in nurse Caroline takes a position in a decrepit mansion to care for the ailing husband of the mysterious Violet Devereaux. Intrigued by the secretive couple, she begins to explore the house but her snooping takes a sinister turn when she stumbles upon a hidden attic room that holds a deadly secret.

Well constructed piece of Southern Gothic directed with considerable style by Britain's Ian Softley who creates a world of suffocating heat, claustrophobia and alienation during the slow paced first two thirds of the film before conjouring up an (unexpected) denoument that probably isn't the one the viewer was expecting.

Some very good performances, especially from Gena Rowlands as Violet, and Softley's astute direction help paper over the deficiences of the script.

Enjoyable voodoo based nonsense.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 2nd of March

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013 100min.) [Film4 9.00pm & +1]
Freeview premiere

An aspiring musician struggles to make a name for himself in the Greenwich village folk scene of early 1960s New York. As he pursues an audition with an influential music mogul, he comes across a series of obstacles - many of his own making.
The Coen brothers' drama, starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and Justin Timberlake.

The folk scene of New York's Greenwich Village at the start of the sixties may not (on the face of it) seem to be the most promising setting for a comedy/drama : however, the Coen Brothers bring their usual mix of deadpan wit and absurdity to the story and deliver a film that's by turns reflective, moving and laugh out loud funny.

Oscar Isaac is very, very good in the title role (and has an impressive singing voice) and the supporting cast, especially Mulligan and Timberlake, are excellent.

Llewyn Davis himself is a very well drawn character - a mix of self-serving wannabee and untrustworthy leach with just enough of a varnish of talent to make his story believable.

An enjoyable film, very well scripted, made and acted with a real sense of time and place. A darker companion piece to Christopher Guest's A Mighty Wind (2003).

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 1st of March

Shutter Island (2009 132min.) [Film4 10.55pm &+1]

Mystery thriller directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In 1950s Boston, US marshal Teddy Daniels is called in to investigate the disappearance of a female murderer from an institution for the criminally insane. But with the hospital's authorities being less than helpful, Teddy's work becomes hampered by false leads and misinformation.

The fourth film collaboration between director and star is a broad genre piece based on a best selling novel by Dennis Lehane.
It's part noir thriller, part psychological drama and part adventure story which the director blends together with his usual skill. There's a rip roaring score underpinning the story as it twists and turns and the (very good) cast all work their socks off : especially Mark Ruffalo and Max von Sydow - but also Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams and Emily Mortimer.

It's not 100% perfect but it's a thoroughly entertaining attempt at adapting the interior world of the novel into a cinematic piece.

Note : the title is an anagram (as well as the name of the setting for the story) and truths and lies is what the story is all about.