Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009 95min.) [BBC2 1.00am sunday]

Thriller starring Gemma Arterton, Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan. Two men kidnap a young woman and demand £2 million from her wealthy father, but their meticulously planned scheme soon goes violently wrong.

"Thriller" is a bit of a misnomer : the film is essentially a three-handed character study with the upper hand constantly rotating among the protagonists.

The always reliable Eddie Marsan leads the cast through an intense, claustrophobic film which has (to all intents & purposes) only one set and three characters ; director J Blakeson makes great use of these limitations and the film looks stylish and moody.

There's a few early scenes which might put you off but, while it may start out looking like just another kidnap-of-a-female movie it soon turns into something quite different.

Interesting and worthwhile.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Freeview film of the day : monday 23rd of May

Field Of Dreams (1989 101min.) [Film4 6.55pm & +1]

A farmer hears a mysterious voice inspiring him to mark out a baseball diamond in a cornfield - which, to his surprise, is visited by the ghost of the star player of the 1919 Chicago White Sox team, whose career was cut short by scandal. It later dawns on him the pitch has a greater purpose - to give people who have sacrificed important parts of their lives a second chance. Fantasy, starring Kevin Costner, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones.

Kevin Costner clearly likes a baseball story - by my count he's so far involved in five films about the sport and is rumoured to be working on yet another.
Field Of Dreams is clearly the best of the lost though, and it could be argued that it's one of the best sport related films ever made.

Director Phil Alden Robinson channels the spirit of Frank Capra to produce a big hearted, warm, fantasy that walks the line between feelgood and schmaltz with skill.

Amy Madigan and Eay Liotta add steel and strength to the cast while the imperious Burt Lancaster adds a touch of class in his last on-screen appearance.

Of course, it's not a film about baseball but rather a celebration of the human spirit and will to succeed.

Very well done and a delight to watch.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Freeview film of the day : sunday 15th of May

Rescue Dawn (2006 120min.) [BBC2 11.30PM)

A fighter pilot is shot down over enemy territory during the Vietnam War and endures a harrowing incarceration in a prisoner of war camp. Determined to escape, he rallies his fellow captives to mount a daring break-out and together they embark on a desperate journey through the jungle. Werner Herzog's drama, starring Christian Bale, Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies.

In Europe Werner Herzog is still probably best known for his cult favourite Arthouse films of the seventies and eighties, such as Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982).
In later life though he has developed a secondary career making insightful documentary films and (from time to time) big budget dramas for the Hollywood studios.

Therefore the opening scenes of this film are a little surprising - is Herzog attempting to make a Top Gun style action adventure about military men and their machines?

But, once the story proper gets under way it's obvious that the subject matter and the director are a perfect fit.
Rather than explosions and gruelling battle scenes what you get is a study of the physical and psychological relationships between the group of US soldiers and their relationship to their captors.

And the director handles this very well : he's also perfectly at home with the more traditional elements of the war film genre and makes the absolute best of the locations (the stifling jungle heat and the oppressive nature of the landscape both help set the mood and tone of the film).

Christian Bale does solid work at the head of the cast but the real joys are in the supporting ensemble - the reliable Steve Zahn and the always excellent Jeremy Davies contribute some superb work. Davies is particularly good - his slightly spaced out, twitchy acting style is perfectly suited to the part and strongly but quietly reminds us that the Vietnam War wasn't fought by battle hardened veterans but, for the most part, scared kids barely out of school.

There's some saggy moments but overall Herzog keeps things moving along at a decent pace.
"Enjoyable" isn't the right word : but there's enough here to keep you interested and involved for a couple of hours.


Thursday, 12 May 2016

Freeview film of the day : thursday 12th of May

Dazed And Confused (1993 98min.) [Film4 12.25am friday &+1}

Comedy drama. Texas 1976: at the end of the summer term, high-school seniors and freshmen get ready for a big party in the woods later that night.

Among the innumerable US High School movies made down the years there's a long tradition of the "one last night" sub-genre : the best known of these being George Lucas' American Graffiti (1973).
It's not too much of an overstatement to say that Dazed And Confused deserves to be as popular, as widely known and as highly thought of as its illustrious predecessor.

It's time frame is a single night as the senior year celebrate/fret about leaving school, the new intake worry about what the future holds for them and various hangers-on and siblings interfere with the plans of all of the characters.

It's written and directed by Richard Linklater, hot from the success of his debut feature Slacker. If you've seen any of his later work (School Of Rock, Before Sunrise/Sunset, Boyhood etc.) you'll already know what a talented screenwriter and director he is.

Here he marshals a large ensemble cast and moves them around the story with skill and ease. Like Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982) this is no rosy, nostalgic look back at a recent school year - in among the laughs and chuckles (and there are plenty of those) there are real moments of pathos and drama, especially as the Seniors realise the reality of their changed circumstances.

The terrific young cast is lead by Jason London and Rory Cochrane, neither of whom really fulfilled the potential they show here; both are outstanding, handling the changing emotions of their evening with charm, wit and real depth.
They're supported by a large catch from the young Hollywood talent pool of the time : Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck and Adam Goldberg all pop up at various points and the whole thing is soundtracked by some great examples of seventies pop-rock (Alice Cooper, Kiss, War, Dylan's Hurricane etc.)

Brittle and fragile in places, laugh out loud funny in others this is a tremendously well made and acted film that deserves a much, much wider audience and a critical re-evauation to match.


Monday, 9 May 2016

Freeview film of the day : monday 9th of May

Doubt (2008 99min.) [Film4 1.40am tuesday &+1]

Period drama starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. In a New York Catholic school in the 1960s, a progressive, charismatic priest clashes with the principal, a strict, old-fashioned nun. When suspicions arise about the priest's relationship with the school's only black student, the principal becomes obsessed with learning the truth.

What this film has that seperates it from a TV Movie of the Week melodrama is assured direction and two top quality character actors in fine form.

Director John Patrick Shanley (adapting his own stage play) creates a real sense of place with the claustrophobic opening scenes which establish the prescribed world of the school - as the film unfolds he then uses the camera to emphasise the atmosphere of suspicion, and indeed doubt, that ensnares both of the central characters.

There is a lingering element of the theatrical origins of the piece - especially in some of the more dialogue laden scenes - but Hoffman and Streep are both very good at this sort of thing : Amy Adams adds some very fine work among the supporting cast.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Freeview film of the day : saturday 7th of May

ZodiacZodiac (2007 151min.) [BBC2 10.50pm]

Crime drama based on a true story, starring Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. San Francisco, 1969: following a series of homicides, a cryptic message is delivered to the offices of a local newspaper. It is the first in a series of letters that taunt Inspector David Toschi and his team who are on the trail of a serial murderer. It also launches the paper's cartoonist Robert Graysmith on an obsessive quest of his own to find the Zodiac killer.

In terms of serial-killer movies, you could hardly get more of a contrast to the so-called "torture porn" subgenre than David Fincher's engrossing account of the hunt for the Zodiac Killer, who terrorized San Francisco in the 1970s.

The period setting is recreated here impeccably and without cliché. There's a horrible murder and some grim moments but it's a long way from the Grand Guignol of Fincher's own Se7en, and mostly the film concentrates on the effect of the long-running, unresolved case on the lives of the investigators.

Robert Downey Jr is the dandyish reporter, Jake Gyllenhaal an earnest cartoonist who deciphers the psycho's coded messages and Mark Ruffalo (all sideburns and shockingly bad 1970s haircut) is the cop who was the inspiration for Dirty Harry.

The film sticks with the characters long after other, more sensationalist movies would have given up and gone home.

And there's inspired use of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" very early on in the film -