Saturday, 28 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 28th of January

Yakuza Apocalypse (2015 115mins.) [Film4 11.25pm &+1]
Freeview premiere

A gang member is bitten by his dying vampire boss and struggles with his transition from sensitive human being to crazed bloodsucker, while also setting out to get revenge on the international crime syndicate responsible for his mentor's death. Comedy horror, starring Hayato Ichihara. In Japanese.

Totally and utterly bonkers martial arts meets vampires film made as affectionate tribute to the low-budget direct-to-video action thrillers which Japan produced by the crateload in the eighties and nineties.

Prolific director Takashi Miike might be best known in the West for the big budget historical drama 13 Assassins or the claustrophobic, intricately plotted horror Audition but here he's working much closer to the sheer oddness of his earlier vampire musical The Happiness Of The Katakuris.

The plot (such as it is) makes little or no sense and a lot of the references may be lost on those without a working knowledge of the Japanese horror tradition ; but it's so willfully nuts that you end up being dragged along from scene to scene just to see what bizarre event or creature will feature next.

The lead actor is Yayan Ruhian who made such an impression in The Raid and his physical style adds a certain weight to the cartoon violence of the fight scenes but the overall tone is one of black humour and it's clear that it's not a film intended to be taken at all seriously.

To say it's not going to work for everyone is an understatement ; you have to be prepared to enjoy the ride and come to it in the right frame of mind to get anything from it; but it's a work of spectacular nuttiness.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 25th of January

The Last Of the Mohicans (1992 107mins.) [Movies 4 Men 9.00pm &+1]

An orphaned settler in North America is adopted by the last member of a native tribe following the death of his family. The child grows to become legendary frontiersman Hawkeye, who rescues and falls in love with a British officer's daughter during the Anglo-French War. But a bitter Huron war chief is determined to take revenge against her father by killing her. Michael Mann's historical adventure, based on James Fenimore Cooper's classic tale, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Wes Studi, Maurice Roeves and Eric Schweig.

Michael Mann gives the classic novel of the frontier west the big-budget Hollywood action movie treatment and, for the most part, it works.
Daniel Day Lewis is terrific in the lead role - all rippling muscles and earnest staring- the under rated Madeline Stowe is a very effective female lead, the landscapes are breathtaking and the action sequences exciting.
A very decent supporting cast and a first airing for a couple of moments that quickly became Hollywood cliches : a fairly enjoyable, noisy action film that doesn't outstay ts welcome and that's a visual treat.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 24th of January

East Is East (1999 92mins.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Pakistani chip shop owner George Khan tries to keep his seven unruly children under control in 1970s Salford. Revelling in the pleasures of adolescence, the flares-wearing youngsters seem determined to ignore his moral advice - but a shock is in store for two of his teenage sons in the shape of arranged marriages. Comedy drama, starring Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jimi Mistry and Archie Panjabi.

There had been several attempts to make films that reflect the experiences of young Asians in 1980s and 90s Britain before but most of them were horribly worthy and dangerously close to patronising.

East Is East is refreshing because of the dry wit that runs through it and the laugh out loud humour of many scenes.

Set in the 1970s it plays with the well worn tropes and cliches of that decade as (the excellent) Jimi Mistry discovers the joys of being a male teenager first and a "British Asian" second; a stand that places him in direct conflict with his more traditional father (the sadly recently departed Om Puri).

The ensemble cast are all terrific (special mention for Archie Panjabi) and the film is warm, charming and witty as they interact, fall in and out of love and behave in a wholly believable way.

A little gem of a film.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : monday 23rd of January

Belle (2013 99mins.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]
Freeview premiere

The illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy admiral is raised in the household of her great uncle, but is never entirely accepted in Georgian British society. She falls in love with an idealistic lawyer, and together they campaign against the slave trade. Fact-based period drama, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson.

Amma Asante's fact-based film is a warm-hearted, witty, glamorous treat : even for those people who would normally run a mile rather than settle down in front of a frocks'n'bonnets historical love story.

While the issues around slavery, class, domestic servitude and the inequities of a closed Victorian society are addressed the over-riding theme is the way in which love wil find a way to survive and triumph even when faced with the obstacles of closed minds and hearts.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is sensational in the lead role; ably supported by Wilkinson, Watson and Sam Reid's unfussy and controlled work - Asante's direction is assured and the period settings are neatly realised.

A perfectly done gem of a film.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 21st of January

Black Swan (2010 103min.) [Film4 1.30am sunday &+1]

Psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel. When aspiring ballerina Nina Sayers finally wins the coveted role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, it's a dream come true. But while her demanding choreographer thinks Nina is perfect for the role, he has reservations about her ability to portray the Queen's alter ego, the Black Swan - a part that comes naturally to her sensuous rival Lily. As jealousy consumes Nina, her hold on reality becomes increasingly blurred.

Darren Aronofsky's neo-giallo is a dark, hypnotic study of obsession set in the world of ballet.
The camera moves are superb : creeping hand-held shots, swooping crane , intense close-ups and a whirling camera right in among the dancers.

The story is a little overblown in places but Portman is excellent in the lead and there's a terrific cameo by Winona Ryder.
Very interesting piece of work.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 17th of January

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 88mins.) [Film4 2.50pm &+1]

An alien ambassador lands his spaceship in America and warns humanity that Earth risks imminent destruction by an interplanetary alliance unless it abandons its warlike ways - and is promptly shot by the military. The wounded visitor is forced to live among humans, but his powerful robot servant is poised to punish mankind for its aggression. Sci-fi drama, with Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe.

Smart adaptation of a Harry Bates short story Farewell To The Master which, in contrast to the we're-all-doomed Red Scare scares of the early fifties, put forward the idea that maybe it wasn't too late to save the world and the possibility that visitors from another world may not mean global destruction after all.

The underlying theme of the film is hope - personified by Michael Rennie's dignified, quiet, sympathetic Klaatu who brings his message of peace and unity to a United States whose first instinct is to shoot first and ask (a few) questions afterwards.

The idea that children are much quicker to accept and embrace ideas that differ from those that they have been taught would later be a major theme in the early works of Spielberg and there are several parallels between this film and his ET : The Extra Terrestrial.

Director Robert Wise was very good at fashioning a fully functioning film on a very small budget and his work and the cracking Bernard Herrmann score certainly add weight to what could have ended up as a heavy-handed "message" film.

Instead what we have is a solidly made and performed little masterpiece of the Cold War sci-fi genre with plenty of excitement, action and tension in it's pared back running time.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 14th of January

Oblivion (2013 119min.) [Ch4 9.00pm &+1]

Sci-fi action adventure starring Tom Cruise. In the year 2077, Jack Harper works as a drone repairman on an Earth left abandoned and devastated after a war with aliens. With only a few weeks before his mission is due to end, Jack's concept of reality comes crashing down after he rescues a stranger (Olga Kurylenko) from a downed spacecraft.

Cruise is a solid and dependable leading man and adds some weight to this rather flimsy sci-fi adventure.
Although the plot is paper thin there's still plenty here to enjoy : Olga Kurylenko is terrific in support of Cruise and Morgan Freeman turns up and does what he does so well.

There's some well realised CG effects and director Joseph Kosinski keeps the action moving along at a nice speed.

There's nothing new or too thrilling here (and the ending is a terrible cop-out) but it's an entertaining watch and certainly has far more plus points than negatives.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 13th of January

The King Of Comedy (1983 104min.) [Film4 1.00am saturday &+1]

Comedy drama starring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis. Rupert Pupkin's cherished ambition is to become America's top stand-up comedian. He spends hours rehearsing his routines, oblivious to the fact that he has no talent, and remains determined to follow in the footsteps of comedian and talk-show host Jerry Langford.

One of the less well known films from Martin Scorsese's golden period (see also: "After Hours" (1985)).

Here Bobby De Niro is the beautifully created character Rupert Pupkin, a wanabee TV presenter and proto-stalker, who lives in his mother's basement and dreams of being as big a star as his idol Jerry Langford (a brilliant performance from Jerry Lewis, playing very much against type).

Perfectly played by De Niro as the story progresses from comic farce to drama to tragedy; it's a wonderful film with lots to say about the nature of fame, celebrity, obsession and New York.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Freeview film of the day :monday 9th of January

Easy A (2010 88min.) [Film4 11.20pm &+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.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Freeview films of the day : saturday 6th of January

BBC2 have a double bill of films by British master of cinema director Nicolas Roeg as their late night double bill

First, there's The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976 133mins.) [BBC2 10.30pm]

An alien is sent to Earth to find a way to save his dying home planet. He adopts a human identity and uses his advanced knowledge to become a successful tycoon. However, he is corrupted by the sensations and vices of human life and loses sight of his objective. Sci-fi drama, starring David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark and Buck Henry.

The film benefits enormously from the casting of non-actor Bowie in the lead role; his limited range is used to great effect to portray the disconnection with those around him that marks out his character as not of this world.

I'm a huge fan of Roeg's work and though the story is rather slight and the performances rather underwhelming the film is cleverly structured, beautifully photographed (especially the exteriors) and directed with his usual fluidity of movement.

Not exactly a classic but a film that was ready made for the move into the cult category.

and that's followed by Walkabout (1970 96 mins.) [BBC2 12.45am sunday]

An orphaned sister and brother are left stranded in the Australian Outback, where they encounter a young Aborigine on a ritual journey, who leads them across the wilderness. However, his concern for their dilemma ultimately leads to tragedy. Drama starring Jenny Agutter, Lucien John, David Gulpilil, John Meillon and John Illingsworth.

Jenny Agutter, with her school prefect voice, is perfectly cast here as an ever-so-English teenager, stranded in the Australian outback with her little brother after their father commits suicide.
David Gumpilil plays the adolescent Aborigine who interrupts his walkabout to look after them, only to be met with incomprehension when he embarks on a courtship ritual.

Nicolas Roeg directs the clash between Nature and "civilisation", and was also responsible for the dazzling desert camerawork with its creepy-crawlies and decomposing kangaroos.

For horror fans there's an early morning treat
Wake In Fright (1970 108mins.) [Film4 1.40a, sunday &+1]

An orphaned sister and brother are left stranded in the Australian Outback, where they encounter a young Aborigine on a ritual journey, who leads them across the wilderness. However, his concern for their dilemma ultimately leads to tragedy. Nicolas Roeg's drama, starring Jenny Agutter, Lucien John, David Gulpilil, John Meillon and John Illingsworth.

Directed by Ted Kotcheff and believed to have been "lost" for nearly thirty years after the last remaining print went missing this Outback adventure is the exact opposit of Walkabout.

Here, instead of finding salvation and discovery following A Tragic Event the central character falls into a world of madness and extreme behaviour with, seemingly, no end in sight.

Donald Pleasence is absolutely startling as one of the characters that Gary Bond meets during his enforced stop-over in the distinctly odd mining town of Bundanyabba.

Low-budget and very grimy - not for the easily shocked but genre fans will relish the opportunity to (re)discover this film.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 6th of January

The Hunger Games (2012 136mins.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

A totalitarian future-America holds an annual nationally televised event in which two children from each of its regions fight to the death until only one remains. A teenage girl takes her younger sister's place in the games and must pit her wits against the deadly combat skills of her rivals. Sci-fi adventure based on Suzanne Collins' novel, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks.

The quite alarming drop-off in quality as the Hunger Games film series developed seems to have resulted in people forgetting quite how good this first film is.

It's a fairly straightforward book-to-screen adaptation and therefore has some of the same faults as the source material (overly familiar sci-fi themes, the rather unsubtle social satire etc.) but director Gary Ross does a terrific job of keeping the action moving forward in an interesting and stylish way.

The design of the film is also terrific - the rendering of the world where the action takes place is really well done and the set and costume design are both excellent.

And then there's the star making turn by Jennifer Lawrence as the film's resourceful and strong hero Katniss Everdeen : it's a very fine piece of acting indeed and sits comfortably in a cast filled with some great character actors - Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks and woody Harrelson are especially good.

Thrilling, exciting, sad, sweet and tender it's a film that, while aimed at a specific audience, works just as well for those without any knowledge of the books.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 3rd of January


(2002 108mins.) [UKTV Watch 8.00pm &+1]

Two female jailbirds imprisoned for murder pull out all the stops to seize the attention of the media. Aided by a slick lawyer, both women are desperate to find fame and fortune and escape the death penalty by winning public sympathy. Musical, starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C Reilly and Queen Latifah.

There's a lot to admire and enjoy in this glitzy film version of the long running and hugely popular stage show; it's easy to see why it was such an enormous box-office success when it was released in 2002.

Director Rob Marshall sensibly keeps a lot of the original staging while constructing a clever narrative from which to hang the song and dance numbers.
And those numbers are very effectively done - full of energy and glamour.

The casting is perfect - Renee Zellweger gives a good account of herself despite her lack of previous musical experience and Catherine Zeta-Jones is a revelation : her dance routines, especially, are really well done; and then there's soft shoe shufflin' Richard Gere playing up )and mocking) his leading man image and matinee idol looks.

A really entertaining way to spend a couple of hours on a cold winters evening.