Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 23rd of August

Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964) [Talking Pictures TV 12.00am thursday]
(Sky 343, Freeview 81, Freesat 306 & Youview 81)

Written by Bryan Forbes from the book by Mark McShane, directed by Forbes.

Somewhat overlooked and partially forgotten British film that takes the realistic style that was popular at the moment and overlays it with an air of the supernatural and other worldly to extraordinary good effect.

Myra, a fake medium, tired of eking a living "contacting" the dead on behalf of her tiny group of adherents once a week, devises a plan to find fame, fortune and celebrity for herself and, with the aid of her down trodden husband Bill, sets about putting it into practice.

There's all sorts of themes and ideas being explored here : the nature of self-deception, the lure and pull of fame (long before it became fashionable to comment on), insanity, loss, delusion and desperation.

Kim Stanley as Myra is utterly astonishing. She holds the centre of the film and turns in a magnificent performance; by turns dominating, beguiling, wheedling, cunning and (ultimately) broken. Nominated for an Oscar (she lost to Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins) it's a fine piece of work, even down to an almost note perfect English accent.

She was to be nominated again in 1983 for her supporting role as Jessica Lange's chillingly dominant mother in Frances (1982) (losing again) - in between times working only fitfully and then mainly in TV; another example of a woman of enormous talent that Hollywood found difficult to slot into it's rigidly stereotyped casting moulds.

The other lead role - the defeated and compliant Bill, Myra's husband - is taken by Richard Attenborough, again giving one of his quiet unshowy performances that he was capable at one time. Meekly sublimating himself to his mentally scarred wife's every whim and command until, in the final reel, she pushes him just a little too further bringing about the hugely satisfying climax to the film.

Good support work from Nanette Newman as a clutching-at-straws young mum, Mark Eden as her husband and Patrick Magee as the investigating superintendent, all charm and urbanity.

A quick word for John Barry's score which is not only excellent (as you would expect) but adds superbly to the general air of strangeness that pervades the film.

And special words for director Bryan Forbes whose best film this is by some comfortable distance. He builds tension into every scene by the use of unusual camera angles (there's a lot of low angle shots), some well used extreme close-ups and constructive use of lighting. He subsumes the entire film in an aura of other wordiness and drops in the shocks and surprises with a deft touch.

Finally praise for the location shots of London just on the edge of becoming "swinging". A document of lost times including some great scenes shot in and around the Underground system.

A truly excellent and thoughtful film.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 22nd of August

Silent Running (1971 85min.) [Film4 2.15am wednesday &+1]

A scientist, with the help of his three robot assistants, tends a huge garden aboard a space station, created to replenish an Earth ravaged by nuclear warfare. But his superiors' decision to abandon the project prompts him to embark on a desperate course of action. Ecological sci-fi drama, starring Bruce Dern, with Cliff Potts and Ron Rifkin.

Recommended without reservation (apart from the slightly dull song by Joan Baez on the soundtrack). A perfectly constructed film with a terrific central performance from Bruce Dern and sensational direction by former special effects genius Douglas Trumbull.

Essential viewing.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Freeview film of the day : monday 21st of August

Zero Dark Thirty (2012 150min.) [Film4 12.10am tuesday &+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.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 18th of August

The Keep (1983 91min.) [Film4 1.50am saturday &+1]

Horror starring Scott Glenn and Alberta Watson. Romania in the Second World War: at a remote mountain castle, two evil forces clash - on the one hand the Nazi SS, and, on the other, an unseen power. A mysterious traveller arrives to do battle with both and to save the innocents caught between.

Little seen early Michael Mann film, before he went on to create the Miami Vice TV series and direct films such as Heat and Public Enemies.

Gabriel Byrne and Ian McKellen are excellent at the head of a solid cast in a well-made supernatural thriller that has plenty of moments of genuine suspense and shock, a stylish look, a doom-laded atmosphere (and some bits that are just plain silly).
An interesting little curio with a cracking Tangerine Dream score.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 16th of August

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011 97min.) [Film4 1.00am thursday &+1]

Drama starring Elizabeth Olsen. Lucy receives a phone call from her estranged sister Martha, asking if she can come and collect her from a bus station in upstate New York. When the pair return to the summer house Lucy shares with her partner, Martha's erratic behaviour suggests that she has undergone a traumatic experience while she has been away.

This is a really fine piece of film making by writer/director Sean Durkin, his cast and crew.
An enigmatic mystery drama about identity, self, love and loyalty (and misplaced loyalty) that plays out slowly and makes fantastic use of the simple trick of withholding all of the information from the viewer ; telling us only as much as we need to allow us to enjoy the ride - right up to the unresolved ending.

Elizabeth Olsen is superb in the title role(s) - disorientated, confused, changeable and seemingly capable of astonishing mood swings and emotional surges. It's a great part and Olsen grabs it with both hands and wrings every drop from it.

John Hawkes gives another in his string of startling supporting role performances (as in Winter's Bone) and Sarah Paulson does good work with the slightly underwritten part of Martha's sister.

One of those films that stays with you for a few days after watching. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 8th of August

The Strange World of Planet X (1957 71mins.) [Talking Pictures TV 3.15am wednesday]
(Sky 343, Freeview 81, Freesat 306 & Youview 81)

A team of scientists stumbles upon a method of creating powerful magnetic fields, unaware that a side-effect is the mutation of insects into giant killers. Sci-fi drama, starring Forrest Tucker and Gaby Andre.

Britain didn't go in for the Fear Of The Other paranoid sci-fi thriller during the Cold War to the extent that the United States did, which makes this an interesting film within a very small sub-genre.

There's a bunch of slightly mysterious scientists up at the big hall who are working on A Device that's supposed to Do Something Important For Some Reason but is, in fact, doing something else as well. Something that is Clearly Not A Good Thing.

There's a very pretty English village with a cosy pub, its own poacher and a school, with a newly arrived female school teacher (for added love interest).
There's Whitehall mandarins and sceptical defence staff; a handsome and dashing MI6 security specialist and Forrest Tucker as a square jawed North American (allegedly Canadian) on the staff to add a bit of Transatlantic glamour to proceedings.

And who is the mysterious "Mister Smith" who's lurking in the woods?

Some of the social attitudes on display are positively antediluvian (especially when one of the male scientists rants about his dislike of working with women - a position that's hurriedly reversed when the new recruit turns out to be a fizzy young French woman (Gaby Andre - giving plenty of verve).
In addition, some of the special effects are a lot less than special!

However, despite its obvious problems (and very low budget) the cast are full of energy and Gilbert Gunn directs the action very briskly and efficiently, making this an enjoyable hour and a quarter well spent.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 1st of August

Force Majure (2014 114mins.) [Film4 11.10pm &+1]
Freeview premiere

A man on a skiing holiday in the French Alps flees for his life during an avalanche - leaving his family to their fate. While everyone survives, he soon finds his relationship with his wife and children unraveling as they struggle to forgive him for abandoning them.
Drama, starring Johannes Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli. In Swedish, English, French and Norwegian.

A clever twist on the "what would you save from a burning house?" question that's played as a dark comedy but has strong trace elements of domestic drama and social comment.

Neatly done by all concerned but special mention for Lisa Loven Kongsli whose performance hits all the right notes as the wife and mother who suddenly finds a lot of the certainties in her life rearranged.

Interesting, intelligent and very well constructed.