Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 21st of March

Les Yeux Sans Visage/ Eyes Without A Face (1959 86mins.) [Film4 1.40am thursday & +1]

A surgeon is guilt-ridden when his daughter is left disfigured after an accident he caused and works tirelessly to give the girl a new face, but he turns to crime in the process.

Georges Franju's surreal horror, starring Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli and Edith Scob. In French.

From the opening scene, in which a woman is seen driving through the countryside at night with a look of intense concentration on her face and a mysterious passenger in a hat and coat in the back seat, Eyes Without A Face works by disorientating the viewer and by building and maintaining an atmosphere of curious dislocation.

The shocking conclusion to this opening scene sets the tone for what is to come - often wrongly classed as a horror film, Eyes Without A Face is more accurately a psychological thriller with a couple of moments of genuinely disturbing horrific shock.

Pierre Brasseur leads the small ensemble cast as Dr. Gennessier a brilliant cosmetic surgeon who is attempting to rectify a personal tragedy involving his daughter (Edith Scob).

He's helped in his personal work by Alida Valli as Louise, a former patient and the woman we met in the opening scene, and in his professional life by Francois Guerin, the former fiancee of his daughter.

The only other substantial characters are a trio of police officers investigating the disappearance of young female students of oddly similar physical appearance from the university in Paris.

Away from the story - which, despite its echoes of Frankenstein, was remarkably innovate at the time of it's release and has been recycled and rehashed dozens of times since - a great deal of the successful creation of mood and the ultimate effectiveness of the film is down to the luminous black and white photography of Eugen Shuftan. Almost all of the action takes place at night and the glowing whites and blacker than black darkness are used to remarkable effect.

Words too for production designer Auguste Capelier and costume designer Marie Martine who provides Edith Scob with some remarkable floor length outfits. Scob is clearly not much of an actress but this plays to the films advantage : her expressionless face is perfect to convey the internal turmoil that her character is suffering. The gowns that hide the lower part of her body give the impression of a disembodied head floating in a ghostly way through the scenes. A very simple but effective trick.

And above all of these elements is Franju's absolutely perfect direction - he doesn't put a foot wrong throughout. The camera spins in and out of the action, the location filming is superbly done and the set-piece central grand guignol scene is shot with the unblinking eye of the neutral observer despite the obvious technical difficulties he would have encountered at the time.

A proper old-fashioned thriller, out of step with the majority of French cinema of the time which is brilliantly constructed by it's director and his technical team and delivered to the screen as near perfect as it's possible to be.

If I was ever forced to provide a list of my favourite films this would easily be in the top thirty, if that helps convince you to watch it.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 20th of March

Starship Troopers (1997 129min.) [Sony Movie Channel 9.00pm]

In the distant future, Earth is involved in an intergalactic war with the Bugs, a vicious race of giant arachnids. As the conflict escalates, four high-school friends enlist with the military and embark on a journey that will take them into the heart of enemy territory on the far side of the galaxy.

Satirical sci-fi adventure starring Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards.

Paul Verhoeven's satirical sci-fi action adventure features the same sort of action set-pieces with which he made his name ("Total Recall", "RoboCop") but Edward Neumeier's script adds on a few layers of social comment.

There's some absolutely terrific special effects sequences and plenty of ultra-violent fight scenes. Casper van Dien and Denise Richards, in the lead roles, are hopeless at the emotional and reflective moments - which make them a bit dull - but perfect in the gung ho! scenes.

An interesting film that whips along at a lively pace.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Freeview film of the day : monday 19th of March

Blanche Fury (1948 94mins.) [Talking Pictures TV 7.45pm]

A penniless governess is invited to stay with a wealthy relative, where she hopes to secure her future and take over the estate by marrying her infatuated cousin. However, her secret romance with a stablehand has tragic consequences for all concerned.

Drama, starring Valerie Hobson, Michael Gough, Stewart Granger and Walter Fitzgerald.

A great example of a sub-genre of film that fell out of favour in the 1960s and is now largely overlooked by viewers and most film makers and historians (the work of Todd Haynes being an important exception.)

Dismissed as 'melodramas' or (worse still) 'women's pictures' these small-scale domestic dramas actually had a lot to say about contemporary society and morals : in the hands of a genre master (especially George Cukor and Douglas Sirk) they could be as gripping and engaging as any crime thriller or action adventure.

Blanche Fury is a taut and atmospheric thriller with a superb cast headed by the neglected Valerie Hobson and the masterful Stewart Granger - it's writer and director is the Swiss born Marc Allégret, making a rare excursion into English language film making, and he brings a certain Continental flair and style to the work.

A brooding and claustrophobic film that certainly deserves a wider audience.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Freeview film of the day: friday 16th of March

Small Soldiers (1998 105min.) [Film4 6.50pm &+1]

When an overeager toy designer installs state-of-the-art military microchips into a line of action figures, the result is a battle royal between the Commando Elite and the peaceful Gorgonites. The problem is that the battleground is the suburban household of young Alan Abernathy.

Fantasy action adventure starring Kirsten Dunst, Gregory Smith and featuring the voice of Tommy Lee Jones.

Directed by Joe Dante, who made the Gremlins films, and it shares with them the same sense of anarchic wry humour and freewheeling mayhem.

Watched it again recently and was impressed by how well the special effects had stood up in this age of CGI tech wizardry. There some great voice acting and (the very young) Kirsten Dunst and wonderfully malevolent Dennis Leary turn in terrific performances.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 14th of March

The Artist (2011 96min.) [BBC1 11.45pm]

Silent romantic drama starring Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo.

In 1927, matinée idol George Valentin is the toast of Tinseltown. A female fan charms him at the premiere of his latest film, and so begins the inexorable rise to fame of the talented Peppy Miller. But with the silent era giving way to the talkies, the future looks to be less bright for Valentin.

Michel Hazanavicius' film is part loving homage to the silent era of Hollywood film making and part artful reconstruction of the look, feel and techniques of that classic era in the early development of film making.

His two leads are superb : Dujardin is suave sophistication personified while Bérénice Bejo is at times a ball of frenetic energy and at others heartbreaking in her sorrow.

Among the supporting cast and cameos look out for James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell, Ed Lauter
and John Goodman.

It's a brilliantly executed tribute to a lost era : packed with warmth and a genuine delight to watch.

Highly recommended.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Freeview film of the day : monday 12th of March

You're Next (2011 90mins.) [Film4 1.25am tuesday &+1]

A family gathers for an awkward reunion that brings old tensions back to the surface. The evening takes a nightmarish turn when their remote country house is besieged by a gang of masked, crossbow-wielding strangers intent on murdering everyone inside.

Horror, starring Sharni Vinson and Nicholas Tucci.

Smart little home invaison horror/thriller that owes a huge debt to John Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13 but has enough invention and style to stand on it's own feet and as a worthwhile contribution to this crowded sub-genre.

Joe Swanberg stands out among the ensemble cast and Adam Wingard's direction is fluid and skillful suggesting that he will become a name to watch in the very near future.

Slick and suspenseful with a nice streak of dark humour running through it. Worthwhile.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Freeview film of the day : friday 12th of january

Amy (2015 122min.) [Ch4 12.10am saturday &+1]

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.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 3rd of January

Made In Dagenham (2010 108min.) [BBC4 9.00pm]

Comedy drama based on a true story, starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson. In 1968, workers at the Ford auto plant in Dagenham - one of the biggest employers in the UK - go on strike, demanding equal rights for female staff. The unassuming Rita O'Grady finds herself at the centre of a movement that is destined to change the lives of women for years to come.

A timely reminder of what the British film industry can do apart from frocks'n'bonnets literary adaptations, alleged comedy films with floppy haired posh people and soft-hearted dramas about the elderly.

The always excellent Sally Hawkins leads a solid gold cast : Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson (note perfect as Labour legend Barbara Castle), Daniel Mays, Rosamund Pike, John Sessions (as Harold Wilson), Rupert Graves, Geraldine James and even Toby off of The West Wing and Trigger off of OFAH all pop-up at various points.

A warm, witty, affectionate slice of social history focussing on one of the pivitol moments in the development of British society with a well-realised sense of time and place and a script that makes its points well without feeling the need to bash you about the head with them constantly.
Thoroughly recommended.