Friday, 20 October 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 20th of October

One-Armed Swordsman (1967 109mins.) [Film4 1.40am saturday &+1]

A man has his life saved by a farmer's daughter, who shows him a secret manual that enables him to seek revenge on the jealous classmates who chopped off his arm, as well as the people who killed his father. Martial arts action drama, starring Jimmy Wang and Lisa Chiao Chiao. In Mandarin.

Cracking example of the martial arts films that Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers studio (and many others) were producing at the rate of dozens per year throughout the sixties and seventies.

Shanghai-born Wang Yu was the genre superstar up until the arrival of Bruce Lee - and this is one of his very best films.
Highly recommended to those who like this sort of thing.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 14th October

The Hunger Games (2012 136mins.) [Film4 6.15pm &+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.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 27th of september

The Red House (1947 100 mins.) [Talking Pictures TV 12.00am thursday)

A brother and sister conceal a terrible secret from the teenager they have adopted, concerning a farmhouse deep in a forest. Mystery, starring Edward G Robinson and Lon McCallister.

An absolutely terrific film that was unfairly neglected and near forgotten for decades but which has undergone significant re-evaluation and rehabilitation in the past five years or so.

Although it's nominally a domestic drama/mystery thriller it's shot in the style of a film noir by the outstanding genre director Delmer Daves, who made his name in noir thrillers before moving on to make some of the best Hollywood westerns of the fifties.

Edward G Robinson is perfect in the lead role and pulls all the attention away from the "limited" abilities of the two juvenile actors with whom he shares the first part of the story.

A very young Rory Calhoun gives spirited support as a local roughneck and Judith Anderson is perfectly cast as Robinson's long suffering wife - a study in grim faced determination to carry on with her life despite sharing in The Terrible Secret.

There's some top notch scenery (the film was shot largely on location in the Sierra Nevada mountains), the black and white photography is gorgeous and there's a Miklos Rozsa score underpinning the whole thing.

A quietly creepy and brilliantly constructed little gem.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 23rd of September

Speed (1994 111min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

An LAPD cop discovers a psychopathic criminal has planted a bomb on a crowded bus, primed to go off if the vehicle drops below 50mph. He boards the vehicle and helps the hapless passenger who has been forced to take the wheel to keep a constant speed to avoid a disaster. Action thriller, starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper and Jeff Daniels.

A film that was a huge deal at the time and spawned an enormous number of cash-ins (and a less than wonderful sequel of its own) but which seems to have fallen from favour slightly over the past twenty years.

Watching it now you're struck by the amount of moments which have become cinematic cliches since they first featured here.
The central performances (Keanu, Sandy and Dennis) are all very good and Jan De Bont certainly knows how to direct this kind of film (he also directed the excellent Twister).

I watched it again last year and was struck by how well it's stood up over the passing years, unlike many big budget, effects heavy Hollywood blockbusters of the nineties.

Well worth another look.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Freeview film of the day : monday 18th of September

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011 100min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Sci-fi action adventure starring James Franco and Freida Pinto. When scientist Will Rodman's programme of drug experiments to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease is shut down he secretly takes an offspring from one of the chimpanzees he was using into his home and names him Caesar. Caesar has inherited the effects of the trial drug and begins to show remarkable intelligence, a development that will put him on a violent collision course withthe humans who have abused him.

There's justification for the revisiting of the classic Planet Of The Apes film series on the basis that new technology allows the film makers to use motion capture and CGI rather than people in suits to portray the apes.

Caesar, the ape at the centre of the story, is mostly a motion captured Andy Serkis while the team behind Avatar's special effects help to fill the screen with any number of virtual but believable primates.

In the original series Rise came after the Charlton Heston starring first film and it does make sense, if revisiting the series, to begin with the origins of...story.

And it's done rather well...some of the dialogue is a bit clunky and some of the human acting is a bit too knowing for the tone of the piece and the moral questions raised by the story are largely sidestepped.
But those quibbles aside director Rupert Wyatt delivers some great set-pieces and a touching story and the special effects are very, very good.

A well crafted big-budget Hollywood blockbuster that is extremely watchable.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 1st of September

Blockheads (1938 54mins.) [Talking Pictures TV 8.15pm]
(Sky 343, Freeview 81, Freesat 306 & Youview 81)

Left to guard a trench in 1917, Stan Laurel is discovered two decades later with a pile of empty bean cans, still on guard. Oliver Hardy takes the war hero home and they become involved in a farcical situation with jealous big-game hunter Billy Gilbert.
Director John G Blystone's remake of the short Unaccustomed as We Are is one of Laurel and Hardy's most appealing comedies, and is one to relish for its innuendos and hilarious sight gags - this is the one where Stan makes a pipe out of his hand, much to Ollie's slow-burning astonishment.

First in a season of Laurel & Hardy films showing on this channel - a season that will resonate with most people who grew up in the UK during the seventies and early eighties : no school summer holiday was complete without spending rainy days indoors watching these fabulous, timeless comedy legends run through their paces.

Chaplin is (rightly) regarded as the artist of early film comedy and Buster Keaton's invention and physical skill was impeccable but Stan and Ollie had charm and warmth to go with their wit.
Masterful timing married to some superb sight gags and peerless verbal jousting means that their films remain hugely watchable eighty + years on.

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.