Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 28th of June

Battleship (2012 125mins.) [Film4 6.25pm & +1]

A reckless slacker joins the Navy, hoping to win the respect of his girlfriend's father, a stern admiral. He and his shipmates are put to the ultimate test as part of a force of vessels that must battle an invading fleet of powerful alien spaceships.
Sci-fi adventure, starring Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgard.

The lazy review is "Transfomers At Sea" but director Peter Berg remembers the thing that Michael Bay often forgets : these big budget sock 'em rock 'em blockbusters are supposed to be fun for the viewer ; to this end he keeps the action moving forward, with plenty of set-pieces (which are kept to a sensible length) and some moments of humour in the interactions of the characters.

Of course it's stupid and utterly unscientific in every way but the decent cast and spectacular CGI at least make it an entertaining watch.

Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgård are the nominal stars but they really get very little screen time, they're there to provide a little depth and acting gravitas in support of the younger cast members who do most of the actual work.

Taylor Kitch and Jesse Plemon (both off of TV's Friday Night Lights) are reunited as the young officers suddenly having to Save The World from The Bad Things From Space rather than boozing, chasing girls and cracking wise.

There's the novelty casting of Rihanna as a senior weapons specialist (no, really!) who actually does quite well with a badly underwritten part and some good work by Tadanobu Asano.

Obviously it was never going to win any awards or be hailed as a cinematic masterpiece but it does enough to keep you engaged and entertained for a couple of hours - and really that's the whole point of films like this.

And there is a reference to the classic pen and paper game of Battleships at one point which made me smile as the grid appeared on a computer screen and Captain Nagata shouted "B9! Fire!"

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 20th of June

Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003 97mins.) [Sony Movie Channel 10.50pm &+1]
(Sky 323, Freeview 32, Virgin 425)

Directed and written by Robert Rodriguez.

In this sequel to 'Desperado', a Mexican drug lord pretends to overthrow the Mexican government, and is connected to a corrupt CIA agent who at that time, demands retribution from his worst enemy to carry out the drug lord's uprising against the government.

Rodriguez revisits his El Mariachi hitman character (played again by Antonio Banderas), the titular star of his breakthrough self-financed film and his first US film ("Desperado"). The obvious question is - why? Did he have anything new left to do with the character? and the answer is a resounding no.

This second or third (depending on how you're counting) El Mariachi film has a plot that either makes no sense whatsoever or is overly complicated that it defies untangling. There's a whole mass of well known faces in the cast list who don't really have an awful lot to do and the dialogue seems to exist only to link the set-pieces together.

However, the action sequences are remarkable : Rodriguez has a real talent for choreographing fight scenes and gun battles ; each one is slightly more frenetic than the last and they give the film a real sense of momentum.

There's some small splashes of humour in among the killing sprees : the undercover CIA man wearing a CIA branded T-Shirt to a bull fight for example.

And there's another winning, slightly off-kilter turn from Johnny Depp who walks away with the acting honours despite the presence of Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, Eva Mendes, Salma Hayek and Danny Trejo among the sprawling cast.

An utterly superficial film but still enormous fun for the 100 minutes or so that you're watching it.
Perfect viewing for a hot and sticky tuesday night.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Freeview film of the day : monday 19tth of June

Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964) [Talking Pictures TV 6.30pm]
(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.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 20th of May

Cabaret (1972 118min.) [BBC2 12.20am sunday]

Bob Fosse's Oscar-winning musical drama, starring Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and Michael York. A love affair develops between cabaret singer Sally Bowles and naive young Englishman Brian Roberts in the decadent Berlin café society of the 1930s, against a background of the gradual rise of German fascism.

The vast majority of musicals leave even hardened tough guys grinning like loons or weeping buckets. This one is atypical in that it leaves you slightly stunned and shocked.

Is a musical really supposed to contain a history lesson and a warning to future generations on the dangers of inaction ?

Based on a novella by Christopher Isherwood ("I Am A Camera"), Bob Fosse's film is, on the surface at least, about the entangled love affairs of the performers and patrons at Berlin's Kit Kat Klub during the early years of the Weimar Republic.

"Divine Decadence" is the key for the performers and patrons of the club; risque song and dance numbers, "Money Makes The World Go Round" ' "Two Ladies", are their stock in trade.
Offstage, pills are popped, booze is guzzled and boys and girls (and boys and boys) indulge in all manner of sexual shennanigans.

Yet looming over all of this is the inexorable rise of the Nazi Party. Notice in the cabaret scenes how the number of Nazi and SS uniforms in the audience slowly grows during the film. The performers know exactly which way the wind is blowing and are street smart enough to know that this new audience holds the key to their futures (if they have one).

There are two lifetime best turns : Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles, the American ex-pat singer caught up in this madness and kept in place by romantic dreams of love and stardom and Joel Grey, sinister yet cool as the nameless MC of the club. He won an Oscar for his troubles and then pissed his career away in ever less meaningful roles in films and (eventually) TV. A tragic shame.

The outstanding moment for me is the beer garden scene about two thirds of the way through. A (very) young Nazi Youth member begins to sing "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" and slowly the tune is taken up by more and more of the patrons, all of whom, it's revealed as the camera slowly pulls back, are dressed in Nazi regalia. It leaves the old Germans in attendence shuffling their feet and shaking their heads at the madness around them and the audience open mouthed at the sheer bravura brilliance of the scene's construction and execution.

8 Oscar wins for a film that is a visual parallel to Pastor Neilor's famous warning on the dangers of doing nothing in the face of evil.
A truly remarkable and courageous film.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 9th of May

Star Trek (2009 121min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

JJ Abrams reboots the Star Trek universe in this prequel to the sci-fi franchise. Rebellious youth James Kirk is persuaded to join the Starfleet Academy, where he befriends Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy and clashes with officer Spock. When an evil Romulan arrives from the future, the young crew of the USS Enterprise find themselves in the thick of the action.

If you're tired/bored/never bothered with the original TV series, it's multi-headed offspring and the increasingly daft film franchise in which the original TV cast grow older, fatter and slower then you might dismiss this as another entry in a pointless franchise.

But Abrams' film cleverly turns the clock back so that we meet younger versions of the familiar crew members as they meet for the first time, undergo training and take part in their first mission on the then new Enterprise.

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto lead the cast and are both excellent - not impersonating Shatner and Nimoy but dropping in enough physical and verbal references to remind us that we are watching the characters who will become the Kirk and Spock that we know.

It's a clever, witty, smart and fast paced adventure story that requries no knowledge of the original output in order to enjoy the very well handled action sequences and entertaining story.

The only off-note is Simon Pegg's cameo as a comedy Scotty but the rest of the supporting cast are perfect in their roles (Karl Urban's McCoy especially so).

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 22nd of March

What Richard Did (2012 83min.) [Film4 12.40am thursday & +1]

A wealthy teenager manages to seduce another student's girlfriend, but his confidence is shaken by her continuing friendship with her ex. His insecurity results in a violent confrontation that has unforeseen consequences, and leads to his seemingly charmed life rapidly falling apart. Drama, starring Jack Reynor and Roisin Murphy.

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (who then went on to make the excellent Frank and Room) this sombre and careful character study follows the descent of the title character (superbly played by newcomer Jack Reynor) as he travels from school golden boy to wretched, haunted misfit.

Seen by some as a parable for the journey the national psyche of the Irish nation went through during it's dramatic economic expansion and equally dramatic fall; it's an ensemble piece that relies on mood, atmosphere and some terrific acting by the young cast backed up by a well cast group of supporting adults - Lars Mikkelsen is especially good as Richards dad.

All of the drama comes from the situations that Richard causes by his actions and the film is so well made that we never feel as though we are wallowing in his predicament, but rather the audience is taken along on the fascinating and compelling journey of a haunted young man.

Not much in the way of laughs - but a sturdy and well developed piece of small scale drama.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Freeview film of the day : monday 20th of March

Wild Tales (2014 140mins.) [Film4 11.40pm &+1]

Anthology of six stories in which ordinary people react to everyday social grievances in unexpected ways, leading to bizarre consequences. The tales include a chance encounter on a plane, a tragic revelation at a wedding and an incident of road rage that turns into class warfare. Comedy drama anthology, starring Dario Grandinetti and Maria Marull. In Spanish.

A series of unconnected (but thematically linked) stories that satirise Argentinian society, its morals and codes as it struggles to adapt to the rapid change of the early twenty first century may not sound like the most entertaining way to spend over two hours; however, director Damian Szifron handles his material with skill and a dark wit.

Each of the tales stands up well enough on its own, but together they add up to a bruising drive-by assault on the film's many targets.

Neatly handled - there's little finger-wagging or hectoring and some wry humour in places - and very well played by the ensemble cast, it's a film that sets out to make a case and (for the most part) is successful.

Not for everyone but certainly worth a look if the synopsis makes you at all curious.