Friday, 31 January 2014

Freeview films of the day : friday 31st of January

Neil Young : Heart Of Gold (2006 99min.) [C4 1.05am &+1]

Music documentary directed by Jonathan Demme that follows singer Neil Young's two sell-out concerts at the iconic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in which he plays his album Prairie Wind in its entirety, plus some of his best-known earlier work. Joining Neil and his band on stage is country singer Emmylou Harris.

Demme directed the classic concert film Stop Making Sense for Talking Heads and that experience helps him to capture these intimate and very personal songs recorded in Nashville as Young was promoting the Prairie Wind album.

The concert is a mix of newer songs and old favourites and shows Young on fine form as he returned to the stage following treatment for a brain aneurysm.

If you like the songs of Neil Young you'll love this film, if you don't you'll hate it and if you're unaware of his work and unsure what all the fuss is about this is a terrific place to start.

Paprika (2006 86min.) [Film4 2.15am saturday &+1]

Animated sci-fi thriller. Three scientists at the Foundation for Psychiatric Research invent a device that allows them to record and watch dreams. But when a thief steals it and uses the machine to enter people's minds, the trio - along with a police inspector and a sprite called Paprika - are forced into action.

The dazzling animation and the sheer quantity of ideas on display mean that it's sometimes difficult to follow the elliptical storyline but that really doesn't matter as the images on the screen perfectly capture the hallucinatory nature of dreams.
Brilliantly directed by Satoshi Kon who chucks in dozens of pop culture references while building a slightly scary, off-kilter world for his characters to live in.

A successful attempt at making an animated film aimed squarely (and solely, it's not child friendly at all) at an adult audience.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Freeview film of the day : thursday 30th of january

Trees Lounge (1996 91min.) [Film4 12.20am friday]

Comedy drama directed by and starring Steve Buscemi. Tommy Basilio, an unemployed mechanic, lives above the Trees Lounge bar, where he spends his evenings drinking himself into oblivion. When his uncle dies of a heart attack, Tommy takes over driving his ice-cream truck and strikes up a relationship with 17-year-old Debbie, the niece of a former girlfriend.

Beautifully played melancholic drama with some superb performances and a really strong grip on the atmosphere of the central character's struggle for salvation.

Sweet, touching and darkly comic, it's a small but wonderful film.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Freeview film of the day : saturday 25th of January

30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007 108min.) [Channel 4 11.45pm &+1]

Horror thriller starring Josh Hartnett and Melissa George. Each year, the small Alaskan community of Barrow is plunged into a month-long period oftotal darkness when the sun sinks below the horizon. But this year the residents have an added problem when a group of vampires descends on the town, intent on using the extended night for an orgy of uninterrupted blood-sucking.

The (rather clever) premise is that a small Alaskan town inside the Arctic Circle is plunged into 30 days of continuous night once a year. During that time a tribe of nomadic neo-vampires come to stay and, unhindered by problems of daylight, set about laying waste to the town.

A small group of survivors led by Josh Hartnett and Melissa George (both excellent) then attempt to make it through to the end of the month and the return of the sun.

Some very suspensful moments and well-directed throughout. Thoroughly recommend, possibly the best vampire move since Bigelow's "Near Dark" (1987) and got Slade the gig directing the second "Twlight" film. 

Friday, 24 January 2014

Freeview (UK) films of the day : friday 24th of January

13 Assassins (2010 120min) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Period martial arts adventure starring Koji Yakusho and Takayuki Yamada. A respected samurai must assemble an elite team of assassins to kill the tyrannical Lord Naritsugu, whose bloody rise to power threatens the peace in feudal Japan. But the brave warriors are vastly outnumbered, and the 13 assassins embark upon a monumental suicide mission.

13 Assassins is a fascinating film : it's a combination of straight ahead martial arts story in the traditional Japanese mould of The Seven Samurai and an arthouse film about notions of honour, loyalty and responsibility in changing times.

It's directed by Takashi Miike (probably best known for the unsettling horror of The Audition etc.) and he handles the material with an enormous amount of skill - the early sections are filled with beautifully shot little scenes as the warriors are recruited and assembled.

He then builds the story slowly towards a fantastic battle-scene payoff that lasts nearly three-quarters of an hour but never becomes boring or cliched. There's a genuine sense of engagement and threat, possibly due to the minimal use of wire work which means that the physical stunts have a 'real' or naturalistic feel to them.

If you enjoyed the likes of Crouching Tiger..., Hero and Red Cliff you are going to absolutely love 13 Assassins.

Thirst (2009 128min.) [C4 1.35am saturday &+1]

Horror from the director of Oldboy. After selflessly offering himself as a guinea pig to help find a cure for a deadly virus, small-town priest Sang-hyun is transformed into a vampire.
But his attempts to balance his faith with his new carnal desires come undone when he begins a destructive affair with an oppressed married woman whose bloodlust quickly outstrips his own.

Best In Show (2000 86min.)([ITV1 3.00am saturday &+1]

Satire about show dogs and their owners from the co-creators of This Is Spinal Tap, featuring Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy. At the prestigious Mayflower Dog Show in Philadelphia, the tension is building as the contestants prepare to go through their paces.

Very, very funny.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 21st of January

A History Of Violence (2005 91min.) [Film4 11.05pm &+1]

Thriller directed by David Cronenberg, starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello and Ed Harris. Tom Stall has a quiet life running the local diner in a small town. But his existence is thrown into chaos when he is forced to confront two fugitives from justice who start attacking his customers. This single act of bravery makes him a local hero, but it also sets in motion a chain of events that suggest Tom has a darker past than his neighbours realise.

Viggo Mortensen is excellent as the diner owner in a quiet US backwoods town whose encounter with a group of would-be robbers and the attendant media celebrity turns into something else entirely.
William Hurt puts in a wonderfully odd performance in the final reels to add even more weight to a very strong cast including Ed Harris and Maria Bello.

Monday, 20 January 2014

The Indian Fighter (1955)

The Indian Fighter (1955)

Directed by Andre De Toth ; written by Frank Davis and Ben Hecht

Stars Kirk Douglas, Elsa Martinelli and Walter Mattheau 

US : 88minutes

The first film to be produced by Douglas' own Bryna Productions is also one of the first to offer a revisionist view of some of the accepted genre cliches. Douglas' Johnny Hawks is ostensibly a freelance scout working
 with the US Army in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War; yet he has sympathy with the plight of the native Americans who are having their land stolen by the relentless push west of the white settlers.

The fact that he's unwilling to align clearly with either side, seeing both sides of every argument, leads him (during the course of the film)  into conflict with both the indigenous population and the newcomers - they each in turn question his motives and loyalty. Douglas becomes a (literal) outsider figure, standing apart from the conflict and attempting to negotiate peace between the two factions despite the actions of greedy and suspicious characters on both sides to manufacture war for their own reasons and to their own ends.

In addition there's a secondary theme which runs through the film : a paean to the beauty of the natural beauty of the Old West before the coming of the railroad, deforestation and the creep of "civilisation". Elisha Cook's character is a army foot soldier who has one of the first still cameras and is desperate to capture images of the landscape and those who live there before they are wiped out and/or changed forever.

The point is underlined by De Toth's direction and the gorgeous Cinemascope and Technicolour photography by Wilfred M. Cline : not for them the barren wastelands of Monument Valley, this is a lush verdant natural paradise beautifully captured in a large number of panoramic travelling shots.

In amongst this focus on the soon-to-be-lost landscape De Toth doesn't forget that it's supposed to be an action-adventure film. There's an extended, thrilling, scene around the hour mark where an attack on the US Army fort is played out in near-silence before Franz Waxman's stirring score is allowed to creep back in.

Douglas (dressed head to toe in buckskin) is the very epitome of lithe grace and matinee idol poise and style : although his rough handed method of courtship of the daughter of the local Sioux chief suggests that there are corners of his psyche that remain unreconstituted, he's a believable figure with a natural goodness struggling against the difficult ;position in which he finds himself.

A thoughtful, clever and beautifully constructed film.

Freeview (UK) films of the day : monday 20th of january

Kick-Ass (2009 112 min.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Action comedy drama starring Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong and Chloë Moretz. In an effort to improve his image, comic-book nerd Dave Lizewski decides to reinvent himself as a superhero, despite not actually having any special powers. However, this doesn't stop him becoming an internet sensation and attracting the attention of some rather unsavoury characters.

Potiche (2010 98min.) [Film4 11.20pm &+1]

Comedy starring Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu. Trophy wife Suzanne takes control of her husband's business when he's taken hostage by his striking employees. But complications arise when her former lover shows up, still carrying a torch for Suzanne.

François Ozon makes small but sensitive films about relationships - e.g. Swimming Pool, 5x2, Like Water On Burning Rocks and Jeuene & Jolie - this film of a stage play is more lighthearted then his usual work, calling back to the tradition of filmed farces that were popular in France during the 1950s, but there's still plenty of interest here. Not least an outstanding performance by Catherine Deneuve.

A clever and warm little film.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Freeview films of the day : sunday 19th of January

Point Blank (1967 87mn.) [BBC4 9.00pm]

Thriller starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. Walker is double-crossed and shot by his partner while stealing a fortune in loot from a rival gang. Walker survives, and as he seeks revenge he is approached by a mysterious man who offers to help him.

Terrific thriller, the US debut of director John Boorman, with Marvin perfect as the ice-cold killer who's out for revenge.
The plot twists and turns but never leaves the viewer outside the action as Marvin's character's search begins to resemble some sort of mythic quest.

The night time LA locations are superbly photographed by Philip H Lathrop and the whole thing is constructed as an updated film-noir.
Great support from the under rated Angie Dickinson and Keenan Wynn.

Haywire (2011 88min.) [C4 10.00pm]
Freeview premiere

Action thriller starring Gina Carano and Ewan McGregor. Agent Mallory Kane works deep undercover on missions that don't officially exist. So when her latest assignment goes badly wrong, she is forced to use all her cunning and field skills to protect her life and exact revenge on those who betrayed her.

Steven Soderbergh attempts to make a 1970s style caper movie (in the style of his Oceans series) but with added full-on violence and martial arts fighting.

The film suffers because of the extrardinary charisma vacuum that surrounds Ewan McGregor throughout and which sucks any interest out of the central story.

Gina Carano is good in the action scenes but less well suited to carrying the story ; there's good support from Michael Fassbender, Canning Tatum, Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas; David Holmes score is excellent and there's some great location shooting on rain sodden Dublin streets.

Sadly all of these plus points can't overcome the weight of negativity that the lack of a decent plot and the failings of the two leads can't overcome.

Not utterly worthless but could have been so much better.

A Serious Man (2009 101min.) [BBC2 11.00pm]

Comedy drama from the Coen brothers, starring Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Kind. Bloomington, Minnesota, 1967: Larry Gopnik is a middle-aged physics professor desperately looking for meaning in life after his wife leaves him and an anonymous person sends letters that threaten to sabotage his career.

Agreeably silly and playful film that entertains throughout with it's moments of whimsy, laughs, occasional grimness and downright daftness.
The story is told in such a circuitous way that it's easy to get lost unless you're paying full attention.

But it's a decent little film that deserves a better reputation than that which it has so far gathered.

Shifty (2008 85min.) [BBC1 11.50pm]

Crime drama starring Riz Ahmed and Daniel Mays. After four years working in Manchester, Chris visits his old stomping ground on a London estate. He meets up with his drug-dealing best friend Shifty, but Shifty has moved on from just selling weed and is now involved in hardcore drugs, and with that comes danger.

Very well done low budget British film that remembers to put moments of comedy in among the social commentary.
Excellent performances by the three leads and a good sense of time and place. Worth the effort.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

Directed and written by  Chia-Liang Liu

Hong Kong : 98 minutes

Produced by the legendary Hong Kong studio of the Shaw Brothers Chia-Liang Liu's Eight Diagram Pole Fighter is an extraordinary visual spectacle which helped to create the template for Asian martial arts films for the next quarter of a century.

As is often the case with films in this genre the plot is pretty much irrelevant and/or nonsensical : here a family of eight brothers and their father set out to prevent an incursion into their homeland by a rival family. By the end of the battle six are dead : one of the remaining brothers has been sent mad by the experience and returns home to be nursed by his mother and two sisters. The remaining brother is missing (and presumed killed) - he later emerges in the local monastery run by pole-fighting monks who develop their skills to keep them safe from wolf-attacks.

A quest is then undertaken and revenge is sought for the murder of the six brothers.

The story (obviously) only exists as the framing device for a number of fight scenes - but those fight scenes are breathtaking in their choreography, direction, execution and photography.

The film grabs back the martial arts thriller from the long shadow of Bruce Lee and the likes of seventies movies like Enter The Dragon ; there's no attempt here to pander to Western tastes. The film is set firmly in it's time and place (rural, pre-twentieth century China) and makes no concessions. You either go with the assumptions made or get left behind.

The opening battle scene sets the tone for the rest of the film : it's a heavily stylised encounter played out against an obvious non-natural background. 

The action is absurdly skillful and gymnastic as you can see here :

There's an obvious line from here to the likes of House Of Flying Daggers (2004), Ip Man (2008), Crouching Tiger...(2000) and Hero (2002) although, because the film is so little known and rarely shown in the UK, Eight Diagram Pole Fighter rarely gets the credit which it deserves.

A thoroughly mesmerising spectacle that will draw you in and keep you entertained for the whole of it's running time.

Freeview film of the day : friday 17th of January

Chinatown  (1974 125min.) [C4 1.15am saturday &+1]

Oscar-winning period thriller starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston. When private eye JJ Gittes is hired to investigate the husband of a rich Los Angeles socialite, he stumbles into a web of deceit and murder and uncovers a terrible secret from the past.

Jack Nicholson is a 1930's LA private detective, in full Marlowesque mode, trying to untangle the shady goings on of Faye Dunaway and her dad John Huston.

Great Robert Towne script, superb Polanski direction and a visceral assault on the Nicholson nose.

Immortal line : "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown."

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Freeview (UK) film of the day : thursday 16th of January

The King Of Comedy (1983 104min.) [Film4 1.55am &+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 charcter 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.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Une Femme Mariee (1964)

Une Femme Mariee (1964)

Directed and written by Jean-Luc Godard 

Stars  Macha Meril, Bernard Noel and Philippe Leroy

France : 95min.

Macha Meril is Charlotte, the married woman of the title. In addition to her husband Pierre (Leroy) she also has a lover Robert (Noel). During the course of the film she spends time with both men while attempting to decide whether she should leave her husband and adopted son for a new life with her actor lover.

In the meantime she fills her days with idle daydreaming about underwear advertised in fashion magazines and newspapers and attempts to add excitement to what seems (to her) to be a mundane routine.

On it's original release the film became an almost instant cause de scandal due to the near nudity of Macha Meril in some scenes and the lingering extreme close-ups of her naked body. Godard probably felt that if Charles de Gaulle calls for your film to be banned then you're probably doing something right!

As with most of his films Godard is less concerned with the A to C via B narrative structure which had been the norm for the greater part of cinema's  history than with presenting fragments from a life and requiring the viewer to join them together to make 'sense' of what they are watching.

In Une Femme Mariee we observe the lead actor as she meets with her lover in the new apartment that he taken, see her reunited with her husband and his young son as he returns from a business trip, spend an evening with her as she and her husband entertain a business colleague. We then join her as she chats with the family cleaner/cook, visits the doctor to collect some life-changing test results and finally as she grabs a stolen opportunity in the hotel attached to Orly airport.

Through each of these scenes Charlotte continually asks questions : some relate to her relationship with the person to whom she's talking, others are more general. She's seeking information (we assume) in order to help her to make her decision as to which of the two men in her life she would prefer to be with on a permanent basis.

In between these scenes Charlotte spends her time soaking up information from other sources and flitting around Paris in a succession of taxis, dodging from one to the other in the manner of a spy attempting to lose a tail (which, we gather from her voiceover, is how Charlotte sees herself/wishes that she was during these moments.)

The importance of media advertisements for fashion garments to her and an overheard conversation between two young women who are discussing the mechanics of a possible upcoming loss of virginity allow Godard to address the issues around the way in which sixties mass-media sold an image of femininity to women - the underwear ads. all seem to stress that wearing their product will bring happiness to the woman's partner or make it easier for her to find a boyfriend/husband - there's no text emphasising comfort for the wearer or even suggesting that the product is fashionable or stylish - all of the weight is on pleasing the male.

The scenes of intimacy between Charlotte and her two men are beautifully composed and shot : extreme close-ups of intertwined hands or gentle caresses; these, in turn, are undermined by the senseless and ceaseless babble of voices - both the facile dialogue of those involved and Charlotte's seemingly unending inner monologue. Moments of tenderness do nothing to halt her continual questioning and search for meaning.

It's a quite remarkable film and comes from a place some way outside the mid-sixties mainstream. Godard loads the film up with popular culture references (there's an enormous amount of  in-jokes and passing comments regarding cinema, as you would expect). There's a very "real" feel to the film aided by the location shooting on the streets of Paris which contrasts brutally with the distancing effects of near-documentary soliloquies by the main characters and conversations held in the manner of a press interview.

While Une Femme Mariee is one of Godard's less celebrated films it's a quite dazzling 'slice of life' piece of work and a very brave attempt to deal with the various issues and problems with which the emerging feminist movement (in particular) and young people (in general) would spend the rest of the sixties grappling. 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Informer (1935)

The Informer (1935)

Directed by John Ford

Written by Dudley Nichols from the story by Liam O'Flaherty

Stars Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel and Preston Foster

Set in Dublin in 1922 The Informer tells the story of Gypo Nolan (McLaglen), a not very bright former Rebel who dreams of a new life in the United States with his prostitute girlfriend (Margot Grahame) who sees an opportunity to raise the fare for their passage when the authorities issue a reward for information leading to the capture of his friend and ex-colleague Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford).

The film follows the story of the six hours following McLaglen's chance meeting with McPhillip and charts the way in which his act of treachery leads to him losing the reward money through various acts of kindness while being followed, suspected and quizzed by members of the local Rebel command who are desperate to discover who informed on their soldier.

Given a tiny budget to film the successful stage play Ford was handed free reign to deliver his work without much in the way of Studio interference. He chose to shoot on studio sets and backlots and the finished work is testament to his visual style and flair.

The sets are constructed and lit almost in the style of a German Expressionist film : all dark shadows, angular shapes and corners, exteriors are swathed in swirling fog.

The fantastic monochrome photography and night time setting allow Ford to create a real sense of place and atmosphere without the need for location shooting or expensive sets.

Those familiar with Ford through his later, more populist, film making for the Hollywood studios may be surprised by just how ambitious and European in style his direction is here. There's a distinctly impressionist approach to the story - there's lap dissolves as McLaglen recalls his former friend, a fantasy sequence as he dreams of his possible new life and the whole piece is filled with symbolic reference to religion and the ongoing independence struggle.

The acting may seem a little melodramatic and over hysterical to contemporary audiences, but this is a reflection of how styles have changed dramatically since the early days of sound recording.

Victor McLaglen in the lead role is an interesting star : with his wrestlers build and "lived in" face he's a very long way from our idea of the typical 1930s leading man, but his massive frame and imposing presence make him a perfect piece of casting. 
It's suggested (but never made explicit)  that Nolan may be of limited mental capacity and in the course of the film McLaglen's called upon to convey a large number of conflicting emotions from the worry about the rights and wrongs of his original decision to inform, to wide eyed joy as he realises the potential his new wealth brings him (a bottle of whiskey for two shillings [10p.] - bargain!), and on to fear as the Rebels begin to suspect him, devotion to Kitty his girlfriend and massive confusion as his world finally collapses around him.

McLaglen handles all of these with some skill and drives the film along almost as surely as his forceful, purposeful stride as he moves through the Dublin night.

Margot Grahame as Kitty struggles a little with the required accent but does a good job with an under drawn character (fundamentally decent, loving and caring forced into tough decisions) and Heather Angel as McPhillip's widow is all calm and stoic resolution in the face of terrible events.

The IRA commanders and soldiers (coyly referred to as 'The Organisation' throughout, except at one crucial point in the story where a new found friend of Nolan reveals his true colours) are shown in almost a sympathetic light : believers in a cause they feel to be just and unwilling to injure or kill without completing their own version of due process first.

Max Steiner contributes another of  his usual high class scores.

It's a fascinating film that depicts a political conflict in far less black and white terms than is often the case in films of today; it has a US director flirting with a European film making sensibility and a small cast and crew working extremely hard to bring a story to life using only the most limited of resources.

An interesting and important film that seems to be sadly neglected these days.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Assault On Precinct 13 (1976)

Assault On Precinct 13 (1976)

Directed and written by John Carpenter

John Carpenter was one of the great auteurs of US film making in the the last quarter of the last century and Assault On Precinct 13 (his second feature, after the uber-cult Dark Star (1974), demonstrates all of his abilities and showcases his skill with what would normally be considered B-Movie material and resources.

The film opens with a police ambush and killing of a group of multi-ethnic gang members; then shows the leaders of these gangs in a pledging ritual as they unite against a common enemy.
We are then introduced, in a quiet and unfussy way, the characters at the centre of the story arriving at the titular police precinct house. The newly promoted lieutenant whose first task is to oversee the last night shift at the station house prior to it's re-location in the morning ; his staff (two non-uniform women responsible for admin. duties and a disinterested career uniformed officer), three prisoners being transferred by bus from one facility to another by a Special Agent and his two gun-toting guards and a middle aged man and his young daughter who get lost in the neighbourhood while driving to a relative's house. 

The cast is made up of pretty much unknown actors, which is Carpenter's first touch of brilliance : there's no obvious hero figure in these early scenes and no big name actor who the viewer would assume would still be standing at the end of the film. All of the characters are given equal weight during the getting-to-know-you scenes, there's no attempt to establish back-story - we are pitched straight into the middle of these people's (apparently) commonplace workday and there's no hint at what's to come or who will or will not emerge from events.

The action in the story is triggered by a genuinely shocking killing which comes at the conclusion of an expertly handled scene where the tension and air of menace is beautifully layered as repetitive action constantly builds and releases until the explosive moment arrives.

Twenty minutes into the running time and night has fallen and all of the characters are in place for the action which constitutes the rest of the film.

There's plenty to admire during the siege of the precinct house : there's the brilliant device by which the gang members all use weapons fitted with silencers - there's something far more sinister about the distant "pop pop" of rifle and small arm fire than would have been the case if they had been armed with chattering, clattering automatic weapons.
The initial assault on the building is beautifully shot - blinds dance in their fittings as they are riddled with bullets, a pile of papers on a desk flies in balletic slow motion, the walls become pock-marked by impact. There's a sense of unsurvivable storm and yet we are also aware that this is only the opening round in the ordeal the characters will face.

From this point the action is fairly unrelenting and the tension is constantly notched up as the remaining defenders of the precinct dwindle in number, escape begins to appear more and more and hopeless and the numbers of assailants seems to increase each time they are glimpsed flitting through the surrounding gloom.

I like the central conceit that there's a massive fire-fight happening int he middle of a large city yet (for various reasons) the authorities seem to be either unaware of it or unable to locate it : it's an item later reprised in the first Die Hard.

There's a lot of referencing back to classic Western films (especially Hawks' Rio Bravo) : you can read the precinct as an outpost fort under attack by an indigenous population who don't welcome their presence.. Will the cavalry arrive in time to save those inside?

Everything's under pinned by Carpenter's (self-composed) electronic score which thumps and pumps during the action scenes, fading back away and then returning as another wave of danger approaches. The sound design is spot-on and Carpenter's editing is so sharp you could cut paper with it. There's hardly a wasted frame through the entire length of the film and the last hour is cut perfectly.

Assault On Precinct 13 is the realisation of an individual conception and the execution of a very simple idea but it's done with such care and obvious love that the end result is an extraordinary piece of work that can easily hold it's own among the mega-budget action thrillers that were to come pouring out of Hollywood in the coming years.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Freeview (UK) film of the day : sunday 12th of January

Let Me In (2010 111min.) [BBC2 10.00pm]
Freeview premiere

Fantasy horror starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz. Twelve-year old Owen lives in New Mexico with his alcoholic mother and is bullied at school. However, things look up when 12-year-old Abby moves in next door, although Owen only tends to see her in the playground at night. The two become friends but there's more to Abby than meets the eye.

Another in the increasingly long line of Hollywoord remakes of superb films that already exsist but are viewed as troublesome by some because they require the reading of subtitles.

The Swedish original (Let The Right One In) is a near perfect film that tells it's story with great economy and a brilliantly realised sense of place, time and atmosphere.

This version adds nothing to these qualities and instead drops some of the elements that make the original such an involving and spell-binding experience. Instead of a love story (actually, love stories) which happen(s) to involve a vampire we now have a film about a vampire that also includes a love story.
You can see the market the US producers were aiming the film at in the post-Twilight world.

That's not to say it's without merit : Chloë Grace Moretz is superb in the lead role, and her young co-star Kodi Smit-McPhee is also very good. I liked the additional scene of the car crash fimed from inside the car, Elias Koteas and Richard Jenkins add depth and strength to the supporting cast and Michael Giacchino's score is perfect.

As a stand alone film it would be perfectly fine and a rewarding watch ; but it does suffer horribly when compared to the subtle, nuanced and superior Swedish version.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Freeview (UK) Film of the day : friday 10th of January

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter...and Spring (2003 98min.) [Film4 1.15am saturday &+1]

An elderly Buddhist monk shares the wisdom of his years with a youngster in a one-room monastery floating on a beautiful lake. As the boy grows up, his burgeoning sexual desires overwhelm his need for inner peace and he abandons his master for a more modern life. However, when his quest for love ends in unhappiness, he returns home seeking enlightenment.

In the current century Eastern Cinema has gained a (deserved) reputation for producing some of the most inventive fantasy, horror and thriller films.

But it is also able to produce film such as this.

Kim Ki-Duk's direction and photography is elegant and poised, and he also takes the part of the adult monk; Oh Young-Su is the older monk and they are at the centre of a film that's about image, ritual and repetition and is more concerned with form and tone than action set-pieces or jumps & shocks.

It's not going to appeal to everyone (this may be an understatement) but it has a beautiful, quiet, reflective majesty which, if you allow it to, will entrance you for just under 100 minutes.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Freeview (UK) films of the day : wednesday 8th of January

Serpico (1973 124min.) [C4 12.30am thursday &+1]

Police thriller starring Al Pacino, based on the real-life story of a young undercover cop. Despite the violence and cynicism that surround him, Frank Serpico retains his ideals, refusing the pay-offs which are common to his colleagues. Gradually, his attitudes and behaviour isolate him within the force, and he faces danger from both sides of the law.

There's a careful and nuanced performance by Pacino at the heart of this based-on-real-events drama which is deftly and expertly directed by Sidney Lumet, it makes the absolute maximum use of it's multiple New York location settings and some superbly realistic sets.

The central story is gripping and the (largely unkown) cast give some top-class support to Pacino as he rolls through the film with a convincing blend of swagger and deep-grained paraniod introspection.

Volver (2006 121min.) [Film4 12.50am thursday &+1]

Comedy drama from director Pedro Almódovar, starring Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura. A Madrid housewife is forced to cover up the accidental murder of her husband while trying to deal with ghosts from her past.

Penelope Cruz vehicle directed with unusual restraint by Pedro Almodovar.
Cruz is brilliant in the lead role as a young mother seeking to protect her young child following An Unfortunate Event while simultaneously dealing with the "ghost" of her mother.
A perfect cast, some beautiful photography and an engaging story add up to a very enjoyable film.


The Bad And The Beautiful (1952 113min.) [C4 2.50am thursday &+1]

Oscar-winning drama starring Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner. A Hollywood producer calls together a writer, a director and a star and reveals that ruthless movie mogul Jonathan Shields needs their help. But all three have vowed never to work with Shields again, and each remembers why.

Directed by Vincente Minnelli and co-starring Dick Powell.
It's a fabulous, fizzing, satirical, back-biting melodrama and it's very, very good.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Wrong Man (1956)

The Wrong Man 


US 105 minutes

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock ; written by Maxwell   Anderson (from his story) and Angus McPhail.

Starring Henry Fonda, Vera Miles and Anthony Quayle

Fonda is a small time nightclub musician who is accused of a series of store robberies in his neighbourhood and sent for trial ; events have a disastrous effect on his wife (Miles) and any hope of reprieve seems to rest with an inexperienced lawyer (Quayle).

Henry Fonda was one of the great American screen actors of the twentieth century ; although now traditional matinee idol material he had a handsomeness born of quiet dignity and a genuine presence on the screen.

He's therefore perfectly cast in this based-on-real-events story of an unassuming musician and family man who is identified as the prime suspect in a spate of stick-ups of stores and business in his neighbourhood.

Throughout the investigation and subsequent court appearances Fonda remains stoic ; bewildered by the nightmare world in which he finds himself he still carries himself with pride, relying on the knowledge of his innocence and belief in the US justice system to act as armour against all of the many woes that befall him.

His performance is subtle and yet wide-ranging ; his absolute faith in Quayle's lawyer is touching, the death of two key witnesses is born with resolve; he demonstrates love, care and compassion for his wife and family members and tries his utmost to remain upbeat no matter what.

Only at one key point in the story does he lose his grip on his sang-froid and when this happens it's all the more shocking as it contrasts so brutally with his previous manner and bearing.

Hitchcock might seem like an unlikely director to be attracted to such a story but for me it sits very much as a companion piece to his films The Man Who Knew Too Much and, of course, North By NorthWest, all of which tell the story of a man who, through an accident of time and place, ends up embroiled in an adventure to which he is unsuited and which appears to have only the worst possible outcome for the central character.

For the most part Hitchcock sets aside his box of camera tricks and stylish flourishes ; the film is shot almost entirely in a gritty neo-realistic, documentary style. The shot construction and framing are, of course, perfect and Robert Burks' black and white photography is gorgeous; but the director keeps his more flamboyant nature under control and presents the story in a distinctly uncharacteristic style - for the most part using the standard reportage repertoire of two and three people talking in medium shot.

Which means that when he does throw in an extreme close-up of a face or an important and telling object (e.g. a rosary) the moment is heightened for the viewer.

Vera Miles is outstanding as Fonda's wife, a career best performance as the loyal partner unquestioningly supporting her husband as he goes through hell and then slowly crumbling as the realisation of the seeming bleakness of their situation begins to fully dawn on her.

Quayle is a bit weak in the lawyer role ; he's an odd casting decision and seems a little uncomfortable with the role; although the information we are given about his lack of experience in criminal court might suggest that his diffidence is a character trait rather than a failing on the part of the actor.

The supporting cast (Fonda's family, workmates and accusers, and especially the police who detain and interview him) are all perfectly fine

And there's a rather neat Bernard Herrmann score as well - cool and sophisticated at one moment, thumping like a rapid heartbeat at others.

The Wrong Man is a neglected work in Hitchcock's canon, often overlooked in the race to get from the wartime films to the holy trinity of Vertigo, Psycho and The Birds but it is a well made, strongly acted, beautifully delivered piece of work that shows both the director and the star working flat-out to achieve something really quite remarkable.

9595 minutes

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Mummy (1959)

The Mummy (1959)

Directed by Terence Fisher ; written by Jimmy Sangster

 Hammer dipped back into the Universal back-catalogue to find the subject for the follow-up feature to their box office success with Dracula and Frankenstein and the result is a small but perfectly delivered example of maximising your limited resources to the best effect.

The plot (the very thin plot, if we're being honest) revolves around Peter Cushing, an archaeologist who is searching for the lost tomb of an ancient Egyptian queen in the company of his father (Felix Aylmer) and uncle (Raymond Huntley).

When they discover the burial site Cushing is unable to explore it due to an injured leg ; the other two enter the site, despite dire warnings from local George Pastell - during the exploration Aylmer releases the mummified (yet still living) high priest Kharis (Christopher Lee) who had been entombed with his Queen.

The action then shifts forward three years and to England : the father is in an asylum, driven to the brink of insanity by the sight of the re-activated mummy in the tomb and Pastell and his undead chum are looking for revenge upon those who defiled the sacred site.
And that's it : a simple story with a predictable plot, an easily guessed conclusion and no hidden surprises lurking along the way.

And yet.....  there's a lot of skill and care that's gone into delivering the film. For a start there's Peter Cushing ; very few screen actors have been as adept at delivering preposterous lines of dialogue with a straight face, perfect diction and in such a convincing manner.
There's Lee's Mummy - not the usual lumbering, groaning, stumbling zombie in bandages but an agile, adept creature that retains the eyes of it's human origin and uses these to express emotion when required.

Aylmer and Huntley are perfectly convincing in their roles and Pastell's Egyptian is slightly better drawn than is usual for non-British villains in films of the era.

There's an extended flashback scene with a Cushing voice-over narration which explains the entire backstory of the Mummy's origins which is very well done and neatly directed by Fisher.

Yes, the studio sets doubling for Egypt or the English countryside are very obvious but the scenes are lit and photographed in such a way as to allow the viewer to suspend their disbelief just long enough so as not to jar.

For a film made on a restricted budget and shot very quickly it achieves everything that it sets out to do and certainly stands up to comparison to the Hollywood mega-budget spectacular from 1999 that shares it's name. 

Freeview (UK) films of the day ; monday 6th of January

Sightseers (2012 84min.) [Film4 10.55pm &+1]

Black comedy from Kill List director Ben Wheatley, starring Alice Lowe and Steve Oram. A couple from the Midlands set off on a week-long caravan holiday in the English countryside. However, a seemingly freak accident is the catalyst for their vacation to take a violent turn.

The film dubbed "Natural Born Caravanners" by critic Alan Jones is funny, playful and surprisingly horrible in places but it's also a great deal of fun.
Lowe and Oram are in terrific form and Ben Wheatley is the perfect director to handle this material and provide the perfect balance bewtween the silliness and the moments of gore and violence.

The Class (2008 124min.) [C4 1.00am tuesday]

Award-winning social drama starring François Bégaudeau as a teacher searching for ways to inspire his new class of teenagers at the start of another year at a tough, racially mixed school in Paris.

Laurent Cantet's Palme d'or-winning film about a French teacher and his often tricky relationship with a class of 14-year-olds in a multi-cultural quartier of Paris is a world way from Hollywood movies about crusading teachers, but arguably even more gripping.
Shot in seamless docu-drama style with semi-improvised performances, it also gives an honest picture of the problems confronting both teachers and pupils in modern Europe.
There's drama, heartbreak and insubordination aplenty.

A timely and well-made observation of the attractions and dangers of the drive towards order, conformity and discipline during a period of social change.