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.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 18th of March

True Grit (2010 105min.) [BBC2 10.45pm]

Remake of the John Wayne western from the Coen brothers, starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. When Frank Ross is murdered by a hired hand, his teenage daughter Mattie decides to take the matter in hand and find someone with "true grit" to bring the killer to justice. Mattie's search leads her to "Rooster" Cogburn, a hard-drinking, one-eyed US marshal with a fearsome reputation.

Beautifully shot by Roger Deakins the film adds a wintry tone and atmosphere that was absent from the John Wayne original.
The reworked story and script contains moments of droll humour and there's an outstanding performance by Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross.

Wisely the Coens decided not to mess with climactic shoot-out between Cogburn and the bad guys and the overall tone is one of reverence to the original which, given the mess they made of updating The Ladykillers, is probably wise.

Neatly done with some very strong acting (especially Bridges and Steinfeld) it's certainly worth watching if if you enjoy the genre or the work of the writer/directing siblings.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Freeview films of the day : friday 17th of March

A Simple Plan (1998 116min.) [BBC2 1.05am saturday]

Thriller from the director of Spider-Man, starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton and Bridget Fonda. Three men are out in the woods when they discover a crashed plane that contains a dead pilot and over $4 million in cash. They decide to steal the money, but their plan soon begins to backfire.

Sam Raimi directs with a totally different approach to that which he used for the Evil Dead or Spiderman films - rather the frantic pace and big set-pieces of those works he opts to create mood and tension through the use of slow camera moves and the atmospheric backdrop of a snow covered Minnesota backwoods town.

Paxton, Thornton and Fonda are all excellent in this elegant and suspense filled thriller.

A fitting tribute to the recently deceased Bill Paxton.

30 Days Of Night (2007 108min.) [Ch4 12.45am saturday &+1]

Horror thriller starring Josh Hartnett and Melissa George. Each year, the small Alaskan community of Barrow is plunged into a month-long period of total 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.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 4th of March

Witchfinder General (1968 81min.) [BBC2 2.15am sunday]

Witchfinder General was one of the later Hammer horrors, but one of the first to break away from increasingly formulaic templates. The key differences here were the setting (English country villages) and the source of the horror. This is a film about the evil that can lurk within humans rather than a mythical monster.

Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins, the witchfinder of the title. This time he plays it straight. Hopkins is an unscrupulous, merciless man who persecutes people based upon forced confessions rather than evidence of witchcraft. He travels from town to town executing innocent women for financial profit and sexual favours. Indeed, there is no witchcraft in this film. Like The Wicker Man which came a few years later (and is also a must-see British horror film) it is about rituals, beliefs and abuse of power.

In the end it has not been remembered quite as fondly as The Wicker Man which is more iconic, but Witchfinder General delivers some shocking scenes of violence and abuse. It is one of the greatest British horror films. Sadly its director, Michael Reeves, died of an overdose of barbiturates the following year (aged only 25) so this proved to be his final film. Watching this film, one cannot help but wonder how his career would have progressed had he survived.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 3rd of March

Zero Dark Thirty (2012 150min.) [Ch4 12.55am saturday &+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 (TV's Friday Night Lights, Super 8) 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.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 25th of February

It Follows (2014 96mins.) [Film4 11.15pm &+1]

A university student discovers her boyfriend has passed a curse onto her after they sleep together for the first time. It results in her being stalked by a supernatural menace that always seems to be one step behind. Can she and her friends find a way to get rid of it before it finally catches up with her? Horror, starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist and Olivia Luccardi.

Terrific ghost story/psychological horror that seems to draw its inspiration from the Japanese horror tradition and then mix it with the creepy style first used by John Carpenter in his 1978 classic Halloween.

There's no ultra-gory murders or dismemberment- all the "horror" comes from the seemingly unstoppable and relentless nameless thing that pursues its young victims - and this 'monster' is brilliantly used to build a genuinely disquieting tone through the film.

Superbly directed by David Robert Mitchell and with a terrifically strong female lead (Maika Monroe is excellent); the film also makes great use of its setting amid the urban decay of contemporary Detroit.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 24th of February

Red Eye (2005 81min.) [Film4 11.05pm &+1]

Lisa Reisart (Rachel McCadams) makes a random connection with the charming Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) while waiting for her flight back to work after visiting her dad (Brian Cox).

During the flight Rippner's true motives are exposed. Rather than a chance meeting Reisart has been targeted because, using the threat of the murder of her father, she is able to help Rippner's terrorist mercenaries achieve their aim.

Carl Ellsworth's script doesn't bother itself too much with motivation or the psychology of either character but settles instead for moving the story forward at a decent pace.
Wes Craven directs with a lot of extreme close-ups and two shots in order to heighten the sense of McCadams being trapped in Murphy's orbit.

The whole thing is neatly put together; there's a genuine sense of tension, a couple of very strong performances from the two leads and (as you would expect from Craven) taut and lean direction with hardly a shot wasted.

The denoument may be a little fantastic but it's a satisfying end to a film that knows it's limits and doesn't make any attempt to overstep them.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 22nd of February

Belle (2013 99mins.) [Film4 11.15pm &+1]

The illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy admiral is raised in the household of her great uncle, but is never entirely accepted in Georgian British society. She falls in love with an idealistic lawyer, and together they campaign against the slave trade. Fact-based period drama, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson.

Amma Asante's fact-based film is a warm-hearted, witty, glamorous treat : even for those people who would normally run a mile rather than settle down in front of a frocks'n'bonnets historical love story.

While the issues around slavery, class, domestic servitude and the inequities of a closed Victorian society are addressed the over-riding theme is the way in which love wil find a way to survive and triumph even when faced with the obstacles of closed minds and hearts.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is sensational in the lead role; ably supported by Wilkinson, Watson and Sam Reid's unfussy and controlled work - Asante's direction is assured and the period settings are neatly realised.

A perfectly done gem of a film.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 18th of February

The White Ribbon (2009 137min.) [BBC2 12.55am sunday]

Period mystery drama from director Michael Haneke, starring Christian Friedel and Ulrich Tukur. When a series of supposed accidents occurs in a outwardly idyllic north German village in the early 1910s, tension between the residents grows and it becomes apparent than everyone, young or old, has something to hide.

Genuine modern classic from Michael Haneke which won the Palme D'Or at Cannes and a whole bunch of other awards.

Everything about it is right - from the story, which is essentially a parable for the rise of the far-right in Germany, to the ensemble cast, the superb production design and Christian Berger's gorgeous photography.

Haneke builds suspense and disquiet through every scene and creates a haunting psychological thriller which I thoroughly recommend.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 17th of February

Skyline (2010 88min.) [C4 1.05am saturday &+1]

Sci-fi thriller starring Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson and Brittany Daniel. Jarrod and his girlfriend Elaine travel to Los Angeles to meet up with an old friend, Terry, and celebrate his birthday with a big party at his penthouse flat. But during the night, flashing lights appear in the sky and it quickly becomes apparent that an alien invasion is taking place and their lives are in peril.

Dumb, faintly absurd, camp sci-fi thriller that mixes and matches elements of several much better films to produce a curious mixture of CGI driven effects and "beautiful people in peril" that often topples over the thin line between fun and stupid.

A solid cast of "oooh it's him/her off the telly" (the lead actor was Tuck in 'Scrubs') battle with some over-ripe dialogue while attempting to avoid The Alien Invaders.

As is so often the case with this sort of film the writers had no idea how to end it (does the Earth get saved? If so how? If not, what happens next?) and so opt for a laughable quasi-mystical sequence that rather undermines the flashy, crashy, showy stuff that's gone before.

Fun but not to be taken at all seriously.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 11th of February

Behind The Candelabra (2013 113min.)[BBC2 11.05pm]

Biographical drama starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Flamboyant pianist Liberace was already one of the most famous entertainers in the world when he was introduced to young Scott Thorson in 1977. Scott is at first seduced and then overpowered by the larger-than-life character and his opulent lifestyle. But their six-year relationship is volatile and is kept secret from Liberace's adoring fans.

Directed by indie darling Steven Soderburgh and with a host of big names in small supporting roles (including Rob Lowe and Debbie Reynolds, who are both very good) this is an affectionate portrait of one of the great American showmen that neatly balances the two aspects of its subjects life : the glittering live performances and the equally glittering but sequestered private life. It’s also very good on the lengths that Liberace and his friends have to go to in order to keep his personal life behind closed doors.

There’s a real warmth in Douglas’ wonderful portrayal of a man tortured by loneliness and loss and the whole film is as camp, endearing, glitzy and eccentric as the man himself.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 10th of February

The Last Samurai (2003 147mins.) [Dave 9.00pm & +1]

The emperor of Japan recruits an American Civil War veteran to train his troops in a bid to wipe out a rebel faction of samurai warriors. The soldier is taken captive when the imperial army is defeated, and comes to respect his enemies' traditions and code of honour, finally going over to their side. Historical adventure, starring Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly and Shichinosuke Nakamura.

Surprisingly entertaining (if sometimes preposterous) big budget historical epic which tells its story very well with some solid performances and genuinely exciting battle scenes.

Cruise does a decent enough job in the lead role, but Ken Watanabe's dignified samurai warrior leader takes all the acting credits.

Beautifully shot with some remarkable sets and period reconstructions, there's a lot more to enjoy here than you might think from the plot synopsis and cast list.

Decently directed by Edward Zwick it's a smart film that could have done with perhaps a little more care at the editing phase, some scenes run far too long while others aren't given sufficient room to play out.

Enjoyable if a little too heavy handed with its message.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 8th of February

Someone To Watch Over Me (1987 102min.) [BBC1 11.45pm]

Thriller from director Ridley Scott, starring Tom Berenger, Mimi Rogers and Lorraine Bracco. Mike Keegan is a happily married New York detective assigned to protect Claire Gregory, a wealthy socialite who has agreed to testify against the gangster who murdered her friend. But Mike gradually finds his involvement with the witness affecting his family life.

Ah! The eighties thriller - usually a confection of ludicrous plot, consumer-porn housing, cars and accessories, impossibly glamorous people and set among shiny, reflective surfaces all of which are there to distract from the lack of anything worthwhile or interesting happening on screen.

In amongst this great slew of empty headed films there's a few that stand out from the crowd and Someone To watch Over Me is one of them.

Firstly, it's directed by Ridley Scott who has a sure touch and a knack for this sort of material : secondly it's two lead actors are Mimi Rogers and Tom Berenger who are believable as human beings rather than walking, talking clothes horses.

We actually care what happens to these two thanks to a smart script from Howard Franklin which has greater depth and subtly than usually find in thrillers of this time - the subtexts with regard to consumerism and the nature of voyeurism are well handled while the thriller elements keep the story moving forward.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Freeview film of the day : monday 6th of February

It Follows (2014 96mins.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]
Freeview premiere

A university student discovers her boyfriend has passed a curse onto her after they sleep together for the first time. It results in her being stalked by a supernatural menace that always seems to be one step behind. Can she and her friends find a way to get rid of it before it finally catches up with her? Horror, starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist and Olivia Luccardi.

Terrific ghost story/psychological horror that seems to draw its inspiration from the Japanese horror tradition and then mix it with the creepy style first used by John Carpenter in his 1978 classic Halloween.

There's no ultra-gory murders or dismemberment- all the "horror" comes from the seemingly unstoppable and relentless nameless thing that pursues its young victims - and this 'monster' is brilliantly used to build a genuinely disquieting tone through the film.

Superbly directed by David Robert Mitchell and with a terrifically strong female lead (Maika Monroe is excellent); the film also makes great use of its setting amid the urban decay of contemporary Detroit.

A really interesting (and creepy) American independent film packed full of invention, wit and skill.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 4th of February

The Falling (2014 97mins.) [BBC2 9.45pm]
Freeview premiere

A 1960s girls' school is rocked by the sudden death of a star pupil. Soon afterwards, the students suffer an outbreak of mass hysteria, and begin inexplicably fainting. The close friendship between two very different girls seems to lie at the centre of the strange happenings. Drama, starring Maisie Williams, Maxine Peake and Greta Scacchi.

A swirling, impressionistic, dreamlike almost surrealistic story about peer pressure, female sexuality and its awakening, jealousy, fear and repression beautifully shot by Agnès Godard and with a hypnotic Tracey Thorn score.

If you're familiar with director Carol Morley's previous film, the semi-documentary Dreams Of A Life, you'll know that she's very skilled at capturing the time and place of a story and has a real ability to make the viewer invest in and care about the characters on the screen.

The cast here is phenomenally good - Masie Williams is at the heart of the story and drives the narrative, but there's some exceptional work around her : newcomer Florence Pugh excels as the cause of the mysterious events, Greta Scacchi plays brilliantly against type and Maxine Peake and Monica Dolen are terrific as the authority figures in Williams' life.

There's hints of David Lynch in the tone and feel of the film but it's closer antecedents are off-kilter thrillers such as The Haunting, Picnic At Hanging Rock and the British wave of supernatural chillers from the 50s and 60s.

A remarkable film that deserves (and rewards) your attention.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 28th of January

Yakuza Apocalypse (2015 115mins.) [Film4 11.25pm &+1]
Freeview premiere

A gang member is bitten by his dying vampire boss and struggles with his transition from sensitive human being to crazed bloodsucker, while also setting out to get revenge on the international crime syndicate responsible for his mentor's death. Comedy horror, starring Hayato Ichihara. In Japanese.

Totally and utterly bonkers martial arts meets vampires film made as affectionate tribute to the low-budget direct-to-video action thrillers which Japan produced by the crateload in the eighties and nineties.

Prolific director Takashi Miike might be best known in the West for the big budget historical drama 13 Assassins or the claustrophobic, intricately plotted horror Audition but here he's working much closer to the sheer oddness of his earlier vampire musical The Happiness Of The Katakuris.

The plot (such as it is) makes little or no sense and a lot of the references may be lost on those without a working knowledge of the Japanese horror tradition ; but it's so willfully nuts that you end up being dragged along from scene to scene just to see what bizarre event or creature will feature next.

The lead actor is Yayan Ruhian who made such an impression in The Raid and his physical style adds a certain weight to the cartoon violence of the fight scenes but the overall tone is one of black humour and it's clear that it's not a film intended to be taken at all seriously.

To say it's not going to work for everyone is an understatement ; you have to be prepared to enjoy the ride and come to it in the right frame of mind to get anything from it; but it's a work of spectacular nuttiness.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 25th of January

The Last Of the Mohicans (1992 107mins.) [Movies 4 Men 9.00pm &+1]

An orphaned settler in North America is adopted by the last member of a native tribe following the death of his family. The child grows to become legendary frontiersman Hawkeye, who rescues and falls in love with a British officer's daughter during the Anglo-French War. But a bitter Huron war chief is determined to take revenge against her father by killing her. Michael Mann's historical adventure, based on James Fenimore Cooper's classic tale, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Wes Studi, Maurice Roeves and Eric Schweig.

Michael Mann gives the classic novel of the frontier west the big-budget Hollywood action movie treatment and, for the most part, it works.
Daniel Day Lewis is terrific in the lead role - all rippling muscles and earnest staring- the under rated Madeline Stowe is a very effective female lead, the landscapes are breathtaking and the action sequences exciting.
A very decent supporting cast and a first airing for a couple of moments that quickly became Hollywood cliches : a fairly enjoyable, noisy action film that doesn't outstay ts welcome and that's a visual treat.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 24th of January

East Is East (1999 92mins.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]

Pakistani chip shop owner George Khan tries to keep his seven unruly children under control in 1970s Salford. Revelling in the pleasures of adolescence, the flares-wearing youngsters seem determined to ignore his moral advice - but a shock is in store for two of his teenage sons in the shape of arranged marriages. Comedy drama, starring Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jimi Mistry and Archie Panjabi.

There had been several attempts to make films that reflect the experiences of young Asians in 1980s and 90s Britain before but most of them were horribly worthy and dangerously close to patronising.

East Is East is refreshing because of the dry wit that runs through it and the laugh out loud humour of many scenes.

Set in the 1970s it plays with the well worn tropes and cliches of that decade as (the excellent) Jimi Mistry discovers the joys of being a male teenager first and a "British Asian" second; a stand that places him in direct conflict with his more traditional father (the sadly recently departed Om Puri).

The ensemble cast are all terrific (special mention for Archie Panjabi) and the film is warm, charming and witty as they interact, fall in and out of love and behave in a wholly believable way.

A little gem of a film.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : monday 23rd of January

Belle (2013 99mins.) [Film4 9.00pm &+1]
Freeview premiere

The illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy admiral is raised in the household of her great uncle, but is never entirely accepted in Georgian British society. She falls in love with an idealistic lawyer, and together they campaign against the slave trade. Fact-based period drama, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson.

Amma Asante's fact-based film is a warm-hearted, witty, glamorous treat : even for those people who would normally run a mile rather than settle down in front of a frocks'n'bonnets historical love story.

While the issues around slavery, class, domestic servitude and the inequities of a closed Victorian society are addressed the over-riding theme is the way in which love wil find a way to survive and triumph even when faced with the obstacles of closed minds and hearts.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is sensational in the lead role; ably supported by Wilkinson, Watson and Sam Reid's unfussy and controlled work - Asante's direction is assured and the period settings are neatly realised.

A perfectly done gem of a film.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 21st of January

Black Swan (2010 103min.) [Film4 1.30am sunday &+1]

Psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel. When aspiring ballerina Nina Sayers finally wins the coveted role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, it's a dream come true. But while her demanding choreographer thinks Nina is perfect for the role, he has reservations about her ability to portray the Queen's alter ego, the Black Swan - a part that comes naturally to her sensuous rival Lily. As jealousy consumes Nina, her hold on reality becomes increasingly blurred.

Darren Aronofsky's neo-giallo is a dark, hypnotic study of obsession set in the world of ballet.
The camera moves are superb : creeping hand-held shots, swooping crane , intense close-ups and a whirling camera right in among the dancers.

The story is a little overblown in places but Portman is excellent in the lead and there's a terrific cameo by Winona Ryder.
Very interesting piece of work.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 17th of January

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 88mins.) [Film4 2.50pm &+1]

An alien ambassador lands his spaceship in America and warns humanity that Earth risks imminent destruction by an interplanetary alliance unless it abandons its warlike ways - and is promptly shot by the military. The wounded visitor is forced to live among humans, but his powerful robot servant is poised to punish mankind for its aggression. Sci-fi drama, with Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe.

Smart adaptation of a Harry Bates short story Farewell To The Master which, in contrast to the we're-all-doomed Red Scare scares of the early fifties, put forward the idea that maybe it wasn't too late to save the world and the possibility that visitors from another world may not mean global destruction after all.

The underlying theme of the film is hope - personified by Michael Rennie's dignified, quiet, sympathetic Klaatu who brings his message of peace and unity to a United States whose first instinct is to shoot first and ask (a few) questions afterwards.

The idea that children are much quicker to accept and embrace ideas that differ from those that they have been taught would later be a major theme in the early works of Spielberg and there are several parallels between this film and his ET : The Extra Terrestrial.

Director Robert Wise was very good at fashioning a fully functioning film on a very small budget and his work and the cracking Bernard Herrmann score certainly add weight to what could have ended up as a heavy-handed "message" film.

Instead what we have is a solidly made and performed little masterpiece of the Cold War sci-fi genre with plenty of excitement, action and tension in it's pared back running time.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 14th of January

Oblivion (2013 119min.) [Ch4 9.00pm &+1]

Sci-fi action adventure starring Tom Cruise. In the year 2077, Jack Harper works as a drone repairman on an Earth left abandoned and devastated after a war with aliens. With only a few weeks before his mission is due to end, Jack's concept of reality comes crashing down after he rescues a stranger (Olga Kurylenko) from a downed spacecraft.

Cruise is a solid and dependable leading man and adds some weight to this rather flimsy sci-fi adventure.
Although the plot is paper thin there's still plenty here to enjoy : Olga Kurylenko is terrific in support of Cruise and Morgan Freeman turns up and does what he does so well.

There's some well realised CG effects and director Joseph Kosinski keeps the action moving along at a nice speed.

There's nothing new or too thrilling here (and the ending is a terrible cop-out) but it's an entertaining watch and certainly has far more plus points than negatives.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 13th of January

The King Of Comedy (1983 104min.) [Film4 1.00am saturday &+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 character 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.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Freeview film of the day :monday 9th of January

Easy A (2010 88min.) [Film4 11.20pm &+1]

Comedy starring Emma Stone. When a little white lie about losing her virginity makes the previously anonymous Olive Penderghast the talk of school, she decides to exploit her new-found notoriety to improve her social standing. But being "easy" comes with mixed blessings.

There's a superb performance by (the then relatively unknown) Emma Stone at the heart of this updating of Hawthorne's classic novel The Scarlet Letter.

There's also more than a hint of John Hughes' 1980's High School set comedy films and a terrific supporting cast, including Patricia Clarkson, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell and Stanley Tucci.

If you've seen Juno and enjoyed that film's combination of sharp wit and comic teen angst then Easy A will be right up your street.

The condensed running time means that hardly a moment is wasted and the film moves along with real zip.

It's very, very funny and it's appeal is not limited to younger viewers as all of the characters and situations are given equal weight by director Will Gluck.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Freeview films of the day : saturday 6th of January

BBC2 have a double bill of films by British master of cinema director Nicolas Roeg as their late night double bill

First, there's The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976 133mins.) [BBC2 10.30pm]

An alien is sent to Earth to find a way to save his dying home planet. He adopts a human identity and uses his advanced knowledge to become a successful tycoon. However, he is corrupted by the sensations and vices of human life and loses sight of his objective. Sci-fi drama, starring David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark and Buck Henry.

The film benefits enormously from the casting of non-actor Bowie in the lead role; his limited range is used to great effect to portray the disconnection with those around him that marks out his character as not of this world.

I'm a huge fan of Roeg's work and though the story is rather slight and the performances rather underwhelming the film is cleverly structured, beautifully photographed (especially the exteriors) and directed with his usual fluidity of movement.

Not exactly a classic but a film that was ready made for the move into the cult category.

and that's followed by Walkabout (1970 96 mins.) [BBC2 12.45am sunday]

An orphaned sister and brother are left stranded in the Australian Outback, where they encounter a young Aborigine on a ritual journey, who leads them across the wilderness. However, his concern for their dilemma ultimately leads to tragedy. Drama starring Jenny Agutter, Lucien John, David Gulpilil, John Meillon and John Illingsworth.

Jenny Agutter, with her school prefect voice, is perfectly cast here as an ever-so-English teenager, stranded in the Australian outback with her little brother after their father commits suicide.
David Gumpilil plays the adolescent Aborigine who interrupts his walkabout to look after them, only to be met with incomprehension when he embarks on a courtship ritual.

Nicolas Roeg directs the clash between Nature and "civilisation", and was also responsible for the dazzling desert camerawork with its creepy-crawlies and decomposing kangaroos.

For horror fans there's an early morning treat
Wake In Fright (1970 108mins.) [Film4 1.40a, sunday &+1]

An orphaned sister and brother are left stranded in the Australian Outback, where they encounter a young Aborigine on a ritual journey, who leads them across the wilderness. However, his concern for their dilemma ultimately leads to tragedy. Nicolas Roeg's drama, starring Jenny Agutter, Lucien John, David Gulpilil, John Meillon and John Illingsworth.

Directed by Ted Kotcheff and believed to have been "lost" for nearly thirty years after the last remaining print went missing this Outback adventure is the exact opposit of Walkabout.

Here, instead of finding salvation and discovery following A Tragic Event the central character falls into a world of madness and extreme behaviour with, seemingly, no end in sight.

Donald Pleasence is absolutely startling as one of the characters that Gary Bond meets during his enforced stop-over in the distinctly odd mining town of Bundanyabba.

Low-budget and very grimy - not for the easily shocked but genre fans will relish the opportunity to (re)discover this film.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 6th of January

The Hunger Games (2012 136mins.) [Film4 9.00pm &+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.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Freeview film of the day : tuesday 3rd of January


(2002 108mins.) [UKTV Watch 8.00pm &+1]

Two female jailbirds imprisoned for murder pull out all the stops to seize the attention of the media. Aided by a slick lawyer, both women are desperate to find fame and fortune and escape the death penalty by winning public sympathy. Musical, starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C Reilly and Queen Latifah.

There's a lot to admire and enjoy in this glitzy film version of the long running and hugely popular stage show; it's easy to see why it was such an enormous box-office success when it was released in 2002.

Director Rob Marshall sensibly keeps a lot of the original staging while constructing a clever narrative from which to hang the song and dance numbers.
And those numbers are very effectively done - full of energy and glamour.

The casting is perfect - Renee Zellweger gives a good account of herself despite her lack of previous musical experience and Catherine Zeta-Jones is a revelation : her dance routines, especially, are really well done; and then there's soft shoe shufflin' Richard Gere playing up )and mocking) his leading man image and matinee idol looks.

A really entertaining way to spend a couple of hours on a cold winters evening.