Posts Tagged ‘British Arthouse’

Days of Bagnold Summer (2019)

Dir: Simon Bird | Cast: Monica Dolan, Earl Cave, Elliot Speller-Gillot, Tamsin Greig | UK Drama 86′

The Inbetweeners star Simon Bird goes behind the camera for his screen director debut that sees teenager Daniel (Cave) spending his summer listening to heavy metal music and trying to get on with his librarian divorcee mother (Dolan).

Days of Bagnold Summer is a self-consciously quirky slice of twenty-first century life reminiscent of a less bilious early Mike Leigh comedy-drama. Originally based on a graphic novel, hence the incongruously bright colours that surround the mother and son stuck with each other in their otherwise grey little life together. @RichardChatten

OUT ON LIMITED EDITION SIGNED BLU-RAY at Anti-Words | BLU-RAY and DVD on 25 April 2022.

Wilderness (2021)

Dir.: Justin John Doherty; Cast: Katharine Davenport, James Barnes, Sebastian Badarau, Bean Downes; UK 2017, 84 min.

The first feature for Justin John Doherty, scripted by Neil Fox, is a melancholic tract on the impossibility of true love. Set during the 1960s Wilderness is two films in one: a passionate and playful love affair influenced by Godard’s wordy confrontation of the genders in Contempt all coupled with a brilliant jazz score reminiscent of Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’echefaud .

John (Barnes), a black jazz musician, who shuttles between Europe and the US, meets Alice (Davenport), the two of them stealing moments between concerts and travel. Their relationship is fired by a palpable physical attraction that powers their idealistic affair. This loved-up dynamic changes when they spend a long weekend beachside in Cornwall meeting strangers and friends only to discover (like the audience) they hardly know each other beyond a sexual bond.

At a drunken party with John’s friend Charlie (Baderau) and his partner Francis (Downes), the tenuous nature of their relationship becomes obvious. Alice starts dancing rather too intimately with Charlie, and then joins Francis in criticising ‘men’ for keeping old affairs to themselves.

While Alice is interested in finding out about John – particularly his past – John is often unable to voice his feelings. Alice is shown as a rather moody character, her randomness often leaving John bewildered. “Are we over?” he asks at one point. But that would be too easy for Alice who involves John, not for the first time, in a game of strip poker. Side by side on the floor, they mourn the loss of their idealised passion. Gender and race politics raise their heads but are integrated into the narrative.

Shot with four professional actors and the same number of filmmakers, Wilderness feels very much a work in progress, and this has pro and cons: the poetic, non-linear element of the first part confidently reflects the more daring student element, but the rather wobbly second part, particularly the clunky dialogue and the lack of visual strength, might have been avoided by a more self-critical crew. Overall, Wilderness feels like a promising feature in its draft process, the completed version still waiting to be unveiled. AS

WILDERNESS IS ON 5 APRIL 2021 ON SKY STORE, iTUNES, AMAZON, GOOGLE, and BT

The Frightened Man (1952)

Dir: John Gilling | Cast: Dermot Walsh, Barbara Murray, Charles Victor, John Blythe | UK Drama 69′

An ultra-noirish cautionary tale (like most Tempean productions superlatively lit by Monty Berman) sternly warning audiences in postwar austerity Britain against the lure of apparently easy money; such as that stands to be acquired from frequent target Hatton Garden in a diamond heist.

Making the most of a meagre budget, John Gilling writes and directs a tighly-plotted and rather unpredicable little heist thriller that sees the profligate Julius Rosselli (Walsh) paying a visit to his adoring, antique shop-owner father (Charles Victor) after being sent down from Oxford University in disgrace. Julius plunders his father’s savings, flirts with the lodger (Murray) and soon falls in with a criminal element in a bid to make money without working for it, in a heist that runs into complications.

The first of two films by Tempean in which Charles Victor played the lead (the second being the title role in The Embezzler) flanked by the usual choice cast many of whom later featured in TV comedy series (Peter Bayliss in ‘The Fenn Street Gang’, Ballard Berkeley in ‘Fawlty Towers’, John Horsley in ‘The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin’, Martin Benson in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and Thora Hird and Michael Ward in just about everything else). Richard Chatten.

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO | TALKING PICTURES TV

Peeping Tom (1960) ****

Dir: Michael Powell | Leo Marks | Cast: Anna Massey, Karlheinz Bohm, Moira Shearer, Maxine Audley | Brenda Bruce, Miles Malleson | UK Horror, 101′

Raymond Durgnat later observed that this glossy colour thriller made Free Cinema’s brand of realism look like “expurgated Enid Blyton”. It’s casual acceptance of prostitution and pornography as parts of everyday life (not to mention that we hear someone else’s bath running in the background in one sequence) must have made it an uncomfortable experience for the few people in 1960 who saw it; as it remains today. Hopefully it didn’t reach Manchester, where it would have given Ian Brady ideas.

Based on a story by London-born writer and actor Leo Marks, Peeping Tom centres on a filmmaker and serial killer (Karlheinz Bohm) who records his victims’ dying expressions of terror on a movie camera. Unaware of their content, his neighbour Helen (Massey) becomes fascinated by these documentaries and secretly decides to watch them.

The stunning opening sequence with Brenda Bruce is described by David Pirie in ‘A Heritage of Horror’ as “one of the few genuinely Brechtian moments in the history of the cinema. Every component – the reduced frame, the clicking of the camera motor, the whirr of the tape recorder (sic) and the clumsiness of the camera technique – is designed to enforce our awareness that we are watching a film.” But am I the only person in sixty years to have noticed that we also see the shadow pass over Ms Bruce of what is obviously TWO people, one with the camera mounted on their shoulder (not hidden under their duffle coat as per the plot)? This moment is seen twice since it’s repeated when we then see the film projected. Every time I see the film I hope this goof won’t still be there; but it always is. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Tales of Hoffmann (1951) **** Mubi

Dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Cast: Moira Shearer, Ludmilla Tcherina, Ann Ayars, Robert Rounseville, Leonide Massine

UK 1951, 138 min.

Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann was his final, unfinished work, his only serious opera. After the success of THE RED SHOES, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger looked for another ballet related project; in particular Pressburger, whose first love was music, wanted to realise the idea of “a composed film”. Although Moira Shearer, the star of The Red Shoes. had made clear she was never going to act in another film, Pressburger eventually talked her into appearing in The Tales, which was introduced as an ‘Archers’ production in October 1949; Alexander Korda’s ‘British Lion Film’ would distribute.

The poet Hoffmann (Rounseville) falls in love with Stella (Shearer), a ballerina. Watching her on stage, his leaves and wanders into a tavern where a group of students ask him to tell them stories. His three stories are all connected by disappointed love: Olympia (Shearer) turns out to be a mechanical doll, Giuletta (Tcherina) wants to steal Hoffmann’s soul, and finally, Antonia (Ayars), a consumptive opera singer, dies while singing an aria. Hoffmann himself collapses at the end of his last story, just when Stella enters the tavern. She is lead away by Hoffmann’s eternal rival. But the muse of Poetry appears, and beckons Hoffmann to chose a life in the service of literature.

The film’s music is conducted by Sir Thomas Beeacham; of the cast, only Ayars and Rounseville sang. This was not a problem, since the film was shot entirely as a silent film (later to be dubbed in a studio), on the old silent stage at Shepperton studios, the largest in Europe, which had been constructed for Things to Come in 1936. Shooting took place from July to the end of September 1950. When Korda was first approached by Powell and Pressburger about the project, he asked (innocently) if any of the film makers had actually seen a stage version. Powell admitted he hadn’t, while Pressburger could claim to have played the second violin in the orchestra during performances in Prague, but “from where I sat, I could not see much”(!). Korda duly bought them tickets for a performance of the opera in Vienna, but their plane was delayed, they landed in the Russian zone, and had to wait for visas into the British side, where the performance was being held – they entered the theatre finally as Antonia was giving up her ghost.

The film was premiered on 1st April 1951 in New York, and seventeen days later in London, Queen Mary, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart being in the audience. Critical acclaim was great, but the film just recouped its production costs, being only shown in selected cinemas. On April 20th, it graced the Cannes Film Festival line-up where it won two awards.

According to Powell, he had a fight with Korda and Pressburger, who both wanted to cut the third act to enhance its chances of winning the Palme d’Or. Since there were only two days between the London and Cannes performance, there wa hardly time for a recut – and Kevin Macdonald, who wrote Pressburger’s biography, claims “Powell wanted to see things as he saw them, not as they happened”. But The Tales of Hoffmann was the beginning of the end for the working relationship of the Powell/Pressburger duo, they seemed to have been a lack of trust, and they went their own separate their professional ways. AS

NOW ON MUBI

 

Luxor (2020) ****

Dir/Wri: Zeina Durra | Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Janie Aziz, Michael Landers | Drama, 85′

A war zone doctor’s inner turmoil gradually surfaces in this serene second feature from British director Zeina Durra (The Imperialists are Still Alive!).

Never before has heartache appeared so muted and contemplative than in Andrea Riseborough’s portrait of post-traumatic stress disorder. She plays Hanna, a thirty-something aid worker who has just completed a stressful tour of duty in a wartorn corner of the Middle East. In Luxor, she finds herself physically and emotionally depleted, quietly contemplating her next move in the gentle faded splendour of the legendary Winter Palace Hotel on the banks of the Nile.

The genteel location is the stuff of dreams providing solace and a sanctuary for exhausted minds, damaged souls or simply those seeking a seasonal break in Eygpt’s pleasant climate. Luxor also lends a luminous spiritual dimension of this portrait of midlife crisis. A professional woman who has seen things “no human should have to witness” finds herself slipping down a path of increasing melancholy bordering on misery with the gradual realisation that normality and nurturing is now the order of the day, rather than more frontline trauma. Recuperating on quiet days of solitude amongst the ancient sites, she comes across a lover from a more light-hearted era. The passage of time – some twenty years it soon emerges –  has not dimmed the candle she once held for Sultan (Karim Saleh), an archaeologist from America. Quite to the contrary, it now burns even brighter leaving the void inside her soul crying out to be healed rather than temporarily satisfied.

Surrounded by the pharaonic tombs and towering temples, Luxor is very much the star turn. The peaceful city exudes a majestic energy empowering the film with an ethereal feeling of calm beneficence. Hana’s hotel companions, predominantly female, are genial and considerate, the only awkwardness comes after a one night stand she meets in the bar (played gamely Michael Landes) and provides a twist of humour rather than annoyance. Durra keeps dialogue to a minimum focusing on mood and feeling to sublime effect. Days spent reconnecting with her ex-lover soon expose a desperate longing that sees Hana quietly dissolving into tears, a raw nerve he unwittingly triggers in moments that are palpable in their intensity. 

Riseborough is gloriously lowkey at first, her perfect manners and placidity belying the simmering turmoil that gradually makes her more inhibited. She gives an understated physical performance, all blue-eyes, loose limbs and creamy complexion. Luxor has echoes of Columbus its scenic settings and philosophical discussions providing the peaceful backdrop for Hana’s story to unravel. And although the final scenes feel trite in contrast to the film’s thematic concerns the redemptive journey has been a beautiful and illuminating one. MT

NOW AVAILABLE online from next week | LUXOR PREMIERED AT SUNDANCE and KVIFF 2020 | KVIFF Competition returns in 2021

The Hammer Horror Collection | New blu-ray release

Celebrating 60 years of Gothic horror and grisly gore, THE HAMMER HORROR COLLECTION hails from the glory years of this iconic house of horror offering a chilling foray into a selection of British cult classics first spawned by Terry Fisher’s in 1957 outing The Curse of Frankenstein up until the 1970 with Peter Sasdy’s Taste the Blood of Dracula, now making its blu-ray debut. The production house was originally founded 82 years ago by William Hinds and James Carreras.

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA | 1970, 91’

Atmospherically directed  by Hungarian Peter Sasdy, and adapted for the screen by Anthony Hinds – stepping in due to budgetary constraints under the pseudonym of John Elder (he told his neighbours he was a hairdresser to avoid publicity throughout his entire career) this outing actually broadens the storyline into a damning social satire of Victorian repression and upper class ennui. The eclectic cast has Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen and Gwen Watford and sees three distinguished English gentlemen (Keen, Peter Sallis and John Carson) descend into Satanism, for want of anything better to do, accidentally killIng Dracula‘s sidekick Lord Courtly (Ralph Bates), in the process. As an act of revenge the Count vows they will die at the hands of their own children. But Lee actually bloodies the waters in the second half, swanning in glowering due to his lack of a domineering role in the proceedings.

7C940955-3F3B-4D0D-A526-A2E93CD37184BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB

Directed by Seth Holt | Starring Andrew Keir, Valerie Leon | UK | 1971 | 89 mins
Adapted from Bram Stoker’s mystical thriller The Jewel of the Seven Stars, this supernatural shocker is one of Hammer’s most enduring classics. A British expedition team in Egypt discovers the ancient sealed tomb of the evil Queen Tera but when one of the archaeologists steals a mysterious ring from the corpse’s severed hand, he unleashes a relentless curse upon his beautiful daughter. Is the voluptuous young woman now a reincarnation of the diabolical sorceress or has the curse of the mummy returned to reveal its horrific revenge? Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb was plagued by the sudden deaths of director Seth Holt and the wife of original star Peter Cushing, leading to rumours of a real-life curse. Michael Carreras completed the movie that made a Scream Queen of Valerie Leon as the Mummy who, in a titillating twist, forgoes the usual rotting-bandages and is instead resurrected sporting a negligée.
Extras: New featurette – The Pharaoh’s Curse: Inside Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb

1DB70328-2F7E-4621-ABE6-82C9355D699FDEMONS OF THE MIND

Dir: Peter Sykes | Cast: Robert Hardy, Shane Briant, Patrick Magee | UK | 1972 | 89′

In 19th century Bavaria, deranged Baron Zorn (Hardy) keeps his children Emil (Briant) and Elizabeth locked up because he thinks they are possessed by tainted hereditary madness. It’s up to discredited psychiatrist Professor Falkenberg (Magee) to unravel the dark family secrets involving incest, traumatic suicide and proxy fantasies in this satisfying and unusual late-period masterpiece.
Extras: New featurette – Blood Will Have Blood: Inside Demons of the Mind

C2BB7EFB-1328-4D87-B707-705E379113E3FEAR IN THE NIGHT

Dir: by Jimmy Sangster | Cast Judy Geeson, Joan Collins, Ralph Bates, Peter Cushing | UK | 1976 | 94′

A damaged young girl (Geeson), recovering from a recent nervous breakdown, is about to move with her new husband (Briant) to a secluded boarding school in the country but, the night before they are due to leave, she is attacked by a one-armed man with a prosthetic hand. With no evidence remaining, her kindly old neighbour and the local doctor conclude that she may have imagined the attack and the intruder altogether. The terror follows her and at the school she is attacked again but again her story is met by doubt, this time from her kind and loving new husband. She continues to be terrorised by the mysterious one-armed man, but nobody believes her.
Extras: New featurette – End of Term: Inside Fear in the Night

9DA0E0C1-1ED9-46D9-A532-841BF4DCAC5ASCARS OF DRACULA

Dir: by Roy Ward Baker | Starring Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Patrick Troughton | UK | 1970 | 96′

Count Dracula (Lee) is brought back from the dead when blood from a bat falls on his mouldering ashes and once again spreads his evil from his mountaintop castle. When a young man, Paul, disappears one night, his brother Simon (Waterman) and his girlfriend (Hanley) trace him to the area, discovering a terrified populace. Thrown out of the local inn, they make their way, like Paul before them, towards the sinister castle and its undead host.
Extras: New featurette – Blood Rites: Inside Scars of Dracula

5FB7AF34-6BD5-4200-A000-99B6D4BD70CBDR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE

Dir: Roy Ward Baker | Cast:Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick | UK | 1971 | 97 mins

In Victorian London, Professor Jekyll (Bates), an earnest scientist, obsessively works day and night haunted by the fear that one lifetime will not be enough to complete his research. Side-tracked from his objective he becomes consumed with developing an immortality serum. Once convinced his findings are complete, he consumes the potion only to discover that he is to become two as he turns into half Jekyll and half Hyde. Desperate to cover up his newfound identity he calls her his sister, but things take a turn for the worse when he realises that he needs female hormones if he is to maintain his existence. Before long he is battling with his alter ego Mrs Hyde (Beswick), as a number of young girls begin to go missing in the streets of London…
Extras: New featurette – Ladykiller: Inside Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde

B4674D93-6B5E-4B87-A1BB-45F72FBE630BTO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER

Dir: Peter Sykes | Cast: Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Denholm Elliott, Nastassja Kinski | UK | 1976 | 95 mins

In 1970s London John Verney (Widmark), a renowned occult writer, is approached by Henry Beddows (Elliot) to help rescue his daughter Catherine (Kinski) from a Satanic cult. Catherine is a nun with the Children of the Lord, a mysterious heretical order based in Bavaria and founded by the excommunicated Roman Catholic priest (Lee). When Catherine arrives from Germany, Verney sneaks her away from her bodyguard and takes her to his apartment. The order, however, are determined to get Catherine back and use all the powers of black magic at their disposal in the ensuing battle between the forces of light and darkness
Extras: New featurette – Dark Arts: Inside To the Devil a Daughter

STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING

Dir: by Peter Collinson | Cast: Rita Tushingham, Shane Briant, James Bolam | UK | 1972 | 96 mins)

This is not some sort of night of unmitigated lust chez Dracula, but the tragedy of  young Brenda (Tushingham), an innocent young girl, who leaves her hometown of Liverpool for London in search of love. By chance she meets Clive (Briant). Attractive, debonair and rich he seems to be the handsome Prince Charming she’s been looking for. Clive is actually a deeply disturbed young man and his psychotic tendencies soon manifest themselves and destroy Brenda’s dreams of a fairy-tale life offering instead a kind of COVID-19 style misery – and we all know about that

5603F039-792D-4DEF-BE89-8EB09D72EACCTHE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN

Dir: by Jimmy Sangster | Cast: Ralph Bates, Kate O’Mara | UK | 1970 | 95 mins)

Young Victor Frankenstein (Bates) returns from medical school with a depraved taste for beautiful women and fiendish experiments. But when the doctor runs out of fresh body parts for his ‘research’ he turns to murder to complete his gruesome new creation. Now his monster has unleashed its own ghastly killing spree and the true horror of Frankenstein has only just begun…Extras: New featurette – Gallows Humour: Inside The House of Frankenstein

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA | AVAILABLE On BLURAY AND DVD DOUBLEPLAY  | Amazon | Warner Bros

Apostasy (2017) ***

Dir.: Dan Kokotajlo; Cast: Siobhan Finneran, Sacha Parkinson, Molly Wright, Robert Emms; UK 2017, 96 min

Dan Kokotajlo’s debut feature is an intelligent  study in emotional fascism based on his own experiences. It tells the heart-breaking story of a family in Oldham where three women fall victim to the dogmatic pressures of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, an evangelic organisation with no empathy for its members, and certainly not if they are female.

Ivanna (Finneran) is a middle-aged woman living with her two daughters, college student Luisa (Parkinson) and Alex (Wright) who is still at school. The father is never mentioned, and Ivanna has made sure that both of her daughters are committed to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose ‘Elders’ are, unsurprisingly, all male.

Ivanna embraces every word preached down to her from the institution’s dogmatic Elders and belittles the Catholic Church – hardly a liberal institution – as “airy-fairy, they believe in something like the soul”. Whereas the Jehovah’s Witnesses credo is that the blood of its members is the pure manifestation of the Master God – and should not be messed with, particularly not by medical staff trying to save life.

Apostasy (meaning abandonment of belief) begins in a hospital where a nurse is secretly offering the anaemic Alex a much-needed blood transfusion knowing very well that she has already been stigmatised for having a blood transfusion as a new born. Alex is shy and full of self-doubt largely because she too believes her blood is not “pure” anymore. 

Meanwhile, Luisa not only falls in love with an “unbeliever”, but also gets pregnant by him. This causes a great deal of friction between between the sisters and provides most of the film’s dramatic tension. Luisa’s mother’s darkest fears have come true and Ivanna is only too ready to have her oldest daughter thrown out of the church: in an act euphemistically called a “disfellowship”.  In reality this means that her family is forbidden to communicate with Luisa.

Ivanna is only to ready to follow these orders, and making sure that the same ‘misfortune’ does not befall Alex, finds immediately a suitable husband for her in Stephen (Emms) a shy, insecure young man with hardly any social manners. He, like Ivanna, repeats the church’s dogmas in everyday life, and seems the perfect partner for Alex, who tries hard to be the perfect little soldier for Jehovah. All members wait for the Armageddon to happen soon (even though there was false alarm in 1975), the new system will replace everything known today, and, needless to say, only true disciples of the church will survive to live in this new paradise.

A shocking event then intervenes to slightly destabilise and dilute this rich character study between the women, as the narrative then focuses largely on the church and its influences, which are nonetheless intriguing, but somehow manage to carry the film through.

This is true horror (Kokotajlo grew up in a household of Jehovah’s Witnesses), and impressively acted, particularly by Finneran. It seems unbelievable that the earnest members of the church, who we all encounter at tube stations or at the front door, are capable of such emotional warfare against anybody who disobeys their commands.  Adam Scarth’s images are sparse and lean like the whole production, proving again, that one can create a small masterpiece on a minibudget. AS

NOW ON BBC IPLAYER

Saint Maud (2019) **** Bfi player

Dir/Wri: Rose Glass | Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Frazer, Lily Knight, Marcus Hutton, Turlough Convery, Rosie Sansom, Carl Prekopp, Jonathan Milshaw, Noa Bodner, Rosie Sansom | UK, Fantasy Drama 84′

Rose Glass has been making films since she was 13. Her accomplished first feature is a restrained brew of horror and psychological thriller built round intoxicating performances from Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle as nurse and patient.

The real St Maud lived in 10th century Germany, the daughter of a Saxon nobleman known for her healing hands, but this Maud has a distinctly Welsh sensibilities. Clark is clearly cast for her angelic face, although we see her with fresh blood on her hands in the opening scene which suggests that she is not as pious as she would have us believe when she arrives at the Arts&Crafts villa of a surprisingly vivacious diva who is dying of cancer.

Amanda (Ehle) is clearly not going to “go gentle into that good night” in the words of Dylan Thomas. Fond of Art Deco prints, mid-Sixties furniture and the music of Al Bowlly, Ehle dusts down her purring North Carolina accent and often dons a wig and false eyelashes to create a ravishing portrait of faded glamour which echoes Dorothy Parker or even Cyd Charisse. Bored rigid by her own mortality, and relying on her lover Carol (Frazer) to entertain her, Maud responds by stroking her ego, as a tender nurse whose new found religious fervour reaches orgasmic levels, inspiring both patient and carer to hope for better things in the next life – saved by the power of God. But Maud is jealous of Carol, and her tenure ends in tears. This elegantly crafted first act is bewitched by the squally winter skies of Scarborough, Adam Janota Bzowski’s booming sensaround soundscape and lush lensing from Ben Fordesman.

Once Ehle has left the stage (she does return for a brief blast) the film turns into a rather more disturbing study of untreated mental illness, Glass directing with inventive  flourishes clearly influenced by The Devils and Repulsion. Maud is a disturbed and delusional character suffering from loneliness and a desperate need to control, and clinging to her Christian faith and its emblems for succour. And we really feel for her in this astonishing turn from Clark.

It soon emerges from a chance encounter in the street that she was previously known as Kate, and worked in a hospital where something bad happened. Now offering palliative care through a private agency, Maud has poetically re-styled herself as a contemporary version of Florence Nightingale, and Glass has given clever thought to this imaginative re-branding: Maud is also dogged by dangerous moods and these sequences are accompanied by magic realism and glowing special effects – in one Maud sprouts luminous wings, another sees her incandesce in a really shocking finale.

Maud’s delusional episodes grow increasingly florid as she finds herself alone and unemployable in a dingy basement flat. By the end the reality and fantasy become indistinguishable although this ambiguity never entirely satisfies. But Glass clearly enjoys honing her beast and adding further layers of texture to a characterisation that has haunting implications. Ehle is sadly underused but makes the best of her tortured diva in this really frightening first foray for the British director. MT

IN CINEMAS 9 OCTOBER 2020

Once in a New Moon (1934) ** Talking Pictures

Dir-Scr: Anthony Kimmins/ Cast: Eliot Makeham, Rene Ray, Morton Selten, Wally Patch, Derrick de Marney, John Clements, Mary Hinton. Sci-fi/Fantasy. Fox British. 63 mins

Lurking on Talking Pictures at 6 in the morning is this extraordinary relic of the troubled 1930s (a front page briefly glimpsed during a montage bears the secondary headline ‘Nazi Terrorism in Europe’) in the form of this bizarre British hybrid of Duck Soup and Passport to Pimlico with a large ensemble cast (including a young Thorley Walters glimpsed in his film debut) headed by perennial ‘little man’ Eliot Makeham that anticipates the sort of thing that would soon become associated with the name of Frank Capra.

Much of it attractively shot on rural locations – with a noisy music score, Russian-style editing & directed with a restless camera by the always unpredictable Anthony Kimmins from a 1929 novel by Owen Rutter called ‘Lucky Star’ – the thing is fantasy rather than sci-fi as a tiny village called Shrimpton is blown into space precipitating civil war. There’s a lot of political talk but the suspiciously short running time of 63 minutes suggests substantial pruning before it was passed for exhibition. R Chatten

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES TV

They Came to a City **** (1944) | Dual format release

Dir.: Basil Dearden; Cast: Googie Withers, John Clements, Raymond Huntley, Renee Gadd, Mabe; Terry-Lewis, Fanny Rowe, A.E. Matthews; UK 1944, 77 min.


Basil Dearden (1911-1971) was one of the most undervalued of British directors. His films featured the persecution of homosexuals (Victim, 1961) and the not so latent racism in Sapphire (1959). No surprise therefore that J B Priestley’s little known but worthwhile play They Came to a City (premiered 1943) should capture his imagination in the final days of the Second World War. Taking its title from the Walt Whitman poem ‘The City’, it is a Sartre-like scenario set in a transient underworld, ever more relevant in the current climate.

Nine characters, picked from every stratum of British society, are stranded at the entrance to a city; the huge door is locked, and the protagonists feel unsure of the way ahead. But after the door opens and they are (unlike the audience) allowed into the ‘magic’ city, and soon recover their mindsets, very much the product of their individual places in society. It emerges that this city offers the option of social equality, but  only two will stay. The rest, for whatever reasons, will return to the life they had. 

Of the minor characters, Sir George Gedney (Matthews), is every inch the upper-class gentleman, kept away from his game of golf, and only too ready to forget all the arguments arising from their encounter. Lady Loxfield (Terry-Lewis) is his equal, but her daughter Philippa (Rowe) finds enough strength to cut loose from her over-bearing mother, who is too stunned by her daughter’s sudden resistance, to react. Malcolm Stratton (Huntley) is a bank manager, who looks through the charade of the hierarchy he is working for, calling the chairman of the bank a pompous idiot. But his wife Dorothy (Gadd), totally dependent on him, is fearful of any change, and even promises to be more outgoing if Malcolm returns with her to their middle-class existence. The main couple, barmaid/shop girl Alice (a sparkling Googie Withers) and the explosive seaman Joe (Clements), might be falling in love with each other but nevertheless argue non-stop. She reacts against his aggressive masculinity, and talks of the sexual harassment she encounters at work. He raves on about this new opportunity but has no idea how to make it happen. These two soon become aware that neither they, nor society as a whole, is ready for change.  

Using most of the original stage cast, Dearden directs thoughtfully, letting all the characters explore themselves as much as their hopes for a future. Whilst this often feels stuck in its stagey setting, and would have possibly worked better as a radio play, DoP Stanley Pavey (Home is the Hero) brings a certain poetic realism to the proceedings. In many ways, the doomed affairs of French films such as Quai de Brumes, are re-enacted through a British gaze. Needless to say, They came to a City was a disaster at he box-office, and it is to the credit of Ealing supremo Michael Bacon, that the brave feature came to be be produced at all. MT

ON RELEASE ON A NEW 2K FORMAT FOR THE BEST SURVIVING 35 mm ELEMENT  COMPLETE WITH AUDIO NFT LECTURE BY MICHAEL BALCON IN 1969 | BFI

 

 

 

 

 

Heat & Dust (1983) **** Curzon World

Dir.: James Ivory; Cast: Julie Christie, Greta Scacchi, Shashi Kapoor, Christopher Cazenove, Zakir Hussain, Charles McCaughan, Patrick Geoffrey; UK 1983, 132 min. 

Heat and Dust was the twelfth (of twenty-seven) collaborations between director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Based on the Booker Prize winning novel, the screen adaptation is a break with the social realism of the trio’s earlier features such as Shakespeare Wallah (1965). Its visual opulence made it by far their most successful feature at the box office to date.

Heat and Dust is a lush evocation of the sensuous beauty of India, sashaying between the 1920s and the 1980s in an epic of self-discovery, starring Julie Christie, Shashi Kapoor, and Greta Scacchi in her breakthrough role, with a strong supporting cast

When BBC researcher Anne (Christie) inherits the writings of her great aunt Olivia in 1982, she travels to India to find out more about the ‘scandal’ Olivia caused in 1923. The narrative tells the parallel story of both women. Olivia was married to the naïve and conventional Colonial Civil Servant Douglas Rivers (Cazenove), who had no clue about Olivia’s emotions. Bored by the stifling narrow-mindedness of the ex-patriate community, Olivia soon meets the sophisticated maverick Nawab (Kapoor) who, in his role as Viceroy, runs his private army, often indulging in violence on a grand scale. Olivia falls in love with him, but when she gets pregnant, decides on an abortion for fear of the obvious repercussions. Running away from the British hospital and the reactionary Chief Medical officer (Geoffrey) after the botched surgery, she flees to Kapoor, spending the last years of her life in a villa in the mountains where Kapoor, now deposed by the British, rarely visits her.

Anne traces Olivia’s steps, meeting on her way a young boisterous American would-be-monk (McCaughan), who is only interested in sleeping with her. But his body cannot cope with the foreign lifestyle and diet: Anne puts him into a train back to the USA. In her rooming house, she falls in love with Indor Lai (Hussain), her landlord. She too becomes pregnant, wanting to abort the baby at first, but changing her mind and planning to give birth in a hospital, near the villa, where Olivia lives out her lonely days.

Very much influenced by the writing of E.M. Forster – whose novels would be filmed later by Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala – Heat and Dust is a not so nostalgic look back to the days of the Raj, carried by the spirited Scacchi, who injects a feeling of joie de vivre to the role, growing increasingly melancholy. The 1980s segments are comparably less remarkable. But the feature belongs to DoP Walter Lassally, who not only shot the New English Cinema (A Taste of Honey, Tom Jones) but also won an Oscar for Zorba the Greek. The languid but vivid images of British rule in India would go on to inspire a generation of cinematographers, taking their cue from Walter Lassally. Heat and Dust, whilst not as stunning as the more mature Howards End, is nevertheless a trend setter: The legendary David Lean finished his career with the Forster adaption Passage to India in 1984. AS

NOW ON CURZON WORLD AS PART OF THE James Ivory series. 

      

Quartet (1981) **** Curzon World

Dir.: James Ivory; Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Alan Bates, Maggie Smith, Anthony Higgins; UK/France 1981, 101 min.

Perched between Jane Austen in Manhattan and Heat & Dust; Quartet, based on the novel  by Jean Rhys 1890-1979) and adapted director by Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a promise of what this talented duo would achieve later with the EM Forster trilogy of Room with a View, Maurice and Howard’s End. The autobiographically novel by Rhys, re-telling her affair with Ford Maddox Ford, was ripe for the big screen, and, once again, the lush look of it all compensates for some weakness in the script.

Set in depression era Paris in the mid 1920s, where everywhere pretended to be an artist, even though few actually created real art, we are introduced to Polish born art dealer Stephen Zelli (Higgins) and his wife Marya (Adjani), who was born – like Rhys – in the West Indies. Stephen is soon written out of the storyline – at least for a while –  imprisoned for selling stolen paintings. Marya, penniless and lonely, is taken under the wing of wealthy British couple HJ Heidler (Bates) an art promoter and his wife Lois (Smith), a painter. But the hospitality soon wears thin: Mr Heidler makes unwelcome visits to Marya, sleeping in the guest room, and Lois turns a blind eye. She is well that his actions caused the death of another hapless guest who committed suicide once he withdrew his favours. And when Stephen finally comes back into the picture, and has the chance to save his wife from the clutches of these ‘vampires’, he choses not to. Drama ensues – though without death and destruction. 

We see the world through Marya’s eyes: she is the epicentre, even though a rather phlegmatic Pernod-driven one, her senses blunted as she drifts into passive acquiescence. The novel was told in the third person, but the screen version never really gets into Marya’s mind, leaving her overly enigmatic, her motives explored. This state of limbo facilitates the Heider’s domination, as they feast on an innocent. So we are left in a moral quandary with these contemptuous characters: Heidler a cruel manipulator, his wife desperate to hold on to him and keep up the facade, even if it means hurting another.

Isabelle Adjani took home the awards for Best Actress at Cannes 1982 for Quartet, although she is slightly miscast in her of role of placid waif, and much more at home in Zulawski’s Possession (1981) which also won her the Cannes acting prize. Alan Bates and Maggie Smith on the other hand, are ideal as the evil ‘parents’, always ‘playing the game’ but never accepting the reality of their exploitations. Higgins is rather weak in a underwritten role. DoP Pierre Lhomme creates a visual paradise worthy of a real artist, letting light and watercolours play over designs and faces, creating a dreamlike atmosphere in contrast to the brutal psychological war of HJ Heider. Two years later, Lhomme would photograph Adjani in a similar role in Claude Miller’s Mortelle Randonne. One of the co-producers Humbert Balsam, would later commit suicide and become the tragic anti-hero in Mia Hansen-Løve’s Le Père de mes Enfants. AS

NOW ON CURZON WORLD AS PART OF THE MERCHANT IVORY SERIES.

https://youtu.be/M9louoYq9c8

The Importance of Being Oscar (2018) ** DVD release

Dir.: Richard Curson-Smith; Commentated excerpts from Oscar Wilde plays with Anna Chancellor, Anna Devlin, James Fleet, Freddie Fox, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Freddie Fox, Alice Orr-Erwing, Nicholas Rowe, Claire Skinner, Ed Stoppard; UK 2020, 84 min.

If you are expecting another amusing arthouse drama from one of Ireland’s greatest writers, you will be disappointed by this pot pourri of Wilde’s work. Director/producer Richard Curson-Smith, whose TV portraits of Nureyev, Ted Hughes and Francis Bacon are highlights of the BBC programming, fails in his attempt to have Wilde scholars connect his work with his stormy life story. The Importance just makes you yearn for a whole play, especially with this fine assembled cast of Freddie Fox, Anna Chancellor and Ed Stoppard. And although the dramatised excerpts are enjoyable in themselves, there are too many talking heads, the only engaging commentators on Wilde being Giles Brandreth and Stephen Fry who share early tit-bit such as his appearance in ‘Punch’ magazine.

They discuss Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience (1988), a parody of the genius-in-the-making. We learn, that Wilde went to the USA in 1882, and was greatly impressed by the circus impresario Phineas Taylor Barnum. On his return he became, among other occupations, a contributor and editor to London outlet ‘The Strand Magazine’. From this era there are  excerpts from The Canterville Ghost (1887), a short story. There is an interesting (part) dramatisation of his essay The decay of Lying (1882). Equally captivating is De Profundis (1897), which got the same treatment as the above mentioned essay, quoting from Wilde’s letters from prison, published posthumously in 1905.

But his famous society plays, as well as a part adaption of The Portrait of Dorian Gray make up most of the running time, and commentary concentrates on the well known trial of Wilde for homosexuality, instigated by the Marquise of Queensbury, whose son, Alfred Lord Douglas, was Wilde’s long term lover. What the film does establish is that Wilde was imprisoned not so much for his homosexuality but because, as a wealthy man of society and standing, he took advantage of less fortunate members of the community in the shape of rent boys desperate for money. As such Wilde’s story connects to the narrative of the #metoo movement.

Wilde’s grandson features but adds nothing sparkling to the party and DoP Graham Smith’ images are perfunctionary. And this is one example where an attempt to cram the life and work of a major literary figure into just 84 minutes should be questioned. Surely, the subject deserves much more – and this goes not only for the length of this rather flimsy affair. AS

ON DVD FROM 11 MA Y 2020

 

Testimony (1987) ***** Streaming

Dir.: Tony Palmer; Cast: Ben Kingsley, Sherry Baines, Magdalen Asquith, Mark Asquith, Terence Rigby, Ronald Pickup, John Shrapnel, Robert Stephens; UK 1987/8, 151′.

British director Tony Palmer (Bird on a Wire) has an impressive track record, mostly connected to music, and particularly composers. His portrait of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is easily his masterpiece. Although Palmer is criticised for basing his biopic on the controversial Solomon Volkov, the aesthetic brilliance of the feature, and an imaginative script by David Rudkin produce a feast for ears and eyes. This tour de force is crowned with Ben Kingsley as a brilliant Shostakovich, DoP Nic Knowland (The Duke of Burgundy) producing grainy black and white images, which are often not discernible from the archive footage of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, or the quotes from early Eisenstein films.

Palmer presents his film as a metaphorical duel between Shostakovich and Stalin (Rigby). Even though, in reality the two never met, and only spoke once to each other on the ‘phone, Stalin is a constant presence in the composer’s life. Married to the independent Nina (Baines), with two children, Gala and Maxim (Magdalen and Mark Asquith), Shostakovich had a rather turbulent family life. But the ordinary quarrels were forgotten at night, when the pair cuddled up in bed, listening to noises on the staircase, generally signalling some confrontation between neighbours and the Secreti Police.

The composer slept with a packed suitcase (warm clothing and toothbrush) under his bed for decades. Shostakovich’s name was on Stalin’s ever growing growing list of enemies (as was Rachmaninoff), the dictator had noted the composer’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in 1936. Stalin and his entourage had left the theatre in anger, and Shostakovich had to withdraw his Forth Symphony, simply to stay alive. He took to composing music for the cinema, and we watch him in the cutting room, discussing the score with the director. It should be said, that both Stalin and Shostakovich have much more of a physical presence than a verbal one. The composer seems often resigned, biting his tongue, whilst Stalin is never happier that when he is going though the list of artists who he can eliminate with a stroke of his pen. Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, actually called an apology of a Soviet composer for earlier mistakes, brought him back into favour. His greatest triumph was the war time composition of the 7. Symphony, the Leningrad, which got him on the cover of Time. But all this was forgotten when he (and other composers such as Prokofiev and Kachaturian) were accused by Polit-Bureau member Zhadanov (Shrapnel) at the Congress of Soviet Composers in 1948, to have written music that indulged in Formalism, avoiding any positive messages for the proletariat. But a year later, Stalin telephoned Shostakovich asking him to attend the International Peace Conference in New York. There the question of Formalism was raised again, and Shostakovich accused himself and other composers – Stravinsky was one – of the error of making music for the sake of the form. Stalin died in 1953, and Palmer added a dream sequence in which the dead Stalin visits the dying composer, who tells him: “Looking back, I see nothing but ruins, but mountains of corpses.”

There are unforgettable images: Stalin’s huge stone head rolling toward the composer, threatening to crush him. And then there is the scene with the composer on a raft, playing the piano, sinking deeper and deeper into the water, with Lenin’s sculpted head on fire. Most of the music is played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Rudolf Barshai – with all the music pieces shot in colour.

Testimony was not really a critical success at its opening but has matured into a classic, Palmer triumphing, but never again reaching the heady heights of perfection with this idiosyncratic, extravagant, essayist reflection on art and politics. AS

NOW STREAMING ONLINE    

  

The Carer (2016) *** Vimeo on demand

Dir.: Janos Edelenyi; Cast: Brian Cox, Anna Chancellor, Emilia Fox, Coco König | UK 2016, 88 min.

Veteran Hungarian director/co-writer Janos Edelenyi (Prima Primavera), who has mainly worked for Hungarian Television, misses the beat in this rather simplistic comedy – despite Brian Cox as the main character.

He is Sir Michael, a Shakespearian actor in the final stages of Parkinsons, living on his opulent estate in Kent where he rails against “the dying of the light”. His daughter Sophia (Fox) and ex-flame Milly (Chancellor) try to be kind and sympathetic, but he has no time for either of them, or any of his carers, who have left after falling out this him.

Then a young Hungarian women called Dorottya arrives (König). She is trying to make it on the British stage, but eventually wins Sir Michael over, even discussing his incontinence openly. His rather scheming daughter Sophia feels threatened by the newcomer and dismisses her. Declaiming King Lear in anger, Sir Michael suffers a heart attack, but that brings Dorottya back on the scene: taking him to an award ceremony in his honour, and thwarting Sophia’s plans for a million pound donation.

The end credits contain photos and extensive information about happy-endings for all concerned. What could have been an enjoyable romp is, at best, a show-case for Cox and at worse a cliché-ridden, rather soulless and confused primitive farce. DoP Tibor Mathe’s visuals aim to convey an emotional story: but that would require a texture he doesn’t bring to the aesthetic. Using digital cameras to convey emotion has been successfully tried with the use of vintage lenses or post-productions means. Neither were applied in this case, and the result is a smooth, undefined and damp image. The overall result brings nothing to the care-giving merry go round, a theme that has endless potential yet to be mined. AS

OUT ON VIMEO ON DEMAND

Elgar (1962) **** Streaming and on Blu-ray

Dir: Ken Russell | UK, Doc 55′

Elgar was Ken Russell making a straightforward musical biopic under the strict control of Huw Wheldon’s guidance. And it certainly works to the film’s advantage when compared to the bloated and faintly ludicrous charades notably: Tommy and Lisztomania.

With its velvety black and white visuals and soaring score of orchestral masterpieces and more delicate pieces for the violin and cello, Russell was able to convey another portrait of creative angst while retaining the composer’s lofty romantic vision inspired by his walks in the rolling Malvern Hills. Weldon was the Head of the BBC and had put a dampener on Russell by banning dramatisations of the lives of real people. Russell used the difficulty cleverly getting round this by using actors filmed at a distance and no dialogue allowing the music too do its tour de force. Although Elgar sometimes veers on the didactic with Weldon’s stentorious narration overlaying the graceful set pieces showing a young boy (‘Elgar’ ) riding across the English landscape or through country lanes on a bicycle (with the love of his life Alice), this ethereal melding of sound and vision showed Russell at his best, despite – and perhaps because of – the limitations.

Elgar had a love of the countryside and it served as his muse when composing during his daily forays in the open air. By the time he returned home the compositions were fully formed in his mind, he had only to write them down. Russell traces the composer’s lowly background; his meeting Alice (Caroline Alice (1889-1920) who pioneered the way forward, never giving up on her arrant belief in his talent.

Elgar’s music captured the imagination of the Germans and finally took flight during the First World War, when the British public finally took him to their hearts with his talent for rousing marching music, and Russell’s film is enriched with brilliant archive footage showing all the pomp and circumstance of these celebrations, but also the quiet moments of self-doubt and reflection. But above all this is a true love story of the best kind: Where belief and perseverance drive the romance forward to great heights. Real love is not staring into each other’s eye, but looking in the same direction, as Elgar discovered. Alice was the making of this most English of our composers. And Russell’s Elgar is a small gem.

NOW ON BLURAY | STREAMING ONLINE

 

Mahler (1974) **** Russell and the Music Makers

Dir.: Ken Russell; Cast: Robert Powell, Georgina Hale, Les Montague, Rosalie Crutchley, Gary Rich, Richard Morant, Antonia Ellis, Peter Eyre, David Collings; UK 1974, 115 min.

Mahler is a picture of elegant restraint compared with the crudely salacious Gothic, Lisztomania and Tommy. Ken Russell’s portrait of Austro-Hungarian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) is full of poignancy, Robert Powell conveying the composer’s inner angst and but also his finesse, despite the endless turmoil of his troubled personal life that was pierced by tragedy that defines but never quite engulfs this subdued but redolent arthouse masterpiece with its nuanced colour palette that reflects the highs and lows . Being Jewish, Mahler had to convert to Catholicism in order to be chief-conductor of the Vienna Court Opera, even though a campaign was launched to have him removed from the position. In 1902 he married Alma Schindler, a fellow composer, who was twenty-five years his junior. Until near the end of his life, she insisted he refrain from composing. The couple had two daughters, one of them, Maria, died in 1907 of scarlet fever. Russell tells his life story in flashbacks, starting with his last journey to Vienna, a month before his death, after he had returned from New York.

The story begins as Mahler is returning to his home in Austria with Alma (Hale) after time spent in New York conducting at the Metropolitan opera. In the first flashback, Mahler (Powell) is pictured composing in Maiernigg, his summer house, where he demands absolute quietness for his creative process to flow. Next we see little Gustav (Rich) at home with his parents, his father Bernhard (Montague) abusing his mother Marie (Crutchley) so badly that the boy runs away. Gustav was very close to his brother Otto (Eyre), whose financial worries  and later contributed to his suicide, just after Mahler’s appointment at the Vienna Court Opera.

Meanwhile back in the train, Gustav is suddenly confronted with Alma’s lover Max (Morant), a character representative of Alma’s real lover, the architect Walter Gropius whom she would marry after Mahler’s death. Mahler is so traumatised by seeing Max, he faints and dreams of his own death. The couple discuss their troubled marriage set against another flashback, Mahler’s fight to become Chief Conductor at the Court Opera. These emotional scenes jostle with sequences picturing the nervous breakdown of his friend, the composer Hugo Wolff (Collings).

Cosima Wagner (Ellis) appears as an Aryan Viking amazon, barring Mahler from becoming Chief Conductor. We witness the fight between the Alma and Gustav, just after the death of Maria, Alma complaining Mahler provoked her fate with his composition the KinderTotenLieder. In the end, Mahler and Alma reconcile, and Max leaves the train. In real life, Mahler shared his wife with Gropius for the last two years of his life, after having met Freud in Leyden in August 1910 for a consultation – the latter episode surprisingly not part of Russell’s feature. 

DoP Dick Bush (Yanks) uses vibrant colours for certain sequences, such as Cosima’s Valkyrie appearance, but whenever Mahler’s music is played the palette is suffused with mellow warmth. A dull sepia for the train journey underlines the funereal atmosphere of the whole endeavour. Powell and Hale’s onscreen chemistry is real and convincing, but Russell lets Mahler’s music take centre stage. AS

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

   

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) **** Streaming

Dir: Michael Powell. Wri: Emeric Pressburger | Cast: Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook, Deborah Kerr, Roland Culver, Harry Welchman, Arthur Wontner, Albert Lieven, John Laurie, Ursula Jeans, James McKechnie, Reginald Tate, David Hutcheson, A.E.Matthews | Drama. 163 mins.

Those editing the meticulously kept diaries of Dr Goebbels, now housed in Moscow, usually omit his observations on the cinema (which will hopefully one day make a fascinating book in it’s own right); but he would doubtless have been aware of the determined efforts of Winston Churchill to prevent this film from being made, and recorded his thoughts on the matter.

Films don’t always end up the way their makers originally envisaged at their outset, and the maiden production of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s Archers Films would have turned out completely differently had Laurence Olivier been freed from the Fleet Air Arm to make it; since it is now impossible to imagine without third-billed Roger Livesey and his distinctive voice in the title role (in which at the age of 36 he convincingly ages forty years). The makers’ relative inexperience shows in the fact that they ended up with a initial cut over two and a half hours long; but fortunately J.Arthur Rank liked the film so much he let it hit cinemas as it was. Indeed, it was Pressburger’s favourite of the Rank outings, and would go on to influence the work of future filmmakers such as Scorsese in his The Age of Innocence and Tarantino who copied the device of beginning and ending a film be rerunning the same scene from the point of view of different characters.

Irony was obviously lost on Winnie, and basing the central character upon a cartoon caricature that personified all that was most stupid and reactionary about the British establishment in wartime doubtless seemed to the Prime Minister (and others) tantamount to treason. Blimp’s left-wing creator David Low authorised the production on the one condition that Blimp be revealed as the fool he was (and professed himself thoroughly satisfied with the result). But the very title stresses that Colonel Blimp’s day is hopefully now past (just as the present coronavirus crisis hopefully means the death of ‘austerity Britain’, although I’m not holding my breath).

The British can take enormous pride in having been on the side that made this film written by a Hungarian Jew, with an Austrian leading man, a French cameraman, music by a Polish composer and sets by a German production designer, rather than the side that made ‘Die Ewige Jude’; and one can only marvel at the magnanimity that made it possible to produce a film when this country was engaged in a fight for its very survival, as pro-German as it is anti-Nazi. Richard Chatten.

AVAILABLE ON BBC2 | 26 APRIL 2020 | BBC & BFI PLAYER 

Lisztomania (1975) ** Russell and the Music Makers

Dir.: Ken Russell; Cast: Roger Daltrey, Sara Kestelman, Paul Nicholas, Ringo Starr, Fiona Lewis, Veronica Quilligan; UK 1975, 103 min.

Ken Russell was really impressed with Roger Daltrey: so much so he cast him in two features released in 1975: Tommy and Lisztomania, an expression invented by German opera impresario Heinrich Heiner to describe the craze for Liszt that developed at the Bolshoi in the 1840s  – akin to Beatlemania (Ringo Star is ironically cast here as The Pope). Accused of being too crass and self-indulgent for the first, Russell easily surpassed all limits of taste and showmanship in his biopic of the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, successfully taking the cinema back to where it first began: as a sensational fairground attraction for the masses.

We meet Liszt (Daltrey) in bed with Countess d’Agoult (Lewis). The Count discovers them ‘in flagrante’ and nails them into the body of a piano, placing it on the railway track. This serves as a start of flashbacks in which Liszt meets Richard Wagner (Nicholas), putting him off with his flashy piano interpretation of the German’s opera Rienzi, whilst courting rich women in the audience. One of them, Princess Carolyn (Kestelman) gives Liszt her address in Russia. Two of Liszt’s children are killed, and he is left with Cosima (Quilligan). He tells her he would do everything, even enter a pact with the Devil, to compose brilliant music again. Following the Princess to Russia, she promises he will compose the music he longs for if she is put in charge of his life. Hallucinating, Liszt sees the women of the Princess’ household assaulting him, before they become seduced by his music – and his ten feet penis.

In Dresden, Germany, Wagner becomes embroiled in the May Uprising. Wagner is injured in the fighting, and when Liszt is tending to his wounds, Wagner drugs Liszt, who passes out. Wagner turns into a vampire, sucking Liszt’s blood. Later Liszt and Carolyn travel to Rome to  persuade the the Pope (Starr) to allow Carolyn to divorce. The marriage is annulled at final stage by Carolyn’s husband. Liszt enters a cloister, but is soon found in bed with a woman. Meanwhile Wagner has seduced Cosima, while evil Jews are seen raping blond Aryan girls. Cosima and Wagner wear Superman outfits, promising to kill all Jews to cement the advent of the super race. Wagner later confesses he has built a mechanical Viking Siegfried. But Liszt plays his music, and Wagner is nearly exorcised, when Cosima kills Liszt. Finally, Liszt is re-united with the women he loved and Cosima (sic), singing, that he has finally found peace.

Together with Mahler and Tchaikovsky’s The Music Lovers, Lisztomania is the third outlandishly baroque composer biopic Russell directed in stark contrast to the sober, factual and deeply affecting black-and-white BBC portraits of Elgar, Debussy and Delius he made accompanied by Huw Weldon’s sonorous narrations, before been taken over by his own hyperbole. Legendary DoP Peter Suschitzky, who would also photograph Russell’s next feature Valentino, tries his best to keep up a carnival atmosphere. The spectacular moments – and the in-voluntary Chaplin imitations, produce a distorted mix of an orchestrated party. It would be wrong to talk about Lisztomania in terms of having aged badly – it was never more than a miserable, self-indulgent trip by a director, who had fallen victim to his own folly de grandeur. AS

AVAILABLE ON BLURAY and PRIME VIDEO and BFIPLAYER

      

Bartok (1964) ***** Russell and the Music Makers

Dir.: Ken Russell; Cast: Boris Ranevsky, Pauline Boty, Sandor Eles, Peter Brett, Rosalind Watkins, Huw Wheldon (narrator); UK  1964, 50 min. (For BBC ‘Monitor’)

Ken Russell’s first feature film French Dressing (a re-make of a Roger Vadim And God Created Woman) in 1964 was a critical and financial disaster. So back he went to the BBC’s Monitor/Omnibus, a long-running Arts magazine series, that would spawn a host of black and white musical biopics including a triumphant study of Elgar (1962) and an innovative look at the Hungarian composer. Bela Bartok (1881-1945). When Russell returned to feature films in 1967 with the Len Deighton adaption of A Billion Dollar Brain, the result was, sadly, similar to his 1964 outing. But you could never accuse him of being banal.

There are many parallels between Bartok and Elgar, mainly their love of the countryside, which is reflected in their music. But Bartok (like his music) was a much less straightforward character than the rather robust Victorian Elgar: he was downbeat, full of angst and loss, suffering an eventual exile, which robbed him of his beloved Hungarian countryside.

We start with a reflexion on The Miraculous Mandarin, influenced by Stravinsky and Schoenberg. But there are also undertones of Debussy, who was one of his great admirers. Russell’s narrative is darkly erotic – the ballet features a girl who is led by men to seduce clients making love to them until death. Then there is a young sex worker (Boty) whose engagement with a client (Eles), is interrupted by her pimps. They rob him, let him escape, but again catch up with him, beating him up again. The rather violent sex (and misogyny) united Bartok and the Russell of his later films. The same goes for the one act Opera Bluebird’s Castle, where we follow Bluebird (Brett) and his latest wife Judith (Watkins). She does not want any secrets between them and pays with her life, when the last chamber is opened she gets a good glimpse of the bodies of his previous wives.

Huw Wheldon was much more than just the narrator of Bartok – he had been made Controller of BBC One. As such he wielded enormous power, and (again) refused any re-construction (docu-drama) of real events. Bartok begins with the composer (Ranevsky) as an old man, according to Wheldon’s commentary, in poor health and fighting his demons. But overall “Bartok struggled all his life to maintain his privacy, he was an alien in an alien world”. This condition found its way into his music, a theme Russell graphically conveys into images: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is underlined by Bartok’s near paranoid loneliness. Showing his isolation, claustrophobia, later repeated on a crowded escalator: a permanent descent into the nadir.

Bartok’s fragility is understandable, given the state of Hungary: after growing nationalism the First World War brought Hungary independence from the hated House of Habsburg; but what followed was the chaos of the Räte Republic and immediately afterwards the semi-fascist rule by Admiral Horthy. The latter lasted until the end of WWII, and Bartok forbade his work to be performed in Germany and Italy, even though he needed the royalties. He did well to escape to the USA with his second wife in 1940. Wheldon describes his music for Divertimento for String Orchestra from 1939 as a “statement of grief.” Later Bartok wrote in one his letters: “What an elemental disease home sickness is, how overwhelming. What a strict law lies here, not likely to be disturbed. Hungary had never meant more to anybody.”

Bartok had always fought the Germanic influence in Hungary’s cultural life. He, like Elgar, fled the big city and ventured out into the countryside. “Whenever possible, he got away into the plains and villages of Hungary, living with the peasants and sharing their life. He conducted a systematic investigation of the whole peasant music tradition of Hungary.”                              

Another emigrant, Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov put it like this: “I discovered in nature the non-egalitarian delights that I thought in art. Both were forms of magic, both were a game of intricate enchantment and deception.” But there was a lot of darkness in Bartok and his music, and this nocturnal quality is reflected in the vivid images. Quoting Wheldon again we learn “that nocturnal themes, famous now as Bartok’s Night Music, turn up quite explicitly, again and again, over the the whole of his output.” This goes particularly for Bartok’s final composition Concerto for Orchestra. A mourning song text, that he had collected in 1913 seems perfectly related to the music: “Oh you black and woeful earth!/Who ever gets inside you/Nevermore comes back gain/Many people have you swallowed/Yet you haven’t had your fill.” Written by a man, who found life in New York (in spite of a teaching post at Columbia) a brutal experience.

Russell and DoP Charles Parnall navigate their way though loss, grief and anguish, bringing out the fate of Bartok in poetic sequences, using his music to underline the complexity of his compositions. The overall tone is always reflects the thematic darkness: the destruction of total war. Like the last words in Bluebird’s Castle: “Henceforth, there shall be darkness, darkness, darkness.”  AS

BARTOK ON THE BBC MONITOR SERIES 1964 | MONITOR

   

 

Hockney: A Life in Pictures (2014)

hockDirector: Randall Wright | 113min   UK Biopic

“We grow small trying to be great”.

Born in a tightly-terraced house in Bradford, the fourth of five children, David Hockney’s early memories were of darkness and claustrophobia. It was a happy and aspirational childhood with his strong mother and a father who encouraged him not to care about what the neighbours thought, and fired his imagination and enthusiasm for the world outside with regular visits to ‘the pictures’.

Randall Wright’s portrait of the artist is as ambitious and upbeat as Hockney himself, enlightened by archival material and enriched by cine footage from Hockney’s family collection. Spanning a career that started in local art school and the RCA as a popular and gently opinionated maverick, it shows how he was associated with the Pop Art movement of the 60s, abstract expressionism and figurative work, and is now considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century, and the most expensive living artist when his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures (1972) was sold at Christie’s for 80 million dollars under the hammer in November 2018.

Kicking off with the usual talking heads who share their fondness for the artist contemporaries and American pals (Ed Ruscha who fleshes out a picture of a philosophical thinker, capable of amiable friendship, lively wit and occasional bouts of introspective loneliness: “I think the absence of Love is Fear”). After a sexually and artistically explorative spell in 1960s New York (his blond hairstyle was the result of a Clairol advert on TV), Hockney gravitated to California spending many years developing his technique with acrylics in bright colours, a fascination with the spacial qualities of water and swimming pools led to his most famous work: A Bigger Splash (1967) – the splash took seven days to paint.

Friendships with Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachandry feature heavily during these years along with a love affair for Peter Schlesinger, an art student who also posed for him and followed him back to London where Tchaik Chassey designed a lateral apartment for the couple in Kensington. Embarking on a series of portraits for friends and relatives, we also meet Celia Birtwell who appeared with Ossie Clark in his other well-known figurative painting, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970/71).

Continually broadening his artistic horizons, Hockney also stresses the intellectual side of art as opposed to photography: “the longer it takes to put (an image) together, the more representative it becomes of time and space”. Hockney also developed an interest in Opera due to his gift of synesthesia, an ability to see bright colours when listening to music. His iPad paintings are possibly his most innovative work with landscape, developing and exploring a spacial awareness unique to painting and allowing us to chart the development of his paintings from the first marks  “the way we depict space and the way we behave in it are different – wider perspectives are needed now”.

Filled with serenity, insight and gentle humour, Randall Wright’s biopic overflows with information, facts and fascinating footage, packing in every subtle nuance of this remarkable creative force in just over two hours.  We are left with a feeling of pride and admiration for our national figure who is as charmingly appealing and strangely naive and this colourful legacy. MT

HIS LATEST EXHIBITION entitled THE ARRIVAL OF SPRING 2020 IS NOW SHOWING AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY IN LONDON

HOCKNEY: A LIFE IN PICTURES IS ON DVD

 

 

Violent Playground (1958) **** free online

Dir.: Basil Dearden; Cast: Stanley Baker, Anne Heywood, David McCallum, Peter Cushing, Brona Boland, Fergal Booland; UK 1958, 108 min.

In the 1950s British director Basil Dearden (Victim, 1961) made a string of solidly-crafted features that explored racism, homophobia and other social issues that once again came into focus once the War was over. Although not as gritty and powerful as Rossellini’s Rome Open City the crowd scenes in post war Liverpool express the same frothing social unease in this slice of British Neo realist pic that make great use of the war-scarred locations of a city, enlivened by its immigrant influx from China and Ireland, yet down on its knees in the aftermath of the Blitz. Some critics have accused Dearden of being maudlin and preachy but there’s nothing remotely sentimental about Violent Playground , written by James Kennaway, with brilliant exterior photography by Reg Johnson, set mostly in the Gerard Garden estate of the Northern port.

It stars a hard-nosed Stanley Baker as Detective Sergeant Jack Truman leading an investigation into an arson attack perpetrated by the so-called “firefly” when he rubs his superiors up the wrong way and is transferred to Juvenile Liaison, a remit that sits badly with his tough guy image, but soon brings out his ‘caring’ side. His first ‘case’ concerns two under-fives, Mary and Patrick Murphy who are engaged in a pilfering racket in the High Street. Returning the kids to their home on the Estate, he comes up against the leader of the rebellious youth group and older brother of the pint-sized delinquents, Johnny Murphy, and McCullum makes for an impressive criminal in the role.  Johnnie and his gang have been terrorising the local Chinese laundry workers Alexander and Primrose. But when Johnnie sees Truman, whom he immediately identifies as a cop, even though dressed in civvies, he tamps down his activities. Later Truman will fall for the forth member of the Murphy family, the responsible Katherine (Heywood).

Meanwhile Johnnie goes about his business, burning down properties, Truman not cottoning on to his identity, and only making the connection when Johnnie accidentally kills Alexander  while making a getaway from a crime scene.  Armed with a machine gun, Johnnie then holds siege to the Scotland Road school building full of kiddies. A local Catholic priest played by Peter Cushing is also injured when he tries to gain access to the building via a ladder.

The hostage scene is the triumph of the feature, and brilliantly directed. Baker makes for a stern but compassionate hero, playing against type here on the right side of the law. McCallum rocks as the psychotic rock’n’roll antihero, a far cry from his suave Man from UNCLE image that was to follow. The music sets him (and his gang) in a sort of trance, where he even considers taking Truman on, before he finally comes to his senses. Heywood’s Kathy is a too goody-two-shoes to be believable. But Brona and Fergal Boland as Mary and Patrick, often steal the show in naturalistic performances as the two precociously criminal kids, often taking the wind out of Baker’s wings.  Despite his spiritual credentials Peter Cushing feels strangely underwhelming, his Father Laidlaw is ineffective and under-cooked. Dearden directs the mass scenes of the parents in front of the school, clamouring for their children, with great sensibility – a good rehearsal for Khartoum (1966). This gritty story with its important social implications certainly suited Dearden’s style, if only he’d taken on more of the same, l instead of opting for soppy relationship conflicts.

NOW AVAILABLE Free on Youtube

 

The Whalebone Box (2019) **** Home Ent release

Dir/Wri: Andrew Kötting | UK, Doc with Anonymous Bosch, Andrew Kötting, Nick Gordon Smith. Philippe Ciompi, Eden Kötting, Iain Sinclair, Philip Hoare, Macgillivray, Kyunwai So, Ceylan Ünal, Helen Paris, Steve Dilworth.

Artist, writer and director Andrew Kötting has built up a string of quintessentially British films. The Whalebone Box is another of his experimental jaunts made with his regular collaborator Iain Sinclair, and the photographer Anonymous Bosch.

Discovered in LondonM the box in question is bound in fishing nets and reputed to convey healing properties in the Scottish town of its origin, which is desperately down on its luck. So the two men start their eventful journey north to return it to the Scottish home of the sculptor Steve Dilworth, a Hull native who has settled on the island of Harris, in the Outer Hebrides.

What is the secret behind this enigmatic container? Is it a relic, a survivor from a mysterious shipwreck, or a magical totem?. The mystery gives rise to an expedition suffused with evocative reveries, drenched in strange fairytales, folklore, dark humour and sonic interludes. The travellers are gradually mesmerised by the power of this enchanted object which gradually becomes “heavier and heavier, turning into a different substance”,

A parallel strand intertwines with the 800 mile pilgrimage, this features Andrew Kötting’s daughter Eden, who has already appeared in several of his earlier films. Eden suffers from Joubert’s disease and her presence lends an eerie vulnerability adding texture to the fascinating narrative. From the depths of her sleep, or adorned with a magnificent crown of flowers and binoculars, she is the film’s muse and guide, attempting to interpret the strange and mystical goings on. But so is a whale with its mournful atavistic cries – embodying nature’s suffering at the hands of humanity.

As usual there are cul-de-sacs and detours, and these feature the dead poets Basil Bunting and Sorley MacLean and the sculptor Steve Dilworth – the film also borrows from Pandora and Moby Dick and takes its 10 chapter headings from Philip Hoare’s novel Leviathan, or the Whale. One thing is sure – the box must never be opened, and therein lies a sense of anticipation and wonder – little did the men know the delirium they would unleash. Eventually they reach the white sands of Harris where they intend to return the box to its original resting place. Shot in Super 8, 16mm this is a strange, haunting and magical film. Just watch out for the post credit sting. MT

NOW ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD |

 

Battle of the Sexes (1960) *** Home Ent release

Dir: Charles Crichton | Cast: Peter Sellers with Robert Morley, Constance Cummings and Donald Pleasence | UK Comedy 84′

Comedy genius Peter Sellers gives one of his best performances in this famously sharp-edged satire on sexual politics in the 1950s workplace.

The sleepy staff of Macpherson’s traditional Scottish tweed firm get a rude awakening when young Macpherson (Robert Morley, Theatre of Blood) hires a feisty American efficiency expert Angela Barrows (Constance Cummings, Blithe Spirit). She advocates new-fangled horrors like automation and – ghastliest of all – ‘synthetic fibre’.  Can nothing stop her? Nothing, perhaps, but meek accountant Mr Martin (Peter Sellers). Beneath that placid surface, still waters run deep; to balance the books, he decides, he must erase the ‘error’.

Made just after I’m All Right, Jack, this misleadingly titled version of James Thurber’s The Catbird Seat transposed to fifties Scotland was both Peter Sellers’ final character part (recalling his elderly projectionist Percy Quill in The Smallest Show on Earth) and his first starring role as a shuffling old accountant driven to thoughts of murder by American efficiency expert Constance Cummings.

It’s more a battle of cultures or of generations in the vein of an Ealing comedy than of the sexes; as befits Michael Balcon’s maiden production for his newly formed company Bryanston. Directed by Ealing veteran Charles Crichton, it is also considerably enhanced by the glacial black & white photography of the rabbit warren in which Sellers works and on the streets of Edinburgh by Oscar-winning cameraman Freddie Francis fresh from Room at the Top. R Chatten

Blu-ray/DVD release on 20 April 2020 with simultaneous release on BFI Player, iTunes and Amazon

5qMhRR8I

 

 

 

 

The Ponds (2018) Netflix

Dirs: Patrick McLennan, Samuel Smith | UK Doc | 76′

“If you can face the water at 5 degrees, you can face anything”  

Hampstead is still reeling from the unauthentic romcom that took its name in 2017. So hurrah for this  documentary that reflects the real Hampstead, London’s hilly heartland and home to 320 hectares of woods and pastures. Hampstead Heath also has several fresh water ponds where all year round visitors can wallow and frolic or simply just swim.

The Ponds is Patrick McLennan’s debut as co-director/producer along with Samuel Smith, and he also wrote the script. Drone footage captures the changing seasons chronologically, beginning with early Spring. We meet regulars Dan, David and Jim who extol the virtues – and rigours – of this open air communal bathing experience. There are even some local swimmers in their 80s who consider it a must for their health and social life – even though at times the water is a spine-tingling 2 or 3 degrees. But the endorphin rush is addictive and life-affirming.

From the 1880s these ponds were regulated for the local community. Tom is part of a hard core of 60 or so bathers who take a dip at least once or twice a week in the chilly brackish waters. He considers it his place of ‘religious’ worship. From the 1920s local women got their own segregated pond which is regarded by the female regulars as a spiritual place to reunite against life’s hardships, and maintain confidence in their bodies – even though they may not even know each other names. And although the men’s ponds see more nude swimmers, some female interviewees gives us a flash of their assets, just to be going on with.

Tom forms the connective tissue of the film with his eventful life story. He sees his swim as a chance to disassociate from the “silliness of life”. This was particularly important when he was nearly killed in a road accident in Oxford Circus. Another regular Carrie, has battled cancer and found the Ponds invaluable for keeping her hope alive. And she doesn’t get so many colds!

Oliver completely fell in love with the Heath and its ponds and when his romance finished. He felt bereft moving back to Camberwell. He now returns to the Heath every day. Another keen bather suffers from degenerative blindness and describes how his daily fresh water exercise is a life-saver.

Whilst the older swimmers talk of the spirituality, social and health benefits of pond swimming, the young express their joy of escaping the city to enjoy the open air with their friends in the heat of the summer. It’s a melting pot for rich and poor, old and young, gay and bisexual, families and singles. David now prefers the open-air freshness to his local gym experience and he’s incorporated his workout into his swimming time. In his youth he even used to wear a weighted vest to improve his strength and endurance.

Made on a shoestring budget, and none the worse for it, The Ponds is a graceful and cinematic documentary that shows how the trend for fresh water swimming can provide a bonding experience, enriching and supporting the local community. The film ends on a high note at the end of the season – with a competitive swim for Christmas. Keeping up with the zeitgeist, some locals air mixed feelings about trans-gender bathing, but a more burning issues is why the women’s pond has no diving board. “We want to bounce ourself in”, said one feisty female. I’ll second that. MT

NOW ON NETFLIX

Military Wives (2019) ***

Dir.: Peter Cattaneo; Cast: Kristin Scott-Thomas, Sharon Horgan, India Ria Amateifio, Gaby French, Amy James-Kelly, Greg Wise, Lara Rossi; UK 2019, 112 min.

Since his breakout success with The Full Monty (1997) Peter Cattaneo has made more low key features, switching his talents to TV in the past decade. Military Wives is another crowd-pleaser, scantily clad men replaced by singing spouses of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. Written by Rosanna Flynn and Rachel Tunnard, Military Wives has a few flickers of authenticity, following in the wake of the BBC series The Choir, which sees 2000 military spouses singing in 74 choirs nationwide.

The battle here is between posh colonel’s wife Kate (a brilliant Scott-Thomas), still mourning the loss of her son on the last Afghanistan tour, and tipple-loving Lisa (Horgan) who runs the local convenience shop on the army premises. Somehow the idea of a choir becomes a reality with Jess (French) shining as a stunning soloist. Lisa has trouble keeping daughter Frankie (Amateifio) under control. Meanwhile Kate’s husband (Wise) is injured in the first throes of the campaign and is flown back to base. Seeing as it’s the 20th century, a straight talking lesbian hairdresser (Rossi) is par for the course, and doleful Sarah (James-Kelly) plays the token widow. But chin-up and carry on: it will all be ok in the Royal Albert Hall, despite a verbal catfight between Lisa and Kate just before they get on the road. Essentially this is a series of episodic highlights emblematic of the empty, formulaic and manipulative script that panders shamelessly to the troops support, saved by a brilliant cast, Military Wives slightly overstays its welcome but will go down a treat on the frontline, and in the shires. AS

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 6 MARCH 2020

https://youtu.be/7FR5TJwXft8

   

 

Brief Encounter (1945) | Valentine special

Director: David Lean | Scr: Anthony Havelock-Allan, Ronald Neame Cast: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Joyce Carey | 88′ | Romantic Drama  | UK

What makes BRIEF ENCOUNTER such a classic English love story – one that might have lost appeal for today’s younger audiences – is not passion or excitement, although David Lean’s postwar drama has all these, it also embraces very English traits: ones that are highly undervalued in romantic terms today: mystery, gracefulness and gallantry. BRIEF ENCOUNTER was set in 1945. A time where middle class men and women wore hats and gloves and beautifully tailored clothes to go about their daily business; they said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘how do you do’. In those days, a woman’s place was in the home: not necessarily cleaning and scrubbing, but making it a pleasant and well-ordered sanctuary for her husband and her children. They were considerate, responsible and well-mannered; or were they just repressed, meek and lacking in conviction?

BRIEF ENCOUNTER is a simple and unsentimental narrative that recounts the quiet satisfaction of a woman in a middle-class marriage that turns to desperation when contrasted with a sudden lighting bolt of realisation that love could be so much more. Set against the romantic backdrop of a railway station with all its connotations of escaping into the night and being carried away, it hinted at a more exciting life beyond the confines of the rainy Northern town in Lancashire.

Noel Coward wrote the script for BRIEF ENCOUNTER adapting it from his one-act play ‘Still Life”. The screenplay was the collaboration of writing trio Anthony Havelock-Allan, Lean and Ronald Neame. His protagonists were ordinary, respectable people: a doctor, Alex (Trevor Howard) and a housewife Laura.(Celia Johnson). Not glamorous or good-looking, but with grace, poise and manners. Stanley Holloway plays the cheeky, decent station master who flirts with Joyce Carey, an outwardly prim but inwardly (one imagines) saucy buffet manageress, and Cyril Raymond, possibly a small time solicitor, who is  reasonable and decent as Laura’s husband. Clearly he’s not quite on the same page charismatically as Howard’s doctor, but with the emotional intelligence to suspect his wife has experienced a dalliance, but not sure what it entailed, Loving her, as he clearly does, may not offer the soaring heights of passion, life with him is comfortable and companionable: he is not a philanderer, a drunkard or a bankrupt: “the only one in the world with enough wisdom and gentleness to understand”. Laura will have to realise that in time “just to be ordinary, contended and at peace is sterling silver compared to the small nugget of golden passion that she reaches out to grasp with the doctor. But in BRIEF ENCOUNTER she is starting an exciting journey, one that teeters on the brink of expectancy, the promise of romance that could end in true love, or the paltry acceptance of just how stale and comfy her marriage has become.

Noel Coward was not like the doctor or the solicitor in his play – he was unofficially gay – but realised that his story needed to focus on middle-class people to be a success in 1945. David Lean, a lapsed Quaker and serial monogamist, collaborated four times with the playwright, Coward mentoring Lean in: In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit.

The Noirish melodrama follows Laura and Alec’s chance meeting in the station buffet that will lead to hours of anguished love-making, soul-searching, hand-clutching, clock-watching and doubting as Rachmaninov’s  Second Piano Concerto blares out, courtesy of the National Symphony Orchestra, until Alex finally takes his leave to start a new life in South Africa taking his wife and children. In their brief ‘affair’, Alec calls all the shots, makes all the decisions: toying with her emotions, tugging on her heartstrings until finally leaving her for another woman (his wife), in the station buffet, with her self-obsessed friend Dolly Messiter.

The success of BRIEF ENCOUNTER today must surely be the purity of its emotions, the simplicity of its message, the innocent enormity of its scope. Laura’s perfect velvety English voiceover cuts through class, time and tide, because Alec is ultimately the knave. He could have taken her to Johannesburg, leaving his wife and kids. She could have left her husband and children: but that’s a 21st century ‘romance’ and this was 1945. Celia Johnson is the reason why BRIEF ENCOUNTER is ultimately so moving and heartfelt: “This misery can’t last. I must try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness nor despair”. Her anguish, her longing, the desperation in her eyes; all so beautifully portrayed, all so delicately restrained and English in its sensibilities. Surely Trevor Howard’s Alec is merely the counterpoint to her feelings of love, a man in search of a brief fling to add piquancy to his professional and marital routine: he opens her up romantically, fills her with hope and excitement and he abandons her to the rainy streets of an English postwar town. MT

BRIEF ENCOUNTER | VALENTINE  SPECIAL | REGENT STREET CINEMA
Escape the tawdry madness of modern-day Valentine’s Day with a screening of BRIEF ENCOUNTER and a free glass of ‘fizz’ (dyspepsia guaranteed).

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018) ***

Dir: Terry Gilliam | Cast: Jonathan Price, Adam Driver, Stellan Skarsgard, Jason Watkins and Olga Kurylenko | Drama, UK 133′

Terry Gilliam’s struggle to film Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote has been as epic as the title itself. The finished version of his fantasy adventure – that sees a disillusioned advertising executive mistaken for Sancho Panza – was beset by legal potholes as it fought its way stoically towards the Red Carpet in Cannes two years ago, with a beleaguered but indomitable cast of Jonathan Pryce, who stars as El Don himself, Adam Driver, Stellan Skarsgard, Jason Watkins and Olga Kurylenko.

Miguel de Cervantes crafted a likeable story with everlasting appeal – its simple premise: that Chivalry should not die out in the ‘modern age’, a timely tenet that very much applies today. Even back in the 17th century, it was Don Quixote’s bee in his iron helmet, and he was said to be rendered mad by reading too many books on the subject of good manners. So he sets off with his trusty squire Sancho Panza and his lady Dulcinea, to make things right in the world from his titular hometown in La Mancha – where clearly he was stumbling on the foothills of dementia. During his confused and eventful journey, his worried family desperately try to get him home.

Terry Gilliam’s passion project has been two decades in the making. He had no idea that the saga would develop into its own quixotic tragedy. Keith Fulton’s 2002 documentary charts Gilliam’s doomed attempt blighted by the well-known chestnut the ‘rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” – filming was abandoned when the set was flooded. This put the mockers on Gilliam’s cherished dream, but he pushed on undeterred and blissfully unaware that his passion project would soon develop into a nightmare.

Over the years, several actors have been attached to the film including John Hurt, Ewan MacGregor and even Robert Duvall. But not all attempts to bring Cervantes’ legendary novel to the screen have been so problematic. Some have been roaring tributes. In 1926 Danish director Lau Lauritzen cast the leading comedians of his era in the main roles: Carl Schendstrom and Harald Madsen were Denmark’s answer to Laurel and Hardy. Then Georg Wilhelm Pabst chose the esteemed Russian actor Feodor Chaliapin Sr to play the chevalier in Adventures of Quixote (1933), which appeared in three languages (German, French and English). Rafael Gil successfully followed, filming the story as a comedy in 1947 with Rafael Rivelles in the saddle as Quixote, and Juan Calvo as Sancho Panza. Orson Welles then made a valiant stab in his (unfinished) 1972 endeavour that followed a similarly tortuous path as Gilliam’s, starting in 1957. Typically, Welles run out of money and was forced to abandon filming, the project was later developed by Jesus Franco who released the dubbed version in 1992 to uninspired reviews. Robert Helpmann directed and also starred in the main role of his 1973 ballet version, with Rudolf Nureyev as Basilio. And David Beier’s 2015 version actually starred James Franco, but the less said about this one, the better. Needless to say, there have been numerous TV adaptations.

The curse continued to blight other films in Cannes 2018 when Quixote was finally screened. In a strange twist, Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov had won the Don Quixote award at Locarno for his film Yuri’s Day (2008) but was placed under house arrest, forbidden to attend the 71st Cannes festival to accompany his competition title Summer (Leto). And Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi shared the same plight. He first appeared in Cannes with his debut White Balloon (1995) which went on to win the Camera d’Or, the first major award won by an Iranian film at the world’s most famous film festival. He was forced to stay at home while his drama Three Faces screened in the main 71st competition. Luckily The Man Who Killed Dox Quixote survived its arduous journey and finally makes it to the Croisette but shlepped home empty handed, but has since won Spanish and Belgian awards for its production and make-up. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 31 JANUARY 2020  | FESTIVAL DE CANNES

 

Cosh Boy (1953) ***

Dir: Lewis Gilbert | Cast: James Kenney; Joan Collins; Betty Ann Davies; Hermione Baddeley, Bob Stevens Robert Ayres | UK Crime Drama

Lewis Gilbert’s searing slice of British neo realism sees a juvenile delinquent commit a swathe of brutal robberies on innocent victims, aided and abetted by his rather puny sidekicks. Cosh Boy was a tamer, noirish version of what was to follow teenage crime-wise with Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Alan Clarke’s Scum (1979). And although it all seems fairly quaint nowadays, the film scandalised audiences back in post war days when kids mostly respected their parents and were glad of a return to normality after the war, despite the simmering social tensions provoked by the years of privation.

Roy (Kenney) is a brash, chain-smoking thug who bullies his friends into subservience (including Rene, played by a luminous young Joan Collins). He and his gang are not died in the wool criminals but possess a certain hard-nosed opportunism, and things get increasingly dangerous when their behaviour escalates, with tragic consequences.

Best known for his more upbeat fare: Alfie and The Spy Who Loved Me, Gilbert’s punchy direction certainly gives the crime drama some gritty wellie, providing an acerbic and sinister portrait of the backstreets of South London, although the film was actually shot at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith W6.

On 20 January 2020, Cosh Boy will become the 40threlease in the BFI Flipside series, released in a Dual Format Edition with extras including short films by Lewis Gilbert and more. It will be launched with a special screening event and discussion with Flipside founders at BFI Southbank – details below.

Dual Format Edition (Blu-ray/DVD), release on 20 January 2020, with simultaneous BFI Player, iTunes and Amazon Prime release

Flipside at 40 – Special event & discussion, Wednesday 15 January, 18:30, NFT1 at BFI Southbank – special guest actor Caroline Munro

 

Mrs Lowry & Son (2019) ****

Dir.: Adrian Noble; Cast: Vanesssa Redgrave, Timothy Spall, Wendy Morgan, Stephen Lord; UK 2019, 91 min.

Director Adrian Noble cut his teeth in theatre and was artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1990 t0 2003. Mrs Lowry & Son is adapted from Martyn Hesfords’ script, based on his own stage play about L.S. Lowry (1887 – 1976)  It is perfect portrait of how a mother can stunt her son’s confidence irrespective of talent. Vanessa Redgrave plays the mother in question with waspish defiance. But Lowry (a thoughtful but dogged Spall) toughed it out to become a major British figurative and landscape painter best known for his iconic ‘matchstick men’.  He still holds the record for the most honours declined: a knighthood, a CBE, OBE and CH.

Set in 1934 the focus is a maudlin episode of Lowry’s middle age (he was 47 –   although Spall is, and looks, much older) when he is forced to look after his mother Elizabeth in a humdrum house with an outside latrine and curtain-twitching neighbours in Pendlebury, on the outskirts of Manchester. Elizabeth is still very much in charge in spite of being frail and bed-ridden. A former teacher, she had hoped for a more glamorous career as a pianist but this never materialised mainly because her husband has recently died and squandered all the family money. As such the film feels like more like a pinched but accurate description of the disillusioned life and pettiness of an elderly Provincial woman during in the interwar years, harking back to a glorious past in the leafy suburb of nearby Victoria Park (Elizabeth Gaskell and Emmeline Pankurst were neighbours). Meanwhile, Lowry is trying to gain recognition as an artist, but is saddled with the shame of his father’s debt and is forced to work as rent collector. Painting is his way of escaping this miserable existence and he finds a kind of happiness and contentment there, painting between ten and two at night, in his little attic studio. Lowry sees beauty in this industrial wasteland outside his window.“Hope gets a lot of people through life” he ruminates philosophically but there is also despair peeping through the rain-filled clouds: “None of us is free. We are all captured in a picture, a stranger to everyone else”. Hesford’s script does have some drole moments, capturing the era’s zeitgeist through Elizabeth constant sniping. She talks of shopping in “Marshall and Snelgrove” (a posh department store that later became Debenhams); she also mentions Nottingham lace and Sheffield steel, and the ugliness of the nearby mills, depicted in Lowry’s paintings. These were the days when British manufacturing and craftsmanship was appreciated, and still one of our valuable assets.

When Lowry receives encouragement from the outside world in the shape of a letter from an art dealer in London, praising his work; his mother damns the victory with faint praise and dire warnings. Of course, it all changes when snobbish neighbour, Doreen Stanhope (Morgan) shows an interest in Lowry’s painting of a sea-scape with boats. Elizabeth sees a mutual kinship in Doreen but this is not to be. And when her husband, a Labour-councillor f0rced t0 live in the area, has one of Lowry’s industrial landscapes exhibited at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in London, Elizabeth throws a tantrum, upsetting her son so much that he destroys nearly all his canvases.

Apart the irritating score and rosy-tinted flashbacks of happier times between Elizabeth and her young son, Noble manages to deliver a poignant, darkly humorous portrait of the Northern artist, enriched by really enjoyable performances from Spall and Redgrave, despite their closeted in the confines on their home for most of the film’s running time. Lowry briefly escapes onto the Moors allowing Josep Civit’s cinematography to break free of its domestic interiors. But the real question is why did Noble decide to limit the his film to this maudlin episode of Lowry’s life, when he would go on for another 40 years eventually moving to Derbyshire. Lowry claimed “I never had a woman” but he did have extensive female relationships, and his work flourished and took hold of the nation’s imagination, as he eventually became one of our best loved British artists. That’s the film we would like to see. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 20 JANUARY 2020 |     

The Winslow Boy (1948) *****

Dir: Anthony Asquith | Cast: Cedric Hardwicke, Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton

Anthony Asquith and playwright Terence Rattigan worked together on three literary adaptations, but this legal-themed drama about defending justice is possibly the best. It was also a great stage success for Rattigan, reflecting the traditional values of middle-class society in a glorious portrait of Edwardian England. David Mamet’s 1999 version isn’t a patch on this black and white masterpiece with its drole comedy undertones. Based on the true-life Archer-Shee case of 1910, it sees a strong-willed father (Cedric Hardwicke) determined to risk his reputation and fortune in defending his son’s honour when the young navy cadet (an earnest Neil North) is accused by the establishment of stealing a £5 postal order (a bill of payment, rather like a cheque). Meanwhile the Winslow family relationships come under strain as the legal case plods on endlessly – nothing has changed there.

Cedric Hardwicke and Robert Donat are superb as Ronnie Winslow’s father Arthur Winslow and his defending barrister Sir Robert Morton respectively (Morton is based on a renowned Irish lawyer Sir Edward Carson). Margaret Leighton is also superb as Winslow’s suffragette sister, Catherine, looking graceful in William Chapell’s elegant designs (she was a willowy, 5.10’). Mona Washburne plays against type as an amusingly plucky female journalist who comes to cover the case for the Evening News (Morton later has a dig at the press: “What you say, will have little bearing on what they write”). There are rousing musical interludes capturing the zeitgeist of the era, and one echoes the public’s support, courtesy of Herbert Clifford’s musical compositions. Mother Grace (Marie Lohr) berates her husband for devoting his life to his son’s innocence at the expense of the rest of the family: Catherine’s upcoming nuptials are put in jeopardy by her future father in law. This is all captured in Freddie Young’s lustrous monochrome camerawork. The Winslow Boy competed for the Grand International Award at Venice Film Festival that year but came home empty-handed. The winner was Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet, with Jean Simmons winning Best Actress, so at least the British didn’t lose out that year. MT

FULLY RESTORED AND RELEASED FOR THE FIRST TIME ON BLURAY | DVD | DIGITAL | 3 FEBRUARY 2020

Lucian Freud: A Self-Portrait (2019) ****

Dir: David Bickerstaff | Writers: David Bickerstaff/Phil Grabsky | With: William Feaver, James Hall, Tim Marlow (RA Artistic Director 2014-19, Jasper Sharp, Curator, Kunthistorisches Museum Vienna | Andrea Tarsia (Head of Exhitibitions RA) | Doc, 85′

“I wanted to shock and amaze” says Lucian Freud in faintly-accented English. Sitting in his workshop where he fought, struggled and experimented tirelessly with his craft – Freud was well into his eighties when he died in 2011 – the renowned Berlin-born portraitist is an intense and furtive figure in the early scenes of this new biopic by David Bickerstaff. The filmmaker’s previous subjects have included Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet. Co-written by Phil Grabsky, the doc interweaves filmed interviews with Freud in his final years, with the usual talking heads approach. Curators and specialists add valuable insight, although a few of the contributors bring little to the party.

The former artistic director of the Royal Academy Tim Marlow takes us round Lucian Freud’s first and only exhibition at the London gallery (until 26 January 2020). Although Freud is seen as a modern artist his work is very much connected to that ‘old master’, painterly tradition of Titian and Rembrandt: Few modern artists have explored the human body with such intensity, and such determination. Of course, he was a gambler, a playboy and a bon viveur, but few artists spent as much time in their studio as Lucian Freud. The RA’s Andrea Tarsia explains how he pitted his developing style against his personal life, scrutinising himself as much as his subjects. His single-minded passion focused on self-portraiture as much as on those his was painting:. “Everything is a self-portrait”. Often his subjects are not even named: what mattered more to him was the immediacy of the situation, the spontaneity of the gaze. Accompanied by a jazzy score the doc conveys the energy and charisma that seems to spin off each hypnotic portrait, even a small canvas can dominate a room.

Born into an eminent but non-religious Jewish family on the 8th December 1922, Lucian Freud’s father was an architect and the youngest son of the analyst Sigmund Freud. The middle son of three, Lucian was his mother’s favourite and as such he was deeply resented by his brothers. His biographer William Feaver (The Lives of Lucian Freud) reports how as a popular teenager he was taken by surprise when the family came under scrutiny by the authorities and had to move to London in the autumn of 1933. He was sent to the progressive Dartington school where he developed an interest in plants and horses, and thence Bryanston whence he was expelled for mooning in Bournemouth High Street, on a bet. A stone sculpture of a horse secured him a place in a London art school in 1937 but this was also short-lived. Eventually Freud fetched up in what he told his parents was “the only decent art school” of the time run by Sir Cedric Morris in East Anglia. Subversive to the last, Freud once again disgraced himself and “burnt the school down”.

But Morris had by this time instilled some discipline into the 18 year old Freud and he produced his first work – a tight and rather flattened oil painting simply entitled ‘Self-portrait,1940′. An ability to draw was the first step on the ladder and led to commissions for various book covers but impetuosity led to Freud joining the Navy for a spell. Returning to London he shared a St Johns Wood flat with fellow painter John Craxston who introduced him to an influential circle of friends. For nearly ten years he and John experimented with architects sample pots producing glossy-looking abstracts and portraits.

In the early 1940s Lucian Freud moved to the more seedy area of Paddington and settled down to a more committed painting style, ‘Man With a Feather’ (1943) was exhibited at his first solo show at London’s Lefevre Gallery. Now in his early twenties, women fell for Freud’s mesmerising allure and powerful presence, and he was able to navigate his way round English society marrying Kitty Garman. But he made a hopeless husband; although he could be sensitive and sociable, focusing on you with an intense gaze, he could also be callous and cruel.

In Paris in 1946 he met Picasso and soon realised the dedication that painting required. By now he was using oils and honing his style of self-portraiture, his face creeping into the frame with surprise, suggestion or a quizzical expression that calls to mind the ‘fourth wall’.  ‘Still Life with Green Lemon’ was a case in point, painted during a visit to Greece in 1946. Ostensibly these were self-portraits – Freud’s face only just intruding into the edges of a work dominated by another subject – he was already displaying the prickly illusiveness that was to become his style. ‘Startled Man’ (1948) ushered in a period of clean, conte-work. This is an extremely accomplished drawing that really flaunts his capabilities. ‘Sleeping Nude’ (1950) and the surrealist ‘Interior at Paddington’ (1951) were actually hyper-realist paintings. By this time John Minton had become a friend, and Freud had also met and painted Francis Bacon. His marriage to Lady Caroline Blackwood saw her being incorporated into various works, and she appears in bed in his self-portrait ‘Lucian Freud, 1949’ which was exhibited at the Venice Biennale that year. She left him four years later due to his infidelities. Like most artists Freud wanted his life to be his work, and it was impossible for him to be committed to any woman. His only focus was himself and whoever he was painting at the time.

A sensuality entered the artist’s work in the late 1950s and early 1960 where an emphasis on touch starts to appear. This is most noticeable during a trip to Ian Fleming’s Golden Eye when he painted a Flemish style portrait on a small scrap of copper. It sees him putting his finger on his lips and was the start of this sensuous awareness. The 1960s also marked a switch to hog-hair brushes with ‘Man’s Head’ (1963) and the restless associated portraits, smooth backgrounds allowing the face to stand out. Although Freud admired Francis Bacon’s style of working in a gestural way, his own work increasingly gained a more structural, almost architectural element, as he slotted colours together with pasty brushstrokes, trying to make the paint tell the story.

The film’s focus then switches from Freud’s own work to visit Amsterdam where he often visited the Rijksmuseum to study Rembrandt and understand his approach. Back in London at the Royal Academy’s Exhibition, the film shows how Freud’s portraits  actually hold and dominate the room. ‘Man with a Blue Scarf’ (2004) was a canvas that required exactitude, the sitter under as much pressure to perform as Freud himself. This portrait of art critic Martin Gayford offers further evidence of the Freud’s obsession with detail. The relationship was intense and required the sitter to be totally committed and, crucially, to return to the studio for sittings that went on several times a week for at least a year. But during this time Freud engaged in avid conversation: highly entertaining he was a raconteur who was as focused on the sitter as he was in himself. But Freud was certainly not an expressionist painter.

Lucian Freud’s large 1993 self-portrait is defiant – he was 71, but still emanated power and excitement; his greatest fear was losing his mind, but he was also concerned about his physical vigour. ‘Benefits Supervisor Sleeping’ (1995) sold in 2008 for 33.6million dollars – the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist. Freud carried on painting voraciously until his death on 20 July 2011. He was 88. “Being with him was like being plugged into the National Grid for an hour” said one sitter. “Freud was one of the great European painters of the last 500 years. He’s one of those big figures across the centuries, rather than representative of an era or a movement” says Tim Marlow. “Tradition is a big word but Lucian challenged tradition constantly”. Jasper Sharp adds him to a list that goes back to Holbein; Durer; Cranach and Rembrandt. And he goes on: “Freud gives that list a little shuffle, making us look at Rembrandt a bit differently and Holbein a bit differently through his eyes, and through himself”. And that is a remarkable achievement for any artist. MT

LUCIAN FREUD: A SELF PORTRAIT | ON RELEASE FROM 14 JANUARY 2020 | SEVENTH ART PRODUCTIONS | ROYAL ACADEMY LUCIAN FREUD 

Clockwise (1986) ****

Dir: Christopher Morahan | Wri: Michael Frayn | Cast: John Cleese, Alison Steadman, Sharon Maiden, Stephen Moore, Chip Sweeney, Penelope Wilton, Joan Hickson

Cleese plays a toned down version of his iconic hotel owner Basil Fawlty in this whip smart comedy drama brilliantly written by the great English playwright and author Michael Frayn.

It sees a clock-watching comprehensive headmaster Mr Stimpson (Cleese) finally go off the rails after perpetually brow-beating and berating his pupils and staff with a loud speaker. Heading for a vitally important Headmasters’ Conference in Norwich, he first boards the wrong train then leaves his speech in the carriage. This leads to a major misunderstanding with his wife when he goes hell for leather in a female pupil’s car in order to make it to the conference across the summery East Midlands countryside in time for the keynote speech.

Michael Frayn is famous for his pithy writing skills and is supported by a well-known British cast making this all highly entertaining. But Cleese tops the hilarity bill as the masterful headmaster whose calmly pragmatic approach always teeters on the brink of barely suppressed hysteria as desperately tries to make it in time dressed at one point as a monk. But it’s his final modish rig-out that will have you in hysterics : “I can take the desperation, it’s the hope…”.

CLOCKWISE is the film that inspired Cleese to make A Fish Called Wanda and won him the Evening Standard Peter Sellers Award for Comedy in the year after its release. MT

ON BLURAY, DVD and DOWNLOAD | 19 NOVEMBER 2019 from STUDIOCANAL

 

Leonardo: The Works (2019) ****

Dir: Phil Grabsky | UK Doc, Biopic 100′

Leonardo da Vinci is arguably the world’s favourite artist. He painted the world’s best known painting, the Mona Lisa. And here documentarian Phil Grabsky once again blends interviews with leading curators and live filmed footage to flesh out the life of the real man born into hardship and illegitimacy during Renaissance Florence in the small village of Vinci.

During the Renaissance Florence was very much a mercantile city at a time where art was considered an intellectual pursuit. When Leonardo’s father took samples of his young boy’s work to leading art specialist Andrea del Verrocchio, the painter was astonished and immediately took Leonardo under his wing in his highly esteemed workshop at the end of the 1460s.

Artists were painting with a blend of egg and pigments but, and oil paints were gradually being tried out during the mid 15th century, and Leonardo started to work with this experimental medium claiming his technique was to paint:”Everything that was visible and invisible” in his subjects.

While the curators fill us in on the main facts about Leonardo’s early career, Grabsky’s expert camera floats over his principle works of art, taking in all the minute detail with his intimate lensing. Paintings such as The Annunciation are discussed at length. It emerges that Leonardo was rarely satisfied with his work, and was always challenging himself and striving for perfection. He even competed with the master Verrocchio, particularly in his painting of the Baptism of Christ which is brought alive; Leonardo bringing movement and light into quite a static subject, and turning a good picture into a remarkable one. His picture of Madonna and Child with a Vase of Flowers contains a vase with dewdrops painted delicately all over it. This was a skill and technique that bought paintings alive, and made Leonardo stand out from the other artists of the era. The Ginevra de Benci has a daring stare which was considered rather outré at the time. The painting also combines elements of sculptural detail in the shapes of the trees, marking out the artist’s innovative talent for giving depth to his work. Another Madonna and Child (1478-80), now in St Petersburg’s Hermitage embodies a happiness that is almost misleading given history, yet completely understandable: a young woman has just had her first baby boy. But the cross of white flowers hidden in his hand holds the key to the tragedy. In this way Leonardo’s work was distinguished  by its depth in internal narrative that made in not only luminous but also unique at the time.

Elusive, he was known to be gay and mixed within a tight circle of refined, stylish and highly educated young men. Through his drawings we also get an insight into Leonardo the man. His artistic life interweaves with his personal life – even what he was having for lunch was sketched out and annotated. Through his love of animals and horses he  manages to convey with a kinetic freshness, energy and  rhythm – the animals rearing or in flight – he also studies the movements of the garments worn by their riders.

The Adoration of the Magi contained a turbulence and tenor that has never been seen before. It also marked his move to Milan where the market of the time was more competitive and affluent. In the 1480s Leonardo needed to make some money to cover his escalating debts. And it is here that he meets the illustrious Duke of Sforza. And it is here that his skill in depicting architecture, and mechanical drafting comes into play – these were skills that actually added value to his ability to paint figuratively, but also to hone his techniques in giving form the human body and musculature – and this is particularly noticeable in the Saint Jerome (1480). Tone, colour and shadow is also explored as Leonardo attains new heights in The Madonna and Suckling Child (1481/Hermitage).

Grabsky presents every single attributed painting, in Ultra HD quality, never seen before on the big screen. Exploring other key works such The Mona Lisa, Lady with an Ermine, Madonna Litta, Virgin of the Rocks, this information documentary culminates with Leonardo’s masterpiece The Last Supper (1496-8) and takes a deeper looks at the painter’s inventiveness; sculptural skills; his military foresight and his ability to navigate the treacherous politics of the day, through the prism of his art. MT

EXHIBITION ON SCREEN celebrates 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death | In venues nationwide from 28 OCTOBER 2019

https://youtu.be/mfFG4LMnIX8

 

That’ll be the Day (1973) **** Home Ent release

Dir: Claude Watham, Wri: Ray Connelly | Cast: David Essex, Ringo Star, Keith Moon, Robert Lindsay, Rosemary Leach | UK Drama 91′

Bad boy David Essex was a teenage heartthrob back in the 1970s. With his twisted grin, blue-eyes and cheeky swagger he was a little bit louche in contrast to David Cassidy’s fresh-faced boy next door. But the camera loves him as Jim MacLaine, the perfect teen hero in Claude Whatham’s seamy coming of age drama about wannabe rock ‘n’ roll stardom in a post-war suburbia where England is still rather down on its knees, gloomily captured by legendary DoP Peter Suschitzky. Leaving school just before the end of term exams Jim soon finds himself in the Isle of Wight working in a holiday camp, and then joins the travelling fair where he meets his mentor in the shape of a game Ringo Star with his mellow Merseyside burr. Rosemary Leach doesn’t get much of a role as Jim’s mother, but she certainly makes her mark as the face of maternal disillusionment in this poignantly atmospheric trip down memory lane. MT

NOW COMING TO DVD, Bluray and DIGITAL together with cult classic STARDUST (1974) | 21 OCTOBER 2019

And Soon the Darkness (1970) **** Bluray

Dir: Robert Fuest | UK Thriller 99′

Directed by Robert Fuest (The Abominable Dr. Phebes, Wuthering Heights) AND SOON THE DARKNESS is an unsettling Claude Chabrol style thriller starring Pamela Franklin and Michelle Dotrice as young English nurses enjoying a cycling holiday in the French countryside. In a bar they come across a dark and seductive stranger (Paul/Sandor Eles) who is the catalyst for the two falling out and going their own separate ways. But Paul is not what he seems. A local woman then warns Jane (Franklin) to be careful and Cathy (Dotrice) finds a broken bicycle and some female underwear in the bushes. Desperately they try and find each other as the tone grows increasingly sinister with suspense generated largely by the film’s atmospheric sound design, Laurie Johnson’s clever score and Ian Wilson’s vibrant camerawork (both are still alive). Based on an original story by Terry Nation and Barry Clemens who also co-wrote the script AND SOON THE DARKNESS cleverly confounds expectations and extracts the maximum amount of suspense, sustaining jeopardy and a sense of claustrophobia despite the story all taking place in wide open spaces in complete daylight. Unlike Chabrol, Fuest makes no real attempt to explore his characters, preferring to rely on atmosphere, score and clever editing to drive the narrative forward.

FRIGHT (1971) | 87′ | Dir: Peter Collinson (main picture)

Directed by Peter Collinson – best known for The Italian Job, Straight on Till Morning) – this original British slasher film from 1971 stars Honor Blackman (Goldfinger), Susan George (Straw Dogs), Ian Bannen (The Flight of the Phoenix), George Cole and Dennis Waterman (Minder)

Young babysitter Amanda (Susan George) arrives at the Lloyd residence (Honor Blackman and George Cole) to spend the evening looking after their young son. Soon after the Lloyds leave, a series of frightening occurrences in the gloomy old house have Amanda’s nerves on edge. The real terror begins, however, when the child’s biological father appears after recently escaping from a nearby mental institution. Pre-dating the release of Halloween by seven years, FRIGHT was the groundbreaker for the ‘terrorised babysitter’ variation of the ‘home invasion’ horror genre.

FRIGHT and AND SOON THE DARKNESS release on 14 October 2019 http://po.st/AndSoonTheDarkness and http://po.st/Fright

 

Local Hero ( 1983) **** Bluray special Edition

Dir: Bill Forsyth | Cast: Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, Denis Lawson, Peter Capaldi, Jenny Seagrove, John Gordon Sinclair | UK Drama 111′

Bill Forsyth’s lyrical comedy drama feels at relevant now as it was back in the 1980s with its sterling British cast led by Burt Lancaster. He plays a canny local hermit who refuses to give way on negotiations when Riegert’s Texas oilman attempts to buy up an idyllic Scottish village to build a refinery. With echoes of Alexander Mackendrick’s whimsical fable Whisky Galore! the film conjures up the gentle mystique of its island location that contrasts gracefully with the amusing brashness of the Texas tycoon. Things don’t go as expected but everyone has fun along the way including a girl with webbed feet. A true British classic worth revisiting if you haven’t yet had the pleasure. MT

NOW on  Blu Ray. The special new remastered Collector’s Edition includes brand new extra features, including an audio commentary with director Bill Forsyth

 

 

The Criminal (1960) **** Home Ent release

Dir: Joseph Losey | 97′ UK Crime drama

Stanley Baker was once of the most unusual romantic heroes during the 1950s. His stock in trade was a mean masculine allure and leopard-like physique and he triumphs in this British gangster thriller that has become a cult classic with Losey fans. Baker leads a sterling British cast of Sam Wanamaker (The Spy Who Came In from the Cold), Grégoire Aslan (Cleopatra), Margit Saad (The Saint) and Jill Bennett (For your Eyes Only), as an angst-ridden loner and recidivist criminal whose self-destructive personality sees him locked into a life of crime. Ricocheting between empowerment as a kingpin behind the prison walls run by a sadistic chief warder (Magee) and the underworld of a gangland boss (Sam Wanamaker) who has his eyes on Baker’s crock of gold, THE CRIMINAL is a jagged, violent film that gleams in Oscar winner Robert Krasker’s camerawork, complemented by Johnny  Dankworth’s jazzy score. Losey’s direction gives it the edge on many other British crime thrillers of the time. MT

THE CRIMINAL from director Joesph Losey which will be released on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download on September 16 2019.

Bait (2018) ****

Dri/Wri: Mark Jenkin | UK 89′ | Format 4:3

Mark Jenkin’s seething seaside drama addresses several burning issues at the heart of British life. A poignant paean to the nation’s piscatorial traditions it also tackles the demise of our struggling countryside villages and coastal towns which have increasingly seen an influx of second home buyers inflating local property prices but bringing nothing tangible to locals outside the summer months. Even the sea is being invaded: Fishing quotas have seen British waters plundered and our once thriving fishing industry decimated. There are primitive issues at stake here about territory and human dignity and survival. And Jenkin handles these with a blunt simplicity that also manages to be evocative and darkly amusing. Like a Picasso sketch.

Being a Cornishman himself, Jenkin clearly knows what he is talking about in this taut and tight-lipped realist portrait of a coastline in crisis. Cornwall is very a much a character here: the soft burr of the local dialect, the traditional seafaring customs, even the sailors’ knots and lobster pots are key motifs throughout.

The film follows Martin (Edward Rowe) a glowering and surly fisherman who finds himself without a boat. His brother Steven (Giles King) has recommissioned it for pleasure cruises. They have also had to sell the family cottage to a wealthy couple Tim and Sandra (Simon Shepherd and Mary Woodvine), who have done it up as a holiday cottage cherry-picking from the vernacular to give it a twee nautical feel. (portholes, ropes etc). To add insult to injury they are letting out their neighbouring property on Airbnb.

Calling Tim a “prancing lycra clad c**t” Martin resents the couple’s financial clout when he is struggling to make ends meets, and parks his clapped out van infant of their cottage to drive the point home in an ongoing battle. He also dislikes Tim and Sandra’s daughter flirting with Steven’s son Neil (Isaac Woodvine). Despite his gruffness we really feel for him but Jenkin remains impartial, judiciously painting Sandra as a sympathetic character.

Bait brings to mind Soviet Montage, the strong-faced actors conveying their feelings with expressions rather than words, as they stare into the camera. Shot in black and white with a 1970s wind-up camera Bolex, there’s a crude grainy feel to the film making it feel rooted in the distant past but the radio broadcasts bring it right up to date. Jenkin often uses metaphors to replace unpalatable truths. Jenkin completely avoids melodrama even when tragedy looms. And when Martin finally confronts Steven, disbelief and sadness is expressed with evasive but significant words: “They got rid of mother’s pantry”.

But despite the hostility between residents and ‘tourists’ there’s also a salty humour at play throughout and a formal rigour. Bait is a quintessentially English creation that sees a small community determined to keep triumphantly afloat in stormy seas. MT

BAIT won the Grand Prix and the Audience Award of the 19th edition of the Polish New Horizons Film Festival | CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 30 AUGUST 2019

The Souvenir (2018) *****

Dir/Wri: Joanna Hogg | Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke, Honour Swinton Byrne | Drama UK | 100′

Joanna Hogg is the only living female filmmaker who portrays a particular English contemporary milieu. Usually creative, invariably white and well-educated, these characters are liberal in outlook and mostly live in London. With such unique sensibilities and vision she is able to understand and convey as certain type of middle class angst (borne out of having to do the right thing, irrespective of personal choice). She did it gracefully in Unrelated (2007), Archipelago (2010) and Exhibition (2013), And she does it peerlessly again here with The Souvenir, a nuanced and delicately drawn story of addiction and strained relationships that very much echoes its time and place: the late 1980s – although it was inspired and takes its name from  Fragonard’s painting, a motif that runs through the film.

This all revolves around Julie, a dark horse and an English rose (earnestly played by Tilda Swinton’s daughter Honour Swinton Byrne) who is tentatively making a career for herself in film school while awkwardly becoming involved with her first proper boyfriend. Clearly she is talented but lacks real confidence – both in love and in life – largely due to a repressed English background. Although her mother is loving and wonderful there are clear hints that certain things were simply not discussed at home, but still waters nevertheless run deep on the feelings front. Hogg relies on an improvisational approach, stripping away clichés to distill the emotional content of each scene, often with minimal dialogue and relying on body language and atmosphere. 

Women of that era will remember the silent voids during a date where the silence spoke volumes, often marking the beginning or the end of another tortuous romance with a man who could not express himself, and chose merely to back away and then reappear with pleadings and desperate often incoherent bids to meet again. Often covering this with bluster and demeaning put-downs, Tom Burke gives a priceless performance as Anthony, a man whose emotional range does Attila the Hun a disservice when it comes to affairs of the heart. “You’re a freak. You’ll always be last,” he tells Julie. And Hogg is clearly mining these fraught memories too with this doomed romantic pairing.

Julie presses on undeterred, internalising her feelings, and clearly drawn to public school Anthony through some atavistic genetic link. Because he purports to be ‘from the right background’ – he is clearly approved of by her parents – the very mild-mannered Tilda and her on screen husband.William. One of of the best scenes sees Richard Ayoade playing a ‘cutting edge’ filmmaker and deftly spilling the beans that Anthony is a heroin addict. “I find doing heroin to be mainstream behaviour,” he jokes to a rather bewildered Julie. And we discover she’s funding his habit with donations gleaned from her mother, who does seem alarmed at Julie’s rising expenditure for film-school supplies. In a caddish moment Anthony even roughs up Julie’s Notting Hill flat, faking a burglary to raise funds for his addiction. Drugs make psychopaths and monsters of addicts. And Julie is a victim too, of love. But she keeps a stiff upper lip. Endearing scenes with her parents are a triumph in their candid intimacy, and make us reflect on the placid generosity of the British. 

Julie and Anthony share a deceptively satisfying sex life behind closed doors, shown in 16mm-styled footage that follows them on an impromptu romantic break to Venice, funded unflinchingly by Julie. She epitomises the female lack of confidence of that era, back-footed by her desire to appear cool and inclusive when pitching for a film school project, and desperate to fit in with the others. She emerges lonely and rather misunderstood, though keen to do the right thing. And the comforting presence of her concerned on screen mother resonates throughout, you stifle a snigger when she utters the words: “Anthony was taken ill in the Wallace Collection”. 

Joanna Hogg will soon embark on the second part of this semi-biopic affair with Robert Pattinson joining the cast. The story of a young filmmaker finally making her way is something to look forward to. MT

OUT ON 30 AUGUST 2019 AT CURZON CINEMAS

Kaleidoscope (2016) **** Home Ent release

Dir.: Rupert Jones; Cast: Toby Jones, Anne Reid, Sinead Matthews, Cecilia Noble; UK 2016, 100 min.

British director Rupert Jones keeps it in the family with this surreal and nightmarish psychological thriller, enhanced by yet another standout performance from his brother Toby as the tortured anti-hero.

Set in a large London Housing Estate, where Carl (Jones) lives in a pokey flat – a throwback to the 70s. We learn that he has moved in a year ago after being released from prison where he’s done  time for a serious crime. One morning Carl wakes up to find the body of a young woman in his bathroom. His memory serves up a meeting with her, she was called Abby (Matthews), they danced and he might have locked her in the bathroom. When he walks up the stairs, the staircase becomes a kaleidoscope, it seems to strangle him in continuous twists and turns. The police show up, and so does a helpful neighbour, Monique (Noble). Toby is convinced of some wrong-doing – but can’t think what, exactly. When his mother Aileen (Reid) invites herself over- very much against his will, the images of Abbey and Aileen mingle, Toby certainly suffers from displacement activity – a repressed guilt complex, exposed in the final reveal.

This is 10 Rillington Place meets Kafka’s The Trial: spookily Jones even looks like Richard Attenborough as the murderous landlord. The grimy atmosphere in the flat is another parallel – but while Attenborough’s John Christie was sheer evil, Carl is suffering from past trauma. He hectically tries to cover up the traces of whatever he might have done; objects, he wants to destroy or find, becoming his enemies. Carl is paralysed: whenever he meets authority, be it the police, or his boss at the garden centre, he goes into meltdown. His anxiety grows the longer Aileen stays in his flat. And when she reveals she has bone cancer and wants to spend a lottery win on a last family visit to Canada with her son, Carl is close to breaking point.

Kaleidoscope is crucially “a psychological thriller, a tragedy, but not a horror feature”. The score, using a harp concerto by the German/American composer Albert Zabel, underlines Carl’s feeling of tension. The whole film resonates with Hitchcock,  particularly in the way the staircase is shot. It also brings to mind Bernhard Hermann’s score for Hitchcock’s Vertigo: But whilst Scottie was suffering from Vertigo (and love sickness), Carl is haunted by a past he has yet to understand fully. DoP Philipp Blaubach (Hush) creates elliptical camera movements, showing Carl permanently fleeing from himself, the long tracking shots mark him like a hunted animal. Overall, Jones has made the most of his limited budget, avoiding any gore, and staying consistently on a psychological level. AS

 On UK digital platforms on 12 August 2019, followed by its DVD release on 23 September 2019. The cast includes Sinead Matthews (Jellyfish), Cecilia Noble (Danny and the Human Zoo) and a stand out turn from national treasure Anna Reid, MBE (Last Tango in Halifax).

 

 

 

Animals (2019) ****

Dir.: Sophie Hyde; Cast: Holiday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermont Murphy, Amy Molloy, Dermont Murphy; UK/Australia/ROI 2019, 109 min.

In her sophomore feature Australian filmmaker Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) directs Emma-Jane Unsworth’ script of her own novel. It centres on two close friends Laura (Grainger) and Tyler (Shawcat) in Dublin who spend most of their time in being drunk and high on drugs. Well at least that’s the way it’s seemed for the past ten years. But now in their thirties, things are about to change.

Their story unfolds from the perspective of Laura, a struggling writer whose novel progresses a line a week – meanwhile she works as a barista in a coffee shop, to make ends meet. Her sister Jean (Molloy), once a wild child herself, announces that she has now chosen adult life and motherhood. Laura reacts with panic: suddenly casual boyfriend Jim (Fee), a very serious pianist, becomes a plausible alternative to her living the life of Riley with Tyler. But then along comes uber-pretentious author Marthy (Murphy) and Laura soon sees the error of her ways. And somehow the never fully explained cloud over Tyler’s life (some trauma in the past) becomes more important – or is it just the realisation, that their friendship is much more of a love story then they want to admit. Most features are built on the rock of a happy-ending with friendship being replaced by the great love conquering all – but Hyde raises doubts: is it really inevitable that all women should spend their life with the opposite gender just because mother nature and a concept called adulthood dictate it – or can Goethe’s Elective Affinities overcome the norm – at least sometimes?

Grainger and Shawkat carry the feature – their relationship is anything but ideal – but at least it is honest, and we are never allowed to forget it. Hyde directs with great sensibility, athough there are more than enough emotional episodes to go round. DoP Bryan Mason has a fine feel for the Dublin scene, even though the film actually takes place in Manchester. Animals is full of surprises and never resorts to the banal. It is a brave attempt at trying to align the impossible, but it manages to remain sincere: when Jim calls Laura Tyler’s wife, he is not too far off. AS

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 2 AUGUST

       

Of Fish and Foe (2018) ****

Dirs: Andy Heathcote, Heike Bachelier | UK Doc 90′

Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier follow up their delightful documentary  The Moo Man with a more confrontational film that explores the traditional methods of wild Atlantic salmon fishing that falls foul of animal rights activists.

In Northern Scotland near Thurso, the Pullar family make their living from the sea. Stretching long nets across the bay where wild Atlantic salmon are crossing the tidal waters, brothers Kevin and John then sail out to collect the catch. Most of the salmon on the market comes from commercial salmon farms making their share of the consumer market all the more difficult, although their fish are far superior in quality. They are joined by a series of helpers and often a young boy who is clearly invested in his unpaid work.

This is a competitive market: and Anglers still take the lions share of the dwindling salmon trade but the Pullars’ business seems to have made a bad name for itself due to their habit of shooting seals which they believe are further depleting stocks.  This is a practice that has attracted protesters in the shape of Sea Shepherd, who naively think they are protecting the local fauna. There are big commercial interests involved and the Pullars’ give them no quarter – often taunting them with ill-advised insults, despite their annoying habit of disrupting daily business, posing a danger to  themselves and the fisherman. The protesters seem to have no real understanding of the cultural implications of their actions or the ways of the sea, and stick out like a sore thumb as they clamber about taking photos and make snide comments on the treacherous rocks. By the same token, the Pullars are not the most diplomatic or sympathetic of folk, often queering their own pitch for their lack of charm and tact.

Their rivals consider the Pullars to be getting in the way in an industry that has moved forward, yet they are simply fisherman going about their business, and respectful of the ways of nature and fishing husbandry, humanely killing seabirds stuck in their nets, or even salmon who have been fatally injured by pecking seals. By Law they are required to cease operations during certain times, weather permitting. But the protesters are like terriers, constantly yapping at the their feet. Between their rivals and the Sea Shepherds it seems the Pullars’ business is doomed to fail.

The directors keep their distance presenting the parties’ pros and cons without judgement, leaving the audience to make up their own minds about this thorny dilemma in a story that very much resonates with the narrative of surviving communities and disappearing lifestyles. Fishing was one of the mainstays of Britain’s rural existence until the EU came along. MT

NOW ON RELEASE

The Night Has Eyes (1942) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Leslie Arliss | Cast: James Mason, Wilfred Lawson, Tucker McGuire, Joyce Howard | UK Gothic Horror 79′
Although he directed some of the biggest British box office successes of the 1940s, Leslie Arliss‘s contribution to British cinema remains under-celebrated. He was born Leslie Andrews in London on 6 October 1901, and started life as a journalist in South Africa, returning to London in the late 1920s to take up a job as a screen writer during the 1930s, turning his hand to various genres from comedy to historical epic dramas such as William Tell (1958); The Wicked Lady (1945) and Idol of Paris (1948). One of his most successful scripts was for Ealing studio’s The Foreman Went to France directed by Charles Friend in 1942.  
Based on the novel by Alan Kennington The Night Has Eyes sees James Mason at his most suave and sinister as a troubled ex-soldier from the Spanish Civil war. Schoolteachers Marian (Howard) and Doris (McGuire) are looking for their friend Evelyn who has gone missing in the Yorkshire dales (actually filmed at Welwyn Garden City Studios, an overflow for Elstree). Retreating during a storm to a remote cottage for the night they soon fall under the seductive thrall of the owner, a reclusive pianist Stephen Deremid (Mason) who is strangely appealing especially to Doris who soon senses some connection between this cool customer and the disappearance of her friend. Gunther Krampf’s evocative camerawork does wonders with shadows and light while Arliss keeps us gripped with his tortuous storytelling. MT
NOW OUT ON Blu-ray at AMAZON.CO.UK
https://youtu.be/lwts14_PIlc

Gwen (2018) ***

Dir.: William McGregor; Cast: Maxine Peake, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Jody Innes, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith; UK 2018, 88 min.

This Gothic coming of age folk tale is the big screen debut of TV director William McGregor, who is well known for his character based dramas such as Poldark. Gwen is a long version of his 2009 short film, which was shot in Slovenia. Falling between ultra-realism and English Gothic horror in the style of Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England, Gwen never quite lives up to its early promise, in spite of an evocative setting and haunting images by DoP Adam Etherington.

Set in 19th century Snowdonia during the industrial revolution, the story centres on 17-year old Gwen, her younger sister Mari (Innes) and mother Elen (Peake), an authoritative woman suffering from a epilepsy. Elen and Gwen look after the family’s small-holding, in the absence of the patriarch, who is fighting a far-away war. But doom and gloom overwhelms them from the start, with a series of tragic events: their sheep are slaughtered and have to be destroyed; the pack horse bolts at the stormy weather and has to be put down, and the local quarry owner puts in a bid to buy their farm, supported by the village elders. But Elen stubbornly resists, wanting to preserve the land for her husband’s home-coming (although she has been informed of his death).

Gwen’s life becomes increasingly difficult with her only male support being Dr Wren (Holdbrook-Smith). And just before gothic horror takes over completely in a bloody finale, we learn that even the good doctor is on the side of the evil-doers rather than our tragic heroine.

But McGregor then shifts from realism to full blown gothic horror with the introduction of jump scares and other well-worn horror tropes. Bloodletting and ghostly images of the missing father feel really superfluous – as are symbolic gestures, such as the rotten potato in the ground. Eleanor Worthington-Cox saves the day with a terrific performance as Gwen. She starred in the title role of the stage musical Matilda and is now in her late teens. Together with Maxine Peake she carries this hybrid feature to a devastating conclusion, bailing out the director and his simplistic over-the-top approach. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASES FROM 20 JULY 2019

 

In Fabric (2018) ****

Writer/Director: Peter Strickland | Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Gwendoline Christie, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Julian Barratt, Leo Bill, Fatma Mohamed, Richard Bremmer | Horror | UK | 118′

Peter Strickland follow-up to his lesbian frolic The Duke of Burgundy is a sinister 1970s sartorial satire which gets sillier the more it wears on. This fourth bizarre entry is another of those richly entertaining and quirkily fascinating films we’ve come to expect from the British director, now at the top of his game.

A dress is the antiheroine of IN FABRIC. Vampishly voluptuous in scarlet silk and satin, it is a garment to die for, and that is both a blessing and a curse for those who slip it on. For the dress in question possesses strange qualities that no-one can vanquish, because no-one is clever enough to interpret its power. This dense but simply plotted Giallo-inspired erotic thriller conjures up dread, horror and even disgust through its inventive visual aesthetic, and a signature atmospheric soundtrack that recalls Berberian Sound Studio and channels the bizarre human obsessions of sales shopping and stag nights.

It all starts in Dentley & Soper’s fashion emporium back in the day where the January sales were a post Christmas bonanza. In a choppy collage of archive photos of garish retro ad campaigns, Strickland quickly establishes the furore of price slashes and the adrenaline rush of queue barging – the public baying for bargains in anticipation of the fray, long before couch-based internet shopping saw daily discounts.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays 50 year old Sheila who’s back on the dating scene, through the small ads – fraught with weirdos, even back then. Sheila is sick and tired of her teenage son’s in-house love-ins with Gwendoline Christie’s woman twice his age, so under the spiky guidance of a crinoline sporting sales woman (Fatma Mohamed speaking in Romanian-accented riddles) she is tempted and then urged to buy ‘the dress’.

Although her date is a disaster, strange things start to happen to Sheila once she gets the red dress which takes on a slinky life of its own, hovering over her bed at night and causing her washing machine to self-combust. The garment’s next owner (Leo Bill) gets to wear it at his stag party, and the next morning his irritating wife (Hayley Squires) takes a fancy to it too and rapidly develops a skin rash. Meanwhile, in the backroom after hours, Fatma Mohamed turns weird and witchy, wearing a wig and wickedly caressing her shop mannequins to the erotic delight of the Dracula-like manager Mr Lundy (Richard Bremmer). The humour lies in the contrast between the banal and the bizarrely erotic – or just plain weird. Images of sumptuously stewing peppers in Sheila’s kitchen give way to those of sexy underwear in her son’s bedroom; Julian Barratt’s hilarious turn as Sheila’s boss is as cliched as Fatma Mohamed’s grotesque Victorian vendeuse is uncanny.

The sad hope that a mere garment will satisfy in our human need to be loved and unique (and if not, recycled to the next person) is echoed in the film’s themes of obsession, superficiality and consumerism. Sidse Babett Knudsen, the submissive lover in The Duke of Burgundy, is revealed as the dress’s original owner, who modelling the garment in the shop’s catalogue, under the lofty spiel: “ambassadorial function dress, canapé conversation” – a promise that aspires more to James Bond rather than the Thames Valley. But by the time the victims begin to realise that the dress is damned, it’s already too late. And as much as we aspire to creating a good impression, we’re also guilty of judging a book by its cover. Meanwhile Peter Strickland will be saying at the Q&A: “the film means nothing, I was just having a bit of fun”. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 28 JUNE 2019

The Flood (2019)***

Dir: Anthony Woodley | Cast: Lena Headey, Iain Glenn, Ivanno Jeremiah | Drama 98′

Inspired by the growing issue surrounding immigration Anthony Woodley has put together a moving drama that examines both sides of this tragic human crisis.

Crowned by three tremendous central performances The Flood centres on the plight of a doe-eyed Eritrean man Haile (a stunning Jeremiah) who has had a traumatic time getting to England in the back of a lorry. The action flips back and forth between the official interrogation in stifling government offices and Haile’s eventful journey, his doe-eyed gentleness making it clear that he is certainly no criminal despite the unfortunate circumstances of his discovery by police.

Lena Headey makes for a convincing world weary immigration official wading diligently through the tears and excuses while drowning in a personal crisis of her own. “Everyone has their story” she posits sarcastically, while swigging water from a plastic bottle (that we later discover is vodka). Iain Glen plays her exhausted boss bowing under pressure to meet government targets.

Refreshingly The Flood is a cinematic, understated and sleek-looking film full of decent well-intentioned souls trying to survive rather than the hard-nosed characters we’ve come to expect in the growing ‘immigration’ genre. Helen Kingston’s script is based on Woodley’s own accounts during his time volunteering in the Calais Jungle. But one can’t help wondering too about the UK housing crisis, as one of the successful imigrées opens the front door of her new council home. MT

THE FLOOD is in UK cinemas and on demand from 21st June

I Was Monty’s Double (1958) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: John Guillermin | Script: Bryan Forbes | Cast: M E Clifton Jones, John Mills, Maureen Connell, Cecil Parker, Patrick Allen, Leslie Philips, Barbara Hicks, Sidney James, John Le Mesurier, Marius Goring, Michael Hordern | War Drama | UK 101′

During the war years doubles often served as decoys to divert the enemy away from the main action. One such doppelgänger was ME Clifton-James whose striking resemblance to General Montgomery made him the ideal candidate to impersonate him during a special assignment in North Africa with D-Day fast approaching at the end of the Second World War. And he really is terrific in the role, successfully drawing German troops away from Normandy and becoming both a hero and a major military target.

The riveting real story has been amusingly adapted for the screen by Bryn Forbes providing the drama for John Guillermin’s entertaining caper which stars his wife Peggy and a top-tier array of British talent from the era including a chipper John Mills, Leslie Philips (looking rather pleased with himself), John Le Mesurier (playing it rather severely against type), Michael Hordern and even Marius Goring. I WAS MONTY’S DOUBLE is smart, astute and pacy as it powers along convincingly in Basil Emmott’s slick black and white camerawork. As Clifton James prepares for his role of a lifetime there’s never a dull moment both in the tensely conspiratorial interior scenes and on the widescreen – with some terrific set pieces such as the landing in Gibraltar and North Africa. Guillermin’s eclectic career path would see him directing Orson Welles in the 1966 mystery thriller House of Cards and Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in The Towering Inferno (1974). MT

AVAILABLE from JUNE 11 | COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL to COMMEMORATE the 75th ANNIVERSARY OF THE D-DAY LANDINGS

Odette (1950) **** Home Ent release

Dir.: Herbert Wilcox; Cast: Anna Neagle, Trevor Howard, Marius Goring, Peter Ustinov, Alfred Schieske; UK 1950, 124 min.

Directed by Herbert Wilcox (1890-1977) and scripted by Warren Chetham-Strode after the book Odette, The Story of a British Agent by Jerrad Tickell, Odette was produced by Wilcox and his leading lady and wife Anna Neagle (1904-1986). 

A popular star of the British cinema from the 1930s onwards, she played Neil Gwynn, Queen Victorian (twice) and Edith Cavell, Neagle was nevertheless reluctant to be cast as Odette Hallowes- Samson-Churchill, a French born British Special Operations agent, who survived Ravensbrück Concentration Camp after being captured working for the resistance in France. Wilcox (The Lady with a Lamp) offered the part to Michèle Morgan and Ingrid Bergman, who both turned him down. The real Odette Samson finally convinced Neagle to take on the role.

Odette works with the resistance as British operative in France. She meets and works for commander Peter Churchill (Howard), whom she would marry after the war. Odette and the Russian agent Arnaud (Ustinov) are lured into a trap by ‘Henri’ (Goring), who is really the German Abwehr spy Hugo Bleicher, pretending that he is on the side of anti-Hitler forces. The three of them are captured, and Odette is tortured in the notorious Fresnes prison near Paris. Whilst Arnaud (real name Rabinovitch) is sent to the extermination camp Rawicz, near Lodz in Poland, Odette is transferred to Ravensbrück, where she is to be executed. But the camp commandant Fritz Suhren (Schieske) believes her lie, that she is Winston Churchill’s niece. He hopes to bargain for a pardon after letting her go free to meet the advancing American troops. Odette is reunited with Peter in the UK, and a witness in the trial against Suhren – who was, ironically hanged the same year, the feature Odette hit the British cinemas, being the forth most successful film that year at the box-office.

This was a picture with some real howlers (like Bleicher apologising to Odette, and making it possible for her to see Peter Churchill in prison ‘for a last time’), Neagle is superb in her understatement. But the star is veteran DoP Max Green aka Mutz Greenbaum (1896-1968), a German émigré who founded the ‘Deutsche Bioscope’ and was after his emigration responsible for classics like The Stars look Down, Night and the City and So evil, my Love. The black-and-white images, particularly the one in Fresnes and Ravensbrück, belie the studio background. Only slightly dated, Odette is still a harrowing reminder of the price women had to pay in the liberation from fascism. AS

DVD, BLU-RAY, DOWNLOAD | JUNE 11th | STUDIOCANAL VINTAGE CLASSICS | COMMEMORATING THE 75th ANNIVERSARY OF D DAY 

The Last Tree (2019) *** Sundance London 2019

Dir.: Shola Amoo; Cast: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, Tai Golding, Nicholas Pinnock, DemmyLadipo; UK 2019, 100 min.

Writer/director Shola Amoo explores a conflicted teenager at odds with his environment in modern Britain, with his roots in Nigeria.

We meet Femi (Tai Golding) as a happy eleven-year old in rural Lincolnshire where he runs wild with his white school friends during the day, before returning to loving foster Mum Mary (Black) in a middle class area. But Femi is suddenly uprooted when his birth mother Yinka (Ikumelo) demands his return to her tiny flat in one of many high-rise blocks in South-London. Femi is stranded: on the phone he calls Mary ‘Nan’, but refuses to admit how much he is alienated by the black ghetto, and his authoritarian Mum. She punishes him physically, telling him “I did not raise you, to be rude”. To which Femi answers “You did not raise me”.

Sixteen-year old Femi (Adewunmi) has nothing but his memories, but he makes up for it by presenting himself as a proud African. Meanwhile, many of his mates are much more assimilated, and bully him. For a short while, he fells under the spell of the local mini-gangster Mace (Ladipo), but an upright teacher helps him to free himself from the clutches of petty crime. A romantic interlude just goes to enforce his alienation. But this all changes in the third act when his mother introduces him to his birth father in Nigeria.  A wealthy Christian, he rejected Yinka and his son because she believed in the old mysticism of the country and “was not ready to submit like a Christian woman.”

The structure of the feature underlines Femi’s conflict. There is only one scene when past and present interact positively and this involves his foster mother Mary. DoP Stil Williams uses a peachy pastel palette for the Lincolnshire scenes, than switches to hyper-realism for the South London interlude, before prime colours show his re-awakening in Nigeria.

THE LAST TREE (the title remains opaque) has not the narrative strength of Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother, the Devil, but relies on emotional power. Femi is black, African and disenfranchised British, but at the same time rejected on all three levels. He is not able to connect his childhood memories with anything in his adult life, and the question remains if he will find acceptance in Nigeria, or if the fragmentation will continue. Amoo’s feature has certainly structural fault lines, but he makes up partly for it with a radical passionate approach, showing a picture of unreconciled loneliness. AS

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL LONDON | 30 MAY – 2 JUNE 2019

Room at the Top (1959) Bfi Player

Dir.: Jack Clayton; Cast: Simone Signoret, Laurence Harvey, Heather Sears, Ambrose Phillipotts, Donald Wolfit, Allan Cuthbertson; UK 1959, 115. Min.

Jack Clayton (1927-1995) is one of the most underrated of British directors. He made his mark with only seven features – and it could have done more had some of his projects not been abandoned by circumstances beyond his control. We are left with the Henry James adaption of The Innocents, the equally eerie Our Mother’s House,  The Pumpkin Eater (scripted by Pinter) and Room at the Top, his debut film. 

Based on the novel by John Braine and adapted by Neil Peterson, Room at the Top won two Oscars: Simone Signoret for Best Actress (as she did in Cannes,) and Peterson – Best Adaption. Clayton was known as a middle-of-the-road director (and his name was not Tony Richardson or Karel Reisz), so he did not get the credit for the first “Kitchen Sink Drama” in British film history.

Joe Lampton (Harvey) a young man from a working-class back ground is determined to make it big. Working in the treasury department at Warnley, near Bradford in Yorkshire, he meets Susan Brown (Sears), the daughter of the local industrialist (a terrific Wolfit) and makes his mind up to marry her. But Susan’s parents send her abroad to avoid the bumptious social climber, and Lampton falls in love with Alice Aisgill (Signoret) whose husband George (Cuthbertson) treats her like a possession. When Susan returns Joe switches his attentions back to her, but after they consummate their relationship Joe swears eternal love to Alice. Furious, her husband threatens to ruin their life and when Susan gets pregnant Joe marries her. Alice is distraught and has a fatal car accident after getting drunk, and Joe is beaten up by a gang after making a pass at one of the girls. But he recovers in time to marry Susan, the girl of his dreams but not the love of his life. 

Room at the Top is full of the subtle inequalities of English provincial life and the film’s success at the box office was based on the premise that sex (even in the afternoon!) could be enjoyed in an industrial northern town, by mature adults. The locations were exactly right, and the display of sexual frankness was an eye-opener.

Born in Lithuania and bred in Sough Africa, Harvey was already a small star but this role as a glib social climber catapulted him to fame. But it was Simone Signoret who carried the feature, her smouldering sexuality was a first for British cinema. The great Freddie Francis photographed Bradford luminously as a post-war ruin, just before re-generation arrived. 

Jack Clayton’s unrealised projects include the Edna O’Brien adaption Sweet Autumns, John Le Carre’s The Looking Glass War, The Tenant, later directed by Polanski, and an early version of The Bourne Identity (1983). He never got the tributes his realised films deserved, and he withdrew into virtual silence. AS

NOW ON BFI PLAYER | SUBSCRIPTION | Also available to own in a BFI Dual Format Edition (Blu-ray & DVD) packaged with numerous extras including a new feature commentary and a selection of archive films of West Riding, Yorkshire, where the film is set.

 

 

 

Sorry We Missed you (2019) *** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Ken Loach | UK Drama 100′

After his Palme d’Or win in 2015 with I, Daniel Black, Cannes old timer Ken Loach is back with his regular writer Paul Laverty and another slice of social realism with a title that will resonate bitterly if you’re still waiting for that parcel. SORRY WE MISSED YOU takes Loach back to the North East and the streets of Gateshead and Newcastle where hard-up grafter Ricky and his family have been facing an uphill struggle against debt since the 2008 financial crash and the rise of the gig economy and zero contract hours. An opportunity to get back into the black again comes in the shape of a shiny new van and a chance to run his own business as a self-employed delivery driver, but things don’t quite work out as expected despite his best efforts, and we feel for him. Laverty’s script flows along as smoothly as the Tyne in scenes that showcase Loach’s talent for bringing out the best in newcomers in an able cast that includes Kris Hitchen and Debbie Honeywood with Rhys Stone and Katie Proctor as their son and daughter. This time humour and honesty keep sentimentality low key. The locale is very much a character too, Shields Road and Byker which we get to know like the back of our hand in this enjoyable tale of woe, and we have his regular photographer Robbie Ryan to thank for that. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14-25 MAY 2019

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) **

Dir.: Jo Berlinger; Cast: Lily Collins, Zac Efron, Kaya Scodelario, Angela Sarafyan, John Malkovich; USA 2018, 110 min.

Director Joe Berlinger is sort of a Ted Bundy specialist, his semi-documentary multi-part Netflix series Conversation with a Killer – The Ted Bundy Tapes was pretty much a disaster but not such an overwhelming failure as Extremely Wicked. Based on the memoirs of Elizabeth Kendall The Phantom Prince – My Life with Ted Bundy, Berlinger attempts to view Bundy through the eyes of his victim – we wish.

The re-construction narrative starts in 1969 when Kendall (Collins) and Bundy Efron) meet in a student bar in Seattle. Kendall is a single mum and Bundy wins her heart early on, caring for daughter Molly.  But her excitement is short-lived when she sees a photofit of Bundy in the local paper. Her friend Joanna (Sarafyan) tries to convince her the guy is clearly not a keeper, to put it mildly, but love is blind. Brady was accidentally pulled up for a traffic violation in 1975, having committed more murders in Utah after he left Seattle in 1974. In 1976 he was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to fifteen years. He escaped twice from the police, before he was tried for his last two murders in Florida. Crucially, the trial was the first to be shown on TV and lasted from June 25th to July 31st 1979. Judge Edward Cowart (Malkovich) spars with Bundy, and with Kendall more or less written out of the picture, Berlinger turns his focus to Bundy’s self defence (having been sacked by his lawyers) and his relationship with Carol Anne Boone (Scodelario) who he marries, after proposing to her in court. We later we watch the couple having sex and conceiving a baby daughter. Meanwhile the prison guard gleefully counts his money.

Far from shedding any light on the Kendall/Bundy relationship, Berlinger’s thrust is to offer an entertaining court room farce, where Bundy and Cowart enjoy an intellectual set-to. Efron, like Mark Harmon before him in The Deliberate Stranger, is out to show Bundy’s charming facade – but nothing more. By the time he wheels on Bundy’s mother Louise to defend her son, Berlinger has long opted out of any serious consideration. AS

NOW ON SKY TV AND SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

British Transport Films | Blu-ray release 2019

What could be more romantic than a train journey? Even if it feels more like a boys own adventure, as many of these British Transport films do. Escaping into the unknown with a promise of excitement and discovery – or just a trip back in time to revisit childhood holidays in the 1960s and 1970s, where the English landscape stretched far and wide from the window of the pullman out of Waterloo, or even Paddington, and not an anorak in sight! 

This year celebrates the 70th anniversary of the British Transport Films with twenty one films representing the cream of the celebrated BTF collection.

Classics including John Schlesinger’s Terminus (1961)and Railways forever! (1970) John Betjeman’s eulogy to his favourite form of transport, have been newly digitally remastered on 2k, while Geoffrey Jones’s legendary homage to progress, Rail (1967), has been restored in 4K by the BFI National Archive.

British Transport Films was established in 1949 to focus a spotlight on transport as a nationalised undertaking. Over a period of more than 35 years, BTF produced an unrivalled documentary film legacy for generations of film and transport enthusiasts.

The Films (disc 1)

Farmer Moving South (1952)

Train Time (1952)

This is York  (1953)

Elizabethan Express (1954)

Snowdrift at Bleath Gill (1955)

Any Man’s Kingdom (1956)

Fully Fitted Freight (1957)

Every Valley (1957)

A Future on the Rail (1957)

Between the Tides (1958)

Disc 2

A Letter for Wales (1960)

They Take the High Road (1960)

Blue Pullman (1960)

Terminus (1961)

The Third Sam (1962)

Rail (1967)

Railways For Ever! (1970)

The Scene from Melbury House (1972)

Wires Over the Border (1974)

Locomotion (1975)

Overture: One-Two-Five (1978)

This collection will be launched with a special screening at BFI Southbank. Moving Millions: British Transport Films Blu-ray Launch + Q&A takes place on Tuesday 14 May at 18:00 in NFT1. It will be introduced by BFI Curator of Non-Fiction, Steve Foxon and followed by a Q&A with special guests. This event is also part of the Department for Transport’s Centenary.

https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/movingmillionsbritishtransportplusqanda

 

 

Pond Life (2017) ***

Dir.: Bill Buckhurst; Cast: Tom Varley, Esme Creed-Miles, Angus Imrie, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Abraham Levis, Ethan Wilkie, Gianluca Galucci, Sian Brooke; UK 2017, 100 min.

Bill Buckhurst sets his feature debut in a mining village near Doncaster, South Yorkshire in 1994. Based on scriptwriter’s Richard Cameron play of the same name, it On the surface it’s a gentle comedy, but beware there are unknown depths, and not just in the pond.

Trev (Varley) is spending his last summer in the village where his best friend Pogo (Creed-Miles) is acting strangely, even for a teenager. Cassie (Edgar-Jones) on the other hand, is a fully fledged adolescent, all strops and tantrums if she does not get her way, and in she’s fallen for Maurice (Levis), a rather dubious figure. To make matters worse, her Ex, Malcolm (Imrie) has not come to terms with things, and is stalking her. Two pre-pubescence boys, Dave (Wilkie) and Shane (Galucci) are also suffering from hormonal changes, and spend their time watching Cassie and Maurice in the high grass, or nicking Cassie’s stockings and suspenders. Adults play a secondary role in Pond Life, like Pogo’s Mum (Brooke), who is suffering from a depression. 

Meanwhile Tom is an expert fisherman, and come nightfall, takes them all out fishing to catch the mystical beast, they call Nessie. When Pogo’s line pulls, she decides – against the odds – to put the fish back into the water. And the  following morning, finds out that Trevor had already left, and all is not well with Maurice.

There’s nothing really happening in the village, except for some slot machines and and a ropey old cafe. The adults tend to meet up in the Miners Club, where they reminisce about a weird guy called Tony Blair, who has just become leader of the Labour Party, and wants to live in Number Ten. “Fat chance”, is the overwhelming comment of the crowd.

Although watchable enough Pond Life still feels rather stagey and this somehow limits its filmic scope on the big screen. DoP Nick Cooke, struggles to find innovative angles in this rather down beaten environment whose dilapidated settings hark back to the mining crisis which has cast a  deep melancholy on everything that moves, (and doesn’t). And whilst this atmosphere of total abandonment is captured rather well, the threadbare narrative strains to keep our attention for the full running time. Pond Life wants very much to be liked, but in the end, tries too hard. AS

ON RELEASE ON 12 APRIL 2019

 

The Caretaker (1963) **** Bfi Flipside

Dir.: Clive Donner; Cast: Alan Bates, Donald Pleasence, Robert Shaw; UK 1963, 105 min.

A play that changed the face of modern theatre and made Harold Pinter’s name, The Caretaker remains one of Pinter’s most famous works. Featuring original production cast members Donald Pleasence and Alan Bates, the film adaptation is sensitively directed by Clive Donner (Rogue Male) and was shot by Nicolas Roeg. It will be released by the BFI in a Dual Format Edition on 15 April 2019, presented with a variety of extras, and on iTunes on 29 April.

The Caretaker was also an early version of celebrity crowdfunding, with Elisabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Noel Coward among the co-producers. With clear echoes of Joseph Losey’s The Servant from the same year (Pinter also scripted, based on a novel by Robin Maugham), The Caretaker is a power play as well as a psychological menage-a-trois. But whilst the titular servant in the Loosey film wins the battle with his master and his fiancée, the title character in The Caretaker looses out against the alliance of two brothers.

Hobo Mac Davies aka Bernhard Jenkins (Pleasence) is picked up from the street by Aston (Shaw), who takes pity on him on a frosty night, and invites him into the dilapidated home he , shares with his brother Mick (Bates). But having set foot in his bedsitter room, which has been used as a dumping ground for broken domestic appliances, Davies turns out to be opportunistic and aggressive at the same time: bullying the hyper-sensitive Aston, who has been the victim of electro-shock treatment during his teenage years. Davies also spins him a porkie about having to get to  Sidcup, to retrieve his ‘papers’ – a bogus excuse which provides a rich vein of humour. Despite being a tramp with no possessions or any way of financing him life, he has a high opinion of himself, and is extremely demanding and choosy finding fault in Aston’s generous attempts to accommodate him: particularly with regards to footwear. Alan Bates plays Aston’s cocky older brother Mick (Bates), who dreams about tuning the ramshackle house into a luxury penthouse – whilst Aston had mentioned a much more realistic project to Davis: the building of a shed in the garden, where Aston could use as a workshop. But Davis soon enthrals Aston with his stories of follies de grandeur – and the need to get to Sidcup to fetch his ‘references’. Private Eye’s column ‘Great Bores of Today’ could have been based on Pinter’s hilarious road references.

Even though, Mick throws a few coins at Davies feet, which the in the room is a small Buddha statue, which Aston cherishes. Trying to get to grips with Davies, Mick smashes the stature, whilst the former tries to get Aston to give him control over the household, relegating his brother. A knife suddenly turns up, but slowly the brothers form an alliance against Davies. Aston throws him out of the house, but even though Mick picks him up in the morning, after a Davies is shivering from the cold, Aston turns his back literally on Davies, who has returned to the house: Aston keeps out the light blocking from the window and condemns Davis to the darkness he came from.

Richard Donner (Here we go around the Mulberry Bush) directs the sparse action with great sensitivity, but DoP Nicolas Roeg steals the show, using all tricks in the trade to conjure up always new light and shadow games, in which the three protagonists are caught like in a spider’s web. Pleasance is really creepy as the ever-changing Davis, and Bates acts out his his psychotic tendencies with menace. But Robert Shaw makes the strongest impression, as the permanently tortured victim of intrusive medical treatment, which has robbed him of any idenity. AS

Dual Format Edition (DVD/Blu-ray) release on 15 April 2019, and on iTunes on 29 April

   

Last Breath (2018) ****

Dir: Richard da Costa, Alex Parkinson  | UK Doc, 90′

Playing out like a thriller Last Breath, examines the dramatic true story in a way that cleverly keeps us guessing right through to the final credits. Told through first-hand accounts of the people affected it combines archive and black box footage together with underwater reconstructions of the fatal events.

For Chris Lemons it was just ‘another day at the office’. As a commercial diver in the petrochemical industry he was going through his customary procedure of descending 262ft underwater for a routine inspection of a drilling structure at the Huntington oil field, 115 miles east of Peterhead, Aberdeenshire. At the same time Parkinson and da Costa add dramatic poignancy to the party by featuring emotional input from his colleagues and his wife-to-be, busily making preparations back home for their wedding celebrations in Scotland.  

But the tone is doom-laden while we wait for inevitable in a day where nothing went according to plan. Lemons’ vessel started to drift due to a systems failure causing his “umbilical” line, supplying both air and heat, to twist and then sever, leaving him with only his emergency air tank –and about 5 minutes of breathing gas to keep going, the rescue team was half an hour away. Parkinson records extraordinary underwater footage of the events, keeping our nerves on fire in this moving and informative documentary that explores one man’s fateful fight for survival in the cruel sea. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 5 APRIL 2019.

 

Out of Blue (2018) ****

Dir.: Carol Morley; Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Mamie Gummer. Toby Jones, Jonathan Majors, James Caan, Jackie Weaver; US/UK 2018, 110 min.

Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life) is a British auteur who brings so much more to her films that just the narrative. Her screen version of Martin Amis’ novel Night Train is a genre hybrid– noir in this case – and existentialism. Out of Blue is as enigmatic as its title and New Orleans is the shadowy setting where detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) investigates the murder of astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Gummer).

Rockwell is found dead in a planetarium where she’d given a speech the day before about Black Holes. Early clues lead to two main-suspects: Ian Strammi (Toby Jones) manager of the site, and Duncan Reynold (Majors), Rockwell’s lover and co-worker. But Hoolihan feels instinctively that the solution to the crime will lead her back into the past where Space will offer clues. A recovering alcoholic with a captivating cat (who steals many a scene) Mike nevertheless loses it completely when cornered by her own past, and performs a drunken semi-striptease on a bar table. Rockwell’s parents are also involved: Colonel Tom (Caan) – who may or may not be the suspect of a past murder spree – and her mother Miriam (Weaver), who has her own dark guilt complex, are not helping Hoolihan, neither are Rockwell’s twin brothers. When the tragedy unravels, more questions emerge, and even physical identities start to look questionable: as Jennifer says in her final lecture “our nose and our hands may not be from the same galaxy”.

The film’s main characters’ identities seem to emanate from a different past, and nothing fits any more. Out of Blue is very much Nicolas Roeg territory: his son Luc is also a producer. Morley’s narrative leads gradually leads us ‘out of this world’, where Rockwell felt much more at home than on this planet – never mind her rather dysfunctional family set-up. And Hoolihan herself is hiding behind her policeman’s (sic) mask, denying both gender and past. DoP Conrad W. Hall’s images play on tones of the colour blue: we race through the film like the night train of Martin Amis’ novel (on which it is loosely based): from the night sky to the cream receptacle found at the crime scene, and the murky metallic-grey of crimes past, everything leads to the indigo blue of cosmic Black Holes.

Morley is clearly interested in the who-done-it, but she also asks questions about human nature; and all her protagonists have something significant to hide. And she never lets them get away with it – the raison d’être of their life (or death) is always more important than the circumstances of the discoveries. To paraphrase the feature title: Blue is the new Noir. The director never gives in or compromises: the existential ‘why’ is her reason for filmmaking, the result may not be to everyone’s taste, but it satisfies an audience hungry for answers outside our immediate Universe. AS

IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 29 MARCH 2019 

Ray and Liz (2018) ****

Dir: Richard Billingham | Cast: Justin Salinger, Ella Smith, Patrick Romer, Deidre Kelly, Tony Way, Sam Gittins, Joshua Millard-Lloyd | UK | Drama |107′

Turner prize-nominated Richard Billingham doesn’t miss a trick in portraying the squalid splendour of his early life in Birmingham during the early Seventies in his debut drama RAY & LIZ, premiering here at Locarno Film Festival.

Five years in the making, this impressively-tooled arthouse piece is not for the feint-hearted: In one scene the family dog makes quick work of some vomit spewed out after an enforced drinking spree. But this all adds to the glorious texture of his childhood experiences in the Black Country recorded fondly for posterity and in tribute to his parents, from collected photographs.

The Political undertones of the era are not swept under the grimy council house carpet but hardly forced in your face either. The Seventies were desperately difficult years for Britain, both politically and economically, and although Harold Wilson got the country back to work, it came at the price of inflation at almost 30%, the decade ending with Jim Callaghan’s humiliation at the hands of the unions in the Winter of Discontent and Margaret Thatcher taking over as prime minister in 1979.

We first meet Ray (Patrick Romer) sipping some kind of lethal home brew out of a plastic bottle after a night’s sleep, fully clothed, in his dismal bedroom. It’s a pitiful sight and we feel for him, yet he seems content enough although lost in his thoughts. As the narrative slips back and forward from Billingham’s early years to this final memory of his father, still in a council property and separated from his mother, there are poignant moments but also those that are painful to watch, such as when his “soft” uncle Lol is beaten senseless by his mother (with her shoe). And the cockroach-ridden mildewed walls and filthy ‘front room’ in their council flat makes grim viewing, as does the disgusting sight of bloated and chain-smoking Liz on one of her shouty outbursts. But the film is never maudlin. Welcome bursts of cheeky humour occasionally lurk round the corner even in this God-forsaken highrise hovel with its menagerie of invited and uninvited animals, such as the time when little Jason poured chilli powder into his father’s mouth while he was asleep. 

There are also echoes of Terence Davies in this social realist memoire. Ray lost his job when the kids were small and his reduced masculine pride sees him making himself scarce or – even useful – around the place in contrast to his surly, stroppy wife who spends her time flower arranging. The period detail here is extraordinary, almost to the point of cliché. It’s as if Billingham has sat down and made a list of every single item he remembered from his upbringing, and then painstakingly placed it on the set and in the dialogue which is rich in local expressions recalling the era. Not an appealing film to watch but an honest, authentic and heartfelt reflection of a point in time and place. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE | PREMIERED AT LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://vimeo.com/281967728

The Aftermath (2018) ****

Dir: James Kent | Cast: Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, Alexander Skarsgård | UK Drama 108′

Best known for his coming-of-age love story Testament Of Youth James Kent offers another ravishingly stylish tale of love that explores tangled emotions of guilt, lust and pride in a post war ménage à trois. In an elegant Belle Epoque villa in the environs of bombed-out Hamburg in 1945, Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård, and Jason Clarke come together as unexpected bedfellows. And Clark is surprisingly the most romantic of a trio dealing with the complexities of loss, both of the people and the places they hold dear. Adapted for the screen by Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel from Rhidian Brook’s novel, one of the strongest elements of The Aftermath is its rounded critical gaze on both the Germans and British characters who emerge initially as an unlikeable bunch, but grow more appealing as we appreciate the tragedy that has touched them all, in different ways. And this lush characterisation is also one of the most engrossing aspects of the film, along with its immaculate period detailing, the visual glamour coruscating amid the dour deprivation and devastation of war and human brutality.

Keira Knightley plays Rachael the spiky and staunchly anti-German wife of war-weary Colonel Lewis Morgan (Clarke) and they meet again as she steps off the train in the opening scene. Not having seen him for years and not particularly excited to be re-united: they share the loss of their only son killed in a bomb blast in London, and Lewis clearly holds her responsible. Not consoled at the prospect of living in a luxuriously appointed mansion full of Avantgarde artworks and Art Deco objets, she greets the buff former owner, architect Stephan Lubert (Skarsgård), with barely concealed disdain. They are to share his family’s opulent residence, and Lewis graciously offers him the attic whence he retires with his little daughter, Frieda (Flora Thiemann). Frosty exchanges and flare-ups are to follow. Both Knightley and Skarsgård’s characters are sexually frustrated and when Col. Lewis is called away for a few days, they fall into each other arms to enjoy a lustful but unconvincing encounter between the sheets. It’s understandable: Lubert has lost his wife and Rachael is continually donning sexy underwear (and one of her girlish grimaces) only to be rebuffed by her husband’s need to attend to his duties, which include cross-examining prisoners or war. One of these is (Albert) who feels a particular resentment to the occupying forces and Lewis himself, and this hatred provides the key to a satisfying narrative twist in the final stages. Colonel Morgan is up to his neck in negotiations with the German resistance Nazi ‘88’ movement, without much support from his bibulous, unpleasant sidekick Major (Martin Compston) who is typical of the kind who inhabits these situations, along with his prissy wife (Kate Phillips) who will soon pick up on Knightley’s frisky new demeanour and follie à deux. Meanwhile, Albert (Jannick Schumann) has also become close to Lubert’s difficult, dark horse of a daughter who steals Lewis’s treasured cigarette case bearing a photo of his son, and offers it to Albert as a keepsake.

The Aftermath gradually builds to a tumultuous and convincing final act where we really start to care about the characters and their future. Jason Clarke is the eponymous alpha male who emerges victoriously, through integrity and commitment, to bear a heart of gold. Skarsgård provides solid eye candy as the loving father and soul mate manqué, and Keira is just as she always is, gracefully distant. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE 1 MARCH 2019

The Hole in the Ground (2018) **

Dir: Lee Cronin | Writer: Lee Cronin, Stephen Shields | Cast: Kati Outinen, Seana Kerslake, James Quinn Markey | Horror, 90′ Ireland

The fabulous Finnish actor Kati Outinen lends her screen presence to this rather threadbare thriller about mother and son’s search for a fresh start in life.

A Hole in the Ground certain looks atmospheric but Lee Cronin and his scripter’s slim storyline makes it feel more like an extended short than a full blown horror feature, A more imaginative narrative would have lend this the life blood to wake up and scare us senseless, but not even Kati and an able can re-animate this tired corpse with not enough meat on its bones, so we have to contend with the usual clichés, a hackneyed score and jump scares that have been round the block too many times before.

Mother Sarah (Kerslake) and her son Chris (Marley) fetch up in a village but fail to heed a strange woman’s warnings of doom and gloom. When things go bump in the night, Chris runs off to hide in the titular hole in the woods, but that’s not the only void. Sarah is told that “her child does not belong to her”, and soon finds out this is true. She fights to get her son back – we don’t know where from exactly, but all’s well that ends well (apart from the feature). MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 1 MARCH 2019

 

Stranger in the House (1967) **** BFI Flipside release

Dir: Pierre Rouve | Cast: James Mason, Geraldine Chaplin, Bobby Darin, Ian Ogilvy, Moira Lister | Comedy Drama | UK, 104′

I wish I love the human race;  I wish I loved its silly face;

I wish I loved the way it walks; I wish I liked the way it talks; 

And when I’m introduced to one; I wish I thought “What jolly fun”.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1861-1922)

This rather cynical and satirical portrait of Sixties Britain is held together by an impressive James Mason as a disillusioned and often drunken ex-barrister reflecting back on his life, tormented by a mindless wife and a directionless daughter who holds him in contempt.

The Swinging Sixties was a time when parents were not your close friends but the older generation. That said, the scenes with the younger generation feel rather silly and dated and are much less enjoyable that those with Mason who holds court in a well-pitched sardonic turn, and gets the best lines, all of them drily amusing and satirical. Moira Lister is superb too as his sister, and Ian Ogilvy as his nephew. Even Yootha Joyce makes a small appearance in the court scene.

Based on Georges Simenon’s book of the same name, this was the only film Bulgarian writer and broadcaster Pierre Rouve directed and scripted. And it’s extremely entertaining. Flushed with success after producing Antonioni’s 1966 cult classic Blow-Up, he went on to script Diamonds are for Breakfast (1968). Geraldine Chaplin was still honing her craft and it shows. She is dating a Greek ‘immigrant’ Jo Christoforides who is implicated in a murder of one Barney Teale (Bobby Darin). And after insulting her father, Chaplin begs her him to defend Jo in court. There’s some well-observed comedy scenes such as the one on the escalator between a shopgirl and her boss. And the Southampton streets scenes bring the era flooding back to life. Musical choices are redolent of the era as is Tony Woollard’s iconic artistic direction. A BFI flip-side not to miss. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT WITH SPECIAL FEATURES FROM 25 FEBRUARY 2019 | BFI

Two for Joy (2018) ****

Dir: Tom Beard | Samantha Morton, Billie Piper, Daniel Mays, Badger Skelton | UK Drama | 89′

A family’s problems come to a head in Tom Beard’s chilly slice of seaside social realism that sees three kids confronting their inner demons on a caravan site. It’s a grim scenario: Samantha Morton’s Aisha is a mother dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s death and the prospect of having her children taken into care. Vi (Emilia Jones) the elder, suggests a few days holiday in their caravan where the younger, Troy (Badger Skelton), befriends another girl whose mother Lillah (Billie Piper) is also feeling pretty low. Luckily, Uncle Lias injects a cheerful note to the proceedings, but the clouds soon gather on the horizon.

Made on a shoestring budget but none the worse for it, this contemplative arthouse is a study of unalloyed misery and disorientation of the silent type – and this is what Morton does best. May and Piper provide compassionate support and the kids bring a maturity to their roles that does them proud. The English countryside in summer is bleak and dreary but delicately so: pastel seascapes, misty fields, clouds drift by in picture postcard Dorset. A small and compassionate gem MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 25 February 2019

 

Sundance Film Festival | Award and Winners 2019

Sundance announced its awards last night after ten extraordinary days of the latest independent cinema. Taking place each January in Park City, snowy Utah, the festival is the premier showcase for U.S. and international independent film, presenting dramatic and documentary feature-length films from emerging and established artists, innovative short films, filmmaker forums. The Festival brings together the most original storytellers known to mankind. In his closing speech President and Founder Robert Redford commented: “At this critical moment, it’s more necessary than ever to support independent voices, to watch and listen to the stories they tell.” Over half the films shown were directed by women and 23 prizes were awarded across the board including one film from a director identifying as LGBTQI+

This year’s jurors, invited in recognition of their accomplishments in the arts were Desiree Akhavan, Damien Chazelle, Dennis Lim, Phyllis Nagy, Tessa Thompson, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Yance Ford, Rachel Grady, Jeff Orlowski, Alissa Wilkinson, Jane Campion, Charles Gillibert, Ciro Guerra, Maite Alberdi, Nico Marzano, Véréna Paravel, Young Jean Lee, Carter Smith, Sheila Vand, and Laurie Anderson.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary/China | Dirs: Nanfu Wang/Jialing Zhang,

 photo by Nanfu Wang.

ONE CHILD NATION After becoming a mother, a filmmaker uncovers the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic/USA | Dir/Wri Chinonye Chukwu

 

photo by Eric Branco

CLEMENCY: Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: Dirs: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov | Macedonia

HONEYLAND – When nomadic beekeepers break Honeyland’s basic rule (take half of the honey, but leave half to the bees), the last female bee hunter in Europe must save the bees and restore natural balance.

The Souvenir| photo by Agatha A. Nitecka.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic | UK | Dir/wri: Joanna Hogg

THE SOUVENIR: A shy film student begins finding her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man. She defies her protective mother and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship which comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams. Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton.

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, | USA  Dir: Rachel Lears:

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE — A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada and a registered nurse in Missouri build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Paul Downs

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON — A woman living in New York takes control of her life – one city block at a time. Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, Alice Lee.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary/Austria: Dir: Richard Ladkan

SEA OF SHADOWS/Austria – The vaquita, the world’s smallest whale, is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the “cocaine of the sea.” Environmental activists, Mexican navy and undercover investigators are fighting back against this illegal multimillion-dollar business.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic/Denmark Dir: May el-Toukhy

QUEEN OF HEARTS — A woman jeopardises both her career and her family when she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make an irreversible decision with fatal consequences. Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper.

 

The Audience Award: NEXT, Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra

THE INFILTRATORS / U.S.A. (Directors: , Screenwriters: — A rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center. Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary | USA Dirs: Steven Bognar and Julia

AMERICAN FACTORY  — In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic U.S.A. Dirs: Joe Talbot, Screenwriters: Joe Talbot,

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO — Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary NOR | Dir: Mads Brüggerwas

 photo by Tore Vollan.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld / Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium — Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjold. As their investigation closes in, they discover a crime far worse than killing the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic | Spain (Dir/Wri: Lucía Garibaldi,

THE SHARKS / Uruguay, Argentina – While a rumour about the presence of sharks in a small beach town distracts residents, 15-year-old Rosina begins to feel an instinct to shorten the distance between her body and Joselo’s. Cast: Romina Bentancur, Federico Morosini, Fabián Arenillas, Valeria Lois, Antonella Aquistapache.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic USA | Dir: Pippa Blanco

SHARE— After discovering a disturbing video from a night she doesn’t remember, sixteen-year-old Mandy must try to figure out what happened and how to navigate the escalating fallout. Cast: Rhianne Barreto, Charlie Plummer, Poorna Jagannathan, J.C. MacKenzie, Nick Galitzine, Lovie Simone.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency| USA | Dir: Jacqueline Olive

ALWAYS IN SEASON — When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Emerging Filmmaker USA : Liza Mandelup

JAWLINE — The film follows 16-year-old Austyn Tester, a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem who built his following on wide-eyed optimism and teen girl lust, as he tries to escape a dead-end life in rural Tennessee.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing USA : Todd Douglas Miller

APOLLO 11 — A purely archival reconstruction of humanity’s first trip to another world, featuring never-before-seen 70mm footage and never-before-heard audio from the mission.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography | U.S.A. Dir: Luke Lorentzen

MIDNIGHT FAMILY / Mexico/DOC — In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help. As they try to make a living in this cutthroat industry, they struggle to keep their financial needs from compromising the people in their care.

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

Mary Queen of Scots (2018) ****

Dir: Josie Rourke | Wri: Beau Willimon | Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, Angela Bain, Thon Petty, Adrian Lester, Adrian Derrick-Palmer, Ian Hart, Simon Russell Beale, David Tennant, Brendan Coyle | Drama | US/UK/ 134′

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS is the second film this year that deals with the complicated lives of women in power. In Yorgos Lanthimos’s sassy black comedy Queen Anne falls under the spell of her two female courtiers but manages to prevail despite her reduced mental and physical circumstances. Josie Rourke’s toys convincingly with the truth in her spectacular but sensitive drama that explores the thorny relationship between two 16th century Queens at opposite ends of the British Islands – Mary in Scotland and Elizabeth in Southern England. In some ways these show how women at the top can be lionised and then swiftly victimised: all three female monarchs are highly intelligent and intuitive but they are also totally alone, and crucially vulnerable because of their gender. And the salient fact that emerges in both these films is that regal women – or any female leaders for that matter – are betrayed by their own kind – and not just their menfolk – in their fight to prevail (‘wise men wasted on the whims of women’).

As director of the Donmar Warehouse Lisa Rourke’s approach is theatrical and exquisitely visual in her screen debut. This is a lavishly mounted and magnificent saga that straddles the majestic Scottish landscape and also the lush intimacy of the interior scenes. The 16th century is seen from a uniquely feminine focus. And Rourke appreciates the sensibilities in question that only a woman could appreciate: the great sadness at the heart of Elizabeth I is her inability to procreate and this makes her a vulnerable character with a fatal flaw, despite her abiding strength of character and acute intelligence. Power for women in that era lay in their fertility and also their fecundity. And Mary is fully aware of this and uses her biology to get the better of Elizabeth, at least for a while. And when they finally meet, in a dreamlike scene where gossamer curtains continually conceal Elizabeth from her rival, the meeting is not confrontational but essentially full of regret and commiseration – although neither backs down from their position of residual power. Beau Willimon (Netflix) brings his unique brand of TV theatricals to the party with behind the scenes skulduggery.

The film opens as the 18-year-old widowed and still virgin Mary (Ronan) returns to Scottish shores after a sexless marriage to François – who was apparently too scared to perform his manly duties. Her half- brother (James McArdle) is temporarily on the throne, and not ecstatic to see her, for obvious reasons, and Protestant cleric John Knox (Tennant) is highly vocal in his dislike of her. Her Catholicism is the divisive factor, as is her unwillingness to stroke male egos (“one moment does not make a man”). Her cousin and rival Elizabeth (a regal Margot Robbie) is also unhappy to have her back in Britain, as she is a rightful heir to the throne and Elizabeth is childless, but concedes that Mary will come next. But those around them are not happy about the possible outcomes, and their scheming sets in motion a series of events that are now ‘history’.

Rourke and Willimon’s subtly salacious backdrop to the intrigue makes this neatly condensed historical thriller compelling but also highly plausible. And Rourke keeps the tension mounting and the pace tight throughout in her masterful first feature. There are no long monologues or endless pontifications – and she deftly dovetails the various plot-lines together while stitching sensually intimate scenes into the narrative and also staging short-lived but spectacular battle scenes. Costumes and hairstyles feel both ancient and edgily Avantgarde. And a sexual frisson seems to sizzle throughout the entire cast.

Obviously there will be bleats from historical purists, but this is an imagined drama not an historical recreation. As Mary, Ronan feels perfectly cast and polished, her porcelain prettiness suffused with ethereal delicacy, and yet she is resolute and pragmatic to the last. After being seduced by Darnley’s charm – hardly surprising given that her smouldering libido has been unquenched by a sexless short marriage – she quickly susses him out to be a bisexual airhead with feet of clay and an eye to the main chance – but realises she must also bear a child by him – as soon as possible. She also fathoms out the way to do this is through domination, and he responds.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth gets a dose of small pox – transforming Robbie from a regal stunner to a dried-up crone – but still radiates an inner strength and an outer vulnerability which brings out the Queen’s thoughtful introspection and her deep regret at having to be “a man”. And the final scene sees her holding her own, despite Mary’s persistence as a Stuart. This is a finely-tuned but mesmerising arthouse drama that manages its modern viewpoint without losing site of its elegant antiquity. MT

From 18 JANUARY 2019

Rogue Male (1976) Prime

Dir: Clive Donner | Writer: Frederick Raphael | Cast: Peter O’Toole, John Standing, Alistair Sim, Harold Pinter, Robert Lang, Cyd Hayman, Philip Jackson, Maureen Lipman | UK Drama | 103′

Peter O’Toole is perfectly cast as a seedy, tweedy, down at heel aristocrat embarking on a ‘sporting stalk’ of his deadliest enemy Adolf Hitler from frost-bitten Bavaria via London to the wind swept English countryside in 1939. Based on Geoffrey Household’s cult thriller, Rogue Male is a tense and chilly thriller whose source themes are deftly condensed into a compact and witty affair directed by Clive Donner (The Caretaker) and written by Frederick Raphael, who adds a touch of caustic humour to the dialogue.

Alastair Sim (of ‘Something Nasty in the Woodshed’ fame) is in it too (as The Earl), along with Harold Pinter (Saul). They create that sardonic sense of ennui and superciliousness of the upper classes – O’Toole particularly so as Sir Robert Hunter, recently captured by the Gestapo and left for dead after attempting to shoot Hitler at close quarters. His chase from Germany to England sees his hunting prowess and resourcefulness coming into full force in order to survive the wintry rigours of the hostile landscape.

Clive Donner and his scripter Frederick Raphael originally put the piece together on a shoe-string budget for the BBC small screen in 1976, as part of a series of films offering a historiography of British pluck. Rogue Male melds suspense with social commentary and Peter O’Toole comes across as raddled yet gritty, rigged out in his hunting gear and sporting raffishly scruffy sideboards. The film version sees him as more upmarket (a ‘minor baronet’ ) than he is on the page where he enjoys a lunch of beer and ‘a cold bird’ rather than Raphael’s classy lunch of ‘Moet and Chandon 1928 and gull’s eggs’. O’Toole’s lines are priceless. Even when facing death on the edge of a ravine, he retains his pride. When the German officer tells him about his Charterhouse education, Sir Robert calls the school: “a mousy little middle-class establishment”. “Well we can’t all go to Eton”, the Officer responds. “Thank God! is O’Toole’s retort. But who could fail to root for the foxy hero with a valiant vendetta against Europe’s most wanted man. Later on he declines to politely shake hands, claiming “my hand isn’t really up to it”. Contemporary writers and directors would probably downgrade him to a more working class hero, in tune with the zeitgeist, and maybe Mark Strong would fit the role.

The tightly plotted narrative whips along smartly as Sir Robert pursues his enemy Quive Smith (Standing). Fritz Lang had already tackled Household’s thriller in his 1941 outing Man Hunt but according to film critic Paul Fairclough, Donner describes this version (led by Walter Pidgeon) as “a travesty”.

Away from the glumness of the country setting there are contrasting scenes that take place in the dank confines of a steamy Turkish bath. And its here that Alastair Sim, swathed in white towels and bathrobe (as Sir Robert’s uncle), leisurely declines to assert his influence, declaring that despite being a man of influence, as part of Chamberlain’s post-Munich-agreement government, that ‘Bobberty’ should go into hiding to save his own skin, and his uncle’s reputation. When asked for advice by his nephew, The Earl responds presciently: “I’m a member of the Government, how should I know what people should do?” Clearly, he is not going to rock his own boat even to save his relative.

Pinter plays Sir Robert’s lawyer and friend Saul with reassuring cameraderie, offering to find funds for his time “underground”. There is a terrific chase through the London Underground and even a slim interlude where Sir Robert’s romantic psychology is fleshed out through rather awkward scenes with Cyd Hyman as Rebecca. This excellent made for TV film could easily fill the big screen along with other HBO and Netflix outings, if it had been made nowadays. It makes great use of its tight budget, feeling intimate but ambitious in scope. As Benedict Cumberbatch will pay Sir Robert in the latest big screen version of Rogue Male, with Household and Michael Lesslie (Macbeth (2015) on board as screenwriters. But no-one can replace the compact elegance of Peter O’Toole. MT

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO 

 

London Unplugged (2018) ***

Dirs: ‘Dog Days’(George Taylor), ‘Felines’ (George Taylor), ‘Unchosen’ (Nicholas Cohen, Ben Jacobsen), ‘Club Drunk’ (Mitchell Crawford), ‘Mudan Blossom’ (Qi Zhang, Natalia Casali and Kaki Wong), ‘Pictures’ (Rosanna Lowe), ‘Little Sarah’s Big Adventure’ (Andrew Cryan), ‘Shopping’ (Layke Anderson), ‘The Door To’ (Andres Heger-Bratterud), ‘Kew Gardens’ (Nicholas Cohen) Interlink segments (Nicholas Cohen) | UK Drama | 78′

London Unplugged is a portmanteau exploration of female centric stories, some more convincing than others, but all of them focusing on London’s diverse communities. Tied together by Nicholas Cohen’s cinematic interlinking segments, the various vignettes are a refreshing take on the usual themes of opportunity, compromise and loneliness that make up modern living in one of Europe’s most eclectic capitals.

George Taylor’s mysterious opening story ‘Dog Days’, sees two strangers connect in a waterside frolic. Likewise light-hearted is Mitchell Crawford’s remarkable animation entitled ‘Club Drunk’ describing the goings on in a playground after dark. Layke Anderson’s ‘Shopping’ is an enjoyably insightful one-hander that takes place in a sex shop, and offers a feel-good message.

There are the usual economic, racial and migration stories, amongst them Nick Cohen and Ben Jacobson’s ‘Unchosen’ which sees a hapless Iranian refugee fighting for asylum in the chosen city of his dreams. The plight of the homeless is explored with humour in Qi Zhang, Natalia Casali and Kaki Wong’s ‘Mudan Blossom’. Whilst “Pictures’ is a musically-themed piece that follows a struggling singer living on the breadline, based on a 1917 short story by Katherine Mansfield.

By contrast, George Taylor’s ‘Felines’ feels forced and rather amateurish, despite Juliet Stevenson’s efforts to portray a cat-loving carer. The film finishes with Nick Cohen’s  ‘Kew Gardens’, another literary adaptation this time from Virginia Woolf. Cohen’s discursive, episodic story of a real-life female athlete brings the whole thing together neatly although rather soullessly, providing an undercurrent of positive and negative, as she runs from east to west expressing the upbeat and the downbeat vibes of the metropolis. MT

VARIOUS ARTHOUSE VENUES FROM FRIDAY, 18 JANUARY 2019

New Year, New Films | 2019 in focus

2019 gets off to an impressive start with two extraordinary arthouse dramas both releasing in January. Timothée Chalamet plays a young man struggling with addition in Felix Van Groeningen’s  A Beautiful Boy and Saoirse Ronan gives a dynamite performance as the tragic Mary Queen of Scots in a mesmerising historical epic from theatre turned screen director Lisa Rourke. There’s plenty more to look forward as the New Year gets under way, here are a selection of arthouse features and documentaries releasing in 2019.

Bergman: A Year in the Life 

The focus of Jane Magnusson’s European Award winning documentary is 1957, arguable the zenith of  Ingmar Bergman’s career when he released two on his most acclaimed dramas The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, a TV film and four plays. It’s an impressive film that reflects Bergman’s mammoth contribution to the world of film and theatre. 25 January 

Burning 

Some critics went wild for this psychological thriller from South Korean director Lee Chang-dong. Certainly alluring, the enigmatic arthouse piece is based on a story from Haruki Murakami about a barn-burning weirdo and his struggle to win the girl of his dreams. 1 February 1st

Birds of Passage

In his follow-up to Embrace of the Serpent Ciro Guerra is joined by his wife Cristina Gallego for this arthouse chronicle of the emergence of the drugs trade in his native Colombia. Spring 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

Melissa McCarthy takes plagiarism to extraordinary ends as Lee Israel, a New York writer struggling to make ends meet – eventually by criminal means. Marielle Heller and Nicole Holofcener offer up an absorbing dark comedy drama that also stars Richard E Grant. Opens February 1st

Sometimes Always Never 

One of my favourite British films this years was this amusingly cheeky indie drama – it will make you laugh and contemplate your own life too. Love, ageing, loneliness and emotional fulfilment all deftly intermingle in a ‘detective’ drama about a father (a thoughtful Bill Nighy) and his two sons, one of whom has disappeared. Set in the rain-soaked Ribble Valley, there’s a soft melancholy to the muted visuals and the quintessentially English storyline, crafted by Frank Cottrell Boyce (The Railway Man). A subtle film film but an enjoyable one.

Border

Writer John Ajvide Lindvist’s arthouse oddity has the same fresh originality as his vampire thriller Let the Right One In, ten years on. The Swedish social satire is a romantic parable that blends fantasy, mystery and horror and won the top prize at this year’s Cannes ‘Un Certain Regard’. March 8th

High Life

Claire Denis is the latest auteur to try her hand with a Sci-fi drama. And she succeeds. This one stars Robert Pattison and Juliette Binoche and premiered at Toronto to wrapt applause. Early spring 

On the Basis of Sex

In the second film about noted US jurist Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG is already on release)– Felicity Jones stars as the fearsome feminine judge and activist who has broken down barriers since the 1950s, and continues to do so with her subtle charm and incisive intellect. February 8th   

Float Life a Butterfly

Carmel Winters’s won the FIPRESCI Discovery Prize in a drama that follows the ambitions of a young and feisty boxing enthusiast (Hazel Doupe) in 1960s Ireland. Spring 2019

Green Book

Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen star in this enjoyable road movie that delighted critics both at Marrakech and Toronto. It follows a suave African-American pianist (Ali) and a New York bruiser (Mortensen) to America’s Deep South on a voyage of discovery – of themselves and the racial tensions of the 1960s. 1 February 2019 

The Young Picasso 

Exhibition on Screen chronicles the early years of the Spanish painter, from his birth in Malaga to  his international recognition in Paris in his mid thirties. Informative and a must for art lovers. 5 February 2019

Greta

Isabelle Huppert had a low profile in 2018, but she’s back with a vengeance in Neil Jordan’s critically divisive drama that explores the relationship between a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Huppert’s lonely widow. 19 April 2019

The Irishman

When Martin Scorsese offered a lifetime Tribute to his great friend Robert De Niro at Marrakech Film Festival , The Irishman was the talk of the town. Scorsese’s latest film will be releasing on Netflix, 

The Mule

Another Hollywood luminary – now in his 90s – Clint Eastwood will hit cinemas at the end of January 2019 with his 143rd film – in which he also stars. The Mule is a high-octane thriller set in the US drug trade  January 25th

The Sisters Brothers

Jacques Audiard casts Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly in this sensitively-scripted buddy movie that sees the titular brothers embark on a Wild West odyssey, based on Patrick deWitt’s western novel. Skilfully avoiding a macho approach, this is insightful and great fun. April 5th

Woman At War

Benedikt Erlingsson follows his unusual equine-themed drama Of Horses and Men with another innovative tale from his native Iceland that sees an ambitious eco warrior in the shape of a middle-aged woman strike out for the environment. 3 May 2019

Too Late to Die Young

Dominga Sotomayor’s languorous Chilean family drama was a big hit at Locarno 2018, and takes place during the summer of 1990 while the country was making a dangerous bid for democracy.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino latest, another highly-anticipated controversial caper tackles the thorny theme of Hollywood during the Charles Manson era. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star. July 26

The Woman in the Window

Based on A J Finn’s bestseller, Joe Wright and Tracey Letts create an intriguing crime thriller that explores urban angst, loneliness and voyeurism in contempo New York. Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman and Amy Adams star.

The Lady Eve

We can always rely on the classics, especially when Preston Sturges, Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck are concerned. Re-released by Park Circus this screwball comedy with a social message  is possibly one of the most enjoyable films you’ll see in February, and makes for perfect Valentine viewing. 15 February.

BEST INDIE AND ARTHOUSE FILMS TO LOOK OUT FOR IN 2019

 

 

Nae Pasaran (2018) ****

Dir.: Felipe Bustos Sierra; Documentary with John Keenan, Bob Fulton, Robert Sommerville, Stuart Barrie; UK 2018, 93 min.

After Pinochet’s Army and Air Force bombed the Presidential Palace of La Moneda in Santiago de Chile overthrowing the Allende’s government on 11.9.1973, the General started a regime of terror, torture and mass murder. But the planes employed to bomb the seat of Government were infact British-made Hawke Hunters, maintained in a factory in East Kilbride, near Glasgow. When engineers discovered, in March 1974, that four jet engines were due to repaired and sent back to Chile, they took action.

Apart from some CGI docu-drama, Sierra and DoP Peter Keith stay on a very human level with those that took part; and there’s dry humour in the animation sequences. Engineers John Keenan, Bob Fulton, Robert Sommerville and Stuart Barrie wrote ‘Blacked’ on the engines and started a protest. But they were aware of the full impact of their actions until Felipe Bustos Sierra, a Belgian born son of Chilean emigrants, took a closer look. After a short film of the subject in 2014, his debut feature documentary tells a harrowing, but moving story. In London, like in many European cities, big demonstrations against the military Junta were being held, and Allende’s widow Hortensia Bussi spoke to a big crowd in Trafalgar Square. British Doctor Sheila looked after Allende supporters in hiding. She was captured by the army and tortured in the notorious Villa Grimaldi near Santiago.

After her release in 1975, the human rights infringements in Chile came to light, and made the four Scotts even more adamant about keeping the engines in the East Kilbride factory. What they did not know then, was that their actions had real repercussions on two levels. Firstly through the broadcast radio media that reached the prisoners in the Chilean camps camps. One of them, Dr. Arturo Jiron Vargas (1928-2014) was on the staff in La Moneda during the day of the overthrow. And he tells how they stayed with Allende until the end. Then the soldiers made them lay down on the ground in front of the palace, and given to believe that military tanks would roll over them. Vargas ended up in one of these camps where women were raped by dogs and mock executions were a daily event. The action (or better the non-action) of the Glasgow Four was a sign for Vargas and the prisoners, that they had not been abandoned.

Sierra also interviewed General Fernando Rojas Vender, a retired General and commander in-Chief of the Chilean Air Force under Pinochet. He is still proud of the precision bombing of the Palace by the Hunter Hawks but disappointed that he could not actively participate, since he was in control of ground forces. Before he became a General, Vender was a squadron leader of the Hawker Hunter planes, and he knows every detail. After September 1973, Vender was in charge of the operation to re-patriate the planes to Europe, a big problem, since they were not made to fly long distances. Soon Chile was involved in a border conflict with Argentina, and Vender had only three planes available. He admits that the four men in Glasgow were greatly responsible for the lack of numbers. When he was told by Sierra that the protest in East Kilbride was started by a Christian, Vender hit the roof: “somebody put this idea in his head, like with the Islamists today, they all behave like animals”.

In 2015, Keenan, Fulton and Summerville received the Order of Commander of the Republic of Chile, the highest decoration of the country, from the Chilean ambassador in London. Their four-year long boycott not only gave hope to the prisoners of the Pinochet regime, but hampered the efficiency of the Chilean Air Force. One of the engines involved, rotting away in Chile, was sent back to East Kilbride via ship, and greeted by the four. It will now continue its fight with the Scottish weather. AS

NATIONWIDE and at the ICA

 

Lynne Ramsay at the Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

We spoke to Competition Jury member Lynne Ramsay to talk about her latest project and the film that most impressed her as a child growing up in Glasgow.

Known for her ground-breaking dramas RATCATCHER (1999), MORVERN CALLAR (2002) and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011),  her latest film YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE won Best Screenplay (ex-aequo) and Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix at Cannes Film Festival 2018. (she asked not to be recorded due to a heavy cold).

LYNNE RAMSAY | MAMOUNIA HOTEL | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://vimeo.com/305775148

 

A Taste of Honey (1961) **** Bluray release

Dir: Tony Richardson | Writers: Shelagh Delaney, Tony Richardson | Cast: Rita Tushingham, Murray Melvin, Dora Bryan, John Danquah, Robert Stephens | UK | Drama | 101′

“Kitchen sink drama” is a lazy journalistic term glibly applied to long-ago films like A Taste of Honey. Posh critics in film magazines once spoke of the British New Wave as being inferior to the “Nouvelle Vague.” French cinema was praised for its liberation and spontaneity whilst the Brits where dammed for having too much depressing grit. It’s easy to be disparaging about working class dramas of the early 60’s (the bleakest example is probably A Kind of Loving but no one today mentions the rival optimism displayed in Clive Donner’s Some People). 

After the influential “Free Cinema” shorts of the fifties gravitas arrived in the form of A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and This Sporting Life: they are the overseas cinematic children of the Italian neo-realists. The background of these films is not wartime, nor a country suffering from immediate post-war difficulties, but the beginnings of a still repressive, and materially poor decade, prior to huge social changes in British culture. They are immensely moving and involving films: trenchant, angry and authentic expressions of the lives of ordinary people, bearing comparison with the visceral social concern of either a De Sica or Rossellini.

Jo (Rita Tushingham) is a 17 year old Salford schoolgirl, who lives with her mother, Helen (Dora Bryan). Poverty and Helen’s drinking means they’re constantly in debt and moving homes. Jo meets a Black sailor named Jimmy (Paul Danquah) and loses her virginity. 40 year old Helen is dating a younger man, Peter (Robert Stephens). Tension arises between Peter and Jo. When Mother moves out to live with Peter, Jo leaves school, finds a job in a shoe shop, rents a room and discovers that she’s pregnant. A young gay man Geoffrey (Murray Melvin) befriends Jo and moves in to her rooms. The relationships / friendships of Mother and daughter don’t really work out. The future seems uncertain for everyone.

It’s now crazy to think that Audrey Hepburn was the first choice to play the teenage Jo. Could Hepburn (with her Eliza Doolittle cockney role still to come) coached in a Salford accent have made the role as convincing as Tushingham? But should it matter? Under Tony Richardson’s direction Tushingham’s body language, line delivery and facial expressions are perfect. Jo’s face constantly conveys an unfulfilled desire for security and affection (close-ups can be over-used in cinema but in A Taste of Honey they’re exactly judged and telling – the camera falling rightly, though unsentimentally, in love with Tushingham).

A Taste of Honey has further brilliance of casting with Dora Bryan giving a comic-tour de force as a selfish mother who resolutely avoids caricature. Murray Melvin brings deep sensitivity to his role as the mothering friend. Paul Danquah expertly sketches in his brief role as the black sailor who never returns. And Robert Stephens is shrewdly spot-on as the car salesman. 

Such characters were not being portrayed in the other British films of 1961. Back then they appeared as outsiders marginalised from the accepted norms of family life; all anxious to have a voice, and articulate their presence. The poignancy of A Taste of Honey is that no one is able to communicate fully their needs. Everyone aspires to a better life; to make sense of their muddled life and move on. Yet sufficient knowledge, education, money, sexual fulfilment and power, within their class, gender and sexuality, are just out of reach.

Richardson’s direction is thoughtful, compassionate and poetic (it’s undoubtedly his finest hour). Walter Lassally provides stunning cinematography. John Addison’s musical arrangements of The Big Ship Sails on The Ally-Ally-Oh are modulated to create a folk ballad. Whilst each carefully shaped performance never makes anyone become a victim – behind potential despair is always a space – cinematically and emotionally – of great resilience. However uncertain the future appears at the bonfire scene climax of A Taste of Honey we have journeyed with hugely sympathetic characters just like you and me. The camera rests on Jo’s face, and her burning sparkler, to create a fleeting moment of peace within the film’s large question mark. In an earlier moment, by a canal, Jo, still so young and unsure about being a mother, yells out: “My usual self is a very unusual self. We’re bloody marvellous!”

And A Taste of Honey is also a bloody marvellous film powerfully decrying earlier moribund theatre and formulaic cinema for being so patronising towards ‘common’ people. In 1961 audiences were shocked, surprised and gradually delighted by its power. Fifty seven years on it still delivers an affecting realism of great concern and sensitivity. Alan Price©2018    

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF BFI | 10 December 2010 | along with THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES

Khartoum (1966)*** Dual Format release

Dir: Basil Dearden | Wri: Robert Andrey | UK, 1966 | 134′ | Historical Action Drama

KHARTOUM is the kind of spectacular, rousing historical adventure that doesn’t get made anymore, certainly not along the same lines as Basil Dearden’s star-studded epic that exposes English colonialism, religious fanaticism, heroism and sacrifice in a magnificent visual masterpiece. Back in the day, it all seemed perfectly harmless to our innocent childhood eyes as we sat round the telly oblivious to the political incorrectness. And that wasn’t the worst thing: it later emerged that over a hundred horses were severely injured or killed immediately during the battle scenes, due to unethical stunt methods of the time.

Sir Laurence Olivier actually plays the Arab fanatic Muhammad Ahmad, whose troops massacre thousands on British-led Egyptian forces in 1880s Sudan. He truly believes he is the Mahdi, choses by the profit Mohammed’s to topple the Anglo-Egyptian rule. Meanwhile, Legendary Major General Charles George Gordon (Charlton Heston was nearly a foot taller than the General himself) is sent by Prime Minister William Gladstone (Ralph Richardson) to save the city of Khartoum from the Mahdi, but is given only one aide in the shape of Richard Johnson), and limited support from the British government that sent him there. Intrepid til the last he faces a fearless opponent determined to create a new empire. Gordon sees that further bloodshed is imminent.

With impressive battle sequences given greater weight by philosophical and moral debates about the righteousness of military action, Khartoum is a widescreen extravaganza and was the final film to be shot using Ultra Panavision 70 (and screened theatrically in Cinerama) until Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight in 2015. And it’s an extraordinary endeavour with its masterful performance from a heavyweight cast of actors at the top of their game. Perfect entertainment for a drizzly afternoon or a long winter’s night – if you’re not an animal lover!

FROM 3 DECEMBER | COURTESY OF EUKEKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

Amazon https://amzn.to/2DbNZTh

Zavvi http://po.st/QT2LEq

Red, White and Zero *** Bluray compilation release

This 1967 portmanteau film from Woodfall both disappoints and surprises in equal measure. Three short films make up an offbeat production that MGM backed only to then shelve on completion. They understandably realised that its box office potential was insignificant and they probably hadn’t a clue as to what it was all about. The White Bus and Red and Blue films are the more radical, whilst The Ride of the Valkyrie is the most traditional. Anderson’s The White Bus was the only film to be shown in cinemas and is the best of the three: yet all of them are failures.

In terms of failing, the worst offender is Peter Brook’s The Ride of the Valkyrie starring Zero Mostel as an opera singer trying to make it on time for his small-part entrance in Wagner’s Die Walkyrie at London’s Royal Opera House. Filmed like a slapstick silent comedy Brooks proves he’s never ever going to effectively pastiche Keaton, Chaplin or even Norman Wisdom! Unfunny sound effects, clunky acting, badly timed gags and a desperate feel of British low-brow farce bring it all crashing down. Zero Mostel (usually a very funny comedian) is here clumsy and self-conscious. His only amusing moment is when, dressed in full costume and yielding a spear, he mistakenly rushes onto a production of a West End drama. And I suppose taking his spear through customs at Heathrow makes you smile because today it would be forbidden and he’d be arrested. But everything else is tedious and quickly forgettable.

The premise of Tony Richardson’s Red and Blue comes across well: a singer’s disappointment with her relationships as she sings of her unhappiness in the present and the past.

Yet despite a convincing and stoical performance from Vanessa Redgrave (who can’t really sing but makes a decent go of it) the film never manages to effectively marry its melancholy with an involving story or convincing atmosphere. It’s partly because the acting of Michael York, William Sylvester and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, (looking very uncomfortable in the part of Redgrave’s elderly lover) is well below par. There’s some effective use of colour filters and a few Jacques Demyish vocal touches which playfully shake the realism of a film that’s never quite a love letter nor a musical offering. Sadly Richardson’s direction lacks real engagement leaving too much up to Vanessa Redgrave. Red and Blue is deeply flawed with some crude New Wavish gangster scenes but still marginally interesting.

Lindsay Anderson’s The White Bus is the most substantial production. However be warned – if you are not an Anderson enthusiast (as I am) it will make less of an impact, as The White Bus is often a series of sketches and notes for If… and O Lucky Man. The script by Shelagh Delaney is adapted from her own short story. Patricia Healy (A look-alike for Delaney) is a writer / office secretary who travels up by train from London to the North. On the platform she encounters a bowler hatted guy eager to date her. On board the train she’s accompanied by a group of football supporters. On reaching Salford, Manchester she joins some foreign tourists, the Lord Mayor (Arthur Lowe) and his dignitaries on a White Bus tour of the city. Throughout all this she remains remarkable impassive– early on in the office scenes Anderson cuts to a not-full body shot of her having hung herself.

So is The White Bus a post-suicide journey to the writer’s background and roots? Or is she travelling home to the moment when she might take her life? – either way the woman’s cool detachment from events has her rubbing shoulders with the semi-depressed landscape of Manchester and the script’s odd, unfunny satirical tone (maybe the geography and manners of Northern England then was too glum to raise a laugh and therefore that’s the point.) The film’s beautiful and soulful greyness of image, intercut with colour footage, is supplied by the great Czech photographer Miroslav Ondricek who worked with Anderson on If… and O Lucky Man.

I was prepared to regard The White Bus as an intelligent but very unsure film until the writer leaves the bus tour to walk round the streets of her neighbourhood. She stares in the windows of houses and sees an old man being shaved and a young girl (herself?) playing the piano. In an alleyway she disturbs a man insisting that his girl-friend have sex with him. Then in a fish and chip shop she eats a meal: its last customer of the day as chairs are stacked up and a voiceover, of its owners, has them talking about the monotony of work. Recalling the film’s earlier suicidal image then a logical development has been made to make us understand the young woman’s alienated state.

Lindsay Anderson revered the poetic direction of John Ford and Jean Vigo. Although often difficult to precisely pin down, a cinematic poetry is apparent in Anderson’s finest work. As a whole piece The White Bus is not him at his best but a preparation for his more mature work.  Yet the autobiographical Delaney scenes have a surreal and haunting power intimating a great deal about environment, class, work, upbringing and its potential to condition and depress.

For these moments alone I’d give The White Bus a three star recommendation, advise you to buy Red, White and Zero and tolerate the other segments. Alan Price©2018

AVAILABLE AT THE BFI FROM EARLY DECEMBER 2018

https://youtu.be/KnQpxCN_SgQ

Tides (2017) **

Dir.: Tupaq Felber | Cast: Jon Foster, Robin Isaac, Simon Meacock, James Zubari, Amanda Rawnsley |  UK 2017, 100′

Tupaq Felber’s monochrome musings of four friends touring the canals of southern England is impressively shot but too banal to really make the same meaningful impact as, say, Andrew Kötting’s stylish Swandown, another recent British ‘roadie’

This blokish (+ a token girl) bonding trip certainly shoots the breeze and takes a long time to get going – the boat-owner’s instructions to the crew tell you everything you never wanted to know about canal boats. TIDES nearly comes to a standstill when they all get drunk and incoherent. Amanda (Rawnsley) is the only woman on board, for a fleeting visit. There are some nasty comments about Amanda’s parsimonious behaviour which soon surface when she justifiably tries to get out of paying nearly £200 for food and boat rental for just one night. The male crew then meander around in the water and it soon becomes clear that Jon (Foster) is dealing with a personal tragedy – but neither he or his mates shed any light on the circumstances. The only concrete fact that emerges about actor Simon (Meacock), married with a young child, is that his part as a ‘suspects’ in a long-running soap-opera, will soon be ‘killed off’ leaving him presumably without any means of financial support. A confident debut, TIDES would make a great twenty-minute short, but the narrative never comes near to justifying the lavish running time.

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE 7 DECEMBER 2018 | Tupaq will also attend a special preview and Q&A with the cast on 4 December at the special barge cinema

Yanks (1979)**** Dual format release

John Schlesinger’s YANKS, a moving and romantic WWII tale of love starring Richard Gere and Vanessa Redgrave is based on Lancashire born Colin Welland’s original story, he also wrote the script.

Colin Welland was one of England’s finest film and TV writers best known for The Dry White Season (1989), Chariots of Fire (1981) and numerous popular TV series including Play for Today and Armchair Theatre. He also appeared in Kes (1969); Straw Dogs (1971) and Villain (1971).

Capturing all the subtle emotional complexity that marked Schlesinger out as a one of our finest directors, this captivating social drama is imbued with English sensibilities of the local characters that contrast so eloquently with the looser and more playful US soldiers, YANKS is full of sweepingly romantic moments and amusing interludes that show how easily petty resentments or racial differences could easily catch fire in the heat of the moment inflaming hearts and minds fraught with the stresses of wartime occupancy.

Ambitious yet intimate YANKS is a World War II epic that won BAFTAs for Best Costume Design (Shirley Russell) and Best Supporting Actress (Rachel Roberts). John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Far from the Madding Crowd) went on to get the Evening Standard British Film Award in 1981. Crucially, his drama focuses on the human angle, avoiding battle scenes to explore the romantic and social entanglements between the locals and the U.S. soldiers stationed in a small town in Greater Manchester just before the Normandy landings of 1945. The American G.I.s set female hearts aflutter across the social divide: in one amusing scene in a train station Mollie (Wendy Morgan) cries”Excuse me, I’m pregnant!”. A woman quickly responds: “So is half the bloody town, love!”.

Gere is particularly charismatic as Sgt. Matt Dyson, falling for Lisa Eichhorn’s delicate heroine Jean Moreton who misses her fiancée Stan overseas. Redgrave is wealthy socialite Helen, engaged in an affair with a gallant captain (William Devane), while desperate to remain faithful to her husband serving in the British Navy. Sergeant Ruffelo’s romantic interlude with Mollie (Wendy Morgan) shows how romance can be heightened by wartime adversity when love and lust helped to counteract the stress and uncertainty of conflict.

Schlesinger had a rare gift for capturing romantic desire and yearning in a typically understated English way, and Yanks was a personal passion project for director whose success with Marathon Man (1976) here allowed him free creative rein. Although the film never really caught fire upon initial release, here is emerges as a soaring classic wartime romance that really deserves to be revisited – hankies at the ready. MT

YANKS NOW AVAILABLE COURTESY OF EUREKA MODERN CLASSICS on 3rd December 2018.

Amazon https://amzn.to/2B4L3GS
Zavvi http://po.st/uNQqq9

Outlaw King (2018)

Dir.: David Mackenzie; Cast: Chris Pine. Florence Pugh, Billy Howle, Stephan Dillane, Aaron Taylor-Jones; US/UK, 132 min. 

Director David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) and his four scriptwriters have made this history book of medieval wars between Scots and English into a legend of machismo – but in the end the rivals all emerge as anti-heros, and all is drowned in blood and mud.

In 1304, after the end of William Wallace Revolution,. Robert the Bruce (Pine) attempts to unify the Scotts  tribes to fight Edward I (Dillane), who has seized the Scottish throne for himself – instead of appointing a promised Scottish successor. As a sign of the new alliance, Edward I allowed Robert the Bruce to marry Elizabeth de Burgh (Pugh), daughter of the powerful Earl of Ulster. But after the death of Edward I, his son, the Prince of Wales (later Edward II of England), captured and imprisoned Elizabeth, who was not willing to divorce Robert.

Robert’s fury is fed by the treachery of a Prince of Wales, who was once his close friend. After many years of imprisonment, Elizabeth was re-united with Robert, and they had three children. The many ambushes culminate in the Battle of Loudoun Hill (1307), the show-piece of the feature, and turning point of the campaign for an independent Scotland – even though the war would last another twenty years.

Together with his second in command, James Douglas (Taylor-Jones), Robert is shown as ruthless and risk-loving. The action scenes are repetitive and cruel: at one point during the Battle of Loudoun, spikes are used by the Scots to pierce the bodies of the English horses.

Outlaw King is redeemed by a handful of scenes that are worth watching – between Elizabeth and Robert (who is rather gentle with his young wife) – and these provide a counterpoint to the endless monotone warring, although Mackenzie ruins it with an embarrassing sex sequence. At least Elizabeth is shown as being as stubborn and bloody-minded as her husband, and Pugh excels in another strong female role.  

Cut down from the 146 minutes of the version shown at TIFF, Outlaw King is still far too long. DoP Barry Aykroyd captures the fighting scenes with great power, but in the end, the over-kill is tiring. AS

ON Netflix


Ŵ

    

Edgar Degas: Passion for Perfection (2018) ***

Dir/DoP: David Bickerstaff | 91′ | Art Doc in

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was one of the greatest draftsman of the 19th century.Phil Grabsky’s semi-dramatised documentary reveals the artist’s obsessive experimentation with new techniques. It explores how Degas perfected his craft until blindness overtook him at the end of the First World War. He died aged 83.

Guiding us through the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge which holds the largest Degas collection in Britain, curators and conoscenti show how Degas started his career at the age of 21. After rigorous academic training, he modelled his drawings on the work of another great master Ingrès, who he met through his father’s socials gatherings. A reclusive by nature Degas is pictured (in a filmed cameo by an actor) closeted away in his studio producing a prolific output of paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings, most of which only came to light after his death when art dealer and facilitator of the Impressionist movement Paul Durand-Ruel was tasked with selling the collection. As Degas commented himself: You will realise how much I’ve produced at my death”.

At the beginning of his career Degas worked as a copyist which eventually brought him into contact with Manet in 1864. The art specialists go in to fascinating details about Degas’ masterpieces including The Bellelli Family—an imposing canvas he intended for exhibition in the Salon although it remained unfinished until 1867; Alexander and Bucephalus and The Daughter of Jephthah in 1859–60.  In 1861 we hear how Degas visited an old friend in Normandy where he made many studies of horses. In 1865 he has his first exhibition at the Salon when the jury accepted his painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages, although it gained no critical appeal at the time leading him to submit his horse painting Steeplechase—The Fallen Jockey which signalled his commitment to more contemporary subject matter.

After returning from the Franco Prussian war in 1870, Degas enlisted in the National Guard, where his eyesight was proved to be failing and this was a constant worry to him. He travelled to New Orleans where his brother René lived, he produced The Cotton Office in New Orleans which garnered favorable attention back in France, and was his only work purchased by a museum during his lifetime.

On his return to Paris he was faced with the death of his father and Rene’s accumulating debts forcing him to sell some canvases and paintings he had inherited, and for the first time in his life he was dependent on his own work for income, which proved the making of him and his work with the Impressionists really took off from 1874 onwards, bringing his traditional methods as a history painter to bear on this contemporary subject matter and becoming a classical painter of modern life who is often identified with the subject of dance; more than half of his works depict dancers. But it was the physicality of the dancers that interested him, and he spend long hours working with pastels to achieve freshness but at the same depth to these well known works of art. Sharp-tongued in company, he relished the cut and thrust of the debates with his fellow Impressionists and although he is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism he rejected the term, preferring to be called a independent working in a realist style. His portraits are notable for their psychological complexity and for their portrayal of human isolation as seen in the famous “In a Cafe” painting. He thought little of the spontaneous “plein-air “paintings of Monet and often came into conflict with him. His conservative social attitudes sat uneasily with the scandal created by the exhibitions, as well as the publicity his colleagues sought. Sculpture became a fascination for Degas as his sight failed him and in 1880 he created the famous Little Dancer of Fourteen Years in wax with complete tutu and ribbons, with permission for the piece to be refashioned in bronze where is appears in the Fitzwilliam amongst other international galleries.

A great collector himself, he was able to buy more painting through sales of his own work, indulging his passion for El Greco, Gauguin and Van Gogh. He idolised the work of Ingrès and his competitor Delacroix. He also developed a passion for photography and often used that to inform his own artwork, and many painters adopt this same technique in portrait painting today.

But after the Louis Dreyfus affair, he withdrew from company being in the “against” camp for the soldier’s release. His misogyny was well documented, he never married and most of the women in his life were paid so he could maintain control over his models and his housekeeper. He eventually stopping working in 1912 after his longtime residence was demolished and he spent his final years trampsing around the Boulevard de Clichy, rejecting help from his family and dying in September 1917. But his memory lives on in own words: “It’s not a matter of what you see, but what you make others see”. MT

EXHIBITION ON SCREEN returns for a sixth season on 6 November 2018

 

 

Possum (2018) ****

Dir: Matthew Holness | Cast: Sean Harris, Alun Armstrong | 82′ | UK |

Writer-director Matthew Holness’ impressive feature debut is given considerable resonance by outstanding performances from Sean Harris as a traumatised puppeteer locked in toxic turmoil with his abusive uncle (Alun Armstrong).

Very much genre festival fare and unlikely to appeal to mainstream audiences this low-budget psychological thriller scratches at the edges of horror telling a tale of childhood trauma and abuse revisited on an adult puppeteer Philip (Harris) who desperate to escape the emotional clutches of his noncey uncle Maurice (Armstrong) who still holds him in thrall after decades of abuse following the death of his parents in a fire. In this lugubrious labour of toxic trauma, Philip tries to eradicate his childhood – represented by a spindly, spider-like puppet (the head is an replica of the actor’s) – while perpetually playing out a macabre dance of desperate dysfunction with his uncle. Philip detests Maurice yet can’t live without him: a momentary failure to locate the demon despot in their grimy shared coffin of a crib sends him spinning into full blown psychosis. 

Set in dank and desolate part of the Norfolk marshes this atmospheric tribute to the British nasty fare of the Seventies often feels quite stagey in its interior settings which take place in a decrepit, boarded-up 1930s hovel, but the surrounding locations really bring home what it meant to grow up in an England of second rate secondary modern schools where family members and figures of authority still inspired dread in those whose lives they controlled.

Returning to his childhood home as a 50-year old the outwardly morose and troubled Philip still recalls each painful flinch of his abusive upbringing as fleeting expressions of trauma haunt his pinched face, like passing clouds on a stormy night. His wiry body is contorted and tortured by the terror of his young days; shoulders and hands writhing and gurning in memory of the misery. And we feel for him despite his ghastly appearance and unappealing persona.

Slim of narrative but rich in atmosphere this slow-burning shocker gradually throws up clues to the past in an enigmatic storyline that occasionally feels repetitive in the first two acts despite a meagre running time of 82 minutes. But the final denouement pays off with its gratifying themes of retribution and redemption. 

This splendidly stylised horror outing is shot on 35mm by DoP Kit Fraser, complete with a scary score from the Radiophonic Workshop (which formerly provided the sounded effects for Dr Who – Holness is best know for his TV work). But Possum really belongs to Sea Harris giving him full rein to his flex his considerable talents as one of the best British actors on the contemporary scene. MT 

OUT ON 26 OCTOBER 2018

 

Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) Viennale 2021

Dir: Terence Davies | UK Drama | 83′

Davies’s epic, musical celebration of the working class evokes a late 40s to late 50s cultural space. This was  soon to be replaced by more individualist post 1963 space where there existed, in certain areas of Liverpool, communal values and social cohesion. All that celebration of feeling (Distant Voices, Still Lives is a visceral and passionate work) comes hurtling back with vivid memories of a lost culture. It wasn’t all good, nor that bad, just considerably more honest and trusting. A lot of life was regimented, ordered and repressive yet authority had still managed to resist the effects of intense commercialisation. 

By 1988 we could look back wistfully at the better, and more authentic, aspects of those far distant voices and still lives – with “still” meaning organically centred or fixed by memory – and wonder what the film was saying about us in the present. By the eighties some of us sensed that society had become a hard and rapaciously driven market culture. 

Now in 2018 we can more thoughtfully analyse, to the point of mourning, the family and neighbourhood values that Distant Voices, Still Lives both celebrates and critiques. Those values may be now corroded, or even lost to us (Brexit is looming) but such a deep expression of the communal found perhaps its greatest, and most un-patronising, expression in Terence Davies’s eloquent film. Alongside such British films as Powell’s A Canterbury Tale, Losey’s The Servant and Anderson’s If…it’s a masterpiece and a landmark picture about English identity, class, aspiration, emotion and power. 

There is no linear narrative. The story is simple. A family’s reaction to a tyrannical father (brilliantly played by Pete Postlethwaite.). His death. The mourning. New life for the family as they grow up, marry and have children. The celebration of that fact. Growing old. The vicissitudes of extended family life where patterns of domestic abuse are dolefully repeated. Things forgiven. Put up with. Then, from the women, the fighting back. Whilst the men remain both complacent and shaken.

The film consists of two parts with the Still Lives section being filmed two years after the Distant Lives half. It’s a cyclic memory film indebted to Alain Resnais (minus the cerebral) and with a warmth that we get from Jean Renoir (all the performances of Distant Voices, Still Lives feel more ‘lived’ than acted.) Impressions, fragments, epiphanies, words and gestures are rigorously bonded by two musical soundtracks. 

We have the music of popular culture, such as O Mein Papa, Love is a Many Splendid Thing, blues, classical art and folk song (O Waly Waly) Vaughan Williams’s 3rd symphony, choral music, radio comedy and the shipping forecast amongst others.

That eclectic line-up functions as both counterpoint and relief to the song repertoire of ordinary people at home or in pubs singing their hearts out. Such popular songs as Taking a Chance on Love, I Love the Ladies and Dreamboat. Yet not just hearts but also minds are revealed as Terence Davies skilfully uses song with a dualism to both masquerade and expose his characters’ thoughts. 

Take the moment when actor Angela Walsh sings her solo “I Wanna be Around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart” it’s especially affecting when you realise she is unhappily married. None of the community singing ever becomes mannered or sentimental. Its pitch-perfect delivery keeps delving into character motivation – raw, soulful and compassionate utterances: collective and individual needs are voiced and move the film’s people on, in time and space, through beautifully shot and composed scenes. (Interestingly the fierce father never gets to sing with a group. His only lone singing moment is when he’s shown cleaning the coat of a pony in a barn, watched by a secret audience – his children when very young.) The musical genres of opera, operetta and the MGM musical (adored by Davies) giving his film the structure of a hybrid, autobiographical ballad. And complementing this extended song (both joyful and heartbreaking) are some masterly tracking shots.

One breathtaking example is one where a daughter weeps for her dead father and the camera moves along into darkness, followed by lit candles and the Catholic family together celebrating Christmas. States of death, belief, innocence and forgiveness are effortlessly trailed in front of you like a cine-poem (Terence Davies greatly admires T. S. Eliot.) Watching it again I thought of the working class voices of the pub scene in The Waste Land and flash forwarded to Davies’s 2008 Liverpool documentary Of Time and The City where Davies himself reads excerpts from Four Quartets as his camera tracks over the waterfront’s Royal Liver building at night.

I return to the year and month the film was released – September 1988. My father died aged 79 in May of that year. I wrote a short film script about him. It was called A Box of Swan and was accepted and broadcast on BBC2 in October 1990. Pete Postlethwaite was cast in the film as the older son having to deal with the funeral arrangements of his father. 

My own real father wasn’t like the violent man portrayed by Postlethwaite in Distant Voices, Still Lives. But when I witnessed the domestic violence depicted in Davies’s film I thought of my long dead Uncle Harry. He was a morbidly religious man and did what the father did in the film – beat his daughter and wife with a broom in the coal cellar. I thought of my poor Aunt Edie. And not just how art, as the cliché goes, imitates life but can tighten your memory’s hold on the cruelty of real actions. 

Yet cinema can also have a powerful redemptive charge. And Davies’s courageous film is of that high order of filmmaking. I don’t know if he knows, along with Eliot, the poetry of W.B.Yeats but the working class rituals and habits of Distant Voices, Still Lives make me think of lines from his poem A Prayer for my Daughter.

                                  “How but in custom and ceremony 

                                    Are innocence and beauty born?” 

You don’t have to know any of this poetry to appreciate the film, for it has its moving and cinematic own. And is, without me really needing to say, wonderfully acted by all concerned, a technical triumph (now beautifully re-mastered) very sad, very funny and resolutely affirmative – once seen it’s unforgettable. Alan Price©2018     

TERENCE DAVIES RETROSPECTIVE | VIENNALE 2021 | 21-31 OCTOBER

Cladagh (2018)**** LFF 2018

Dir: Margaret Salmon | Doc | UK | 40′

Starfish, cup coral, langoustine, dolphins, Herring gulls and Gaelic verse: these are a few of Ullapool’s favourite things, along with the limpid seas and emerald hillsides that make this Scottish Highland settlement, warmed by the North Atlantic Drift, such an important port and tourist destination.

CLADAGH is a lyrical portrait of indigenous habitats and species, as well as human interactions with the sea, in and around the remote coastal town in northwest Scotland. But the film is more than just a documentary – it’s a sensory experience that lulls us into the gentle rhythms and the ebb and flow of its maritime way of life that imbues in its inhabitants a natural softness that has sadly disappeared from the urban sprawl. Wandering through the cobbled streets in the June sunshine, children dance on the key-side while older residents take in the glorious sea views. A local school gathers for a ceilidh accompanied by solo musicians, and then back to the shore for an underwater dip in the cool Atlantic where a variety of local sea animals enjoy their unpolluted habitat.

Director Margaret Salmon, who made the hyper realist fantasy drama Eglantine (2016) develops her worthwhile and enchanting filmic forays into the natural world that started with P.S. in 2002, and continued with Everything That Rises Must Converge (2010); Enemies of the Rose (2011); Gibraltar (2013); Pyramid (2014) and Bird (2016), amongst other titles. Very much festival fare, but valuable in their thoughtful exploration of the British Isles, and often further afield. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 10-21 OCTOBER 2018

Dusty and Me (2016) ***

Dir: Betsan Morris Evans | Writer: Rob Isted | Cast: Iain Glen, Luke Newberry, Genevieve Gaunt, Ben Batt, Alan Bentley | UK Comedy Drama |94′

This innocuous enough caper and its spot-on 1970s styling will certainly resonate with the 50 plus crowd, but not sure who it’s aimed at – certainly not adults, but maybe adults with pre- teens?. In the opening scenes Ben Batt channels Reece Shearsmith (League of Gentleman) but Dusty and Me is not *that* sort of comedy – more a comedy of errors – the error being its distinct lack of teeth for a shaggy dog story, The dog in question is actually a Greyhound.

Derek ‘Dusty’ Springfield (Newberry) is a bright working class scholar who’s just broken up from his final term at boarding school in Leeds. Meeting him on the school’s gravel drive is his Sheepskin-jacketed older brother Little Eddie (Batt) in the family Jag. Hopefully his Oxbridge results will jettison him into pastures more promising than the schematic one that lies ahead back home: Chuntering old dad down the pub, mum is a modern day, toned down version of George & Mildred’s Yootha Joyce (you know where I’m coming from, if this was your era).

Footloose and fancy free awaiting the dreaded exam results, the disenfranchised Dusty befriends a Greyhound who runs like the wind, comically naming it Slapper, the two become close buddies. But then Dusty falls for the fragrant Chrissie (Genevieve Gaunt) who’s way out of his league – or so he thinks. The rest you can pretty much guess.

Dusty and Me is a heartwarming tale with a winning score of tunes from back in the day (there could have been a bit more TSOP), and a brash retro aesthetic that lovingly recreates a time when the blue Ford Capri was to die for along with loons, cheesecloth shirts, and scalloped collars. Any everyone spent their Friday night at ‘the pictures’. It’s a cheerful little family film – needing a bit more Vodka in its tonic. MT

NOW OUT ON RELEASE FROM 28 SEPTEMBER 2018

The Little Stranger (2018) ***

Dir.: Lenny Abrahamson; Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill; UK/Ireland/France 2018, 111 min.

Lenny Abrahamson’s big screen adaption of the Sarah Waters’ Gothic novel, set in rural Warwickshire in 1948, is less a horror yarn more a portrait of Britain just after WWII – though Ole Birkland’s imaginative images of the romantic settings will please genre addicts.

Middle-aged country doctor Faraday (Gleeson) first visited Hundreds Hall, the seat of the aristocratic Ayres family, when he was eight, just after his mother had left her position as maid. Years later he fetches up at the dilapidated country estate to care for Roderick Ayres who has returned from WWII with terrible injuries. With deteriorating mental health, Faraday has him admitted to a psychiatric ward of the newly founded NHS. But there’s lots to be done: teenage maid Betty (Hill) feels unwell – the symptoms may be psycho-somatic, and Roderick’s sister Caroline (Wilson) seems to be spooked by uncanny events, culminating in the friendly family dog pouncing on a little girl who had come to visit. Rampling is now a widowed matriarch and equally obsessed by the secret of her youngest daughter Suky, who died of diphtheria when she was eight. Might she be the Poltergeist behind all the weird goings-on? Faraday is all stuff-upper-lip and scientific, but deep down he cares far more for the fate of the Ayres family – and their property business – than the Ayres himself, who seem not to cling as much to their country seat as Faraday, who falls in love with Caroline – who at first wants nothing more to be taken to London where Faraday has been offered work. But the good doctor wants to posses the stately home with all its trappings – however crumbling – more than the woman.

Lucinda Coxon’s script puts so much focus on Faraday’s losing battle to win over the trappings of Hundreds Hall, like he must have dreamt as a little boy, the tragic events and final denouement rather take us by surprise. And whilst Abrahamson succeeds in the character portrait, this dramatic thrust takes too much away from the horror elements which seem artificial at times. A strange, captivating drama which can’t make up its mind what genre it serves. AS

NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 21 SEPTEMBER 2018
                                 

Eye of the Needle (1981) *** Bluray release

Dir: Richard Marquand | Cast: Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan, Christopher Cazenove, | Action Drama | UK |

EYE OF THE NEEDLE is an ambitious wartime spy thriller set on the Isle of Mull and based on Ken Follett’s novel adapted for the screen by Stanley Mann. It was one of several big screen outings made by the British TV director Richard Marquand along with Jagged Edge and Return of the Jedi.

Evergreen themes of passion vs marital allegiance are bought sharply into focus when a stranger arrives on the remote Scottish Island en route to Germany with secrets that will stop the D-Day Invasion. Donald Sutherland’s ruthless spy is the outsider who inveigles himself into the household of Lucy (Kate Nelligan) and her ex-RAF husband David (Christopher Cazenove) who is wheelchair bound after a car accident pictured in the early scenes in an idyllic English countryside. But can illicit passion survive the harsh realities of war? This is a gripping and energetic affair, with appealing performances from Cazenove and Nelligan as the conflicted couple, but somehow Donald Sutherland never feels attractive enough to appeal to this lonely woman, and despite his best efforts to bring charisma to the role, he just remains a weirdly unlikeable psychopath.

After a brief prelude in the summer of 1940, Sutherland’s unsavoury German spy called Faber -”Needle” is his codename – finds out that the Allied invasion of Europe will take place in Normandy. But while he’s about to relay this information to his superiors he is shipwrecked on Storm Island (Mull) and rescued by Lucy and David, who is threatened by his steely presence in their family home.  Meanwhile, Faber goes straight for the jugular when he realises that the couple’s marriage is in trouble largely due to David’s feelings of inadequacy, and it’s not longer before he has cast a spell over Lucy with a combination of his powerful persona and bedroom skills. Their passionate affair then becomes the central focus, the spy story taking a back seat with its rather inevitable and unsurprising showdown as Lucy comes to her senses – and there’s nothing like a drab morning in Scotland for staging a wake-up call.

But it’s Kate Nelligan who you’ll remember, nearly three decades after the film’s initial release. It’s a shame her feature film career never really went further than TV work because she brings a remarkable tenderness to her role as Lucy. As war romance thrillers go, Richard Marquand certainly made an impressionable one. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT FROMT 24 SEPTEMBER 2018 | BFI releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop

https://youtu.be/tZTWyNrWkqk

11 Films to See at the BFI London Film Festival 2018

 

The lineup for the 2018 BFI London Film Festival has been announced, and the public box office is open. The 12-day festival will show over 225 feature-length films from all over the globe – so here are some of the best we’ve seen from this year’s international festival circuit.

WILD LIFE (2018)

A teenage boy experiences the breakdown of his parents’ marriage in Paul Dano’s crisp coming of age family drama, set in 1960s Montana, and based on Richard Ford’s novel. Although once or twice veering into melodrama, actor turned filmmaker Dano maintains impressive control over his sleek and very lucid first film which is anchored by three masterful performances, and sees a young family disintegrate after the husband loses his job. WILDLIFE has a great deal in common with Retribution Road (2008), with its similar counterpoint of aspirational hope for a couple starting out on their life in a new town – in this case Great Falls, Montana. But here the perspective is very different – in Wildlife, the entire experience is seen from the unique perspective of a pubescent boy, Joe, played thoughtfully by young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould (The Visit).

WOMAN AT WAR (2018) – SACD Winner, Cannes Film Festival 2018

Benedict Erlingsson’s follow-up to Of Horses and Men is a lively, often funny eco-warrior drama that follows a single woman taking on the state of Iceland with surprising results. Lead actress Haldora Geirhardsdottir has an athletic schedule, running and hiding in the countryside, with helicopters and drones circling overhead. With a magnificent twist at the end, Woman at War doesn’t pull its punches: There are shades of Aki Kaurismaki, the dead pan humour taking away some of the tension of the countryside hunt for Halla. And Erlingsson makes a refreshing break from tradition in the super hero genre by casting a middle-aged woman, who is also super-fit, in the central role.

THE FAVOURITE (2018) Best Actress, Olivia Colman, Venice 2018.

The Favourite is going to be a firm favourite with mainstream audiences and cineastes alike. This latest arthouse drama is his first to be written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara who bring their English sensibilities to this quixotic Baroque satire that distills the essence of Kubrick, Greenaway and Molière in an irreverent and ravishingly witty metaphor for women’s treachery. Set around 1710 during the final moments of Queen Annes’s reign it presents an artful female centric view of courtly life seen from the unique perspective of three remarkable women while on the battlefields England is at war with the French. Despite its period setting The Favourite coins a world with exactly the same credentials as that of Brexit and Trump.

SUNSET – FIPRESCI Prize Venice 2018 

Laszlo Nemes follows his Oscar-winning triumph Son Of Saul with another fraught and achingly romantic fragment of the past again captured through his voyeuristic camera that traces the febrile events leading up to the shooting of Emperor Franz Ferdinand that changed the world forever Set in Budapest between 1913 and the outbreak of the First World War, Sunset reveals a labyrinth of enigma, intrigue, hostility, greed and lust as the central character played by Juli Jakab (Son of Saul) guides us through scenes of ravishing elegance and cataclysmic violence. What seems utter chaos gradually becomes more clear as the spiderweb is infiltrated. Nemes pays homage to the late Gabor Body whose Narcissus and Psyche, are the obvious touchstones to Sunset. On an historical level, Mathias Erdely’s images conjure up the fin-de-siècle fragility in the same way as Gabor’s masterpieces. 

BORDER – Winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2018 

BORDER is one of those bracingly original films. Melding fantasy and folklore while teetering on the edge of Gothic horror, it manages to be cleverly convincing and unbelievably weird at the same time. Fraught with undercurrents of sexual identity and self-realisation this gruesome rites of passage fable is another fabulous story with enduring appeal for the arthouse crowd and diehard fans of low key horror. Based on a short story by Let the Right One In creator John Ajvide Lindqvist it is Ali Abbasi’s follow up to Shelley and his first film with writing partner Isabella Ekloff. Abbasi masterfully manages the subtle strands of his storyline while keeping the tension taut and a mischievous humour bubbling under the surface.

DOGMAN Best Actor, Marcello Forte, Cannes 2018 | Palm Dog Winner 2018 

Matteo Garrone’s terrific revenge thriller returns to the filmmaker’s own stamping ground of Caserta with a richly thematic and compulsive exploration of male rivalry and belonging in a downtrodden, criminal-infested, football-playing community scratching a living in a seaside backwater. Life has always been tough in this neck of the woods, infested by gangland influences: it is a terrain that Garrone knows and describes well in his 2008 feature Gomorrah. A brutal brotherhood controls this bleak coastal wilderness where everyone relies on each other to survive. Dogman a gritty and violent film and often unbearably so, but there are moments of heart-rending tenderness – between his Marcello and his doggy dependants – where tears will certainly well up. Fonte won Best Award at Cannes for his skilful portrayal that switches subtly from sad loner to daring desperado.

MADELINE’S MADELINE  

Josephine Decker’s inventive, impressionistic dramas – Butter on the Latch (2013) /Though Wast Mild and Lovely (2014) are an acquired taste but one that marks her out as a distinctive female voice on the American indie circuit. And here she is at Sundance again with a multi-layered mother and daughter tale that is probably her best feature so far. With a stunning central performance from newcomer Helena Howard and a dash of cinematic chutzpah that sends this soaring, Madeline’s Madeline is a thing of beauty – intoxicating to watch, compellingly chaotic with a potently emotional storyline.

MUSEUM – Best Script Berlinale 2018

Alonso Ruizpalacios’ follow-up to his punchy debut Guëros, sees two wayward young Mexicans from Satellite City robbing the local archeological museum of its Mayan  treasures – simply out of boredom. MUSEUM is an offbeat but strangely captivating drama that gradually gets more entertaining, although it never quite feels completely satisfying, despite some stunningly inventive sequences and three convincing performances from Gael Garcia Bernal, Simon Russell Beale and Alfredo Castro (The Club). It’s largely down to local Mexican incompetence that these two amateurish dudes (Bernal/Ortizgris) get away with their heist in the first place. But what starts as a so-so domestic drama with the same aesthetic as No!, slowly starts to sizzle with suspense as the director deftly manages the film’s tonal shifts to surprise and even delight us – this is a film that deserves a watch for its sheer wakiness and inventive chutzpah. 

IN FABRIC 

Impeccable red talons slide a flick knife across a box to reveal its contours, a beautiful silky dress that can kill. Peter Strickland’s latest, highly-anticipated oddball feature again stars Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) in a haunting ghost story that follows the fate of this bedevilled garment as it passes from owner to owner, with tragic consequences against the backdrop of the winter sales in a busy department store. This is a gem of a giallo with Strickland’s signature soundscape dominating, just as it did in Berberian Sound Studio. 

THE WILD PEAR TREE – Palme d’Or, Cannes 2018 

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s long-awaited follow-up to Winter Sleep melds his classic themes of family, fate and self-realisation into a leisurely and immersive 3-hour narrative that won him the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes. This is a sumptuous, visual treat to savour but you’ll never actually see a pear tree. 

THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD (2018)

There should be a sub-genre dedicated to films about the multi-talented force that was Orson Welles. Here Morgan Neville (Best of Enemies) has his turn with a focus on the final fifteen years of the director Welles as he pins his Hollywood comeback on a film called The Other Side of the Wind, a film within a film sees an ageing director trying to complete his final oeuvre. Welles’ film starring John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich was a hotchpotch of brilliance and tedium, in equal parts. Neville’s doc offers new insight into the creative legend with clarity and charismatic flourishes that would make Welles turn in his grave…with approval. MT

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

AQUARELA: Victor Kossakovsky, Eicca Toppinen; BEEN SO LONG: Tinge Krishnan, Michaela Coel, George Mackay, Nadine Marsh-Edwards, Amanda Jenks; FAHRENHEIT 11/9: Michael Moore; THE HATE U GIVE: George Tillman Jr, Amandla Stenberg, Angie Thomas; MAKE ME UP: Rachel Maclean; OUT OF BLUE: Carol Morley, Patricia Clarkson; PETERLOO: Mike Leigh; RAFIKI: Wanuri Kahiu; THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD: Peter Jackson 

OFFICIAL COMPETITION

BIRDS OF PASSAGE: Ciro Guerra, David Gallego; DESTROYER: Karyn Kusama; HAPPY AS LAZZARO: Alice Rohrwacher; HAPPY NEW YEAR, COLIN BURSTEAD.: Ben Wheatley; IN FABRIC: Peter Strickland; JOY: Sudabeh Mortezai; THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN: David Lowery; SHADOW: Zhao Xiaoding; SUNSET: László Nemes; TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG: Dominga Sotomayor

FIRST FEATURE COMPETITION

THE CHAMBERMAID: Lila Avilés; THE DAY I LOST MY SHADOW: Soudade Kaadan; HOLIDAY: Isabella Eklöf; JOURNEY TO A MOTHER’S ROOM: Celia Rico Clavellino; ONLY YOU: Harry Wootliff; RAY & LIZ: Richard Billingham; SONI: Ivan Ayr; WILDLIFE: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

DREAM AWAY: Marouan Omara, Johanna Domke; EVELYN: Orlando von Einsiedel; JOHN MCENROE – IN THE REALM OF PERFECTION: Julien Faraut; THE PLAN THAT CAME FROM THE BOTTOM UP: Steve Sprung; PUTIN’S WITNESSES: Vitaly Mansky; THE RAFT: Marcus Lindeen; THEATRE OF WAR: Lola Arias, David Jackson, Sukrim Rai; WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THE WORLD’S ON FIRE?: Roberto Minervini; YOUNG AND ALIVE: Matthieu Bareyre.

THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 10-21 October 2018

 

 

 

 

Peterloo (2018) ***

Dir/Writer: Mike Leigh | Cast: Maxine Peake, Rory Kinnear | Historical Drama | UK | 154′

Mike Leigh’s PETERLOO is a lavishly mounted period drama that delivers in robustly verbose detail the story of the massacre that took place in Manchester on 16th August 1816 when cavalry charged into a crowd of some 80,000 members of the public demanding parliamentary workplace reform.

While Leigh’s epic slowly builds to its climactic carnage scenes, which are brutally realistic without resorting to gratuitous gore, it expansively explores both sides of the conflict between the British aristocracy and the rebellious working classes in a plodding way that destroys dramatic tension as it trundles through its bloated running time of two and a half hours. With incendiary performances from its sterling cast – Rory Kinnear and Maxine Peake are splendidly vehement – this is certainly one of Leigh’s most heartfelt dramas, and clearly a personal moral crusade that charts a gritty and violent episode from the socio political history of England. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 2 NOVEMBER 2018 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW 2018

The Children Act (2017) ****

Dir: Richard Eyre | Writers: Richard Eyre, Ian McEwan | Cast: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fion Whitehead | UK Drama | 105′

THE CHILDREN ACT is the kind of chewy intelligent drama you’d expect to made by a French director with its adult themes all sprinkled lightly with thoughtful insight and some of the wittiest lines this Summer, if not this year.

This is mainly due to Emma Thompson who plays Fiona Maye, a judge who must decide whether to force a blood transfusion on a patient  – just short of his 18 birthday – who has refused treatment due to being a Jehovah’s Witness.

But in her personal life things are more cut and dried. When her husband (a thoughtful Stanley Tucci) broaches the subject of having an affair she simple tells him to pack a bag. And so he does. The narrative beats as it sweeps until it comes to the more subtle differences between ethical and moral dilemmas. And that’s where Justice Maye has her work cut in navigating the subtle complexities of what The Law states and what her heart dictates. Justice May is a fabulous role that could also have been played by Kristen Scott Thomas – but Emma Thompson carries it off with that knowing insouciance tempered with deep empathy that shines out in each scene and carries the film through some awkward moments when it could have come of the rails ending up in sentimental sidings. The essence here is entertainment. Richard Eyre and his co-writer McEwan (on whose book the film is based) have managed to touch on some thorny issues without going for an out and out crusade and keeping the narrative firmly focused on Maye and her fully-rounded but conflicted life as a High Court Judge dealing with a difficult time in her marriage and some buried emotional baggage. Stanley Tucci has a less rewarding role as her husband who can’t work how to seduce her anymore, away for the absorbing and demanding nature of her work. As such he comes across as an acolyte who could appear lightweight and rather superfluous but clearly has the maturity to realise that his love and warmth is what carries her through. It’s a tricky role, but Tucci pulls it off. Fionn Whitehead is terrific as the troubled boy and there’s a leanness to the narrative and dialogue that keeps you on your toes without ever pressing the point. In the early scenes Eyre quickly establishes the couple’s professional credentials: in the high octane world of Law, she is an articulate decision-maker; he a talented lecturing professor. But their life is in crisis due to time management of their demanding careers. Hers is more demanding than his.

The film also offers an intriguing and convincing look inside the contemporary legal system, tripping lightly over the day to day issues that confront a judge from taking off her MaxMara coat at chambers to getting home and gracefully kicking off her Roger Vivier shoes for a strong glass of red. And naturally our Emma pulls this off with aplomb and is a delight to look at times resembling her mother Phyllida Law. Both still ravishing.

Eyre underlines two important things in THE CHILDRENS ACT: that what kids really need is wise inspiration rather than limitless personal freedom. And that sometimes it is cruel to be kind – despite our best intentions. And despite the film’s minor flaws – and they rest largely with you’re own judgement – this is enjoyable. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 24 AUGUST 2018

 

 

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) **** Bluray release

Dir: Billy Wilder | Writers: Billy Wilder, Harry Kurnitz, Lawrence B Marcus | Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, John Williams, Torin Thatcher, Norma Varden, Una O’Connor | US Crime Drama | 116′

A veteran British barrister takes on a slippery client in Billy Wilder’s twisty courtroom triumph based on Agatha Christie’s international stage success.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is an enjoyable classic masterpiece that blends humour, intrigue and stunning performances from an outstanding cast lead by Charles Laughton as the bombastic diehard Sir Wilfred Roberts (Laughton), who is determined not to be outwitted by his charmingly glib client the putative murderer Leonard Vole (Power) whose steely wife Christine (Dietrich) plays a vixen with a heart of gold. Wilder and his co-writer Harry Kurnitz lace this deliciously intoxicating cocktail with their signature witty one-liners that pretty up this elegantly pleasing theatrical courtroom drama with its robust legal underpinnings and insight into England in the late 1950s, the distant echoes of WWII and Colonialism adding gusto to the storyline.

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director and was reportedly praised by Agatha Christie as the best adaptation of her work she had seen. MT

AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA FROM 10 SEPTEMBER 2018

Temptation Harbour (1947) ****

Dir: Lance Comfort | Cast: Simone Simon, Robert Newton, William Hartnell, Margaret Barton | Noir Thriller | UK |

The story of Temptation Harbour is straightforward but morally complex. One night a railway signalman on the quay observes two men suspiciously embarking from a ship. Later he witnesses a fight between the men for possession of a suitcase. A man is deliberately pushed into the water and the killer runs off. The signalman retrieves the suitcase to discover it contains £5000 in banknotes. The police are not informed. He hides the case in his house. Conflicts concerning family trust, the appearance of a femme fatale and further violence ensue.

Lance Comfort’s Temptation Harbour (1947) is one of three film adaptations of Georges Simenon’s novel L’homme de Londres: Newhaven-Dieppe. The other two are Henri Decoin’s L’homme de Londres (1931), and Bela Tarr’s The Man from London (2007). The 30’s French version is moody but stolid (An earnest voice-over ‘guilty conscience’ and a chanson-singing prostitute almost sink the production.) The Tarr film is brooding and metaphysical. Brilliantly shot in black and white but mysteriously abstracting Simenon’s story: making it more a Bela Tarr experience than a noir-thriller. Only the British film, Temptation Harbour comes closest to Simenon’s fatalism where his icy sympathy is tempered by the sensitive direction of Lance Comfort. Whilst a sense of the French cinema of the 30s and 40s (Quai Des Brumes and La Bête humaine) aids the atmosphere.

Film noir is a highly influential force in cinema: depicting a treacherous world of darkness and pessimism where characters engage, or deliberately strain your sympathy. Not normally a world in which much compassion is shown to those who do wrong. The word “generosity” doesn’t come readily to mind for its heroes, villains or even victims. Yet the noirish-stained Temptation Harbour has a warmly rounded sympathy for its signalman protagonist Bert Mallinson (Robert Newton) and his involved people, daughter Betty Mallinson (Margaret Barton) side-show performer Camelia (Simone Simon) and “the man from London killer” Jim Brown (William Hartnell). The emphasis is placed on vulnerability, understandable corruption and stress: all are highlighted instead of noir’s usual amorality, obvious greed and sweet revenge.

The degree of tenderness that Lance Comfort brings to this dark melodrama is remarkable. Bert Mallinson, Betty Mallinson and Camelia are played out as subtle variations of innocence and experience. Bert is basically a decent man who holds onto the £5000 realising it would be impossible to earn so much in a lifetime of work. Betty is a kind daughter who (in her father’s eyes) does wrong by stealing some kidneys from the butcher’s she works at – a small misdemeanour, but enough for Bert to momentarily ‘flaw’ her character. Camelia is an unhappy orphan of the war, now trapped into playing the part of a ‘radio-active mermaid’ beauty in a tacky fairground act. She want to escape and tries to seduce Bert, with his suitcase of money, for this is her only means to return to a comfortable life in France. Even the killer Mr.Brown is treated with compassion once we learn the circumstances that led him to crime – a distressed Mrs.Brown (Joan Hopkins) is brought in for questioning by an ex-detective, Inspector Dupre (Marcel Dalio)

Temptation Harbour pays homage to both Jean Renoir and De Sica. Renoir for the film’s overall intense sympathy and De Sica for the lovely attention to detail and atmosphere that Comfort brings to the scene involving daughter Betty as she prepares her father’s breakfast. The camera accompanies her in a manner echoing the long sequence featuring the maid preparing for the day, in De-Sica’s Umberto D.

The film’s father/daughter relationship is handled with tender insight and affection. The rupture of this family bond emotionally breaks the recently widowed signalman, as much as his futile holding onto the money and a final act of self-defence. Robert Newton is excellent as the conflicted father. Margaret Barton (who began her film career as the tearoom waitress in Brief Encounter) gives a superb performance that is both heartfelt and poignant.

Bleak tale though it is, Temptation Harbour has humorous episodes. Irene Handl’s fake playing of the piano at the show and Simone Simon’s bored and detached delivery of her theatrical patter are beautifully comedic. It’s a perfectly cast film but not quite note perfect. There’s an extended voice-over by Robert Newton – the director ought to have trusted his actor to suggest character dilemma through looks. Yet this is a slight flaw in a moving and exciting film.

It seems that betrayal, error and the confused aspiration to a better life spill out from the family to encompass the needs of the other characters. It’s just after the Second World War and people are still poor and desire transformative social change. Lance Comfort and co-scriptwriter Rodney Ackland (author of the play Absolute Hell (1952) set in a club on the eve of the 1945 general election) plant this sub-text into their crime film. A better life, to remain decent people, avoid messes like the one Bert Mallinson has got himself into, and improve themselves, are their aspirations making up a redemptive goal – not in a religious sense – but for a deserved material well being. The urgent need to escape from an austere Britain of rationing and ‘making things do’ hangs over everyone.

“How by 1945, at the apparent birth of a new world, did the ‘activators’ – politicians, planners, public intellectuals, opinion-formers – really see the future? And how did their vision of what lay ahead compare with that of ‘ordinary people?’ The overlaps and mismatches between these two sets of expectations would be fundamental to the playing out of the next three or more decades.” Austerity Britain 1945-51 – David Kynaston

Temptation Harbour works as a social critique; film noir; domestic drama and crime movie. Visually stunning camerawork by Otto Heller creates much fine and appropriate shading of the foggy harbour and the house and hotel interiors. Mischa Poliansky’s music is very effective – particularly in the heart-rending final moments: Father locks up the house and says goodbye to his daughter, the music surges in and up with a Rachmaninov-like tone and power.

Temptation Harbour is rightly regarded as Lance Comfort’s best work and for me should be viewed alongside Cavalcanti’s They Made Me a Fugitive – also photographed by Otto Heller. It’s fascinating to compare the Fugitive spiv-corrupted London with the dangerous Folkestone of Temptation Harbour, as both were released in 1947. Fugitive has a demobilised RAF pilot Clem Morgan, played by Trevor Howard, drawn into a world of crime. Both Morgan and Mallinson seek justice either in the form of regained dignity (Fugitive) or deserved materialism (Harbour) and are impatient for the new world to deliver. Unfortunately Cavalcanti’s disillusioned ex-serviceman and Comfort’s corrupted signalman are left at the end with their fate uncertain (Only in The Man from London version of Simenon’s novel and L’homme de Londres is Mallinson sort of let off, by the police inspector, from his ‘crime’.)

The film has not been available until recently due to issues with the Simenon family estate, Temptation Harbour can now be viewed on the BFI online player for a small rental charge. I saw it this month at a one-off screening at the Southbank and their beautiful archive print, of what is probably a minor masterpiece, really ought to be released on blu-ray. Alan Price©2018

TEMPTATION HARBOUR IS AVAILABLE ON BFI PLAYER

Maeve (1981) Mubi

Dir.: Pat Murphy; Cast: Mary Jackson, Trudy Kelly, John Keegan, Mark Mulholland, Brid Brennan, Liam Doyle; UK/Ireland/Australia 1981, 110 min.

Irish feminist filmmaker Pat Murphy is a unique voice in a male-dominated industry, rather like her titular heroine Maeve. Born in 1958, Pat has so far directed three features: Anne Devlin (1984); Nora (2000) and Tana Bana (2010), and one feature-length documentary. Challenging aesthetically and politically, her debut Maeve is an uncompromising piece of filmmaking with a rather enigmatic storyline.

Set during the ‘Troubles’, twenty-year old Maeve Sweeney (Jackson) has been working in London and goes back to her family home in Belfast for a holiday with her parents, Martin (Mulholland) and Eileen (Kelly), and younger sister Roisin (Brennan). Many of the issues with her boyfriend Liam (Keegan) will be played out to the full during the course of the narrative which jumps between past and the present where we first meet young Maeve in 1980. Feminism is all the rage in London where Maeve has got used to the new sense of freedom. Being back in Ulster with its provincial way of life and traditional attitudes take her back to her upbringing, and not always in a good way. Her sister is extremely conventional, and Liam and her parents keep to their traditional ways, embracing the ongoing Republican struggle. In a key scene, Maeve and Liam are looking down on Belfast from a hill, discussing female liberation and the past. Liam takes a Republican view and does not want to live in a country dominated by British rule. But Maeve disagrees: “You are talking about a false memory… the way you want to remember excludes me, I get remembered out of existence.” To which Liam retorts “But it’s better than living no history at all.”

A family outing does not help Maeve to identify with the Celtic mythology of supremacy, and in a pub she challenges Liam’s hard-core Provisional friends. But everything here is fragmented – her family have had to leave their original home in a Protestant district. But the “Troubles” are very much a part of life: Roisin is stopped after dark by British patrols, telling her sister about a near-rape by an occupying soldier. And the rumbling sound of gunfire is audible most nights.

Murphy tries to unpack her feelings rationally, but she sometimes fails to show how social memory and action are often concealed behind the myths and false memory of the past and present. Maeve’s newly found feminism is at odds with her heritage, and this romanticised struggle for the past is sometimes just an idealised way of returning to the comfort it gave then. It’s a storyline that very much resonates with the UK today, although without the violence.

The director challenges the ‘male gaze’ with a long, non-voyeuristic shot of the naked bodies of Maeve and her sister, inviting the audience to question traditional forms of degrading female bodies as objects of lust. DoP Robert Smith uses light to show the demarcation line between Maeve and the ones she has left behind. Overall Maeve is a very brave undertaking, even though melodrama and political history does not always sit in harmony. But Mary Jackson keeps everything together with a brilliant performance that combines fighting spirit and melancholic recognition of a Northern Irish reality which no longer makes her feel at home, or at ease.

NOW ON MUBI | Blu-ray, iTunes and Amazon Prime and the BFI 

Leaning into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy (2017) ****

Dir: Thomas Riedelsheimer; Documentary with Andy Goldsworthy, Holly Goldsworthy; UK/Germany 2017, 97 min.

Sixteen years after their last impressive collaboration Rivers and Tides, Thomas Riedelsheimer teams up again with the self-proclaimed land artist and sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, joining him around the world to film his ground-breaking experimental artistry with stones, branches, fallen trees leaves, clay, rocks, vines and even icicles.

We start in the Brazilian reservation of Ibitipoca where Goldsworthy admires the floor of a hut: thehomemaker, an elderly woman stating simply “that all you need is clay and cow dung’, but it is hard work”. Via the Presidio Park in San Francisco, the two explore the English countryside, Provence, Gabon, a museum’s courtyard in St. Louis before returning to the artist’s home in Dumfriesshire, where we witness one of the most astonishing moments: Goldsworthy looks like he is swimming through trees, floating, a total inversion of the usual images of men being swallowed by machinery. Goldsworthy sometimes collaborates with animals in what he calls “random art” where he initiates sheep painting with their hooves.

The overriding impression is ephemeral, or, quoting the late Roger Ebert, who wrote about Rivers and Tides “Watching this movie, is like day dreaming”. Goldsworthy himself is less sure about what he does: “I am contradicting himself in my creations, because nature is everywhere. It is not so clear any more. I am just trying to make sense of this world.” If Paganism was a religion, Goldsworthy would be its first apostle. But there are all also very worldly moments, particularly when he involves his daughter Holly; as does Riedersheimer with his son Felix.

Goldsworthy never hides his admiration for nature: he even eats a handful of leaves, before spitting them out. And the urban environment often creates opportunities for his spontaneous art: lying on a pavement, in what cold be a coffin-like hole, the rain fills up the basin to produce an art form of a different kind, verging on the surreal. The music of composer Fred Frith underscores this lonely, pure and transcendental meandering around the globe, a sort of spiritual trance. AS

 

Separate Tables (1958) **** bluray release

Dir: Delbert Mann | Writer: Terence Rattigan, John Gay | Cast: Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth, David Niven, Burt Lancaster, Gladys Cooper, Cathleen Nesbitt, Felix Aylmer, May Hallett, Rod Taylor Audrey Dalton | UK | Drama | 100′

Based  on the one act plays “Table by the Window” and “Table Number Seven” by Terence Rattigan. This intimate and exquisitely-crafted character drama from Marty director Delbert Mann shows darker noirish shadows lurking behind its chic and gracefully turned out long-term residents staying at the Beauregard Hotel in the English seaside resort of Bournemouth, in the late fifties. 

The hotel manager is the prim and dignified Miss Pat Cooper (Wendy Hiller) who seems to be involved with Burt Lancaster’s recovering alcoholic. But it soon emerges that the troubled writer is actually still in love with his beautiful but insecurely narcissistic former wife (a glowing Rita Hayworth) who – on a dynamic-changing rebound – makes a smouldering entrance amongst the assembled guests, an unhappy assortment of troubled misfits, loners and fakes who welcome the chance to have the company of fellow souls as they dine at separate tables, all elegantly attired by costumier Edith Head. David Niven plays the part of a Walter Mitty major, a delusional phoney who tries to impress the emotionally fragile and histrionic Deborah Kerr, styling himself as a war hero. Deborah is accompanied by her brittle and overbearing mother (Gladys Cooper). 

Considered controversial at the time it all feels rather quaint but its underlying themes of emotional dysfunction, family breakdown, lost love and broken dreams are enduring and just as meaningful now as they ever were, and John Gay’s thoughtful script (complimented by David Raksin’s atmospheric score and Charles Lang’s pristine cinematography) never resorts to melodrama or sensationalism in expressing them as the narrative gradually reaches a satisfying conclusion with the ensemble cast giving some really fabulous performances. This is English classic cinema at its best. MT

AVAILABLE ON BLURAY | DVD FROM 20 AUGUST 2018

The Escape (2017) ***

Dir.: Dominic Savage; Cast: Gemma Arterton, Dominic Cooper, Francis Barber, Jalil Lespert, Marthe Keller; UK 2017, 101 Min

Known mostly for his TV work Dominic Savage’ second feature suffers mainly from a rather characterisation of Tara, a brilliant Gemma Arterton who lives a rather banal existence hemmed in by her emotionally vacant husband and two in a two lively children in an outer London suburb.

The opening scene sees her nearly in tears making love to her husband Mark (Cooper). The fact is, she can hardly stand him she can hardly stand him athough he appears entirely satisfied with his life- a house, two children, a well paid job and an attractive wife. But he is desperately insecure and relies on her judgement about what to wear for an important meeting. 

It seems that both are social climbers – Tara’s mother Allison (Barber), tells her daughter in a working class accent ‘not to rock the boat’ – in her eyes Tara is a success – having brought her up as a single mum. But Allison provides the only insight into Tara’s past and present: there are no references to what went on in her life before, or why she is so feels so totally isolated – after all, both children spend their days in a perfect environment for Mums to socialise and share the child minding. But Savage focuses his storyline on the repetitive here and now of this nuclear family, offering scant food for thought. 

On an excursion to London’s Southbank, Tara life is suddenly transformed when she buys a book about the tapestries of ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ and decides to join an art class, much to the bewilderment of Mark, who somehow would like to make her happy, but has neither the knowhow or the imagination. After a fractious outburst at the children, blaming them for her predicament, Tara finally snaps and sets off for Paris on the Eurostar and this is where the narrative starts to derail. A meeting with a hunky photographer Philippe (Lespert) leads to several night of lust whereupon she discovers his secret and rapidly down-spirals into depression mode, and the arms of Anna (Keller), who tells Tara to give family life another chance in a different environment. 

An enigmatic second ending complicates matters even more. Somehow you get the feeling that The Escape should have been set in the early sixties when housework and childcare were suffocating women and there was little scope for escape. But because men have not much evolved much since then, women face the same issues surrounding personal satisfaction even today, but they have learned to cope better with inequality.

Arterton does her best with this rather limiting role. DoP Laurie Rose conjures up imaginative scenario of life in suburbia – but overall The Escape feels like a worthy Play-for-Today – without the cutting edge

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 2 AUGUST 2018

Maurice (1987) ****

Dir.: James Ivory | Writer: James Ivory, Kit Hesketh-Harvey | Cast: James Wilby, Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, Phoebe Nicholls, Ben Kingsley, Denham Elliot; UK 1987, 140 min.

James Ivory’s second E.M. Forster adaption (framed by Room with a View and Howards End) is a melancholic gay love story, set in the years before WWI. Forster had written the novel in 1914 (two revisions followed), but it was only published a year after his death in 1971, when homosexual relationships were decriminalised in the UK. Whilst sharing a Silver Lion for Best Director for Ivory at the Venice Film Festival in 1987, the public reception was muted – the time for a mainstream feature about gay relationships had not yet arrived.

Starting in Cambridge in 1909, students Maurice (Wilby) and Clive (Grant) fall in love. Maurice is a romantic dreamer, but Clive is much more composed, and certainly draws the line when it comes to physical contact: his idea of a relationship is strictly platonic. He soon settles into his privileged  background, focusing on his career as a Tory MP with his timid wife Anne (Nicholls). Maurice, having been thrown out of Cambridge, becomes a stockbroker in his father’s business, but is still fighting with his gayness. He consults a doctor (Denholm Elliot), who declares him fit for marriage, and a hypnotist (Kingsley) – but he is unable to reconcile his innate feelings. He becomes a regular visitors to Clive and Anne’s estate – just to be near his object of desire – and eventually Maurice falls for a young farmhand Alec Scudder (Graves), who is set to emigrate to Argentina, but soon changes his mind, and Maurice gives up his society life for true love.

James Ivory wrote Maurice with Kit Hesketh-Harvey, rather than his usual writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvla – and repressed love and class barriers are the central themes. Shot at King’s College Cambridge and Palladian House in Wiltshire, these backgrounds assumed increasing importance as the narrative unfolds. DoP Pierre Lhomme (Camille Claudel, Cyrano de Bergerac) lets the light play over the sunny meadows, misty rivers and majestic stately homes. This is the England of the upper classes; where love, and passion, are stifled behind traditional closed doors. There is more excitement during the cricket match than in any of the relationships portrayed: therefore Maurice’s decision is much easier to comprehend. Unable to find satisfaction in his own background, he risks and jeopardises everything for love elsewhere. 

Thirty years after its premiere, Maurice still has emotional impact: like all true classics, it transcends time, and delivers a portrait of a society very much alive still today: behind the beauty of the exterior, lays the same problem: an England which has very little place for intimacy and passion – even though sex has become an commodity, like everything else. And outside the metropolis, homophobia is still a common currency, together with an increasing xenophobia. Ivory excels in portraying the beauty and the spiritual emptiness, side by side: E.M. Foster had to hide his sexual orientation until his death at the age of 91, and all of the director’s adaptations of his novels show protagonists hiding and appeasing society in this green and pleasant land. AS

A NEW 4K RESTORATION IS BACK IN CINEMAS AT BFI SOUTHBANK AND CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 27 JULY 2018

        

The Receptionist (2017) ***

Dir.: Jenny Lu; Cast: Shiang-chyi Chen, Fan Shixuan, Shuang Teng, Teresa Daley, Sophie Gopsill, Joshua Whitehouse, Stephen Pucci; UK/Taiwan 2016, 102 min.

Needs must when the Devil drives comes to mind in describing Jenny Lu’s grim but timely exploration of migrant’s shattered dreams dedicated to Anna, a woman from mainland China, whose life ended in tragedy after seeking a better life. 

Set mainly in a dingy ‘massage parlour’ near Heathrow and told from the perspective of Tina, the titular onlooker, The Receptionist pictures the lives of several young migrant workers in contemporary London.

Tina (Daley) and her boyfriend Frank (Whitehouse) are  graduates struggling to pay back their student grants and coping with the high rent of their miniscule flat. Tina’s job-seeking experiences are futile – who wants another literature graduate? When Frank is sacked, Tina takes the job she had rejected in the first place: receptionist to ‘Madame’ Lily (Gospsill), whose tawdry house near Heathrow Airport is the setting for this exploitation drama. When Tina arrives, Lily already has two sex-workers toiling for her: the mature, having-seen-it-all Sasa (Chen), and the the pixie-like Mei (Shixuan), who pretends that it’s all a game. At first, Tina is aloof – treating Sasa and Mei with contempt and grudgingly obeying Lily, who always finds new jobs for Tina – such as duct-taping the windows “ so that the neighbours cannot smell the sex”. But Tina prefers writing up her diary – an activity totally out of place given the setting. 

Relationships are complicated by Sam (Pucci) Madame Lily’s much younger ‘toy lover’, who not so secretly yearns for some “freebies”. When Anna (Teng), a woman in her mid-thirties arrives, Tina turns her allegiance to the sex workers, joins “their side” against her employer. Anna is a naive country girl and has no idea what she letting herself into. Her family has paid a huge sum of money so that she can work in the UK – and everybody back home relies on this financial support. She soon finds out from Sasa and Mei that abortions are not safe at all, even an anaesthetic is seen as a luxury. Unable to cope, Anna looses the will to live. The ending itself is poetic but never sentimental and cannot hide what has gone on before.

The director’s debut drama shows a passionate concern for her story and never lets up on realism, without resorting to explicit sex or nudity. DoP Gareth Munden captures the prison atmosphere with great flair and the ensemble acting is brilliant. Whilst there are some structural difficulties, The Receptionist is more than well-meaning, showing the fate of invisible women from another world being pushed to the margins and beyond. AS

NATIONWIDE FROM 20 JULY 2018

Pin Cushion (2017)***

Dir: Deborah Haywood | Cast: Lily Newmark, Joana Scanlan | UK | Drama |

The age-old subject of bullying is tackled here with tender aplomb by first time writer director Deborah Haywood in her poignant mother daughter buddy movie currently doing the festival rounds and now at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Iona (Lily Newmark) and her mother Lyn (Joana Scanlan) are trying for a fresh start in a new town, but their close relationship soon comes under pressure largely due to Lyn’s physical challenges, causing Iona to retreat into her own fantasy world in a bid to escape the constant teasing and ridicule from schoolfriends. The deftly entitled PIN CUSHION is very much a contemporary tale highlighting the often claustrophobic nature of today’s nuclear family where mothers often see their world entirely through their daughter’s experiences rather than reaching out for emotional and intellectual fulfilment in their own peer group, partner or even the workplace. While we have every sympathy for Lyn (Scanlan), her life totally revolves around Iona – they share the same hobbies, and even a bed! Not only does this cramp Iona’s style by preventing her developing at school with kids her own age, but it also discourages her mother from reaching out to contacts in her local community which could in turn benefit both mother and daughter, lending her more respect all round. Scanlan’s brilliant performance as a kindly and caring parent is what really makes PIN CUSHION so enjoyable as an insightful look inside the brutally miserable world of the bullied and abused. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

The Long Good Friday (1980) | New restoration on Bluray

Dir: John Mackenzie  Writer: Barry O’Keefe  Composer: Francis Monkman (Curved Air) | Cast: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Dave King, Bryan Marshall, Derek Thompson, Eddie Constantine, Paul Freeman, Pierce Brosnan.

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY is firmly built on a dynamite performance from Bob Hoskins who smoulders throughout as hard-edged East End crime sion masterminding a deal that heralds the dawn of London’s Big Boom transforming the Docklands wasteland into a property powerhouse and ushering in a new dawn of prosperity for the capital.

As underworld boss Harold Shand, he is poised to pull off a multi-million-pound property deal to be built on the backing of American money. It all turns out to be a dodgy as Shand himself when it emerges that the Mafia is involved. But just as he’s hoping to trouser a tidy profit, Shand comes under siege from one of his own trusted clan; and rapidly his house of cards collapses as bomb blasts blow away his Rolls-Royce, East End pub and his dreams, in scenes of epic destruction. Helen Mirren is queenly and kittenish as his savvy moll, who knows just when to bare her claws and when to purr in the background.

The meat-heads are called in for a moratorium –  a hilarious “heads-down” that takes place in a local abattoir as they are notoriously up-ended  from meathooks – but it ends in tears. A furious Bob Hoskins steams with anger, surprise and indignation throughout, fetching up in a fiendish finale of facial gesticulation – as Francis Monkman’s classic score blares out to mask Mackenzie’s off-scene encouragement to his lead. The last scene also marks the debut of a sly-eyed, fresh-faced newcomer in the shape of Pierce Brosnan. But this is Bob’s film and will go down as his most legendary performance. MT

A BRAND NEW RESTORATION SOURCED FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVES AND APPROVED BY CINEMATOGRAPHER PHIL MEHEUX IS OUT ON BLU-RAY WITH INTERVIEWS AND EXTRAS COURTESY OF ARROW FILM FROM 16 JULY 2018

 

 

Shooting Stars (1928) | Bluray release *****

Dir: Anthony Asquith | UK | Drama | 101′

British Instructional Films is a production credit that makes Shooting Stars sound as if it’s going to be a dull affair, suggesting a utilitarian entertainment for the masses. In fact it’s quite the opposite: Shooting Stars has a strong popular appeal but is never complacent. Throughout a running time of 101 minutes this stunning film has much of the flavour and emotional sophistication of the European Cinema with the craft and enthusiasm of Hollywood of the 1920s: a confident young man’s film (Anthony Asquith’s first) assimilating, without ever imitating, the influence of Lang and Murnau (the staging and lighting of sets) an expressive Chaplin/Lubitsch style acting and a precise attention to detail equalling Hitchcock, who was Asquith’s contemporary.  

Asquith really did his homework: visiting European studios and Hollywood where he met and spoke to prominent producers, directors and actors. On returning to England he wrote a clever, nuanced story so tightly constructed that the credited A.V. Bramble only went thorough the motions as a director – a very much in-charge Asquith completely oversaw the production.  

Mae Feather (Annette Benson) and Julian Gordon (Brian Aherne) are a married couple and movie stars. The marriage is strained. Mae is attracted to actor/comedian Andy Wilkes (Donald Calthrop). Julian finds out and threatens Mae with a scandal that will ruin her career. The distraught wife plans an act of violence against her husband. 

The title Shooting Stars operates on three levels: the film making process itself; the transient nature of a film star’s fame; and that star being the possible victim of a shotgun loaded with real bullets, fired on the set. Between these conceits the film oscillates, creating constant tension, comedy and tragic rejection.

Asquith’s later A Cottage on Dartmoor displayed an acute editing comparable to Hitchcock and indebted to Eisenstein. In Shooting Stars it’s not so much the cutting but a representation of objects that’s remarkable. Much playful suspense is created between the similar shape of a lipstick and a bullet. They become symbols of both sexual betrayal and Mae’s plot to kill, as they’re jostled back and forth in the couple’s home, and then in abstract imagery against a skyline. One is mistaken for the other as the camera compounds a perception of dangerous ambiguity. Such inter-changeability proves fascinating. 

And round these ‘tease’ object moments, Asquith directs a sad marital drama and sharp satire on the film industry. The leading actors are being directed in a Western drama called “Prairie Love.” This is set in a British film studio, in Cricklewood, North London with some location work on the Devon coast. In the opening scenes the camera prowls around this frontier romance, but also over another film being shot in the same studio space. All done with a superbly staged crane shot looking down on the comedies and dramas being filmed, as extras get out of the way of electric cables and musicians rehearsing: a fluid long take achieving a semi-documentary elegance that is breathtaking.

Arguably, Asquith never bettered his great late 1920s achievements: Shooting Stars, A Cottage on Dartmoor and Underground are his best pictures. After that his career was pretty uneven. Check out The Way to the Stars, Pygmalion, The Browning Version, Orders to Kill and A Woman in Question as terrific highlights. Avoid The V.I.P.’s and The Yellow Rolls-Royce. His work in the sound era produced much brilliant craft, involvement and style but is unevenly spread. To watch Shooting Stars is to experience the visual poetry of a young filmmaker fully, and comfortably, in first love with his newly chosen medium. Alan Price©2018

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF THE BFI       

Arcadia (2017) ****

Dir.: Paul Wright; Documentary; UK 2017, 78 min.

This unique documentary, a new archival/music mash-up, mostly black and white, is a paean to loss: the loss of our British countryside and its implications for the cultural identity of this green and pleasant land. ARCADIA is Paul Wright’s follow-up to his haunting mood piece For Those in Peril and relies much more on the atmospheric score by Adrian Utley and Will Gregory, than on its sparse commentary.

ARCADIA does not look back nostalgically at an ancient England, to the music of Jerusalem by Blake/Parry. Wright’s main intention here is to survey the loss, and how it came about. Nature, pure and rhythmic in its yearly cycles (told in nine chapters), dictates the ebb and flow of life via storms and floods that are all part of an existence, now seemingly lost forever. The fluid structure and absence of any narrative, lull the viewer into a dark past: woods are eerie places where a mysterious creature is always lurking round the corner: more witch than unicorn. Because Arcadia is anything but benevolent: the hardship and rough edges of eking out an existence on and off the land are shown, as well as the times of bucolic plenty expressed through Morris dancing and The Great Cheese Roll. These – traditions that are utterly pagan, Wright contrasts this with the current lust for acquisition and development,  even though some of images of industrialisation seem to be as old as the footage of nature lost. Arcadia is not a traditional documentary but a poetic essay oscillating between awe and despair. Only when we leave England and go North of Hadrian’s Wall, does the landscape becomes more rugged, and the atavistic nature of customs turns really almost sinister – recalling The Wicker Man.   

Wright mesmerises us into a state of meditation as the images infiltrate our subconscious allowing subliminal messages to take root. And there is some more substantial criticism: his most (and often unnecessary) repetitive images are those of naked women from the 50s, dancing and prancing, seemingly at one with the countryside, but showing only the filmmaker’s male gaze.

Arcadia casts a spell of the past, and one that is predominantly mysterious and dark, a retrospective vision of a way of life, now utterly gone; a little like Alice getting lost in a fairyland of the past, where shadows lurk behind pastoral scenes of bliss and otherworldly happiness. To return to Jerusalem: Wright choses to show us the heavens, which we have abandoned for the contemporary living hell. Angst-ridden and dystopian in its approach, Arcadia is a grim testament, beguilingly delivered. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 21 JUNE 2018

Stanley, A Man of Variety (2016))

Dir.: Stephen Cookson; Cast: Timothy Spall; UK 2016, 83 min.

As much as we all love the veteran actor Timothy Spall, his one-hander Stanley, a Man of Variety, co-written by Stephen Cookson (My Angel), is simply a vanity project and the total opposite of the title: a portrait of a mental patient, wasting away in a derelict psychiatric ward.

Stanley also suffers from its unstructured script – hardly a narrative, but a series of numbers, held together by the slightest of content: Stanley fantasises about his past, his never totally explained transgression, only wanting to leave the ward to visit his daughter’s grave. Apart from his parents, Spall also acts out the personas of popular British actors: Max Wall, Alistair Sim, Margaret Rutherford and Noel Coward to name a few. They mostly berate poor Stanley, who is lost in his world of cleaning the ward and watching old VCR cassettes – if he can find the tokens for the meter.

Stanley veers helplessly between parody and self-satire; everything between Tarkovsky and Carry-On is plundered, but all seems oddly second-hand, like Spall’s imitations. One suspects that Cookson/Spall had Rober Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets in mind, but Alec Guinness was helped by a great ensemble of the very best – and a proper script based on a brilliant novel. DoP Ismael Issa tries very hard to jazz the whole thing up, but it’s difficult to find coherence when the script is merely a collection of notes. Stanley resembles a work in progress – but very much like the first draft. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 15 JUNE 2018

Picturehouse Entertainment presents Stanley, A Man of Variety exclusively at Picturehouse Central from 15th Juneand at Picturehouse Cinemas nationwide on 26th June for Discover Tuesdays

Current Screenings + Q&As with Timothy Spall

15th-22nd June – Picturehouse Central, London (with Q&A on 24th June)
27th June – Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley (with Q&A)
30th June – Cambridge Arts Picturehouse (with Q&A)

 

All the Wild Horses (2017) Mongol Derby


Dir: Ivo Marloh | Doc | UK | 90′

The wild Mongolian horse was Genghis Khan’s weapon of choice when he conquered the hostile wolf-infested steppes of the World’s largest land-locked country. And the Mongol Derby is the world’s longest and most gruelling horse race at 1000 kilometres. Inspired by Ghenghis Khan’s Urtuu postal system it courses through the northern territory of this vast Asian country where the self-navigating riders – and their resilient mounts – occasionally stop to rest and re-feul at these 27 posting stations, and there is one every 40 kilometres.

An endurance test for those who relish things that go wrong – and here they invariably do – and Hollywood fare such as Bite the Bullet (1975) and Hidalgo (2004) both dramatised this epic struggle, and Otto Bell’s recent documentary The Eagle Huntress (2016) takes place on similar terrain. But Ivo Marloh has captured the real thing on the hoof in his brilliant widescreen adventure that gets down and dirty and up close and personal with the horses themselves (who are not to be petted) and their intrepid riders who have travelled from far and wide (South Africa, Ireland, Texas and Canada) to win the race, and win it whatever the cost (should they fall off mid station, it’s a long onward hike, or maybe even death).

The going gets tough and unpredictable – often unbearably so, but the riders must persevere against the odds: injury, buzzing insects, heat exhaustion and the elements soon take their toll. And Marloh is there in the thick of it, delivering an exhilarating watch from close quarters while also exploring the human story of a remote community struggling to survive in their ancient pastoral tradition. “This is the Wild frickin’ West” says one rider. And we feel his pain. But this is rip-roaring entertainment – and not for the feint-hearted. MT

THE MONGOL DERBY IS AN ANNUAL EVENT THAT TAKES PLACE IN AUGUST

Edinburgh International Film Festival | 20 June – 1 July 2018

Artistic Director Mark Adams unveiled this year’s programme for Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), with 121 new features, including 21 world premieres, from 48 countries across the globe.

Highlights include Haifaa al-Mansour’s long-awaited follow-up to WadjdaMARY SHELLEY, with Elle Fanning taking on the role of Mary Wollstonecraft, the World Premiere of Stephen Moyer’s directorial debut, THE PARTING GLASS, starring Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon, Denis O’Hare, Anna Paquin (who also produces), Rhys Ifans and Ed Asnerand an IN PERSON events with guests including the award-winning English writer and director David Hare, the much-loved Welsh comedian Rob Brydon and star of the compelling Gothic drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE, actor George MacKay, as well as the Opening and Closing Gala premieres of PUZZLE and SWIMMING WITH MEN.

BEST OF BRITISH

This year’s Best of British strand includes exclusive world premieres of Simon Fellows’ thriller STEEL COUNTRY, featuring a captivating performance from Andrew Scott as Donald, a truck driver turned detective; comedy classic OLD BOYS starring Alex Lawther; the debut feature of writer-director Tom Beard, TWO FOR JOY, a powerful coming-of-age drama starring Samantha Morton and Billie Piper; oddball comedy-drama EATEN BY LIONS; striking debut from writer and director Adam Morse, LUCID, starring Billy Zane and Sadie Frost; Jamie Adams’ British comedy SONGBIRD, featuring Cobie Smulders. Audiences can also look forward to a special screening of Mandie Fletcher’s delightfully fun rom-com PATRICK.

AMERICAN DREAMS 

This year the AMERICAN DREAMS strand has the quirky indie comedy UNICORN STORE, the directorialOscar-winning actress Brie Larson in which she stars alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Joan Cusack; the heart-warming HEARTS BEAT LOUD starring Nick Offerman; glossy noir thriller, TERMINAL, starring and produced by Margot Robbie and starring Simon Pegg and Dexter Fletcher; IDEAL HOME in which Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a bickering gay couple who find themselves thrust into parenthood; 1980s set spy thriller starring Jon Hamm, THE NEGOTIATOR; and PAPILLON, starring Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek.

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES

Notable features include 3/4  Ilian Metev’s glowing cinema verity portrait of family life. Malgorzata Szumovska’s oddball drama MUG that explores the aftermath of a face transplant; Aida Begic’s touching transmigration tale NEVER LEAVE ME highlighting how young Syrian lives have been affected by war; actor-turned-director Mélanie Laurent’s fourth feature DIVING, and Hannaleena Hauru’s thought-provoking THICK LASHES OF LAURI MANTYVAARA and the brooding and atmospheric drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE starring George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth and Matthew Stagg.

WORLD PERSPECTIVES 

This offer a fascinating snapshot of developing world-cinema themes and styles such as BO Hu’s epic Chinese drama AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL; Berlinale award-winning South American dram THE HEIRESSESGIRLS ALWAYS HAPPY, a touching but darkly funny tale of a Chinese mother and daughter and Kylie Minogue starrer FLAMMABLE CHILDREN , a raucous comedy set in Aussie beachside suburbia in the 1970s. THE BUTTERFLY TREE starring Melissa George and Ben Elton’s THREE SUMMERS starring Robert Sheehan and set at an Australian folk music festival.

DOCUMENTARIES

This year’s EIFF programme features a strong musical theme from Kevin Macdonald’s illuminating biopic WHITNEY, about the life and times of superstar Whitney Houston; GEORGE MICHAEL: FREEDOM – THE DIRECTOR’S CUT narrated by George Michael himself and ALMOST FASHIONABLE: A FILM ABOUT TRAVIS directed by Scottish lead-singer Fran Healy. Audiences will be inspired by the creativity of Orson Welles in Mark Cousins’ THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES; HAL, a film portrait of the acclaimed 1970s director Hal Ashby; LIFE AFTER FLASH, a fascinating exploration into the life of actor Sam J. Jones.

DOWNRIGHT STRANGE

As the sun sets, audiences will be able to journey into the dark and often downright strange side of cinema, with a selection of genre-busting edge-of-your-seat gems including: the gloriously grisly psychosexual romp PIERCING starring Mia Wasikowska; the world premieres of Matthew Holness’ POSSUM and SOLIS staring Steven Ogg as an astronaut who finds himself trapped in an escape pod heading toward the sun; dark and bloody period drama THE MOST ASSASSINATED WOMAN IN THE WORLD and the futuristic WHITE CHAMBER starring Shauna Macdonald.

FOCUS ON CANADA 

The country focus for the Festival’s 72nd edition will be Canada, allowing audiences to take a cinematic tour of the country and its culture, offering insight as well as entertainment, from filmmakers new and already established. HOCHELAGA, LAND OF THE SOULS is an informative look at Quebec’s history; but possibly best to avoid the unconvincing FAKE TATTOOS opting instead for WALL, a striking animated essay about Israel from director Cam Christiansen and FIRST STRIPES a compelling look into the Canadian military from Jean-Francois Caissy.

Weather permitting, the Festival’s pop-up outdoor cinema event Film Fest in the City with Mackays (15 – 17 June) will kick off the festivities early, with the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival running from 20 June – 1 July, 2018.

Tickets go on sale to Filmhouse Members on Wednesday 23 May at 12noon and on sale to the public on Friday 25 May at 10am. www.edfilmfest.org.uk.

 

 

The Knack..and how to get it (1965) | Bluray release

Dir: Richard Lester | Cast: Rita Tushingham, Ray Brooks, Michael Crawford, Donal Donnelly | Comedy | UK

It’s indicative of our more conservative century that in 2001 the Wallflower Critical Guide appreciated the creative cinematography and editing of The Knack, but then said it disrupted the storytelling. That’s ridiculous. The bare storyline of The Knack makes for a comedy pitched exactly in tune with its technique: a style conveying zany behaviour, sexual freedom and cheeky irreverence. Never a case of disruption but a familiar eruption of the visual approach associated with director Richard Lester. 

Sandwiched between the two Beatles films, A Hard Day’s Night and Help, The Knack is very much a Sixties production. Amazingly, it won the 1965 Cannes Palme D’Or and has become one of the ‘swinging’ 60s films that people either love or hate. I like it, but with a few reservations. Blow-Up is the other 60s film now lazily described as ‘swinging’. Antonioni’s film doesn’t swing but provokes and mystifies: a film of its time yet also magisterially timeless; whereas The Knack has begun to look dated: caught in its own charming time capsule.

Colin (Michael Crawford) is a schoolmaster with little sexual experience of women. His friend Tolen (Ray Books) is a smug and conceited womaniser. He has the knack of seduction. Colin wants it too. Only with the disruptive arrival of Nancy (Rita Tushingham) on the scene does it seem possible that Colin’s inhibitions will be swept away by a potential girlfriend.

The Knack was adapted by Charles Wood from a play by Ann Jellicoe. I’m not sure how much of the dialogue is Jellicoe’s and how much is Wood’s. What is apparent is a strange and strained tone of both awkward misogyny and exhilarating energy. You disapprovingly groan at Tolen’s remark that women are ‘just skirt’ and that “skirt is meat”, and his assertion that “girls don’t get raped unless they want it.” These attitudes are powerfully counterpoised by Nancy’s assertive dialogue. As Tolen approaches, intent on rape, Nancy blasts out, “Mr. Smarty, Smarty, tight trousers – just you don’t come near me!” whilst her constant asking to be directed to the YWCA becomes a repeated knack leitmotif. Will the YWCA ever preserve Nancy’s virginity?  

The Knack is a semi-absurdist mishmash of Wood/Jellicoe lines that manage to attract and repel. And Lester directs his actors to speak in a frenetic, questioning manner as if they were tearing through the text of Beckett’s Godot – not anxiously waiting for redemption but running up and down stairs intent on sexual gratification.

If The Knack hadn’t been so perfectly cast then I don’t think I would be giving it very much critical attention. Michael Crawford, Ray Brooks, Donal Donnelly and Rita Tushingham deliver wonderfully winning performances. The film might be an uneven, if brilliantly photographed, fantasia on sexual drives, but I strongly identified with the frustrations and ambitions of its very likeable and very human characters. 

The comedy sometimes fall flat – both the child-like lion taming scene and the wheeling of a bed, through the London streets, are over-long – but when The Knack’s comedy works, it becomes an appealing bundle of anarchic energy. And British films are always in need of a good dose of that. Alan Price.

NOW ON BLURAY TO CELEBRATE BFI’s WOODFALL: A REVOLUTION IN BRITISH CINEMA 

Special features

Product details

RRP: £19.99/ Cat. no. BFIB1292 / Cert 15

UK / 1965 / black and white / 85 mins / English language with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles / original aspect ratio 1.66:1 / BD50: 1080p, 24fps, PCM dual mono audio (48kHz/24-bit) / DVD9: PAL 25fps, PCM mono audio (48kHz/16-bit)

 

The Dam Busters (1955) | 75th Year’s Celebration | Home Ent Release

Dir: Michael Anderson | Writer: R C Sheriff | Cast: Richard Todd, Michael Redgrave, Ursula Jeans, Basil Sydney, Ernest Clark | Aventure Drama | UK | 124′

British classic, The Dam Busters was directed by the late Michael Anderson (Logan’s Run) from a script by R C Sheriff (Goodbye, Mr Chips) exploring the legendary true story of Commander Guy Gibson and his elite squadron, The Dam Busters (1955). The film captures all the thrilling action and suspense of the magnificent exploits of a group of young pilots and their crews, charged with taking out the supposedly impenetrable Ruhr river dams of Germany with an ingeniously designed bouncing bomb. Starring Richard Todd as Gibson and Michael Redgrave as scientist and engineer Dr Barnes Wallis, the film also immortalised composer’s Eric Coates’s masterpiece: The Dam Busters March.

The impact of The Dam Busters on modern filmmakers spans the decades: director George Lucas hired the film’s special effects photographer Gilbert Taylor to work his magic on the original Star Wars; and The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has long been attached to a remake, based around a screenplay by actor/writer Stephen Fry.

THE DAM BUSTERS DVD / Blu-ray / EST and Collector’s Edition | Courtesy of STUDIOCANAL’S Vintage Classics label from June 4th, with a host of extras including an exclusive‘Making of The Dam Busters’ documentary. The Collector’s Edition will include the feature in 1.37 and 1.75 aspect ratios, a 64-page booklet, a rare aerial photographic print of the Möhne Dam following the raid (signed by the surviving members of the original 617 Squadron), an RAF Chastise Lancaster Bombers poster and a set of 5 art cards. Pre-order here: https://amzn.to/2I4z400

Fred (2018)*** | DVD release

Dir: Paul Van Carter | Doc | UK |

Paul Van Carter (The Guv’nor) spills the beans in this solemn non-judgemental exposé of Kray Twins associate Freddie Foreman – or Brown Bread Fred, as he’s known in the trade. As biopics go this is a stealthy but straightforward affair heavily controlled by Foreman’s brooding and rather swarthy presence as he sits facing Carter, only sharing what he wants to – and that’s not a great deal, in the scheme of things. Most of the detail surrounding this ruthless villain’s bloody past is in the pubic domain, including his part in the grizzly demise of Jack the Hat McVitie – for which he served ten years behind bars, and Freddie openly admits to this. But by the same token, he describes himself as a family man who never really wanted to harm anyone unless they got out of hand. Foreman has been accused of over forty murders, yet he’s not troubled by his gangland past: heartache comes only in the shape of memories of the Blitz and his Wartime childhood. And he certainly has a way with words, and a calm economy of movement when alluding to his misdemeanours, in phrasing that could be described as euphemistic. As a figure he very much calls to mind Bob Hoskins’ character in The Long Good Friday but Foreman has a brutal hard-edged quality that not even Bob could muster in his superlative performance. Foreman blames his criminal past on his impoverished upbringing as one of five boys in London’s Battersea, long before it became posh. And despite his shrewd entrepreneurialism – he went straight for two years in the US and Spain – he still reverted to his recidivist ways: clearly crime runs in his blood, even when the money flowed too. In his 80s and with strained family relations, Foreman now lives in a care home, where no doubt he is getting a taste of his own medicine. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD 28 MAY AND ON 4 JUNE DVD

Tony Richardson and his New Wave Wonder

Woodfall Film Productions was founded in 1958 by English director Tony Richardson (1928-1991), the American producer Harry Saltzman (later of James Bond fame) and the English author and playwright John Osborne, whose play Look back in Anger was filmed by Richardson in 1959 as the opus number of the company that championed the British New Wave. So it’s only fitting that Richardson should finish the circle in 1984 with Hotel New Hampshire, creating a sub-genre of dram-com, which was later developed by Wes Anderson.

The Entertainer featured Laurence Olivier in the title role, reprising his stage role from the Royal Court, co-written by John Osborne from his own play. There is nothing heroic about Olivier’s Archie Rice: he is a bankrupt womaniser, exploiting his long suffering wife Phoebe (de Banzie) and using Tina Lapford (Field) – who came second in the Miss Britain contest – and her wealthy family to prolong his stage career. Not even the death of his son in the Suez conflict can deter him from his vain pursuit of a long dead career. Using his father – who dies on stage – for his own advantage, Archie sinks deeper and deeper. There is a poignant scene with his film daughter Jean (Plowright), whom he asks: “What would think, if I married a woman your age?” and Jean answers exasperated “Oh. Daddy”. At the end of productions, Olivier would marry Plowright, after his divorce from Vivien Leigh. Shot partly at Margate, this is a bleak portrait of show business, shot in brilliant black and white by the great Oswald Morris (Moby Dick, A Farewell to Arms).  

Set in a desolate Manchester, A Taste of Honey would make a star of the lead actor Rita Tushingham. She plays 17-year old school girl Jo, who is totally neglected by her sex-mad mother Helen (Bryan), who only has time for her fiancée Robert (Stephens). Jo gets pregnant by the black sailor Jimmy (Danquah), who soon leaves with his ship. Jo befriends the textile student Geoffrey, a brilliant Murray Melvin, who is not sure about his sexual orientation. He looks lovingly after her, before Helen returns, after having been rejected by Robert. She shucks Geoffrey out, and pretends to look after her daughter and the baby, whilst having one eye on the next, potential suitor. A Taste of Honey is relentlessly gloomy and discouraging. Photographed innovatively  by Walter Lassally, who would become a Richardson regular.  

Written by John Osborne, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner again created a new star: Tom Courtenay in the titular role as Colin, a young, working-class petty criminal. After being caught by the police, he lands in up in Borstal, which is run by the posh Ruxton Towers (Michael Redgrave). The vain headmaster loves nothing more than to prove his theory that hard labour and physical exercises will reform his juvenile clients. Colin has a talent for running, and Towers trains him to beat the best of the Public School runners, in the annual competition.  Teased by his mates as ‘teacher’s pet’, Colin strives hard to fulfil his potential – but, in one of the great endings in film history, he has the last laugh, making a complete fool of Towers. Again shot in grainy black-and-white by Lassally, The Loneliness of the Long Distant Runner is a classic of the new genre of kitchen-sink dramas.  

Nothing could be more different than Richardson’s next project, the historical romp Tom Jones, based on the novel by Henry Fielding. Albert Finney is the bumptious titular hero, who is nearly hanged due to the schemes by his adversary Bliflil (the debut for David Warner). With a great love story involving Sophie Western (York) and her father (Griffith), there are some great performances by Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood and Diane Cilento. Like his auteur Richardson, Lassally changes style effortlessly in this colourful wide-screen bonanza. It would garner an Oscar for Richardson, and was a huge success at the box office: the slender budget of £467000 pounds would result in a cool 70 million takings. AS

NOW AVAILABLE FROM THE BFI THIS CLASSIC BOX SET SERIES IS PACKED WITH QUALITY EXTRAS

Blu-ray RRP: £79.99 / Cat. No. BFIB1296 / Cert 15

UK / 1959-1965 / black and white & colour / English language with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles / 921 mins (+ extras)/ original aspect ratios / 24fps, 1080p / 7 x BD50 & 2 x BD25 / Blu-ray: PCM mono audio (48kHz/24-bit)

DVD RRP: £69.99 / Cat. No. BFIV2113 / Cert 15

UK / 1959-1965 / black and white & colour / English language with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles / 885 mins (+ extras)/ original aspect ratios / 24fps, PAL / 9 x DVD9

 

 

On Chesil Beach (2017)

Dir.: Dominic Cooke | Cast: Saoirise Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Samuel West, Anne-Marie Duffy, Adrian Scarborough | UK 2017 | 110′

According to debut film director Dominic Cooke, and Ewan McEwan who wrote the script for this melancholy love story, based on his novella, England is still a country of emotional repression and class prejudice, and nothing has changed since Brief Encounter.

ON CHESIL BEACH explores this romantic disillusion through a poignant love affair between Florence Ponting, (an outstanding Saoirise Ronan), and historian Edward Mayhew (Howle) who meet and fall for each other. Ponting’s father Geoffrey (West) is a wealthy industrialist married to Violet (Watson) an Oxford lecturer. Mayhew’s mother Marjorie (Duff) is brain-damaged after an accident at a railway station: she has lost all inhibitions, making her a brilliant painter, but she often runs around the house naked and Edward’s primary school teacher father (Scarborough) is out of his depth which reflects in Edward’s emotional distance. Florence copes well with Marjorie, and is ‘in love’ with being in love with Edward but can’t cope with a physical relationship. Their wedding night is a hotel in Dorset, is fraught with sexual difficulty, and the pair end up arguing, Edward, accusing her of frigidity. She offers him unconditional love, even agreeing that he could have lovers, he goes off in a strop and leaves her for good, forfeiting a life’s happiness that unravel in epilogues set in 1975 and 2007.

On Chesil Beach could be sub-titled love in a cold climate. Women in the Sixties were still “le deuxieme sexe”, expected to be their husband’s appendages. Sex was rarely discussed in polite homes: do-it-yourself handbooks – as read by Florence and her sister – were common. There sex is described “as the woman being the doorway for the man”. Edward, who is also a virgin, is unable to put his feelings into words,expecting her to be his little dormouse – even though, as the leader of an aspiring string-quartet, she has obvious qualities he lacks. But Edward is painted as a man of principle; when walking with a Jewish friend, who is abused by a passer-by, Edward corners the aggressor. Florence too, mentions anti-Semitism in her family, wishing that her father would stop his tirades against Jews. DoP Sean Bobbitt (Queen of Katwe) conjures up an England of delicate beauty in soft colours, very much in contrast with the emotional turmoil unfolding. Cooke directs with great sensibility and the supporting cast, particularly Duffy as Marjorie and Watson as the classist ice-maiden, are very convincing. But Saoirise Ronan claims this utterly forlorn and heartbroken story of diminution for herself. AS

SCREENING IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 19 MAY 2018

How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2017)

Dir: John Cameron Mitchell | Cast: Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Alex Sharp | 100min | US | Musical RomCom

John Cameron Mitchell’s absurdly unconvincing ‘punk-retro’ musical is based on a short story by Neil Gaiman. It imagines a late ’70s London where aliens in psychedelic costumes infiltrate a corner of Croydon and create havoc by seducing kids at a local disco, where they vomit in their mouths. Elle Fanning is one of the aliens. How she got suckered into the project God only knows, but she tries her best and falls for the other only good about the film – the male lead gamely played by Alex Sharp. Sandy Powell’s costumes are worth a mention too.

Sadly these aliens are ‘programmed to self-destruct’ so the charmingly honest love story at the heart  of this charade sadly ends in tears. Clearly the director knows nothing about punk or late ’70s London so the whole thing feels like amateur dramatics staged by teenage filmmakers wandering onto the set of  Some Mothers do ‘Ave ‘Em – with a good deal of angry swearing thrown in for good measure. One to miss. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

Sheffield Doc Fest | 7 – 12 June 2018

Sheffield Doc/Fest celebrates its 25th edition this year with a diverse programme that features not only documentaries but also interactive and immersive projects, including 7 virtual reality installations in the Alternate Realities Exhibition and works by the British collaborator duo Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard (20,000 Days on Earth), along with the usual industry talks. 

The festival opens on 7 June with the world premiere of Sean McAllister’s A Northern Soul that sees the director reflect on changes to his Yorkshire hometown: a city divided by Brexit and simultaneously celebrated as UK City of Culture, hit by austerity. 
Amongst the other features to look out are:
A DISTANT BARKING OF DOGS | Dir: Simon Lereng | 91′
While the war in Ukraine and Russia rages on beyond their village, a simple family go about their ordinary life in this gentle observational story that won the First Appearance award for its director at IDFA 2017
A WOMAN CAPTURED | Dir: Bernadett Tuza-Ritter | 89′ 
Slavery is a European invention, and still exists, or so we’re led to believe in this extraordinary story about who a woman down on her luck who  becomes trapped and abused in a more manipulative woman’s household. Is this really slavery or just one person’s power over another? You decide.
CENTRAL AIRPORT TEMPELHOF | Dir: Karim Ainouz | 97′
Director Karim Ainouz finds a dark, ironic vein of humour in Berlin’s defunct city airport where massive hangers house Germany’s emergency asylum seekers, where the local Germans do their best to accommodate their new arrivals.
OBSCURO BAROCCO | Dir: Evangelia Kranioti | 60′
A visually ravishing metamorphosis takes place under the gaudy lights of the Rio de Janeiro carnival in this Berlinale (2018) Teddy Award winning documentary that explores the transgender world of the Brazilian capital.
FLOW (World Premiere, Chile) Dir:  Nicolas Molina | 82′
FLOW observes the human connection between two rivers: the Ganges in India and the Biobio in Chile. It proposes a poetic journey blending both civilisations through the flow of one great river.
SHEFFIELD DOC FESTIVAL 7-12 JUNE 2018

Anon (2017) **

Dir.: Andrew Niccol; Cast: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Sonya Walger; Germany 2018, 100 min.

New Zealand born director/writer Andrew Niccol (The Host) has managed to create the ultimate misogynist feature where baddies rule the world, and women are just sex objects. On the same lines as his previous features, Gattaca and In Time, Anon is set in an imagined future, where crimes are unheard of due to a surveillance system that records everyone, and digital footprints are freely available to the law enforcers whose brains have been computerised. 

In this dystopia we meet Sal Frieland (Owen) is a detective working for the squad who tracks murderers by accessing the cloud-based visual memories of killers and their victims. He encounters a woman, known as Anon (Seyfried), who has no digital identity so threatening their security. Unleashing a sting operation he pretends to be a potential client but in so doing exposes his own troubled past. But The Girl soon finds out his profession and intention, and makes life hell for him. As the situation escalates, Anon leaves the audience with more questions than answers.

Apart from the gratuitous sex scenes and the nearly all-male police squad, Niccol manages to ruin the images with a bombardment of graphics and texts, keeping the audience reading instead of watching. DoP Amir Mokri (Transformers) finds inventive angles to show this absurdist functional world, which looks like laboratory for animal research. But Anon is, at the same time, frightfully old-fashioned when it coms to vices: Sal and his pals smoke, drink and snuff Coke, somehow the male dominated future world is as unbearable for the buddies, as the present. Hint: there are other emotions apart from guild and paranoia. AS 

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 4 MAY 2018

Lean on Pete (2017)***

Dir: Andrew Haigh | Great Britain / 121’ | Cast: Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny

Andrew Haigh (Weekend, 45 Years) directs Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny in a rather uneven rites of passage Pacific western about a boy who bonds with an old racehorse, and based on the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin.

This is a film to be seen for its captivating performances rather than its meandering narrative that abandons the central soulmates (fifteen year old Charlie and his horse Lean on Pete) midday through to explore how the teen resorts to petty crime in order to survive as an orphan. We first meet him living alone with his sweary Dad Ray (Fimmel) in Portland,Oregon; Ray loves his sensitive son, but is too selfish to care for him since his mother left town due to Ray’s philandering. So when a vengeful husband kills Ray, Charlie is left alone and desperate to find his aunt Margy, who fell out with Ray, for obvious reasons. Teaming up with the disreputable horse trainer Del (Buscemi in fine fettle), the two are soon joined by jockey Bonnie (Sevigny), leaving Charlie in the cold again, when Bonnie takes over Del’s attention. So Charlie sets off on a mission to save the ageing racehorse, Lean on Pete, who is bound for Mexico – an euphemistic term for the slaughter house. Their soulful journey across the luminous desert landscape is painful for both, and ends in tragedy, leaving Charlie on an elusive quest for aunt Margy in Laramie, Wyoming.

LEAN ON PETE is a lightly-plotted family film, apart from the animal tragedy. Magnus Nordenhof Jonck’s stunning images make up for an unsatisfying storyline that starts full of promise then Peters out, limping aimlessly for two full hours. Haigh tries to see the good in everyone, often stepping over the line to out-and-out sentimentality, but his central character does not deliver. Professionally produced and well-acted, particularly by Plummer, who won the De Laurentis Prize in Venice for Best Newcomer Actor, LEAN ON PETE is not only lean of plot; but all the social realist rough edges are polished too: Charlie keeps a stiff upper lip and takes it on the chin, but somehow his soul takes a short cut into rocky terrain rather than finding redemption in pastures new. Some critics called it “a modern Huckleberry Finn” – but that would be insulting to Mark Twain.

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE from 27 APRIL 2018

Modern Life is Rubbish (2017) **

Dir: Daniel Jerome Gill | Cast: Josh Whitehouse, Jessie Cave, Ian Hart, Steven Mackintosh, Freya Mavor, Tom Riley | Musical Drama | UK | 114′

Daniel Jerome Gill is clearly a fan of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. Modern Life  is Rubbish makes a brave attempt to re-create Stephen Frears’ 2000 cult classic drama, that sees a young couple come together through their shared love of music, only to part ten years later, falling out of love.

Gill’s endearing but lightweight film lacks the charisma and zinging chemistry brought to the original by John Cusack and Iben Hjelje – not to mention the sensational script – to make it another breakout hit. Modern Life works best as a stinging reminder of the economic climate of its time as the world entered the late 1990s recession, Its sparkling string of musical hits by Blur, The Smiths, Oasis, and Radiohead considerably enhance the film’s entertainment and nostalgia value.

As Liam and Natalie, Josh Whitehouse and Freya Mavor are gently appealing: he, an old-school struggling musician who believes in his worth and his art; and she, an uptown aspiring art designer (of album covers) who lacks conviction, despite a megawatt smile. We first meet them in the rather morose opening scene whence the drama sashays backwards and forwards – to the time they first clapped eyes on each other, in a record shop, gradually showing them falling in love, as opposites attract. Liam’s inability to embrace the modern corporate world make him an appealing embodiment of anti-corporate culture, his disdain for social media is palpable: He refuses to own a smartphone or an iPod and is proud of his tangible record collection on vinyl. Natalie is more pragmatic, casting aside her artistic hopes for the advantages of pecuniary gain, to work in advertising. But her heart is clearly not in it – at the opening night of her first gig in an art gallery, the two realise they are not quite cut out for each other when Natalie explains: “We’re doing a viral campaign for the gallery” and Liam chips in: “a load of wank, if you ask me”. That said, the soundtrack that first defined their relationship keeps pulling them back together.

Taking its title from Blur’s 1993 album, the film is a pure satirical trip to its era, working best as a testament to the late 1990s, rather than as a believable story of frontman Liam and his weak attempts to make it with his band Headcleaner, his lack of finances being the major cause of the pair’s eventual rift. The scenes involving Steven Mackintosh, Will Merrick and Ian Hart feel laboured and generic (although Hart gives a stonking turn as the band’s agent), but when Whitehouse (a real guitarist) takes to the stage in a live performance, the film gets a shot in the arm, in lucid sequences filmed by cinematographer Tim Sidell.

Strangely, it’s the viral success of the band that finally makes Liam a name, and this leads to the inevitable, and a rather bittersweet, finale for the lovers in this ultimately enjoyable trip down memory lane. MT

OUT ON RELEASE from 4 May 2018

 

 

 

Beast (2017) ***

Dir: Michael Pearce | Cast: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Trystan Gravelle | UK | 107′ | Thriller

Two troubled souls are drawn together in this twisted and intriguingly intelligent psychological thriller debut from British TV director Michael Pearce.

On a Jersey beach during her birthday celebrations, Moll (Jessie Buckley) breaks away from the fraught family gathering drawn to a tousled-haired wayfarer Pascal ((Flynn) who is implicated in a series of murders rocking the island. Tour guide Moll is far from squeaky clean but her vulnerable, wide-eyed appeal provides a suspenseful counterpoint to Pascal’s sensitive knowingness; such a breath of fresh air compared to her boring police officer boyfriend Cliff (Trystan Gravelle). Moll still lives at home with her dementia-ridden father and dominating martyr of a mother Hilary, a feisty Geraldine James, who is holding everything together – including the church choir – while clearly favouriting supercilious brother Harrison (Oliver Maltman). To add insult to injury, sister Polly (Shannon Tarbet) has just announced her twin pregnancy on Moll’s special day. Clearly there is more to Moll than meets the eye, but Pearce keeps us guessing about her dark secret which is cleverly reflected through her family’s harsh and controlling attitude towards her. There is also something gently sinister about the prickly Pascal who prowls around with a hunting rifle while the two grow closer complicit in their shared orbit of shadowy darkness; Moll’s unhappiness piqued by the sense of danger and romantic thrill that gradually comes to a head in the final beachside denouement. BEAST is a subtle thriller that skates around the edges of melodrama and horror primped by Benjamin Kracun’s luminous images and superbly nuanced performances from Geraldine James, Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn as the tense lead trio. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 27 April 2018

 

 

 

Look Back in Anger (1959) | Woodfall – A Revolution in British Cinema

Dir: Tony Richardson | Script: John Osbourne, Nigel Neale | Cast: Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Mary Ure, Edith Evans, Gary Raymond, Donald Pleasance | Drama | UK | 98′

In the 1950s the disaffected English working class had nowhere to vent their bitterness but their own cramped front rooms. And this is where Tony Richardson’s New Wave slice of social realism unspools (1959), based on John Osbourne’s original play, written three years earlier. The pair had just formed Woodfall Film Productions with their producer Harry Salesman, and LOOK BACK IN ANGER was Woodfall’s debut and Richardson’s first feature film and part of the so-called sub-genre of “Kitchen sink dramas” – a phrase coined by critic David Sylvester in his 1954 article about English trends with particular reference to an expressionist painting by John Bratby. The description somehow travelled over to the medium of film.

Electrifying in its portrayal of a marriage on the rocks in a squalid London attic, the film represented British kitchen sink drama at its most vehement; a scorching script and convincing characters fleshed out by Richard Burton’s tour de force, as the miserably chippy Jimmy Porter, who takes out the frustration of his mindless existence as a market trader on his long-suffering and gentle wife Alison (a suitably worn down Mary Ure) whose twee friend Helena, is a budding actress (Claire Bloom is perky form). Keeping the peace, or at least trying to, is his amiable but rather dozy lodger, Cliff (Gary Raymond), the perfect foil for Jimmy’s cantankerous mien. We all know the scene, it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon with nothing to do but read the papers and drink tea. Alison, to her credit, is doing some ironing, while her husband rants and raves in despair and intellectual frustration, their once passionate union has hit the buffers, mired in Jimmy’s resentment of her background of privilege, and sheer hatred of Phyllis Nelson Terry’s ‘Mummy’. But Jimmy is rude just for the sake of it. An endless drivel of mocking rhetoric pours out of him for want of anything better to do, apart from lazily playing his trumpet. Rather than channel his fury into a worthwhile cause, he rails at the darkness of his perceived hopelessness, seeking the monopoly on suffering, bereavement and the moral high ground on personal loss.

Richard Burton feels far too old for the part, but turns in a blazing portrayal of sheer malevolent anger, couching – as it often does – a deeply depressed individual desperate to make something more of his life, yet capable of individual acts of decency, such as his defence of market trader colleague Kapoor against the spiteful racism the Hindu untouchable encounters on the part of Jimmy’s compatriots, policed by Donald Pleasance’s officious warden Hurst. In actual fact, Jimmy is a poster boy for 21st century social media outbursts, a man with an erudite opinion on everything, but with little real life experience. At the opposite end of the scale is Edith Evans’ glowing portrait of Ma Tanner, a woman from the Victorian generation whose cheerful puritan work ethic and public-spiritedness was honed by her wartime experiences. This Victorian theme is further amplified by the moving musical interlude featuring the Salvation Army Band: William Booth’s Methodist/Christian humanitarian organisation. ‘The Sallies’ captured the zeitgeist of that post war era, alongside the film’s everlasting themes of racism, class, social deprivation and misogyny. At the time, Tony Richardson’s iconic film was viewed as ground-breaking and revolutionary, whereas now it seems rather a quaint and purist representation of England in the late Fifties. MT

LOOK BACK ANGER in cinemas from 8 APRIL 2018

WOODFALL – A REVOLUTION IN BRITISH CINEMA | A season of films defining the BRITISH NEW WAVE‘s incendiary brand of social realism | Bluray releases from 5 June 2018 

The Passionate Friends (1949) *****


Dir: David Lean | Writer: David Lean, Eric Ambler; Stanley Haynes, David Lean (both adaptation); H.G. Wells (novel) | Cinematography: Guy Green | Cast: Ann Todd, Claude Rains, Trevor Howard, Isabel Dean, Betty Ann Davies | UK | Drama | 95′

Before embarking on his widescreen epics, this romantic drama was Lean’s first filming foray outside the UK when he replaced Ronald Neame as director, due to clashes with Ann Todd. For his part, Lean had been having an affair with Todd for some time and the two would eventually marry sometime shortly after filming The Passionate Friends which competed in Cannes on the year of its release.

Travelling to Chamonix and Lake Annecy in Switzerland The Passionate Friends tells a similar love story to that of Brief Encounter (1945) although on this occasion the focus is on the ménage à trois rather than simply the couple in love, although all three characters here are aware of each other and essentially out of control concealing their emotional distress with a graceful sense of propriety and aplomb. The classic English rose Ann Todd stars as a woman who has one last flirt with the man she had fallen in love with (Trevor Howard’s Steven), before marrying Claude Rains’ rich banker for stability, wealth and social position. While on her luxurious Swiss holiday awaiting her husband’s arrival, Todd’s Mary Justin reflects on her previous lover who has been (unknowingly) booked into the hotel room next to hers. Mary had refused to marry Steven fearing their sexual passion would stifle her emotional integrity, and therefore her freedom to operate as an individual. With Howard she enjoys an affectionate companionship, but it she really as emotionally independent in her marriage as she imagines? In their thoughtful script, Lean, his co-writers and H G Wells explore how habit, affection and compatibility can be just as emotionally bonding as sexual passion, where marriage is concerned.

Captured in Guy Green’s box-fresh black and white camerawork, the elegant London interiors contrast with the magnificence of the Swiss lakeside settings to offer an enjoyable moral drama, and although it lacks much of the tear-jerking emotional undertow of Brief Encounter, The Passionate Friends is unexpectedly moving largely due to Claude Rains’ impeccable performance as the financier, Howard Justin. It is also notable for H.G. Wells’ romantic storyline that explores different kinds of loving and commitment – quite a departure from his usual Sci-fi writing but displaying a consummate understanding of male and female psychology – and Lean successful employs the use of flashback to achieve considerable dramatic tension, particularly in the final denouement.

Ronald Neame was not the only one to have issues with Todd. According to David J. Skal in the biography Claude Rains: An Actor’s Voice: “Rains disliked Todd, who he felt had wasted everyone’s time through her prima donna behavior with Neame over the script and Neame’s direction. As Lean later told his biographer, Kevin Brownlow, “I said I was going to stop the picture. We couldn’t go on spending money at that rate. We had commitments to Claude Rains, and we had permission to pay him in dollars. You don’t realise how difficult that was. That had to be a top-level decision. He’d already been sitting there doing nothing for most of the time he’d been in the country.” In addition to his dislike of Todd, Rains was also concerned about Lean’s personal life which seemed to be slipping over onto the set and affecting the picture. He also knew that Lean was seeing a psychoanalyst at the time which didn’t bode well. Yet, Rains recognized Lean’s immense talent and said, “I can’t say enough about the man as a director. He’s magnificent.” (TCM).

NOW AVAILABLE ON BFI PLAYER AND DVD

 

Crowhurst (2017) ****

Dir: Simon Rumley | Cast: Justin Salinger, Amy Loughton, Haydn May, Marcus May, Austin May, Agatha Cameron Kettle | UK | Drama | 104′

Following on from Colin Firth’s portrayal of Donald Crowhurst in The Mercy, comes Simon Rumley’s biopic drama casting Justin Salinger in the role of the lone British yachtsman who disappeared while sailing round the world in 1968.

This is the strange but true story of a wannabe hero who bottled out without leaving a message when his attempt to circumnavigate the globe hit troubled waters. His poorly prepared vessel and delayed late autumn start didn’t help matters. Marooned in the middle of nowhere he threw in the towel when the elements conspired against him. James Marsh’s The Mercy was a decent stab at the story and enjoyable enough largely due to Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz in the lead roles. But Rumley’s low budget psychological drama is by far a better film. Leaner, meaner and infinitely more moving, it cuts straight to the chase with some salient, snappily edited opening scenes that see the entire endeavour from Crowhurst’s unique point of view. Spare on dialogue, it’s a plucky prequel to the descent into doom. Salinger’s Crowhurst is a pullover-ed Walter Mitty character whose ambition far outreaches his talent. With an ailing business on his hands, his first concern is winning the money, and his ego explodes buoyed up by the prospect of being a hero – from the safety of his chintzy armchair in Teignmouth. While Firth’s Crowhurst was more internalised about the drawbacks, trying to contain his anxiety and hide it from his family; Salinger bluffs things over with a misplaced bravado that often gets the better of him in the wee small hours when he sobs into his wife’s comforting bosom.

After the stress of the preparation, the bleached out sailing sequences are the dreamlike impressionistic focus of this trip to the nightmarish depths of claustrophobic despair. Told through the intricate details of his domestic hell inside the boat: sleepless nights, tinned food, broken equipment and flooding – all this is set to a minimal ambient score of electronic beeps and echoes as the haunting loneliness of his dread and anxiety eventually leads to the epiphany moment where he morphs into maniacal Mitty mode before madness and misadventure eventually blow his mind and puncture his spirit after a solitary slap up lunch on Christmas Day. While, on dry land, his bloated agent, wife and back-up team give rousing renditions of “Jerusalem”, ” Silent Night” and “I Vow to the My Country”, Mr Mitty is having a ghostly last tango in Argentina. MT

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 23 MARCH 2018

 

 

The Happy Prince (2018) *** Berlinale 2018

Dir: Rupert Everett | Cast: Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Emily Watson

Rupert Everett has made no secret of his appreciation for the British playwright Oscar Wilde having played him in various film and stage adaptations with The Happy Prince being the latest. His debut as director and writer draws comparisons with the theatre outing The Judas Kiss where the focus is Wilde’s controversial relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas – better known as Bosie – a crime that led to several years in a hard larbour camp for which the writer received a posthumous pardon last year.

Taking its title from Wilde’s fairy tale parable about the friendship between a statue and a swallow finding the Kingdom of Heaven after sacrificing their worldly treasures – Wilde is pictured in the opening scene reading this bedtime story to his children in flashback, and at the end, to his protégées, a pair of French urchins (Benjamin Voisin and Matteo Salamone).

In between Everett avoids a straightforward narrative opting for an impressionistic hagiographic hotpotch of visually alluring vignettes that follow Everett’s Wilde as the self-indulgent raconteur of his own decadent final years as a raddled Victorian roué in exile roaming the flesh pots of France and Italy on a flight of fancy, courtesy of a generous allowance from his estranged and undeservedly berated wife Constance (Emily Watson). During this interlude, Wilde emerges as a bloated narcissistic lush mourning his unfinished love affair with the rather fey Bosie (Colin Morgan), while dallying with the more reasonable Robbie Ross, his literary agent. He eventually reunites with Bosie in scenes that suggest their affair is fired as much by lust as by mutual understanding. Everett makes the decision to flip from French to English accentuating the rather pretentious tone of the piece and detracting from the moments of coruscating wit that pepper Wilde’s caustic repartee.

Although the result is an ethereal feast for the eyes this is a film far too floaty and dramatically unsubstantial to sustain the attention for its 103 minutes, despite some sterling underpinnings from Everett himself, Colin Firth as Wilde’s old habitué Reggie Turner and a thoughtful but underwritten Emily Watson. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 18 June 2018 | Berlinale 2018 review

Black 47 * (2018) Berlinale 2018

Dir: Lance Daly | Cast: Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Stephen Rea, Barry Keoghan, Freddie Fox | Ireland | Drama

Lance Daly’s dreary historical revenge drama revisits the peak of Ireland’s potato famine (1847) from the perspective of a raw and wretched Irish ranger who has served the British Army abroad. The malcontent has a particular axe to grind in this story, and his weapon of choice is a vicious shortened sabre that slices through anyone who gets in his way when his plans to escape the rain-soaked Emerald Isle for pastures new in America are scuppered.

Martin Feeney (a deeply sinister looking Frecheville), has deserted the Imperial army and finds his way back to Ireland to find his family has been largely wiped out and his brother hanged by the local English judge. His neighbours are now outcasts in their own country and Feeney launches a bitter vendetta, clearly posing a a threat to the powers that be. So along comes Captain Hannah (Hugo Weaving) who is tasked by the English, against his will, to track Feeney down.

If Daly’s plan was to worsen British Irish relations further by drudging up a miserable period of the nation’s past, at least he could have made a better more well-balanced job of it than this rather predictable, one-sided and cliche-ridden piece of cinema. The Great Famine was clearly a complete nightmare for both sides. Ireland had become part of the United Kingdom in 1801 but sectarian divisions between Protestants and Catholics causing religious wars during the 17th century had been made worse by the country’s prevailing economic problems in the 19th century and a general fall in global food prices, and Britain’s change to free trade in the 1840s only really benefited the industrialised North where Protestants predominated. The South relied on agriculture and was badly affected by the Famine which was exacerbated by poor weather. So torrential rain, religious differences and the well-known Colonial arrogance of the era, coalesced to create an unmitigated human disaster. It’s only reasonable that a decent tribute should be made but BLACK 47 was no the way to do it. It shows how Irish families were dying, while the English overlords were mercilessly exporting the little grain that was produced, and to make matters even worse, new eviction laws wreaked havoc among the poverty-stricken population producing the equivalent wide-scale homelessness and mortality seen – on a much larger scale – during Stalin’s policy of collectivism.

In this rather clumsy affair, the English are naturally painted as baddies, the cast are forced to be caricatures of pompous prigs, with the most unspeakably racist dialogue to deliver, which they do with aplomb, but flounder with the native Gaelic. There is the Boris Johnson-quiffed officer Pope (Freddie Fox) and his subaltern (Barry Keoghan from The Killing of a Sacred Deer) ). Even Jim Broadbent plays against his normal liberal type as the sneering snob Lord Kilmichael. Irishman Stephen Rea kisses the proverbial Blarney Stone as a wandering troubadour Conneely, who offers to help the English with his ‘lore of the land’. From the get-go  you wouldn’t trust him to post a letter, and he’s perfect in the part giving a peerless performance as a sly and slippery savant, flight of foot and mind.

And what a gift this story could have been if more equitable hands had mined the rich vein of dramatic potential in this land of misty seascapes, rich folklore and canny characters smouldering in wait for the British army. Instead we get a one-sided and schematic narrative with the English painted as unremitting rogues and a support cast of zombie-like faceless Irish freaks drifting around in bleached-out set pieces. Each scene is as predictable and the last. The only part with any real nuance, aside from Stephen Rea’s, is Hugo Weaving’s Hannah. There is breadth to his character and he plays the dark horse ’til the final hurdle. But what a travesty the rest of it is. Clearly Black 47 is intended as a flag-waving crowd-pleaser for the Irish, but it is a lazy, feel-bad movie for British audiences, opening old wounds and striking another blow for diplomacy, offering little hope for reconciliation over events that happened in the dim and  distant past. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 15 – 25 FEBRUARY 2018

Native (2017) * * *

Dir.: Daniel Fitzsimmons; Cast: Rupert Graves, Ellie Kendrick, Leanne Best. Joe Macaulay; UK 2016, 88 min.

Daniel Fitzsimmons’ low budget, minimalist Sci-Fi debut is not so much a futuristic undertaking, more a here-and-now psychological drama better suited to the stage than the big screen.

Cane (Graves) and Eva (Kendrick) are travelling in a hexagonal space ship to an unknown planet, tasked with killing off the local civilisation with a larva-like virus, stored in their craft. Cane and Eva have a strong telepathic relationship with their respective partners back on Earth, and when Cane’s wife Awan (Best) dies together with four of their unborn children, Cane is gripped by grief, losing all interest in the mission. Meanwhile Eva’s husband (Macaulay) communicates intensely with his wife, keeping an eye on the erratic Cane, more or less suggesting that Eva should terminate him. After a failed suicide attempt, Cane removes the inplant in his neck, freeing himself from his Earth-based controlling authority “The Hive”. After landing on the planet – there are no prizes for guessing which one – Eva kills a female of the species, but starts to become unfocused in her eradication task.  She has to make a decision between the orders of the Hive, and her newly found consciousness.

Set nearly all the time in the cramped spaceship, NATIVE is overly verbose whilst also tying to be enigmatic,  telegraphing the few twists available. Graves and Kendrick do their best to breathe life into the proceedings, but cannot deal with the limpness of it all: too much time is taken up with Eva gyrating like a lap dancer, and Cane walking around endlessly, like a stroppy teenager. DoPs Nick Gillespie and Billy J. Jackson introduce some magical effects with light and forms, but they can’t hide an overriding visual emptiness. NATIVE is a well-meaning nonentity. AS

NATIVE ARRIVES ON SCREENS IN FEBRUARY 2018

Dark River (2017) * * *

Dir: Clio Barnard | Cast: Ruth Wilson, Sean Bean, Mark Stanley | Drama | UK | 104′

Ruth Wilson and the magnificent Yorkshire Dales are the stars of this resonating realist drama that revisits Barnard’s regular territory of childhood abuse and resilience within a male-dominated Yorkshire farming family. These are explored from the point of view of Wilson’s Alice, a feisty and enterprising young woman who is cowed by memories of her turbulent childhood once she returns home after 15 years as a sheep-sheerer abroad. In flashback it emerges that her father (Bean) regularly raped Alice as a young girl (played by young actress Esme Creed-Miles), but has since died after a long illness. Her brother Joe (Stanley) has let their tenant farm run to rack and ruin with his hard-drinking ways and psychotic outbursts symptomatic of his emotional and business inadequacies. Joe blames his shortcoming on Alice’s decision to seek a life away from her tragic past, but when Alice reveals her intention to apply for the sole tenancy of the farm and return the place to commercial viability, Joe is incensed and the place becomes a battleground.

This is a haunting portrait of female disempowerment showing how a strong and vivacious woman can be reduced to a fearful child through her memories of the past. The pain and sorrow is reflected on Wilson’s face and echoed in the stormy shifting skies and moody landscapes of North Yorkshire. Over this unhappy family set-up, commercial vultures circle in the shape of the agent seeking to repossess the farm, and a developer with an offer to buy that Jo finds difficult to refuse. Barnard’s fluid visual style reflects this ever-changing landscape of turmoil that signals doom with every passing cloud. Barnard creates a fabulous sense of place in the rolling countryside of North Yorkshire where the English flora and fauna, such as a pair of nesting barn owls, play their part, without sentimentalising their significance in the daily life of this farming commuity. MT

DARK RIVER | FROM 23 FEBRUARY 2018

 

 

Daphne (2017) | Home Ent release

Dir: Peter Mackie Burns | Writer; Nico Mensinga | Cast: Geraldine James, Emily Beecham, Nathaniel Martello-White, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor | Comedy Drama | 88′ | UK

DAPHNE is a fresh and believable comedy about a spiky young Londoner who seems at odds with everyone and everything in her life. Played with verve by Emily Beecham, who won ‘Best Actress in a British Film’ at Edinburgh 2017 for her feisty take on today’s young womanhood, Daphne is the impressive feature debut of Peter Mackie Burns (Come Closer) who has the maturity to give the film a tongue in cheek lightness of touch that makes it so watchable. Nico Mensinga’s sparky script is fraught with witty insights capturing the capital’s contemporary snarky vibe.

Part of Daphne’s problem is her fractious relationship with her worldly-wise mother – a wonderful Geraldine James. She is also loath to admit her interest in the opposite sex, and fearful of rejection, she makes each flirty encounter a battleground, a move that only encourages prospective boyfriends, particularly Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s Joe whose declaration of undying love sends Daphne running for cover, with a nonchalant ‘whatever’. To make matters worse, her job as a part time chef is going nowhere, especially Daphne down-spirals into self-destruction. We’ve all been there in various guises and DAPHNE certainly rings true. It’s a perky comedy drama that champions the kind of ennui emblematic of youth – boredom laced with episodes of vulnerability; a goalless existence borne with snappy impatience. Helped along by a breezy score from Sam Beste, DAPHNE is all about that mid-point in our twenties or thirties – that limbo-like state before we realise our full potential and where it could lead. MT

OUT NOW ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD | DVD FROM 22 JANUARY 2018 |

 

Suggs: My Life Story (2017) ***

Dir: Julien Temple | Owen Lewis; Drama-Documentary | Cast: Suggs, Perry Benson, Dean Munford; UK 2018, 96’.

Director Julien Temple (Absolute Beginners) creates a wild and anarchic bio-pic of Madness frontman Suggs, using the singer’s performance in a London music hall (these sequences are directed by Lewis) as a background for an energetic trip into Suggs’ past, mixed with satire and cartoons.

Graham McPherson, who was born in Hastings in 1961, grew up with his mother, after his father had to be institutionalised – due to drug abuse – when Graham was only three years old. He got his stage name from the encyclopaedia of Jazz Singer’s, the name at random. The encyclopaedia belonged to his mother, a chanteuse, who worked in London clubs around Soho, after having spent much of her son’s youth in a village in Wales. Young Graham went to a comprehensive school in Swiss Cottage, where he met Mike Barson, who would joined him in 1976 in the ska band North London Invaders, which later morphed into Madness. After splitting up in 1986, Madness re-grouped later, and are still active today, mostly known for hits like “It must be Love” and “Our House”.

After playing for a long time in small basement cellars of pubs in North London (such as the Hope & Anchor), Madness literally caused an earthquake in 1992, when 75 000 assembled in Finsbury Park to hear them play – the noise level reached Five on the Richter Scale. After 1994 Suggs recorded numerous single albums, having worked with Morrissey in 1989/90. Suggs married the singer Bettie Bright (who starred in Temple’s The Great h Swindle) in 1982, the couple nowd have their own kids. The former “Bürgerschreck” Suggs is today a Patron of Children in Need and supports Cancer Research with his performances.

Suggs is very self-deprecating on stage, making fun of himself, when remembering his excitement of starring with Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley in a film – before finding out that he had just one line in the script. His journey into his past was set off by the death of his beloved cat, on his 50th birthday. Travelling to Birmingham to find out more about his father, he had to admit that even a second marriage did not change the self-destructive course his father chose – he died young, his second wife only lasting another year. But Suggs himself seems to have the last laugh: when he travelled with Madness to Paris for a gig in August 2009, the band made a mess of their surroundings “even pinching the contents of the mini bar – which was free.” Oasis lead Liam Gallagher had travelled in First Class, and told the promoter, that they would not share a stage with Madness. After performing on a side stage, said promoter had to beg Madness to perform instead of Oasis – who had broken up after a violent re-concert confrontation between the Gallagher brothers Liam and Noel.

Pianist Dean Mumford and Pierry Benson as the erratic taxi-driver, chauffeuring Suggs around London, complete this mad-cap caper, with impressive images by DoP Steve Organ. And for those not mad on Madness, Suggs: My Life Story, takes us a very worthwhile journey into London’s social and musical history.

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 17 JANUARY 2018 NATIONWIDE

Mine Own Executioner (1948) | Bluray release

Dir: Anthony Kimmins | Writer: Nigel Balchin | Psychological Drama | UK | Burgess Meredith, Barbara White, Kieron Moore, Dulcie Gray

In the 1940s there was a cinematic fascination with psychoanalysis, madness and psychology in general. Three well known films, Spellbound, The Snake Pit and The Seventh Veil are watchable, if highly flawed, productions. In spite of Hitchcock, Salvador Dali and George Barnes’s photography (Spellbound), James Mason’s suave authority (The Seventh Veil) and Olivia De Havilland’s commanding presence (The Snake Pit) all are romanticised, over-wrought and heavily Freudian. None presents an authentic picture of the very hard practical struggle to be an effective therapist or a willing patient. And to be honest none was probably meant to.

In 1947 Anthony Kimmins’s Mine Own Executioner (scripted by Nigel Balchin from his own novel) was released to public and critical approval and was that year’s entry for the Cannes Film Festival. Until very recently it was an almost forgotten film. Now issued on Blu-Ray, Mine Own Executioner stands up as probably the best film on psychology from the latter half of that uneasy decade – a time not only of the post-war reconstruction of cities but the building up of confidence again in war-traumatised minds.

Felix Milne (Burgess Meredith) is a lay psychiatrist. He is overworked and under-challenged by his rich and complacent clients. One day Molly Lucian (Barbara White) calls on him to ask if he will consider taking her husband as a patient. Adam Lucian (Kieron Moore) has been severely disturbed by his time in a Japanese POW camp and his killing of a Japanese soldier. An accumulation of anxiety and guilt have made him schizoid – resulting in his attempt to strangle his wife. Initially Milne is reluctant to take on Adam but eventually does. What then follows is ‘a race against time’ plot with Milne trying to therapeutically guide Adam and stop him from attempting to murder his wife again. Added to this conflict are sub-plots about marital difficulties with Patricia Milne (Dulcie Gray) and the psychiatrist’s obsessive sexual interest in Barbara Edge (Christine Norden, as a blonde femme fatale) the wife of a close friend.

Anthony Kimmins (an good all round craftsman) directs Mine Own Executioner with great assurance: assisted by Wilkie Cooper’s photography he gives the film a noirish edge. The scenes with Adam in the jungles of Burma and then the family bedroom are remarkable for their nightmare menace. And in the intimate scenes between Felix and Patricia, Kimmins shows considerable sensitivity with his actors (her patience / clumsiness and his loyalty / irritation are counterpointed with skill and finesse.)

Yet what solidly grounds the film’s mental health practice with mental torment is the subtle scripting of Nigel Balchin (whereas Ben Hecht’s script for Spellbound points up far too much.) Admittedly Balchin had to simplify his novel but he didn’t compromise on its moral alertness. After the war Balchin became an industrial psychologist and, according to his daughter, had always wanted to be a therapist. Balchin’s experience and knowledge certainly shows through. Take the deft manner in which Balchin’s writing plays with the subliminal effect of Freudian symbolism: the cigarette lighter that doesn’t always work, Milne’s fingering of his pipes, the stealing of a walking stick by Adam and his compulsive kicking of a stone on the road plus the breaking of objects by Patricia. Such signage is never made self-conscious. Each small detail beautifully enhances character motivation.

As in Balchin’s novel The Small Back Room (brilliantly filmed by Michael Powell in 1949) there’s a concern with the power of authority, deference and professionalism. The coroner’s inquest scene has him obsequiously lapping up the evidence of Milne’s colleague Dr. Garstein (John Laurie) as more medically credible than Milne’s statement. Whilst in the opening scenes in the clinic, where Milne does voluntary work, the chief administrator declares to a visiting dignitary that “The world is full of neurotics. But we haven’t the money to treat them all.” These niggardly things, related to Milne’s experience and competence, accompany an undermining feeling that Adam was the wrong patient for him.

Performances in Mine Own Executioner are very strong and focussed; here are fallible people placed in destructive and dangerous situations where they genuinely try to do their best. No spectacular breakthroughs but doggedly hard perseverance. To this add sly Freudian references, a desperate man on the roof scene, influenced by Hitchcock, and a prescient war veteran guilt (The Manchurian Candidate and the Vietnam War wasn’t even round the corner) all making for an excellent compelling thriller.

In the credits for Mine own Executioner the words of the poet John Donne appear.

“There are many Examples of men, that have been their own executioners, and that have made hard shrift to bee so;…some have beat out their braines at the wal of their prison, and some have eate the fire out of their chimneys: but I do nothing upon my selfe, and yet am mine owne Executioner.”
Donne, Devotions 1624

The Val Lewton production The Seventh Victim (1942) and Sam Wood’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) also quote John Donne. No coincidence then that in the forties, there is a renewed academic interest in metaphysical poets and the workings of the mind.

Perhaps the film’s climax could have been more open-ended and downbeat, but this is still 1947 British cinema, and Kieran Moore might have sometimes toned down his acting: however light and dark are carefully balanced both to entertain and instruct. That’s not meant as a dull sounding commendation, nor intended to signify a ‘worthy’ effort but direct you to a tremendously gripping antidote to Hollywood psychiatry. Mine Own Executioner is a really serious film about the psychological damage inflicted by both the helper and the helped. ALAN PRICE© 2018

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF NETWORK amazon.co.uk

Women on Top | 2017

Hollywood may still be struggling with female representation as 2018 gets underway, but Europe has seen tremendous successes in the world of indie film where talented women of all ages are winning accolades in every sphere of the film industry, bringing their unique vision and intuition to a party that has continued to rock throughout the past year. Admittedly, there have been some really fabulous female roles recently – probably more so than for male actors. But on the other side of the camera, women have also created some thumping dramas; robust documentaries and bracingly refreshing genre outings: Lucrecia Martel’s mesmerising Argentinian historical fantasy ZAMA (LFF/left) and Julia Ducournau’s Belgo-French horror drama RAW (below/right) have been amongst the most outstanding features in recent memory. All these films provide great insight into the challenges women continue to face, both personally and in society as a whole, and do so without resorting to worthiness or sentimentality. So as we go forward into another year, here’s a flavour of what’s been happening in 2017.

It all started at SUNDANCE in January where documentarian Pascale Lamche’s engrossing film about Winnie Mandela, WINNIE, won Best World Doc and Maggie Betts was awarded a directing prize for her debut feature NOVITIATE, about a nun struggling to take and keep her vows in 1960s Rome. Eliza Hitman also bagged the coveted directing award for her gay-themed indie drama BEACH RATS, that looks at addiction from a young boy’s perspective.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, BERLIN‘s Golden Bear went to Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi (right) for her thoughtful and inventive exploration of adult loneliness and alienation BODY AND SOUL. Agnieska Holland won a Silver Bear for her green eco feature SPOOR, and Catalan newcomer Carla Simón went home with a prize for her feature debut SUMMER 1993 tackling the more surprising aspects of life for an orphaned child who goes to live with her cousins. CANNES 2017, the festival’s 70th celebration, also proved to be another strong year for female talent. Claire Simon’s first comedy – looking at love in later life – LET THE SUNSHINE IN was well-received and provided a playful role for Juliette Binoche, which she performed with gusto. Agnès Varda’s entertaining travel piece FACES PLACES took us all round France and finally showed Jean-Luc Godard’s true colours, winning awards at TIFF and Cannes. Newcomers were awarded in the shape of Léa Mysius whose AVA won the SACD prize for its tender exploration of oncoming blindness, and Léonor Séraille whose touching drama about the after-effects of romantic abandonment MONTPARNASSE RENDEZVOUS won the Caméra D’Or.

On the blockbuster front, it’s worth mentioning that Patty Jenkins’ critically acclaimed WONDERWOMAN has so far enjoyed an international box office of around $821.74 million, giving Gal Godot’s Amazon warrior-princess the crown as the highest-grossing superheroine origin film of all time.

The Doyenne of French contemporary cinema Isabelle Huppert won Best Actress in LOCARNO 2017 for her performance as a woman who morphs from a meek soul to a force to be reckoned with when she is struck by lightening, in Serge Bozon’s dark comedy MADAME HYDE. Huppert has been winning accolades since the 1970s but she still has to challenge Hollywood’s Ann Doran (1911-2000) on film credits (374) – but there is plenty of time!). Meanwhile, Nastassja Kinski was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Honour for her extensive and eclectic contribution to World cinema (Paris,Texas, Inland Empire, Cat People and Tess to name a few).

With a Jury headed by Annette Bening, VENICE again showed women in a strong light. Away from the Hollywood-fraught main competition, this year’s Orizzonti Award was awarded to Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988, a stunning biopic of the final years of the renowned model and musician Christa Pfaffen, played by a feisty Trine Dyrholm. And Sara Forestier’s Venice Days winning debut M showed how a stuttering girl and her illiterate boyfriend help each other overcome adversity. Charlotte Rampling won the prize for Best Actress for her portrait of strength in the face of her husbands’ imprisonment in Andrea Pallaoro’s HANNAH. 

At last but not least, Hong Kong director Vivianne Qu (left/LFF) was awarded the Fei Mei prize at PINGYAO’s inaugural CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON film festival and the Film Festival of India’s Silver Peacock  for her delicately charming feature ANGELS WEAR WHITE that deftly raises the harrowing plight of women facing sexual abuse in the mainland. It seems that this is a hot potato the superpowers of China and US still have in common. But on a positive note, LADYBIRD Greta Gerwig’s first film as a writer and director, has been sweeping the boards critically all over the US and is the buzzworthy comedy drama of 2018 (coming in February). So that’s something else to look forward to. MT

CATE BLANCHETT WILL HEAD THE JURY AT 71st CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 8-19 MAY 2018

 

 

 

 

Song of Granite (2017)

Dir.: Pat Collins; Cast: Colm Seoighe, Michael O’Conthoala, Macdara O’Fatharta, Jaren Cerf, Kate Nick Chonaonaigh; ROI/Canada 2017, 98 min.

Pat Collins’ portrait of Irish Dean Nos singer Joe Heaney (Seosamh O hEanai) is an exercise in displacement. Elliptically, and often enigmatically, we follow Heaney from the village of Carna on the west Coast of Ireland, where he was born in 1919, to his exile in the United States and Canada – from the mid 1960s until his death in 1984.

Biopics often fall short of our expectations due to endless Talking Heads sharing their own thoughts, but here Collins relies on sound and image to get his subject across, at it works. Heaney is played by three different actors: Colm Seoghe as a boy – by far the most impressive of the trio; Michael O’Conthoala in his forties and Macdara O’Fathharta as the ageing Heaney in his sixties. Heaney lived for a long time in isolation in Carna, he was only “discovered” by the public at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, after which he emigrated to New York. Collins does away with a narrative structure; long shots and many close-up framing of faces are mixed with static shots of landscapes, giving the feature the feeling of a daydream. Sometimes Collins switches to plain naturalism: when an ethnomusicologist visits Heaney’s village, his father sings into an ancient recoding machine, Collins arranges the scene with four villagers in framing his father, the background is made up by a two door-shaped crevice. The camera wanders from back- to foreground, creating a composition, which is conceptual perfect – but creates a feeling of distance. The same can be said for the shots in New York -actually filmed in Montreal: Heaney in his porter uniform, lonely in his basement flat, meeting another Irish musician and the introduction of two females, Rosie (Cerf) and Maire (Chonanonaigh), whose identity remains in the dark – as do many aspects of this docudrama. The Irish folk songs, liberally sprayed throughout, are taken in long takes, performed without instrumental accompaniment, are also part of the overall structure, creating a historical, almost anthropological style.

Whilst Collins aesthetic braveness should be applauded on the one hand, Heaney remains an elusive figure: his feeling of displacement in North America is underwhelmingly documented. We never get any nearer to who Heaney was. He is sucked into the structure of a film whose aesthetics are taken much more seriously than the character it aims to portray. Overall, this leaves a hollow feeling, almost like an idyllic picture postcard from a bygone era. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 15 DECEMBER 2017 NATIONWIDE

#Starvecrow (2017)

Dir.: James Carver; Cast: Ashlie Walker, Ben Willens, Jeremy Swift, Sky Lourie, David Bark Jones; UK/Italy 2016, 89 min.

Hailed as the “first selfie movie” or “Hypereal”, director/co-writer James Carver’s debut is more than a gimmick – nor is it revolutionary or innovative.

Cut from a 69 hour shoot in London, Venice Beach, Geneva, Norway and Hastings, it features a cast making use of their mobiles – hacked CCTV camera images are then added to the mix along with hand held camera clips. What makes ♯Starvecrow stand out is not the blend of technology, but the dark content: behind the candidness and their lifestyle dominated by being tech-savvy 24/7, the teenage protagonists hide withering secrets.

Ben (Willens) is a control-freak, charming at first, but we soon learn that his obsession for filming everything with his mobile is a way to manipulate and repress Jess (Walker), who has just returned from rehab. Jess is pregnant, and Ben’s only comment is “get rid of it”. She needs freedom to reflect on her next step, which he is unwilling to give her. When Jess goes with a group of friends to a weekend party in a bungalow near some remote woods, we soon learn that the all these men are only too willing to abuse the girls. There are shades of Blair Witch in the silvan setting, and when the party is gate-crashed by a trio of masked men, things get surreal.
Bookended by a graphic birth scene, ♯Starvecrow tries to shock with its directness, and it succeeds – partly. But overall, the total lack of structure reduces the impact: too often the actors have to explain the goings on. The cast, being their own DoPs, somehow handle both roles more than adequately. In the end, it is the old-fashioned hide-and-seek story which saves the day – technology comes a distant second. But that will not deter countless imitators of trying their luck – alas, they should be warned: Carver succeeded to some degree in spite of his lack of cinematographic know-how, others will not be so lucky, because they will lack the quasi-novelty factor. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 24 NOVEMBER 2017 AT SELECTED CINEMAS

The L-Shaped Room (1962) | Bluray release

Dir.: Bryan Forbes | Cast: Leslie Caron, Tom Bell, Brock Peters, Cicely Courtneidge, Bernhard Lee, Patricia Phoenix, Avis Bunnage | UK 1962, 126′.

Bryan Forbes started his career in film as a scriptwriter: The Angry Silence (1960), directed by Guy Green, featured Richard Attenborough as a worker caught between management and union. A year later, Forbes would debut as director with Whistle Down the Wind, a near classic, telling the story of three Lancashire children who believe that a hiding criminal is Jesus. But with The L-Shaped Room, based on the novel by Lynn Reid Banks, most famous for her children books, Forbes came nearest to emulating the achievements of the Nouvelle Vague with this quintessentially English example of the movement; Phil Wickam wrote “it feels like half a New Wave film”, which did Forbes not enough credit. Soon after he went to Hollywood and in spite of eventually returning to England, he will be remembered mostly for mainstream works like International Velvet and The Stepford Wives, hardly trashy, but safe and lacking the originality of his early work.

The L-Shaped Room is set in a Notting Hill boarding house which was a grim London quartier back in the day  (the novel was set in even more downtrodden Fulham), where Jane Fosset (Caron), a French girl pregnant from a one-night-stand, moves into the squalid L-shaped attic room. She falls in love with Toby (Bell), who is suffers from low self-esteem and is writing his first novel, which gives the film its title. The house is owned and run by fierce landlady Doris (Bunnage). Like most of her tenants, she is not sympathetically portrayed: “I never close my door to the nigs”, she is obviously a racist – as many were in those days – but too shrewd not to take the money from her black lodger Johnny (Peters, who had just starred in To Kill a Mockingbird).

The ageing lesbian Cicely Courtneidge offers a poignant portrait of lonely later life. When Jane visits a Harley Street doctor, she is told to “marry or have an abortion”; the good doctor is angling for the profitable latter solution, since abortion was still illegal and single parenthood deeply frowned upon at the time. His mercenary character helps Fosset to decide to keep the child. When Toby finds out that Jane is pregnant he leaves her, not able to father a child who is not his own. Caron’s Jane comes across as the only emancipated character in this community of sceptics and traditionalists. The actress had originally rejected the downtrodden female characters penned by Forbes and together they worked at making Jane more of a feminist, It’s a demanding role but Caron pulls it off with tremendous flair. Her rapport with Toby is convincing and Bell is superb as a man in smitten by love but fraught with his own demons. The poignant ending shows Jane walking up the steps with the new lodger (Nanette Newman, Forbes’ wife), saying an effecting goodbye to the room that saw her through such an emotional period of her life. The English girl cannot understand Jane’s affection for the crummy place.

DoP Douglas Slocombe’s grainy black-and-white images shows a London lost in time, closer to the Victorian era than the 20th century. The streets seem shabby, drab and provincial. Cage-like rooms make the place more like an open prison trapping the tenants in an impoverished, curtain-tweeking neighbourhood, where nowadays they would be part of the edgy London scene. The prudishness is over-bearing; when Jane and Toby try to embrace each other in Hyde Park, a warden intervenes. London is not swinging at all in this dingy Notting Hill setting that was simply a poor man’s version of Kensington and would remain so until the 90s. The L-Shaped Room is a celebration of Jane’s emotional awakening in a place of repression and middle-class values. John Barry’s sublime score echoes the heart-rending sadness and emotional desperation in this over-looked masterpiece of British New Wave cinema.

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD, BLURAY OR DOWNLOAD FROM 27 NOVEMBER 2017 COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

 

Bad Day for the Cut (2017) Prime video

Dir.: Chris Baugh; Cast: Nigel O’Neill, Susan Lynch, Jozef Pawlowski, Anna Prochniak, Stella McCusker, Stuart Graham; UK 2017, 95 min.

First time director/co-writer Chris Baugh has delivered a very bloody, moody and convoluted revenge thriller, saved by the widescreen photography of Ryan Kernaghan and a strong cast.

Farmer and part time motor mechanic Donal (O’Neill) lives with his mother Florence (McCusker) in Northern Ireland. After his mother is murdered brutally, her son goes out on a spiralling revenge hunt, digging deep into the IRA past of his family, and finding out about a sex-trafficking ring run by Frankie Pierce (Lynch) and her ‘consultant’ Trevor (Graham). Two of their henchman try to hang Donal, making it look like a suicide, but one of the assassins, Bartoz (Pawlowski), a Pole from Bydgoszcz, messes up with tragic  results.

The secrets of the past, personal and political, uncovered by Donal, are more than enough for one feature, Baugh doesn’t need to overload the narrative with a sex-slaves sidebar, giving the piece more than a hint of misogyny: although to be fair, the female gang leader Pierce (Lynch) is  far more deadly than her sidekick Trevor – whom she sacks in front of her little daughter in a rather hilarious scene – only Kaja (Prochniak), as the out and out victim, is shown any sympathy.  If you don’t mind gratuitous violence Bad Day certainly cuts the mustard, and looks good into the bargain with its convincing ensemble cast. As an exercise in innovative brutality, Bad Day wins hands down – with more domestic appliances than you can shake a blender at, but it’s pretty bloody as thrillers go. AS

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

 

 

Filmstars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

Dir.: Paul McGuigan; Cast: Annette Benning, Jamie Bell, Juliet Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Vanessa Redgrave; UK 2017, 105 min.

Redeemed by the brilliance of leads Annette Bening and Jamie Bell, this rather sentimental psycho-drama recalls Peter Turner’s memoirs about his relationship with Hollywood star Gloria Grahame (1923-1981). Opting for a tricky flashback narrative, director Paul McGuigan introduces the doomed lovers in late 1970s London where Grahame (Bening) is trying to re-establish her career on the London stage; while Turner (Bell) is ‘resting’ in Primrose Hill. Returning to the US, Grahame discovers that her low-level cancer has come back with a vengeance but she is very much in denial, and rejects chemotherapy for fear of losing her hair, and her acting career. She comes back to live with Turner in the home her shares with his parents  (Julie Walters and Kenneth Graham), Ironically, he is playing the part of an doctor while Grahame is dying, but still hopes to play ‘Juliet’.

Gloria Grahame emerges as a complex character, obsessed with cosmetic surgery in a bid to achieve absolute beauty. Her relationships ended mostly tragically: the marriage to director Nicholas Ray (1948-1952) ended in divorce on account of her infidelity with his 13 year son Anthony, whom Grahame later married later in 1960 causing widespread scandal. But Turner was anything but straight: in the film he mentions his bi-sexuality en-passant, but script-writer Matt Greenhaigh decides not to follow this up. There is a telling scene in California, when Gloria’s mother Jeanne McDougall (Redgrave) reminds her daughter poignantly about her predilection for younger men. And there is no mention of how Grahame got to know the Turner family, in the first place.

Polish born DoP Urszula Pontikos uses soft colours, avoiding the usual kitchen sink grime in Liverpool. There are not many laughs, but when the couple pay 90 pennies for two pints, laughter erupted in the cinema. Overall, Bening and Bell play their hearts out, and really convince us of their amour-fou. Like a late Bruckner symphony, they carry their filmstars beyond the realm of everlasting torture and loss. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 4-15 OCTOBER 2017

https://youtu.be/uoRaUCeDLQ4AS

Grace Jones – Bloodlight and Bami (2017)

Die:. Sophie Fiennes | UK/Ireland. 2017 | Musical Biopic | 115′

As fabulous now as when she was in 1979 – when I first experienced her at a concert in Italy’s famous Covo di Nord Est – Grace Jones still rocks. At almost 70, her voice has mellowed, wavering occasionally, but her glamour and star power are just as potent and her aura and outrageous antics as just spectacular, if not more.

After an overture of Slave to the Rhythm where Grace performs in purple regalia and a golden sunburst mask, Fiennes cuts to an autograph session with fans fawning: “I’ve been waiting to see you for 25 years” – Grace responds “so has my mother”. Suddenly we are following her through Jamaica airport for an exuberant reunion with her mother (who looks like Aretha Franklin), son Paolo and niece Chantel, and as night falls, the camera pictures a sultry moonlight gig in the torridly tropical island, drenched in lush emerald forests.

1268255_Grace-Jones-2At at raucous and voluble family meal we get some backstory on the Jones and Williams troubled family backstory in a scene that culminates in a full-throated performance of Wicked and Williams’ Blood as Grace struts around amid strobes – sporting nothing but a black leotard and a massive clotted cream moonshaped crown – by Irish hatter Philip Treacy – Fiennes tribute captures the warmth and ebullience of Jamaica and Grace’s defiant irreverence.

Grace was once a Bond Girl – May Day – in A View To A Kill and also appeared in Conan The Destroyer, but here we witness the real Grace for the first time: The woman behind the act, and she’s as feisty and strangely vulnerable as you would imagine. Champagne flows throughout as Grace moves constantly, making angry phone calls and negotiating in French – she lived in Paris for many years with French photographer Jean Paul Goude who styled her legendary look and shtick. Opening an oyster with difficulty she snarls: “wish my pussy was still this tight”. Fiennes’ punctuates the gutsy real time footage shot in her kitchen, car and dressing room – with Grace’s mesmerising Dublin stage show, but both are beguiling and cinematic. Fiennes’ shirks the traditional documentary format – there are no photos or archive footage, making Bloodlight And Bami fresh, feisty and intriguing for longtime fans who have never really experienced the woman ‘behind the scenes’. It’s also longer than most docs at nearly 2 hours.

La Vie en Rose is performed in a blossom pink setting – all softly sequinned and shimmery. Bloodlight And Bami – the film’s title is Jamaican for the recording studio lighting. She’s busy raising money for her next album, accompanied by her bass duo Sly and Robbie. Grace is no wallflower when it comes to things financial: she wants to be paid upfront for every concert, but will trawl through the old stalwarts just to raise money for her new work. You get the impression these old numbers bore her slightly, as she rants through Nipple to the Bottle, tottering gamely on amazingly amazonian legs. “Sometimes you have to be a high-flying bitch”.

Jones hasn’t forgotten the ghosts of the past: her abusive step-grandfather fuels the angry energy for her stage persona. Her parents lived away from Jamaica in New York during her childhood but she’s now closer to her mother and goes with her to church back home.

Pull up to the Bumper is vigorously vampish. Her lyrics – like her lips and bone structure – are strong and powerfully stand the test of time. Grace is vulnerable, scary and exotic – a feminine volcano that smoulders and could erupt at any time. Fiercely feline she purrs more like a jaguar than a pussycat. Her following is eclectic and all-encompassing: middle-aged men; sophisticated women and the gay crowd, all attracted to her burlesque bravado and musical power.

In concert footage, Grace mesmerises with performances of Pull Up To The Bumper and more personal tracks including Williams’ Blood, This Is and Hurricane. She is s force of nature, and certainly a force to be reckoned with. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Breathe (2017)

Dir.: Andy Serkis | Cast: Andrew Garfield, Clare Foy, Hugh Boneville, Tom Hollander, Diana Riggs; UK 2017, 117′

Andy Serkis has chosen a bio-pic of polio victim and disabled campaigner Robin Cavendish for his directorial debut. Written by William Nicholson (Shadowlands) and produced by Robin’s son Jonathan Cavendish, BREATHE is laced with a heavy dose of saccharine, from which Robin and his wife Diana emerge in a saintly glow.

After finishing his army career as a captain, Robin Cavendish (Garfield) goes to work in the tea-broking business in Africa. During a cricket match back in England, he meets his future wife Diana (Foy) and they return to Kenya, where in 1958, Robin suffers a polio attack leaving him paralysed from the neck down, unable to breathe or speak.

Against medical advice, Diana has her husband flown back to the UK, where he is put on respirator. Suicidal, not wanting to look at his newborn son, Robin wants his wife to end his life, but she is stubborn. Again defying doctors’ advice, she has Robin moved out of the hospital into the new family home in the country. Later, Oxford Don and inventor Teddy Hall (Bonneville) creates a special wheelchair for Robin. The couple visit Spain and France, and have countless parties at home, enlightened by Tom Hollander, who plays both of his Diana’s twin brothers. The couple also helps other patients, who are bedbound, founding charities with polio specialist Dr. G.T. Spencer and their own Refresh project, which allows patients and their families to have holidays. Robin Cavendish, who was given three month to live, died aged 64, a record for a polio victim.

This is a rousing film especially for those inflicted with the debilitating disease, but Jonathan Cavendish’s treatment lacks the objectivity really needed to do his parents justice in examining the wider issues involved. Nicholson’s script is a mixture of English stiff-upper-lip and ‘stay chipper whatever the circumstances’, skirting over the obvious difficulties the couple must have faced, for example, with sex. DoP Richard Richardson keeps the mood jolly with pastel colours and redundant panorama shots; whilst Nitin Sawhney’s score is of near-religious intensity. Garfield and Foy do their utmost but a less hagiographic approach would have certainly rendered a less cloying, more meaningful and realistic result. AS

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL OPENS ON 4TH OCTOBER 2017 – 15 OCTOBER 2017

 

Dracula (1979) | Bluray release

194d48829a1a19cf8f41b9030ba98ff4--horror-films-draculaDir: John Badham | Writer: W D Richter | Cast: Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasance, Kate Nelligan, Trevor Eve, Jan Francis, Tony Haygarth | UK | Gothic Horror | 109′

In 1979 two very different screen versions of Dracula appeared. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu and John Badham’s Dracula. Nosferatu has attained cult status as one of the cinema’s great vampire films, whilst the more traditional Dracula still remains in a bit of a limbo. Herzog employed Klaus Kinski to play the count. Whilst Badham’s choice was Frank Langella. Dracula is visually a throwback to Tod Browning’s 1931 film. However Bela Lugosi was not a role model for Langella. Of the three actors Langella is the most romantic and undoubtedly the sexiest Count Dracula. (Christopher Lee in the Hammer Dracula projected a dark primal eroticism but not couched in the Byronic style of Langella). Badham’s film exudes an energy that is enjoyably theatrical. Frank Langella had played the part hundreds of times on the Broadway stage. By the time Dracula went into production he’d honed his sophisticated performance. Thirty eight years on, Langella still manages to bestride the widescreen with vigour and conviction. Take for instance an early dinner table scene where Dracula is asked to more fully explain the meaning of the word Nosferatu. A guest says “Undead”. To which the count replies, “Ah, it means not dead.” At that moment a servant cuts his finger whilst carving a joint of meat. The man sucks his bleeding thumb. Langella observes him with a natural and heightened seriousness. Blood is Dracula’s vital life source. I doubt if today such a scene could be played so straight. A mannered jokiness would inevitably ensue. Now our times for Dracula, as well as the TV Sherlock, are too knowing.

Dracula is romantic but not romanticised. It’s handsomely mounted, intelligently scripted and well acted. The film has genuine “Romantic Agony values” and gothic spirit. It’s pleasingly anti-Victorian; covertly criticising social progress and the repression of any contrary and liberating energy that hints at the satanic. The count’s not the only sexy animal to be found on board here. His attractive admirer Lucy (Kate Nelligan) has a feisty strength. Her fiancé Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve) proves loving but rather stolid, failing to satisfy her once she’s experienced the count’s charisma. And after she’s been bitten by Dracula, Harker, Dr.Seward (Donald Pleasance) and Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) cannot physically restrain her from joining her dark soul-mate.

Dracula’s production values are impressive. The set design is authentically spooky (all those candles lighting the count’s residence). John William’s exciting music is charged with atmosphere, while Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography has been corrected to achieve the more monochrome look that the director intended.

At the home of Dr.Seward, Dracula expresses a desire to throw himself into the rush of humanity. To that Mina van Helsing (Jan Francis) declares, “You have a great lust for life, Count.” His reply is simply, “How well you phrase it.” Dracula then gives Mina a piercing look causing her to faint. If you like your Dracula to be irresistibly handsome and seductive then Frank Langella is the actor for you. This Dracula is a treat and one of the best screen outings the count’s ever had. Alan Price.

NOW OUT ON BLURAY

The Death of Stalin (2017)

Dir. Armando Iannucci. Fr-UK-Bel | Comedy Drama | 106′

Armando Iannucci’s stylish Soviet satire plays out like a classic Mel Brooks comedy. This light-footed but abrasively cynical dramedy lays bare the grasping sculduggery of Stalinist Russia with a humour as bleak and bracingly vicious as the Gulags where nearly 10-20 million people lost their lives between 1929 and 1953. Our story kicks off in Moscow, where the cockney-tongued Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) collapses in his state rooms, having suffered a fatal stroke.

Best known for The Thick Of It, In The Loop and Veep, Iannucci again exposes the ugliness of power and politics in a film that echoes the global crisis of faith in our leaders. But what really bolsters this lavish production is seeing so many fabulous actors all doing their stuff in enjoyable comic turns. Amongst Stalin’s coterie of counsellors there is Michael Palin (Vyacheslav Molotov); Steve Buscemi (Nikita Khrushchev); Simon Russell Beale (Lavrentiy Beria) and even Paul Whitehouse (Anastas Mikoyan); not to mention Dermot Crowley (Kaganovich). The humour lies in their need to pretend to be unanimously respectful of Stalin’s death while, behind the scenes, a farce plays out with  hilarious gags as they all jockey for position and copy with the petulant posturing from Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough as Vasily and Sventlana, Stalin’s kids.

Based on a graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, THE DEATH OF STALIN also shows how ordinary people were casually abused and manipulated by the powerful elite – this is a fascinatingly caustic comedy plays up the pitfalls of a regime that replaced an equally unequal set-up of the Tsars, who at least had taste!. These characters are dead ugly and thoroughly unlikeable, swinging around the vast and vacuous corridors of power, exposing the same loathsome view of Russia that transpires in Andrei Zvyagintsev’s contemporary drama LOVELESS; clearly nothing has changed in the intervening years; the tone here is breezier, but just as back-biting.

Rupert Friend’s Vassily does sail a bit close to the wind in his silliness, but Jason Isaac steps in with comic astringency as Army Chief, Georgy Zhukov. On the whole these politicians are as frighteningly convincing as a species as Jeremy Corbyn or even Michael Gove. Steve Buscemi’s Khrushchev is a clever conniver who gradually gets his way through a process of stealth and self-pity. Witty and throughly entertaining. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 20 OCTOBER 2017

 

Funny Cow (2017) | BFI London Film Festival 2017

Dir: Adrian Shergold |  Cast: Maxine Peake, Paddy Considine, Tony Pitts, Kevin Eldon, Christine Bottomley | UK | 103′

After his evocative biopic Pierrepoint: The last Hangman, Adrian Shergold turned his talents to TV work but returns to the big screen with another English story. Maxine Peake stars in the central role of FUNNY COW, a Northern stand-up comedian fighting men and audiences during the 70s and 80s. There is a great deal of talk about Yorkshire, but Shergold’s film explores the negative and exploitative side of Bradford and Leeds, where women were traditionally seen but told to put a sock in it. The poignantly tragic-comic ‘Funny Cow’ attempts to see the humorous  side of this  world where men ruled violently and women were forced to be back-seat drivers, but the cliché-ridden realism leaves little to the imagination. Our heroine grows up on the backstreets and marries chauvinist Bob (Pitts), who neglects and beats her, like her mother (Bottomley), who has become an alcoholic. Finally, the stand-up has enough and leaves her husband, moving in with shy bookseller Angus (Considine), who introduces her to highbrow “culture”, which she rejects; at the same time finding Angus a bit too detached – love and attention are forever connected with the violence she and generations of working class women have suffered. But Funny Cow reconnects with another stand-up performer Danny (Eldon), who is alcohol-dependent and clinically depressed. When he can’t perform one day, the promoter grudgingly accepts Funny Cow as his replacement, warning her that the sexist audience, not used to female comedians, will “murder” her as she fights for career. Maxine Peake gives an engaging performance, gamely carrying the film through long, rather dreary passages, her drive and commitment making Funny Cow convincing, whilst she copes with Shergold’s  TV-film-like structure. They say the old jokes, are the best ones. Here the jokes also bear witness to an unamusing era in female history. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017

Double Date (2017)

Dir.: Benjamin Barfoot | Cast: Danny Morgan, Michael Socha, Kelly Wenham, Georgia Groome | UK 2017 | 89′.

Benjamin Barfoot’s spoof Slasher movie is murdered by Danny Morgan’s dreadful script and a flimsy narrative that cannot survive even 90 minutes. The feature debut sees two spooky sisters Kitty (Wenham) and Lulu (Groome) corralled into helping Jim (Morgan) lose his virginity on the final night of his twenties. But unbeknown to Jim and his best best friend Alex (Socha), the sister’s have an ulterior motive for seeking out male virgins – it involves body parts, but not those that immediately spring to mind. To say that the material is raw, is an understatement. Only DoP Laura Bingham (also a newcomer), comes away with any credit. Overall, Double Date ends up with a lot of blood but very few laughs. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY, 13 OCTOBER 2017

School Life (2017)

1_tDirs: Neasa Ní Chianáin/David Rane | Writer: Etienne Essery | With John/Amanda | Doc | Irish | 99′

In a Georgian mansion in rural Ireland maverick educators John and Amanda have devoted their married life to bringing out the best in their pupils, along with their foppish Head Master Dermot Dix. And if you had young children, you’d send them to the idyllic prep school at Headfort House near Kells in County Meath. In this entertainingly footloose documentary we spend a year with the kids and staff and their wonderful approach to learning.

3_tThe directors’ narrative is as unstructured as the couple’s teaching methods. John and Amanda are as tender towards their charges as they are to each other. But discipline is also firmly in place and respect is the watchword; and it flows both ways. John is the Latin Master but he also teaches the liberal arts, music and painting. English Mistress Amanda, is responsible for drama – and there is a lot of fun. John and Amanda are often seen sharing a fag as they chat through their day in their cottage on the grounds, giving each other tips and encouragement – clearly the pupils are also their ‘children’ and they know just how to bring out the best in them. But they are dedicated to their life’s work and have also to consider what would happen when they eventually retire: “What would we do all day, if we didn’t come here?”. When little Florrie, a troubled but talented kid, appears on the scene from London, she is a brilliant drummer in the school’s rock band but lacks discipline. John deftly handles her tears and tantrums without batting an eyelid and the children all call him ‘Sir’, as a mark of respect – without a shred of resentment, or ever questioning his authority, in public or in the cosy dorms.

At the end of term, there is success for two children with places at Eton and Harrow, and John gently mimics the posh accents the boys may encounter once installed. At the same time, young Ted’s dyslexia has improved in this caring environment and there are prizes – and hugs – all round. A tender and touching portrait of what a school should be. MT

OUT ON 13 OCTOBER 2017

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Director: David Lean |Script: Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson | Score: Maurice Jarre | Cast: Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quayle, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit, Zia Mohyeddin | UK/USA 1962  227′ | Adventure Drama

Based upon the writings of T. E. Lawrence entitled Seven Pillars Of Wisdom, a diary never meant for open publication, but allowed by his estate after his death, the making of Lawrence Of Arabia is a drama of epic proportions spanning three decades and worthy of a film in itself.

Alexander Korda kicked it all off in the 30’s, wanting Leslie Howard and then Walter Hudd as lead, but this all collapsed when the British Governor of Palestine at the time forbade ‘any large gatherings of Arabs’.  John Clements, Clifford Evans, Robert Donat, Laurence Olivier and even Cary Grant were also in the frame subsequently, as was Burgess Meredith in 1949 and then Alan Ladd. In 1952, Harry Cohn offered it to Powell and Pressburger, but they declined. Then, in 1955 Terrence Rattigan picked up the reins with Dirk Bogarde in mind and even got as far as location scouting in Iraq, only to have it all unravel as the King was assassinated and Iraq descended into revolution. When producer Sam Spiegel finally came aboard in 1959, he wanted Marlon Brando, but Brando backed out to go and do Mutiny On The Bounty

Alec Guinness was great, but too old, even though he played Lawrence in Rattigan’s well-received 1960 play Ross. Then it was to be Albert Finney, who infact undertook extensive screen tests, but eventually also backed out, citing that he didn’t want to be a star; frightened of what it would do to him as a person. He also, it had to be said, hated signing multi-picture deals.

Peter O’Toole had meanwhile appeared as a mere cameo in an otherwise forgotten film called The Day They Robbed The Bank Of England, which Lean saw, and knowing instantly that he had his man, even when Peter Hall refused to release him from his RSC contract in Stratford and Producer Sam Spiegel also initially rejected him.

As film commenced in Jordan, the script was in disarray, the original writer Michael Wilson, who had done such a fine job on Bridge On The River Kwai left the project, after a year working on the script in a state of high dudgeon. Robert Bolt was drafted in, at first purely to write only dialogue, on the back of his hit play A Man For All Seasons. But at one point, as the cameras rolled in the desert, with the script still incomplete, Bolt was gaoled for a month for marching in a CND demonstration and had to be extricated from gaol -against his own wishes- by Spiegel in order to complete the script (he wasn’t allowed to write it in prison).

There are legion stories emanating from the two-year(!) shoot, in Jordan, Spain and Morocco; of new talents cutting their teeth, like Freddie Young working with the new Super-Panavision camera with 70mm colour stock. The industrial kit needed to hold the massive cameras being lugged out into the desert, against the heat, the wind the sand and the flies… but, after all this, what we are left with is an extraordinary coming together of some amazing talent, from the writing to the design, the music, the costumes and the performances.

So, what of the new 4k digital formatted release? Well, It’s magnificent. One of the greatest films ever made, so crisp, clear and sharp, it could have been shot yesterday. Lawrence was nominated for ten Academy Awards and went on to win seven, including 1962 Best Picture and Best Director. Inexplicably, Omar Sharif, Peter O’Toole and writer Robert Bolt all failed to score. With Kwai, five years earlier also winning seven Oscars, David Lean really was at the top of his game and knew he wanted to capitalize on it. His next outing was called Dr Zhivago.

Bearing in mind he had come up through editing, having cut over 20 feature films prior to taking the helm as a Director, Lean later wanted to lose 40-minutes from Lawrence, but also knew he wouldn’t know where from- lest he lose the magic in the trimming.

So. What is Lawrence of Arabia all about? Seriously? Well, it’s about an eccentric Englishman who goes out into the desert, turns native, goes mad and then comes back home. All 227 glorious minutes of it. Go and see it for goodness sake and stop asking damn’ fool questions.

Is it any good? Well, I’ll leave you with several published quotes from the time of the original release: John Coleman, writing in the New Statesman- “none of it is good enough. Setting to one side the obligatory, contemptible music, the film never decisively makes its mind up what its after…”

Penelope Gilliatt “Two And A Half Pillars Of Wisdom…. A thoughtful picture with an intensely serious central performance, but it doesn’t hold together in great excitement.” New Yorker Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice- “Dull, overlong and coldly impersonal… hatefully calculating and condescending” The bottom line is, we all still remember  David Lean.

NOW ON NETFLIX

Born Free (1966) | Eureka dual format release

31546231111_8a447ac512_zDir: James Hill | Writers: Joy Adamson, Lester Cole | Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, Geoffrey Keen, Peter Lukoye, Omar Chambati | Adventure Biopic | UK | 95min

BORN FREE is a fondly remembered childhood classic that captured our imagination and vast appetite for nature programmes of every description. A story of courage and love, nature, and a relationship unlike any other filmed, it epitomises man’s close bond with the wild and the animal kingdom.

Virginia McKenna will always be remembered primarily for her role as Joy Adamson, the woman who raised a lioness and eventually set her free in the vast golden savanna of central Africa. Highly acclaimed for its Technicolour cinema vérité style cinematography and for John Barry’s rousing score (that scooped a brace of Oscars for Best Original Music and Best Theme Tune – shared with Don Black who wrote the lyrics),  it follows the lives of game wardens Joy and her husband George (Bill Travers) who are forced to kill a menacing lion and lioness but end up adopting their three cubs, re-homing two of them in zoos but keeping the third – a female named Elsa – who becomes part of their family – until reality forces them to re-consider Elsa’s future. Gut-wrenchingly poignant and life-affirming for its factual but never sentimental narrative, the film was also an enormous hit at the box office – the sequel Living Free was less successful financially but starred another quintessential English duo Nigel Davenport and Susan Hampshire. MT

NOW ON BLURAY DUAL FORMAT COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

Prick Up Your Ears (1987) | Re-release

Dir.: Stephen Frears; Cast: Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, Vanessa Redgrave, Frances Barber, Julie Walters, Wallace Shawn; UK 1987, 105 min.

Portraying the relationship between playwright Joe Orton and his lover and erstwhile collaborator Kenneth Halliwell, director Stephen Frears relies on a brilliant script by Alan Bennett, based on the Orton biography of John Lahr. But it is not the brutal ending, in the summer of 1967, which shocks up most but the seamy atmosphere dominating London at the time, a far cry from the “swinging’ myth of the late Sixties: instead, Frears’ London is a sordid mixture of repression, provinciality and squalidness.

Joe Orton (Oldman), coming from a lower-middle class family in Leicester, met Kenneth Halliwell, six years his senior, when they were both studying at RADA in 1951. Halliwell had a cultured and sophisticated middle-class education, and Orton, whose highest achievements were in shorthand typing, had never met anyone quite like him before.  During the course of their relationship, the tables were turned, and new power structure emerged; with Orton not only becoming a successful playwright, but also spreading his wings sexually, cottaging in the seedier parts of Islington, which at the time was still quite run-down.

For a decade, Orton and Halliwell had collaborated writing novels and plays (which are lost), but after both men were convicted to six months imprisonment, in 1962, for defacing highbrow literary works they stole from the local library (Halliwell decorated the walls of their bedsit with collages torn from the book’s pages), Joe developed a new creative energy, which set him apart from Halliwell. As Orton’s agent Peggy Ramsey (a playful Vanessa Redgrave) put it, “Halliwell became the first wife”, being discarded after the success of the ‘husband’.

Some scenes are set in Orton’s home in Leicester, where we meet his sister (and executor) Leonie (Barber) and mother Elsie (Walters in an early caricature). Again, it is surprising, that the ambience of Orton’s family home is not that much different that of the couple’s flat in Noel Street, Islington. And the meetings between Ramsey and John Lahr (Shawn), are more gossiping sessions than literary discourse. When Ramsey gains access to the flat after the murder/suicide, she steals Orton’s diary and Halliwell’s final note: “If you read this, all will be explained. P.S. Especially the latter part”. Even after the gruesome find, Ramsey acts with an egoistical meanness, which is symptomatic of many of the film’s characters.

Oldman is superb as the cocky Orton, who, after all the repression of provincial Leicester, is hell bent on enjoying himself in London. Not to demean Leicester, which has spawned many a talent: Richard and David Attenborough; Michael Kitchen; Graham Chapman; Bill Maynard; Kate O’Mara; Una Stubbs; Julian Barnes, Sue Townsend and Frears himself, to name a few). Whilst aware of Halliwell’s deteriorating mental health, Orton does not see the danger signs: whilst on holiday in Morocco, Halliwell violently destroys Orton’s typewriter. Orton, as narcissistic as Halliwell, seems to get younger during the narrative, whilst Halliwell succumbs to early mid-life depression. Molina’s terrific Halliwell cannot believe that life is slipping through his fingers: he is literally shrinking as a personality, whilst Orton grows into a public figure, even meeting Paul McCartney and writing a film script about the Beatles.

The ending is tragic, but somehow logical: Halliwell feels his life is being diminished by Orton – who is also demeaning his sexually, he cannot bear the reminder of his own failure – in contrast to Orton’s success – neither can be live with the fact that he killed his ‘other half’. Frears’ direction is absorbing, capturing the sadness of a tragic love story and well as the caustic humour the two enjoyed until things went wrong. AS

ON RELEASE COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS FROM AUGUST 5 2017

Victim (1961) | re-release

Dir: Basil Dearden | Writers: Janet Green & John McCormick | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Sylvia Syms, Dennis Price, Nigel Stock, Peter McEnery, Donald Churchill, Anthony Nicholls, Hilton Edwards, Norman Bird, Derren Nesbitt, Alan MacNaughton, Noel Howlett, Charles Lloyd Pack, John Barrie, John Cairney, David Evans | UK / Drama / 100min

VICTIM was the second – and achieved by far the greatest impact – of a trio of topical “problem pictures” made by the team of producer Michael Relph and director Basil Dearden from screenplays by Janet Green. Sapphire (1959) had been about race relations, and Life for Ruth (1962) about religion. Of the three, VICTIM had had the most clearly defined purpose behind it, which was the repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 criminalising homosexuality – described in the film as “The Blackmailer’s Charter” – as recommended by the Wolfenden report of 1957.

Janet Green (1908-1993) had read the report, and while the government of Harold Macmillan – for reasons made only too apparent by VICTIM itself – was dragging its heels, she, with her husband and co-writer John McCormick, anticipated Costa-Gavras’s Z (1969) in employing the conventions of a fast-moving, entertaining thriller to make a serious political film that packs a lot into a trim 100 minutes; embellished by handsome London locations and noirish interiors, by veteran cameraman Otto Heller (responsible for the visual impact of other classics like Peeping Tom and The Ipcress File).

It’s easy now to mock VICTIM for being dated, but politicians and other public figures today still dread the power without responsibility triumphantly wielded by our tabloid press. The role of the redtops in the fear and paranoia depicted in VICTIM is occasionally mentioned in passing; and just two years later the field day the Sunday papers had with the revelations that came out in court about the activities of our social betters during the trial of Stephen Ward vividly convey what Melville Farr could look forward to at the conclusion of VICTIM . On 9 November 1998 – over thirty years after decriminalisation – The Sun was still stoking the flames with its classic front page headline “Are we being run by a gay Mafia?”. In the United States VICTIM was refused a seal of approval by the Production Code Administration, and this remarkable passage in Time magazine that greeted its US release in February 1962 is worth quoting at length:

“What seems at first an attack on extortion seems at last a coyly sensational exploitation of homosexuality as a theme – and, what’s more offensive, an implicit approval of homosexuality as a practice. Almost all the deviates in the film are fine fellows – well dressed, well-spoken, sensitive, kind. The only one who acts like an invert turns out to be a detective. Everybody in the picture who disapproves of homosexuals proves to be an ass, a dolt or a sadist. Nowhere does the film suggest that homosexuality is a serious (but often curable) neurosis that attacks the biological basis of life itself.”

VICTIM was released bearing an ‘X’ certificate, and the era it depicts now seems as remote as the war years: a time when the police drove Bentleys and ‘phone boxes still had a button B. But anybody who considers the issues it raises moribund should remember that as I write there are about a dozen countries in the world today where homosexuality is punishable by death. One only needs look at the debate (and the language) the film continues to provoke in forums like YouTube to be reminded of how this issue still polarizes society, and that there are plenty of bigots still out there, irately convinced that they’re being muzzled by political correctness; “our crime”, as Lord Fullbrook puts it, “damned nearly parallel with robbery with violence”. While Eddy complains that “Henry paid rates and taxes…but they knew he couldn’t go out and call the cops”, it’s interesting to be reminded that one of the blackmailers accused the police of “Protecting perverts” even when homosexuality was illegal, and back in 1961 could firmly be of the opinion that “They’re everywhere, everywhere you turn! The police do nothing. Nothing!!”.

VICTIM goes out its way to avoid sensationalism, and it is precisely because it in every other respect so resembles a conventional black & white crime film of the period that one can still feel the shock audiences must have experienced in 1961 when Inspector Harris deceptively casually asks Farr “you knew of course that he was a homosexual?”, followed by the eye-watering statistic that at the time “as many as 90% of all blackmail cases have a homosexual origin”. If it seems too genteel for 21st Century tastes, the scene in which Derren Nesbitt wrecks Charles Lloyd Pack’s shop still provides a literally shattering reminder of the barely contained physical violence always ready to rear up from behind the prejudice now known as “hate crime”.

The casting of Dirk Bogarde makes the film what it is. Several other actors (including Jack Hawkins, James Mason and Stewart Granger) had understandably already turned down the role, but Bogarde accepted without hesitation; and on so many levels the film is inconceivable without him. (Anyone who thinks it was the first time he’d played a homosexual onscreen, however, plainly hasn’t seen the film he made immediately prior to it, The Singer Not the Song.) Almost as bold on Bogarde’s part was that in VICTIM he was for the first time playing his age – 40 – although this is more than compensated for by the fact that he never looked more debonair and distinguished than he does here. The entire cast obviously cared about their roles, right down to the smallest parts (as frequently happened in those days, veteran character actor John Boxer as the amiable policeman attempting to comfort Boy Barrett in his cell, and John Bennett – who in the opening episode of ‘Porridge’ was the prison doctor who asked Fletcher if he had ever been a practising homosexual – as “the bloke in the pinstripe”, make vivid impressions without being included in the cast list at the end). Although the blackmailers themselves are often described in accounts of the film as “a ring” or “a gang”, there in fact turn out to be only two of them; a pair of bloodcurdling ghouls worthy of the Addams family – the grinning, cheerfully amoral Derren Nesbitt and his vengeful associate piously convinced that “Someone’s got to make them pay for their filthy blasphemy.” As Inspector Harris (a superb performance by John Barrie) says to his stern Scottish sergeant (John Cairney), “I can see that you’re a true puritan, Bridie…there was a time when that was against the law, you know.”  Richard Chatten

VICTIM IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS

Entertaining Mr Sloane (1970) | Loot (1970)

Director: Douglas Hickox |Script: Clive Exton | Cast: Beryl Reid, Harry Andrews, Peter McEnery, Alan Webb | 90min UK |  Comedy

When Orton’s debut play first hit the stage in 1964, it caused quite a stir. Nothing like it had been seen, indeed, Orton recalls casting the play as quite a trial, as no actor seemed prepared to risk their reputation with such incendiary material.

It eventually went on at the New End Theatre with Dudley Sutton, Madge Ryan and Peter Vaughan. Terrence Rattigan was then instrumental in getting it transferred to the West End where it had a successful run unlike the Broadway production which closed after just 13 performances, so appalled were the New Yorkers.

McEnery plays the eponymous Mr Sloane, a sharp, conniving chancer with an unsavoury history, who meets lonely cougar Kath, floating about in a cemetery one summer’s day. On the strength of his lissom bod and incredibly smooth skin, he’s soon invited home much to the chagrin of her father, Kemp (Alan Webb). Surely then, he’ll get thrown out, once Kath’s no nonsense brother Ed turns up..?

Re-visiting the film version, scribed by Clive Exton, it’s difficult now to see what all the fuss must have been about, things having moved on so far in the intervening time; this could almost be daytime TV viewing. But programmes like Queer As Folk owe a great deal to Orton’s work, dragging British sensibilities out from under their collective Victorian mantelpiece.

The film style, the acting and the subject matter have all dated greatly. Performances are all very theatrical, everything being telegraphed and a bit leaden, as though it were a filming of the stageplay, rather than a film in its own right. Worth it just to see what all the fuss was about, for the Orton completist and ingénue alike, but prepare to be shocked more by how unshocking it all seems now. AT

010PHOTOLOOT (1970)                           

Dir: Silvio Narizzano | Cast: Richard Attenborough, Lee Remick, Hywel Bennett, Milo O’Shea & Roy Holder 

Farcical comedy LOOT is a satirical look at 20th century society with a sterling British cast. Dennis (Hywel Bennett) and his lay-about pal Hal (Roy Holder: The Taming of the Shrew) chance a robbery of the local bank. With nowhere to hide the loot, their only option is to conceal it inside Dennis’s recently deceased mother’s coffin. Once the money is concealed, they move the casket to the hotel belonging to Dennis’s father (Milo O’Shea) under the duplicitous eye of scheming Irish nurse Fay (Lee Remick). All seems well until inept Inspector Truscott (Richard Attenborough) arrives at the hotel to investigate the crime. Before long the hotel becomes the epicentre of a hilarious farce as the motley crew move the casket back and forth to avoid detection by the incompetent Inspector.

ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE | LOOT | OUT ON BLURAY FROM 2 AUGUST COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL TO COMMEMORATE 50 YEARS OF GAY RIGHTS

How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2017) | Cannes Film Festival 2017

Dir: John Cameron Mitchell | Cast: Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Alex Sharp | 100min | US | Musical RomCom

John Cameron Mitchell’s absurdly unconvincing ‘punk-retro’ musical is based on a short story by Neil Gaiman. It imagines a late ’70s London where aliens in psychedelic costumes infiltrate a corner of Croydon and create havoc by seducing kids at a local disco, where they vomit in their mouths. Elle Fanning is one of the aliens. How she got suckered into the project God only knows, but she tries her best and falls for the other only good about the film – the male lead gamely played by Alex Sharp. Sandy Powell’s costumes are worth a mention too.

Sadly these aliens are ‘programmed to self-destruct’ so the charmingly honest love story at the heart  of this charade sadly ends in tears. Clearly the director knows nothing about punk or late ’70s London so the whole thing feels like amateur dramatics staged by teenage filmmakers wandering onto the set of  Some Mothers do ‘Ave ‘Em – with a good deal of angry swearing thrown in for good measure. One to miss. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17-28 MAY 2017 | SPECIAL SCREENING

 

The Naked Civil Servant (1975)

Dir: Jack Gold | Writer: Philip Mackie | Cast: John Hurt, Patricia Hodge, John Rhys-Davies | Biopic Drama | 77min | UK

“Never Keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level, it’s cheaper”

Adapted for the TV by Philip Mackie this biopic of Quentin Crisp is based on his autobiography of the same name and successfully captures the flamboyant spirit of a man who openly flouted his homosexuality in an era where gaydom was not only frowned upon, but only just legal.

nakedcivilservant BD 2D bigBorn with the rather less glamorous name of Denis Pratt in 1908, Crisp became an ageing poster boy for a style of effete homosexuality. And although society failed to espouse his gay status, his bid to raise its awareness made him the sexual equivalent of the suffragettes, suffering daily verbal abuse and discrimination for his cause. Crisp decided late in life to write his autobiography: it it hardly flew off the press, with only 3500 copies sold. But this Thames TV 1975 outing was a resounding success finally giving Crisp the celebrity and personal endorsement he had always craved.

John Hurt gives extraordinary performance of style and panache winning him a BAFTA for Best Actor, while director Jack Gold won the Academy’s highest commendation, The Desmond Davies Award, for outstanding creative contribution to television. The narrative is episodic in nature and deals with its subject matter in a down to earth fashion, refusing to sensationalise what was clearly a time of personal difficulty and great sadness, despite Crisp’s great courage and perseverance which he bears with wit, verve and considerable aplomb. Crisp makes a cameo appearance at the end. MT

A SPECIAL CINEMA SCREENING ON 28 MAY 2017 | BLURAY/DVD RELEASE 5 JUNE 2017 COURTESY OF NETWORK.

Spaceship (2017)

Dir.: Alex Taylor | Cast: Alexa Davies, Antti Reini, Tallulah Rose Haddon, Lara Peake, Lucian Charles Collier | Drama | UK  86 min.

First time filmmaker Alex Taylor tries to evoke an alternative teenage world of alien abduction and unicorns in a dull corner of English suburbia. The result is a pretentious cocktail of pseudo-philosophy borrowing hopelessly from masters Gregg Araki and Guy Maddin.

Lucidia (Davies) is one of a bunch of teenagers who mistake their boredom for a creative impulse: popping pills and drinking whisky, they dress in psychedelic garb, trumping it up to be ‘avant-garde’. Lucidia’s mother died years ago under mysterious circumstances in her swimming pool, and her father Gabriel (Reini), an archaeologist of some sorts, has not come to terms with the loss. Feeling abandoned, Lucidia stages her own alien abduction. Her friends, stoned and/or role-playing, support this event: it gives them a credibility they have longed for. Gabriel now decides to get to know his daughters peers: there is Alice (Haddon), who drags her leather-clad boyfriend along on a leash like a dog, is supposed to be a vampire; Tegan (Peake) wants to be saved by Gabriel, but is happy spending her time being high, and Luke (Collier) who rides around on his motorbike, a tame imitation of Slater/Dean, eventually getting attached to a crashed helicopter. We never see the unicorns and black hole, but when Lucidia returns with a lame reason for her disappearance, the relief of cast and audience is mutual.

SPACESHIP looks like college cocktail of weird ideas, but rather than abandon the project, Taylor states in an interview that this improvised script was re-edited, and it shows: much of the senselessness of the narrative comes from the residue of another script version. To confuse matters even more, Taylor changes the POV structure of story-telling half-way through, to take an omniscient overview. DoP Liam Iandoli, also a debutant, tries to adjust to the spontaneous changes, without finding his own style in the process. The best part of SPACESHIP is its young ‘cast’, who just had fun. Most of the time, SPACESHIP is a bit of reverie for a middle-aged man surrounded by a group of sparsely clad teenage girls. AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 19 May 2017

Jawbone (2017)

Dir.: Thomas Q. Napper | Cast: Johnny Harris, Ray Winstone, Michael Smiley, Ian McShane | UK | Drama | 91 min.

First time director Thomas Q. Napper conjures up a bleak and shadowy portrait of a homeless, alcoholic boxer who has seen better days and retreats to the glory days of his old boxing club in Union Street near Waterloo Station. But the journey into the past confronts him with his lost opportunities and few alternatives for the future.

Jimmy McCabe (Harris, also writer and co-producer), has been evicted from the council flat where he grew up; the whole estate is being raised to the ground. Losing this final connection with his mother, who died a year ago, he runs berserk in a council office, protesting violently, attacking police officers and spending the night in jail. He turns for help to William Carney (Winstone) and Eddie (Smiley), who now run the club where McCabe’s career started so successfully. Carney, who is on his last legs, does not want to hear any hard-luck-stories from Jimmy: “I have heard them all”, but reminds him that alcohol is a taboo in the club, where young boys and teenagers try to channel their isolation and violence into something constructive in the ring. Eddie, who is very close to Carney, has no patience with McCabe, who is sluggish in training and full of self-pity. When McCabe meets the shady promoter Joe Padgett (McShane), he agrees to a non-licensed fight ”up north”, where he will meet a stronger and much younger opponent. Padgett is open about McCabe roles in the fight: for two and a half thousand GBP (plus 500 extra if he unexpectedly wins), Jimmy is the scapegoat. “People love seeing this guy hurting his opponents, and they pay good money for it” is Padgett’s take on the forthcoming fight.

This is a grim and hapless British Noir that calls to mind John Huston’s classic Fat City (1972). Napper holds out little hope for the future but creates a blistering portrait of alienation in a desolate journey through this corner of South-East London, which has not changed much since the ’60s. The timeless settings and authentic characters enhance the quality of JAWBONE, overcoming the limits of the boxing genre, and establishing a noirish scenario, in which the anti-hero is trapped. Like John Huston’s Fat City, the ageing ex-champ is very much the victim of greedy promoters as well as his own inability to come to terms with life without alcohol abuse. But there is more: After Padgett had warned Jimmy about the odds against him in the ring, we see the crowd response: there is an alliance between the sadistic prize-fighter and his supporting audience – as long as he is winning against Jimmy. But this support turns into hatred against McCabe. When he leaves the ring as a winner, he has spoiled their evening, they had came for his blood. Napper taps into the rather shameful audience that watches endless hours of Reality-TV, to see others humiliated. This morose world is hauntingly evoked by DoP Tat Radcliffe (Pride), creating a world of half-shadows, in which the sun never shines. Artificial lights of all kinds, just give Jimmy a moment’s respite, but he can only hide for so long. Worse still, the two protagonists socially inclined to help others, are the dying Carney, and Eddie, who is the same age. One does not want to imagine a world without them – as Jimmy put it to Eddie: “I am not like the two of you, helping others, I can’t even help myself”. JAWBONE is a ballad of doom, atmospherically brilliant, a dark poetic realism for a time of utter disenchantment. AS

OUT ON 12 MAY 2017 NATIONWIDE

The Journey (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir: Nick Hamm | Drama | 94min | UK | Timothy Spall | John Hurt |Colm Meaney | Toby Stevens |

A rather crass comedy that reduces the Northern Ireland peace process to a glib foray into the forest. THE JOURNEY is a missed opportunity to make a really resonant and worthwhile meeting of minds between the influential figureheads of the era known as The Troubles..

The cast is superb and well chosen: Timothy Spall plays Ian Paisley, the gritty Protestant leader and head of the Democratic Unionist Party as a toothy gruffalo – almost a parody, while Colm Meaney is perfect as Martin McGuinness – he looks and sounds just like the fearful IRA member and chief negotiator for the dreaded Sinn Féin. Colin Bateman’s script places the two in a Scottish hotel near Edinburgh during the St Andrews meeting that took place in 2006, Paisley was to return to Northern Ireland to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary and McGuinness decides to accompany him during the car journey to the airport – although in reality Paisley’s celebration fell on the final day of the talks.

John Hurt makes an utterly believable MI5 agent (Harry Paterson) who has engineered their journey to the airport, arranging to bug the taxi driven by an undercover policeman (Freddy Highmore/Finding Netherland), unbeknownst to the two passengers. Meanwhile Toby Stevens plays a snarling and facetious Tony Blair who is listening in to the conversation, back at the hotel. But the car is involved in a planned collision leaving the two plenty of time to themselves while they ebulliantly thrash out their differences in a disused church in the heart of the glen.

Sadly this is a rather contrived piece of cinema that cherrypicks and tussles with the truth, jumbling historical facts. And for what? Hollowly humorous at times, and rather poignant as Hurt and McGuinness are now no longer alive, THE JOURNEY comes across as a rather trite final word from the main characters at the coalface of decades of murdering, mayhem and strife that was The Troubles – namely Eniskillen, Bloody Sunday and the 1979 murders of Airey Neave (who escaped from the Nazi’s Colditz) and Lord Louis Mountbatten . MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

 

Lady MacBeth (2016)

Dir: William Oldroyd | Cast: Florence Pugh, Christopher Fairbank, cosmos Jarvis, Bill Fellows, Naomi Ackie | drama | 89min | UK

British director William Oldroyd transports Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk to the wilds of 19th century Northumberland in his standout Gothic horror debut, served with a dash of noirish melodrama.

How male authors love to punish their female heroines, particularly the attractive ones. The main character in Leskov’s 1865 novella follows a long line of leading ladies such as Madame Bovary, Therese Raquin and Therese Desqueyroux. And Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned particularly when she is a young wife married to an impotent middle-aged psycho who comes (not) and goes of his own accord, leaving her locked in a stone mansion. Oldroyd adds modern flavour to the brew with a feminist, racial and gender subtext but the narrative retains a distinct whiff of Victorian starchiness from the tight bodices to the gracefully austere set design. We first meet Katherine (played by Florence Pugh) as a nervous teenage bride joining the household of Alexander (Paul Hilton) a wealthy but dysfunctional mining boss with brutish manners and a bedside manner to startle Jack the Ripper.

His lack of bedroom skills and frequent absences leave her craving companionship, sharing the house with her timid housemaid Anna (Naomi Ackie) and tight-lipped father-in-law Boris (Christopher Fairbank). But cocky stable groom Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) soon steps in to warm her wintery solitude and eventually the two find themselves locked in lust unable to keep their love a secret from the household staff and Alexander himself. Murder and mayhem ensue in the devilish denouement.

Performances here are astonishing particularly from Pugh in her first major role, mastering a decent Northumberland accent and a minxy sparkle in her eye to boot. While Oldroyd and screenwriter Alice Birch stay true to the pages of the original, the finale is more in line with Polanski than Leskov intended.

Shot on a tight budget but none the worse for it, Lady Macbeth was made for under £500,000 as part of a regional film-funding programme supported by BBC Films and the British Film Institute. Sometimes the film feels claustrophobic trapped in its country house setting and Lady Macbeth makes a pretty swift descent into Hell given the scant running time of 89 minutes. That said, this is an enjoyably gruesome romp that remains top drawer (particularly in the dress and lingerie department) and true to its literary pretensions never sinking into tawdriness as it unleashes a gripping tale of male oppression and female fury in a remarkable debut. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 25 APRIL 2017

 

 

Faberge : A Life of its Own (2014) | Dvd

Director: Patrick Mark

Patrick Mark’s documentary FABERGÉ: A LIFE OF ITS OWN is another in a recent series bringing art and culture events to life on the big screen. Narrated in the reverential tones of Samuel West, FABERGÉ explores the colourful history of the famous Russian jewellers, first founded in 1842, through archive footage, specialist curators and family members.

In St Petersburg, German immigré Gustav Faberge founded and founded a lucrative business by supplying the Russian Royal family with thousands of gifts to offer on their extensive trips abroad or when entertaining visiting dignatories. Designed by Carl Gustav himself but crafted by his prized Finnish and Scandinavian craftsmen, the docs shows how the family name gradually became a byword for opulence of the highest order. In contrast to the sprawling poverty of early 20th century St Petersburg, Fabergé workers were given their own personal trademarks and well-looked after with medical care and even a canteen.

Inspired by nature, animals or significant events, the pieces were intricately crafted using precious stones, gold and the trademark ‘guillochet’ enamel that glowed with an alluring lumiscence evocative of the sunlight reflecting on St Petersburg’s stately buildings and palaces. The first egg appeared in 1885, fashioned in gold and white enamel, an Easter gift from Tzarevitch Nicholas to his wife.

Loosely linked to World historical events and enlivened by remarkable footage of the era, Patrick Mark shows how the business nearly crumbled during the war years, leaving Gustav to move to Lausanne where he died broken-hearted. His son Carl Gustav took over the firm as Lenin rose to power and in the ensuing devastation of the city opportunist and businessman Armand Hammer was able to acquire many Fabergé items at cut price. But returning to a depression-hit America, his goods are declared almost worthless as “nobody wants a Tsarina’s ruby-studded swizzle stick” during the crisis ridden twenties. His luck changes when wealth returns in the more prosperous 1930s and the pieces garnered prestige from their royal connection. In a fascinating twist, many of the jewels served to ‘bullet-proof’ the garments of the besieged Russian royal family: they had been carefully stitched into the fabric and their owners survived the re-cocheting bullets.

Of those interviewed, Tatiana Faberge is the most interesting as she recounts her sadness at the family name becoming synonymous with bleach and cheap perfume during the sixties but the family are currently involved in trying to resurrect the Fabergé to its original cachet. Craftsmanship has moved on and new materials and more modern styles are refreshing the Fabergé look. At times a commercial edge seeps in to the film making this feel like an extended advertisement for the brand – particularly in these final scenes. That said, this is a well-made and engrossing piece of filmmaking with some fascinating archive footage of the Romanovs and Russia during the First World War making you want to revisit Franklin Schaffner’s epic 1971 drama Nicholas and Alexandra. MT

NOW ON DVD

[youtube id=”z63Do7qwFHc” width=”600″ height=”350″]

The Good Postman (2016) | Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Dir. Tonislav Hristov | Finland/Bulgaria 2016, | Doc | 82 mins.

In a remote village deep in the Bulgarian countryside only 36 people turned up to vote in the local elections. Great Dervent is crumbling to the ground and clearly on its last legs but resourceful local postman Ivan has a regeneration plan. Wealthy Syrian refugees have left traces in the decrepit school building in their search for a new home, and Ivan suggests to the villagers that they all gather round and welcome the newcomers into their community. Some agree but some are sceptical that the refugees will take over the few remaining jobs and prove a threat with their ‘criminal’ ways. And who can blame these hospitable and decent people who are used to their own kind and unaccustomed to outside influences?. There is no internet here but the media has not helped matters, whipping up a sentiment of zenophobia with negative TV reportage that fuels the growing climate of ultra-right nationalism.

Glowing with the bucolic splendour of this lush land in the extreme South on the border  with Turkey, Tonislav Hristov’s documentary is cinematic and soulful in tone, but very much along similar lines as the recent Ukrainian Cowboys (2016). Ivan the postman does not only deliver letters but also tea and sympathy to the ageing villagers, even doling out advice on water bills and medical help, he fervently believes the Syrians are a good thing: “Together, between us, we’ll create a good environment in the village”, “there will be children and they will laugh”.

Typically it is the latest immigrants to the village who are the most hostile about Syrians and other newcomers. Ukrainian wayfarer and recent arrival Halachev has taken a strident anti-immigration stance, considering his own credentials. Setting up a cranky electric organ on the common he preaches a negative diatribe: “Bulgaria for Bulgarians, the Syrians are worse than Gypsies”.

Hristov’s rather rambling but watchable documentary is accompanied by a mournful occasional score of folkmusic. It is a sad and rather pitiful story that contrasts sharply with the region’s peaceful and gently rolling countryside. As Ivan’s kindly wife sighs: “you remember a man for his goodness. People danced. Now nothing”. And clearly Ivan is a good and persevering man who will be remembered for his generosity of spirit in a fight that very much connects to a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world. MT

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FESTIVAL | 6 – 17 March 2017

Viceroy’s House (2017)

Dir.: Gurinder Chadha | Cast: Gillian Anderson, Hugh Bonneville, Michael Gambon, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Simon Callow, Om Puri, Neeraj Kabi, Tanveer Ghani, Denzil Smith | UK/India, 106 min.

Director/co-writer Gurinder Chadha creates a true epic inspired by her own life story in this magnificent Upstairs Downstairs version of the events leading to the independence of India and Pakistan from British rule in August 1947. Seven years in the making, Viceroy’s House benefits from a tight and imaginatively witty script, as well as stellar performances from an international cast crowned by Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson.

When Earl Mountbatten (Bonneville) and his wife Lady Edwina (Anderson) land in India at the beginning of 1947, their role is clear: they have to give India Independence. The Earl is to be the last Viceroy, who will live in the splendid palace, where the family inhabits the whole upper floor, serviced by a staff of 500 servants on the ground floor. But the situation soon gets out of hand: all over the country Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs are jostling for position in the future independent state, the Muslims under the leadership of Muhammed Ali Jinnah (Smith) hell bent on having their own state, Pakistan. The Hindu leaders Mahatma Gandhi (Kabi) and Jawaharial Nehru (Ghani) are fighting the partition of their country vehemently, finding an ally in the Earl and his wife. Whilst the tension increases, all over the country, violent clashes between the fractions grow into a near civil-war, and Mountbatten has to bring forward the independence date – and submit to the partition he has fought against for so long, “because otherwise, there is nothing to be handed over any more”.

Chadha shows the machinations between the British diplomats: General Hastings Ismail (Gambon), is fighting for the partition (which was planned by Churchill during WWII, who wanted the oil refineries not to fall into the hand of the Hindus, which he regarded as unreliable and left-leading), without telling the Earl about his devious manipulations. Then there is Cyril Radcliffe (Callow) a civil servant who, on his first visit to India, is supposed to draw up the new border between India and Pakistan – on the lines of the Churchill plan – without having set foot in the country before. Huge areas, like the Punjab, where Muslim and Hindus were living in near equal numbers, had to be divided.

On the ‘Downstairs’ level, the ‘forbidden’ love affair between Jeet (Dayal), a Hindu working as a valet for Mountbatten, and the clerk Aalia (Qureshi), daughter of the Muslim politician Rahamnoor (Puri) doesn’t quite ring true. We learn how he was greatly helped by Jeet during his imprisonment, which cost him his eyesight – and this strand serves as a reminder of the personal sacrifices of ordinary citizens. The great strength of Viceroy’s House is in showing how far removed the participants were from the people they pretended to represent. The Earl and his wife, full of good will and decency but naïve in their dealings with politicians, stand no chance as their aristocratic bonhomie is not match for the ‘Real-Politik’ of political advisers, who do not care about status. At the same time, the three leading Indian politicians – Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah – are much closer to the British establishment than their own citizens. After all, they were all educated at British universities – resistance against, and imprisonment by the British ruling class, with which they shared an upbringing in their formative years – was more like a game of chess in which they tried to outwit their former masters. But they were as detached from the Jeet’s and Aalia’s they to represented as their British counterparts.

DoP Ben Smithard (Belle) is a true heir to Freddie Young, who shot the David Lean treble of Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Ryan’s Daughter. He often switches to black and white, creating authentic newsreel-look-alike images. The mass scenes of destruction sweeping the country are brilliantly executed. And although the romantic sub-plot is too far-fetched to be plausible, the triumph of Viceroy’s House is its stance denouncing any political class: be they British “stiff upper lip”, or crafty Indian politicians. Despite the rather convenient denouement between Aalia and Jeet, their genuine emotional suffering and upheaval represents the real human trauma behind the statesmen-like façade of political turmoil.

NOW ON NETFLIX 

Trespass Against Us (2017)

Dir.: Adam Smith; Cast: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Lindsey Marshal, Georgie Smith, Rory Kinnear, Sean Harris; UK 2016, 99 min.

The British crime family thriller – almost a sub genre since Get Carter and The Krays – has always been popular. Here Adam Smith and his scriptwriter Alastair Siddons focus on another British crime family but are never quiet sure if they want to go for thrills or a salient message.

From the chaotic opening scenes, the Cutler family is introduced to us as a wild bunch: at the wheel is young Tyson (G. Smith), not out of primary school, but hell-bent on copying his elders. Colby (Gleeson), the family patriarch, is a poor-man’s Kray: never having learned to read, he goes with the Creation theory; somehow you could sell him the idea that the earth is flat. Tyson’s father Chad (Fassbender), is the brains of the family – even though his father kept him successfully out of school. Chad and his wife Kelly (Marshal) want to cut all ties with Colby and his mad crowd, who live in a caravan camp in Gloucestershire. Kelly and Chad want to move out, starting a new life with Tyson and his little sister. But Colby is possessive, and he uses Tyson as a pawn to keep the family together: Tyson is obviously drawn to his grandfather, who promises a life without sweat but high rewards. The family crisis is finally solved by the police, when PC Lovage (Kinnear), Chad’s nemesis, arrests him, after the robbery of a country mansion, which belongs to a very important member of the establishment.

Dog-lovers would probably be best to avoid Trespass, as there are some rather unsavoury moments, mostly involving Gordon (Harris), a mentally disturbed young man, running around half-naked in the camp, and enjoying cruel games. Although the car chases are exciting, and there is the occasional original idea (Chad hiding below a cow, as not to be spotted from the helicopters trying to trace him), Trespass suffers from the indecision of its filmmakers: Chad is shown as a rebel with a cause, but he seems to be putty in the hands of his father, whilst being a mastermind as a thief. Surely, since his father just sits around sprouting out his imbecile slogans, Chad has the upper-hand, since there would be no income for the clan, if he would leave.

But the botched ending shows that he is just in as much in love with a romantic-outsider existence as his father. DoP Eduard Grau (A Single Man) delivers professional images, but cannot save the cliché-ridden narrative. The cast is lead by Gleeson, who obviously enjoys himself, whilst Fassbender portrays his unease and ambivalence with a reserved performance, only really coming alive in the scenes with his son. Smith and Siddons have the setting for an original clan-crime story, but waste it with a story which falls between all stools: having built up excitement, they don’t know where to take it and could have learned so much from past master Thomas Hardy, whose novels of family crime in the rural West are full of drama and destructive passion. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 3 MARCH 2017

Love of My Life (2017)

Dir.: Joan Carr-Wiggin; Cast: Anna Chancellor, John Hannah, Hermione Norris, James Fleet, Katie Boland, Hannah Emily Anderson; Canada 2016, 105 min.

Writer/director Joan Carr-Wiggin (Happily ever After) has come up with a rather awkward narrative: after being told that she might only have five days to live, the heroine is forced to spend the remaining 120 hours in a déclassé rom-com with a cheating husband and an immature ex – not to mention two empty-headed daughters, who rush to find their life partners before Mum leaves this world.

Grace (Chancellor) is an architect in Toronto. Told by her doctor that her brain tumour might be inoperable, she reacts with stoicism. Not so her family: husband Tom (Fleet) cries non-stop and goes on drinking, feeling more sorry for himself than his wife. Enter Richard (Hannah, a popular author) and Grace’s ex-husband and father of their daughter Zoe (Boland). Richard suddenly realises that Grace is the love of his life, even though he left her for Tamara (Norris), who also lives in Grace’s family house.

Meanwhile, Tom goes on drinking – and sleeps with Tamara, who wants to prove that Tom is non-deserving of Grace’s love, Richard makes a play for Grace, who is already overwhelmed by the chaos of what may be her final hours. Daughter Kaitlyn (Anderson), whom Grace suspected to be a lesbian, suddenly finds “the right man”. But it turns out, that he is married, and (in one of the most embarrassing scenes) is cornered at his front door with his wife by Richard and Kaitlyn. When Richard finally gets Grace on her own for a restaurant tête à tête, a bizarre turn of events scuppers the whole affair.

You really have to feel sorry for the cast, trying their best to hold this all together without cringing. DoP Bruce Worrall, who shot the director’s previous outing: If I were You, cannot really save the day: nearly all the ‘action’ takes place in the studio, giving the feeling of filmed theatre: doors open, and people enter, speaking/shouting their lines and exit. Truly a missed opportunity to create a funny and intelligent comedy drama. AS

AT SELECTED VENUES FROM 17 FEBRUARY 2017

Nightmare (1964) | Bluray release

Director: Freddie Francis | Writer/Producer: Jimmy Sangster | Cast: David Knight, Moira Redmond, Jennie Linden, Brenda Bruce, George A. Cooper, Clyte Jessop | 83min | Mystery thriller | UK

Although best known for their vividly coloured horror films, in their heyday Hammer Films’ regular scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster would also churn out one or two black & white imitations a year of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (with storylines that somewhat anticipate the Italian ‘gialli’ of the seventies), starting with The Snorkel in 1958.

As one would expect from a film directed by the Oscar-winning cameraman who only three years earlier had shot The Innocents (1961), NIGHTMARE – shot in widescreen black & white by John Wilcox on atmospheric sets designed by the ever reliable Bernard Robinson – looks terrific, as can now be fully savoured on Blu-ray. (It is also one of a number of British thrillers such as 80,000 Suspects and Ricochet that happened to be in production during the winter of 1963 and gained enormously in visual impact from all that snow that lasted for a couple of months.) The visual splendour of NIGHTMARE comes at a price, however, since throughout the film events are staged with the camera rather than logic in mind. Shock effects that work in a movie with the assistance of split-second editing would be probably be impossible to actually accomplish in reality, and rely upon the victim responding EXACTLY as required! At times NIGHTMARE resembles an episode of Mission: Impossible, the way its elaborate ruses all function without a single hitch; and at one point even employs one of those impossibly realistic rubber masks that Martin Landau was always peeling off after we’d been watching another actor for the past twenty minutes!

No matter. Les Diaboliques cheated too, and part of the fun of watching this sort of film is knowing that the film is going to try to play fast and loose with us, and attempting to second guess them; as when the whole plot abruptly changes track about two thirds of the way through and it quickly becomes apparent that someone else is now being gaslit. The final leg for me recalled one of the lesser-known Bogarts, Curtis Bernhardt’s Conflict (1945), although that may be either just coincidence, or Sangster was simply copying another film I haven’t yet seen. Don Banks’ music is for the most part pretty effective, although they should have remembered that the gut-wrenching climax of Les Diaboliques was accomplished without any. But NIGHTMARE is overall a good cut above the gimmicky nonsense then being made across the Pond by William Castle.

The cast is good, and it’s satisfying to see the usually underused Moira Redmond in a showy part (there’s one electrifying shot of her in a black wig that renders her momentarily unrecognisable). Jennie Linden was a last minute replacement for Julie Christie (who had already been signed for the part but was then offered Billy Liar), and is probably a much more sympathetic victim than Christie would have been. As a bonus we finally get to see what the actress who played Miss Jessel actually looked like in close-up, with the return of Clyte Jessop from the earlier film; in white this time instead of black. RICHARD CHATTEN

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY

London Critics Film Awards 2017 | The Mayfair Hotel W1

In an evening glittering with frost and freezing temperatures, the stars turned out to receive well-deserved prizes at the London Critics’ Circle Awards (image courtesy of the London Critics’ Circle).

WINNERS

image3FILM OF THE YEAR
La La Land

FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR (left)
Toni Erdmann

 

 

fire-at-sea-03DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR (right)
Fire at Sea

BRITISH/IRISH FILM OF THE YEAR

I, Daniel Blake

ACTOR OF THE YEAR Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

SonOfSaul_Quad_Art_MH_V 3_smallACTRESS OF THE YEAR presented by Suqqu
Isabelle Huppert – Things to Come

SUPPORTING ACTOR OF THE YEAR (tie)
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Tom Bennett – Love & Friendship

SUPPORTING ACTRESS OF THE YEAR presented by Cameo
Naomie Harris – Moonlight

 

DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
László Nemes – Son of Saul

SCREENWRITER OF THE YEAR
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

BRITISH/IRISH ACTOR
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge, Silence

BRITISH/IRISH ACTRESS
Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship

YOUNG BRITISH/IRISH PERFORMER presented by The May Fair Hotel
Lewis MacDougall – A Monster Calls

under-the-shadowBREAKTHROUGH BRITISH/IRISH FILMMAKER
Babak Anvari – Under the Shadow

BRITISH/IRISH SHORT FILM
Sweet Maddie Stone – Brady Hood

TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT
Victoria – Sturla Brandth Grovlen, cinematography

DILYS POWELL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN FILM
Isabelle Huppert

THE AWARDS CEREMONY TOOK PLACE AT THE MAYFAIR HOTEL W1

Urban Hymn (2016) | Home Ent release

Dir.: Michael Caton-Jones; Cast: Shirley Henderson, Letitia Wright, Isabella Laughland, Ian Hart; UK 2015, 114 min.

Director Michael Caton-Jones has returned to serious filmmaking after his disastrous Basic Instinct 2 (2006). Urban Hymn has much in common with This Boy’s Life from 1993: in his latest film, the director successfully tries to paint a truthful picture of British society where tragedy strikes when a bereaved middle-class lecturer tries to save a multi-delinquent teenager, orphaned at a young age.

We meet Jamie Harrison (Wright) and Leanne Dixon (Laughland) looting at the Tottenham riots in August 2011, provoked after a black man was shot under suspicious circumstances by the police. Both young women were orphaned at a young age and they live in Alpha House, a correctional institution for delinquent teenagers. Jamie and Leanne have a near symbiotic relationship, they represent to each other the family they never had. But soon, they will be eighteen, and the comparable mild juvenile law will not be applied to them anymore.

When middle aged, ex-sociologist lecturer Kate Linton (Henderson) applies for a job at Alpha House, she is asked by Ian Wilson (Hart), boss of the institution, why she wants to leave the security of the university halls. Her answer is evasive but we soon learn that she recently lost her 13 year-old son Ben, who was knifed to death. Kate has to save somebody, and she chooses Jamie, much more malleable than Leanne, who is the toughie of the couple. Via a neighbourhood choir in which she sings, Kate gives Jamie the chance to be, for the first time in her life, part of something. Leanne tries to sabotage the relationship between Kate and Jamie, fearing – rightfully – that she will lose Jamie, who starts to study at a music academy, falling in love with a fellow student and living in a flat which Kate has procured for her. When Jamie throws Leanne and her drinking, crack-taking friends out of her house, she is unaware what she has set in motion.

The characters are drawn as realistically as possible. Unfortunately, writer Nick Moorcroft too often choses cloying and sentimental turns of events; when a little more detachment would have saved some embarrassment. DoP Denis Crossan captured London authentically, particularly the street scenes at night are impressive: this is a dangerous city, where violence contrasts with the Linton’s middle class environment. The cast is brilliant, particularly Henderson and Laughland, as the polar opposites. Henderson’s Kate is full of guilt and has the need to do good for personal reasons and needs to ‘protect’ Jamie – even against her will. Despite these flaws URBAN HYMN has an emotional impact that carries it forward as a welcome British drama. AS

Bulldog Film Distribution is pleased to announce the UK release of URBAN HYMN, available on DVD and Digital HD from 30 January 2017.

The Eagle Huntress (2016)

Dir: Otto Bell | With: Aisholpan Nurgaiv, Daisy Ridley | Doc | UK | 87min

The Kazakhs are a fiesty lot and their kids are no exception, growing up in the hostile terrain of the Steppes with its perishingly cold winters and scorching summers. With echoes of Sergei Dvortsevoy’s drama Tulpan (2008) THE EAGLE HUNTRESS explores the life of a young Kazakh girl who grows up in the remote Altai mountains of Mongolia (west of Ulan Bator) where she has made her mind up to become the first female eagle hunter in twelve generations of her Kazakh family. Theirs is a nomadic lifestyle that very much connects to a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world.

The feature debut of filmmaker Otto Bell, this is an informative piece of cinema vérité that unfolds in the snug interiors of Kazakh family yurts (with solar panels!) and offers some dizzying, often slow-mo, widescreen aerial shots of this vast and inhospitable region between Russia and China. We first meet the rosy-cheeked 13 year old as she starts her training with golden eagles under the auspices of her father – who looks about 50 but is feasibly in his early 30s.

As you can imagine, this is no cuddly animal story, once trained in the art of – what amounts to falconry – Aisholpan has to descend on ropes down a vertiginous rockface to steal a baby eagle from under its mother’s nose in a nest hundreds of feet above the valley. The eaglet is just old enough to fly but young enough to get accustomed to its new form of captivity where it will help in hunting foxes, before eventually being returned to the wild, according to Kazakh tradition.

The rest of the community is dubious about their women going out to hunt. The elders, in particular, think their females should stay at home and cook and are not adapted to the fierce outdoor conditions – especially during the winter months. But Aisholpan is undeterred and goes on to prove them all wrong in both her competitive skills – where she gets all dolled up with nail varnish and a fancy fur hat – and in endurance tests where she accompanies her father in a gruelling fox hunt that leads them on horseback into deep snow drifts, carrying their eagles aloft.

Daisy Ridley’s accompanying narrative doesn’t quite have the Attenborough touch, making you wish for more salient facts about the Kazakhs and their daredevil lifestyle, but all said and done this is an impressive film, and an ambitious one at that! Wishing Otto Bell the very best of luck his documentary and may he make many more along these lines. MT

ON RELEASE AT PICTUREHOUSES AND CURZON CINEMAS FROM 16 DECEMBER

The Incident (2016) | Underwire Festival 1-6 December 2016

Writer|Director: Jane Linfoot |Cast: Ruta Gedmintas, Tom Hughes, Tasha Connor | 90min | Drama | UK

A rather unsatisfying and typically British class drama whose message is enigmatically couched in a series of polite middle class characters who exchange doleful glances but fail to make THE INCIDENT resonant or rewarding as a piece of filmmaking.

In an impressive central performance Ruta Gedmintas does her best as Annabel to stretch the wafer thin narrative into something meaningful. Various incidents do occur but we are never sure which one Linfoot is referring to in her enigmatic title. Is it the initial one where Annabel’s unsatisfied architect husband Joe (Tom Hughes) has it off with troubled teenager Lily (Tasha Connor) in the confines of his car? Cracks were already visible in the facade of their marriage and they irritate each other in every scene.

Or is Linfoot alluding to the second interminably long but undeniably frightening incident where Lily turns up at the couple’s home, blind drunk and rocking a jaunty balaclava, when Annabel is alone, startling her before then disappearing without further ado?.

After a while the film gradually loses its momentum as it wanders into a didactic exercise in the British class system where the teenager is villified while the married couple discretely cough and distance themselves from the rather unfortunate scenario, deciding to ‘keep calm and carry on’ in an increasingly alienating denouement.

For the most part, THE INCIDENT fails to get under the skin of its characters, but perhaps this is what Linfoot intended in portraying typical English reserve. Hats off to Ruta Gedmintas for making it strangely compelling and watchable for her performance alone. Cinematography is also to be applauded, reflecting the mournful mood and sober aesthetic of muted shades with intimate close shots and subtle lighting techniques. Linfoot could have dug deeper into the rich morass of moral issues behind her storyline but decides not to and this is why THE INCIDENT ultimately feels as hollow as Gedmintas’ beautifully sculpted cheekbones. MT

THE INCIDENT IS PLAYING AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS DURING UNDERWIRE FESTIVAL 2016

 

 

The Wings of the Dove (1997) | Bluray release

Dir: Iain Softley | Writer: Hossein Amini

Cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roche, Alex Jennings, Charlotte Rampling, Ben Miles, Michael Gambon

102min | UK | Drama

In 1910 London, Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter) is being controlled by her aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling) over the choice of a husband – he must be very rich. Kate is seeing a poor journalist Merton Densher (Linus Roache). Realising that she’ll be disinherited, Kate temporarily suspends the relationship when she meets her aunt’s choice, Lord Mark (Alex Jennings) and also a wealthy American heiress Milly. Theale (Alison Elliot). Milly is terminally ill. Kate persuades Merton to woo Milly so that her money will be left him in her will.

The job of adapting Henry James is fraught with problems. James (like Proust) is essentially un-filmable. James’s memorable characters are impeccably rounded in their psychology. Their thoughts take central stage over their actions. James’s dense prose style, with its great interiority, defeats a scriptwriter. Things have to be simplified. Scriptwriter Hossein Amini’s solution for The Wings of the Dove is to concentrate on sub-plots and audaciously invent scenes. In interviews he has said, “I couldn’t help but see it in terms of a film-noir, a story of triangles, conspiracies and deceptions.”

There are many memorable scenes in this remarkable film. But to carefully delineate them would be to rob you of their acute emotional surprise. Instead here are two quotes. “We shall never be as we are.” And simply “I love you…Both of you” Such lines could reek of romantic cliché. But the first is sadly spoken in a bedroom sex scene where Kate and Merton sense their guilt over scheming to get Milly’s fortune. The second line has a heartbreaking intensity in the scene where the dying Milly questions Merton, after she has learnt from Lord Mark the nature of their plan.

The Wings of the Dove has minimal dialogue, pauses, silences, body language and intensity of looks – searching eyes and faces suggesting febrile thoughts. The acting of its three leads is of the highest order. Helena Bonham Carter is superb as the minx-like Kate. She’s on record as having said that this strong woman role was for her the Bette Davis part. A more appropriate actress to cite would be Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. Alison Elliot does the impossible and creates a genuinely good person. She’s never a naïve American woman but a warm and vibrant character. It’s such a brilliant and wonderfully affecting performance. Linus Roach’s acting is maybe a notch down from the women, but he is still very convincing as the serious minded journalist.

There are only two self–conscious flaws in this almost great drama. The first is where you think the proper ending of the film should have been. I won’t say but leave you too decide. And secondly the film has too much music which drenches its first act.

Otherwise The Wings of the Dove has gorgeous sets, costumes and photography. The moneyed societies of both London and Venice positively glow with self-assurance. Aside from Ian Softley’s sensitive direction, the true joy of The Wings of the Dove is the brilliant screenplay and the subtlety of its acting. I wonder what Henry James, the continually failed playwright of staged versions of his own novels, would have said about filming his interiors? Alan Price

THE WINGS OF A DOVE IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF STUDIO CANAL

Pool of London (1951) | BLACK STAR SEASON | BFI

Dir: Basil Dearden | Writers: Jack Whittingham, John Eldridge

Cast: Bonar Colleano, Susan Shaw, Renee Asherson, Earl Cameron, Moira Lister, James Robertson Justice, Leslie Philips

82min | UK | Crime Thriller

Showcasing London’s docklands in the 1950s, Basil Dearden’s gritty film noir was one of Ealing’s darker titles intrepidly dipping its toe into the avangarde theme of interracial romance in a diamond smuggling story performed by a sterling British cast.

On a sunny Friday afternoon, merchant Navy sailors Dan MacDonald (Bonar Colleano/Dance Hall) and Johnny Lambert (Earl Cameron) arrive on board the freighter Dunbar which docks near Tower Bridge on the Thames. As Customs board the ship, the sailors eagerly squirrel away nylons for their girls, and bottles of whisky, amongst other more valuable goods. MacDonald is a glib chain-smoking American. Lambert hails from Jamaica on his last tour of duty. The polite and open-faced Jamaican has no idea why he is met with contempt by an usher at the theatre were he ends up after meeting Pat (a luminous Susan Shaw who also starred in the Ealing production It Always Rains on Sunday). But this is just the first of many things that will go wrong when he is drawn in a heist with MacDonald.

Pool of London features sparkling black and white footage of the working docks, up and running again after the end of the Second World War and with St Pauls and the City in the distance; a milkman delivering milk in a barrow (a bottle of which becomes the Maguffin in the heist), and the jazz dancing clubs that became a popular way for men coming out of the forces to meet young women. Jamaican immigrants had started to arrive in the capital with the promise of a new life.

Whittingham and Eldridge’s tight scripting is underpinned by amusing turns from Robertson Justice and Philips. New Yorker Colleano adds a briskness to the English cast (he was killed a car accident a few years later, but not before marrying Shaw, who never got over his death, dying prematurely of liver failure in 1978). But the tone changes from cheerful optimism to dark and seedy despair as the narrative sails on.

Filmed in 35mm, Gordon Dines’ brilliant camerawork captures the familiar with a sinister noirish feel; here is an amazing stunt where Max Adrian’s crim Charlie Vernon jumps from one building to the next. In fact, Pool of London‘s tense storyline is nearly eclipsed by the stunning backdrop of these 1950s images, with London’s iconic landscapes and buildings adding texture and verve. MT

OUT ON 24 OCTOBER IN A 2K BLURAY RESOTRATION COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL AND ALSO IN CELEBRATION OF THE BFI’S BLACK STAR SEASON | Q&A WITH EARL CAMERON CBE ON 23 OCTOBER 2016

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) | Bluray release

manwhofelltoearth-the-bfi-00n-103-copyDir.: Nicholas Roeg; Cast: David Bowie, Candy Clark, Rip Torn, Buck Henry

UK 1976, 139 min.

Director Nicholas Roeg (Don’t Look Now) films Paul Meyersberg’s script of Walter Tevis’ novel of the same name in eleven weeks in the summer of 1975, shooting in the desert of New Mexico, mainly around Fenton Lake.

Claiming that he never read the script, David Bowie makes his screen debut as an inter-galactic visitor in this cult classic: a heady mixture of avant-garde/ SF/drama/metaphysical satire and social critique. The enigmatic, heavily fragmented narrative, with its genre hopping and strategic cross-cutting is secondary: The Man Who Fell to Earth is a bedazzling trip into a dissociative world. The film manages to carry a slim story and no plot. Yet it manages to be consistently interesting and entertaining throughout, rather like something from David Lynch. Above all, it’s stunningly photographed. The ubiquitous sex scenes are so stylistic they manage to avoid being pornographic, although the film was considered too outré at the time of its release.

Bowie plays an alien calling himself Thomas Jerome Newton who lands on Earth carrying a British passport and nine lucrative electronic patents (one of them a precursor of digital photography). He has come to try and transport water to his dried up planet and teams up with the cynical chemistry professor Dr. Bryce (Torn) and the patent lawyer Farnsworth (Henry), to run a global enterprise, World Enterprises.

But he soon falls for Mary Lou (Clark) in a hotel in the New Mexico desert where she works as a receptionist. The two become a couple in a relationship mainly founded on sex as images of the his extraterrestrial family on slowly die of thirst. Newton then builds a spacecraft to return home, but the government takes over his company, killing Farnsworth in the process. But the emotionally aloof Newton is held prisoner in a hotel where his power dissipates, drugged on cocaine and alcohol and forced to reveal his real – sexless – body to a shocked Mary The doctors in charge make it impossible for him to return to his planet by gluing his ‘earthly’ eyes to his original ones, as he ends his life an alcoholic wreck.

Roeg’s film remains evergreen with its contempo themes of corporate greed, media intrusion and immigrant invasion and the images echo these ideas in a stream of consciousness pattern: Newton is Alice, living in a mean, inhospitable country, where alcohol and TV are used to subdue the population. He is very defenceless (as a man and an alien), a characteristic of many Roeg heroes/heroines in Walkabout, Performance, Don’t Look Now and Bad Timing. The more human becomes Newton becomes, the more he falls for human weaknesses: alcohol and emotional strife with Mary Lou. Newton is also an angel (in the messenger sense), albeit a fallen one. His reports from his home planet are clear: the same fate will befall our earth. Roeg blends a sequence with a Brueghel painting and a mournful poem by W.H. Auden, relating to it: Newton could be Icarus, haven fallen from the sky. A man of the past (singing in church with Mary-Lou Blake’s/Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’) and one of the future: in a planet full of deserts, if climate change does go unchecked.

Bowie is the ethereal outsider (he could be the twin of Tilda Swinton), he is not safe in either of his personas. Newton often has to rest, his journey is slow, he seems too fragile to survive. Clark is full of life at the beginning, but she too becomes a victim: loving Newton too much, preferring him to the money she is offered in exchange to leave him. Bryce is cynical, but very much aware of it. DoP Anthony Richmond set pieces could be from a Hockney universe. Roeg directs with a minimum of interference: when Mary-Lou talks about trains – how slow they are – she muses about the central message: our slow decay, caught by Roeg as a journey to nowhere. AS

AVAILABLE TO OWN ON BLURAY FROM 24 OCTOBER 2016

 

War on Everyone (2016)| Berlinale 2016

Director: John Michael McDonagh

Cast: Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Caleb Landry Jones

98min | action drama | UK

John Michael McDonagh’s rip-roaringly irreverent cop buddy movie is largely a vehicle for the combined talents of Alexander Skarsgaard and Michael Pena who play the glib twosome and Glen Campbell who provides the musical hits. Short on laughs but long on cinematic scenery, WAR ON EVERYONE is very much a curate’s egg. Crashing cars and waging war on international crims the duo manage to upset everyone, as the title would suggest, but their bad boy blunders all boil down to boredom in a patchy comedy that exposes the police force as a bunch of warm-hearted racist thugs. But there’s nothing new there. WAR ON EVERYONE works best in its filmic scenes where Glenn Campbell’s iconic hits provide golden moments for the starry Skarsgaard (the camera loves him) and his bouncy love interest who have great fun between the sheets and up against walls. Spectacular widescreen visuals of the desert and snowy Iceland provide the background to the duo’s pursuit of a criminal gang of vicious paedophiles. McDonagh’s loose ‘cops and robbers’ narrative stitches it all together with a script that is gloriously politically incorrect; kicking over the usual hackneyed racial slurs in a formulaic plotline. But hey; there’s plenty to enjoy im this blistering britflick if you just switch your mind to autopilot and enjoy the ride. MT

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS | REVIEWED DURING BERLINALE 11-21 FEBRUARY 2016 | FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE BERLINALE 2016

 

Neglected British film directors | Seth Holt

In the first of our series on British filmmakers who deserve another look, Alan Price explores the work of SETH HOLT (1923 -1971)

220px-nowhere_to_go_1958_film_posterThe recent DVD release of Seth Holt’s Nowhere to Go (1958) is a timely reminder of one of England’s most intelligent and original directors. Holt’s first feature has a European noirish energy that’s prescient of ideas to be later fully realised over the Channel. Critics citing the initial feature of the French New wave choose Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge (1958). In December of that same year, Nowhere to Go was released – the last film produced by Ealing Studios and the most un-Ealing of films.

Nowhere to Go has the texture and atmosphere of a Jean Pierre Melville crime movie, displays a smoother sense of narrative expediency (or qausi-jump cuts) just before Godard’s Breathless (1960) and carefully creates a gritty, though stylised, realism comparable to Joseph Losey’s early British productions. It also contains the screen debut of Maggie Smith; revealing that amongst Holt’s many talents was his sensitive direction of women. Susan Strasberg, Carroll Baker and Bette Davis star in later Seth Holt films. Those performances can rank with their very best work.

What most distinguishes Nowhere to Go is the remarkable editing. Holt’s apprenticeship was as an editor on such distinguished films as Mandy, The Lavender Hill Mob and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. You have only to watch Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) going through his tedious routine, on the factory lathe, in the opening of Reitz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, to experience cutting of an admirable precision. Finney’s great line, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” is memorably overlaid on the soundtrack as he grinds out a never ending line of machine parts.

Holt’s editing of his own films was approached rather differently. In 1982 the magazine Film Dope published an interview Holt had given in 1963, but which had not previously seen the light of day. Here Holt mentioned the word syncopated in relation to editing. “It isn’t quite the same as simply overlaying. You cut away just off where you feel the emphasis should be, and it gives quite an exciting rhythmic texture.”

seth-holt-nowhere-to-go_420In Nowhere to Go we see the beginning of Holt’s concern with rhythm. Essentially the film is a man hunt drama with Paul Gregory (George Nader), an escaped criminal, trying to collect money from the sale of stolen valuable coins kept in a safe deposit box. The fragmentary way Holt employs Dizzy Reece’s excellent jazz score, each time he is thwarted in his efforts to get the money, is suspenseful and slightly out of kilter. The effect of this collision of sound and image reveals Gregory’s isolation and frustration. Holt (pictured above) presents us with scene after scene where all of Gregory’s scheming and effort leads to a desperate nothing. Back to the Film Dope interview. Holt regards Gregory as a central character “who doesn’t seem to feel very sorry for himself.” Kenneth Tynan wrote the script together with Holt and together they tried to break away from the stereotyped image of the British screen criminal. In Nowhere to Go Holt introduces the idea of betrayal and the complexities of deception – a theme of all his subsequent films.

Critics have been rather facile in taking the title Nowhere to Go to describe Holt’s ‘unfulfilled’ career in British cinema. Too often they’ve spoken of the director’s ambition unrealised and/or compromised. David Thompson wrote that Seth Holt produced “six features of unrelenting promise” To which I would add that they are also six features with much that’s unrelentingly successful. Holt’s cinematic rewards greatly compensate for any flaws. And Seth Holt definitely had somewhere to go with his next three films: Taste of Fear, Station Six Sahara and The Nanny.

unknown-2In Taste of Fear Holt pulled off a very atmospheric Hammer film. Its wheel-chaired heroine, Penny (Susan Strasberg) is certainly devoid of any obvious self-pity. The film’s plot is an old and creaky one about the efforts of a stepmother Jayne (Anne Todd) and her chauffeur lover, Bob (Ronald Lewis) to murder daughter Penny and claim a large inheritance. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster was no Kenneth Tynan. His plot contrivances can appear, after the credits role up, to have seriously undermined things. Yet you are gripped by Holt’s immersive and canny direction, with its subtle framing of scenes (such as wheel- chaired Penny edging towards a swimming pool at night). Of course it’s a Hammer project. But Seth Holt is no Hammer House style director. With its Psycho influenced shock moments, Taste of Fear pushes out into a subtle exploration of character. Unfortunately, Holt’s visual skill at suspense is at variance with Sangster’s obvious solutions. This very good horror film doesn’t quite come off because the characters are just a little too stock to fully come alive. All the film’s excellent acting finally fails to overcome the machinations of the plot.

images-2The case made for Seth Holt’s failure to make his career blossom has been put down to alcoholism, rubbing film industry executives up the wrong way and being landed with projects unworthy of his talents. You can make a case for Holt’s drinking and difficult temperament (even Bette Davis found him a ‘ruthless’ director). However he could work wonders with well worn themes and genre clichés. In The Nanny, Bette Davis delivers, post-Baby Jane, a really chilling performance. Her passive/aggressive response to children and stealthy control of parents is not due solely to her enormous talent but Holt’s skill in getting his great star not to over-act. You only have to compare Davis’s over the top and rather unpleasant performance in The Anniversary, to see that Holt could make his screen women a driving force through powerful understatement. Again it is a Jimmy Sangster script and there are problems. But this is certainly not the “spirited pot-boiler” dubbed by Time Out. For Holt creates a sharp cat and mouse game of rivalry and deceit between Nanny and her ten year old boy (William Dix) just released from a psychiatric hospital.

The Nanny (1965) is a good film, but coming straight after the remarkable Station Six Sahara (1962) an anti-climax. For of all his films, and the reason why Seth Holt should be better known today, Station Six Sahara crackles with great originality and confidence. Perhaps it’s because the film is an English/German co-production, made in the desert and he had more freedom on the shoot. Like Joseph Losey, Holt had an acute sense of hypocrisy, sexual repression and class tensions. Yet he didn’t necessarily need the social setting of England in order to play out such conflicts.

station-six-sahara-poster_420Station Six Sahara is enacted in an oil pumping station in the Sahara desert. The boss is Kramer (Peter van Eyck) a German, ex-military man. Second in command is Macey (Denholm Elliot) another army officer and ex pat. Fletcher (Ian Bannen) a working class Scot, Martin (Hansjorg Felmy) a younger Southern German and Santos (Mario Adorf) make up the rest of the crew. A tense game ensues between the snobbish Macey and the vulgar Fletcher. Macey receives more letters than anyone else. Fletcher buys one letter from Macey with his month’s salary. The undisclosed letter is tauntingly employed as a possible love letter against the arrogant Macey. Though only an important secondary story of Station Six Sahara, it makes for some wonderfully funny scenes of class anger. Denholm Elliot and Ian Bannen give terrific performances and obviously relished Brian Clemens’ and Bryan Forbes’ script.

This sold letter plotline, the clash between the two efficient Germans, and an excitingly directed poker game scene, replete with the hot and sweaty atmosphere of the desert, make up the first third of Station Six Sahara. When Catherine (Carroll Baker) and her ex-husband Jimmy (Biff McGuire) crash their car into the station we are into more interesting sensual and sexual developments. Catherine is no longer in love with Jimmy. She is a free, and importantly for a 1962 movie, a liberated woman. Catherine chooses her men for sex. Kramer cannot control her, neither can any of the other men. She cannot be dominated.

You might feel that at this point Station Six Sahara would fall into some cheesy and steamy melodrama. Yet Holt, and the film’s writing, sends it into other directions.

unknownCarroll Baker’s sexy character manages to be blousy, sultry, calculating and ultimately sad. Holt’s direction sides with Catherine, then criticises her but allows a sympathetic and strong personality to emerge. In no way, does Holt voyeuristically play up the box office appeal of Carroll Baker. The scene where she’s sitting outdoors dressed in a bikini and shorts was obviously meant as a selling point for the film. Catherine is well aware of being sexually provocative, yet she’s even more determined to just sit around in the sun and damm any man who approaches her (Carroll Baker pitches her fine performance with a knowing ambivalence). Kramer rushes over to complain and ‘cover her up’. Catherine makes us positively share her anger at his intervention.

station-six-sahara_420Holt’s interviewer in Film Dope, says of Station Six. “Would you be offended if the film were called pornographic?” To which Holt replies, “I prefer the term erotic.” Indeed it’s the erotic tension of the film that makes for its unpredictability. Though the eroticism is concentrated on Baker, it is also subtly diffused amongst the male relationships. Their macho behaviour has limits. Any instant sexual gratification proves sweet, short and is frustratingly terminated. Without being gay or homoerotic there’s a strong sense of frustrated love for each other arising out of the boredom and routine of an isolated work place. Vulnerability and loneliness is written into their roles. They’re failures and misfits, leftovers from the nationalism and imperialism of WW2 now stuck in the desert. Station Six Sahara creates its own world of intense moods and atmosphere. It feels like the work of an accomplished auteur. And behind his authorship Holt’s ‘syncopated’ editing is strikingly original and intelligent. Holt says he subscribed to Eisenstein and Pudovkin theories, but he never bludgeons us with a Russian dialectical montage. Whenever he employs Ron Grainger’s score and much uncredited African music it is done with aim to unsettle the audience emotionally. These disruptions or ‘omissions’ in the story contain visuals that are personally tuned to each actor. Holt always knows where to place his camera and challenge the viewer. And with Station Six’s desert location and sets, Holt and photographer Gerald Gibbs conjure up a weary, bleached look that beautifully complements the story.

After this near-masterpiece, Holt’s final three films The Nanny, Danger Route, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb can appear artistically subdued. Yet they have their moments, insights and excitement. Apart from Bette Davis’s presence, The Nanny contains some fine visual framing of her vindictive behaviour. Danger Route (a sub-Bond like thriller) picks up twenty minutes into the film when Holt is obviously enjoying directing Diana Dors. And it picks up even more at the end when Carole Lynley is imaginatively observed and killed by her lover and rival spy played by Richard Johnson.

images-4Sadly Holt died, aged only forty eight, on the set of Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. This Hammer production was hurriedly finished by Michael Carreras – and it shows despite Holt’s own material achieving an ancient Egyptian strangeness that equals the best films of the Mummy genre, and (like Danger Route) echoing his themes of treacherous behaviour.

Before his death Holt was originally up for producing If… But that was handed over to Michael Medwin and Lindsay Anderson. The rest is sweet film history. Though if Holt had had a go at the public school system I doubt that his and Anderson’s ego would have got on well together.

We are left with so few films. Along with Holt’s four excitingly directed episodes of the TV series Danger Man, and apart from Station Six Sahara, they are easily available on commercial DVD’s (though Danger Route is a bootleg issue). But the absence of an official DVD release of Station Six Sahara is the biggest injustice of all for Seth Holt. You can only buy a DVD bootleg version online. Or watch all of the film on the Vimeo website plus view extracts on YouTube.

Holt has a small and faithful cult following. And Martin Scorsese is reported to be a great admirer of Station Six Sahara. Can you intervene, Martin? Help to have it re-mastered onto BLU-RAY and organise an outing on the big screen of this criminally neglected film, please! Alan Price

 

 

 

Hell or High Water (2016)

Dir: David Mackenzie. Writer: Taylor Sheridan | Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine | 102min | UK/US | Crime Drama

HELL OR HIGH WATER is a rangy arthouse western with a witty political undercurrent courtesy of actor turned writer Taylor Sheridan who wrote Sicario. British director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) continues to impress with a Texas-set heist led by a laconic Jeff Bridges (with an undecipherable Texan drawl) And Texas is looking a bit tired round the edges as brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) embark on the dodgy business of robbing banks. The humour sparks from their cynical repartee as they go through the motions of petty crime for paltry financial gain.

Toby and Tanner get down to business early in the morning so as to steal a march on the banking staff before they are really geared up for the day. This is a high-risk business, and they only take small amounts of untraceable bills so it’s not worth the bank’s while pursuing charges. Toby, a divorcé, was very much the apple of his mother’s eye and the sole beneficiary of her will, leaving him in control of a family property on oil land which he has signed over to his kids in trust. The bank heists have become a way of life rather than a desperate need, but he still goes through the motions to support his brother Tanner, a career criminal who got nothing in the Will, so there is a kind of irony in the plotline that spikes the dark humour.

Meanwhile, the Texas Ranger Marcus (Bridges) has his eye firmly fixed on their trail through his Wayfarer sunglasses. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is a Native American and they share an affectionate relationship – this is the kind of film that doesn’t pull its punches – with some politically incorrect racial jibing – in the best possible taste. Marcus is on the verge of retiring but reticent to throw in the towel knowing that not much else awaits him but the inevitable, and the two of them  mooch around town checking in at the same old diner where the feisty old local waitress would certainly give them the cold shoulder if they went too far off the main menu selection by ordering the trout like some out-of-towner did back in 1987.

Nominated for a fistful of Oscars this is an upbeat crime thriller with some vicious dust-ups and convincing action scenes between Marcus, Toby and Tanner that feel at home in the sun-baked landscape of New Mexico and Arizona. MT

ON NETFLIX

Symptoms (1974) | BFI Flip Side | Bluray and DVD

null

null

Director: Jose Ramon Laraz

Cast: Angela Pleasance, Lorna Heilbron, Peter Vaughan, Paule Mailleux

UK | Horror Drama

Symptoms is a British horror film directed by Jose Ramon Laraz normally known as a director of exploitation movies with arresting titles such as The Violation of the Bitch, Whirlpool and Deviation. However the effective Symptoms is a much more subtle and nuanced production for Laraz.

Helen (Angela Pleasance) invites her girlfriend Anne (Lorna Heilbron) to an English country mansion house for a holiday. Some time back a young woman Cora (Marie –Paule Mailleux) was murdered and dumped in a lake in the woods. Brady (Peter Vaughan) is an odd job man who lives and works locally. He begins to intimidate the two women. And from the attic come noises at night.

The pleasure of Symptoms is that it’s a character study where no back history is provided. In Hitchcock’s Psycho, a glib analytic explanation of Norman Bates’s behaviour is given, only to then be shattered by Norman’s final motherly grimace. Symptoms deliberate omission of reasons for mad behaviour allows the film to journey inwards in a pure and non-didactic manner. Symptoms is slow, measured and appropriately shocking when the story demands. Laraz is no Hitchcock but he displays considerable skill in creating atmosphere whilst carefully restraining his direction.

Laraz had an early background education in art history, which probably accounts for the convincing set design. The house has a gothic appearance without being over-cluttered by disturbing artefacts. Great care is taken with the lighting and Laraz allows his camera to often pause on the disturbed Helen to produce eerie compositions (One such reminded me of the painter Fuseli). The film is beautifully photographed by Trevor Wrenn. With its muted colours, Symptoms could be described as a pastoral take on Polanski’s Repulsion. I suspect Laraz was also aware of the work of Ingmar Bergman, Kummel’s 1971 vampire film Daughters of Darkness and Clayton’s great ghost story film, The Innocents.

The women’s repressed lesbianism is pleasingly understated. One Kiss. One touch. One brief hallucination. All remind you of moments of desire in Bergman’s Persona. And though Symptoms is a psychological horror film it does have its ghostly frissons – the startling appearance of Brady at a window. Yet influences aside, Symptoms never feels derivative, but manages sensitively to adapt tropes and themes to powerful effect. Even when the film occasionally ventures into scenes of normal village life it avoids being clunky.

John Scott provides some very effective music – employing flute, harp and minimal piano that enhance the story. However such character driven horror movies stand or fall by the quality of their performances. Symptoms has exemplary casting. Angela Pleasance (possessing eyes as haunted as her father, the actor Donald), Lorna Heilbron (with dykish short hair) and Peter Vaughan (such malevolent body presence) are all excellent.

Symptoms was once on the BFI’s list of most desired, but now lost, British films. Thanks to a Belgian archive we again have a print. Symptoms is a fine horror movie for those who don’t normally like horror. For those of us who do it should be warmly applauded as an honourable contribution to the genre. Alan Price.

NOW AVAILABLE AT A BFI FLIP SIDE RELEASE | DVD AND BLURAY

Hide and Seek (2014)

Director: Joanna Coates

Cast: Hannah Arterton, Joe Banks, Daniel Metz, Rea Mole, Josh O’Connor

82min  Drama   US/UK

In the depths of an English summer, four loosely connected friends from London move into a remote country cottage with the aims of creating an environment free from social conventions including those of sexuality. Living in this intimate setting they hope to drift into a state of harmony where there are no boundaries and they will discover the missing element in their lives.

Joanna Coates first feature is an elegant and visually inventive art house affair. Evoking a suspenseful sense of intrigue from the opening, with an eclectic choice of music and her clever casting: a slightly neurotic Leah (Rea Mole), a relaxed and playful Charlotte (Hannah Arterton), ) an assured and assertive Max, (Josh O’Connor) and a placid American (Jack), Daniel Metz). This radical approach works well at the start especially as the foursome seem mutually attracted to one another. But it also feels slightly hopeful on the sexual front. That they are all going to casually sleep together on an ongoing basis seems naive and presumptuous. However, Joanna Coates’ well-paced drama makes this an enjoyable voyage of discovery, leaving us to guess how things will eventually work out with some spirit of faith. The characters are enigmatic yet plausible even though the physical side of their relationships gets considerably more exposure than the emotional and intellectual one. Although it often feels as if events and scenarios are being forced unnaturally by some outside party, somehow this works. The arrival of another male friend (Simon, Joe Banks) changes the dynamics abruptly. His inquisitive line of questioning and perceptive comments seems quite natural, in the scheme of things, and yet seem intrusive to the quiet cohesion of the existing group, which has reached a state of suspended nirvana.

But the psychological parlour games start to destabilise his equilibrium and when one of the girls attempts to force a fantasy scenario on him he makes a desperate attempt to inject a spirit of reality into the proceedings. Afterwards, it’s clear that the utopia has been challenged but also that an unwanted element of their former lives has been purged. A thought-provoking and engaging debut that explores the state of modern society, xenophobia, nuclear relationships the fear of loneliness. MT

Winner of the Michael Powell Award for Best British Film at the Edinburgh Film festival 2014, HIDE AND SEEK, opens  in selected cinemas across the country on Friday July

Notes on Blindness (2016) | EAST END Film Fest 2016

Dir.: Peter Middleton, James Spinney; Cast: Dan Renton Skinner, Simone Kirby; UK 2016, 87 min.

First time directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney have used the technique of Clio Barnard’s The Arbor for a moving portrait of the writer and theologian John Hull (1935-2015), who went blind in 1983, just before the birth of his son Thomas.

The filmmakers use the voices of John and Marilyn Hull, lip-synchronising part of the audiotapes John Hull recorded between 1983-1986 in trying to come to terms with his blindness. Dan Renton Skinner and Simone Kirby play the central roles.

John Hull tried to cope with his blindness in a professional way: he needed to understand his condition to be able to combat it – as an academic, his approach was well planned. But his cognitive approach turned out to be limited. When trying to excavate his inner world of blindness and ‘translate’ it into a sort of visual memory he soon found obstacles and limits. Whilst he was losing his purely visual memories increasingly, his retention of memories of photographs was much stronger. But as a man of faith, there was also a much wider perspective: John Hull admits freely, to “have been angry with God at times”.

Only when he accepted his blindness “as a gift from God”, a gift he never asked for, he started to make real progress in trying to make the best of this unwanted condition. The directors show his return home to Australia as a really grim episode where he got totally lost in the unknown vastness of the continent. His wife Marilyn was afraid “John would enter a world, where she could not follow him anymore.” Luckily, after his return to England, he adjusted more to his condition in the private and professional world as a lecturer, even though we hear his colleague’s voices questioning his chances of survival in the university.

Gerry Floyd’s conjures up a hazy, brownish and often diffuse visual terrain where rain plays a major role falling in slow motion on the couple’s’ house – all over the audio recorder. And John Hull feels the rain as a visual connection to his ‘old’, visual life. The photographs, shot with vintage lenses, which turn out to be so important for John, are photographed in macro shots, giving them a snapshot quality of years bygone. Needless to say, in a project concerning blindness the sound structure (created by Joakim Sandström) plays a major role. The sound ‘images’ reaching John Hull roll in like big waves, often feel threatening. Sound elements of the in-house rain are a small masterpiece in themselves.

The directors have developed a shorter version of the same title from 2014 into this feature length format, and it is very well worth it: aesthetically original, and sometimes daring in its intellectual approach, Notes on Blindness is an unique experiment. AS

UK RELEASE 1 JULY 2016

God’s Acre (2015) | East End Film Fest 23 June – 3 July 2016

Writer|Director: J.P. Davidson.

Cast: Matthew Jure, Isgerour Elfa Gunnarsdottir, Debra Baker

80min | Psycho Drama | UK

In J P Davidson’s cinematic low budget mood piece, an amateur property developer Malcolm (Matthew Jure) owes his childhood friend Sonny (Richard Pepple) a chunk of money – £6000 to be precise. So all he needs to do is renovate his dilapidated London flat and release some capital on the resulting sale. Simple really. But his life has spiralled out of control and debt and alcoholism have overtaken his mind and started to play tricks on him, particularly when he starts to imagine a secret wall in his property.

In a triumph of style of substance, GOD’s ACRE is shot in shades of grungy gunmetal with a stealthy soundtrack from debut composer Christopher Campbell. Davidson’s film looks superb and feels unsettling at it explores the nooks and crannies of a man’s home and then the inner sanctum of his claustrophobic mind as he glides aimlessly through a former existence that no longer works in the scheme of things. Enter the nurse, his noctural neighbour whose down to earthiness is the polar opposite of Malcolm’s instability and this could be the start of something interesting. GOD’s ACRE feels like an extended short: long on atmosphere but short of a really gripping narrative. Not only is Malcolm vapid as a central character, but he is also unappealing. In short, he is a cypher who drinks a great deal, rants and wanders around in this plotless and rather pointless psychological drama. MT

EAST END FILM FESTIVAL | 23 June – 3 July 2016

 

 

The Violators (2015)

Director: Helen Walsh

Cast: Lauren McQueen, Brogan Ellis, Stephen Lord, Liam Aisnworth, Derek Barr, Challum King Chadwick

97min | drama | UK .

Helen Walsh is a novelist turned filmmaker Helen Walsh whose debut feature takes place in the grim post-industrial landscape of Birkenhead’s council estates in Cheshire. Ultrarealistic in tone and supremely acted by the two female teenagers, Walsh’ script plays with underlying sexual motives, before a dramatic final rush destroys much of the intricacies that preceed.

In their rundown council flat, sixteen year-old Lauren (McQueen) has to look after her two brothers: the adult, near catatonic Andy (Barr) and the schoolboy Jerome (Chadwick). Lauren befriends Rachel (Ellis), who lives in a posh gated complex. It is unclear why Rachel showers Lauren with gifts as their relationship seems impenetrable and enigmatic. When Lauren learns that their violent father will soon be released from prison, she panics and has asks middle-aged pawnbroker/debt collector Mikey (Lord) for help. The would-be sugar-daddy exploits her sexually, but when Laura discovers that their father is to remain incarcerated, she turns to the her neighbour, the friendly army cadet Kieran (Ainsworth). With the audience still wondering about the Lauren/Rachel relationship, Walsh decides to deny all the malevolence, which has festered throughout the film, opting for a sudden and dramatic finale.

Despite this botched ending, THE VIOLATORS suffers from its ambiguous storyline where too many questions remain unanswered. Eerie images by first time DoP Tobin Jones always promise much more than the narrative delivers. A shroud of tension hovers over the proceedings, but the atmosphere of decay and alienation is by far the strongest part of this promising first feature – apart from the teenage leads, who are impressive in acting out the subtle nuances of their individual emotional issues. Perversely, the novelist in Walsh actually lets down the filmmaker with her script, creating dark, forlorn images which fail to be matched by convincing dramatic arc. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 17 JUNE 2016

 

The Violators (2015)

Director.: Helen Walsh

Cast: Lauren McQueen, Brogan Ellis, Stephen Lord, Liam Aisnworth, Derek Barr, Challum King Chadwick

97min | Drama | UK 2015

Novelist turned filmmaker Helen Walsh sets her debut feature The Violators in and around the sink estates of Birkenhead (Cheshire), a grim post-industrial heartland. Ultra-realistic in tone and supremely acted by the two female teenagers, Walsh’ script plays with the underlying sexual motives of female solidarity before a dramatic final rush destroys the intricacies that take place beforehand.

Sixteen year-old Lauren (Mc Queen) has to look after her two brothers – the adult, near catatonic Andy (Barr) and the schoolboy Jerome (Chadwick) – in their rundown council flat. Lauren strikes up an unlikely friendship with Rachel (Ellis), who lives in a posh house in a gated complex. Lauren showers Rachel with gifts a in a relationship that seems  impenetrable and enigmatic. But Lauren panics and turns to middle-aged pawnbroker Mikey (Lord) when she hears that their violent father is to be released from prison. The would-be sugar-daddy exploits her sexually and when she discovers that their father is not coming home she then turns to her neighbour, a friendly army cadet Kieran (Ainsworth). With the audience still wondering about the implications of the Lauren/Rachel relationship, Walsh decides to deny all the previous festering malevolence, opting for a dramatic finale. But the botched ending is not the only problems with The Violators. Walsh’s underwhelming script leaves too many unanswered questions to satisfy the shroud of seething tension created by first time cinematographer Tobin Jones’ dark and eerie images, which are the most potent element of this edgy drama; with the teenage leads impressively acting out the individual nuances of their quiet emotional despair. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 17 JUNE 2016

 

The Ones Below (2015) | Bluray release

TheOnesBelow-DVD-front-03Writer|Director: David Farr

Cast: Clémance Poésy, David Morrissey, Stephen Campbell Moore, Laura Birn

97min  Thriller  UK

“Do you ever really know your neighbours” asks David Farr in his directorial debut, a weird London-set psycho thriller that fails to convince despite a decent budget and the BBC’s support in the venture.

We’re in media-flat-land – West Kensington or Maida Vale – judging from the pre-prandial banter: “We’re out of saffron” of our loved-up young marrieds Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Kate (Clémence Poésy), who have just had their first scan and are settling down to babydom in a soigné ground floor apartment.

Anyone who draws comparisons with Roman Polanski’s The Tenant or Rosemary’s Baby here should have their head examined, but there is an edgy surreality to this pastel arthouse piece that would go down well on BBC3 (or ITV) on a Tuesday night. Farr’s storyline is likely to ramp up maternal and paternal anxiety levels so this is probably one to avoid if you’re shortly expecting to hear the patter of tiny feet of the human variety.

As it turns out, the couple’s downstairs neighbours are also in the family way. Buttoned-up middle-aged banker Jon (a superbly supercilious David Morrissey) and latterday Hitchcockian ice maiden Theresa (Laura Birn), who has been selected ‘off the peg’ by Jon for her youth and child-bearing potential, are unlikely bedfellows. Over a tense impromptu dinner chez Kate and ‘Just’ it emerges that the couple have been trying to conceive for seven years and according to Theresa:  “Jon’s last wife couldn’t have kids, so it was no good”: clearly there are also potential issues for Jon on the siring front.

The girls hit it off initially although Kate is the more laid back and Theresa, labouring under some kind of mental strain, drinks heavily all through the dinner. The evening takes an unfortunate turn for the worst whereupon Theresa and Jon both bridle viciously and retreat into a hostile stand-off in their basement. Thoughts of a possible legal battle run through our minds at this stage, but the status quo soon returns to normal – these are educated and well-bred people, after all – until strange goings-on indicate that possibly the tables are turning against Kate and Just. And this is where Farr’s script plays up the isolation and neurosis that child-rearing can entail. Kate is left alone while Just works long hours on web design.

Meanwhile, the more affluent couple are out lunching together trying to work out what they have in common. At least Theresa enjoying the benefits of a financially secure and work-free existence although her character utterly fails to convince. THE ONES BELOW has an genuinely eerie feel to it while neatly sidestepping the usual horror tropes such creaking floors or a sinister score. Ed Rutherfood’s visuals offer a shady look behind the doors of the seemingly ‘shiny’ couple who clearly live their lives on the outside. The house is bright and clean with decent furniture and a positively pristine ‘curb appeal’. But while his narrative aims to be enigmatic, it ends up being unsatisfactory with meaningless flashbacks and an ill-thoughtout and nonsensical third-act that morphs into heightened melodrama where everyone suddenly behaves completely out of character in performances that are as creaky as floorboards. Of the four, Morrissey probably gives the most polished turn as the brittle, snide businessman. Campbell Moore isn’t given a great deal to work with and Clémence Poésy does her best as the most likeable and down to earth of the foursome. David Farr is clearly a filmmaker with talent and although THE ONES BELOW has its faults, its certainly worth watching. MT

THE ONES BELOW | Available to buy on blu-ray from 4th July

 

Mile End (2015) | East End Film Festival 23 June – 3 July 2016

Director: Gahame Higgins

Alex Humes, Mark Arnold, Heidi Agerhom Baile

110mi | Thriller | UK

MILE END is another British film that loves to hates the Bankers (who offer them funding them through the EIS scheme); with a selection of nauseously unattractive characters who appear aimless and forlorn in their lives, bickering and purporting to help each other amid the twinking skyscrapers of gloomy old Docklands – yet slowly through all this dispondency a tense thriller starts to make its way to the surface in Grahame Higgins’ fourth feature that won him an award in the New York Independent film festival this year.

When Paul (Alex Humes) is made redundant at his publishing job, he believes running may be the answer to help him mull through his life and find a way forward with his girlfriend Kate (Heidi Agerholm Balle). He comes across American John (Mark Arnold) out jogging one day, the slightly older grey fox is suave and assured and comes across as a mentor. As they slowly get to know one another, John appears resentful of the other City types they pass on their daily jog through the wharves and waterways, and while John offers advice and business ideas, his comments on Paul’s personal relationships feel ominously judgemental and distinctly anti-capitalist for a soi-disant City guru. Then Paul’s friend (Valmike Rampersad) mysteriously gets killed while out jogging and Paul begins to question John’s ulterior motives.

Creaky performances (particularly from an irritatingly insipid Alex Humes) and some ropey dialogue don’t do Higgins’ drama any favours, but Anna Valdez-Hank’s pristine camerawork, Ed Scolding’s subtle atmospheric score and the enigmatic character called John (well-played by Mark Arnold) keep things ticking over tensely during the film’s 101 minute running time. MILE END is a thought-provoking thriller whose style and atmosphere overcome form and substance in s fragmentary narrative leading to an open-ended conclusion. Many may find MILE END unsatisfying, but if running is your thing, this is worth a watch.  MT 

MILE END IS SCREENING DURING THE EAST END FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JUNE – 3 JULY 2016 

Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach (2016)

imageDirector: Louise Osmond | Documentary | UK | 93min

With a string of award-winning documentaries under her belt Louise Ormond is fast becoming one of Britain’s foremost female filmmakers. Here she makes swift work of uncovering her subject – the social realist superman Ken Loach whose charming and gentle persona belies a steely and terrier-like resolve. Cutting to the chase, the doc opens with Loach branding David and Samantha Cameron ‘bastards’, he is later seen tearfully reflecting over the endless pain of losing his own son at nearly the same age – in a car accident. Raised in an aspirational Tory household in Nuneaton we discover that Loach did well at the local selective Grammar school and read Law at Oxford where he was ‘radicalised’ before failing to make it as an actor, joining the BBC at a time when it was casting around for new blood. Here he joined committed left-winger Jim Allen in making a series of films that went beyond the remit of the channel’s regular ‘posh filmed drama’ by presenting life as it really was: aka social realism.

Osmond neatly avoids a hagiographic approach using a tight selection of informative talking heads and although Loach appears charmingly self-effacing on screen and adept at giving his actors the security needed show their vulnerability, as in the case of Carol White in Cathy Come Home, Osmond is quick to point out that he can also demonstrate a rapier-like intransigence when on the attack evidence in his doomed directorship of the 1987 stage play ‘Perdition’ which was pulled from London’s Royal Court Theatre in a controversy that curtailed his filmmaking activity until the mid 1990s – due to lack of funding – forcing him into the commercials domain to keep his family in their large North London home.

At 80, Loach still sticks to a politically incisive style whose social relevance was most poignant in ’60s dramas Kes (1969), Poor Cow (1967) and Cathy Come Home (1966) but whose velvet sledgehammer approach now only appeals to a European arthouse crowd who feted  his latest flawed agitprop I, Daniel Blake at Cannes this year. Cleverly, Louise Osmond points this out in her subtle and watchable biopic. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE 3 JUNE | A ‘PAY AS YOU CAN’ DAY WILL OPERATE ON THE 6 JUNE AT THE FOLLOWING CINEMAS.

 

 

 

The Wicked Lady (1983) | DVD release

Director: Michael Winner  Script: Leslie Arlis, Michael Winner

Cast: Faye Dunaway, Sir John Gielsgud, Alan Bates, Denholm Elliott, Prunella Scales, Oliver Tobias, Glynis Barber

Funded by producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus Death Wish director Michael Winner turns Magdalen King Hall’s THE WICKED LADY into a witty and watchable bodice-ripper despite an unusually lacklustre turn from Faye Dunaway as the lady in question.

In the leading role, originally played Margaret Lockwood in the better known but less light-hearted 1945 version, Dunaway plays a scheming siren who seduces her sister’s wealthy fiancé Sir Roger Skelton (Elliott) and tiring of him moves on to Oliver Tobias, while turning her hand tohighway robbery until her heart is finally captured by Alan Bates’ roguish charms.

A stellar British support cast gets rather short shrift in this Restoration romp where Denholm Elliott is sadly underused as Lady Barbara’s maligned husband; Sir John Gielgud, as the Skelton family’s butler. But Glynis Barber and Oliver Tobias strip off for a fireside fondle as lusty lovers given the run around as Lady Skelton cuts a swathe through the all the desirable males. Shimmering in a range of gorgeous gowns she plays it straight down the middle with a limited emotional output showing that her heart os clearly made of stone.

Firmly tongue in cheek, Winner’s script stays close to the original Leslie Arliss 1945 version, injecting a vein of louche repartee that sends up the original novel and never takes itself too seriously. Sit back and enjoy Jack Cardiff’s resplendent camerawork capturing the elegant 17th-century interiors and blooming English countryside where Alan Bates and Denholm Elliott give it all they’ve got in the feisty finale.MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 4 JULY 2016 | COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT DVD

Bo66y (2016)

Director: Ron Scalpello | Documentary | 97min | UK | Russell Brand | Ray Winstone

Marking the 50th anniversary of England’s victory in the World Cup, this energetic tribute to East End footballer Bobby Moore (1941-1993) explores with appealing fervour the life of a young man from Barking who joined West Ham United in 1956 going on to become one of the greatest defenders of all time and a national icon after leading England to success in the 1966 international tournament, when Pele left the field. The film is co-produced by West Ham fan and family friend Matt Lorenzo and directed with great passion and verve by Ron Scalpello

Scalpello adopts a talking heads approach as fellow players recall their fond memories of Moore’s integrity as a leader and skill as a player. Known as “a Prince” among men, Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore commanded respect through his calm presence in a team of strong players who were a “tough bunch of boys”. His first wife reminisces about their first date – when she asked the ‘rather square’ young man round for tea with her mother – and the subsequent courtship which lead to marriage after a year. Far from being a macho man, she describes the sporting hero as romantic and vulnerable, but he was also practical: “when I had blond hair he used to do my roots – he was like a mate”.

His diagnosis of testicular cancer in 1964 (described as a groin injury in the press) left him humiliated and deflated. But despite training harder than anybody on the squad, Moore also wanted to have a life outside football. Rebecca Moore Hobbis describes her special bond with her father – due to his insomnia – he looked after her during the small hours in the first months after her birth and the two became close.

Old fellow footballers such as Sir Geoff Hurst, Harry Redknapp, George Cohen, Norman Hunter and Martin Peters speak with pride and fondness about their old pal and captain and touch upon how football became a popular career for them and the opiate of the masses due to the release it offered during the war and post war autherity. A dazzling array of archive material brings this colourful documentary to life and a rousing score from Benjamin Wallfisch (12 Years a Slave) reflects the highs and the lows of his career and personal life MT

BO66Y – the story of football legend Bobby Moore – is coming to UK cinemas on 27 May 2016 and will be soon available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download  

The Danish Girl (2015) | Home ent release

Director: Tom Hooper

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sebastian Koch

120min  Drama  Biopic

Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) has filmed David Ebershoff’s novel of the same name about the life of the transgender pioneer and Danish landscape painter Lilli Elbe (aka Einar Wegener) with his usual over-emotive approach, which suits this ménage-à-trois of two highly-strung people much more than his portrait of King George V.

Gerda (Vikander) and Einar Wegener (Redmayne) are two painters enjoying their unconventional bohemian lifestyle in  early 1920s Copenhagen. Einar seems to be more successful than his wife; his impressionist landscapes are in demand unlike Gerda’s portraits, and the pair are desperate to start a family. This, and much else, will change when Gerda starts painting her husband in stockings, firstly as a willing model so she can finish a portrait and then, when he is turned on by wearing female clothing after attending a party. Whilst Gerda gains reputation, Einar sheds his identity only too willingly. He obviously has repressed his wish of becoming a woman, but now insists on being called Lilli by his wife, who although sexually happy to dominate, is nevertheless unhappy about losing her male husband. Visits to the medical profession end in disaster and finally, the couple settle in Paris, where Hans (Schoenaerts), a friend from Lilli’s schooldays in the provincial Vejle, is working as an art dealer. Hans, who had kissed Einar innocently as a boy (only to be chased away by the enraged father), is unable to help Lilli but falls in love with Gerda, who has to terms with her husband’s cross-dressing and is determined to help Lilli realise his dreams, such is her unconditional love for him. After meeting Dr. Warnekros (Koch), a doctor from Dresden, Lilli has an operation to remover her male genitals. After returning to Copenhagen with Gerda, she feels happy and relieved at finding becoming herself but this is not the end of the story.

Lilli Elbe’s diary formed the backbone of Eberhoff’s novel. Hooper and his scriptwriter Lucinda Coxon have focused very much on the strong emotional bond between Gerda and Lilli, which survived their conventional marriage. The rollercoaster, which their life had become after Lilli’s ‘rebirth’, would have unsettled any partner, let alone a woman, who had lost her spouse to another gender identity, and also the opportunity of becoming a mother. But Gerda shows her caring instincts when handling Lilli in her ‘perpetual crisis’. She might have become irate at times, but Lilli,’s happiness was always paramount for Gerda, and appreciated by Lilli. In a way, Gerda was the midwife, who delivered Lilli.

Redmayne gives another Oscar-worthy performance as Einar|Lillii transforming from a man to a woman in seemless and convincing style and Vikander is also to be praised for her strikingly feminine yet powerful turn as Gerda. Schoenaerts takes on another tricky role as a masculine man who is unable to really exert any influence over Gerda or Einar|Lilli, such is the strength of their completeness as a couple. Sadly he has very little scope in this secondary role.

Lilli was very much the pioneer who is surprised to find herself in the wrong body; after all, knowledge about transgender theories were not even found in psychoanalytical circles of the time. Lilli was always fighting for the next step, against an environment, which was not ready for any of this. Working as a shop assistant in Copenhagen, enjoying the company of her same-gendered colleges, was perhaps the highlight of her female life. The images of DOP Danny Cohen do the life story of two painters admirable justice with ravishingly painterly sets and glorious landscapes. Costume design is impeccable as is the Art Nouveau set design from Eve Stewart. Alexandre Desplat’s evocative score compliments this gorgeous period piece that explores the heartbreaking emotional adventure of a couple who overcame all biological borders, proving that sexuality can easily be a moveable feast, when mutual attraction and real love is present. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT THE VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2015

 

Chicken (2015)

Director: Joe Stephenson

Cast: Scott Chambers, Yasmin Paige, Morgan Watkins

UK | Drama | 86 min.

First time feature film director Joe Stephenson, who has a track record of TV films, has set this drama CHICKEN in the countryside, creating an eerie, enigmatic atmosphere, but failing to fashion a believable narrative from Chris New’s script, based on the play by Freddie Machin. If that sounds familiar, it is a criticism levelled at many UK productions in recent years that look fabulous and feature strong performances, but fall apart on the narrative front.

Fifteen your old Richard (Chambers) suffers from impaired fine motor skills and severe learning difficulties which make schooling impossible. So he is living with his borderline psychotic brother Polly (Watkins) in a dilapidated caravan. Richard’s main interest in life is his chicken Fiona, and all his love is lavished on this feathered friend.  When a couple of new landowners with their daughter Annabelle (Paige) move into the nearby country house, they cut off the electricity to the caravan, hoping the unwanted squatters will move on. Polly, who earns a meagre living as a casual labourer, takes the hint as is only too glad of the opportunity to leave his brother behind – with disastrous consequences for all concerned.

Sadly CHICKEN doesn’t appear to live in the modern world. There are too many plotholes and contradictions in the narrative. Nowadays, two brothers with such inadequate survival skills would have certainly being taken care of by Social Security. But, even more crucially, an intelligent and attractive teenager like Annabelle would hardly pair up with pubescent boy suffering from Richard’s severe impairments. Finally, given Annabelle’s poor relationship with her mother, it is unlikely that her mother would offer to accommodate such a problematic teenager such as Richard, into the bargain. The botched ending, however poetic, leaves the audience even more puzzled. When choosing social realism as a genre, one simply cannot disregard the simplest psychological and social facts. Chambers performance is impressive, his real age of twenty-five makes the narrative even more unrealistic, since he looks exactly the same age as his brother (Watkins.) DoP Eben Bolter does a great job in creating a haunting atmosphere, but his efforts are wasted on this infuriating incomprehensible feature. AS

AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE  CINEAS FROM MAY 20 2016

 

Scott of the Antarctic (1948) | Bluray DVD and EST release

SCOTT_BD_3D-thumbnailDirector: Charles Frend

Cast: John Mills, Harold Warrender, Derek Bond, Reginald Beckwith, James Robertson Justice, Kenneth Moore, Diana Churchill

105min | Adventure | UK

Here Charles Frend directs one of Ealing Studios’ most impressive productions featuring a sterling British cast and using Robert Falcon Scott’s diaries to recreate in meticulous detail the fatal 1910 expedition to the South Pole. Keeping the doomed mission alive, Herbert Ponting’s actual expedition footage has been used along with location camerawork to re-inspire a journey that was fraught with setbacks. Together with Arne Åkermark’s studio recreations, shot in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff, Osmond Borradaile and Geoffrey Unsworth, this gives a remarkable visual account of what actually happened during those fateful months, 0ver a 100 years ago. Sombrely scored by renowned British composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, in what later became  known as his Sinfonia antartica.

The audience is naturally well aware of the outcome of the tragedy and so SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC makes for a patriotic and pitiful watch rather than a tense one. A chronological narrative gradually unfolds showing how a series of errors of judgement led ultimately to the negative outcome: largely attributed to inadequate financing and supplies, the use of unreliable motor sledges instead of dogs and the failure to gauge the weather conditions. Despite this, the film makes a fitting tribute to the abiding stoicism, courage and innate good nature of the British team who obeyed orders, never once complaining, despite their bitter disappointment which could so easily have been turned to triumph with greater preparation and awareness. MT

 

Florence Foster Jenkins (2015)

Director: Stephen Frears  Writer: Nicholas Martin

Cast: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Helberg, David Haig

110min  | Drama | UK

Meryl Streep plays celebrity croaker Florence Foster Jenkins in this chipper tragicomedy about an heiress who financed herself to operatic stardom in 1940s New York. 

In common with its real life diva, Stephen Frears’ sentimental celebration of amateur light operatics hits a few bum notes but mostly stays in tune with its central characters; a circle of ageing aficionados, wannabes and has-beens who thrived on puff and tea parties in New York, while ordinary people were fighting the Second World War. Ridiculed for her lack of rhythm, poor pitch and tone deafness, Meryl Streep’s Florence is also bald and riddled with tertiary syphilis thanks to her first husband Dr Jenkins, whom she describes as an alley-cat.

The film opens in her opulent apartment in 1944, with Florence in the happier days of her dotage fawned over by an adoring second husband and manager, failed actor St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), living secretly with his lover (Rebecca Ferguson) in a nearby Brooklyn Brownstone, paid for by his wife. So everything about Foster’s life was fake and yet, naively or narcissistically (and it feels very much like the former with Streep’s sincere treatment) she constructed her own romantic fantasy, perpetuated by disillusion or delusion, and funded by her vast inheritance. Frears’ film is very much an intimate and stagey chamber piece with the occasional foray into the locale (Victorian Liverpool and London). Clever use is made of special effects to achieve the Manhattan backdrop of Carnegie Hall and The Verdi Club, where Florence’s wealthy musical aficionados and luminaries- including Arturo Toscanini – gathered for their tea dances and soirées.

A light-hearted French version of the story Marguerite, transposed her story to 1920s Paris but lacks the emotional arc of Frears’ drama which feels convincing and surprisingly moving with its world class performances from Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep and an eloquently witty script by Nicholas Martin, a writer best known for his prodigious TV work.

So protected from the coal face of criticism courtesy of Bayfield, Florence decides to venture out into the public domain, hiring a talented young pianist Cosmé McMoon (The Big Bang Theory regular Simon Helberg) as her accompanist. After hearing a rousing tribute on the radio, she dedicates the concert to U.S. soldiers recently returned from the war and offers them free tickets. But despite support from her regular fans, and the sympathetic soldiers, press reaction is derisory and ultimately detrimental and Florence sadly suffers a setback.

With her unflattering wig and portly padding – Meryl Streep is a dead ringer for Tintin’s Madame Castefiore. Judiciously, we don’t hear her sing until the second act – allowing Frears and Martin to set the scene and develop the emotional dynamic between the central characters. Although this is a light-hearted role for Streep she delivers it with affection and aplomb managing to be vulnerable and ridiculous at the same time. Hugh Grant is impressive in his first ‘senior’ role swinging into his suave persona with spectacular ease in every scene and evoking a genuinely- felt affection for his wife in each loving gesture while masterfully managing her detractors – he even takes to the dancefloor. But the film’s real discovery is Simon Helberg, whose intricate facial gestures echo every subtle nuance of its tortured inner monologue from anxiety to rank disbelief, while verbally remaining delicately aloof and discrete. Florence Foster Jenkins is an enjoyable romp rather than an elaborate exposé of its eccentric heroine. The film will certainly go down well with the mainstream crowd but may be lost on younger audiences or the more aspiring arthouse crowd. MT

OUT NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Bastille Day (2016)

Director: James Watkins    Writer: Andrew Baldwin

Cast: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Kelly Reilly, Charlotte Le Bon

92min  | Thriller | UK

Idris Elba is the standout in this hard-hitting Paris-based terrorist actioner with breath-taking rooftop chases reminiscent of Polanski’s Frantic. BASTILLE DAY never takes itself too seriously providing upbeat adrenaline-charged thrills throughout its well-paced running time.

Elba plays Sean Briar, tasked with investigating a lethal terrorist conspiracy set to unfurl during the annual French festivities. Going agains his orders, Briar recruits Michael Mason (Richard Madden) for his expert pickpocketing skills to help quickly track down the source of the corruption. But he soon realizes that Mason is just a pawn in a much bigger game and is also his best asset to uncover the large-scale operation.  As a 24hr thrill ride ensues, the unlikely duo discover they are targets and must rely upon each other in order to take down a common enemy.

Rocking an authentic American accent Elba inspires confidence as the butch FBI operative, deemed “reckless” by his bosses, but using this to his advantage as he punches forward in a situation that demands an off-piste style of detective work; very much in the same mould as his character in TV series Luther.

And he is a busy man. Apart from co-composing the film’s theme which he also sings (!), he finds himself pitting his wits against Madden’s unlikely crook: a performance that fails to impress along with that of his vapid love interest Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk), who falls victim to his rapacious skills and also gets caught in the firing line as an unwitting bomb mule.

Despite its low budget credentials BASTILLE DAY gets out and about with Tim Maurice-Jones’ uplifting panoramic vistas of the French capital and an ambitious opening sequence that manages to meld London into the mix with surprising aplomb.

Scriptwise too, this is a well-written affair with a twisty plot echoing 36, Quai des Orfevres and sadly recalling the recent tragic Bataclan Paris attacks (out of respect, the film’s release was  delayed). Weakest in its characterisation of Mason and his female sidekick (Le Bon), who are dwarfed by the powerful presence of Elba, BASTILLE DAY is still fun and entertaining with some dry-edged humour that carries it through to a cracking finale. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 22 APRIL 2016

The Passing (2016)

Director.: Gareth Bryn

Cast: Mark Lewis Jones, Annes Elwy, Dyfan Dwyfor

97min | Drama | UK

Shaky performances and a poorly written script aren’t the only spooks lurking in Gareth Bryn’s promising feature debut, an atmospheric ghost thriller that takes place a haunted cottage in the remote Welsh countryside and home to Stanley (Mark Lewis Jones). During a storm, Stanley comes to the rescue a young couple (Sara/Elwy)  trapped in their car and gives them board and lodging while they recover. Sara (Elwy) is grateful and strangely drawn to the reclusive Stanley but her boyfriend Iwan (Dwyfor) is less than pleased by Stanley’s  unselfish heroism toward his partner and reacts with hostile jealousy bordering on paranoia, calling his a ‘retard’. It’s unclear where these two came from and they talk in riddles about their past.  But Stanley too is hiding something, and Sara is eager to probe his secrets. Iwan’s state of mind gradually deteriorates and in an ugly scene he asks Sara to undress and have sex with Stanley, before storming out.

There are shades of early Polanski in The Passing (YR YMADAWIAD), a Cymraeg language film, that sidesteps innovation relying too heavily on horror tropes alone to create a gripping story. The storyline is too reductive to hold the audience’s attention for its running time. Although Jones’ naive hermit feels believable, the couple’s ‘special’ relationship doesn’t feel authentic: Elwy and Dwyfor somehow fail to grasp the highly ambivalent nature of their characters. DOP Richard Stoddard saves the film from a complete disaster: his images, in- and outdoors, are truly evocative, particularly strong in showing the dominant role of water as an emotional force, in its many forms. Overall, Bryn and writer Ed Talfan should have settled for a medium-length feature which would have played to the strength of their approach and reduced the gaping holes of the narrative. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 April 2016

I am Belfast (2015)

Writer|Director: Mark Cousins

Documentary with Helena Bereen | UK 2015 | 84 min.

Returning after a thirty absence to his home city of Belfast, director Mark Cousins (A Story of Children and Film) creates a rambling portrait of the city. Through the mouthpiece of a middle-aged woman wandering the streets, I AM BELFAST reflects on the past, present and particularly future of a city where 3800 lives were lost in sectarian fighting between the early 70s and 90s; and a third of the population, 120 000, simply left.

The cold facts are harrowing, but Cousins’ portrait is a moody, romanticising and often enigmatic feature. Helena Bereen, the woman in question, literally “is” Belfast, ten thousand years old and still going strong, even though late on into the film, the director lets us know, that she really died in the 1950s. These sorts of contradictions are a hallmark of this documentary. Cousins treats the city and its harrowing history like a work of art: open to interpretations, and full of unsustainable optimism. There is street theatre – laying the last bigot to rest – and clips from Jack Arnold’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The Titanic, which was built in Belfast, is shown, so are the reconstructed icebergs, which were her undoing, followed by humour along the lines ‘she was okay when she left’. Old newsreels show a bustling place; and two men pass each other near McGurk’s bar, now just a façade: we learn that the owner’s wife and children, among others, were killed in the bombing – followed by a cousin musing “a crime scene, a rhyme scene, a time scene”. Very existential, indeed.

Worst of all is Cousins’ treatment of the sustained violence during two decades: Bereen/Cousins call it a fight between the “salt and the sweet”, never mentioning the organisations of the perpetrators by name. For crying out loud: “Sweet” is hardly a word associated with any of the armies of two religious factions killing men, women and children in the same of the same God. Only once, for a couple of minutes, does Cousins faces reality when he shows the “peace walls”, some of them twenty metres high, which criss-cross the city, keeping Protestant and Catholic apart. Obviously it did not occur to the director that the East German Stalinists, who built the Berlin Wall, called their monstrosity the same name: “Peace Wall”. Instead of spending more time on the Belfast Walls (some of them a combination of five different deterrents), Cousins lets Bereen maunder on about the arty future of the place.

With music by David Holmes, DOP Christopher Doyle falls in with Cousins to create a wishful, mellow portrait of a city which is still, twenty-five years after the civil war ended, anything but peaceful. Cousins’ arty collage is wishful-thinking at best – an historic confabulation at worst. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 APRIL 2016 AT BFI SOUTHBANK, BARBICAN, QFT BELFAST, HOME MANCHESTER AND SELECTED CINEMAS AND BFI PLAYER.

Iona (2015)

Director: Scott Graham

Cast: Ruth Negga, Douglas Henshall, Tom Brooke, Michelle Duncan, Ben Gallagher, Sorcha Groundsell

87 min | UK Germany | Drama

It may be a truism, but the saying that the second film is always more difficult is again proved right, this time in the case of Scott Graham (Shell), whose IONA, in many ways similar to Shell, is disappointing.

The Aberdeen writer director has set his narrative on a small Scottish island, where Iona (Negga), arrives with her son Bull (Gallagher), to take shelter in the place where she grew up. Bull has killed his violent policeman father raping his mother. The young man is guilt ridden and the religious community on the island gives him some comfort. But this all changes when he falls in love with Sarah (Groundsell), a teenager who is dumb and unable to walk due to an accident caused by the negligence of her father Matthew (Brooke). Sarah’s mother Elizabeth (Duncan), Iona’s half sister, has a very ambivalent relationship with Iona, suspecting her (rightly) of having a carnal relationship with her father Daniel (Henshall). After Bull sleeps with Sarah – enabling her to stand again – his trauma is re-ignited and he runs towards the cliffs, where two men follow him.

IONA is all rather enigmatic, and even when we discover some of the characters’ motivations and relationships, this drama remains rather unsatisfying with an overriding tone of guilt and remorse but few explanations. As with Shell, an extended short, Scott Graham commits the same error with IONA: the narrative feels 0ver-stretched and shrouded in an atmosphere of doom and gloom, from which there is no conclusion. The rationale behind the behaviour of the whole cast is always in doubt, particularly since everyone appears to hiding something. IONA also suffers a structural problem: too often there is a brooding silence; looks are exchanged and the whole tempo slows down, only to explode in the final minutes. DOP Yoliswa von Dallwitz evokes the limpid delicacy of the island landscape achieving the same feel as in Shell – with washed out hues for the scenes in the small, old-fashioned cottages. Dialogue is threadbare thrusting the focus onto the acting with some moving performances from Douglas Henshall and Ruth Negga doing their best to maintain our interest in this rather slim but touching affair. AS

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

 

The Survivalist (2015)

Writer|Director: Stephen Fingleton

Cast: Mia Goth, Martin McCann, Douglas Russel, Olwen Fouere

104min  Fantasy thriller  UK

Stephen Fingleton’s monsyllabic fantasy thriller imagines an hostile, post-apocalyptic future where mentally fragile survivors are forced to forage and fend for themselves in the fertile wilderness. Trusting no one they grimly barter food, lodgings and even sexual favours as they eek out a grim existence.

Martin McCann plays an unattractive, unyielding man who allows a woman and her teenage companion to share his meagre smallholding on condtion the younger sleeps with him. But its an unhappy household where the women gradually plot against him as an atmosphere of uneasy hostility stealthily permeates their silvine tranquility. A judicious use of silence allows the ambient sounds of nature to make their presence felt: running water; rustling leaves;  bated breath; stifled screams all add to an unnerving sense of doom and edgy anticipation in a world where ferility still holds the trump card from a female perpective. Elegantly framed and suberbly crafted THE SURVIVALIST is a triumph of ‘less is more’ filmmaking. In one scene, Damien Elliott’s camera hovers above the verdant woodland evoking an almost unworldy sense of forboding as eventually the three are forced to close ranks in another battle for survival when the threat from an encroaching enemy brings tragedy in its wake. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 12 FEBRUARY 2016

 

 

 

Coriolanus | BFI Shakespeare on Film Season

Director: Ralph Fiennes  Screenplay: John Logan

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain

UK  122mins

Ralph Fiennes brings this bloody epic bang up to date with a hard-hitting bodyblow of a film. Universal themes of political uncertainty, social upheaval and war were never so relevant as they are today. Fiennes tackles them with skill and assurance in his directorial debut of this overlooked Shakespeare play, skilfully adapted for screen by John Logan. Brian Cox plays a world-weary Menenius,  a belligerent Fiennes swaggers about in combat gear as Coriolanus. His passive wife is the tepid and ubiquitous Jessica Chastain.  But we’re never in any doubt as to who actually wears the trousers: Vanessa Redgrave as his powerfully commanding mother, Volumnia. Meredith Taylor ©

SCREENING AS PART OF THE SHAKESPEARE SEASON | BFI | APRIL-MAY 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Addicted to Sheep (2015) | DVD release

Writer|Director: Megali Pettier

With the Hutchinson Family

90min  UK  Documentary

It takes a French woman to capture the quintessential Englishness of country life in a Pennines farming community. And she does so with a feeling for the ‘terroir’ that could certainly make sheep-rearing catch on, especially if you’re not afraid of hard work and yearn for a simple family life in the big outdoors, caring for animals and relish locally grown produce. Tennant farming couple Tom and Kay have found their idyll in the glorious open spaces of the Cumbria and Yorkshire, where they lease a farm, in true English feudal style, from Lord Barnard.

Documentarian Magali Pettier grew up on a farm in Brittany and is now based in the North East England, where she has made ADDICTED TO SHEEP, her debut feature. Collaborating with the Hutchinson family and their three young children, she chronicles both the pleasures and the pitfalls of rearing special breed sheep.

Although Pettier injects charm and gentle humour into her story, this is no cuddly picture of furry lambs but a visceral and at times harrowing look at our atavistic relationship with animals that is deeply rooted in the English rural tradition: you may need a dictionary to understand the arcane language of sheep farming. Pettier’s framing and creative camerawork adds visual poetry to this down to earth portrait of the harsh and gruelling realities of living on a farm. Tom and Kay face the same struggles as any couple: paying the bills, raising their kids and planning for retirement while running a precarious ‘cottage’ industry with the aim of making an annual profit out of their livestock, whose ‘sole aim is to die’. But their existence has its compensations: a ready supply of nutritious food, fresh air and the joys of nature in comfortable farm amidst some really magnificent countryside.

Capturing the daily grind from snowy winter scenes through to late summer on the farm, Pettier cuts between shots of Tom Hutchinson pulling a bloodied and stillborn lamb from its mother to idyllic panoramas of wildflower meadows, where his tiny daughter paints the landscape and dreams of becoming an artist. In a school full of local kiddies, the talk is focused on the future where all the children want to work in the farming industry when they grow up.

Pettier does not attempt to be philosophical – this arthouse gem connects in a simple yet effective way to the global narrative of survival for small communities all over the World, showcased in similar British documentaries Village at the End of the World (2012) and The Moo Man (2012). ADDICTED TO SHEEP raises the crucial and timeless issue of the food we eat being connected with farmers who really care about their livestock and produce rather than large corporations who rob them of their profit margins and ultimately threaten our health, wellbeing and the future of British farming. MT

NOW ON DVD | ON GENERAL RELEASE IN SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 28 AUGUST 2015

 

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) | blu-ray release

Director: Val Guest  Writer: Wolf Mankowitz | Val Guest

Cast: Edward Judd, Janet Munro, Michael Goodliffe, Bernard Braden, Reginald Beckwith, Leo McKern

98min   | Sci-fi Romance | UK

“Sunspots, what can you tell me about sunspots?” This apparently innocent question is asked by Daily Express reporter Peter Stenning (Edward Judd) in Val Guest’s memorable The Day the Earth Caught Fire. Stenning is an alcoholic recovering from a bitter divorce, and his job is on the line. The answer to his question proves to be life changing. Stenning’s relationship with Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro), a telephonist at a Government ministry, enables him to discover a political cover-up. The force of constant nuclear testing has knocked the world off its axis. An 11% tilt means the earth is being rapidly propelled towards the sun.

London begins to experience intolerable heat, water is rationed, people fall ill and die. A young reporter collapses in the newspaper office. He’s examined by a doctor who tells the staff that the man’s a typhoid victim and that everyone will need to be injected. An indignant Stenning protests, “You have to be injected? Against what, the end of the world?” That’s one of many barbed comments flung out by Daily Express journalists and directed at a controlling political authority.

Wolf Mankowitz’s excellent script revels in its taut cynicism. Yet Mankowitz and Guest also carefully create very credible and sympathetic characters. This gives The Day the Earth Caught Fire an intimate intensity that sets it apart from the average apocalyptic disaster movie. It is intelligently conceived science fiction comparing favourably with a British literary tradition of dystopian futures (e.g. the novels of John Wyndham). Leo McKern is superb as Bill Maguire the veteran reporter. I love the scene where Stenning tells Maguire what’s really going on. Leo McKern’s reaction and line delivery is priceless. “They’ve shifted the tilt of the earth. The stupid, crazy, irresponsible bunglers. They’ve finally done it!”

Apart from the whipsmart dialogue, Val Guest’s direction and his real London location film work is also impressive. A staged CND demonstration in Trafalgar Square is mixed in with newsreel footage. A heat-mist travels over the Thames and Battersea Park. Whilst the streets, round Fleet Street, are near–deserted. These scenes have an authentic documentary realism recalling Guest’s 1960 Manchester crime drama Hell is a City. Yet a simple and great stylistic touch tops even their power. The beginning and end of the film is shot in a brownish orange tint effectively conveying not only the sense of the world spiralling into the sun but paper (The Daily Express newspaper itself) turning brown before catching fire.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire is very much an early sixties film communicating a palpable fear of the consequences of the nuclear age. Yet viewed today, and despite our still considerable nuclear arsenal, it feels like a prescient statement about climate change and global warming. Some off screen narration, about the fate of the planet, does have a religiosity that’s slightly sentimental. And a few special effects now look dated. But they don’t seriously flaw this haunting classic of British SF film. Alan Price.

NOW AVAILABLE ON Blu-ray courtesy of the BFI

Top 10 Indie Favourites of 2015 | Editor’s pick

Gem cohenHere are ten indie films that have stayed in my memory this year. Some were viewed at festivals and are still hoping for a release, others started out as indies (CAROL and AMY) but have rapidly gained cult status and heading for the Oscars.

It’s not a definitive list: many of the films I’ve enjoyed the most this year are from the classics. Martin Scorsese’s Polish selection were my biggest discovery. Some have something new or different to enjoy with every viewing: I’ve changed too in the decades since I first saw them: BARRY LYNDON; THE TENANT and CHINATOWN are three that spring to mind. And there are Comedies that make me laugh again and again: Woody Allen’s SMALL TIME CROOKS and Peter Bogdanovich’s WHAT’S UP DOC. So here are my favourites for 2015 – 

COUNTING | Director: Jem Cohen | 111mins Documentary US

‘Sleeping dogs; Waking cats; Straws that break the camel’s back/ The subtle urban portraiture of Jem Cohen’s work could be described as tragi comedy in motion. His recent drama MUSEUM HOURS was a hit amongst the arthouse crowd but COUNTING is a straightforward documentary that explores the peripatetic fillmaker’s wanderings through New York, Moscow, St Petersburg, Istanbul and an unknown city in the Middle East (Islamabad?).

Taking the form of 15 different but interconnected fragments, a lose narrative gradually emerges that points to a World where everyone is in contact but no one is actually engaging; people are talking but no one is listening. So COUNTING feels like an intensely personal take-down of our contemporary cities where animals and people are increasingly bewildered and alienated from their urban surroundings.

Continually leavening his film with ironic commentary that juxtaposes images of alienated people, cats or dogs photographed against the urban landscape often with poignantly amusing signs, his acute observations reflect the state of play in contemporary society. Whether faintly amusing or poignantly sad, they put Terrence Malick’s saccharine Hallmark greetingcard platitudes to shame, making Jem Cohen a unique and inventive director who deserves more acclaim. A treasure not to be missed, but not his best outing. MT. reviewed at BERLINALE 2015

ASSASSIN_THE_trees_green copyTHE ASSASSIN | Director: Hsiao-hsien Hou | Cast: Qi Shu, Chen Chang, Satoshi Tsumabuki | 12omin Taiwanese Drama

Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou has brought a Palme d’Or probable to the Croisette with his stunning drama THE ASSASSIN. This is a serious and sumptuously composed masterpiece – in the true sense of the word. Hou brings a sense of uncompromising formal brilliance to the wuxia material. THE ASSASSIN is a work of spiritual resonance and historical importance, it is also visually orgasmic.

Set during the Tang dynasty, the story opens as a young girl played by Shu Qi undergoes training to be an assassin. But her female sympathies stand in the way of her killing instinct and after failing an important mission, she is sent back to her hometown. Some time later, she is again tasked with killing an important governor (played by Chang Chen) who is questioning the Emperor’s authority. The task involves a moral twist: not only is the governor her cousin, but also her first love.

Mark Lee Ping-Bing’s stunning visuals create a sparkling jewel box in every frame. The magnificent landscape showcase lush forests, mist-filled mountains and precipitous gorges in this remote and the often hostile terrain. But this is not the classic martial arts slasher movie and the killing sprees are spare and discrete. This is the domain of the highly disciplined and spiritually-trained Grandmasters, experienced recently through the work of Wang Ka Wai. But Hou’s martial arts sequences have their own brutal and breathtaking beauty and are nonetheless powerful for their distinct lack of gratuitous blood-letting. There is a serene and graceful delicacy to this filmmaking which is both tear-wellingly beautifully and satisfying austere. A sequence involving black magic is particularly sinister, making THE ASSASSIN a captivating masterpiece in elegance and restraint, holding his head proudly in the starry firmament of Taiwanese filmmaking. MT | REVIEWED AT CANNES 2015

EMBRACE_OF_THE_SERPENT_tribesman copyEMBRACE OF THE SERPENT | Director: Ciro Guerra | Cast: Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar, Yauenkü Migue | 122min | Adventure Drama | Colombia

Colombian writer|director Ciro Guerra’s third feature is a visually stunning exploration to a heart of darkness that echoes Miguel Gomes’ Tabu or Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde or even Nicolas Roeg’s Belize-set drama of that name.

A backlash on the negative impacts of organised Religion and Colonialism EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT‘s slow-burn intensity has a morose and unsettling undercurrent that threatens to submerge you in the sweaty waters of the Amazon River whence its token German explorer, Theordor Koch-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet) meanders fitfully in search of a rare and exotic flower with restorative powers.

Impressively mounted and elegantly shot in black and white (by DoP David Gallego) this arthouse masterpiece was dreamt up by scripters Guerra and Jacques Toulemonde, who base this imagined drama, told in parallel narrative, on the diaries of two explorers travelling through the Colombian jungle in the early part of last century between 1900 and the 1940s. Theodor and Evan (Brionne Davis) are guided by the rather fierce figure of a shaman called Karamakate (played by Nilbio Torres and later by Antonio Bolivar) the sole survivor of a native tribe which perished due to invasion.

Karamakate knows the intricate tribal nuances and the subtleties of the local fauna but is filled with latent hatred for the explorers who he blames for destroying his forefathers. Despite this he cures Theodor, virtually bringing him back to life with potions distilled from the vegetation which is alarmingly shot through a pipe at high speed into the German’s nostrils. With the Shaman they encounter a fallen Catholic mission and a poor worker with a severed arm who begs to be put out of his misery.

For all the magnificent beauty of this wildly lush and desolate forest with its flowing river, there are signs of human destruction. EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT scored by Carlos Garcia’s haunting ambient soundtrack this is a peaceful, if slightly overlong, meditation on the havoc man has wreaked on lost humanity and the planet. MT | WINNER OF THE CICAE AWARD AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | CIRO GUERRA

SleepingGiantSLEEPING GIANT | Director: Andrew Cividino | 89min Canadian Drama

Andrew Cividino lampoons and laments the male of the species in his piquant and delightfully-observed rites of passage debut feature, SLEEPING GIANT. Making great use of the magnificent ‘big country’ landscapes of his native Ontario, Cividino is another starlight trouper from the fabulous galaxy of contemporary Canadian filmmakers. This is a teen drama with surprisingly universal appeal that will appeal to the arthouse crowd of all age-groups.

Quietly incisive yet monumentally moving, SLEEPING GIANT explores the angst-ridden adolescent awakening of three teenage boys who joke and jossle together one sun-drenched summer in Lake Superior, that starts predictably bright but ends in a dark and frightening place. A razor-sharp script is matched with cutting-edge performances from newcomers Jackson Martin as Adam, Riley (Reece Moffett) and Nate (Nick Serine).

Adam is a thoughtful, intelligent boy with a face as pure as milk. Spending the summer with his parents in their luxurious lakeside cabin, he strikes up a friendship with hell-raiser cousins Riley and Nate that soon starts to challenge his perceptions of his parent’s marriage and his discrete upbringing. As they steadily bait him into joining them on shoplifting and drinking bouts, they also encourage him to abuse the trust of local girl, who Adam takes a liking to. Outwardly, it feels as if Adam is unable to rise to the challenge of these young male bullies but the perceptive Adam is slowly biding his time.

As the narrative unfurls amidst the impressive lakeside landscapes, an ominous score signals a sense shift in tone towards of unease in this unassuming coming of ager, which on the surface looks like any other glossy teen flick. And as the boys’ friendship deepens and they jockey for supremacy, so the cracks and resentments start to appear. Nate, in particularly, becomes more vituperative and vindictive as we get to know him, constantly provoking Adam’s masculinity and whilst Adam stays surprisingly calm, he is quietly formulating an informed impression of the situation. Clearly a budding psychopath, Nate masks his insecurity with typically violent outbursts where he hits a dead bird repeatedly with a stick and burns a mating beatle to death. All this is lushly observed in James Klopko’s inventive cinematography that brilliantly evokes the joy and excitement of teenage years in those long lost summers of our childhood.

But these boys are not the only ones playing fast and loose. It emerges that Adam’s father, a deliberately uncool David Disher, is also indulging in some naughty behaviour that could ruin his cosy family summer for good. And when Adam wises up to his father’s behaviour, a subtle inter-generational power-play is added to the sparky dynamic of this holiday crowd.

This is very much a film that focuses on how male selfishness and need for dominance effects the females in their entourage. SLEEPING GIANT develops from a upbeat character-driven piece to one with significant and sinister psychological punch where Cividino demonstrates a masterful control his material and cast in engaging drama that never outstays its welcome with a startling finale. MT | reviewed at CANNES 2015 CRITICS’ WEEK

LYINGFORALIVINGakaLISTENTOMEMARLON_still4_MarlonBrando__byNotKnown_2014-11-26_10-41-27AMLISTEN TO ME MARLON | Director: Steven Riley | 95min | Documentary | US

A shady enigmatic figure with a gruff exterior is how most of us remember Marlon Brando in his later years (1924-2004). But Steven Riley redresses the balance with this intoxicating documentary compiled from reams of Brando’s own audio tapes recording his innermost thoughts and streams of consciousness that expose the icon’s soul for all to appreciate. It’s unlikely that Marlon would approve of this exposé, commissioned by his own estate. That said, it serves as a remarkable tribute to the screen legend and, for the most part, manages to enhance his his profile rather than diminish it; a decade after his death.

The film opens with a spooky digitised 3D image of Marlon’s head that the actor created for posterity – rather like some people commission a bronze bust or painting. It sets the tone for the woozy narrative that seems to capture the essence of the Marlon, often drifting dreamlike through filmed footage, clips and photographs of this stunningly handsome screen idol with his velvety voice, ‘come to bed’ eyes and macho persona.

It tells how from an early age Marlon was close to his creatively driven mother but wary of his father; a travelling salesman who drank and beat his family. Marlon’s early influences came from acting superstar Stella Adler at New York’s, ‘New Schoo’l, a theatre and film training establishment run by talented, intellectual Jewish immigrés. Marlon drifted into acting because he had a talent for ‘lying’: he was the youngest actor to win an Oscar for On the Waterfront, which he felt was undeserved. He later boycotted his Oscar for The Godfather, sending an American Indian to receive it in protest for the portrayal of the US Native race in Hollywood. His looks and allure made him popular with women although he was a poor father figure to the children whose birth he acknowledged: his daughter Cheyenne Brando later committed suicide; his son Christopher killed her boyfriend. There were many others.

But this did not tarnish his earning ability and he was much sought after often commanding vast figures for his acting performances which later left him free to pursue his human rights patronage of Black and Native American causes. A deep thinker and an introvert who isolated himself in the Hollywood Hills and in his beloved Tahiti, LISTEN TO ME MARLON brings out his philosophical edge and his spiritual leanings. He also took his craft seriously, realising his gift was the making of him: “I arrived in New York with holes in my socks, and holes in my mind”. During his lifetime he formed close friendships with other realist actors such as Monty Clift, but on set he was never easy to direct and had contretemps with Trevor Howard during Mutiny on the Bounty and Francis Ford Coppola in Apocalypse Now.

Shot through with insights and musings about life and his acting, it emerges that Marlon never took his fame for granted but also yearned for a simpler existence in Tahiti: “A sanity and sense of reality is taken away from you by Success”. MT | REVIEWED AT LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015 

saul-749x415SON OF SAUL | Director: László Nemes | Cast: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnar, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Sandor Zsoter. | 107min Wartime Drama Hungary

László Nemes learnt his craft under the legendary Hungarian director, Bela Tarr. His feature debut is a shocking and claustrophobic thriller exploring the little known lives of the Sonderkommando, Jews who were forced, under pain of death, to clean up the gas chambers during the final days of Auschwitz in 1944.

Clearly, Nemes is an inventive talent in the making. His restless camera tells a secret and conspiratorial story in pin-sharp close-up while in the background, out-of-focus atrocities are seen unfolding in the Nazi concentration camp and its surroundings. The action focuses on Saul (Géza Röhrig), a man whose mission is to herd his own people into massive ovens and lock them in as their pitiful cries and raging emerges.

One boy survives the onslaught, but is subsequently suffocated by a German officer. Saul appears to recognise him as his own son and sets off in desperation to find a Rabbi to say prayers and bury him according to the Jewish faith. A constant whispering and bartering in going on before our eyes, and while Saul is bribing his fellow inmates with golden and precious personal effects (from the dead) jewellery, an escape plan is also brewing.

But unlike his master of slow-motion, Nemes offers up a fast-moving and disorientating action thriller. Sometimes the camera is behind his shoulder focusing on the chattering and internal conspiracy between the inmates, others it focuses on the background, where German officers bait and bully the Sonderkommandos. Dead bodies are dragged by and thrown onto trucks in blurry, soft-focus. In one scene, at entire battle is going on in the hazy distance, where prisoners are being shot and forced into open burial pits as fires rage and gunfire rings out. It feels as it Nemes is running two contemporaneous film sets; one in the foreground and one of horrific slaughter and anihilation in the near distance. There is a remarkable single take, in pristine focus, where Saul carries the body of his “son” into a river and swims to the other side.

This is a work of supreme craftsmanship but also a harrowing and devastating tribute to the Sonderkommandos, who knew their lives would also end in slaughter, when their job was done and Géza Röhrig’s performance rings of both subtle defiance and acceptance. The final scene seems to allow a chink of light and hope into this dreadful darkness, as his face lights up into a gradual smile in the middle of a verdant forest.

SON OF SAUL  serves as a positive revival of the Holocaust with other recent films such as Night Will Fall and Shoah.

best of enemyTHE BEST OF ENEMIES | Directors: Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon | 87min Documentary US

In THE BEST OF ENEMIES Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon showcase the heavyweight intellectual TV sparring matches between William Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal, who offered their subjectivity on American Politics during 1968 and fro the last few decades of the 20th Century. Whether or not you agreed with their politics these wittily-crafted debates and well-reasoned arguments, spoken in cool patrician vowels, had US viewers pinned to their sets night after night from the late sixties until the nineties.

Best known for their musical biopics, Neville and Gordon take us on a rip-roaring ride through the lives of both men who had the American public hanging on their every word. Millions of viewers were fixated on their TVs each night, as Buckley, an ardent Republican and Vidal, a champagne socialist, expounded their views like an elegant game of Centre Court tennis. At a time when America needed to “change lanes”, the debates allowed a refreshing breeze of clarity to blow through the political landscape, but culminated in a famous exchange during news coverage of a convention in Chicago (1968), where Buckley finally puts his cards on the table during a highly-charged debate that went down in American history.

Multi-lingual William H Buckley Jr was a staunch Catholic from an educated New York family who went to Yale and spent the Winters in a chateau in Gstaad or sailing at his Stamford holiday home. Gore Vidal, seen posing in his romantic Italian coastal villa, was also from a privileged background with political connections although he never went to University, going straight into the Army, as did Buckley after Yale. The two went on to publish books and newspaper articles – Vidal becoming the best-selling author of the controversial sex-change novel “Myra Breckinridge” – Buckley set up his right-wing journal National Review and became the host of a NewsNight-style programme called The Firing Line. The two were polar opposites and would argue that black was white just to affirm their antipathy of one another. We also hear off-scene readings from John Lithgow (as Vidal) and Kelsey Grammer (as Buckley) and the late Christopher Hitchens’ adds his commentary further enhancing and inform our enjoyment of this immersive piece.

Slowly ramping up the tension as their gripping story unfolds, Neville and Gordon reveal that ABC-TV, lagging third in the news division behind CBS and NBS, had decided to up its game by hiring these sworn enemies to host a talk show during a convention in Miami. Grainy footage of these coruscating debates make gripping viewing as they each appraise the political situation of an American Society in crisis. When the debates reconvened in Chicago, the tone became more venomous between the men, reflecting a mood of hostility and social unrest that descended on the town at the height of the anti-Vietnam War, in a draconian Police presence. Theatrical texture is added with footage of Paul Newman and Arthur Miller who were also in town at the time. Discussion of the riots seeps into the coverage as these cool intellectuals lock horns, Vidal calling Buckley “a crypto-Nazi.” Rising to the occasion, Buckley is seen gurning with hatred – and the image is repeated several times – as he barks back “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face, and you’ll stay plastered.”

When seen on video footage, Buckley was clearly devastated at having lost his cool and apologized profusely but Vidal is strangely unphased with an icy coolness that is itself unnerving given the hatred he clearly felt. Vicious law suits zapped back and forth like angry hornets between the two men for years afterwards, as they each endeavoured to work through this televised trauma.

Ultimately, Gordon and Neville’s documentary serves to illustrate how Buckley and Vidal were the last to deliver stimulating debates of intellectual clarity on television. Nowadays, networks resort to “that which is highly viewable rather than that which is illuminating”. What a shame. MT

amybergeverysecretthing1-610x250EVERY SECRET THING Director: Amy Berg, Writer: Nicole Holofcener | Cast: Diane Lane, Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Banks, Danielle MacDonald, Nate Parker |99min Psychodrama | Mystery | US

Oscar-nominated Amy Berg brings her documentary expertise (West of Memphis | Deliver Us From Evil ) to bear in this feature debut that makes an interesting pairing with her documentary Prophet’s Prey, also screening at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival and touching on similar issues. Although initially challenged by its slightly bewildering fractured narrative taking place in two different time lines – the past and the present in quick succession – the overtly sombre-toned psychological drama, based on Laura Lippman’s best-seller, goes on to exert a relentlessly unsettling grip throughout its 93 minute running time. This is largely down to four remarkable female performances: Elizabeth Banks, Diane Lane, Dakota Fanning and Danielle Macdonald.

Ronnie and Alice, (played as adults by Dakota Fanning and Danielle Macdonald, respectively) are suspected of kidnapping two mixed-race kids in separate incidents a decade apart. We join the story as an investigation into the latest disappearance is taking place in contempo New York state. And gradually we discover more about the initial crime which resulted in the girls being incarcerated for 10 years until they emerge as women in their late teens. Told through flashbacks to plausible but mock newspaper footage and news bulletins, the original murder is relayed from the perspective of the young girls, as the real story only emerges in the final stages of the movie.

Skilful edits require intense concentration as we bring our instincts to the forefront in analysing the characters of the girls and their families and so as to determine the upshot of a saga of female disturbance and deception fraught with many different possibilities, twists and turns. Berg casts aspersions at a dreadful early childhood for both Alice and Ronnie but the circumstances surrounding their start in life that lead them to become, in effect, psychopaths, is always shrouded in mystery. Even at the finale, there is no way of knowing exactly who initiated the kidnapping or who committed the murder although it is possible to make an educated guess, based on our own experience and intuitions. There is also the element of false memory that makes this a very exciting and challenging drama, particularly from a feminine perspective.

Themes of parenting; bullying; adoption and the break-down on the family unit and its affects on female relationships – not to mention issues of re-integration into the community – are all carefully woven into the narrative and seen from each different female’s perspective. Rob Hardy’s stunning cinematography incorporates inventive camera angles and a haunting original score from Robin Coudert (Populaire).

Diane Lane is superb as a single mother who appears to be grappling with parenting a difficult daughter whom she is also in competition with as a woman. Dakota Fanning is mesmerising; particularly in one scene where she chillingly appears both vulnerable and cunning. But Danielle MacDonald gives the most spine-chilling turn as a narcissistic fantasist with body image issues. And last, but not least, Elizabeth Banks plays an award-winning detective tasked with investigating the case and bringing her own psychological insight into this nest of vipers. You will have a field day!. MT | REVIEWED AT EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 -28 JUNE 2015.

CAROL | Director: Todd Haynes | Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler | Drama | US

Carol 1Patricia Highsmith’s novels make striking thrillers: Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr Ripley and The Two Faces of January have become screen classics. The eagerly-awaited CAROL, which premieres at Cannes, is a perfect screen adaptation of one of her more romantic stories. Two remarkable performances, by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, who picked up the Best Actress award, make CAROL particularly enjoyable. They play elegant fifties women caught in the seductive embrace of a lesbian relationship. Todd Haynes’ lush and leisurely adaptation of The Price of Salt, which was seen as rather daring at the time, now seems rather coy and kittenish, although Blanchett certainly wears the trousers in both her heterosexual marriage and an outré lesbian flutter. This is a luxuriously affair that unfolds rather tentatively during Christmas 1952 in a snowy New York heralding the Eisenhower era.

Phyllis Nagy’s clever screenplay clings close to the page while conjuring up the younger woman’s profession as photography rather than theatre set direction. It also retains the open, rather positive ending of Highsmith’s novel. The story opens in a New York department store (akin to Bloomingdales). Mara plays the young Therese Belivet who is meets Carol Aird – a creamy, mink-wrapped Blanchett – buying Christmas presents for her little girl, Rindy. A perfect excuse for further contact is provided when Carol leaves her gloves on the counter, and later invites the gamine-like Therese to her turreted New Jersey home. But the two finally meet in town over eggs and martinis. A chemistry of sorts develops through the velvety visuals of Ed Lachman’s camerawork (he shot in 16ml and blew the images up to look like 35ml) and Haynes’ competent direction – they worked together on Mildred Pierce and Far From Heaven – so you get the picture.

Carol’s successful businessman husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), is seeking a divorce due to her previous affair with her childhood friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) but he still loves his wife and threatens to get custody of Rindy. But Carol’s mind is made up and she pursues Therese with masculine determination in a highly seductive role made all the more teasing in the rather languid pacing that takes in a multitude of changes in her gorgeous couture wardrobe (Sandy Powell excels in her designs). The two finally end up in a tastefully soft-focused, semi-nude embrace in Waterloo, Iowa, and Carol acknowledges the bathos of this location.

But their crime (and it was a crime in 1952) is captured on camera by a travelling ‘notions’ salesman and Carol swiftly extricates herself from the relationship. Blanchett plays her Carol as a woman of infinite breeding and stylish charm, occasionally looking down her nose but always with a witty grace. Mara is more cutely foxy with those exotic, piercing eyes. The delux experience is gift-wrapped in soigné sets and and an atmospheric period score from Carter Burwell. MT

Rooney Mara won Best Actress for her role at Cannes 2015 | The Golden Frog apAward for Best Cinematography (Ed Lachman) at the prestigious Camerimage Awards 2015 | REVIEWED AT  CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 13 -24 MAY 2015 | CAROL | IN COMPETITION | CANNES 2015

[youtube id=”aopRIEs6P5A” width=”600″ height=”350″]

FRANCOFONIA | Director| Writer | Director Alexandr Sokurov | Cast: Louis-Do de Lencquessaing, Vincent Nemeth, Benjamin Utzerath, Johanna Krthals Altes | 87min | Docudrama | Russia | Fr Germany| Neth | 2015

IMG_1634In a festival which oscillated between the mediocre and the banal, Sukurov once again reminds us what cinema could be: an intellectual tour-de-force of documentary, essay and feature: as such, FRANCOFONIA towers above all the other efforts so far.

FRANCOFONIA is foremost a film about German-French relationships on a mostly cultural level; the director calling the link between the two nations “sisterly” which is an unusual word to use considering the many wars they fought with each other – unless he is hinting at sibling rivalry here. The star is certainly The Louvre where the two protagonists: the French director of the museum, Jacques Jaujard (Lencquesaing), and the German officer, Count Franziskus Wolff Metternich (Utzerath), in charge of cultural affairs for the German occupiers, fought in a low-key manner between 1940 and 1942. Metternich was then recalled to Germany not having given in to the Nazi leadership whose main aim was to steal the art treasures – a task they managed successfully later. Jaujard, who worked for the French Resistance, could rely on Metternich for help, a favour which was returned after the end of WWII, when Metternich needed help for the de-Nazification trial. But in the two years, Metternich, a Nazi Party Member since 1933 was civil while trying to delay the art robbery of his superiors, like a good Nazi.

In the summer of 1940 it was clear to the M Jaujard that his Museum was in danger, haunted by the spectre of Germany as the French government surrenders and the German army arrives in force. Archive footage of the era shows Hitler casting his beady eye over the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysees, desperately looking for the Louvre and its treasures.

Fortuitously the perspicacious M Jaujard, the museum director, has taken precautionary measures and does not flee his museum when Count Wolff-Metternich, the officer commanded by Hitler to supervise France’s art collection for the Nazis, arrives at the Louvre to find its most important works have vanished. Jaujard has had them moved to Chateaux hundreds of miles away in preparation for the German bombings – and Metternich – who made the same wise moves in Germany – thus protects the French patrimony from the thieving hands of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels. In this ‘sisterly’ way Jaujard (a suave Louis Do de Lencquesaing) and Metternich (a suitably aristocratic-looking Benjamin Utzerath) are bought together with their love and appreciation of Art.

Marianne, the typical French heroine who chants “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” and self-obsessed Napoleon – who points to himself in paintings around the walls – are the ghosts who haunt the Louvre in their traditional costumes. Napoleon claims that his sole purpose of waging war was to raid countries for their art treasures. And Sokurov takes us on a guided tour of these treasures, marking out the particular European propensity for portrait painting, enabling us to identify ourselves hundreds of years ago. Something that, he points out, the Muslims didn’t do. The Mona Lisa is given the most attention, with her enigmatic smile.

Often the director is seen sitting in his office, talking to a sea Captain on a ‘ship to shore’ computer link. The ship is bearing artworks and clearly many thousands have been lost at the bottom of the sea during their transportation around the globe, by trophy-taking warlords.

FRANCOFONIA is the first Sukurov film which shines a positive light on the Soviet Union. Bruno Delbonnel’s breathtaking cinematography successfully recreates the wartime effort in Paris, and the extensive archive material gives so much information and philosophcal debate that one viewing cannot do justice to this masterpiece. This is a film to savour. MT/AS

 

 

 

 

 

Henry V (1944)| DVD release

Director: Laurence Olivier   Score: William Walton

Cast: Laurence Olivier, Robert Newton, Leslie Banks, Renee Asherson, Esmond Knight

137min   Drama UK

Laurence Olivier’s 1944 version of Shakespeare’s Henry V is greatly enhanced by the cinematography of Robert (The Third Man) Krasker. His use of Three-Strip Technicolor gives the sets (some of them pretty cardboard now) and costumes which although a bit too grand for modern taste give the film a lustre as in the illustrations for a Gothic medieval manuscript. These very bright visuals were right for the film’s depiction of pomp, pageantry and warfare: Henry V was morale-boosting propaganda for wartime Britain. Its production and release coincided with the Allied invasion of Normandy. The film did well at the box office and pleased the critics. Even Winston Churchill praised Olivier for his efforts.

Yet propaganda aside, this history play became a landmark Shakespeare film. When Leslie Banks (as the chorus) says: “Still be kind and eke out our performance with your mind.” the camera tracks into the lit room of an inn. The film’s delightful opening 30 mins (mainly describing the reasons for going to war with France) is replaced by urgent cinematic action. By staging Henry V in a reconstruction of the Globe theatre, and then branching out to more elaborate stylised sets and filmed location work, Olivier realised an imaginative transition from theatre to cinema. Henry V was probably the first Shakespearian adaptation to satisfy both theatregoers and filmgoers of the 1940’s, providing a populist, even déclassé experience for both groups.

The film’s battle scenes have now acquired a classic status. Walton’s expressive music, synchronised with the whoosh of arrows fired by English archers, makes for an exciting battle of Agincourt. Whilst the well executed medium shots of men charging into battle is exhilarating. Yet this is a much cleaned up fight. The muddiness, cruel absurdity and ugly slaughter of Welles’s Shakespeare film Chimes at Midnight is not to be found. Olivier’s stress is tidy propaganda – a necessary battle of heroic determinism. Tragic violence is given a brief postscript when the weeping Fleuellen (Esmond Knight) holding the corpse of a dead boy, states “this is expressly against the law of arms.”

Olivier’s performance is passionate and heroic. He carefully reveals the King’s heroism, but irritatingly (for me) erases Shakespeare’s doubts over a young man’s ambivalence towards responsible kingship. Olivier remains untroubled and over – confident throughout the whole film. But this was wartime and he had to create an inspiring patriotic hero to beat the Nazis. As for rest of the acting, Felix Aylmer (Archbishop of Canterbury); Robert Helpman (The Bishop of Ely) and Renee Asherson (Princess Katherine) are outstanding. This is not the case with Harcout Williams (King Charles V1 of France) who plays him as a sick scatter-brained ruler that approaches caricature. Robert Newton (Pistol) is the
worst, delivering a rather hammy performance as a working class rogue.

Henry V is a really entertaining film that undoubtedly glosses over the complexity of the play. The winner of the Oscar Honorary Award in 1947 for Laurence Olivier, it provides an ideal companion piece for Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film and, naturally, the stage production. But Olivier’s irresistible enthusiasm and energy still shines through. ALAN PRICE.

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD | BLU RAY AND BFIPLAYER

Philby Burgess & Maclean (1977) | DVD release

imageDirector: Gordon Flemyng   Writer: Ian Curteis

Cast: Anthony Bate, Derek Jacobi, Michael Culver

78 mins / Drama / United Kingdom

During the British Cinema’s darkest hour in the 1970s it would occasionally be observed that the British film was in fact still alive and well, but was to be found on the small screen rather than the big screen. Had Philby Burgess & Maclean, for example, received even a perfunctory cinema release rather than just one TV screening on ITV on the evening of 31 May 1977, it would – instead of soon receding from memory after getting excellent reviews in the press – continue to enjoy the reputation that it merits.

Philby Burgess & Maclean belongs with John Schlesinger’s later TV production An Englishman Abroad (1983) in its depiction of the older Guy Burgess as a dissolute drunk and Donald Maclean as a morose one rather than as the guilded youths that have since become much more familiar in Another Country and Cambridge Spies. Steven Spielberg’s recent Bridge of Spies is similarly suffused with a soft-focused nostalgia for a lost era; (in Spielberg’s case for the time when the young Steven was curled up on the sofa watching 77 Sunset Strip).

Philby Burgess & Maclean, on the other hand, was made while many of the protagonists were still alive and Anthony Blunt had not yet been exposed and stripped of his knighthood. Ian Curteis’s script manages briskly to cover most of the facts as they were then known; while director Gordon Flemyng brings to the convoluted proceedings the same brevity and clarity of the Edgar Wallace second features he made for Merton Park during the early sixties. The succinct 78 minutes of Philby Burgess & Maclean (minus ad breaks) displays a narrative economy while being both tense and witty that puts Spielberg’s film – at 141 minutes almost twice its length – utterly to shame; and from which many of today’s filmmakers could learn.

Philby Burgess & Maclean now looks very dated indeed, but to its advantage. Alan Parker’s jarringly anachronistic seventies synthesized score and the Top of the Pops graphics (the opening iris out on the sweaty face of Soviet defector Konstantin Volkov and the later scene depicting President Truman’s outraged response to the news that Russia now had the Bomb stand out as particular highlights in this respect) actually enhance its impact as a tingling tale of intrigue and espionage in the vein of The Ipcress File. Although the costumes and décor – as well as the modest TV production values and drab seventies colour – perfectly evoke the original postwar Austerity Britain, they do so without smothering the drama.

The large cast is an enjoyable mix of British ‘B’ movie stalwarts like Patrick Holt and Bernard Archard (the latter known to an earlier generation of TV viewers as Lt Col. Oreste Pinto in Spycatcher) and relatively new boys like an almost unrecognisably young and slim Oliver Ford Davies and a scene stealing Derek Jacobi, who had just become a household name on the strength of the previous summer’s I Claudius and dominates the proceedings with a suitably flamboyant turn as Guy Burgess. All the acting, however, is superb, with Michael Culver vividly conveying the toll that the strain of working as a spy had taken on Donald Maclean’s nervous system; in marked contrast to Anthony Bate’s quietly ruthless Philby, always keeping his head while all around are losing theirs. Arthur Lowe contributes a priceless cameo as the future President of the British Board of Film Censors, Herbert Morrison, who had to suffer the humiliation of Burgess & Maclean’s defection on his brief watch as Foreign Secretary in 1951. Philby and Maclean’s wives are both vividly drawn by the late Ingrid Hafner and – particularly – Elizabeth Seal; both repulsed by Guy Burgess and at a complete loss to understand their husbands’ unyielding loyalty to him. Another clever piece of casting is the actor and political activist David Markham – whose vigorous campaign for the release of Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky had just recently ended in success – as MI5 interrogator Jim Skardon, who interrogated Philby ten times without ever managing to pin him down.

With the recent publication of Andrew Lownie’s biography of Guy Burgess, interest in the Terrible Trio seems likely to continue unabated for some time yet; and it is to be hoped that Network’s recent dvd release of Philby Burgess & Maclean will aid in bringing this forgotten gem to the wider audience that it so richly deserves. RICHARD CHATTEN

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD | UK ONLY ON AMAZON.CO.UK

South Social Film Festival | 12 -15 November 2015

SOUTH SOCIAL FILM FESTIVAL is a long weekend of indie film, food and music in South London venues. There’s an opportunity to enjoy some deliciously-themed food to match the independent film premieres before they go on general release in the UK.

The festival kicks off on Thursday November 12th at 7pm with the documentary HEARTS OF TANGO   that gets inside “tanguero’ fever hitting the streets of Toronto, and explores what makes this dance so addictively popular all over the world.

HEARTS OF TANGO 1P R O G R A M M E

Thursday November 12th at 19.00| HEARTS OF TANGO (2014) | live music from Tango specialist Javier Fioramonti | Dulwich Constitutional Club | Empanadas by CHANGO |

Friday November 13th at 19.00| W.A.K.A (2014) | live music from Jazz guitarist Muntu Valdo | Roxy Bar & Screen | Cameroonian style Buffet

Saturday November 14th at 14.30| FILOSOFI KOPI (2014) | Sumatran Coffee tastings from Volcano Coffee Works | PITCHIPOI (2014) at 17.00 | music from London Klezmer Quartet | FEAR OF WATER at 20.00|(2014) | all at Roxy Bar & Screen

Sunday November 15th at 15.30  |VIKTORIA (2015) | Roxy Bar & Screen | 18.30  PER AMOR VOSTRO (2015) | Italian Food by the Italian Institute and SAID Chocolate | Kennington’s Cinema Museum.

SOUTH SOCIAL FILM FESTIVAL | A NICHE FESTIVAL FOR CINEASTES AND FOODIES SOUTH OF THE RIVER

VIKTORIA_still1_IrmenaChichikova__byDimitarVariysky_2013-11-26_02-12-12PM copy

 

 

 

 

 

Under Milk Wood (2015)

Writer| Director: Kevin Allen

Cast: Rhys Ifans, Charlotte Church, Steffan Rhodri, Aneirin Hughes

87min   | Drama  | UK

When highly-coloured bits of plastic detritus bob along a fake sea bed in the opening titles to UNDER MILK WOOD you start to wonder if you’ve slipped into a screening of a Tellytubbies feature length drama. But the lilting Welsh voiceover is unmistakably the powerfully potent 1954 ‘play for voices’ by Dylan Thomas.

Kevin Allen’s ultimately pointless screen adaptation is a ghastly twee romp through a Welsh village. It is also the UK’s Foreign Language hopeful at the 2016 Academy Awards. And to top it all, it stars Charlotte Church (as the buxom Polly Garter). The whole point of this gorgeous play is to listen and imagine it, ringing out in richly evocative tones, as the lushness of its sumptuous imagery gradually unfolds in the subconscious to evoke a whimsical Welsh wonderland.

Take a paltry budget (hence the plastic) and some largely unknown actors (doing their best but cast simply through being Welsh) and you have a second rate production bristling with picture postcard lewdness that totally downgrades and denigrates one of Britain’s most wonderful and highly-regarded 20th century plays. What was Kevin Allen (Twin Town) thinking of?

The saving grace here is naturally the narration by Rhys Ifans, who can always carry a production with his exuberance and style. Starring as Captain Cat, one of the characters who dwells in the coastal village of Llareggub on whose musings the piece is based, he brings the drama to life with his sparky enthusiasm.

But the gently erotic immaginings of a Welsh seaside town become crude and tasteless under Allen’s direction. Instead of being the central focus and raison d’etre of Thomas’s creation, the velvety soft and sonorous sounds drift to the background as the dildo-shaped candles and bulging buttocks loom large. Shut your eyes if you want to enjoy this. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 30 OCTOBER 2015 | REVIEWED AT EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL 2015

 

A Sicilian Dream (2015)

Dir.: Philip Walsh; Cast: Alain de Cadenet, Francesco Da Mosto; UK 2015, 70 min.

Between 1906 and 1977, the Targa Florio mountain road race in Sicily was much more than a mere sporting event: Much like the Siennese Palio, it was a play with death, performed in front of half a million spectators. Its history is part of the Sicilian identity: heroic, morbid but always glorious, a spectacle – one moment a dream, the next a nightmare. And Philip brings this vividly to life in his short documentary film

We discover how it was founded in 1906 by Vincenzo Florio, member of a cosmopolitan family, who outward-looking, wanted to bring Europe to Italy. The family was well-connected with local artists and authors, among them Count Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa, whose novel “The Leopard” was later filmed by Visconti. Many motives of novel and film reverberate in A SICILIAN DREAM. Vincenzo Florio, though the race would finally bankrupted him, realised the family dream of making Sicily centre stage: for decades the best drivers in the world drove the course, which was insane, with poor safety controls for the drivers – the first cars who drove the circuit did not even have front brakes! Even though the early years brought no tragedies, with spectators lining the course with petrol cans, since there were no petrol stations.

The anecdotes are endless, like the one of the English driver Cyril Snipe, who was so tired, that he stopped and slept for two hours before his mechanic woke him with a bucket of cold water. Snipe re-entered the race and still won. In 1926 the first driver was killed, and the fortunes of the Florio family went into reverse. But between the wars, the Golden Age of sports car racing, saw the local school teacher Nino Vaccarella win the race three times. Still a local hero, his appearance is one of the highlights of A SICILIAN DREAM. After the Second World War, the lack of security of a racing course, only used by donkey carts otherwise, signals the end of the race: the 1977 edtion is abandoned half-way through (and the race for good) after a car crashes into a large group of spectators.

The docu-drama format has wonderful images of the Belle Epoche, with scenes of Vincenzo’s early days, and racing rivalries. The archive films of the race make it look truly scaring, particularly the early years are stunning – the adventurous spirit of drivers and spectators are caught in scratchy black-and-white images. The two main protagonists, Alain de Cadenet and Francesco da Mosto (always so enthusiastic and simpatico) join in with the other classic vehicles in a commemorate race through the sun-blasted landscape. During the filming, De Cadenet meets the son of the farmer who saved his life during a race, pulling him out of the burning vehicle, this way achieving a way of closure.

A SICILIAN DREAM is a true piece of Sicilian history: untamed in its beauty, but nevertheless, to quote De Lampedusa, “it is not a country in love with real progress, but with its languidness and love for death”. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 23 OCTOBER 2015

 

Death of a Gentleman (2015) DVD VOD release

Dir.: Sam Collins, Jarrod Kimber, Johnny Blank; Documentary

UK 2015, 98 min.

Searching for answers as to why the “gentleman’s” game of cricket – in particular its five-day format – is gradually dying out, two cricket enthusiasts stumble into a world of corruption in the International Cricket Council (ICC), making the FIFA scandal child’s-play in comparison.

The starting point of DEATH OF A GENTLEMAN is rather naïve: the reason for the demise of the five-day tests is mainly a changing generation of fans, whose attention span is limited. On top of it, the ethics of test cricket are buried in colonialism and imperialism, where gentlemen had their place (and leisure time), not caring too much about winning – after all, their status alone guaranteed that they were society’s winners. Today’s One Day events, called 20/20, have supporters whose behaviour is closer to that of the Premier League (at least in India) than the refined atmosphere at Lords. One may hanker after the feelings of the past, when a test match consumed not only the spectators, but as shown in certain Hitchcock films, gentlemen far away in foreigncountries, but the leisured classes of today have a wider choice than their Edwardian forefathers. This is still no reason for the ICC to limit the number of countries who are allowed to play test matches to ten, not even ten per cent of the 105 member countries. And the next edition of the Cricket World Cup will be played by ten, instead of fourteen teams. Cricket must be the only sport which cuts the participation of its main competition.

Much darker is the financial picture of the ICC. Since 2014 three nations, India, England and Australia have taken control of the money: over 52% of the revenues of the sport (the second highest spectator sport in the world), are shared by those three nations, the amount for the growth of the game has been cut from 25% per cent of the budget to a mere nine. Giles Clark, chairman, now president of the English Cricket board, can see nothing wrong with this development. After all, the former investment banker can be proud, having looked so successfully after the interests of his organisation. But the real villain of the peace is N Srinivasin, an Indian multi-millionaire who made his money in cement. Later, he invested in the Indian Cricket team CSK (Chennal Super Kings), part of the lucrative Indian Cricket League, where the best players from all over the world are hired to perform in One day cricket matches, in front of huge crowd and televised on lucrative pay-TV. N Srinivasin’s son-in-law, G Meiyappan, is the chairman of the CSK team, owned by his father-in-law. The Indian’s court wanted Srinivasin to resign from the position of chairman of the Indian Cricket Board, since he had a conflict of interest, being the owner of the most successful team. After his son-in-law was caught betting on his team’s result, and giving inside information to third parties, his father in-law finally resigned. But his influence is still overwhelming, his successor nothing more than a straw-man. N Srinivasin is also the chairman of the ICC, being responsible for the “financial reconstruction” of the game, and behind the upheaval of changes, which led to the election of a new ICC president, Zaheer Abbas, who is a supporter of N Srinivasin.

From a rather weak start, this well-crafted documentary develops a strong argument for change in the global running of this sport. As Lord Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice, wrote “The ICC reacts as though it is primarily a Members club, its interest in enhancing the global development of the game is secondary”. A must-see for fans of the game. AS

DEATH OF A GENTLEMAN is in cinemas 7th August http://deathofagentlemanfilm.com/

DEATH OF A GENTLEMAN ON DVD AND DIGITAL PLATFORMS 26th OCTOBER 2015

 

Just Jim (2015)

Director: Craig Roberts

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Craig Roberts, Nia Roberts, Mark Lewis Jones, Sai Bennett, Richard Harrigan

84min   UK  Comedy Drama

Craig Roberts first surfaced to cineastes’ consciousness in Richard Ayoade’s sweet drama Submarine. A hundred years has passed since O A C Lund’s silent original flashed onto the silver screen and Roberts’ quirkily dark comedy JUST JIM, his debut as a filmmaker, is a fitting tribute to sardonic Swede.

Set in the dystopia of the dull as ditchwater Welsh village, Roberts takes the eponymous central role as a deeply shy and fearful teenager. Success here comes from its 50 retro feel and brilliant cinematography, courtesy of Bafta award-winning lenser, Richard Stoddard, to create a darkly comic vibe with similar framing and attitude to a slow-mo sombre Hal Hartley outing. The humour derives largely from the clever casting of US Emile Hirsh who, as Jim’s American neighbour Dean, injects a much-needed confident noirish swagger into the stultified atmosphere of the buttoned up Welsh backwater. Taking the painfully sensitive Jim under his wing, he starts to re-style the geeky village loser as the hottest thing that ever hit town; both with the boys and the girls. But Dean is not as good as he seems, and gradually Jim comes to learn that, even as his new and cool persona grips the glowering neighbourhood, trying to be special is not always as desirable at it seems.

Scriptwise, things are wobbly though and the entertainment and charisma is largely down to the strong performances of Hirsch, Roberts and his onscreen wannabe pink-haired squeeze, Jackie (Charlotte Randall). Roberts’ direction is charmingly kickarse and buzzes beautifully to Michael Price’s edgy original score. Clever collaborative choices on Roberts’ part makes JUST JIM a stylish and inventive debut MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

New British Films |Toronto International Film Festival 2015 | 10 – 20 September 2015

The ProgramJean Marc Vallée’s DEMOLITION is set to open Canada’s biggest International film festival, which runs from 10 – 20 September this year, hot on the heels of VENICE. Toronto is a massive affair sprawling over the city and featuring many of Cannes, Venice and Sundance top pictures along with a fresh slate of World premieres and Canadian indies which will include Venice hits: Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation starring Idris Elba and Black Mass starring Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger. Also in the various strands and selection will be Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight; Jay Roach’s Trumbo; Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall and Jocelyn Moorehouse’s The Dressmaker. 

Eye in SkyBut for the moment, let’s a look at the slate of new British Films that are set to screen at the Ontario jamboree. Most are literary adaptations, reflecting the British need constantly to reference the past, but Stephen Frears stands out from the crowd, offering The Program, a sporting drama to spice things up with its controversial subject matter: the evidence surrounding Lance Armstrong’s substance abuse. Dustin Hoffman, Ben Foster and Lee Pace star. Another combat-themed premiere is Eye in the Sky, an aviation thriller directed by South African Gavin Hood (Ender’s Game) but the script, written by Guy Hibbert, and cast couldn’t be more British: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman and Phoebe Fox star in what promises to be a fresh look at the increasing use of remotely piloted aircraft used in warfare. The Man Who Knew Infinity is director Matt Brown’s second feature also featuring a starry British cast. Based on American writer Robert Kanigel’s novel that explores the wartime story of Maths genius Srinivasa Ramanuajan, who rose from poverty-striken Madras to win a scholarship to Cambridge under the tutelage of a (no doubt) gravelly-voiced prof Jeremy Irons. Dev Patel, Toby Jones, Stephen Fry and Jeremy Northam and Kevin McNally also star in what promises to be a worthwhile sortie into Britain’s Colonial past. India is the location for Leena Yadav’s inspiration drama Parched. In a rural Indian village, it explores how four ordinary women begin to throw off the traditions that hold them in servitude.

Sunset Song 1Miss You Already is Catherine Hardwicke’s latest and has Toni Colette and Drew Barrymore as two friends struck by life-limiting illness. Dominic Copper and Paddy Considine also star. We were hoping to get a first look at Terence Davies’ latest drama Sunset Song at Cannes this year. But the drama, based on Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic novel, will now have its world premiere as a special presentation in Toronto, with a superb British cast of Peter Mullan, Agyness Deyn, Kevin Guthrie and Douglas Rankine. English novellist, Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay for Brooklyn, adapting from Colm Toibin’s 1950s love story that straddles the Atlantic and stars Saoirse Ronan, Jim Farrell and Julie Walters. Closed Circuit helmer John Crowley directs. Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson came to fame with his remarkable 2012 debut What Richard Did, a coruscating coming-of-ager set during The Troubles. His latest, a literary adaptation simply entitled Room, is an exploration of the unconditional love between mother and child and stars Brie Larson, Megan Park and William H Macy. High Rise is Ben Wheatley’s much anticipated adaptation of JG Ballard’s novel of the same name that has Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons caught in a class war in a London Apartment.

DanishTom Hooper’s The Danish Girl has now premiered at Venice but British title Legend will have its prem at Toronto as a Gala Presentation. Starring Tom Hardy in another powerful role as both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the vicious ganglands killers who purportedly nailed a rival’s head to a coffee table (if you believe Monty Python). Paul Bettany, David Thewlis and Emily Browning also star. MT

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 10 – 20 SEPTEMBER 2015 | TORONTO CANADA

Here’s the full Toronto low-down.

GALAS
Beeba Boys (dir. Deepa Mehta)
The Dressmaker (dir. Jocelyn Moorhouse)
Eye in the Sky (dir. Gavin Hood)
Forsaken (dir. Jon Cassar)
Freeheld (dir. Peter Sollett)
Hyena Road (dir. Paul Gross)
Lolo (dir. Julie Delpy)
Legend (dir. Brian Hegeland)
The Man Who Knew Infinity (dir. Matt Brown)
The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott)
The Program (dir. Stephen Frears)
Remember (dir. Atom Egoyan)
Septembers of Shiraz (dir. Wayne Blair)
Stonewall (dir. Roland Emmerich)
SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS
Anomalisa (dir. Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman)
Beasts of No Nation (dir. Cary Fukunaga)
Black Mass (dir. Scott Cooper)
Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley)
The Club (dir. Pablo Larrain)
Colonia (dir. Florian Gallenberger)
The Danish Girl (dir. Tom Hooper)
The Daughter (dir. Simon Stone)
Desierto (dir. Jonas Cuaron)
Dheepan (dir. Jacques Audiard)
Families (dir. Jean-Paul Rappeneau)
The Family Fang (dir. Jason Bateman)
Guilty (dir. Meghna Gulzar)
I Smile Back (dir. Adam Sulkey)
The Idol (dir. Hany Abu-Assad)
The Lady in the Van (dir. Nicholas Hytner)
Len and Company (dir. Tim Godsall)
The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Louder than Bombs (dir. Joachim Trier)
Maggie’s Plan (dir. Rebecca Miller)
Mountains May Depart (dir. Zhangke Jia)
Office (dir. Johnnie To)
Parched (dir. Leena Yadav)
Room (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)
Sicario (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Son of Saul (dir. Laszlo Nemes)
Spotlight (dir. Tom McCarthy)
Summertime (dir. Catherine Corsini)
Sunset Song (dir.Terence Davis )
Trumbo (dir. Jay Roach)
Un plus une (dir. Claude Lelouch)
Victoria (dir. Sebastian Schipper)
Where to Invade Next (dir. Michael Moore)
Youth (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)

Timbuktu (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Abderrahmane Sissako

Cast: Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulov Kiki, Layla Walet Mohamed, Mehdi Ag Mohamed

France/Mauritania 2014, 97 min.

Abderrahme Sissako (Bamako) has created a film that appears to be a contradiction in terms: Timbuktu’s harsh political storyline unfolds in images of poetic realism.

Set in Mali in 2012, under the control of fundamentalist jihadists, this is the tale of the destruction of a family. Kidane (Ahmed) lives peacefully with his wife Satima (Kiki), his daughter Toya (L.W. Mohamed) and his young shepherd Issan (M.A. Mohamed) in the dunes near Timbuktu, where jihadists terrorise the population: Music, dancing and even football are forbidden – some youngsters get around the latter decree by playing with an imagined ball. The local Imam is able to throws the armed jihadists out of the Moschee, but apart from this he too is powerless. One day, a fisherman kills one of Kidane’s prized cattle called ‘GPS’, as it accidentally wanders into fishing nets during grazing. Kidane is so upset at this trivial slaughter that he threatens him with a gun, which goes off accidentally, killing the fisherman. The family demand retribution, and the ‘fundamental jihadists whose medieval garb and laws belie their obsession with mobile phones, video cameras and expensive cars, are only too happy to apply the maximal penalty against Kidane. After all, they have just punished a woman to eighty lashes because she was listening to music in a room with a male singer.

TIMBUKTU‘s dreamy images are in stark contrast to the inhuman terror of the jihadist regime they portray: nature seems to be unaffected by the harsh cruelty of men. Humans and animals alike flee from the hunters, who use their cars to capture their prey. The jihadists, like their German fascist predecessors in Europe in the 40s, love to document their crimes: instead of the pen, they use their video cameras for this endeavour, which they see as heroism. Their misogyny is boundless, but Sissako shows that it is just the other side of their repressed lust, which manifests themselves in condoning ‘ancient customs’, where the rape of a virgin is considered a legitimate marriage. Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulov Kiki and Layla Walet Mohamed give subtle performances of great intensity, but the images of the shimmering, glittering landscape are most impressive: Sissako’s message is clear: nature’s beauty will always survive human cruelty. AS

TIMBUKTU IS NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | DVD release

Buttercup Bill (2015)

Dir.: Remy Bennett, Emilie Richard-Froozan

Cast: Remy Bennett, Evan Louison, Mallory June, Pauly Lingerfelt

USA/UK 2014, 96 min.

It is always tempting to try and follow in the footsteps of your favourite directors with your first film: writers/directors Remy Bennett and Emilie Richard-Froozan certainly have internalised much of David Lynch and Terence Malick’s work, but just being copy-cats is not enough, even if the film is set in a retro 70s aesthetic.

Pernilla (Bennett) and Patrick (Louison) are a couple with a secret buried in their childhood disclosed in enigmatic, dreamlike images. After the death of Flora, another childhood friend, Pernilla turns up on Patrick’s doorstep in the deep South, complaining that he has neglected her by not attending Flora’s funeral. He certainly makes up for it in the rest of the film; the two being more or less inseparable. Since the secret is not revealeduntil the final scenes (when everyone ceases to care), the audience has to guess why the couple have such a torrid relationship. Patrick is obviously a sadist, but Pernilla – who permanently runs around in various stages of undress – is only too keen to suffer physical and psychological abuse. This comes in the shape of Mena (June), a blonde with whom Patrick first has a one night stand, then, on her re-appearance (to collect her jacket!), he tries to make love to her in front of Pernilla, who is only to willing to watch before Mena runs off in disgust.

Apart the Southern preacher and freaky bar scenes, the narrative is nothing but a series of oddities – a collection of weird, pseudo-sexy and often involuntarily funny episodes.The total focus on atmosphere creates some wonderful images, but this reduction to a pure formal exercise leads to an audience detachment from which BUTTERCUP BILL never recovers in spite of the spilling of beans at the end. To call the film pseudo-mystic would be an understatement: its lack of any coherence degrades it to a freak show; with DOP Ryan Foregger being the only one able to claim credits. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 4 SEPTEMBER 2015

Venice International Film Festival | 72th Edition | 2 – 12 September 2015

2015 is set to be a knock out year as VENICE FILM FESTIVAL claims its position as the oldest major international film festival, now celebrating its 72nd edition and championing a glittering array of independent and arthouse films. Unlike Cannes 2015, that promoted its own actors and filmmakers, Venice has chosen an eclectic mix of international talent drawn from veteran auteurs to sophomore filmmakers. Under festival director, Alberto Barbera and an erudite competition jury lead by Alfonso Cuaron, including such luminaries as Pawel Pawlikowski, Hsaio-hsien Hou, Lynne Ramsay, Elizabeth Banks and Francesco Munzi, the competition line-up sparkles with renewed vigour showcasing independent film talent and stealing a march on Toronto which neatly overlaps the Italian festival by two days, leaving the Canadians to show the blockbusters which will come to Britain very shortly anyway, for those who follow them.

1-11MINUTES-actorWojciechMECWALDOWSKIPresiding over the jury in 2001, Veteran Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski will be back in Venice with his long-awaited follow-up to Essential Killing, another thriller called 11 Minutes (left).  This time the setting is Warsaw, with a strong Polish cast led by Richard Dormer, Piotr Glowacki, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name of) and Agata Buzek. Sangue del mio sangue 1

The Italians have four films in the competition line-up this year: Marco Bellocchio presents Sangue del mio Sangue (Blood of my Blood (right) which knowing the director’s strong visual aesthetic with doubtless be a stylish vampire outing, set in the village of Bobbio (Emilia Romagna) and starring the ubiquitous and pallidly delicate Alba Rohrwacher. Giuseppe M Gaudino is not well-known outside his native Italy but his latest film Per Amor Vostro may well change things. Sicilian director, Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), once again casts Tilda Swinton in crime thriller A Bigger Splash which is set on the volcanic island of Pantelleria (south of Sicily). It has Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes who play an assortment of interconnecting lovers in a game of mystery. Juliette Binoche will be on the Lido as the main star of Piero Messina’s drama The Wait, essentially a two-hander where she gets to know Lou de Laâge (Breathe) who plays her son’s fiance as they both await his arrival at a Sicilian villa. I Ricordi del Fiumi  (Out of Competition) by Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio is a documentary about the platz, the large shanty town where over a thousand people of different nationalities live on the banks of the Stura river, in Turin. The area was recently the object of a major project to dismantle it and move part of the families into normal homes and the film documents life in this slum during the last few months of its existence, with its anguish, drama, hopes, life.

EQUALS VFF 01 ∏Jaehyuk Lee

Having shot their cinematic bolt at Cannes this year, the French are thin on the ground in competition repped by Xavier Giannoli with Marguerite, a drama starring Catherine Frot (Haute Cuisin) and Christa Théret (Renoir). Christian Vincent (La Séparation) who has cast Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) and Fabrice Luchini in his comedy drama L’Hermine.

From Turkey comes Emin Alper’s second feature, Abluka (Frenzy). The sophomore filmmaker is best known for his striking 2012 widescreen drama Tepenin Ardi (Beyond the Hill) which was outstanding for its atmospheric ambient soundtrack and searingly authentic performances from Mehmet Ozgur and Reha Ozcan.

Heart of a Dog 1

From across the Atlantic, musician and actor Laurie Anderson will be in Venice with her latest drama, Heart of a Dog (right). Cary Fukunaga has cast Idris Elba in his actioner based on the experiences of a child soldier in the civil war of an unnamed African country: Beasts of No Nation. And where would Venice be without an animation title? Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman provide this in the shape of Anomalisa which features the voices of Jennifer Jason-Leigh, David Thewlis and Tom Noonon in a stop-motion film about a man crippled by the mundanity of his own life. Drake Doremus (Breathe In) presents Equals (above left) a sci-fi love story set in a futuristic world where emotions have been eradicated. The US crowd-pleaser, it will star none other than Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult and Bel Powley. Veterans Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and Bruno Ganz lead in Atom Egoyan’s latest thriller Remember that looks back at a dark chapter of the 20th century through a contempo revenge mission. Australian Sue Brooks is the other female director In Competition with her drama Looking for Grace starring Odessa Young (The Daughter/Locarno) in the lead, supported by Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire) and Tom Roxburghe (Van Helsing).

Behimoth1

On the hispanic front, Mexico’s entry is Desde Alli (Out of There), the debut feature of filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas which stars Alfredo Castro (No). Pablo Trapero’s El Clan offers up a gritty slice of Argentine history in a drama that explores the true story of the Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed in Buenos Aires during the 80s.

Russian director Alexandr Sokurov’s La Francophonie: The Louvre Under Occupation studies the Second World War “from a humanitarian point of view” but the director is unlikely to attend the festival, according to sources. Israel’s Amos Gitai looks to politics for inspiration in his title: Rabin, The Last Day, and China’s Zhao Lang offers us a documentary Behemoth (left) which looks intriguing.

Danish

And last, but never least, Tom Hooper flies the flag for Britain with The Danish Girl, his screen adaptation loosely based on David Ebershoff’s book about the 1920s Danish artist, Gerda Wegener, whose painting of her husband as a female character led him to pursue the first male to female sex-change and become Lili Elbe. Eddie Redmayne leads a starry cast of Alicia Vikander, Ben Wishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts in this Copenhagen-set drama. MT

72TH VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | LIDO DE VENEZIA 

Venice | International Critics’ Week | SIC Selection 2015

30.SIC-sigla-6Venice International Film Festival has its own version of Cannes’ Semaine de la Critique, entitled, not surprisingly – SETTIMANA DELLA CRITICA. Celebrating its 30 edition, British veteran actor Peter Mullan will be in Venice to open the festival as a guest of honour and will receive the Saturnia Prize 30 Special Award for ORPHANS (1998) for the best debut feature in the entire history of the Venice Film Critics’ Week:  The selection runs in tandem with the competition films from 2 until 6 September at the famous Lido festival hub – all the films are debuts – as follows:

30.SIC-KALO POTHI-2BAHADUR BHAM – KALO POTHI (THE BLACK HEN) right
Nepal, France, Germany, 86′
Khadka Raj Nepali, Sukra Raj Rokaya, Jit Bahadur Malla, Hansha Khadka

MARTIN BUTLER, BENTLEY DEAN – TANNA
Australia, Vanuatu, 104′
Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Marceline Rofit, Chief Charlie Kahla, Albi Nangia, Lingai Kowia, Dadwa Mungau, Linette Yowayin, Kapan Cook, Chief Mikum Tainakou

30.SIC-JIA-1ESTHER MAY CAMPBELL – LIGHT YEARS
United Kingdom, 90′
Beth Orton, Muhammet Uzuner, Zamiera Fuller, Sophie Burton, James Stucky

ANTONIO CAPUANO – BAGNOLI JUNGLE [CLOSING FILM – OUT OF COMPETITION SPECIAL EVENT]
Italy, 100′
Antonio Casagrande, Luigi Attrice, Marco Grieco

PETER MULLAN – ORPHANS (1998) [OPENING FILM – OUT OF COMPETITION SPECIAL EVENT]
United Kingdom, 95′
Gary Lewis, Douglas Henshall, Rosemarie Stevenson, Stephen McCole, Frank Gallagher, Alex Norton

30.SIC-TANNA-1JOÃO SALAVIZA – MONTANHA (MOUNTAIN)
Portugal, France, 88′
David Mourato, Rodrigo Perdigão, Cheyenne Domingues, Maria João Pinho

LIU SHUMIN – JIA (THE FAMILY) right
China, Australia, 280′
Deng Shoufang, Liu Lijie, Liu Xiaomin, Jiang Jiangsheng, Chen Erya, Huang Liqin, Liao Zepeng, Liu Xuju

SENEM TÜZEN – ANA YURDU (MOTHERLAND) right
Turkey, Greece, 98′
Esra Bezen Bilgin, Nihal Koldas, Semih Aydin, Fatma Kisa

30.SIC-MOTHERLAND-4ADRIANO VALERIO – BANAT (THE JOURNEY)
Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, 82′
Edoardo Gabriellini, Elena Radonicich, Piera Degli Esposti, Stefan Velniciuc, Ovanes Torosyan

GREEN ZENG – THE RETURN
Singapore, 80′
Chen Tianxiang, Vincent Tee, Tan Beng Chiak, Gary Tang, Evelyn Wang, Wong Kai Tow, Isaiah Lee, Eugene Tan, Shan Rievan

INTERNATIONAL CRITICS’ WEEK | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 – 6 SEPTEMBER 2015

Pleasure Island (2014)

Director: Mike Doxford  Writers: Simon Richardson/Mike Doxford

Cast: Ian Sharp, Gina Bramhill, Rick Warden, Nicholas Day, Samuel Anderson, Darwin Shaw

98min   UK   Crime Drama

Another British indie in similar vein to Blood Cells and Dead Man’s Shoes, centres on a sensitive ex-military man who goes back to his home town to find that things have changed and, sadly, for the worst. This time we’re on the North Lincolnshire coast, a once wealthy area until the fishing industry died and left a decent but poverty-stricken community to fend for themselves. ‘Pleasure Island’ refers to the theme park that grew up in Cleethorpes in the early 90s to create jobs and a lifeline for the locals.

Thoughtfully-crafted with a fabulous sense of place evoked by Shaun Cobley’s limpid visuals of the fish-market, Cleethorpes’s stunning beaches and aerial shots of the harbour, PLEASURE ISLAND is well-acted by a decent British cast led by Ian Sharp (as Dean), who is at odds with his pigeon-fancier dad Tony (Nicholas Day), who runs an ingenious side-line in North Sea skulduggery involving his birds. Meanwhile Dean’s ex Jess (Gina Bramhill) is a now a single mum who strips in the evenings for extra money, pimped out by Connor, a nasty coked-up businessman with a penchant for Caribbean shirts (Rick Warden),

Despite a promising start, PLEASURE ISLAND suffers in the script department from a rather cardboard set of characters for the most part. Although Tony, his rivals Connor and boss Russ (Paul Bullion) are well-drawn and authentic enough, the story soon descends into the usual narrative-style of this misogynist Britflic genre: loutish lads versus passive lassies, with dialogue resorting to endless effing and blinding in place of more convincing parlance. Women get the rough deal here and are portrayed as weak, pathetic characters who invariably get beaten up and verbally abused. Sadly, Jess and Cordelia are no different, endlessly giving in and showing no back-bone whatsoever. So it’s left to Ian Sharp’s Dean to come to the rescue with his military training, avenging Jesse’s honour and sorting Tony out in the process. Sharp does a good job as a strong and silent type but somehow Dean lacks ballast on the characterisation front. There is something pathetic about all these people, and at the end of the day, you can’t help feeling sorry for them all in their downtrodden lives, trying to make the best of things: they come across as sadly comical rather than deeply venal. So there is much to be admired about Doxford’s feature debut which is appealing and watchable despite its flaws. And despite the violent overtones, he softens a tragic story of love and loss with moments of calm combined with a gentle atmospheric soundtrack from The Jive Aces. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 August 2015 | PREMIERING IN CLEETHORPES ON 10 AUGUST 2015

 

Still (2014) | DVD release

Writer/Director: Simon Blake

Cast: Aidan Gillen, Jonathan Slinger, Amanda Mealing, Elodie Yung, Sonny Green, Kate Ashfield

97min  Drama | Thriller  UK

The “North London father & son thriller” is becoming somewhat of a sub-genre these days but STILL has Aidan Gillen and Amanda Mealing to distinguish it from the rest of the pack. It establishes the unmarried middle-aged London male as a slick of slime that crawled out from under the promise of youth; lost its way and attached itself to any available female desperate enough to give it house room, due to the dearth of desirable males in the capital.

So having stamped his story with a nicely authentic narrative, Simon Blake sets it in the noirish shadows of Dickensian Islington where our anti-hero, Tom Carver (Gillen), has snared himself an Asian babe in the shape of fashionista Christina, played by sparky newcomer, Elodie Yung. While his intelligent and beautifully-presented ex-wife Rachel (an accomplished Mealing) is bemoaning the dearth of partner material, Carver gloats into his whisky glass; not even having to leave the comfort of his sordid front room to sell his photos, depicting grim views of windswept beaches and street kids – in black and white, wouldn’t you know.

STILL is a tragedy of modern London. This divorced couple, once happy, have now lost their love and their only child under the wheels of a hit-n-run driver and while Rachel mourns her son with grace and philosophy, leaving flowers on his grave; Carver has descended into a smog of self-pity where only the pert-bummed Christina “makes him smile” in his brief periods of sobriety.

Behind their tears of bereavement lies a thinly-veiled well of anger, waiting to wash through the toxic streets of N1. Rachel conceals hers with chippy sardony, while Carver just drinks and smokes into oblivion, hanging out with his well-meaning friend and hack, Ed (an equally low-life Jonathan Slinger) who is trying to raise awareness of the crime by putting a piece together for the local paper, the Police having lost interest in the case. A mixed-race juvenile gang appear to be involved in the boy’s death, and our curb-crawling duo, Tom and Ed, follow these likely lads through the streets, hoping for clues to nail them.

Although well-scripted with some witty dialogue, this slow-burn, rather predictable story lacks the tension to keep us on our toes – playing out as more of mood piece centering on the physical and emotional implosion of Carver – which may have solid appeal to overseas audiences, ignorant of this London species and fascinated to understand how it evolves, but to those of us already in the know, even its short-running time of 97 minutes feels like an angst-ridden tooth-pull. Simon Blake’s sure-footed debut shows promise with his camera angles and expert casting. It will be interesting to see how he handles different material. MT

ON DVD RELEASE FROM 24 August 2015

.

Venice Days | Giornate degli Autori | 2 – 12 September 2015

Venice Film Festival has its own version of Cannes Film Festival: Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, called GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI – VENICE DAYS. Independently run, parallel to the main programme, it all happens just down the road in the grounds of a lush villa overlooking the famous beach where Dirk Bogarde starred in Visconti’s melancholy masterpiece Death in Venice.

El Nascondido - RetributionWith a jury headed by French director, Laurent Cantet, this year’s official selection comprises new works from well-known talent including Chile’s Matias Bize and Italy’s Vincenzo Marra, along with emerging names such as Poland’s Piotr Chrzan and India’s Ruchika Oberoi. Agnes Varda will also be there with her short film Les Tres Boutons which is part of designer Miucci Prada’s strand  ‘The Miu Miu Women’s Tales.’

The Daughter

VENICE DAYS opens with Spanish filmmaker Dani de la Torre’s debut thriller EL DESCONICIDOS (RETRIBUTION) (above) and closes with Jindabyne actor and theatre director Simon Stone’s debut drama THE DAUGHTER. which stars Geoffrey Rush and is losely based on Henrik Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck.

KlezmerWe’re particularly looking forward to the WORLD PREMIERES of Polish wartime drama KLESMER (left) from Piotr Chrzan and Stray Dogs scripter Song Peng Fei’s directorial debut UNDERGROUND FRAGRANCE (below) which follows a similar vein to the 2013 outing which won Grand Special Jury Prize at Venice 2013. High on our list is also Vincenzo Marra’s fourth feature LA PRIMA LUCE which brings Riccardo Scamarcio back to the Lido again starring an Italian lawyer in search of his son lost in Chile.

Underground FragranceCarlo Saura’s documentary ARGENTINA showcasing the country’s national pastime, compliments his series on dance that includes; Fados, Blood Wedding and Carmen. The 83-year-old director is taking a break to come to the Lido from filming Renzo Piano: an Architect for Santander, to screen next year. Britain will be represented in a special event by Grant Gee and his latest film INNOCENCE OF MEMORIES, based on Orhan Pamuk’s book The Museum of Innocence.

GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI | VENICE DAYeptember 2-12.

 

The Face of an Angel (2014) | DVD |Blu-ray release

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Writers: Barbie Latza Nadeau and Paul Viragh

Cast: Daniel Brühl, Cara Delevingne, Kate Beckinsale, Ava Acres

101mins   Drama    English/UK

Michael Winterbottom’s latest film captures the mood of uncertainty and transience surrounding the mysterious murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia in the summer of 2012, tracing the story via a journalist and documentary filmmaker director called Thomas, played by Daniel Brühl. After a disastrous career in Hollywood, Thomas has arrived in Siena to kickstart his career, in much the same way as Colin Firth’s character, Joe, did in the 2008 outing GENOVA.  Both are convincing portraits of troubled fathers, with adolescent kids, balancing their work and family lives while trying to make sense of their personal circumstances in a shifting scenario of contemporary Italy. Winterbottom gives the impression of trying to understand his characters from his own perspective of life.

Once in Siena, Thomas (like Joe) is overcome by visions of his ex-wife, dreamlike sequences in which he’s haunted by murderers as if the medieval city is transpiring with the past to create a unsettling and picaresque atmosphere of dread and mistrust. The dream sequences pepper the middle act of The Face of an Angel. They’re bewildering, involving and entirely disconcerting. While they are nothing to do with the murder he is investigating they create an ambiance of bewilderment that feels appropriate in echoing the mysterious circumstances of the death of the young English student and her involvement with the unusual American, Amanda Knox, that captured the collective imagination and obsession of news audiences all over the World. Michael Winterbottom is trying to tap into the zeitgeist that somehow, through ‘smoke and mirrors’ reporting or handling of the case (by the Media), obfuscation in the events surrounding the murder, allowed proceedings to be derailed.

Thomas becomes involved with two women: the first is Simone (Kate Beckinsale), an American journalist in a similar situation to himself, hoping that she may shed light on the truth of the case, but she, in turn, is involved with local Italian hacks who are a law unto themselves, chasing a story or an angle that may not necessarily reflect the truth of what happened. The second is a young English student, Melanie (Cara Delevingne in a dynamite debut), who serves to allow him to capture the essence of his youth away from the hackneyed hacks. Sadly, neither of these characters bring us anywhere nearer to enlightenment on the murder, or the truth.

There are analogies here with Dante – Beatrice being supplied by Melanie, and the hacks – the various characters from the circles of Hell. But above it all rises the terrible fact that a young and intelligent woman was murdered in suspicious circumstances and little clarity really emerges as to the whys or the wherefores of this terrible tragedy. When somebody dies in unclear circumstances, the press and public seize upon the story, forgetting the victims and their families. The murder becomes disassociated with the bereaved and suddenly belongs to the public imagination. This is both a natural phenomenon and a crass reality that Winterbottom has captured with intelligence and inventiveness. While it doesn’t offer any clues or solutions, it throws up and reflects something deeper to ponder upon. MT

THE FACE OF AN ANGEL IS ON DVD | BLu-ray from 20 July 2015

[youtube id=”fmmzSXohHnc” width=”600″ height=”350″]

 

Britain on Film (2015) |Now available on BFIplayer

M&K_-_BRADFORD_TRAMS One of the earliest ‘home movie’ films shows a family paddling on a Sandown beach in 1902. Another records Lerwick’s Old Norse Viking Festival in 1927. Along with over 2,500 others, these films are now accessible online via the BFI Player, as part of a huge project called BRITAIN ON FILM. They include home movies, documentaries and news footage from Victorian times to as recently as 1980.

“We have these extraordinary, vast collections,” said the BFI’s head curator, Robin Baker. “But until these films have been digitised the only chance of anyone ever seeing them are on the occasional screenings.” Researchers have been working for the past two years to unearthed the treasure trove of our national archive. Using the bfiplayer’s search engine, you can tap into your past: the village, or even road, where you were born, grew up or worked – all available at the touch of a button.

Beautifully elegant women glide past in the Chester Regatta in 1901, Glasgow in 1962, capturing the last days of the trams and the gloomy housing estates of the Gorbels. An early 1970s mother and her seven children living in Britain’s worst slums in Birmingham, and Covent Garden Porters balancing their wares in 1929. Sunshine in Soho depicts the exotically diverse community in the 1956 Soho Carnival and Winston Churchill’s visit to Belfast to argue in favour of Home Rule for Ireland; seems prescient in retrospect.

There is even a 1967 film called Paper Fashion that ironically encourages us to buy paper products almost anything idresses, bikinis, jewellery, plates, cups, underwear: “When you’ve used it, just throw it away….and “end up with the 218,000 tonnes of household tissue alone which was added to our waste heaps last year.”

Danny Kaye is seen in a bizarre visit to the Hertfordshire home of George Bernard Shaw in Hertfordshire and an early cat and dog show records the Nation’s pampered pouches and their equally well-dressed owners during 1901.

So get online at BFIplayer: There could be some wonderful surprises and some emotional ones – like discovering something about your family and friends you didn’t know….so have a wander down memory lane and discover your own piece of cinema history. MT

BFI BRITAIN ON FILM IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BFIPLAYER | The films have been digitised thanks to National Lottery money and the aim is to have 10,000 available within three years.

 

 

The First Film (2015)

Dir.: David Wilkinson

Documentary; UK/France/USA 2015, 110 min.

Over the past thirty years the Leeds born filmmaker David Wilkinson has tried to prove that Leeds was the cradle of filmmaking even though the inventor in question was the French born Louis Le Prince. Somehow overshadowing Wilkinson’s quest is a riddle, worthy of any detective film: Louis Le Prince disappeared without a trace on September 16th 1890, after boarding the Dijon to Paris express: he never arrived at his destination; his body was never found.

Louis Aime Augustin Le Prince was born in September 1841 in Metz. He soon became acquainted with the photographer, Louis Daguerre, a friend of his father. Young Louis spent many hours in Daguerre’s studio. Later he would study painting in Paris, after graduating in chemistry at the university of Leipzig.  Louis saw active service in the Franco/Prussian war in 1870, after taking part in violent demonstrations. At the beginning of the 188os journeyed to the USA, where, amongst other activities, he was an agent for French painters. In 1887, after having developed a 16-lens camera in New York – Wilkinson has unearthed some ‘moving’ pictures – he went to Leeds, England, then a hotbed of innovators and artists. Here he shot on the 14th of October 1888, with a newly developed One-lens camera, the “Roundhay Garden” scene, where the participants not simply walk, but follow some instructions from the ‘director’ (Wilkinson can retrace the exact date, because one of the women in the film died a few weeks later).

Le Prince also shot a documentary with horse carts on Leeds Bridge, a pedestrian crossing. In 1890, Le Prince, who had patented his 16-lens, as well as the One-lens camera he used for the ‘Roundhay Garden’ scene, in Great Britain and planned to go to the USA, to lay claim to his invention there. Before his journey to the USA, he visited his family in Bourges, and on the 13th of September he arrived in Dijon, to visit his brother. Three days later, his brother was the last man to see him alive, boarding the Paris express. He never arrived, and passengers reported no incidents during the journey. Suicide, fratricide or murder (on behalf of Thomas Edison, a rival inventor who later claimed the single right to the patent) are all possible. The latter ‘perp’ is perhaps the most probable, since Louis’ eldest son Adolphe later fought in an US court to have Edison’s claim as the sole inventor nullified; Le Prince junior won on appeal, but died two years later under mysterious circumstances during an outing whilst shooting ducks.

Wilkinson tells the story of the “first” cinematographic event vividly, displaying an awesome knowledge of the rival inventors, coming to the conclusion that Le Prince only beat his nearest rival by a few days. There are not too many ‘talking heads’ in THE FIRST FILM and the archive material is nothing less than stunning. But somehow, the chronicle of the first movies is overshadowed by the mysterious disappearance of Louis Le Prince. Wilkinson has even unearthed a photograph of a man resembling Le Prince, who was buried in November 1880 – a man ‘of standing’, who had drowned. But try has he may; succeeding in all other respects, the director cannot solve the death of the man who (most probably) ‘directed’ the first movie. AS

[youtube id=”knD2EhjGwWI” width=”600″ height=”350″]

SCREENING AT EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 -28 JUNE 2015 | GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 JULY 2015

Ealing Film Studios: A Retrospective

Man In The White Suit Britain’s best-loved, independent cinema organisation, EALING STUDIOS, produced a dazzling array of comedies and noirish dramas during the 1940s and 50s, adding a rich vein of provocative and subversive films to the British film canon, some of them surprisingly radical in their implications.

The Studios has a unique place in the history of British cinema and has become a byword for a certain type of British whimsy and eccentricity but it also pioneered the underdog spirit, producing some tough, cynical and challenging portraits of British life. During the War years, Ealing produced romantic features that roused the British public during the War effort and the studio’s films boasted a surprising variety of characters from all walks of life. Many of these now rank among the undisputed cult classics of British cinema, among them Dead of NightThe Blue LampThe Cruel SeaThe Man in the White Suit and Passport to Pimlico. There are many other worthwhile features that have been unseen or inaccessible for decades.

IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY  (1947)  Set over a single 24-hour period in postwar Bethnal Green, Robert Hamer’s noir-ish thriller was Ealing Studios’ first popular success and it widely considered one of the greatest achievements of British Cinema of the last 1940s.

Ealing was presided over by Michael Balcon, a towering figure in British cinema who was an early supporter of Alfred Hitchcock. He gathered around him a band of talented collaborators including the very influential Braziilian Cavalcanti brothers and directors Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden and Alexander McKendrick.  Battling against competition and a certain hostility from the major studios of Rank and the American giant Hammer he successfully ran Ealing for more than 20 years.

Today Ealing Studios is the oldest working film studio in the world and the only British studio that produces and distributes feature films as well as providing facilities. It recently joined forces with leading film financier Prescience, co-formed in 2005 by Paul Brett and Tim Smith, to create the new one-stop international sales company ‘Ealing Metro’.  Prescience uniquely positions Ealing Metro as an international sales and distribution company that can deliver an integrated solution for filmmakers.  Through Prescience and its Aegis Film Fund, Ealing Metro works with independent producers to help develop and finance product so that, along with Ealing Studios’ own productions, it can market and sell a unique and growing slate in the international marketplace.

The theme of Ealing: Light & Dark is a rich and revealing one. Even the renowned comedies have a dark side within them: Kind Hearts and Coronets is a wittily immoral tale of a serial killer in pursuit of a dukedom; Whisky Galore! has a mischievous approach to law and order as a Scottish island population attempt to beat the Customs men to the free whisky washed ashore from a shipwreck.  

Part of the enduring appeal of Ealing is its witty challenging of authority in films such as Passport to Pimlico and The Lavender Hill Mob, which touched a nerve with audiences eager for social and political change faced with the austerity of the immediate post-war era.

Beyond the apparent frothy entertainment, Ealing’s darker side dares to show wartime failures, imagine the threat of invasion or to contemplate the unsavoury after-effects of the war in the subtly supernatural The Ship That Died of Shame or the European noir Cage of Gold, in which Jean Simmons is lured by the charms of an homme fatal. Another pan-European story, Secret People (featuring an early appearance for Audrey Hepburn), contemplates the ethics of assassination, while in Frieda, Mai Zetterling faces anti-German prejudice in a small English town.

The posters for Ealing Studios films feature artwork by many of the era’s greatest artists including John Piper, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Edward Ardizzone and Mervyn Peake, while the acting talent is a roll-call of many of Britain’s greatest performers, among them Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Margaret Rutherford, Joan Greenwood, Dennis Price, Jean Simmons, Googie Withers, Michael Redgave, John Mills, Thora Hird, Diana Dors, James Fox, Virginia McKenna, Herbert Lom, Maggie Smith, Jack Warner, Alastair Sim, Will Hay and many more.

E A L I N G   F I L M   N O I R

NEXT OF KIN

UK 1942. Dir Thorold Dickinson. With Mervyn Johns, Guy Mas, Basil Radford,

Nova Pilbeam, Thora Hird. 102min

Ealing’s first major artistic triumph for the war effort, Next of Kin is a cautionary tale about careless talk and the scourge of fifth columnists at large in the UK. The film’s sober tone marked a change in war propaganda for Ealing, whose earlier blind celebration of military prowess gives way to an authentic depiction of the dangers and sacrifices faced by the wartime nation. Plus All Hands (UK 1941. Dir John Paddy Carstairs. 9min) a MoI short that warns of the dangers of careless talk in the navy.

WENT THE DAY WELL? UK 1942.

Dir Alberto Cavalcanti. With Leslie Banks, Basil Sydney, Frank Lawton, Elizabeth Allan. 93min. PG

In the middle of World War II  Cavalcanti provocatively imagined a postwar England in which the failure of the threatened German invasion could be safely seen in flashback, thanks to the resourceful villagers of Bramley End. Once the ostensibly British troops in their village are revealed as Nazis, and the local squire as a fifth columnist, the community unites and fights back with startling ferocity. A call to arms as persuasive as Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

DEAD OF NIGHT

UK 1945. Dir Alberto Cavalcanti. With Googie Withers, Mervyn Johns, Michael Ralph, Michael Redgrave. 102min

Straying from more familiar realist fare, Dead of Night was Ealing’s only venture into the horror genre. The film recounts five supernatural tales, held together by a linking story which itself has a creepy conclusion – a forerunner to the anthology films that flourished in the early 1970s. The film’s nightmarish world of haunted mirrors and ghostly hearses lingers long after the closing credits, with Michael Redgrave’s performance as a crazed ventriloquist proving particularly unsettling.

PINK STRING AND SEALING WAX

UK 1945. Dir Robert Hamer. With Googie Withers, Mervyn Johns, Gordon Jackson, Sally Ann Howes. 89min. PG

Two worlds collide in this melodrama set in Victorian Brighton: a repressive household, run by a tyrannical chemist, and a sleazy tavern, presided over by a passionate landlady. The chemist’s son (Jackson) finds himself, understandably enough, in thrall to the landlady (Withers). His naïve passion and rebellious feelings against his father lead him into a murder plot from which he barely escapes, prompting a very equivocal happy ending.

FRIEDA

UK 1947. Dir. Basil Dearden. With David Farrar, Glynis Johns, Mai Zetterling, Flor Robson. 98min. PG

Telling the story of a family trying to make sense of a postwar world, Frieda asks the question, ‘Does a good German exist?’ There isn’t one simple answer but many, represented by the varying reactions of the inhabitants of the English village of Denfield when a German refugee arrives as the wife of one of their war heroes. In her first British film, Zetterling portrays Frieda sympathetically but the film allows the audience to reach its own conclusion over her individual responsibility for the horrors of war.

SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS

UK 1948. Dir Basil Dearden. With Joan Greenwood, Stewart Granger, Peter Bull,Flora Robson. 96min. U

In this rare excursion for Ealing into historical drama, Bull and Greenwood are perfectly cast as the dissolute Prince George-Louis and his reluctant bride Sophie-Dorothea. Shooting in colour for the first time allowed the studio to give full rein to the period costumes and sets (the latter were nominated for an Oscar). The design provides an evocative backdrop to the princess’s tragic story. As her lover, Granger shows why he was soon poached by Hollywood, his stature and looks making him the perfect screen hero.

WHISKY GALORE!

UK 1949. With Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood, Wylie Watson, Bruce Seaton,

Gordon Jackson. 82min. PG

Mackendrick’s glorious debut was the second of the trio of 1949 films that defined Ealing Comedy. When the whisky-parched Todday islanders spy salvation in the form of a shipwreck and 50,000 contraband cases, first they must outwit the morally upstanding English home guard Captain Waggett. One in the eye for puritan English priggishness and a joyous salute to the transformative power of a ‘wee dram’ – or ‘the longest unsponsoredadvertisement ever to reach cinema screens the world over,’ as producer Monja Danischewsky put it.

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS

UK 1949. Dir Robert Hamer. With Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood,

Valerie Hobson. 106min. U

Even Hitchcock couldn’t make murder this much fun. Hamer’s ageless classic challenges The Ladykillers for the title of Ealing’s blackest comedy (call it a score draw, though Kind Hearts has the higher body count). Near perfect script and direction are crowned by wondrous performances. History tends to remember Guinness’s virtuoso turn as all seven members of the lofty, aristocratic D’Ascoynes. But it’s really Price’s film: as the D’Ascoynes’ ruthless nemesis Louis he gives us surely the screen’s wittiest and most charming psychopath.

CAGE OF GOLD

UK 1950. Dir Basil Dearden. With Jean Simmons, David Farrer, James Donald,

Herbert Lom. 83min. PG

Simmons’s only film for Ealing is an unfairly neglected slice of Euro-noir, built upon the (apparently) un-Ealing foundations of passion, infidelity and blackmail. Simmons is a nice, middle-class girl with a nice, steady fiancé who is enticed to the dark side by the return of an old flame. The film flits between cosy suburbia and a vivid Parisian demi-monde, and if the conclusion inevitably opts for safety, the alternative is painted with relish, and Farrer, as ever, makes an appealing rogue.

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT

UK 1951. Dir. Alexander McKendrick. With Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough,Ernest Thesiger. 85min. U

Mackendrick’s plague-on-all-your houses industrial satire may be the most cynical Ealing film of all. Guinness delivers his most complex comic performance as the unworldly genius Sidney, whose invention of an indestructible, dirt-proof fabric terrifies textile barons and trade unions alike. A parable of the inexorability of technological progress and the tyranny of vested interests – with some sly sexual politics thrown in – it’s as acerbic a piece of social commentary as ever escaped from Ealing.

SECRET PEOPLE

UK 1952. Dir Thorold Dickinson. With Valentina Cortese, Serge Reggiani, Charles

Goldner. 96min. PG

An untypical Ealing film, drawing on Dickinson’s own Spanish Civil War experiences. Maria (Cortese), orphaned in London, is a hesitant revolutionary enlisted by her lover to  assassinate her country’s fascist leader, the man responsible for her father’s death. Compelling and strikingly inventive, Secret People upset contemporary critics for its  apparent indecision, but today it seems an intriguing study of a moral dilemma, with engaging performances from its Italian leads and a notable early role for young Audrey Hepburn.

MANDY

UK 1952. With Phyllis Calvert, Jack Hawkins, Terence Morgan, Mandy Miller,

Edward Chapman. 93min. PG

In this rare Ealing tearjerker, Calvert and Morgan play a couple who disagree about how best to help their deaf child; their relationship is strained further when they become pawns in a political situation at a special school. The story is presented largely from the female point of view and Calvert gives an exceptionally moving performance as the mother torn between her husband and her child. Mandy never succumbs to mawkishness, approaching the subject with sensitivity and reason.

THE CRUEL SEA

UK 1952. Dir Charles Frend. With Virginia McKenna, Stanley Baker. 126min

The ‘Battle of the Atlantic’, as experienced by the captain and first

lieutenant of an anti-submarine convoy escort. Based on Nicholas

Monsarrat’s novel, Ealing’s most popular war film celebrates the commitment and bravery of the British naval forces but isn’t afraid to engage with the harsh realities of combat. Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden lend British grit to the military spectacle and claustrophobic tension, depicting those men shaped and permanently shadowed by the war.

THE MAGGIE

UK 1954. With Paul Douglas, Alex Mackenzie, Abe Barker, Tommy Kearins,

Hubert Gregg. 92min. U

An unsentimental counterpart to Ealing’s The Titfield Thunderbolt, with the latter’s vintage steam train crewed by high-spirited amateurs replaced by a ramshackle ‘puffer’ boat and its gnarly old skipper. The devious MacTaggart cheats his way to the commission to transport a US businessman’s cargo – the first in a series of indignities heaped on his hapless client. The Maggie pits wealth and modernity against heritage and intransigence in a gleeful subversion of Ealing’s ‘small versus big’ convention.

THE SHIP THAT DIED OF SHAME

UK 1955. Dir Basil Dearden. With George Baker, Richard Attenborough, Bill Owen,

Virginia McKenna. 95min

Director Basil Dearden combines sharp thrills with loose social commentary in this tale of Motor Gun Boat 1087 and her once-celebrated officers now turned smugglers. Ealing’s occasional engagement with the supernatural and nostalgia for the war is spun into one of the studio’s darkest and best final films. Richard Attenborough is on form as a crooked chancer making the best out of the bleak social realities of postwar Britain.

 NOWWHERE TO GO

UK 1958. Dir Seth Holt. With George Nader, Maggie Smith, Bernard Lee, Bessie

Love. 97min. U

A rare, late excursion into noir for Ealing Studios, scripted by first-time director Holt and critic Ken Tynan. A good-looking ex-con (Nader) coolly robs an old lady of her coin collection, anticipating prison, but also the later recovery of the proceeds. Nothing proves that simple and he discovers the truth of the film’s title. Stylish low-key cinematography, a jazz score and Maggie Smith’s debut performance add to the pleasure.

EALING DRAMAS 

THERE AIN’T NO JUSTICE

UK 1939. Dir Penrose Tennyson. With James Hanley, Edward Rigby, Edward Chapman, Mary Clare. 81 min

An aspiring boxer hopes to transcend humble origins and build a name for himself, but comes up against the corruption of the sporting establishment. ‘The film that begs to differ’, announced the publicity for this first film by Ealing’s youngest director, the gifted 25-year-old Pen Tennyson, great-grandson of Lord Alfred. It’s a striking departure from the shallow representation of working-class life in 1930s British films, and the first film to set out recognisably Ealing values: decency, courage and an optimistic faith in humanity and community.

CHEER BOYS CHEER

UK 1939. Dir Walter Forde. With Edmund Gwenn, Peter Coke, Nova  Pilbeam,  84 min.

An ‘Ealing comedy’ before its time? Venerable family brewery Greenleaf finds itself under threat from monopolistic industry titan Ironside. But with an unlikely ally in Ironside’s lovelorn scion, plucky little Greenleaf mounts a courageous fightback. Predating Passport to Pimlico and its comic cohort by a decade, this half-forgotten film was an almost uncanny premonition of Ealing delights to come, in its evocation of community, gently progressive values and ‘small v. big’ dynamic. A missing link in the Ealing story, then, but thanks to comedy veteran Forde, a joyous one.

THE BELLS GO DOWN

UK 1943. Dir Basil Dearden. With Philip Friend, Tommy Trinder, James Mason, Mervyn Johns. 90 min.

“In the East End they say London isn’t a town, it’s a group of villages,” begins Dearden’s tribute to the intrepid firefighters confronting the Luftwaffe’s nightly raids. Village London is a very Ealing conception: the vast, anonymous city reduced to a more human scale. But The Bells Go Down is no mere sentimental homily. Its community has its share of divisions, petty squabbles and criminality, but these fade in the face of a common enemy and the stoic endurance of routine tragedy. An inspiring companion piece to Humphrey Jennings’ Fires Were Started.

SAN DEMETRIO LONDON

UK 1943. Dir Charles Frend. With Ralph Michael, Walter Fitzgerald, Robert Beatty, Gordon Jackson. 104 min.

In 1940 the oil tanker San Demetrio, half torn apart by U-boat torpedoes but still somehow afloat, was valiantly rescued by a handful of its crew and steered home through treacherous Atlantic waters. Frend’s admirable second feature takes a true story of wartime heroism and, without sensationalism or triumphalism, shapes it into something approaching national myth (the damaged but defiant ship stands for Britain, the crew a people united by determination, courage and democratic values). It’s Ealing’s most potent and inspiring fusion of propaganda, documentary and people’s war ideals.

THEY CAME TO A CITY

UK 1944. Dir Basil Dearden. With Googie Withers, John Clements, Raymond Huntley, Renée Gadd. 78 min.

This most unusual of Ealing’s features has long been hard to see and is now in a new digital transfer. A fantastical allegory from the pen of J.B. Priestley, it transports nine disparate Britons to a mysterious city. What they find there is, according to their class and disposition, either an earthly paradise of peace and equality or a hell starved of ambition and riches. A film once dismissed as naïve and uncinematic, it has more recently been viewed as a striking expression of its era’s most utopian impulse.

THE BLUE LAMP

UK 1950. Dir Basil Dearden. With Jack Warner, Dirk Bogarde, James Hanley, Peggy Evans. 82 min.

Ealing’s defining contribution to the police procedural genre – with ex-policeman T.E.B. Clarke’s script lending authenticity – sits on the border between the studio’s dark and light sides. There’s tragedy at its core, and a portrait of snarling, lawless youth (a mesmerising young Dirk Bogarde) that’s tough for its time, not least for Ealing. But if it takes us to dark places, its conclusion expresses an irrepressibly optimistic and comforting vision of the ability of society to overcome its most hostile elements.

THE PROUD VALLEY

UK 1940. Dir Pen Tennyson. With Paul Robeson, Simon Lack, Edward Chapman, Janet Johnson. 77 min.

An American seaman is welcomed into a Welsh mining village and bolsters a community facing industrial decline and the tremors of war.  Paul Robeson brings warmth, integrity and powerful bass tones to his role as David Goliath, the figure around whom the struggling miners unite and discover their own proud voices.  Pen Tennyson directs this simple story with compassion, beauty and dignity to make The Proud Valley one of the most satisfying of early Balcon-era Ealing. 

THE HALFWAY HOUSE

UK 1944. Dir Basil Dearden. With Mervyn Johns, Francoise Rosay, Glynis Johns, Esmond Knight. 96 min.

Towards the end of the war, Ealing films took a positive turn and The Halfway House uses a ghostly setting to look towards a future in which wartime problems such as black marketeering, broken relationships and mourning for lost ones are left behind. A disparate group of people find themselves at a remote inn in the Welsh valleys which turns out not to be quite what it seems. A fine ensemble cast balances the film’s humour with its more serious undertones and the supernatural atmosphere is reinforced by a haunting score.

THE OVERLANDERS

UK 1946. Dir Harry Watt. 

With Chips Rafferty, Daphne Campbell, John Fernside, John Nugent Hayward, Peter Pagan. 91 min.

A band of Australian drovers, led by Dan McAlpine (Chips Rafferty), drive 1000 cattle across the harsh Northern Territory to fresh pastures in Brisbane. Ealing’s first Australian production is a stellar tribute to the country’s WWII scorched earth defence against the Japanese.  Rafferty embraces the sprit of defiance that characterised a nation under threat of invasion, while director Harry Watt brings a documentary sensibility that celebrates the sheer ambition and vast achievement of the drive.

HUE AND CRY

UK 1946. Dir Charles Crichton. With Harry Fowler, Jack Warner, Alastair Sim 82 min  Script: T E B Clarke

In the first of the EALING COMEDIES, Harry Fowler leads the ‘Blood and Thunder Boys’, a group of adolescents who discover their favourite boys-own magazine is being used by criminals to plan robberies. Largely acknowledged as the first in Ealing’s cycle of post-war comedies, Hue and Cry gives us a joyfully chaotic of the kind of English eccentrics which would come to characterise the later films.  Alistair Sim and Jack Warner are the old hands whose exaggerated performances lead a cast of mostly newcomers.

SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC
UK 1948. Dir Charles Frend. With John Mills, Kenneth More, John Gregson, James Roberston Justice. 109 min.

Michael Balcon’s self-confessed preference was for tales of adventure and derring-do and Scott fits the bill perfectly. The British spirit of endeavour and determination, even to the point of foolhardiness, pervades the film, as Scott’s expedition gets ever closer to failure. Filming in Technicolor was an interesting choice given the bleak locations but the scenery is captured exquisitely and offers a dramatic backdrop to the exploits of the party. Vaughan Williams’ score heightens the drama so poignantly enacted by Mills and the rest of the sterling cast.

PASSPORT TO PIMLICO

UK 1949. Dir Henry Cornelius. With Stanley Holloway, Margaret Rutherford, Jane Hylton, Paul Dupuis. 84 min.

A group of Pimlico residents discover that they are in fact citizens of the Duchy of Burgundy, a change of nationality that offers them the opportunity to dodge post-war strictures. Tearing up their ration books, they embark on self-governance but soon find that, despite all its problems, Blighty is the best place to be. Cornelius’s only directing credit for Ealing (though he went on to success with Genevieve), Passport to Pimlico is perhaps the studio’s most joyous celebration of Britishness.

THE MAGNET

UK 1950. Dir Charles Frend. With William Fox, Stephen Murray, Kay Walsh, Meredith Edwards. 79 min.

James Fox, (credited here as William) plays Johnny, a 10-year-old who tricks a younger boy into giving him a toy magnet.  Feeling guilty over his deception Johnny anonymously offers the magnet to auction, but when it raises raise enough funds to buy a life saving piece of hospital equipment he is nowhere to be found.  A comedy of childhood errors, The Magnet pokes fun at a cosy adult world made insensible by the fantasies of some of its younger  inhabitants.  Ealing regulars Gladys Henson, Thora Hird and a disguised James Robertson Justice provide support. 

 THE LADYKILLERS

UK 1955. With Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker, Peter Sellers, Danny

Green, Katie Johnson. 97min. U

Everyone’s favourite knockabout black comedy caper – or a political fable with the ‘ladykillers’ as the incoming post-war Labour government and the little old ladies as the obstacles of Conservative tradition? Beyond any doubt The Ladykillers is the last great Ealing comedy, and the studio’s final production before its sale to the BBC.American screenwriter William Rose apparently dreamed up the plot overnight, but casting, script, production design, and the Technicolor camerawork combine effortlessly for the blackest of farces.

Rivalling Kind Hearts and Coronets for the gleeful blackness of its humour. Posing as an amateur string quintet while planning a robbery at Kings Cross, an ill-assorted group of crooks led by the sinister Professor Marcus (Guinness) rent rooms from a sweet little old lady (Johnson). Despite a few setbacks, the Professor’s plan works superbly. But there’s one factor he hasn’t allowed for… At 77, veteran bit-part player Johnson all but walks off with the film.

THE LAVENDER HILL MOB
 UK 1951. Dir Charles Crichton. With Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sidney James, Alfie Bass. 78 min.

Ealing’s theme of the ‘little man fighting back’ finds its culmination here, as upstanding citizens Guinness and Holloway turn to crime, hooking up with two small time crooks to form a gang of unlikely gold smugglers. The heroes’ dreams of freeing themselves from wage slavery in a grey, bombed out London have us rooting for them against the inept police pursuit. Writer T. E. B. Clarke’s comic observations are spot on; he creates a postwar Britain in which demure-looking little old ladies devour American detective fiction with relish.

THE TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT

UK 1952. Dir Charles Crichton. With Stanley Holloway, George Relph, John Gregson, Hugh Griffith, Sid James. 87 min.

The commuters of Titfield form an amateur rail company when they discover that their local branch line is to close.  Despite physical opposition from a rival bus company, the train enthusiasts unite behind their eccentric village vicar (Relph) and his affable drunk benefactor (Holloway), to bumble their way to an operators licence.  Perhaps the archetype of ‘Ealing Light’ Crichton’s gentle and nostalgic film was also the studio’s first made in colour.

Many of these films are available on DVD/Blu atand HUE and CRY, THE LADYKILLERS, THE MAGNET are re-released by STUDIO CANAL in June\July 2015

 


The Goob (2014) Interview with Guy Myhill

Here Guy Myhill talks about making THE GOOB, the first of his Norfolk-set trilogy

[youtube id=”AuP2MiNjZ08″ width=”600″ height=”350″]

The Goob (2014)

Director/Writer: Guy Myhill

Sean Harris, Sienna Guillory, Hannah Popplewell, Marama Corlett, Oliver Kennedy, Liam Walpole

Drama  UK

In his enigmatic debut, Guy Myhill evokes the open spaces of the Norfolk countryside veiled in golden summer. This unsettling coming of age story pits a young man’s burgeoning sexuality against that of his mother’s boorish boyfriend – an avid stock-car racing champion and local grower.

Simon Tindall’s ethereal camera-work captures the rough and ready allure of this farming landscape and its gutsy inhabitants recalling that motorcycle opening sequence of Lawrence of Arabia with a soft-focus arthouse twist that contrasts well with a pumping score of hits that include Donna Summer. Bristling with sexual tension and dreamy awakenings from childhood to young adulthood in the Fens, it teases with an enigmatic storyline that weaves into focus then departs again in a different direction, never quite revealing itself but conjuring up a family in turmoil.

‘The Goob’ is newcomer Liam Walpole who lives with his single mother Janet (Sienna Guillory) and her vicious partner Gene (Sean Harris) in a run down shack of a roadside cafe. Gene Womack dislikes the boy and makes no bones about showing it. Matters worsen when the Goob and his brother crash Gene’s prize-winning car in a boy-racing moment, which results in forced labour on the beet farm for the Goob, threatening to curtail a potential relationship. He does however stoke up new friendships with gay farm-hand Elliott (a buzzy Oliver Kennedy) and Eva (Marama Corlett) another picker who takes a shine to him during an impromptu midnight party in one of Gene’s fields.

This is a story that brims with intrigue and erotic tension not only between the Goob and Eva, but also in enigmatic subplots where there’s a constant suggestion that Gene (a spiteful, mincing Harris) is drawn to the other female characters – but quite why Janet is involved with him remains a mystery. Guillory’s character remains unexplored – a shame for such a brilliant actress. The intensity of the racing fraternity adds a rough machismo to the narrative, adding grit and texture and placing it firmly in Swaffham and the locale. The cast is also almost entirely drawn from Norfolk. Liam Walpole has a gangly vulnerability about him which brings a unique appeal and gentleness and contrasts well with the otherwise hard-bitten, rough-edged masculinity of Sean Harris. This is a spectacular debut for Myhill with some great ideas that could be expanded upon in future. A really watchable indie Britflick. MT

THE GOOB – reviewed at VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 27 August – 6 September 2014 is coming to British screens from May 28, 2015.

[youtube id=”Wrc2iaEggy4″ width=”600″ height=”350″]

Far From the Madding Crowd (1967) | DVD | BLU

FAR_FROM_THE_MADDING_CROWD_2 copyDir.: John Schlesinger

Cast: Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Peter Finch, Alan Bates, Prunella Ransome

UK 1967, 168 min.

Whilst the novel was the first great success for its author Thomas Hardy in 1874, John Schlesinger’s 1967 screen version of this forlorn Victoria love story was one of the last in a run of  English ‘independent’ films after A KIND OF LOVING, BILLY LIAR and DARLING in this sixties, signalling the emergence of his great talent. After SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY (1971), Schlesinger would, for the rest of his career until his death in 2003, create films with big names and mega budgets – MARATHON MAN and PACIFIC HEIGHTS. Rather like Anthony Hopkins, he sold out to Hollywood.

Adapted by Frederic Raphel for the screen, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD sticks closely to the original, heightened by Richard Rodney Bennett’s atmospheric score and brought to life by Nicholas Roeg’s innovative camera, gliding over the wild fields and desolate beaches (Durdle Door), then intimately catching the main protagonists in passionate close-ups. Hardy had taken the title of his novel from the first line of the 1757 poem by Thomas Gray “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard”: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife’ (today we could substitute ‘frenzied’ for ‘madding’), and Schlesinger’s film translates the passion and tragedy of one woman and three men fascinated by her beauty, and later wealth, played out in remote emotional distance from the surrounding farm and townsfolk. Whilst certain undertones of Hardy’s TESS and JUDE are evident, here our heroine also gets away with some immaturity and pride, but others suffer the same fates as Tess and Jude would later.

FAR_FROM_THE_MADDING_CROWD_3 copy

In Hardy’s beloved Dorset, or specifically Wessex country, we first see our heroine Bathsheba Everdene (Christie) riding on a horse down to the beach, greeting the shepherd Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates in fine form), who soon holds out for her hand. Rejected as being beneath her, even though she likes him, Gabriel nevertheless stays arounf after she inherits her uncle’s farm. Although Gabriel works hard to offer his expertise in farming, he must watch helplessly as the rich landowner William Boldwood (a regal Peter Finch), many years her senior, makes a play for Bathsheba after receiving her Valentine card, sent on a childish whim. She is not particularly taken by the crusty bachelor but thinks it the right thing to do. But her heart is not convinced and, after lighting the flames of his ardour, she tries desperately to put off an engagement. And when Boldwood thinks that his time has finally come, Bathsheba meets the young and dashing Sergeant Francis Troy (a dashing Terence Stamp), and is completely smitten. After their marriage (Gabriel had warned his mistress that she would be better off with Boldwood), Bathsheba finds out that Francis is an empty vessel: a gambler, a man’s man, and, on top of it all, is still in love with his former fiancée Fanny Robin (Ransome), who, it emerges, is carrying his child. Bathsheba discovers his secret after Fanny dies in childbirth, but Francis declares that Fanny will always mean much more to him than his wife and tries to drown himself in the sea. Years later, Boldwood has another crack at winning Bathseba’s hand with a lavish party during which he attempts to announce their ‘engagement’. Francis makes a grand entrance ‘from the dead’ (after briefly emerging as a circus clown, watched unrecognised by Bathsheba and Boldwood), Boldwood shoots him in cold blood and events take their natural course.

Class and gender are the demarcation lines which initially keep Bathsheba and Gabriel apart for so long. Women are strictly second class in Hardy’s era, even wealthy ones. Bathsheba is belittled and marginalised by the farmers of the small town. Hardy’s doltish farm workers are captured as little more than poor zombies, destined for poverty as they approach old age. This near-feudal set-up leaves little room for passion in anyone but the male of the species endowed with power, status or money, like Troy and Boldwood. Bathsheba and her three suitors play out fascinating duels of passion, each of the men eliciting different emotional responses from their object of desire: the steady Gabriel, affectionate and steadfast; the ego-driven, empty façade of the exploititive Troy and the ageing but gentlemanly Boldwood, out of touch with his feelings; lonely and ready to be a doormat for a young and desirable bride. A vibrant Julie Christie evokes a portrait of wilful capriciousness, tempered with charisma, playing all the men against the wall – a queen amongst emotional dwarfs. She carries the film, in giving in wisely at the end, to the only man almost worthy of herself. AS/MT

BLU/DVD FROM 1 JUNE 2015 COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL AS PART OF THEIR VINTAGE CLASSICS COLLECTION, FULLY RESTORED AND FEATURING BRAND NEW EXTRA SCENES, AND A CORRECTED ASPECT RATIO SUPERVISED BY CINEMATOGRAPHER NICOLAS ROEG

 

 

Radio On (1979)

images-3Director: Chris Petit

Writer: Chris Petit, Heidi Adolph

104min   Drama | Music  UK

Cast: David Beames, Lisa Kreuzer, Sandy Ratcliff, Sting,

With funding from Wim Wenders and his cinematographer Martin Schäfer, British director Christopher Petit’s first feature could hardly have been shot in colour. Indeed, black and white seems particularly fitting for the sombre and troubled tone of this endearing seventies road movie. With shades of Get Carter, without the stars, it sees David Beames (as Robert) driving from London to Bristol to check out the mysterious death of his brother. Under murky, sleet-soaked skies, the dismal journey has Robert searching for his own identity in a dispondent Britain where he fails to engage with anyone he meets along the way: an ex-soldier, a woman looking for her child and a child punk rocker. Accompanied by an iconic soundtrack comprising David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Ian Dury, Lena Lovich and a wonderful vignette from Sting, posing as a garage mechanic in the depths of Wiltshire; Robert’s failure to communicate with the disenfranchised seems, even then, to reflect the malaise now emblematic of the way we live in Britain today. The journey ends as bitterly as it began, with his Rover stalling and peters out on the edge of a desolate quarry. Raw and chilly, this sneering piece of British cinema raises an idiosyncratic question-mark, that still remains unanswered today. MT

[youtube id=”N_hiwawj-ts” width=”600″ height=”350″]

REVIEWED AT THE AUTEUR FILM FESTIVAL, CURZON BLOOMSBURY

André Semenza | Director | Sea Without Shore | Glasgow Film Festival 2015

Matthew Turner spoke to André Semenza, the director of SEA WITHOUT SHORE which has its World premiere at this year’s GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2105

Fragments of theatre, dance, cinema and poetry co-mingle in this unique and ravishing film, tell us more…

André Semenza (AS): It came about through the rehearsal studio. Fernanda Lippi, the choreographer, and I have worked together since 1999 and also with the Director of Photography, Marcus Waterloo. We have a particular way of working which is almost like improvised theatre, where we work in a rehearsal room and explore things with dances and find themes and have visions. It’s a very intuitive and collaborative kind of process where things start taking shape. So there was a relationship between these two women, Fernanda and Livia, the dancer. Clearly something was happening between them and there was some dramatic material emerging and we started piecing that together, like any script, but in a slightly more intuitive manner. And then I had a vision that we should do it in Sweden – my mother was Swedish and I had visions of horses and people draped over horses. So we started location scouting and it was sort of like a quest into the unknown, really, the search for discovery goes all the way through to post-production when we actually review some of the footage and are surprised by some things. Marcus and I both come from a film background where film used to be very precious, so we’re quite efficient, it’s not just like shooting blindly, although we didn’t have a script or a shot list. We were just looking for stuff that is of interest and has potential and often when you’re able to just hang in a little bit longer, something else happens which is often surprising, whether it’s the performer or the actor gives something extra that we didn’t quite expect. It’s quite real and quite raw, so we had great respect for that, creating the space for this to happen.

imagesYou mentioned that you had visions of horses. Where did they come from?

AS: Yes. I was sitting in the rehearsal room with Fernanda and Livia – it was a community centre in London that we were using – and I just had these visions of horses, I started drawing horses that these two women would be draped over. We could have done it in England, we were looking at locations, but I just had this inkling we should do it in Sweden.

How did you find those incredible locations, particularly the house?

AS: So we did location scouting there and the thing just sort of snowballed in a very organic manner. We were actually approached by a Brazilian who lives in Sweden who liked our work, he offered to be our location scout. His girlfriend, her brother had access to these incredible locations, the house where we shot it is a family property, it was called the White House, 19th century, it’s an astonishing place, it’s untouched. So we found records on location that we used in the film, the old 1910 records and the wallpaper, it just completely married with the theme of the film. So when you put your neck out there as a director and a producer and you don’t have location scouts and you actually do that yourself, people engage with you much more, in a different manner. And I also shot in an area in the summer where I have ancestry going back 600 years – I’m a strange European mix – but suddenly people came out of the woodwork who knew my great grandfather or something and things just kind of happened. It’s a different process – you put yourself out there and somehow it pulls you back in, to places that you didn’t expect.

images-3Whereabouts was the house?

AS: It’s on one of the islands outside Stockholm. It’s basically owned by this person who we met briefly through this connection. He was extremely generous – he also took us to his mother’s house and just invited us to stay there for a month, ‘Oh, I’m going to Colombia, here’s the key’ – he’d met us for ten minutes! And then this fella’s uncle became the co-producer in Sweden, he found all these Pagan sites where we wanted to film – we were looking for Pagan circles and things like that where we could work with an agnostic theme of this woman looking for her beloved soul that disappeared. And he was a very, very quiet guy, and he said, ‘Yeah, I know a place’ and there was this place, walking distance, which was a sort of a circle where nothing grows and it’s been a sacred site for thousands of years. He asked the girls to take off their gloves and they were warm! It was minus ten! It was all rather odd, but there is a sense of adventure when you work like that and I think it triggers other people’s imaginations as well. And then of course my job and Fernanda’s job is to hone it, to unify that. Because of course, many ideas that we come up with are rubbish, even my own – you try and cling to your own ideas, but actually you have to drop them and all that. So in the end you have something that’s very organic, where the performances, the bodies, the costumes, the wallpaper, the lighting, everything should be – I don’t want to sound pretentious but the gesamtkunstwerk, the whole sensorial experience, covering all the senses, plus the intellect as well. I’m not really a Wagner fan, but he thought opera was it and then cinema became it, where if you’re open to going on a journey you can really have a very sensorial and an intellectual complete experience.

Who or what were your main influences? My editor felt that your film echoed Hungarian director, Gábor Bódy’s Nárcisz és Psyché…

AS: Really? I don’t know that film. Fernanda and I have a physical theatre company together as well, so I’ve always been interested in Grotowski, the Polish theatre giant, Peter Brook was a huge fan. His stuff was very physical but not in a cathartic way, it’s extremely controlled, but you’d see this quite shocking stuff and every night was the same. Technically phenomenal. So I was always interested in that and Fernanda, coming from Trinity Laban [Conservatoire of Music and Dance], having that experience married very well with these sort of things. And of course I trained, Stanislavsky, whatever, so that’s the performance side of things. And from the cinema point of view, I think my greatest influence perhaps was Tarkovsky, I think that’s one of the most shocking experiences I’ve ever had. And of course Ingmar Bergman, speaking Swedish as well. Especially with this film, the voiceover is in Swedish and there’s definitely a Nordic tempo in it. Many film people probably have a similar list of film cinema influences to mine, the Ozus and the Godards and so on, but I think for this film, Tarkovsky and Bergman would be big influences. Dreyer too, Ordet is devastating stuff. Early Fritz Lang too.

images-1How did co-directing with Fernanda work in practice? Were you responsible for different elements?

AS: Well, we did a film before, Ashes of God, in 2003 and I was the director and she was the choreographer. But we felt in this project, because she conceived so much in the rehearsal room – I’m very much the film side of things, the choice of shots with markers, I also edited and so on, but her influence is a deep understanding of the emotional story, sometimes she would have incredible insights and she was just there from the very beginning when it was just people flopping around in a studio looking rather rubbish and then shooting stuff from the beginning and it still looked very rubbish, but then just like nursing it through and being a real coach to the cast, to Livia and to [Anna Mesquita] in particular and of course doing her own work as well. So it’s a situation where we don’t step on each other’s feet at all – she provides material and I can then give my own guidance or input, but she’s not precious about, ‘Oh, you have to shoot all the choreography’ – if you work with a famous choreographer, you have to cover the whole thing and every dancer has to be in shot, so it’s not really cinema, it’s nothing to do with cinema. So it’s very much surrendering all the material to the camera and what the camera falls in love with, and Marcus, the cameraman, is very intuitive as well, so we have this triangular co-creation, shall we say, going on.

And you also did the editing yourself. What was that process like?

AS: I was very concerned about editing myself, because I’m aware that some directors, when they edit, they get very self-indulgent and stuff just rambles on forever, but what we did was basically, I was editing and then I’d put it on DVD, not look at it for a week and then watch it with Fernanda in a different context. And she would be the “Paramount Pictures person”, she would be the outside view, we would talk about it and she would see stuff that maybe I had missed. And of course, I was able to distance myself and have a new appraisal of it, so I’m actually very happy with the edit. Of course, it requires certain patience, it’s not MTV editing, it’s classical stuff, but when I look at the cuts now, the timing is just right. And it was just a slow, patient process like that.

Were Fernanda and Livia always going to play those roles? Was there a casting process?

AS: Livia had worked with us in other productions before, live productions, and we always wanted to make a film project together. She came from Brazil with us and that was the cast. In Stockholm, we approached a senior dancer for that third role and she was unable to do it, but then the person who was approaching her was actually a young dancer herself and we looked at her and thought, ‘Why don’t we try Anna?’ – she’s half Brazilian, half Swedish. It was a very happy coincidence, in a way. So we didn’t have a proper casting in that sense.

images-2So all the cast members were primarily dancers?

AS: Yes, apart from the lady who works with horses, who is a horse person, really. She used to be a designer, but now she has a farm for horses on their last legs, so to speak, post-career horses. So she was just providing that side of things.

Movement is obviously a very important part of the film – how collaborative was that process? AS you say, Fernanda was the choreographer, but did you work with Fernanda on the movements as the director?

AS: We have very similar taste, Fernanda and I, so we get excited about the same stuff, which is very useful. From my point of view, if I don’t believe something, it’s not going to make it [into the film], it has to be believable, it has to be authentic, even if it’s strange. So that’s always been my filter. I’m not really a contemporary dance person, I don’t really like a lot of contemporary dance, or the vanity, all that nonsense – it’s very much about performance and authenticity and when you capture something it’s a privilege, you feel it’s really tremendous, it’s a unique moment. In terms of editing, as an editor, it’s very much a new choreographic process, shots were slowed down, maybe 80 clips were slowed down, sometimes noticeably, other times not, and the juxtaposition and the breathing, the sense of rhythm is very choreographic, I think, as well. So I’m very much interested in movement. And in terms of the movement of the dance, it should not be a dance film, you know, breaking out in dance, it’s not a musical in that sense – it’s very much an externalisation of these compulsive, almost autistic kind of movements where the person is bereft and at a loss. And I think these movements are quite rooted in this person as well, in Livia, she brought that to the role, so we were able to use some of that material. And so when she dances by herself, it’s a memory, she re-enacts part of what she remembers, and then when she rocks, that’s very much an autistic, kind of lonely thing to do. So I think it should really be, again, not sticking out as ‘Hmm, this is a bit of a dance moment’, but actually being integrated as a whole in the story.

The film presents a narrative of doomed love from a female perspective, but is there a male perspective or is it exclusively female?

AS: Hmm. [long pause] It’s a difficult question, I don’t really know how to [answer that]. For me, I very much identified with that sense of loss. I actually lost my mum in 2005, which was just literally a week after the winter shoot. And of course that grief went into the film. So it’s a feminine film, I think, but also, it’s very hard, because my taste, our live work is quite shocking sometimes, not for the shock value itself, but just because it’s quite visceral. And also, Andrew Mckenzie’s work, the composer, from the beginning, he recorded the dancers’ performance and then created a twenty minute track that was then used in further rehearsals and on location, so they’re using their own sound and it becomes almost esoteric and quite mysterious. His stuff is quite shocking too – shocking is the wrong word, it would silence people, in a good sense. Which I think is what I’ve always loved, when I saw, let’s say Fritz Lang’s M for the first time, I couldn’t speak for two days. You don’t go outside and go, ‘Oh, that was nice’, you’re like [stares, open-mouthed], you want to stay through the credits and that sensation stays with you for some time. And I think Andrew’s music has that effect. As an artist, you always aspire to reach something like that. If you see a Mark Rothko, you feel something beyond just paint and the shapes. Something transcendent, maybe that’s the word.

What was the most challenging aspect of the production? What was the hardest thing to get right?

AS: There were lots of challenges on the shoot, but I see them as adventurous challenges, you know, like getting the boat and the ice-breaker, living in a house with no heating, all huddled together at night, shaking with the cold – all these things were tough, but not in a negative sense, they were part of the experience, of reaching the peak of the mountain, or whatever. But the tough thing really is the editing, when you start putting things together, when you start marrying the summer stuff with the winter stuff, it’s dreadful, you don’t really feel it’s going to work and then suddenly something gives. Editing can be quite a lonely and depressing place, sometimes, but the most difficult part for me, personally, was pushing it through the technological development, because we shot on a format which has now been surpassed, and then getting it through to the DCP, all that process was a real challenge, to be honest. Basically, what we did with Ashes of God, we shot that on digital as well, but went to film and it looked like a film, astonishingly, from DDV cam, it was like 35mm, massively blown up and nobody noticed that it was not film. And all of this was because emulsion is forgiving, but if you don’t have that process and you go from digital through to the final product and you don’t have that emulsion, you will see all the mistakes, all the artefacts, so we worked very hard to minimise that. And that was a long, long process, I’d say two years. Jumping through lots of programs and then you’re losing quality. We ended up doing it in Pinewood with a phenomenal, wonderful grader, who had recently restored lots of BBC films, Martin Greenback and he was just utterly patient and just fantastic. He really saved us.

Did you cut anything out during the editing process that you were sorry to see go?

AS: Well, yes, a lot of the poetry, some of the wonderful lines that we had – [Algernon Charles] Swinburne primarily, but also Katherine Philips, who was a 17th century lesbian poet, and also Renée Vivien. So some of these lines were great, but they just would not stick, or they would be doubling up the message and it would just be a bit too much of a good thing, so they had to go. Sometimes less is more and all that stuff. There were some dance scenes where we actually got a whole bunch of local dancers to dance for us, traditional dance, Midsummer Night’s Dance, wonderful stuff in Sweden, if you think of Miss Julie and all that stuff. And they’re not in the film – it just didn’t look right. We worked very hard to try and make it work, but all we have left is a bit of music in the background.

How did you go about choosing the text for the film and did you write any original text for the film?

AS: Yes, we did. Basically we wrote the stuff which I thought was too on the nose. Fernanda wrote some beautiful stuff which had to do with her sister, in fact. And that was very much of interest. And then I started reading massive anthologies of lesbian literature, from the 1500s onwards, and I came across a lot of interesting people, including Katherine Philips and I stumbled upon Anactoria by Swinburne, which is Sappho speaking to Anactoria and he’s a great poet and it’s wild stuff. And somehow that really reverberated. So it was a collage of fragments that I brought in, about thirty pages. And then I felt that it should be in Swedish, because these women are in Sweden and you could logically justify it in that, for instance, Renée Vivien was English and she was blue-blooded and inherited a massive fortune, and she had a massive fight with her mother, so much so that she left for France and just abandoned her Englishness and spoke French and wrote in French. So it felt like these are clearly not Swedish women, they are South American women in Sweden, looking for a kind of Pagan liberation, perhaps getting away from the macho South American world and so on. So I felt it should be in Swedish, but this was all very intuitive stuff, so I sent it to a great translator that somebody recommended and when I got the translation back, I just burst into laughter with pleasure, because she had actually managed to capture the essence of the poetry and in some cases even improved on it, if I may say so. I hope Swinburne’s not listening! But it was just, ‘Wow, this is great!’ And then, recording this, we had a Chilean Swedish lady doing a lot of the voiceover, with a great voice, and also Fernanda. Fernanda doesn’t speak a word of Swedish, and she didn’t even want to know the meaning of the sentences, and I was coaching her, and I actually felt that it was great that she didn’t know, because she would just deliver it without intention. I felt that was a very interesting way, almost like an Ozu or a Bresson way of approaching acting, where you strip things of meaning and emotion and just get the purity. So Fernanda was just repeating after me, like a parrot, so it had a very hypnotic quality, to me, and, I felt, a musical quality. So there were all kinds of factors, the voiceover script is also a musical score, I feel. It ranges, and it gives the passion, the rage, the loss, the tenderness, all the kind of things that you have in a love relationship, but also, because of the voices and the South American vibrato of the voices, there is a kind of musical quality, it goes into the music track, really.

Do you see it as a lesbian film in particular?

AS: Yes, lesbian, but not with a capital L. It’s very much about human beings, you know, it’s clearly a love story between two women, but we’re not really carrying the flag or something like that. In a lot of my work, sometimes there are gay characters and so on, so it is a lesbian film, yeah, but with a lower case L.

What’s your next project?

AS: I have two films to finish, that we shot in Brazil. They’re smaller films, but they’re dance / physical theatre films. And we have a film that we want to revive, that I raised finance for in the 90s, a great, great project, it was a triangular relationship, a psychological drama, with Lothaire Bluteau, from Jesus of Montreal. So I’m very keen to revive it now, but setting it a century earlier, because we’re very much into this late, decadent poetics kind of thing. We’ve gone to many congresses and become very friendly with these academics and studied these water painters and Oscar Wildes and Swinburnes and it’s just a very, very interesting world where I felt that the late Victorians, these guys really pushed the boat out, they were the punks of the time, so if we put this story in 1890s Britain, I think it would be very interesting. So that will be the next project.

[youtube id=”V17y1SYuyTs” width=”600″ height=”350″]

SEA WITHOUT SHORE | WORLD PREMIERE | GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2015  

 

 

Tales of Hoffmann (1951)

HOFFMANN_BD_3D(1)Dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Cast: Moira Shearer, Ludmilla Tcherina, Ann Ayars, Robert Rounseville, Leonide Massine

UK 1951, 138 min.

Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann was his last, unfinished work, his only serious opera. After the success of THE RED SHOES, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger looked for another ballet related project; in particular Pressburger, whose first love was music, wanted to realise the idea of “a composed film”. Whilst Moira Shearer, the star of THE RED SHOES had made clear, that she was never going to act in another film, Pressburger eventually talked her into appearing in THE TALES OF HOFFMANN, which was introduced as an ‘Archers’ production in October 1949; Alexander Korda’s ‘British Lion Film’ would distribute.

The poet Hoffmann (Rounseville) falls in love with Stella (Shearer), a ballerina. Watching her on stage, his leaves and wanders into a tavern, where a group of students ask him to tell them stories. His three stories are all connected by disappointed love: Olympia (Shearer) turns out to be a mechanical doll, Giuletta (Tcherina) wants to steal Hoffmann’s soul, and finally, Antonia (Ayars), a consumptive opera singer, dies whilst singing an aria. Hoffmann himself collapses at the end of his last story, just when Stella enters the tavern. She is lead away by Hoffmann’s eternal rival. But the muse of Poetry appears, and beckons Hoffmann to chose a life in the service of literature.

The film’s music is conducted by Sir Thomas Beeacham; of the cast, only Ayars and Rounseville sang. This was not a problem, since the film was shot entirely as a silent film (later to be dubbed in a studio), on the old silent stage at Shepperton studios, the largest in Europe, which had been constructed for THINGS TO COME in 1936. Shooting took place from July to the end of September 1950. When Korda was first approached by Pressburger and Powell about the project, he asked innocently, if any of the film makers had actually seen a stage version. Powell admitted that he never did, whilst Pressburger could claim to have played the second violin in the orchestra during performances in Prague, but “from where I sat, I could not see much”. Korda bought the duo tickets for a performance of he opera in Vienna, but their plane was delayed, they landed in the Russian zone, and had to wait for visas into the British zone, where the performance was held – they entered the theatre finally, when Antonia gave up her ghost.

The film was premiered on 1st April 1951 in New York, and seventeen days later in London, Queen Mary, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart being in the audience. Critical acclaim was great, but the film just recouped its production costs, being only shown in selected cinemas. On April 20th, the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won two awards. According to Powell, he had a fight with Korda and Pressburger, who both wanted to cut the third act of the picture, as to enhance its chances of winning the “Golden Palme”. This is highly unlikely, since there were only two days between the London and Cannes performance, hardly time for a recut – and Kevin Macdonald, who wrote Pressburger’s biography, claims, that “Powell wanted to see things as he saw them, not like they happened”. But THE TALES OF HOFFMANN was the beginning of the end for the working relationship of the Powell/Pressburger duo, they seemed to have been a lack of trust, which resulted finally in them going their different professional ways. AS

A 4K RESTORATION WILL BE AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY/DVD FROM 23 MARCH 2015, AS PART OF THE STUDIOCANAL VINTAGE CLASSICS COLLECTION

Introduction from Martin Scorsese

Interview with Thelma Schoonmaker

 

 

Love is All (2015)

Director: Kim Longinotto

In order to borrow the title of the Beatles song, All you need is Love, for her latest documentary, LOVE IS ALL, Kim Longinotto needed a lot more ‘tough’ love to make the project really succeed. This is a 70 minute collage of British social history concerned with our attitudes to love, dating and marriage. On paper it sounded fascinating. In practice it’s only intermittently so. Longinotto has said “the film explores love in a playful way.” Yet along with her kindly British/Yorkshire perspective of the sometimes pained joy of love, the ‘play’ needed to have a bit more edge.

LOVE IS ALL is a journey through the BFI and Yorkshire film archive. From the 1889 Kiss in a Tunnel (‘naughty’ straight couple kissing in a train carriage) right through to 2014’s Islington Wedding (one of the first gay marriages being applauded by an excited crowd), the most memorable clips are the most dramatic. A voyeuristic man spies, with binoculars on an amorous couple in the park. That’s in Peeping Tom (1905). The conflict between a mother and daughter over boyfriends in the 1927 silent Hindle Wakes. A public information film Don’t be like Brenda (1973), about an unwanted pregnancy. And,most strikingly, a tinted sequence from Piccadilly (1929) starring the exuberantly sexy Chinese actress Anna Mae Wong. Three great clips to die for, but not so the complete film. For Love is All is often in danger of losing itself in the generality of its big theme of LOVE.No commentary is supplied. Dialogue is minimal so music has to do the job. The songs are delivered by Richard Hawley and are ‘easy listening’ and tediously middle of the road; bland but inoffensive. His music never convincingly gelled with the image. Hawley’s folksy crooner voice tended to drift over the footage in a disembodied way. He wasn’t helped by lyrics that were too over/or under-romantic to really complement the power of the documentaries, home movies and feature films; avoiding irony and wit: pushing the film into sentimentality, when a genuine romantic affection was required.

None of LOVE IS ALL‘s clips were identified on screen. But maybe a film divided into chapters, with arresting titles, could have been attempted? To the film’s credit it is inclusive (gay experiences and multi-cultural experiences of love play alongside a white/straight view point). But where was the complexity of love? Not enough of love’s difficulties to contrast with its joys. So little was made of the mature love experience. And hardly any sex surfaces – though amongst the few scenes featuring physical aspect of love, the contrast of seduction moments in My Beautiful Launderette worked really well.

LOVE IS ALL is a lightweight pleasant Valentine’s Day card of a film that could have been a lot more passionate and playfully provocative. Alan Price

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 FEBRUARY 2015 COURTESY OF DOGWOOF

Private Road (1971) | BFI Flipside releases |Dvd blu

Director/Writer: Barney Platts-Mills

Cast: Susan Penhaligon, Bruce Robinson, Michael Feast, Robert Brown, Kathleen Byron

89min   UK   Drama

Like Bronco Bullfrog, Barney Platts-Mills’s second feature, PRIVATE ROAD (1971), is semi-improvised but this time he employs professional actors to explore middle-classe life. Peter (Bruce Robinson, later to direct the cult hit Withnail and I) is a writer taken on by a literary agency. There he meets Ann (Susan Penhaligon), a young secretary. They date, mix with Peter’s friends in a communal house, go holidaying in the country and eventually find a flat. Ann gets pregnant and is unsure about having the baby. Whilst Peter, whose first novel is rejected, finds work in an advertising agency. Their affectionate relationship is carefully tracked by Ann’s well -off parents (excellently played by Robert Brown and Kathleen Bryon). PRIVATE ROAD has a more obvious ’plot’ than Bullfrog, though it’s still structured as a series of insightfully-observed incidents. Each scene (with engaging colour photography by Andrew Sanders) has a fresh naturalism that feels self-effacing yet incisive when required and replete with laid-back criticism of its warm, very human and likeable characters.

The film opens with Stephen (Michael Feast) playing his guitar and singing a song that comes to function as an urban ballad abd commentary on the drama. Music reinforces the film’s universal themes: the need for honest friendships; young people ‘playing’ at responsibility and learning about love; the compromises of writing and inter-generational tensions. All are held together with an economy and delightful lightness of touch.

“It’s a bit of a long journey, on your own. Do you want to come?” says Peter, to Ann, boarding a train after spending a day with Ann and her parents, very early on in the film. Peter’s question is perhaps indicative of the private roads that young people travel along as they grow up. Peter appears to forget that he should stick with being a writer. Whereas Ann may eventually move on to other boyfriends. Such outcomes are subtly suggested in the film.

The intimacy of PRIVATE ROAD has been compared to the style of Eric Rohmer, but in some ways its honesty of approach has more in common with the free-wheeling seventies films of the barely-remembered director Jacques Rosier. PRIVATE ROAD was produced forty four years ago and could be regarded as a dated nostalgia trip. Far from it. Admittedly some of the conversations in the literary agency about the aims of fiction now sound unconvincing. Yet for the most part the film is still a highly watchable product of its time.
In 1971 the UK was in transition. Not yet post-hippy. And not yet ready for punk. PRIVATE ROAD exists in that cultural gap. Don’t go to the film expecting a fully worked-out story, but if you enjoy a rare look at the inconclusiveness of people’s lives and their needs and aspirations, then this engaging, often very funny, gem will appeal to you. ALAN PRICE 

Private Road is released on the BFI’s Flipside DVD/BLU RAY series of undeservedly neglected British cinema.

The Goob (2014) – Venice International Film Festival 2014

Dir: Guy Myhill | Cast: Liam Walpole, Sienna Guillory, Oliver Kennedy | UK Drama | 90′

In this enigmatic debut, Guy Myhill evokes the open spaces of the Norfolk countryside veiled in golden summery softness -wild flowers, drifting corn – and steeped in a an unsettling coming of age story, that pits a young man’s burgeoning sexuality against that of his mother’s boorish boyfriend – an avid stock-car racing champion and local grower.

Simon Tindall’s ethereal camera-work captures the rough and ready allure of this farming landscape and the gutsy inhabitants recalling that motorcycle opening sequence of Lawrence of Arabia with soft-focus art house twist contrasted with a gutsy song selection including Donna Summer. This is social realism that bristles with sexual tension and dreamy awakenings from childhood to young adulthood in the Fens, teasing with an enigmatic storyline that weaves through the fields but then departs in a different direction through never quite reveals itself.

The Goob is newcomer Liam Walpole who lives with his single mother Janet (Sienna Guillory) and her vicious partner in a run down shack of a roadside cafe Gene Womack dislikes the boy and makes no bones about showing it. Matters worsen when the Goob and his brother right the car off in a boy-racing moment, resulting in forced labour on the beet farm that threatens to curtail his social life. He does however meet hired farm-hand Elliott (Oliver Kennedy) and Eva (Marama Corlett) another picker who takes a shine to him during an impromptu midnight party in one of Gene’s fields.

This is a story that brims with intrigue and erotic tension not only between the Goob and Eva, but also in other enigmatic subplots where there’s a constant suggestion that Gene (a spiteful, mincing Harris) is drawn to other female characters and quite why Janet is involved with him remains a mystery. The intensity of the racing fraternity adds a rough machismo to the narrative, placing it firmly in Swaffham and the locale and the cast is almost entirely drawn from Norfolk. Liam Walpole has a gangly vulnerability about him which brings a unique appeal and gentleness to the otherwise hard-bitten, rough-edged Harris. MT

 

The Borderlands (2014) Interview with Gordon Kennedy

Scottish actor Gordon Kennedy’s appearances have been somewhat few and far between in cinema, his latest endeavour on the silver screen has been something of a critical hit amongst the horror community, with a starring role in Elliot Goldner’s The Borderlands. Kennedy discusses the differences in working in film compared to television, while also letting us in on the fresh challenges that come with the found footage genre. He also explains why his comedic background was beneficial to this piece, and whether or not he believes in the supernatural himself…

Q:So what attracted you to the project?

Well they offered me the job, is my stock reply to that. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before and I liked the idea of staring in a film, I don’t get offers for big Hollywood movies! I’m not a massive slasher horror fan, but films like The Evil Dead, funny, disgusting horror films, I love that. The humourless stuff that followed that wasn’t of much interest to me. The story in this is interesting, that whole thing of doing a horror film but about the people who are rubbishing, you’re starting from quite a cynical standpoint. I liked that idea.

Q:Your cynical character almost represents the viewer in that regard…

Completely. What I liked about him, and what we pushed quite a lot, was this idea of him losing his faith. The tortured holy man who is beginning to question what he’s sacrificed his life for, which is why he’s very open to the idea of miracles. We talked about that a lot during the film of it.

Q:You mentioned before your joy in doing a film, as most of your previous work has been on television. These days the line between the two mediums is so blurred – did this feel different though, like a movie?

Yeah it felt very different, especially in the bank balance! First of all it was a genuinely low-budget, independent British film, and those tend to be populated by very young, very enthusiastic, incredibly talented people, which is fantastic. I’d never seen that. The world of television tends to be populated by those who have done it for a long time. These guys are girls are coming out of film school. It was a real learning experience to see how these people work. They’ve only grown up in the digital age, they’re wondering around with SD cards all the time, that’s it. It’s an obvious thing, but it belies a huge difference in approach, but incredibly knowledgable about film and characters. They’re big fans of filmmaking right the way through, they can pick out their favourites from any genre and any age – and that’s just really interesting.

Borderlands still 1 copy

Q:So despite being in the industry a lot longer than Elliot – you still learnt a lot from him as a director?

Completely, I learnt a lot. But not just from Elliot, but all the crew. The D.O.P. Eben Bolter too, who is a really clever guy. Obviously with a found footage film, when one of the cameras is on your ear you get a fairly intimate relationship with the cameraman. I felt like I’d almost been unfaithful by the end of some days. I felt dirty, I had to go and have a shower. As did Eben. Again, that was learning for me because I hadn’t done found footage. I’m not sure if Elliot or Eben had either, but they’d really worked out how they were going to do it. It just brilliant and so interesting to work in that way.

Q:Did shooting a found footage movie bring about some new challenges you hadn’t faced before as an actor?

It’s a completely different environment. You have these head cams so it becomes really important to look at each other, if you look up or down you won’t see anyone. Things like that, there’s a lot more collaboration between camera crews, and lighting and props and actors and director than there might be otherwise. All these practical things are really interesting, but honestly it’s quite liberating. You don’t have to relight, you don’t stop and move the set around – you just film it and keep going, and you can try lots of different things. That was great fun, you really felt like you were part of the process, whereas there’s a danger in bigger films where you feel more like a mannequin. Ewan McGregor was very funny when he did Star Wars, he was so disappointed with the process. He said, ‘I spent six months staring at a green screen, I have no idea what my enemies look like. You’ll know before me’. Whereas this isn’t like that at all. It’s all real, and you’re constantly working with the whole team, and I really like that. I’ve stared in comedy and stuff like that, it’s a team game, not individual.

Q:Found footage films encourage a more naturalistic approach to acting, and provoke improvisation. Did that serve you well as an actor?

Yeah it really did. First of all, Rob [Hill] and I just got on, right from the off. It was one of those weird things, we just had a laugh, we trusted each other. It meant that we could push things, he really could say outrageous stuff and know I would come back, and that helped with us getting to know the characters, as well as each other, and it helped the film. The first 20 minutes could be dull exposition, but we worked on making the characters believable, and you like them and like being around them. Rob will be saying something stupid or I’ll be being grumpy and it works. It also means that when the characters go into jeopardy, the audience are taken along on an emotional level as well. That’s always good. The reaction at screenings is fantastic, I love it, because people are genuinely going ‘oh no!’ and that’s good, because you don’t do that in Saw. You just go ‘oh he’s got his leg cut off, fuck it, I don’t know him, I don’t care’.

Borderlands still 5 copy

Q:Improvisation serves the horror and comedy genres best I think, and this strikes a nice balance between the two. You’ve got a background in comedy, so I imagine that was pretty beneficial?

Yes it was. Rob is the funny man, but that’s good, I knew I could relax and I knew when to come in, when to shut up and let him get the laughs. Also, horror is very similar to comedy, in a sense that you have an audience reaction. It’s really black and white, and very simply whether you’ve got it right or wrong. In comedy the audience laugh, in horror they scream, and if they don’t scream at that moment you want them to, you’ve done something wrong, it’s not their fault. Same if people don’t get a joke, you’ve written it wrong or delivered it wrong. Those things are very similar, the timing of how you do things. With horror you’ve got the benefit of sound. We don’t have massive CGI, special effects budgets, so sound is so important.

Q:As someone who knows the project inside out, are you still able to get immersed in the film when watching it back? Do you feel tense?

You do, but it’s more from feeling it around the audience. When I’m watching something I’m in, it’s much more to do with the atmosphere, you can feel when the audience are absolutely there, and obviously you get the physical response, when the audience jump up in their seats. But I don’t get completely immersed in it, because I can’t see The Borderlands without seeing me in it. Most of the time I just sit there thinking, ‘Jesus, why did you do that?’ so I tend to concentrate more on the audience – that’s the important thing.

Q:Do you ever get used to seeing yourself on the big screen? Do you scrutinise over it a lot?

Yeah you tend to look at stuff, but I’m terrible. My wife constantly shouts at me when we’re watching something on television, and I’m being cynical. That’s the devil’s pay you have when involved in the business, you can’t look at something as a punter. That’s the sign of a good show – when I watch something completely as a punter. Like Line of Duty recently, I absolutely loved that, it’s fantastic. But with myself, yeah I’m not very good at watching, ‘who’s that handsome hunk in the background?’ is not what I do. I’m not sure many actors do, contrary to popular opinion – I think most hide their head in their hands.

Borderlands still 4 copy

Q:So do you think this film has an appeal to films fans in general, outside of horror aficionados?

Yeah completely. When this first went out on the festival circuit, for the horror reviewers, the opening lines to so many of their reviews were, ‘this is a found footage film, but…’. We argued about this when making the film, I think it’s a genre, I think there’s enough examples of it being used, and it’s a way to tell a story, that’s all. Perhaps it’s more a style than a genre, it’s a way of telling stories, like shooting a film in black and white. So a lot of people were a bit tired of it because of the success of things like Paranormal Activity, you get Paranormal Activity Four and pay just think, I’ve had enough of this. But in this instance it really works, it’s embedded in the story and there’s a really good plot reason why we’re doing it, so you don’t worry about it. As soon as you’ve done that, and set it up properly, nobody worries about it and it’s fine. That was important, and a good example of how to do something like this. If there’s a good, competent reason why you’re doing it in a certain way, the audience relax

Q: So you think it’s important the audience go in without any preconceptions of this genre?

Yeah absolutely. It’s a horror film and it’s low-budget, but it’s really nicely scripted and there’s some good themes, leading, inevitably, to a really scary end. You’re on a real journey. People who don’t like horror films, well they’ve been ambushed a bit, so they think they’re watching Final Destination or something. This is different, this obeys the laws of film, gives you characters, you like them, and you go on a journey with them.

Was it a challenge for you to find a strand of realism in the role and story, when dressed up in such supernatural surroundings?

No, because the crux of his doubt and his anguish, is whether you’re prepared to take this leap of faith or not, so it’s about that. Which is great, because I could have that inner turmoil, externally. That added a bit to the character, that’s why it’s interesting.

Q:Do you believe in the supernatural yourself?

No. No. I don’t. I was talking to someone the other day, and there was one time we were filming in a haunted house and the camera went from colour to black and white in this haunted room, and everybody was convinced that was a ghost.

Q: You were filming in derelict churches at the dead of night – it must have been quite eerie at times to shoot?

Yeah, and that really helped. Definitely, there were a couple of times when I go back to church a couple of times on my own and when we’re filming that, because it’s wide shots, supposedly the CCTV cameras from the church, nobody could be in there, so it’s 2am, it’s dark, it’s a derelict church and I’m in there on my own, so you can use whatever you can to make the realism a bit more real, and it certainly was a little spooky in there. It definitely helped.

Q: So are a big fan of horror as a genre? What state do you think it’s in at present?

What’s really interesting, is that British independent films and the horror genre, and inextricably linked, because there’s a massive tradition of British horror films, from pre-Hammer to now, with people like Ben Wheatley. It’s great going round to these festivals like FrightFest, where a lot of British filmmakers are cutting their teeth by making a movie in the horror genre, because they know they’re going to get a lot of exposure and it’s good fun. If done well, it can really show your skills off as a filmmaker. So I think it’s pretty good, and every now and again people reinvent the wheel. Like Paranormal Activity just moved found footage to a different level, deliberately setting it in the one place where you think you’re most secure – a bedroom. A sensational thing to pull off, and to pull off like they did. Cloverfield too, that took found footage into a massive, special effects movie and that was really interesting. All of that stuff is great because it broadens the field.

Borderlands still 2 copy

Q:Not to take anything away from The Borderlands, but have you been surprised at the level of acclaim it’s been receiving so far? Across the world.

Yes, yes I have. It’s been a real positive surprise to me. Partly it’s because it’s an entirely new field so I have no critical compass here. Obviously I’m in it and I want it to be really good and I know how hard everyone worked – so I’m the worst person in the world to look at it in perspective because obviously I’m going to say it’s great. But it’s been really interesting how people, and not particularly horror fans, have loved it. That means there’s something in the script, in the acting and in the characters is obviously working, otherwise that wouldn’t have happened. People my generation are not necessarily horror fans, but they seem to like it and that’s been a heartening process to go through, and it makes me very proud of it and of all the people who worked so hard to make it as good as it is. That’s been fantastic. It’s also really interesting, because there’s a huge amount of positivity in this area I never expected. Because you generally see film critics slagging off Hollywood blockbusters, you feel there’s a spikiness about film criticism and the film world. But what’s been interesting is watching the warmth of other filmmakers and critics to this film, who are saying, ‘this is a low budget film that you should see.’ Empire magazine put it in their top 20 films you should have seen but probably didn’t watch in 2013, and that’s been a real shock to me, but a brilliant one. It shows there’s a proud tradition of filmmaking in this country, and people in charge of bringing that, like you, the critics, are very mindful of the idea that British film is very important, so when you see something worthy of merit, you are looking at something and saying, ‘this is very good’. Not, ‘it hasn’t got Ewan McGregor in it, so fuck off’. Stefan Pape

THE BORDERLANDS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 28 MARCH 2014

[youtube id=”8j1aimF90Dk?t=7s” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Metro Manila (2013) ***** Sundance London 2013

Director/Script: Sean Ellis

Cast: Jake Macapagal, Althea Vega, John Arcilla, Ana Abad-Santos, Miles Canapi, Moises Magisa

90min          Crime Drama     UK

British director, Sean Ellis, started life as a  fashion stills photographer in the nineties.  His film debut was born out of a short of the same name Cashback (2006).  His second feature, a critically-acclaimed psychological thriller The Broken (2008) starred Richard Jenkins and Lena Hedy.

Metro Manila contains no famous actors and although the initial treatment generated keen interest, his quest for authenticity and his desire to shoot the film in local Tagalog language made the project a hard sell to financiers. The story centres on a young couple of economic migrants with two small kids who move to the violent urban conglomeration of Metro Manila from the countryside, in a bid to survive.

Fortunately for us all, Ellis succeeded in filming and financing his endeavour and the native language adds authenticity and an exotic edge to this first rate crime drama which completely transcends its need for subtitles, such is the power of the cinematic narrative, and is one of the best thrillers I’ve seen for some time. Metro Manila - Audience Award World Cinema Dramatic - Sundance 2013

To illustrate the extreme measures to which the central character, Oscar Ramirez, is forced to go to, Sean Ellis took, as inspiration, the true story of one Reginald Chua whose father was murdered by rivals envious of the success of his silk factory.  Eventually, their threatening behaviour to his workers became so serious that we was forced to shut the factory and go bankrupt. Facing mounting debts, he boarded a plane and forced the passengers at gunpoint to hand over their money. He then jumped out with a parachute made from the silk of his father’s factory.

Poetic in feel and sumptuously shot, Metro Manila is a beautiful thriller: Sean Ellis’s skill with his lenses, the lush tropical countryside, and the gentle-looking Philipino leads Jake Macapagal (Oscar) and Althea Vega (Mai), who give natural performances and their lovely children make this a pleasurable watch that feels refreshingly thoughtful as a counterpoint to the mounting suspense it generates.

Metro Manila starts as a quietly realistic story set amid the paddie fields as the family  leave their farmland and set out on a colourful bus journey to the city. But a sinister edge soon sets in when they fall amongst thieves a few hours into their arrival they are firstly swindled by a rogue landlord and then turned out into the street. Greedy employers exploit their honest naivety, seeing them as a soft touch and setting out to take advantage of their lack of guile.  It’s a sad state of affairs: Mai is working as a hostess in a lap-dancing club and Oscar partners a corrupt guard dealing with laundered cash for a security firm. They find themselves in a filthy flat on the slippery slope to hell with only their love for each other and their faith in God to redeem them.

Proceedings turn increasingly tense as Oscar’s job feels like a game of Russian Roulette due to the mercurial and unpredictable character of his shady partner Ong (John Arcilla). His lack of shrewdness threatens to land him in deep water but Oscar is no fool and manages to stay ahead of the game as the final denouement is ingeniously unwrapped in the final seat-clenching moments. You’ll never guess the ending. MT

Metro Manila won the Audience Award for best drama at Sundance Film Festival 2013 and BEST FOREIGN FILM at the BIFA 2013. It is the British submission for BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM AT 2014 ACADEMY AWARDS 2013

Copyright © 2022 Filmuforia