Posts Tagged ‘British Indie’

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015) *** BBCiplayer

Dir: Thomas Vinterberg  Wri: David Nicholls | Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Carey Mulligan, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, | 119min   GB/US  Drama

John Schlesinger’s 1967 film of Hardy’s novel, Far from the Madding Crowd, was always going to be a hard act to follow. Nearly 50 years later Thomas Vinterberg’s version of the tale of Bathsheba Everdene a “headstrong country girl” and her three suitors, has a distinctly European flavour. A Danish director and DoP; an English screenwriter (David Nicholls); a Belgian Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) and the occasional Welsh twang of Michael Sheen’s Mr Boldwood make up this neatly potted version, running at 40 minutes shorter than the original 1960s version.

Vinterberg’s focus here is on the intimacy between the central characters: particularly for Carey Mulligan who exudes a serene dignity as Bathsheba. Her relationship with Gabriel – that starts as a proposal in the middle of a field – simmers away in the background as the two play a subtle and convincing game of interdependency that adds a sexual frisson to their working friendship  – Oak is the only man who makes Bethesda smile broadly, and shed a tear.

After the reversal of fortune brought about by the loss of his sheep, Oak may have less to offer financially when she inherits her Uncle’s farm, but throughout he is his own man, and a good man at that, and not afraid to walk away – and that is Hardy’s clincher at the end of the day. Schoenaerts evokes a powerful masculinity that is both physical and emotional, but he also a brings reliability, for as long as Bathsheba needs him, making it clear that he will one day walk away. Oaks not only becomes a confidante to Bathsheba but also to Boldwood, a middle-aged landowner whose senses are inflamed on receiving her casual Valentine with its throw-away message. But what Michael Sheen lacks the regal detachment of Peter Finch’s Boldwood, he makes up for in with the desperate, gnawing vulnerability he brings to the role; the only one of the trio who has as much to lose as to gain, as the eldest, if he fails to win Bathsheba’s hand. Sheen’s poignantly-tortured agony as he questions his chances, is one of the triumphs of the film.

But Vinterberg’s version has much less of the duplicitous chancer, Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge). In an underwritten role, that fails to conjure up his importance as the most manipulative and controlling of Bathsheba’s consorts, Sturridge is no match for the dashing blue-eyed charm or erotism of Terence Stamp –  for one, he looks positively wet behind the ears (despite being exactly the same age as Stamp in the role – 29); for another, he emerges as even more the cad and less as the skilful seducer than Stamp did back in the sixties.

At the heart of Winterberg’s film is the subtle, slow-burn relationship between Mulligan’s Bathsheba and Schoenaerts’ Oak and one which develops through the ups and downs of their farming challenges. The smouldering Schoenaerts has a difficult role as he is forced into underplaying his character, relying on a potent chemistry to attract Bathsheba. Carey Mulligan is elegantly attractive, her ladylike daintiness tempered by a shrewd sense-of-self and a maturity beyond her years; as against Julie Christie’s more ethereal light-hearted girliness.

What Vinterberg’s film lacks is Hardy’s (and Schlesinger’s) potent essence of 19th Dorset life – the vagaries of farming and animal husbandry, and the way they drive the narrative forward shaping the lives of this ‘madding crowd’ of rural countryfolk. It’s a brave attempt though, and an enjoyable re-make. MT

NOW ON BBCiplayer

Dead of Night (1945)

Dir: Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton | Cast: Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver, Google Withers, Mary Merrall, Frederick Valk | UK Horror 113′

The biggest mystery connected with Dead of Night is why the studio never made another film like it (Basil Dearden had recently made the literally haunting wartime fantasy The Halfway House; but apart from the multi-story film Train of Events and the spooky anecdote The Night My Number Came Up that was it).

Made by Ealing Studios with individual segments directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer, the drama centres on architect Walter Craig (Johns) who has arrived at a country house party in Kent to offer the owner, Elliot Foley (Culver), renovation advice. Craig soon realises he has seen the guests in a recurring dream despite never having met any of them, and senses impending doom as his half-remembered recurring nightmare turns to reality. The guests encourage him to stay as they take turns telling their own supernatural tales.

My personal favourite episode is Robert Hamer’s The Haunted Mirror (I found myself avoiding mirrors for a while after my mother died in case I saw her in them); while Hitchcock plainly lifted the final close-up of Michael Redgrave that concludes the ventriloquist’s dummy episode for the end of Psycho.

Unlike most commentators I rather like the episode about the golfers; especially as it’s always a pleasure to see Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne whatever they’re in. I agree however with Carlos Clarens, who dismissed the ‘official’ ending as “a final farandole which mixed all the stories together”; but consider the repetition of the opening sequence under the closing credits inspired. Since Walter Craig states earlier on that he’s never told anybody else about his dream, the seldom remarked upon comment by his wife that closes the film (underscored by Craig’s disconcertingly slowed-down reaction shot as he draws on a cigarette) gives the lie to that claim, and more than forty years after I first saw it I still haven’t figured out what it’s implications are…©Richard Chatten

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES TV and 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

 

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

Hurt by Paradise (2019) ***

Dir.: Greta Bellamacina; Cast: Greta Bellamacina, Sadie Brown, Lorca Montgomery, Robert Montgomery, Bruno Wizard; UK 2019, 83 min.

An interdependent friendship between two women is explored in this stunningly shot drama debut from British filmmaker and poet Greta Bellamacina who is clearly aiming for a Woody Allen, Baumbach Gerwig type of filming in her debut drama set in Soho and the Kent coast. It’s a worthwhile try but doesn’t quite make the mark.

Hurt by Paradise is both naive and infuriating. Co-writing with Montgomery and Brown, Bellamacina also stars as poet Celeste Blackwood in the female centric cast alongside Tanya Burr, Sadie Brown, Jamie Winstone and Camilla Rutherford. The film unfolds in ten verses, with headings like “You are a Mammal eating the soul of a dead Bird in the Sky”.

Celeste is having a difficult time of it with various publishers and Stella (Brown) is an actor, often thwarted at auditions, and mostly employed (but not regularly paid) as babysitter for single mum Celeste’s baby son Jimi (L. Montgomery). The women are used to being rebuffed by the world  and Celeste’s family doesn’t help: her posh sister, pedantic husband, and paranoid mother are all self-centred and superficial. Celeste’s efforts to find a boyfriend end dismally when she meets airline pilot Harry (R. Montgomery), whose ex is still firmly in his head. Stella’s internet relationship isn’t faring much better with Roman. All this comes to a shattering conclusion when Stella goes missing, Celeste plays detective, with Jimi in tows. But Stella soon fetches up in Margate with the famed Roman (Wizard), whose identity you have probably already guessed.

Shot in saccharine pastel colours by Fabio Paleari and Emily-Jane Robinson, the best thing about Hurt by Paradise is listening to Celeste’s entertaining inner monologue in poetry format, but it’s unsure if the intended tone here is irony. This can’t be said for the narrative which is rather clichéd along with most of the dialogue in this feature shot by family and friends, without enough critical distance between theme and characters AS 

RELEASES IN CINEMAS | 18 September 2020

 

    

A Matter of Life and Death (1946) | New 4k Restoration | Poetry

Dir: Michael Powell | Writer: Emeric Pressburger | Cast: David Niven, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Kim Hunter, Marius Goring, Abraham Sofaer, Robert Coote, Joan Maude, Kathleen Byron, Bonar Colleano, Richard Attenborough | UK / Fantasy / 104min

Although by general consensus it is now accorded the status of a classic, it actually took quite a while for this beautiful and unique film to be considered as such. Lindsay Anderson at the time actually used it as his yardstick for mediocrity when he despaired in ‘Sequence’ of audiences that “allow themselves to be diverted by A Matter of Life and Death, but confess themselves too lazy for Ivan the Terrible“, while as recently as 1973 it had been dismissed by Angela & Elkan Allan in ‘The Sunday Times Guide to Movies on Television’ as “[e]xtravagantly awful… told not as a comedy, but as a serious, ludicrous drama”.

Matter-870When it first appeared plenty of critics grumbled at its lack of realism, although director Michael Powell himself took great satisfaction in the fact that everything in the film was psychologically explicable as a hallucination on the part of the hero, Peter Carter (engaging played by a young David Niven). The light-hearted backdrop of fantasy, however, made palatable the graphic depiction of the violent death of two of the film’s characters (we first see Bob Trubshawe [Robert Coote] looking very realistically dead with his eyes open), since within the context of the film’s narrative they are both soon depicted jauntily bounding back to life, when in reality at the film’s conclusion they would both have been very much dead, and remained so for all eternity.

 Under the baton of maestro Michael Powell, A Matter of Life and Death is an enormously satisfying exercise in organisation, with the many components that make up  a feature film – Emeric Pressburger’s literate script, the enthusiastic performances by a uniformly fine cast, Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor photography, Allan Gray’s music, Alfred Junge’s production design, Reginald Mills’ editing and so on – smoothly coalescing into a sublime whole, which Powell himself prided himself on making it all look so easy, when it had been anything but.  It was typically audacious that the film chose at so early to reverse the convention already emerging in cinematic fantasy by depicting real life in Technicolor and Heaven in black & white. The transitions are smoothly organised, although some took exception at Marius Goring’s line – breaching the fourth wall – that “One is starved for Technicolor up zere…!”  Depicting Heaven in black & white was perceived by Raymond Durgnat as satirising the welfare state, and in an odd little book published in 1947 called ‘The World is My Cinema’ E.W. & M.M. Robson heaped page upon page of abuse on the heads of Powell & Pressburger accusing them of being unpatriotic fascist sympathisers (although it’s worth noting that nobody from the Axis Powers is anywhere to be seen, the Chief Recorder is a woman (Joan Maude) and The Judge is played by an Asian actor [Abraham Sofaer]).

matter-4A remarkable amount of Britain’s imperial dirty linen indeed receives a very public airing during the heavenly tribunal (including a laugh-out-loud moment depicting the introduction of an Irish juror in standard IRA uniform of trilby and trenchcoat) led Richard Winnington of the News Chronicle to suppose it was there just for “American box-office purposes”, which ironically attests to the artfulness with which Powell & Pressburger’s company The Archers had camouflaged their propaganda, since the whole reason for the film’s existence had been a request from the Ministry of Information to make a film stressing Anglo-American friendship (relations between the Allies were becoming strained even before Germany surrendered). Anyone else would have simply obliged with a conventional romance between a Brit and a Yank, but The Archers didn’t do conventional, and only they would erect such a formidable edifice to get their message across.

It’s hard to imagine any other national cinema or filmmakers combining such technical and philosophical ambition with such boundless exuberance in its telling. The whole film looks so extraordinary, it’s easy not to notice the skilful use of sound throughout – from the hollow, echoing acoustics of the opening scene narrated by John Longden taking us on a tour of outer space, through the ominously ticking clock in the control room at the air base, to Allan Gray’s exquisite and atmospheric score, his last for an Archers production.

A Matter of Life and Death represents both the culmination and conclusion of The Archers’ first phase, since as their later productions became more ornate they in the process lost much of the gusto and graceful good humour which had characterised their earlier productions. ©RChatten

The film also inspired Alan Price to compose this poem:

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946) 

No one has ever dramatised a brain seizure like you guys. 

An airman hallucinating on earth and its WW2 ‘heaven.’ 

Pilot Peter Carter, so English a fighting poet. One moment 

in a three-strip Technicolor village, the next on a staircase 

to a monochrome beyond. Blaze of aircraft crashing down. 

A beach. Her cycling. You meet; grab the falling handlebars, 

embrace and kiss. Not some visionary sight of a nether world. 

Nor a surgeon spying the street with his camera obscura. 

Nor the French messenger who lost his head. Nor the smell 

of fried onions can change my mind: the idea of a sacrifice

for love. June got her man. Peter got his woman. Emeric and 

you Michael got the film you wanted. AMOLAD determined 

my fantasy after-life. I was born premature three years later: 

taken out of my pram; nurtured in a cinema, entranced by 

black & white pearls with the option for wide screen rainbows. 

Hovering betwixt and between, knowing I’d never starve.

©ALAN PRICE

Make-Up (2019) *** VOD

Dir.: Claire Oakley, Cast: Molly Windsor, Joseph Quinn, Stephanie Martin, Lisa Palfrey, Theo Barklem-Briggs; UK 2019, 86 min.

This shady seaside story of sexual discovery is the feature debut of British director Claire Oakley. Slathered in atmosphere it often feels like an extended short. In Cornwall the Autumn mists slowly descend on a run down caravan park, where eighteen-year old Ruth (Windsor) arrives to lighten things up for her boyfriend Tom (Quinn). But her growing doubts about their relationship are echoed in the September dankness setting the tone for a simmering switch in Ruth’s sexuality as she slowly develops feelings for her much older co-worker Jade (Martini), a wigmaker fond of the titular crimson red make-up.

In this visually inventive exploration of drifting sexuality, Oakley dabbles in a heady hotchpotch of genres hovering between horror and poetic realism, DoP Nick Cooke dressing it all up to look like something by Nicolas Roeg. But the underworked script relies on enigma and atmosphere to confer a deeper meaning in banal scenes where Oakley has little to express, apart from the usual coming-of-age conflict, mixed with a heavy-handed gender role reversal.

Newcomer Molly Windsor tries hard to add meaning to the cringe-worthy dialogue, but biting her nails like a little girl in distress seems to defeat  the purportedly empowering theme of Make Up. Without giving away too many spoilers, we soon get where the plot is heading: via a ‘Wicker Man’ like beach scene, with Tom and best friend Kai (Barklem-Briggs) proudly flexing their masculinity and mastery of the Cornish language. A blatantly sentimental first ending which is then trumped by a second one, is a steal from Truffaut’s debut Les Quatre Cents Coups, with Ruth taking the Antoine Doinel part. Make Up is rather a hit-and-miss affair as far as drama goes, but its efforts to engage in the ongoing LGBTQ+ narrative are laudable and worthwhile, and the film’s poster designed by Andrew Bannister is brilliant. AS

IN CINEMAS AND EXCLUSIVELY ON CURZON HOME CINEMA | 31 JULY 2020

The Good Die Young (1954) *** Blu-ray

Dir: Lewis Gilbert | Cast: Stanley Baker, Gloria Grahame, Joan Collins, Laurence Harvey, John Ireland, Richard Basehart | UK Drama

This watchable if rather moralistic British thriller sees three law-abiding men brought together Producer Clayton and director Gilbert (the most hard-working of all British post-war film-makers) assembled a top Anglo-American cast for this rather moralisitic and decent thriller, based on a book by Richard Macauley).

Boasting a stellar cast that also includes Gloria Grahame (The Bad and the Beautiful), Joan Collins (Cosh Boy) and Robert Morley (The Battle of the Sexes), this compelling crime picture is presented in both its original theatrical version and in an extended export cut (Blu-ray only), originally intended for international audiences.

Psychotic playboy Harvey finds himself short of the readies so he persuades ex-GI Basehart, AWOL Air Force sergeant Ireland and no-hope boxer Baker to join him in holding up a mail van. This being a British picture from the ’50s, you don’t expect them to get away with it – but neither do you quite anticipate Joan Collins and Gloria Grahamepopping up in such low-key supporting roles as they do here.

Amoral aristocrat Miles Ravenscourt (Laurence Harvey, Room at the Top) plots a daring robbery to settle his gambling debts in this taut, tough thriller played out on the shadowy streets of post-war London. Enlisting the aid of washed-up former boxer Mike (Stanley Baker, Zulu), ex-GI Joe (Richard Basehart, Moby Dick) and US airman Eddie (John Ireland, Red River), Ravenscourt sets out to plan the perfect heist. But is there any such thing as a sure thing?

Blu-ray/DVD release on 20 July 2020, and on iTunes and Amazon Prime on 3 August 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case For Daniel Birt and Dylan Thomas

In his series on underrated British directors, Alan Price looks at two films from English filmmaker Daniel Birt (1907-55) who started his career in the cutting room with Channel Crossing (1933) and went on to make thrillers and TV fare before his early death at 47.

On consulting Brian McFarlane’s “The Encyclopedia of British Film” (2003) I found this entry for Daniel Birt: “It seems unlikely that anyone will try to elevate Oxford-educated Daniel Birt to auteur status but one of his films is striking enough to deserve attention.” 

That film is The Three Weird Sisters (1948), a fascinating semi-Gothic melodrama and quasi critique of capitalism, set in rural Wales. But there’s another Birt film worthy of attention: his remarkable drama No Room at the Inn (also 1948) about child evacuees of the Second World War in Northern England. 

Like McFarlane I would hesitate to call Daniel Birt an auteur, but who knows for sure? Many of his films are hard to see (From 1935 to 1956 he directed just under ten films.) The invaluable TV channel Talking Pictures has recently screened Inn. Perhaps other Birt films will materialise so we can judge him better? He’s certainly a subject for further research.

What’s also distinctive about these two films is that they were co-written by Dylan Thomas. The Welsh poet was employed to re-write dialogue and change scenes; though maybe not paid to criticise, even scorn Welsh identity, local bureaucracy and insert a fairy-tale element into one of the stories. A case for complete authorship on these collaborations begins to throw up an interesting debate between writer and director.

The Three Weird Sisters (A deliberate nod here to the three witches in Macbeth) depicts three old fashioned and elderly women (played by Nancy Price, Mary Clare and Mary Merrall) living in a decrepit mansion near a disused mining village in Wales. The former mine collapses and destroys some property. The concerned sisters wish to rebuild the houses but have no money to do so. They call on Owen (Raymond Lovell) their local businessman brother to help them. On arriving at his sisters’ place Owen refuses financial aid. The sisters then devise a plot to kill him through poisoning his drink. It fails, so they continue on him whilst also attempting to murder Owen’s secretary Claire (Nova Pilbeam) the heir to his fortune.

The plot indicates some obvious shaky melodramatics yet The Three Weird Sisters keeps shifting tone: from a socialist condemnation of the wealthy, a horror comedy, a thriller and a romance between the secretary and the local doctor. On top of this are the machinations of the sisters, controlled by the blind Gertrude, needing to preserve their family name and traditions whatever the cost. Birt and Thomas’s switching from the creepy, the romantic and the political meshes quite well, giving the film an odd originality, while Birt’s visual style often reveals a deft eye for detail and imagery – numerous shots of the sisters on a rickety staircase, as unpredictable as themselves, hold your attention. 

The film’s political rant is a denunciation of the Welsh nation and an attack on the inequality of a political system that exploited the village for coal, and then deserted it. One strange but memorable scene is worth describing; Nova Pilbeam flees the house to inform the local police of the sisters’ intentions. On receiving short shrift from the local constabulary she leaves to find Mabli Hughes (Hugh Griffiths) an out-of-work miner. He’s seated on a little hill near the neglected mine, addressing a group of four dogs, as if to rouse the workers against the system. “Here in Cumblast all social evils are condensed and crystallised. This one village may be regarded as the hub, the nucleus of a microcosm, of all Pluto-democratic, inevitable inequality.” That’s quite a hyperbolic mouthful and not the kind of dialogue you’d normally expect to find in a British film of the late 1940s. Understandably the secretary considers the miner’s speech to be sincere (if half-crazy) and quickly realises he’s reluctant to help her.

Although Dylan Thomas’s script is frequently perversely opinionated, it becomes the glue that holds the film together: best realised in the determined character of the secretary and Nova Pilbeam brings great conviction to her role. It’s the best written and least stereotyped part in The Three Weird Sisters. She’s feisty in her attempt to bring some common sense and order amidst the gothic strains of the film’s plot. Like her performance, when a young girl, in Hitchcock’s first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1932) Pilbeam may appear on the surface to be ‘over-sweet’ and too posh but underneath the surface charm she’s a no-nonsense woman, confident and focused. Nova isn’t going to be put down by incompetent men and dangerous women (nearly all the female characters in The Three Weird Sisters and No Room at the Inn are more strongly realised than the men.)

A sense of the Gothic also infiltrates No Room at the Inn set in the early months of 1940. We witness atmospheric blitzed streets by the railway bridge next to a rundown house that’s definitely on the wrong side of the tracks: all lorded over by Mrs Agatha Voray (Freda Jackson) doing her damn best not to properly look after three young girl evacuees. The children live in squalor and suffer mental and physical abuse under the care of this coarse woman who invites men (local councillors and shopkeepers) for casual sex and bit of cash to bolster her shopping allowance of ration coupons. 

No Room at the Inn was adapted from a play that opened in 1945 at the Embassy Theatre in Swiss Cottage, London. Like the film it was very successful, causing The Daily Express in 1946 to devote considerable space to the plight of orphaned children in unchecked private homes. You could argue that by the time the film version appeared in 1948 public attention was drawn to a social problem in the manner that television did much later with Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home (1966), exposing a nationwide housing crisis. 

The character of the schoolteacher Judith Drave (Joy Shelton) is remarkable, for we have – like the secretary of The Three Weird Sisters – a force for truth-seeking that refuses to be silenced. A powerfully written and acted moment occurs when Miss Drave, who has complained about Mrs Vrang’s behaviour, is asked to give evidence at a town councillors’ meeting. They dislike Ms Drave’s assertive manner. When Mrs.Voray has her right to reply she adopts the manner of a humble woman struggling to do her best during wartime restrictions. The schoolteacher sees right through her performance. But the council members (half of whom have flirted with Voray) believe her account of things over the teacher’s. I love Dylan Thomas’s writing here. His social concern is angrily targeted at bureaucratic corruption and ineptitude. And it’s much better integrated into the plot than the politics of The Three Weird Sisters.

Like The Three Weird Sisters there are fascinating if disconcerting alterations of tone – such as the beautifully written bedtime story scene in the room of the young girl evacuees. Norma Bates (yes, not Norman, though the film has its moments of Hitchcockian darkness) who is played by Joan Dowling, re-interprets the Cinderella story in a ripe, savagely Cockney manner. She comforts the children who are desperate to escape the mean house and its mean housekeeper. It’s a spellbinding moment of Dylan Thomas poetics: a joyful spin on Cinderella, beautifully shot and executed. And its lyricism is made more poignant by intercutting with Mrs Voray in the pub getting drunk with the sailor father of one of the evacuees. 

No Room at the Inn often seems prescient of much later British films about master and slave relationships between adults and children. It recalls Jack Clayton’s woefully neglected Our Mother’s House (1967) and Andrew Birkin’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel The Cement Garden (1993). They all contain seedy and claustrophobic forces about to explode into violent revenge. Without divulging the ending of No room at the Inn I can reveal that – for the film version – Dylan Thomas was supposed to have radically changed the circumstances surrounding Mrs.Voray’s demise. And the film’s final 15 minutes turn remarkably dark and intense, avoiding histrionics, as the story inevitably descends into pathos, suspense and horror. There’s a scary What Ever Happened to Baby Jane moment when Mrs Voray, cheated by a would-be lover, returns home drunk and furious; ascends the stairs to attack the children, looking a for a moment like a demented Bette Davis.

Neither of these two films is without flaws. The ending of No Room at the Inn is too abrupt – though the story is told in one extended flashback, I felt it should have returned to its opening scenes where a now adult Norma is caught shoplifting: while Hermoine Baddeley, playing Voray’s accomplice, Mrs Waters, gives a truly terrible and grating performance. As for The Three Weird Sisters I found some of the humour, centring on grumpy brother Owen’s health, to be overplayed and though the film admirably attempts to wriggle out of its obvious ‘old dark house territory’ it doesn’t quite succeed.

Yet putting these reservations to one side what still impressed me, on a second viewing, were many of the performances. Freda Jackson brings a full-blooded intensity to the role of the selfish and uncaring Aggie Voray. She was a sensation in the play and that’s why they made a film version which launched her considerable career on stage and in the cinema. Jackson probably became a role model for actors portraying more authentic working class women. I wonder if Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner) of Coronation Street was influenced by her? As for all of the child actors in No Room at the Inn well they’re brilliant – especially Joan Dowling who’s street-wise confidence cannot hide her emotional damage. She deserved a prize but unfortunately the BAFTAs didn’t begin until 1954.

This is notable British Cinema of 1948. And these two strange and atypical productions struck me as remarkably individual for their time. Whether it was Daniel Birt or Dylan Thomas who was most responsible for their power I’ll leave you to decide. Neither film is on DVD. You can see No Room at the Inn on ‘Talking Pictures’ (should be up for another screening soon.) As for The Three Weird Sisters, that can only be found as a rough, but still watchable copy, on YouTube. Alan Price.

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES | JUNE 2020

 

   

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. 

      

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    

  

National Gallery (2014) **** Streaming

Dir.: Frederick Wiseman

Documentary; France/UK/USA 2014, 181 min.

To call Frederick Wiseman a documentary filmmaker is somewhat absurd: for over four decades he has been telling stories about mental institutions; boxing halls; hospitals; ballet companies and universities. And this former teacher does all this without the classic tools of documentary filmmaking: voice-overs, talking heads, interviews and all form of identifiers are missing from his work. Instead the emphasis is on process: he is peeling off layer after layer. Therefore NATIONAL GALLERY is about art: its process, its mystery. But it is also about money
Wiseman has spent 12 weeks in the museum, the camera wandering freely through the institution, coming up with 170 hours of film but only three of them ending up in the final cut. One could say that cutting is his form of editing.

The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square houses mainly art from the 14th to the late 19th century. Its director, the art historian Nicholas Penny, is seen at budget discussions trying to define the role of the museum in regard to the public (expectations versus elitism) and, rather mundanely, discussing how to take advantage of the fact that the London Marathon ends at Trafalgar Square and that the façade of the museum would be used for a video projection.

Wiseman does not only stay in the building itself: He films Greenpeace activists putting up a banner from the roof of the building; “It’s no Oil painting”. With the ‘o’ in “oil’ looking like the Shell logo. It is clear that the banner refers to Shell’s drilling in the Antarctic and its support for the NG’s “Rembrandt: The Late Works” exhibition. With regard to matters financial, the director mentions that the money from the foundation collection of the museum was a donation by J.J. Angerstein, whose money was mainly made from his slave trading activities in Grenada.

It is difficult to choose the most impressive story in this engaging film, but amongst the most memorable is the one about a group of visually impaired patrons, sliding their fingers about an embossed reproduction of Pissaro’s “The Boulevard Montmarte at Night” (1897) whilst the curator explains all the details of the painting. Next is perhaps a psychological interpretation of Rubens’ “Samson and Delilah”, when the guide asks the audience to “imagine, how one would feel in Delilah’s place, having successfully fulfilled her spying mission and taken all the power away from Samson, after pretending to be in love with him”. A rather delicate question, indeed. Next a reminder of immortality: we are made full aware that many of the portraits in this museum were commissioned by the rich and powerful to achieve some form of immortality. In front of a Dutch table painting we hear that whilst the lobster has been long dead, the drinking horn has survived to this day.

On a more technical level, there is much to discover about the limits of restoration: a ghostly image on a Rembrandt portrait shows that another painting, perhaps a portrait of the same person, had been started before on the same canvas. But the restorer makes it clear that whatever his changes may be, the next person to restore the painting can start from scratch, because he simply has to take the varnish off. The intricacies of framing are endless, certainly it is an art form in itself. The many ‘Turner’s” on show allow us to  connect with Mike Leigh’s latest feature on the artist (Mr Turner) and finally, two ballet dancers performing in front of a Titian painting make a fitting climax to this remarkable three hour film which should be savioured at your leisure over a good bottle of wine. AS.

ON Mubi from 8 May 2020 | INTERVIEW

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

      

Tchaikovsky and the Music Lovers (1970) **** Blu-ray

Dir.: Ken Russell; Cast: Richard Chamberlain, Glenda Jackson, Max Adrian, Christopher Gable, Kenneth Colley, Izabella Telezynska, Sabina Maydelle; UK 1970, 122 min.

Blending the crass with the ethereal as was his wont Ken Russell billed his portrait of Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) as “a romance about a homosexual married to a nymphomaniac”. Riding high on his success with Women in Love, United Artists allowed a lavish budget for The Music Lovers, and it was completed in the same year as Russell’s Richard Strauss biopic Dance of the seven Veils for the BBC.

As a director of sober BBC biopics and large screen escapism, Russell was having a field day. Dance of the Seven Veils was only aired once until recently, after the Strauss family forbade any music by Richard Strauss to be played in the feature because they misinterpreted the composer being shown as a staunch Nazi, which the archive material shows quite clearly. The Music Lovers, on the other hand, is aesthetically much closer Russell’s Mahler portrait of 1974. Based on the letters between Tchaikovsky (Chamberlain) and his benefactor Madame Nadezhda von Meck (Telezynska), edited by Catherine Drinker Bowen and Barbara von Meck, Melvyn Bragg’s script has operatic proportions but uses dialogue very sparsely, leaving the music to stand for itself.

In a romantic setting, we meet the composer first with his lover Count Chiluvsky (Gable). But homosexuality was illegal in Czarist Russia, and at the conservatoire, fellow composers including Rubinstein (Adrian) had started gossiping. Tchaikovsky takes an aggressive, and as it turned out, not too wise approach to the dilemma: he marries the over-sexed and rather fragile Antonina Miliukova (Jackson). The marriage ends in disaster with Antonina becoming more and more unhinged, finally ending up in a psychiatric ward. Tchaikovsky dearly loves his family, brother Modest (Colley) and favourite sister Sasha (Maydelle), he also has a horrible memory of his beloved mother’s death, which will, in the end, mirror his own. He transfers all his attentions to Madame von Meck, who lives in Switzerland. On her estate, the composer rests for long periods of time, whilst von Meck travels in Europe. In reality the two never met, but in the feature von Meck watches the sleeping composer. The episodic character of the narrative, combining Tchaikovsky’s music and psychological estate, as it does in the 1812 Overture, is less jarring than in later features such as Lisztomania.

With much help from the great Douglas Slocombe (Rollerball, Hedda) and his sweepingly romantic images, The Music Lovers just stays on the right side of the line between opulent drama and over-the-top showmanship. Chamberlain and Jackson are outstanding in their turbulent train crash of a the newly married couple paired with Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, and this is the highlight of Russell’s stylistic achievement. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY

 

The Sense of an Ending (2017) ****

Dir.: Ritesh Batra | Script: Nick Payne | Cast: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walker, Michelle Dockery, Freya Mavor, Billy Howle, Emily Mortimer, Joe Alvyn, Matthew Goode UK | Drama | 108 min.

The past is how we choose to remember it. Sometimes significant events are forgotten or edited out. This is the premise of Julian Barnes’ 2011 Booker Prize winning novella that explores the psyche of a quintessential Englishman and his selective memories of youth.

Thoughtfully adapted for the screen by Nick Payne, THE SENSE OF AN ENDING is a dispassionate film in many ways, not least because the characters are so repellent, thornily portrayed by the subtle support trio of Rampling, Walter and Dockery with a nuanced Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster, the main focus in this amusing drama from Indian director Ritesh Batra who is so clever at making this feel so classically and insightfully British. The story is certainly gripping and keeps us invested in Barnes’ intricate storytelling but the flashbacks, so vital to informing the plot, are actually key to understanding the main character’s motivations and there is a strand of sardonic humour that makes this another brilliant observation of emotional suppression that often follows a false start in youth. The 1960s scenes are teasingly repressive and so representative of how damaging an unsatisfactory first relationship can be, particularly for sensitive souls such as young Tony.

The story revolves around Tony Webster, divorced and busily keeping life at bay as the proprietor of a small speciality camera shop in leafy North London. This unfruitful foray into passionate love during his college years has sent him scurrying for cover, and after coasting through his marriage to QC Margaret (a brilliant Walter), which produced a (now pregnant) lesbian daughter Susie (Dockery), he has managed to avoid emotional entanglements of any kind. And although he enjoys Margaret’s caustic company over dinner he still doesn’t get why their marriage is over.

But the past returns to bite Tony when he is left a strange bequest in a will, encouraging him to track down his enigmatic first love Veronica Ford who is still as evasive as ever in responding to his requests. Their eventual meeting drudges up an unfortunate episode that Tony had chosen to forget and reveals how the Young Tony (Howle) fell for the ambivalent Veronica (Mavor) during an awkward weekend at her family home in rural England, where he is entranced by Veronica’s mother Sarah (played by a winsomely suggestive Emily Mortimer).

Tony discovers subsequently that Veronica has taken up with his maverick friend Adrian (Alvyn), who fancies himself as a cool Camus-quoiting intellectual (later committing suicide). Disillusioned by love and bewildered by his feelings for Veronica, Tony is forced to confront a past that offers the key to his future.

According to Margaret and Susie, Tony has become an emotional avoidant dinosaur, a ‘curmudgeon’ who regards the modern world with disappointment and disdain. Having successfully cleansed his memory of any wrongdoing regarding Veronica – and subsequently Margaret – his self-glorification shows him up to be exactly the same person he was as a young man: an arrogant but misunderstood bystander, proud to have chosen a life in his shell.

Suicide, sexual repression and unrequited love are themes of incendiary dramatic potential, and this film, with its thoughtful musical choices, trades passion for emotional restraint and typical English poignance. Clearly, Tony has lost contact with his feelings and shut the door on romance without even realising the effect this has had on his wife and family. But his emotional day of reckoning will strangely be the making of him. MT

ON BBC IPLAYER

 

Accident (1967) **** Digital/DVD release

Dir: Joseph Losey | Wri: Harold Pinter | Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Michael York, Stanley Baker, Jacqueline Sassard, Annie Firbank, Alexander Knox, Freddie Jones | UK Drama 105′

Another Losey/Pinter/Priggen/Bogarde collaboration and Losey’s last film with Bogarde. Constructed in flashback after a car crash in the opening sequence, this was another book adaptation by Pinter, who jumped at a fourth chance of working with Joseph Losey.

Although finally shot in colour, black and white was considered long and hard; indeed, the chosen palette is decidedly muted, the colours really taken out by debut DoP Gerry Fisher, under instruction from Losey.

This classic dissection of British life focuses on power-play among the upper classes; as with almost all Pinter, the menace seethes just beneath the sheen in a world of sunny picnics, tennis and punting down the river. In this case the brutality of deception, lies and envy is given vent through games and even the making of an omelette, in a claustrophobic academic world where everybody knows everybody else’s business.

Exploring this underbelly: the true cost to those halcyon, timeless days at Oxbridge, Bogarde and Baker play Dons to the students of Michael York and a feline Jacqueline Sassard (as Anna), who stirs the loins of middle-aged Bogarde, even though he is married with two kids.

Michael York will always have his detractors but here he is at his best as the dashing young blade, vying for the aloof Austrian Anna’s affections. Stanley Baker cuts a dash as the man living life on his sleeve, much to the irritation his long-suffering, buttoned-down colleague, Bogarde.

Harold Pinter and Annie Firbank make fleeting but impactful appearances, as do Terrence Rigby, Freddie Jones and Alexander Knox as the Provost, who has seen it all and misses nothing.

The original DVD from StudioCanal has a bundle of extras: Talking About Accident, Losey and Pinter Discuss Accident, John Coldstream on Bogarde and Harry Burton on Pinter.

Another very classy outing then from the Losey/Pinter union and a very profitable one at that; Losey was again pushing the envelope in how he shot scenes and Pinter proved a willing sparring partner, himself experimenting with the methodology of how one can tell a story. MT

ALSO AVAILABLE ON MUBI from 13 April 2020

 

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

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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

   

 

Last Holiday (1950) **** Bluray release

Last Holiday is based on a simple premise: a man believing himself to be terminally ill splurges his life savings on a luxury stay in an exclusive seaside hotel. Alec Guinness plays the man in question, JB Priestley produced the film and wrote the script which was directed by a young Hampstead filmmaker Henry Cass who was known for The Glass Mountain (1949) and would go on to make The Reluctant Bride (1955) and comedy, Castle in the Air (1952).
Aware of his impending fate, Alec Guinness’s George actually has a new lease of life and loses his inhibitions to indulge in some traditional English pastimes such as croquet and horse-racing, all kitted out in some seriously elegant outfits. Priestley makes some witty and ironic observations on the nature of life, love and loss this is a poignant and enjoyable B movie which ends happily – but you’ll have to watch it to find out why. MT
LAST HOLIAY | DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital | 9 MARCH 2020  COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL VINTAGE CLASSICS
https://youtu.be/m2dO-ufQpvo

Orlando (1992) **** re-release

Orlando - Tilda SwintonDirector/Writer: Sally Potter | Cast: Tilda Swinton, Bill Zane, Quentin Crisp, Jimmy Somerville, Toby Jones, Simon Russell Beale | 94min   Fantasy Drama  UK

Sally Potter’s inventive, vibrant and visually sumptuous adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel is the ideal vehicle for Tilda Swinton’s versatility as the metrosexual maverick poet and nobleman Orlando, who is commanded by Elizabeth I to stay eternally young. If you could only have one auteu film in your timecapsule or desert island retreat, make it this one.

The story is endlessly fascinating and enduring, engaging modern audiences with its androgynous allure and sexual enigma. The characters are exotic and compelling. The costumes and set pieces are magnificent.  In short it is a love-letter to England’s rich language and literature. MT

NOW ON RERELEASE at THE BFI WITH AN INTRO BY POTTER AND SWINTON ON 8 MARCH 2020 and BFI PLAYER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minamata (2020)

Dir: Andrew Levitas | Cast: Bill Nighy, Johnny Depp, Minami | UK Drama 115′

Andrew Levitas pays tribute to the victims of mercury poisoning in this slickly cinematic if rather glib affair that focuses on those affected by a leak of the lethal substance in the Japanese seaside town of Minamata but also raises the profile of industrial accidents all over the world and those who have suffered in their wake.

No fewer than four writers were involved in a script which starts off rather well but spins out of control in the final stages of this gruelling and over-wrought melodrama. An odd coupling of Bill Nighy and Johnny Depp actually works to the film’s advantage Depp wringing out his often soppy dialogue with a drole flourish as he plays veteran alcoholic war photographer W Eugene Smith down on his luck and looking for a story to reanimate his flagging career and finance his future (and brood of kids), and finding it in this tragic Japanese cause. His photograph of a woman and her maimed child “Tomoko in her bath” is one of the most searing ever committed to celluloid, and received widespread attention in 1972 although it did not make Life’s cover feature – that was dedicated to Raquel Welch in a clingy jumper – it did get 8 pages and created a sensation at the UN Environmental conference that year, according to the New York Times.

DoP Benoit Delhomme has fun with his lenses on the widescreen and in intimate closeup making the most of the dramatic scenario as we whirl through sumptuous settings of New York and the Japanese countryside. Depp is rather good as the pathetic snapper who feels sorry for himself and his failing career. The dark lustrous locks of his pin-up days are replaced by a shock of grizzled grey hair but he still exudes charm in spades, his dark eyes expressing the pathos of his fall from grace. Then along comes the sultry Aileen (Minami) who introduces him to the Minamata project and after failing to persuade struggling Life editor Robert Hayes (Nighy in sardonic mode) to pay for his trip to photograph the disaster-struck town, he eventually makes the journey himself and after a few false starts and a fortuitous bonding with the Japanese temptress he eventually hits his groove and is considerably moved by those affected, and driven to more navel-gazing and drinking, hence a product placement for Suntory whisky. But when all is said and done, it’s thanks to ‘Gene Smith that the region eventually gets the support it deserves, although the lofty melodrama that tells its story often drains our reserves of sympathy and we suffer compassion fatigue by the closing stages, or maybe I’m just a cynical journo. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 13 AUGUST | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 2020

 

Villain (1971) *** Bluray release

Dir: Michael Tuchner | Co-Wri: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais | UK Thriller 108′

This 1970s British crime caper pales in comparison with Mike Hodges’ Get Carter of the same year. But Villain is certainly enjoyable as gangster sagas go, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ pithy dialogue raising a titter as we step back down memory lane to those refreshing politically incorrect days. Villain has a fabulous sterling British cast including Ian McShane, Donald Sinden. Joss Acland and Nigel Davenport, not to mention T P McKenna. The problem here is Richard Burton. Well versed in his suave role as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; he makes for a wicked working class hero in Look Back in Anger, a peerless Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, and was masterful as Cleopatra‘s Mark Anthony. But cockney wide-boy he ain’t, and he really struggles with an accent that somehow throws his performance off-kilter as mob boss Vic Dakin. Burton is also an unconvincing homosexual is this otherwise enjoyable thriller from TV director Michael Tuchner, now on re-release and hoping to attract a wider audience with its LGBTQ+ credentials: McShane and Burton nip between the sheets – although the scene was cut and you only see them slipping their fitted shirts off. There is a great deal of old style violence involving coshes rather than today’s more ubiquitous guns and knives, giving this classic an authentic twist. And it’s fun guessing the locations with 1970s London looking decidedly grim: Battersea Power Station, Notting Hill Gate and Kensal Rise Cemetery all feature in this solid but rather stolid Britflick. MT

FULLY restored on BLURAY, DIGITAL and DVD | 30 March 2020 | STUDIOCANAL’S VINTAGE CLASSICS COLLECTION 
 

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 

Invasion Planet Earth (2019) ***

Dir.: Simon Cox; Cast: Simon Haycock, Roxi Drive, Toyah Willcox, Julie Holt, Sophie Anderson, Danny Steel; UK 2019, 93 min.

Director Simon Cox (Driven) has spent seventeen bringing this labour of love to the big screen, and his perseverance has paid off. Shot over six years, mainly in Birmingham, and with two years in post-production, Invasion was heavily dependent on crowd funding hence the 136 credits you can study on IMDB. The result feels like a pilot for a TV series, with the audience reactions anywhere between a sub-par Dr. Who and a cult movie.         

In a futuristic Britain the Dunn family has been hit by a series of setbacks. Thomas (Haycock) and his wife Mandy (Drive) are mourning the loss of their young daughter Rebecca. He works as a psychiatrist in a private mental clinic under threat of closure, and she is a kindergarten teacher who has just become pregnant again, just as Aliens invade the planet, threatening to separate them in the chaos. Meanwhile, rogue general Lucius is threatening to explode a nuclear bomb. Tom’s plea to continue his work is refused, he and his assistant Clare Dove (Willcox, who also wrote the music) are made redundant. Tom soon finds himself in turmoil with three of his patients Harriet (Hoult), Samantha (Anderson) and Floyd (Steel). Finally, when the Planet’s superpowers decide to go to war, after Lucius detonates a nuclear bomb, Tom comes to a surprising discovery and must take Mandy on a race against meltdown.

Originally titled Kaleidoscope Men, after a TV series, which is watched by young Thomas and his friends in the prologue, Invasion plays out very much like a run-of-the-mill SciFi film with CGI playing a big part, hiding the minimal budget. The twist in the plot helps to overcome the restrictions to a certain extent, but the scenes featuring the emotional conflict of doctor and patient relationship keeps Invasion from being just another run of the mill Britflick. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 5 DECEMBER 2019

Shooting the Mafia (2019) ***

Director: Kim Longinotto | With: Letizia Battaglia, Maria Chiara Di Trepani, Santi Caleca, Eduardo Rebulla, Franco Zecchin, Roberto Timperi | UK, 94′

Kim Longinotto chronicles the work of the very much alive photojournalist Letizia Battaglia in this moving but rather hagiographic affair. 

A Sicilian to the core, Battaglia has a visceral connection with Palermo where the Mafia was particularly active during the 1970s and ’80s. Her keen eye for a poignant picture captures everyday life in the impoverished capital. But she is best known for her photos of the Mafia’s brutality and, crucially, the affect it had on the victims concerned. Shocking snapshots reveal dead women and children bathed in their own blood; the startling aftermath of a street shooting, the victim’s wife tortured in agony at the scene of the crime. The documentary particularly highlights those fighting for justice, retribution and an end to the reign of terror: Judge Giovanni Falcone and his successor Paolo Borsellino who both lost their lives.

English documentarian Kim Longinotto won the World Cinema Directing Award at Sundance 2015 for Dreamcatcher her illuminating film on prostitution in Chicago. Clearly she is impressed with Battaglia, now 83,  who comes across as confident, hard-bitten and down to earth. Pink-haired and smoking her way through her story Shooting the Mafia is enlivened by TV footage, archival material and her own photographs. The film culminates with the important Mafia trial in 1986. The judge Giovanni Falcone was blown to bits in 1992. She talks of his fearless honesty and dedication. In some ways he is the hero of the piece.

Battaglia’s early life took place behind closed doors, her highly protective father shielding her jealously from the gaze of his friends and associates. This was quite normal back then. And so was an incident where a man exposed himself to her, leaving her bewildered and bemused. She married at 16 to the first man who asked, and had two daughters. Her story is interwoven with clips from Italian films the ’50s starring a blond Silvana Magnano, adding an upbeat vibe to an otherwise depressing tale of poverty, corruption and violence. Divorced in 1971, Battaglia fell into journalism, preferring to take photos rather than write for the liberal newspaper L’Ora. Her job was her life and she gradually worked her way through a series of impressionable – often much younger – lovers attracted by her earthy nonchalance and solid sense of self.  Two men, in particular, take part as her long term partners, both of them photographers who worked alongside her. And these men seem to feature more heavily in her world than her family: “I could talk about it but I don’t want to,”

There’s an impression that photography was a given rather than an ambition, almost as a default position due to her being employed by the paper. Mafia violence was an everyday occurrence in Palermo and someone had to go and record it for the paper. Although competently captured, there’s no evidence of any aesthetic behind the pictures. Indeed, she soon drifted from journalism and into politics as a Green Party local councillor, which is where she came across Giovanni Falcone. She felt too connected to the killing to take photos after his death, but this is the only time she discusses the equivocal nature of the photographer’s role. Her only relevant comment is personal: “When I look at my photos, I just see blood, blood, blood.”

The sensationalist nature of the subject matter is clearly the compulsion here. We experience a certain detachment to the photos of Mafia killings, and this is due in part to our familiarity with a theme that is so much a part of cinema history, with films like Goodfellas, The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America. The most affecting segments of the film are those featuring the real victims and particularly the clip where the wife of one of Falcone’s bodyguards breaks down during the funeral. That said, this is a surface affair that often lets the peripheral life of its protagonist dominate the important nature of her work. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | PANORAMA

 

 

 

The Street (2019) ****

Dir.: Zed Nelson; Documentary; UK 2019, 94 min.

Ugandan born filmmaker Zed Nelson, best known for his work as photographer, has created a portrait of Hoxton Street in the London Borough of Hackney, spanning four years. This area is symbolic of a certain type of gentrification that leaves the old and poor literally in the cold. People who have spent their whole lives here are suddenly forced to leave because their neighbourhood is within spitting distance of the City of London, and therefore property values have increased. Luxury apartment blocks are swallowing up people and a way of life that has served the community well for more than three generations.                                      

Oscillating between melancholy and absurdist nightmares, The Street shows how parts of society are falling away. Since the 1950s Hoxton’s close-knit neighbourhood has absorbed  waves of immigrants. The newly arrived have bought the shops and flats as well as paying exorbitant prices for the encroaching luxury apartment blocks. Some are young urban hipsters who have set up stylish restaurants, digital media start-ups and corporate property developers. All this has brought with it a deepening social and financial divide.

A priest has lived in the area seemingly forever now finds himself a victim of the changing  circumstances: he will have to retire at seventy, which is next year, and cannot afford to live in his old parish. He talks about hatred and resentments which is already poisoning the community

Another culprit has been the 2016 EU referendum which has divided society with its 52.0% divide of leavers. As one of the store owners point out, “the bicycle shop opposite is owned by Frenchmen” – a fact that deeply offends him. The carpet shop, in family hands for over fifty years, is gone, the garage will be next. The pie shop is living on borrowed time: their customer base has moved on. The era when local shops where meeting-places, hubs of the community are no more.  

An estate agent bemoans the situation: “gentrification is going to amplify and increase my business, there’s no doubt about it. But the negative impacts on the community should be looked at by the government, otherwise market forces will gentrify everything”. And the Art Gallery owner is equally observant: “Aviva has bought up most of Hoxton Square. Mono-culture can’t be right, other things – the more interesting shops and locales just disappear and die. But it’s true, where artist’s go the corporates will follow.”

The ex-trader, who bought a warehouse comments: “There wasn’t change for a long time, and then a lot of change took place very quickly. Artists, bankers, came along and saw these amazing warehouses and Victorian industrial buildings, and realised they could get live-work permission on these things but never intended to work there, so they weren’t creating any jobs, they just turned them into warehouse apartments. But it takes that sort of policy, which Hackney never had, to maintain control of a rampant gentrification.” To which one wants to add, that the government with its austerity measures, including cuts in the grant support for the councils, has not helped either.

Which only shows, that not all ‘intruders’ are neo-liberal beasts, but have compassion and a brain – but how is this going to help 82-year old Colleen, who has lived through the Blitz in Hoxton Street, “when we knew that we would survive, all of us together”. Her flat is falling to pieces, and soon she will join the forced exodus of the many, who have spent their lives in this model of a society, which is no longer sustainable. 

ON RELEASE FROM 29 NOVEMBER 2019

 

The Amber Light (2019) ****

Dir: Adam Park | Wri: David Broom | UK Doc 93′

Following on from Scotch: The Golden Dram (2018) comes this voluble road trip documentary that explores the impact of Scotland’s best known liquor on the lesser known parts of the country’s cultural identity and history. The Amber Light certainly loosens the tongues of a range of personalities from the world of art, music, literature and food. In his feature debut, Adam Park also focuses on the unsung role of women in distilling and blending over the centuries, the influence of alchemists, medicine men and botanists, and the evolution of spirits from medicine to social lubricants.

And when musicians are not on screen, the film’s writer David Broom adopts a voluble conversation style in talking us through the history of the spirit, explaining how whisky suddenly became more than a drink made in a distillery for him, providing a creative impulse for him to explore the culture surrounding it. DoP Dan Dennison has an ingenious way of filming interweaving interviews with live footage of Scotland that suddenly break into delicately rendered amber coloured animations.  The film also looks at the temperance movement, smugglers, Dante’s Inferno, and the use of unexpected ingredients in whisky’s development, such as saffron.

Music is also an important part of Gaelic culture and the rhythms of whisky-making inspired many ballads, such as “Blond Haired Boy” referring to the spirit itself. The film’s score also features a selection of Scottish musicians and singers to feature music from including King Creosote, Alasdair Roberts, James Yorkston, Rachel Newton (plus more to be announced) as well as Avante-Garde noisemakers and poetry collective Neu Reekie.

Dave Broom, who has been writing about spirits for 25 years and he is the main influence behind this informative whisky travelogue that travels the length and breadth of Scotland, talking to key innovators and thinkers in the whisky world – farmers, distillers, bar owners and historians – as well as people less directly involved: musicians, artists and writers, including Scottish novelists and “king of the Tartan Noir” Ian Rankin is almost an ambassador for the golden dram and he certainly who waxes lyrical about how wishy brings out the “darkness in the Scottish soul”, born of the long nights that encourage brooding, bringing out the worst in people: “Not everyone can handle it”. This offers an musical opportunity for a rendering of the sinister ballad: “Jonny My Man”  Musicians Alasdair Roberts, James Yorkston perform live on screen.

Whisky is a particularly socially cohesive dram: it has provided an opportunity to open a conversation with a perfect stranger. Once the amber nectar is poured into a glass, introductions can begin and very soon the dialogue flows, and friendships are forged. Made on a shoestring, and none the worse for it: David Broom raised the lion’s share of the film’s finance from crowd-funding. MT

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 22 November, paired with Director Q&As and whisky tasting opportunities at several sites across London, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Cambridge, Dublin and more—all through DECEMBER 2019

 

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

 

Sorry we missed you (2019) ***

Dir: Ken Loach | UK Drama 100′

Ken Loach is back with his regular writer Paul Laverty and another slice of social realism whose title 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 for Ricky 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 as he desperately tries to make things gel. Laverty’s script flows along as smoothly as the Tyne in scenes that showcase Loach’s talent for bringing out the best in new talent in a 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. Regular DoP Robbie Ryan does his stuff to perfection in what is oddly a much better film than his 2015 agitprop Palme d’Or winner I  Daniel Blake. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 1 NOVEMBER 2019

 

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

Kaleidoscope **** DVD Bluray

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

Debut director/writer Rupert Jones has crafted a sublime psychological thriller, enhanced by yet another standout performance from (his brother) Toby Jones as the tortured anti-hero.

Set in a large London Housing Estate, Carl (Jones) lives in a pokey 1970s style flat after being released from prison the year before. One morning Carl wakes up, and finds the body of a young woman he vaguely remembers as Abby (Mathews), in his bathroom. He seems to recall how they ending up dancing together before he possibly locked her in the bathroom. The stairs outside his flat become a kaleidoscope, strangling him in always new twits and turns. The police show up, and so does a helpful neighbour, Monique (Noble). Toby is convinced that he has done something wrong – but can’t work out exactly what or why. When his mother Aileen (Reid) invites herself over – very much against his will – images of Abbey and Aileen co-mingle, Toby certainly suffers from displacement activity – a repressed guilt complex, which will revealed in the final reel.

This is 10 Rililngton Place meets Kafka’s The Trial: Jones even looks spookily very much like Richard Attenborough as the murderous landlord. The grimy atmosphere in the flat is another parallel – but whilst Attenborough’s John Christie was sheer evil, Carl is suffering from a trauma. He is hectically trying 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. His anxiety increases the longer his mother stays in his flat, and when she reveals that’s she has bone cancer and wants to spend a lottery win on a last family visit to Canada with him, Carl is close to breaking point.

Let’s just be clear over one thing, and director Jones underlines it – “Kaleidoscope is a psychological thriller, a tragedy, but not a horror feature”. The score, using a harp concerto by the German/American composer Albert Zabel, really intensifies Carl’s desperate state of mind.  There are also echoes here of Bernhard Hermann’s score for Hitchcock’s Vertigo: But whilst Scottie was suffering from Vertigo (and love sickness), Carl is haunted by a past, that remains partly an enigma. DoP Philipp Blaubach (Hush) creates elliptical camera movements, showing Carl permanently fleeing from himself, whilst 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 within the parameters of unsettling psychological drama. AS

On DVD/BD release 23 September 2019

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

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).

 

 

 

Neither Wolf nor Dog (2018) ***

Dir.: Steven Lewis Simpson; Cast: Dave Bal Eagle, Christopher Sweeney, Richard Ray Whitman, Roseanne Supernault ; UK/US 2016, 110 min.

British born director/writer and DoP Steven Lewis Simpson has adapted his 1994 novel of the same title into a well-intentioned but often clunky road movie. His inexperienced direction considerably diminishes the impact of this emotional journey into the past for a Native American soldier and veteran of the Second World War who latterly became a stuntman and Ball-Room dancer.

The film opens when a man called Nerbern (Christopher Sweeney) gets a call from a mysterious woman which sees him heading for Minnesota on a 400 miles trip to Pine Ridge, Dakota. There he meets Elder Dave Bald Eagle, who has summoned him, after having read his earlier books about Native Americans. The mystery woman turns out to be Dan’s granddaughter Wynonah (Supernault, who also doubles up at a second granddaughter). Dan shows Nerburn a box with his notes in the hope that they will form part of another book “so that people think I went to High School”. But Nerburn makes a poor job of the memoirs, so Dan asks his much younger friend Grover (Whitman), to teach Nerburn a lesson or two about authenticity. Later, the author’s car breaks down (it will mysteriously reappear at the end), and the trio embark on a trip through the reservation of the Lakota tribe, Dan chuntering on: “we get them all… social workers. Missionary types and old hippies”.

Nerburn does not feel worthy of the task he’s undertaken: “There is nothing more suspect than a white man telling a Native’s story”, but Dan insists on his presence. At Wounded Knee, where the US Army butchered 300 women and children back in 1973, Dan exclaims “When the White Man won, it was a victory. When we won, it was a massacre”. Marlon Brando would refuse his Oscar over the incident. The soldiers took oil, gas and petroleum, and left the Lakota with nothing – no wonder Nerburn feels guilty. “My son, needs protection, but is he entitled to it? Or should he suffer for the sins of his fathers and grandfathers?” Dan simply answers by giving the writer an amulet for his son. David Bald Eagle, who died aged 97 after the filming was completed, must have been proud of the last scene, when he uses Nerburn’s book, fresh from the printers, as prop for his table.

This is clearly a worthwhile endeavour but Simpsons’ heavy-handed and often naïve approach reduces the impact considerably. What could have been a fascinating odyssey into Native American oral history, turns out to be rather mediocre. AS

IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS 23 AUGUST 2019

 

Blinded by the Light (2018) ***

Dir.: Gurinder Chadha; Cast: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Hayley Atwell, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagmara, Dean-Charles Chapman, Bob Brydon; UK 2019, 117 min.

Based on the memoirs of co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor “Greetings from Bury Park” set in ’80s Luton, Gurinder Chadha repeats the formula from life Bend it like Beckham but this time the focus is music for a teenage Asian boy.

This coming of age story sees Javed (Kalra) in the full throes of adolescent angst, dominated by his dad and desperate for a girlfriend. But it all changes in Sixth Form when his glamorous and understanding English teacher Ms Clay (Atwell) helps him to develop his poetry, and punkish Eliza (Williams) falls for him. But most important of all, he discovers  Bruce “the Boss” Springsteen, thanks to his new best friend Roops (Phagmara). “Springsteen is what your father listens to”, says another friend Matt (Chapman), which may not true in Javed’s case, but Matt’s father (Brydon), an avid Springsteen fan, is a good example of how Javed and Roops have somehow jumped a generation. 

When Javed’s father Malik (Ghir) loses his job at ‘the Vauxhall’, the family dynamics take a turn for the worse. Malik can’t find a new job, leaving his wife is chained to the sewing machine to crank up their income. They can’t even afford to pay for the older daughter’s wedding – and when Malik finds out Javed has bought tickets for a Springsteen concert at Wembley, blowing £40  (of his own money) in the process, he rips up the tickets and starts a war with his son. But all is not lost: at the graduation ceremony Javed makes a long speech, weaving together the Springsteen and Asian family traditions, and setting the young man free to go to university in Manchester and enjoy Springsteen to the full.

Boundless enthusiasm is the main asset of Blinded: no less than seventeen Springsteen songs provide the background for Javed’s liberation saga, together with everything from kitchen sink drama to magic realism. But its infectious good-will is also peppered by too many clumsy, corny, clichéd scenes. Trying to be critical of traditional Pakistani ideology, Javed confronts his father, after he has been told “to follow the Jews and stay off the girls”. Javed tells his father this is a racist remark, but the scene is so ham-fisted, the effect is lost. When it comes to everyday racism, Chadha fares better: Javed’s family is not the only one which had plastic sheeting on the front door to prevent white hoodlums urinating through the letterbox.

DoP Ben Smithard (Downton Abbey) has hit the right tone: his images are a fairyland of colours and lights; a wild celebration of being young. The cast, particularly Viveik Kalra in his debut, is pitch perfect. Overall, the mix of aesthetics and the need to be over the top all the time, somehow reduces the impact. A little bit of coherence and structure would have made this much more than just a crowd-pleaser. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM Friday 9 August 2019

      

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

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

 

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

Dead Good (2018) ***

Dir: Rehana Rose | UK Doc

Death has lightened up according to a new documentary that aims to deal with the dark taboo surrounding our final exit. Dead Good visits a series of Brighton women who are now offering practical ways to process the aftermath of death in a surprisingly serene and filmic ‘made for TV’ style. Rose also helps lift the lid on the funeral director’s job showing how nowadays families and loved ones can be in charge, rather than feeling like captive mourners, left to flounder in a well of emotion.

Bamboozled and grieving after the death of a family member, the obvious thing is to rush to the nearest funeral parlour who will invariably offer an expensive and often exploitative procedure for dispatching your loved one. Then there’s the religious ceremony and all that involves. Not to mention the legal and civic requirements. But it’s’ not always been this way. In the past the corpse was often kept at home prior to the funeral, so loved ones had a chance to their come to terms with their grief and spend time with the physical body, often actually preparing it for burial, while coming to t terms with their emotional bereavement.

One of the ‘funeral specialists’ we meet is Cara who set up her practice 20 years ago after experiencing the traditional funeral sector and then training to be a freelance embalmer (the process is shown on a mock-up comic video). Not surprisingly, she found embalming invasive and unnecessary, and only vital if the body is being transported great distances. But her intention to empower, rather than take over in this most private of affairs, is what gave her to idea to start her business. And ‘empowerment is the watchword of the other specialists who appear.  On the religious side, we also meet quirky parish priest Peter, who may have been the inspiration for the Sophie Waller Bridge’s vicar in the TV comedy Fleabag – although Andrew Scott is infinitely more relatable.

There is no narrative structure as such, the film is here to inform and enlighten with statements such as “everyone can have a meaningful funeral that is affordable and personal”. Musical choices mostly feel intrusive and counterintuitive. Dead Good works best when it focuses on the practicalities of dealing with the post mortem process and the funeral options rather than on the personal stories which feel too personal, although thankfully Rose maintains an unsentimental and candid approach throughout. Dead Good also shows how nowadays individuals can fulfil the dead person’s preferences as to their ceremony, coffin etc. And here Cara points out that in most cultures death preparations have traditionally been, and still are women’s work – wouldn’t you know it!. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 10 May 2019.

 

Night of the Generals (1967) ****

Dir.: Anatole Litvak; Cast: Peter O’Toole, Oma Sharif, Tom Courtenay, Donald Pleasence, Philip Noiret, Charles Gray, Joanna Pettet, Christopher Plummer; France/UK 1967, 148 Min.

Based on the novel by popular West German author Hans Hellmuth Kirst and adapted by resistance authors Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn, Anatole Litvak’s penultimate feature is a monumental historical portrait of WWII and the aftermath, stretching from 1942 to the mid 1950s. Litvak poured his own experiences into the action thriller, having left the Soviet Union for Berlin in the 1920s, before escaping from the Nazis via France to Hollywood in the following decade.

Paris under German occupation in 1942: A sex-worker is brutally murdered, and a frightened witness tells German MP Major Grau (Sharif) that he has seen a man wearing the uniform of a German General leaving the house of the crime. Grau is keen to know the alibis of three suspects: General Tanz (O’Toole), a vicious SS commander, General Kahlenberg (Pleasance), who will be one of the supporters of the 20th July 1944 plot against Hitler, and the careerist Von Seydlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray), who hedges his bets when it comes to resisting Hitler. Whilst his investigation in Paris is unsuccessful, Grau meets all suspects in Warsaw, finally being able to interview them. Tanz is destroying parts of Warsaw single-handed with his tanks, but the other two are not too keen to help Grau. The action returns to Paris in July 1944, just before the plot. Grau works with the French inspector Morand (Noiret), who is also a member of the resistance. He warns Grau to be aware of Tanz, but Grau corners the SS General, who shoots him in cold blood on the 20th of July, claiming that Grau is one of the conspirators.

More than a decade later, Morand visits Germany to take up the case. Tanz has just been released from prison for war crimes. Meanwhile the other two generals are making a good living as civilians, particularly Von Seydltz-Gabler, who is writing his memoirs. But his daughter Ulrike (Pettet) and her husband, ex-corporal Hartmann (Courtnenay) (who started their affair in Paris when Hartmann was an adjutant of Tanz) are the key witnesses for Morand.

Litvak (1902-1974), worked in Soviet cinema before becoming assistant to GW Pabst for Freudlose Gasse (1925) in Berlin. He directed popular features such as Dolly Macht Karriere (1930) for the Ufa, and fled the III. Reich to direct his first French feature Maylering, before settling in Hollywood where he shot, among others, All this And Heaven Too and Snake Pit (1948), a feature about outdated psychiatric methods. In 1949 he returned to France, where he directed Aimez-vous Brahms, based on Françoise Sagan’s novel.

The Night of the Generals is innovatively photographed by Henri Decaë, midwife to the French Nouvelle Vague with features like Les Cousins (Chabrol), Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Malle), Bob Le Flambeur (Melville) and Les Quatre cents coups (Truffaut). The film is carried by Peter O’Toole’s manic psychopath Tanz, who is in love with violence and “entartete Kunst”; nearly fainting in Paris in front of Van Gogh’s self-portrait, whilst visiting an exhibition of paintings destined to be shipped to Germany for leading Nazis. O’Toole portrays Tanz as a member of the master race and is only able to express himself through violence, torn apart by the fascination of murder and suicide. AS

Eureka Entertainment to release THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS, a suspenseful WWII thriller starring Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, and a star-studded cast, presented for the first time ever on Blu-ray in the UK, taken from a stunning 4K restoration, as part of the Eureka Classics range from 13 May 2019, featuring a Limited Edition Collector’s booklet [2000 copies ONLY].

https://youtu.be/7uZsJHFmNlk

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

 

 

Steel Country (2018) ****

Dir.: Simon Fellows; Cast: Andrew Scott, Bronagh Waugh, Denise Gough, Christa Beth Campbell, Andrew Masset; UK 2018, 90 min.

This taut UK thriller, also known as A Dark Place was filmed in the US, where autistic Donald turns detective to find out the fate of a little boy who has supposedly drowned. Not so much a who-done-it, but an atmospheric journey into America’s dark heartland, where time seems to have stood still for the last half century.

In small-town Pennsylvania, Donald (Scott) drives a garbage truck with his colleague (Bronagh Waugh). Alcoholism has ruined the family, destroying his father and leaving him to care for his God-fearing wheelchair-bound mother. Donald is a decent guy but totally immature and unable to move on from his ex-partner  (Gough). When a local boy is found drowned in a nearby creek, Donald suspects foul play. The sheriff and his officials try to keep him off the case, but Donald is stubborn. He digs up the boy’s body and takes it to Pittsburgh to an old school friend who is now a forensic pathologist school. It turns out that the boy was molested and Donald thinks about taking revenge on the main suspect, the boy’s paediatrician, Dr. Pomorowski (Masset). His ex does not take him seriously, and even his eleven-year-old daughter Wendy (Campbell) is unimpressed by his concern and just wants to talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers, an American Football team.

This is very much Jim Thompson territory: the red-neck shabbiness, the corrupt police and the emotionally regressed anti-hero living in in a world of his own and disregarding the rules because the outside world means nothing to him. Thompson’s world of the middle 1970’s is everywhere, reflected in DoP Marcel Zyskind’s brilliant images, and brings to mind Seidelmann’s 1975 picture Child of Rage. Not much has changed in this neglected backwater, a world of dead-end jobs and alcoholism, where sexuality is as perverted as the pervasive power structure of state and police. The garbage truck Donald is driving is a clear metaphor for this fragmented society, held together by greed and a virulent, aggressive fear of everyone not deemed to be part of the claustrophobic set-up. Violence seems to be the only way out of any conflict. Steel County is a little gem, a perfect B-picture, perhaps destined to be a cult classic. MT

OUT ON 19 April NATIONWIDE

  

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.

 

Eaten by Lions | Edinburgh Film Festival 2018 ***

Dir.: Jason Wingard; Cast: Antonio Aakeel, Jack Carroll, Sarah Hoare, Natalie Davis, Kevin Eldon, Vicky Pepperdine, Asim Chaudhry, Hayley Tammaddon, Neelam Bakshi, Johnny Vegas, Tom Binns; UK 2018; 99 min.

British director Jason Wingard (In another Life) has assembled a multicultural absurdist comedy featuring two teenage half brothers: one looking for his father, the other simply following big brother where ever he goes. Their madcap journey from Bradford to Blackpool ends in the bosom of a large, wealthy Asian family, where histrionics are the rule.

Omar (Aakeel) and Pete (Carroll), are alone again after the death of their Gran. Having already lost their parents in a freak accident in Africa, where they had met their demise in the jaws of a lion. The idea of living with reactionary and repressive relatives (Eldon/Pepperdine) does not appeal to the brothers, so Omar sets out to find his genetic father, a certain Malik, whose name is on his birth certificate. In Blackpool they meet punky Amy (Hoare), her campy uncle Ray (Vegas) and a fortune teller (Binns) who turn out to be useful providing them with the address of the Choudray family. Ruled by two matriarchs Sara (Tamaddon) and Tazim (Bakshi), it turns out that Malik is not Omar’s father, his progenitor is actually Irfan (Chaudhry), Malik’s younger brother, who is about as mature as Omar himself. Pete falls into the arms of young Parveen (Davis), a teenager who doesn’t speak to her family, but is very verbal with Pete, who also has a slight walking disability. When Parveen and Pete set out in grandfather Choudray’s pristine Rolls Royce, picking up oddballs from the waterfront, the scene is set for a raucous wedding finale.

Told this way, one might expect a run-of-the-mill comedy, but every character feels rather a parody, and the clichés pile up like papadums. Everyone seems to be  OTT so the lack of straight versus crazy, the very essence of any comedy, is therefore missing.  funny numbers, but not much cohesion. DoP Matt North overdoes the colourful palette making everything as saccharine as the candyfloss on the beachfront. Humour is always highly personal affair. Let’s just say that Wingard’s lack of subtlety veers on the embarrassing, and the rather undeveloped characters and storyline make for disappointing viewing. AS

EATEN BY LIONS celebrated its World Premiere on 21June at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2018 | On release from 29 March 2019 

Children of the Snow Land (2018) ****

Dir.: Zara Balfour, Marcus Stephenson; Documentary; UK/Nepal 2018, 93 min.

This is a remarkable labour of love by first time writer/directors Zara Balfour and Marcus Stephenson. They have risked everything to accompany three teenagers from a boarding school in Kathmandu to their inaccessible mountain villages, where they meet parents and family for the first time in twelve years. Along with stunning images, they bring back passionate stories of loss and recovered identities.

Nima, Jeewan and Tsering are sixteen. They have spent the last twelve years in a Buddhist boarding school in Kathmandu, often wondering why their parents gave them away. They have more or less forgotten the hard life in the mountains, and acquired an educational standard unschooled families are unable to grasp. But before they get back to their villages, they have to endure a 14-hour bus ride, a long flight, and on top of it a steep climb in the mountains, taking up to ten days. Nima is looking forward to seeing his father, he has lost his mother and has already mourned her death. Jeewan’s father is a bee keeper, his mother taking care of the house and their local land. But Tsering has suffered most from the separation from her parents and is convinced they did not love her. The greatest disappointment is in store from Nima, who has developed a talent for poetry. He finds out from the rest of the family that his father is now an alcoholic, and has moved far away to another mountain region. Jeewan is particularly fond of his grand mother, and remembers her best. Tsering’s parents home is comfortable compared with the other families’ dwellings. While her mother runs the house, her father is a lama, and, like most men in these mountains villages, sits around with his chums and drinks tea all day long. Tsering’s mother was keen for her daughter to have a better life, and although Tsering is grateful she still criticises her mother for the lack of hygiene, but helps with some weeding in the garden, and later joins in the hunt for the Yarsagumba plant whose magic powers are considered “more precious than gold”.

While the get back to normal at home, Nepal is wrecked by an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale. 9000 people are killed, 800 000 are made homeless. And when the three of them return to Kathmandu, they discover their school has partly been destroyed. This gives the students an opportunity to give back to the local community by helping other children who have been made homeless. Neema is now studying Travel and Tourism, whilst Jeewan has chosen Fashion Design, wanting later to employ local crafts people. Tsering is going to study law, to become a Human Rights lawyer on issues concerning the Himalayan communities.

Never sentimental or didactic, this is a moving and extraordinary journey on many levels, supported by stunning panoramic images of the towering mountains. AS 

IN CINEMAS AND ON DEMAND FROM 14 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 Prisoner (1955) **** Blu-Ray

Dir: Peter Glenville | Wri: Bridget Boland | Cast: Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness | UK, Drama 95′

Jack Hawkins and Alec Guinness are the dynamite duo driving this intellectually daring and morally complex thriller forward. With its themes of pride and betrayal, The Prisoner is based on Irish Catholic novelist Bridget Boland’s play of the same name, embellished by a rousing minor love story that bubbles along under the surface of its main plot line involving an inquisition between Guinness’s ‘Cardinal’ and Jack Hawkins ‘Interrogator’ that takes place in solitary confinement in an unspecified totalitarian Eastern European country under siege. The outdoor scenes are pure social realism, but the interiors benefit from John Hawkesworth’s elegant set design. Guinness exudes a peerless subtlety as the breathtakingly sinuous man of God interrogated, tortured and broken – with equal finesse – by a charismatic Jack Hawkins. Benjamin Frankel’s sinister occasional score compliments the slow-burning narrative directed with stylish aplomb by Peter Glenville (Becket, Term of Trial) and photographed by DoP Reginald H Wyer in velvety black and white. This is a fine British film ripe for rediscovery. MT

OUT ON BLURAY 11 MARCH 2019 |

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

 

Old Boys (2018) ****

Dir: Toby MacDonald. Wri: Luke Morris and Luke Ponte | UK, Sweden. 2017. 96mins | Alex Lawther, Denis Ménochet, Jonah Hauer-King, Pauline Etienne | 96′

Alex Lawther plays a game of emotional subterfuge in this gentle comic riff on Cyrano de Bergerac set in the rolling West Susssex downs where he is a gifted public school boy at Caldermount (actually Lancing College).

The feature debut from director Toby MacDonald sees sweet but scrawny scholarship pupil Amberson (Lawther) caught in a low-key love triangle between Agnes (Etienne) and the brawny but brainless Winch(Jonah Hauer-King); Both puplis have the hots for the only girl in this ‘boys own’ setting, where pubescent hormones are running wild, but looks – not personality – hold the key to success. Amberson is totally humiliated by his lowly position on the school’s pecking order. Creatively driven his schtick is doodling in pencil and his heroes are Kubrick and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (“love is not looking at each other, it’s looking in the same direction”).

There’s a whiff of familiarity with the subject matter that suggests from the early scenes of boarding school ‘absurdism’ that the filmmakers have been here before. And this ribbing humour and taut script will appeal to young and older audiences alike. Lawther holds court throughout with his particular ‘old head on young shoulders’ vulnerability. The twenty something star of Ten Things I Hate About You feels mature beyond his years, with his subtle knowing glances and emotional depth.

The boys endure endless bouts of brutal banter and physical privation in the spartan school surroundings. Sports are de rigueur: cricket, rugby and a game called ‘streamers’ which takes place in the nearby river. Brimming testosterone levels go into overdrive when Agnes arrives on the scene with her frustrated father Babinot, the new French master (Denis Ménochet in fine form). And Amberson, the butt of the ‘streamers’ contests, meets her head-on wearing a pair of sodden pyjamas.

Although the two form a tentative friendship, Agnes only has eyes for Winch, who can’t string two words together, let alone satisfy his pubescent urge to ask the girl out. So it falls to Amberson and his gift of the gab to broker a deal between the love-struck teens. He crafts a series of contemporary billets doux on cardboard placards, filming Winchester reciting these on a video recorder (it’s still the ’80s). This effort on his friend’s behalf gains Amberson instant brownie points with the most popular boy in the school, and his social capital instantly goes into the ascendent. Secretly ruing his vicarious romantic overtures, Amberson then takes a poignant back seat in the proceedings, while Winch woos the wilful French girl, with hilarious results.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this occasionally amusing and rather old-fashioned film with its echoes of Gregory’s Girl. The direction and editing could be tighter but it’s an impressive debut feature and carried peerlessly by Alex Lawther. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 22 FEBRUARY 2019

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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

Dirty God (2019) ** Rotterdam Film Festival 2019

Dir: Sasha Polak | Cast: Vicky Knight, Eliza Brady-Girard, Rebecca Stone, Jake Wheeldon | Drama | 104′

Londoner Jade has to come to terms with being disfigured by her partner in this English languages debut of filmmaker Sacha Polak. Dirty God is uncompromising – but somewhat blurs the boundaries between openness and voyeurism.

This is the astonishing debut for Vicky Knight who who suffered scars from burning as a child, and acts with great passion. We see her emerging from hospital, her face and upper brutally scarred by the acid, she returns to the East London council estate, where her mother Lisa (Kelly) is waiting with Jade’s daughter (Brady- Girard), who is driven to tears when her mother tries to cuddle her. And Polak’s non British status allows her to see things from refreshing angle in contrast to the usual sink estate realism and this also gives her character a sense of vulnerability and verve that feels convincing despite the film’s narrative flaws and the weak support cast. The resonance with Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank is clearly felt, but Polak’s film has an upbeat sense of hope and a more refreshing visual allure despite its downbeat setting.

Jade’s mother Katherine Kelly) works from home turning around stolen luxury items. She is also supported, up to a point, by her best friend. Jade’s ex is awaiting arrest for the assault on her, an act that has clearly reduced her potential to be an accomplished and sexually attractive woman. And Jade suffers from nightmares in which her ex sports a crow’s suit. Clearly the scars are psychological as well as physical

DoP Ruben Impens is unsparing, showing every detail, although some of the dream sequences are clunky. But this is clearly newcomer Knight film and she carries it with passion and honesty, raising the question: when does honesty becomes an embarrassment? After all, Knight is a real victim, but a feature film is still a work of fiction. It is not easy to decide where do come down in this argument. At best, the ambiguity is open to interpretation, with the audience making up their minds. AS

FROM 7 JUNE 2019 NATIONWIDE

 

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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

 

 

King of Thieves (2018) *** Home Ent release

Dir: James Marsh | Cast: Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Paul Whitehouse, Michael Gambon, Ray Winstone, Charlie Cox | UK Thriller |

James Marsh casts the diamond geezers of British acting as perps who bring their woes and their wiles to the table in planning their final felony – that actually took place over the Easter weekend in 2017. Joe Penhall’s script pieces together newspaper footage to provide a convincing account of a caper that’s more plodding than racy, often over-emphasising its veteran credentials in a narrative that focuses on settling scores rather than offering thrills. Michaels Caine and Gambon are certainly entertaining to watch, with Paul Whitehouse pulling off a comedy performance to remember. But Jim Broadbent is the real revelation as a sardonic softy whose sheep’s clothing disguises him as the real wolf of the pack. MT

OUT ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD ON 14 January 2019 | BLURAY/DVD 21 January 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

Tulip Fever (2017)

Dir.: Justin Chadwick; Cast: Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Dane de Haan, Judi Dench, Holliday Granger, Tom Hollander; USA/UK 2015, 110 min.

Based on the novel of the same name by Deborah Moggach and written by Tom Stoppard, Tulip Fever is a story of a loveless marriage and a disillusioned romantic set against the tulip mania that raged in the first half of the 17th century. Moggach was inspired by the Dutch paintings of the Golden Age, and the film evokes their opulent yet lugubrious surroundings.

The background to this intimate drama is the speculative madness of “tulip fever”: rare bulbs are bought and sold in frenzied bidding, their value often exceeding gold.

A fascinating film could be made this Seventeenth Century Amsterdam’s equivalent of the South Sea Bubble and the Wall Street Crash, but this isn’t it.

The troubled production was charted in the press like that of Cleopatra’ over half a century earlier and, rather like that, the end result is good-looking (the tulips standing out from the general murk as little splashes of colour like the fish in ‘Rumble Fish’) but garrulous and uninvolving; but mercifully a lot shorter.

Being a twenty-first century historical film it contains plenty of unsexy sex and vertiginous steadicam photography; and as in ‘Cleopatra’s day a big historical epic wasn’t complete without a cameo by Finlay Currie, so the cast today inevitably includes Judi Dench.

The camera hovers moodily over the dark interiors, the narrow alleyways and canals seem to be all like traps, it is never really light, the weather seems to be foul all the time – creating a mood of morbidity, in spite of the wealth displayed. Vikander is brilliant in her mood changes, her intimate scenes contrast vividly with manic plotting; in the end, when cornered, she runs wild like a woman possessed.

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

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.

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Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) (2018) **

Writer/Dir.Tom Edmunds. UK. 2018. 90 mins

A watchable British cast explore the meaning of life in Noirish comedy that never quite catches fire despite some powerful elements. Dead in a Week is the feature debut of writer/director Tom Edmunds whose his message certainly has evergreen appeal: ‘love makes the world go round in life’s comedy of errors, and we leave stage when we’re least expecting it.’

Aneurin Barnard stars as William, an aspiring writer and lifeguard who has tried nine times to kill himself. The latest attempt – from a London Bridge – is swiftly averted by Tom Wilkinson’s passing hitman Leslie who describes himself as a one-man euthanasia clinic – a clever idea and one that could easily take off in today’s grim world. For the princely sum of £2,000 he offers to kill the soulful writer within a week, paid upfront, “for obvious reasons”. Leslie’s offer has a ring of sincerity to it, and once the two have come to an arrangement, William’s creative juices go into overdrive, galvanised into penning a paper back-style crime thriller chronicling the whole affair.

Leslie’s Raymond Chandleresque pretensions are the only thing saving him from his dreaded retirement in suburbia with a wife whose only raison d’être is needlepoint (She: “I’ve come out of my comfort zone to do a cushion cover, He: “isn’t that more comforting?”). The problem is, Leslie face the sack unless he keeps up his quota of kills for The British Guild Of Assassins. In a zeitgeisty subplot the Eastern Europeans are encroaching on his market, with Ivan (Velibor Topic) recently winning, ‘Hit Man Of The Year’. Leslie is a worried man.

Meanwhile, love comes to William in the shape of his pulchritudinous publisher Ellie (a persuasive Freya Mavor) and suddenly ‘living’ seems a better option than dying. But can he get out of his contract contract with Leslie, who is hell bent on killing him, for his own reasons.

Despite his thoughtful and often hilarious premise, Edmunds never quite manages the film’s changes of tone and mix of styles. A sweary interlude with Leslie’s bolshy boss at the Guild (Christopher Eccleston) feels completely out of place with Leslie and Penelope’s twee domestic idyll that’s more Seventies TV soap opera than this modern day angry outburst. And William’s Byronesque existentialism is convincing but rather too profound for the comedy treatment it’s given. Tom Wilkinson’s deadpan performance of exasperation and tetchiness is a convincing portrait of middle- aged angst and one of the drama’s strongest assets.

On the downside Dead In A Week makes flippant side-swipes at dementia, ageing and even motor neurone disease (a tasteless Michael J Fox joke) and the pace starts to slacken when the story becomes more convoluted. These flaws are largely down to inexperience. Edmunds has some good ideas, he should trust his instincts and avoid over-complicating his plot lines. Dead In A Week’s flippant tone is often too derogatory for themes expressed by its thoughtful characters in a drama that rather toys with very real trauma. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FORM 16 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

Edie (2018) *** Home Ent release

Dir.: Simon Hunter; Cast: Sheila Hancock, Kevin Guthrie, Amy Mason, Wendy Morgan; UK 2017, 102 min.

Oscillating between embarrassing and clumsy, Simon Hunter plays a tune with another inter-generational dalliance, this one sees a 83-year woman climbing a mountain in the Scottish Highlands, but wastes the great talent of lead Sheila Hancock.

After the death of her tyrannical husband, confined to a wheelchair for thirty odd years of their marriage, his widow Edie (Hancock) is on the verge of being packed off to a care home by her daughter Nancy (Morgan). Their relationship has always been strained so instead Edie decides to fulfil a burning ambition to scale the mountain in the Scottish Highlands, a trip originally planned with her father before he died. Her controlling husband had since managed to scupper the plans.

Leaving a slightly diffident message for her daughter, Edie heads North where she meets young Jonny (Guthrie), who sells her his services as a guide and paraphernalia from his sport shops. But his overbearing girlfriend Fiona (Mason) becomes jealous when Jonny takes a shine to Edie, impressed by her enterprising ambition to conquer one of Scotland’s most challenging peaks (Suilven), to make up for years of marital bitterness and resentment.

In this tale of life-affirming tale of redemption Simon Hunter certainly captures the magical beauty of the Highlands as well as the slightly comic camaraderie between Guthrie and Hancock, who is magnificent as Edie. But there are also some slightly misjudged moments such as when Edie attends a raucous party with Jonny’s loutish friends, made up like a caricature of a much younger woman. The film also verges into the realms of luxury travelogue, when Edie stumbles during a storm into a glamorous ‘hut’ with a blazing fire, and is fed porridge by the silent owner, things start to feel rather over-egged – or maybe over-salted? Which ever way, this is way over the top, even for a mountain drama. AS

Home entertainment | on blu-ray and DVD from 29th October 2018

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

The Wife (2018) ***

Dir: Bjorn Runge | Cast: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater | Drama

Bjorn Runge (Happy End) and Jane Anderson’s screen adaptation certainly lacks the teeth of Meg Worlitzer’s acrimonious original – their schematic and conventional approach avoids the novel’s acrimony to bring us just another relationship melodrama despite the screen dynamism of Glen Close and Jonathan Pryce. 

We first meet Joan (Close) and Joe Castleman (Pryce) in 1992 – having just had sex – celebrating his winning the Nobel Prize for literature, they are rolling around in bed like teenagers. It all seems too good to be true – and so it turns out. Their daughter Susannah (Regan) will soon give birth to a son David (Irons) who will fail to outshine his father, in his own writing career. On the flight to Stockholm for the award ceremony, a nagging little voice belonging to journalist/writer Nathaniel Bone (Slater) whispers in his ear, suggesting the great man may have not written the novels by himself. Flashbacks into the life of young Joan (Starke) and Joe (Lloyd) confirm the truth: it was Joan who wrote the whole oeuvre, but in the 1960’s ‘it was easier’ to launch a career as a white, male Jewish genius.

In Stockholm Joe again puts on his charm, trying to seduce young photographer Linnea (Korlof), who could be his grand-daughter. Joan, has seen it all and doesn’t bat an eyelid, reminding him to take his blood pressure tablet, whilst she’s having a long talk with Bone, who’s own research threatens to spill the beans. Joe pays homage to her in a very conventional way in his acceptance speech, ignoring the script the two had agreed between themselves. So naturally, his wife is not amused and leaves  him, setting in motion a dramatic finale where the crux of the matter is once again swept under the carpet.

The topic of female spouses “helping” their husbands to turn out classics is nothing new, Count Tolstoy being a case in point. And closer to home, T.S. Elliot and his wife Vivienne is another example: Elliot later ‘disposed of’ her into a mental hospital, where she died unrecognised. But Runge is eager to show how complicit Joan was in the act of fraud – totally forgetting that this compliance was/is often the only way for women to survive and thrive in society. The female counterpart has always had to carry a huge part of the guilt, be it rape or literary fraud. Whilst the settings of the ‘60s flashbacks are spot on, the endgame in the posh hotel world is false because it deflects from the real conflict. DoP Ulf Brantas tries to outdo Italian cameramen of the 60s, but only succeeds in rehashing the classics. Glenn Close struggles all the time to find a voice, but is submerged by a script which gives her no chance to make her point. A wasted opportunity but an enjoyable romp. MT

ON GENERAL RELASE FROM 28 SEPTEMBER 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
                                 

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

It Happened Here (1965) | dual format re-master

Dir: Kevin Brownlow/Andrew Mollo | Cast: Pauline Murray, Sebastian Shaw, Bart Allison, Reginald Marsh, Derek Milburn | Drama | UK | 93′

Made on a shoestring budget – and none the worse for it – Brownlow/Mollo’s Neorealist re-imagining of a Nazi invasion of Britain is plausible and chilling: even though the event never happened. Financed by Tony Richardson and his Woodfall Film Production Company, it was shot in 16mm and 35mm, with a mainly amateur cast and incredible attention to detail.

Eight years in the making – Brownlow was only 18, Mollo 16 when they started – IT HAPPENED HERE pictures the whole scenario in the wake of the British retreat from Dunkirk in 1940 where the German army are strongly resisted at first, but finally crushed, lacking outside support. Then in 1944, it reappeared and the result sees history being re-written with Germany winning the Second World War with England under occupation.  MT

SCREENING AT BFI SOUTHBANK ON 23 JULY AT 18.00 FOLLOWED BY A DISCUSSION WITH KEVIN BROWNLOW AND ANDREW MOLLO TO MARK BROWNLOW’S 80TH BIRTHDAY | DUAL FORMAT RELEASE NOW AVAILABLE.

 

 

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

        

Open City Docs Festival 2018 | 4-9 September 2018

Open City Documentary Festival is back this Autumn for the eighth year running with a dynamic new programme celebrating documentary and non-fiction filmmaking taking place  from the 4th – 9th September in a host of great venues across central London.

This year – through films, audio and immersive (VR/AR) projects, across screenings, special events, parties, panels, workshops and masterclasses – Open City Documentary Festival will be celebrating the art of non-fiction.

The Festival opens with the UK Premiere of Baronesa (2017, Brazil, 71’), directed by Juliana Antunes and in partnership with MUBI. Her astonishing debut follows friends Andreia and Leid as they navigate the perilous reality of daily life in the favelas of Belo Horizonte. At first glance, their days seem calm and untroubled, but the threat of violence is never far away and Andreia dreams of moving to the safer neighbourhood of nearby Baronesa. Antunes spent five years in Belo Horizonte, working with a non-professional cast, to create a work of rare intimacy and authenticity which—despite its simple structure—emerges as a complex, multilayered and moving portrait of contemporary life in the favelas. Baronesa announces an exciting new voice in Brazilian cinema.

The Closing Night will be the UK Premiere of The Swing (2018, Lebanon, 74’) directed by Cyril Aris. An assured, emotionally rich film about the lies a family tells to keep their patriarch happy and the unattended costs of their falsehood. After sixty years of marriage, Antoine and Vivi have lost their most beloved daughter; but no one has dared to tell the bedridden nonagenarian Antoine, lest his heart crack. A simple solution, though everyone else in this densely interconnected family has then to live the same lie, giving no expression to their grief. A deeply affecting, beautifully shot cinematic novella; like all the best stories The Swing is a simple tale, but one that never short-changes its viewers.

This year the festival hosts an outstanding Jury panel for each of its competitive Awards. For the Open City Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Baronesa, dir. Juliana Antunes (Brazil); Casanova Gene, dir. Luise Donschen (Germany); Flight of a Bullet, dir. Beata Bubenec (Russia); and The Swing, dir. Cyril Aris (Lebanon). The Jury will be chaired by esteemed director Sophie Fiennes (Grace Jones: Bloodlight, Bami), and features Beatrice Gibson, Nelly Ben Hayoun, May Adadol Ingawanij and Mehelli Modi.

For the Emerging International Filmmaker Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Angkar, dir. Neary Adeline Hay (France); Those Who Come, Will Hear, dir. Simon Plouffe (Canada); Home of the Resistance, dir. Ivan Ramljak (Croatia) and The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life, dir. Zita Erffa (Germany, Mexico). The award will be Chaired by independent Dutch documentary programme cultural advisor and filmmaker Tessa Boerman (Zwart Belicht), Luciano Barisone, Cecile Emeke, Chiara Marañón and Tadhg O’Sullivan.

There will be two retrospectives in honour of non-fiction filmmaking: The innovative found footage documentarian Penny Lane and Japanese pioneer of ‘action documentary’, Kazuo Hara. Both filmmakers will be at the festival to present their work.

For the first time the festival has invited artists to present films that have informed their own practice, with special selections from DJ and producer Nabihah Iqbal and filmmaker Marc Isaacs as well as short films chosen by a number of the filmmakers with new work at the festival, screening before their own features.

The festival will also be hosting an Industry Bootcamp aimed at students and recent graduates. These sessions will be about preparing for the next steps in your career and getting ready to enter the industry. Each event is £5, or free with student accreditation.

Open City Documentary Festival is looking forward to hosting a number of exciting festival parties this year including the Opening and Closing Night Receptions at the Regent Street Cinema as well as the Nabihah Iqbal after-party at the ICA, where the DJ, Producer & NTS Radio presenter presents an evening of music inspired by 1972 documentary Winter Soldier, featuring protest songs and music from the anti-war movement from 1950-1975. Other various festival parties will be listed in the festival programme.

OPEN CITY DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL 4-9 SEPTEMBER 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

Swimming with Men (2018) **

Dir: Oliver Parker | Writer: Aschlin Ditta | Cast: Charlotte Riley, Rupert Graves, Rob Brydon, Nathaniel Parker,  Adheel Akhtar, Thomas Turgoose, Daniel Mays, Jim Carter | UK Comedy | 96′

Oliver Parker is clearly feeling for middle-aged men. His latest film is a  comedy that means well in tackling marriage breakdown and mid-life crisis from a male perspective. It sees Rob Brydon’s bored accountant Eric driven neurotic by his partner’s new success in politics (Jane Horrocks in fine form), while he sits on the sidelines, a disillusioned accountant – so what’s new?. The only thing that makes Eric happy is a dip in the local swimming baths where he bumps into a motley crew of jaded men also down on their luck, but not all past it. Agreeing to keep their personal lives strictly off-poolside, they gradually begin to find the life aquatic gives them a reason for living again. And limbering up with the encouragement of coach Susan (Charlotte Riley) they discover that swimming in sync is the answer to their woes, but not their flabby waistlines. So off they go to Milan.

Sound great, doesn’t it? And you could see where Parker was coming from. The problem is that the direction and writing are the only things out of sync in a comedy of woes that needed to be much tighter and funnier. There are some heartfelt performance from a brilliant British cast (Christian Rubeck is luminous as the token German),  and you can’t help feeling for these guys, particularly Luke (Rupert Graves) and (Thomas Turgoose). But there are hardly any laughs to be had from Ditta’s script, which mostly just feels embarrassingly over the top, or miserably maudlin, and too many lingering close-ups are nobody’s idea of fun.

SWIMMING WITH MEN | nationwide From July 6.

Edinburgh Film Festival 2018 | Award Winners

THE MICHAEL POWELL AWARD FOR BEST BRITISH FEATURE FILM

The winner of the prestigious Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film, which honours imagination and creativity in British filmmaking, went to British filmmaker Matt Palmer’s debut feature, CALIBRE, which received its World Premiere at the Festival.

The winner was chosen a Jury comprised of Ana Ularu, Jason Connery and Iain de Caestecker

THE AWARD FOR BEST PERFORMANCE IN A BRITISH FEATURE FILM

The award for Best Performance in a British Feature Film went jointly to actresses Liv Hill and Sinead Matthews for their roles in JELLYFISH and was also selected by the Michael Powell jurors.

 

THE AWARD FOR BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

The award for Best International Feature Film went to Cyril Shäublin’s THOSE WHO ARE FINE, which received its UK Premiere at this year’s Festival. The winner was chosen by the International Jury comprised of Gráinne Humphreys, Simin Motamed-Arya and Yung Kha.

THE AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE FILM

The award for Best Documentary Feature Film went to Kevin Macdonald’s much-anticipated WHITNEY. This year’s jury was comprised of Gaston J-M Kaboré, Nada Cirjanic and Kate Muir.

EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL 20 June – 1 July 2018

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

 

 

New Directors for the Berlinale

The Berlinale turns over a new leaf as Carlo Chatrian takes over as artistic director and Mariette Rissenbeek as executive director of the International Film Festival starting in 2020.

Carlo Chatrian, born in Turin in 1971, is a film journalist and has directed the Locarno Film Festival since 2013, where he has proved that he can successfully curate and lead an art house audience festival. He stands for an artistically ambitious mix of programming and for a focus on discovering new talents. He and the new executive director, Mariette Rissenbeek, will head the Berlinale starting in 2020. Mariette Rissenbeek (born in Posterholt, The Netherlands in 1956) has long headed German Films, the information and advising centre for the international distribution of German films, as managing director. Her successful career in the film industry makes her the ideal choice for this position: She has many years of experience in working with all the important film festivals around the world and has an extensive network of national and international contacts in the film industry.

BERLINALE 2019 | 7 – 17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

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

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

 

 

 

Sundance London 2018 | 31 May – 3 June

Once again Robert Redford brings twelve of the best indie feature films that premiered in Utah this January, with opportunities to talk to the filmmakers and cast in a jamboree that kicks off on the long weekend of 31 May until 3 June.

Desiree Akhavan picked up the Grand Jury Prize for her comedy drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post in the original US festival, and seven films are directed by women along with a thrilling array of female leads on screen, and this year’s festival champions their voices with Toni Collette (Hereditary) amongst the stars to grace this glittering occasion taking place in Picturehouse Central, Leicester Square. Robert Redford will also be in attendance.

An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn (Director: Jim Hosking,

Screenwriters: Jim Hosking, David Wike) – Lulu Danger’s unsatisfying marriage takes a fortunate turn for the worse when a mysterious man from her past comes to town to perform an event called ‘An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn For One Magical Night Only’.

Principal cast: Aubrey Plaza, Emile Hirsch, Jemaine Clement, Matt Berry, Craig Robinson

Eighth Grade (Director/Screenwriter: Bo Burnham) – Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school.

Principal cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Generation Wealth (Director: Lauren Greenfield) – Lauren Greenfield’s postcard from the edge of the American Empire captures a portrait of a materialistic, image-obsessed culture. Simultaneously personal journey and historical essay, the film bears witness to the global boom–bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of late stage capitalism, narcissism and greed.

Principal cast: Florian Homm, Tiffany Masters, Jaqueline Siegel

Half the Picture (Director: Amy Adrion) – At a pivotal moment for gender equality in Hollywood, successful women directors tell the stories of their art, lives and careers. Having endured a long history of systemic discrimination, women filmmakers may be getting the first glimpse of a future that values their voices equally.

Principal cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jamie Babbit, Emily Best

Hereditary (Director/Screenwriter: Ari Aster) – After their reclusive grandmother passes away, the Graham family tries to escape the dark fate they’ve inherited.

Principal cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro

Leave No Trace (Director: Debra Granik, Screenwriters: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini) – A father and daughter live a perfect but mysterious existence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Oregon, rarely making contact with the world. A small mistake tips them off to authorities sending them on an increasingly erratic journey in search of a place to call their own.

Principal cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Director: Desiree Akhavan, Screenwriters: Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele) –1993: after being caught having sex with the prom queen, a girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center. Based on Emily Danforth’s acclaimed and controversial coming-of-age novel.

Principal cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle.

Never Goin’ Back (Director/Screenwriter: Augustine Frizzell) –Jessie and Angela, high school dropout BFFs, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired and they’re broke. Now they’ve gotta avoid eviction, stay out of jail and get to the beach, no matter what!!!

Principal cast: Maia Mitchell, Cami Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen, Kendal Smith, Matthew Holcomb

Skate Kitchen (Director: Crystal Moselle, Screenwriters: Crystal Moselle, Ashlihan Unaldi) – Camille’s life as a lonely suburban teenager changes dramatically when she befriends a group of girl skateboarders. As she journeys deeper into this raw New York City subculture, she begins to understand the true meaning of friendship as well as her inner self.

Principal cast: Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Jaden Smith, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams

The Tale (Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Fox) – An investigation into one woman’s memory as she’s forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive; based on the filmmaker’s own story.

Principal cast: Laura Dern, Isabelle Nélisse, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Ellen Burstyn, Common

Yardie (Director: Idris Elba, Screenwriters: Brock Norman Brock, Martin Stellman) – Jamaica, 1973. When a young boy witnesses his brother’s assassination, a powerful Don gives him a home. Ten years later he is sent on a mission to London. He reunites with his girlfriend and their daughter, but then the past catches up with them. Based on Victor Headley’s novel.

Principal cast: Aml Ameen, Shantol Jackson, Stephen Graham, Fraser James, Sheldon Shepherd, Everaldo Cleary

SURPRISE FILM! Following on from last year’s first ever surprise film, the hit rap story Patti Cake$, Sundance Film Festival: London will again feature a surprise showing.  No details as yet, but it was a favourite among audiences in Utah, and with just one screening this will be among the hottest of the hot tickets. The title will be revealed only when the opening credits roll. My bets are on Gustav Möller’s The Guilty, which picked up the World Cinema Audience Award back in January; or possibly Rudy Valdez’ drug documentary The Sentence, or it could even be Burden, which took the US Dramatic Audience Award for its story of a love affair between a villain and a woman who saves his soul. 

SUNDANCE LONDON RUNS FROM 31 MAY – 3 JUNE 2018 | TICKETS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Dir: Mike Newell | Writer: Kevin Hood, Thomas Bezucha, Don Roos, Annie Barrows (novel) | Cast: Lily James, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay, Michiel Huisman, Tom Courtney, Katherine Parkinson, Glen Powell, Penelope Wilton | 124′ | UK

Mike Newell’s screen adaptation of a chicklit novel is as over-stuffed in the early scenes as its title suggests, but stick with it and you’ll be won over by this moving story of book club camaraderie made memorable by its dazzling performances and appealing characters. What’s more, you’ll be rushing to visit the picturesque island in the English Channel, and you might even join a book club.

It all starts in 1946, when an plummy young novelist Juliet Ashton (James) is struggling for inspiration and about to set off on a book tour with her agent Sidney (Matthew Goode in superb form). A surprise fan letter or sorts from a Guernsey resident Dawsey (Michiel Hiusman) captures her imagination, so leaving Sidney and her American boyfriend in the lurch, she sets off instead to the former Nazi-occupied Channel Island, intrigued by this interesting man and his book club with a rather strange name. It soon turns out that Dawsey is rather a dish himself, and his potato pie society was formed out of necessity during an encounter with German soldiers on a post-curfew night out.

Newell and his team have captured the verdant lushness of summer and the settings and period details are ravishingly recreated, and its inhabitants turn out to be delightful as well. Plot-wise there is sufficient intrigue and dramatic heft to keep our interest stimulated, the dialogue delicately pokes fun in all the right places, and the support cast are really charming and genuine: Katherine Parkinson is convincingly amusing at an loopy earth-mother and Tom Courteney as the amiable postmaster. Penelope Wilton overdoes it slightly as the mother who’s lost her daughter, in a lukewarm subplot that whilst adding a scintilla of wartime intrigue and realism, feels somewhat submerged by the upbeat nature of the main storyline. This is about the positiveness of collaboration and community, rather than the negativeness of division and conflict.

And although Juliet’s enthusiasm and free-spiritedness drives the narrative forward at first, the romance that develops at its heart untimately feels unconvincing as lovers have no palpable chemistry whatsoever. Luckily the strength of the other performances generates enough enjoyment to carry this through, despite this rather fluffy and schematic ending. MT

Radiator (2014) | Home Ent Release

Writer/Director: Tom Browne | Cast: Daniel Cerquiera, Gemma Jones, Richard Johnson Leonard | 80mins  UK   Drama

Many of us will be familiar with the story at the heart of Tom Browne’s astonishing debut RADIATOR. A three-hander, it takes place in a ramshackle house in the Cumbrian countryside where middle-aged Daniel’s parents are coping with life in their 80s. Leonard, his father (Richard Johnson, sadly no longer with us), is unable to get upstairs anymore and has taken up residence on the sofa, issuing orders, and frustrated at not being in control anymore. Mariah, (a touching turn from Gemma Jones), potters endlessly around the domestic muddle, her confusion possibly down to senile dementia – she is a kindly but a desperate figure. Daniel’s personal life is far from satisfactory (he is played convincingly by Daniel Cerqueira who co-wrote the screenplay), yet he feels permanently at odds with the situation, powerless as he probably did as a child, and guilty now as an adult, taking time off work to support them, whilst being the permanent whipping boy of his curmudgeonly dad. Venturing into the village, he bumps into a neighbour who chides him further for his lack of parental support.

Tom Browne’s story resonates deeply with us all, or will eventually, as our parents become our own badly-behaved children. Just like Daniel, we grapple with our own lives and our own, often troubled, offspring. Middle-age turns into a three-pronged assault course, unless we have been bereaved already.

In Browne’s case the film is based on his own reality, with the actors playing his own parents. The narrative mirrors our own experience, and offers up empathy and strangely, a feeling of relief: a gut-wrenching feeling of pity, an overwhelming desire to help, an occasional feeling of anger at our parents’ self-centredness, a niggling feeling that this will be us one day: a desperate need to be with them as much as possible – in case they die any minute – yet a powerful reluctance not to lose the threads of our own difficult, lives. Old age is the coalface where we really get to know our parents; in the frustrations of dressing and handling their oblutions, and we argue over domestic detritus as they subtly or overtly undermine us, due to their own feelings of helplessness or even disappointment – as Leonard does here with Daniel. What he makes clear in this often poignant drama, is that parents are not going to change or even listen to our efforts or suggestions – the die is cast and we are still, in their minds, incapable children – their children, although we are now affectively their parents. No amount of shouting or arguing will change the way they have always behaved, we just have to accept and understand.

Affectingly, Browne has set the film in his parents’ house, still almost untouched since their recent deaths. It provides interesting food for thought, unless you’ve already choked on its unpalatable reality. MT

NOW ON ITUNES AND AMAZON FROM 2 APRIL 2018 | RADIATOR WON THE AUDIENCE AWARD AT GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2014 

 

 

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 

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

 

 

Gholam (2017) ***

Dir.: Mitra Tabrizian; Cast: Shahab Hosseini, Nasser Memarzia, Corinne Skinner-Carter, Tracie Bennett; Iran/UK 2017, 89′

Exile and alienation are at the heart of Mitra Tabrizian’s impressively stylish debut. This existential London drama is shot with mostly natural light, at night and dusk very much  along the lines of Melville’s The Samurai. 

Gholam (Hosseini) is an Iranian ex soldier who makes a meagre living as a cab driver who occasionally helping his mechanic friend out (Memarzia) in his spare time. He keeps very much to himself but often eats at his uncle’s restaurant, where he meets two different sets of Iranian exiles who are keen to muscle into his life. At a price, they would guarantee him a return to Iran to be re-united with his family. But Gholam rejects all offers, and prefers the company of strangers, like an elderly black woman (Skinner-Carter), who he often gives a lift in his cab. Waiting in front of her house, he meets Mrs. Green (Bennett), who looks after a broken-hearted old lady who has recently lost her grandchild. The two rival exile groups become more and more assertive in their pursuit of Gholam, even contemplate his assassination. But Gholam choses his own fight: and after he loses his job over a petty customer complaint,  he goes after them.

DoP Dewald Aukema paints a saturnine portrait of London’s twilight zone where the gloomy streets are often deserted as cars and creatures of the night hurry by – Gholam is one of them; either driving his cab, or drifting aimlessly, his zest for life gradually seeping into the pavement cracks as nightmare and reality fuse into a dreary existence. Only the music of the childhood can comfort him, but his search for self-annihilation is a noble one: his life has been lived, and he does not want another chapter of this ghostly existence.
Rather like her compatriot Abbas Kiarostami, Tabrizian is a famous photographer who regularly exhibits in Tehran. This stunning debut marks her out as the most remarkable newcomer in a long time, directing with great sensitivity and aesthetic aplomb. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 23 March 2018

My Generation (2017) ***

Dir: David Batty | Writers: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais | Cast: Michael Caine, Joan Collins, Lulu, Paul McCartney, Twiggy, Roger Daltrey, Marianne Faithfull, Sandie Shaw, Mary Quant, Barbara Hulanicki | UK | Doc | 85′ |

As narrator and co-producer, Michael Caine turns the camera on himself for a filmic flip through the Swinging Sixties, showing how he and his talented contempories transformed Britain.

Assembled over two years, MY GENERATION is directed by David Batty, with scripters Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement ensuring an enjoyable ride through enjoyable archive footage showcasing Caine’s contempories: photographer trio: Terry Donovan, Duffy and David Bailey; fashion models such as Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and Joanna Lumley and musicians: Roger Daltrey, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.

Caine, now 84, contemplates the factors that caused the loosening up in the postwar set-up citing The Pill and the advent of Grammar schools as primary factors for change, while Marianne Faithfull suggests it was all down to an improved diet. Whatever the case, they were all determined to have a good time and break down barriers, bringing in a more colourful era and putting London on the map as a beacon of youth culture, as everyone flocked to the capital. Caine, who rose from solid working class stock as Maurice Micklewhite, uses the film to attack posh middle class acting talent, ridiculing the likes of cult classics Brief Encounter (1946) and taking a swipe at  Norman Wisdom who he claims was not generous to work with despite his humble origins. Paul McCartney comes up with the chestnut, “suddenly people realised the working class wasn’t as thick as it looked and it had talent.” Chippy Britain at its best.

Caine goes on to suggest that the advent of drugs brought an end to the Swinging Sixties although stresses he only smoked marijuana once as it made him laugh for five hours so he couldn’t remember his lines. To his credit Caine avoids mawkish sentimentality: “I don’t feel nostalgia. I never look back. I feel extraordinarily lucky, not about my talent or anything, but about the timing,” MY GENERATION is an entertaining romp showing how these legendary characters made the Sixties happen and made their vast fortunes into the bargain.MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 MARCH 2017

You Were Never Really Here (2017) ***

Dir: Lynne Ramsay | Writer: Jonathan Ames| Lynne Ramsay | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette, John Doman | Thriller | 95min

New York is the setting of Lynne Ramsay’s claustrophobic psychodrama about a troubled soul who brings his abusive past to bear in his work as a hit man. Featuring a tortured performance from Joaquin Phoenix, it glimpses a world much darker and more deadly that the woozy snapshot we get here. Ramsay is more interested in probing the inner workings of her character’s mind than focusing on the sordid underworld of ‘private security’ and directs from a script adapted by Jonathan Ames from his original novel.

Phoenix plays Joe, a damaged Travis Bickle-like loner and former soldier who would have us believe there is a righteous place in the world for him that is hitherto undiscovered. But until that moment arrives he is tasked with rescuing a teenager whose wealthy father wants to avoid contact with the authorities. Teenager Nina (a fragile Ekaterina Samsonov) is the daughter of minor politician Votto (Alex Manette), a sidekick in Alessandro Nivola’s election campaign for senator, and has been lured into a sex-trafficking ring. Joe is tasked with getting the teen back to Votto, in a local hotel. But the scheme backfires when other criminal elements infiltrate the ring and the film descends into a hazy contemplation of Joe’s broken psyche that gradually melds with the ambiant violence of the botched release.

Ramsay’s effort to blend a crime thriller with claustrophobic character study is a brave one that feels much more nuanced and tuned-out than Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but sadly lacks the resonance and gutsy sense of time and place. That said, it’s a well-crafted thriller with an auteurish, almost poetic feel that contrasts impressively with the stark stabs of savage violence that punctuate this tawdry twisted tale. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 9 MARCH NATIONWIDE

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

Dir: Terence Fisher | Write: Harry Spalding | Cast: Willard Walker; Dennis Price, Virginia Fields, Thorley Walters, Anna Palk | UK | 62′

The Earth Dies Screaming is not a cutting edge sci-fi in the traditional sense just a delicate amuse-bouche of British black & white nostalgia (that would lead Fisher to his blow-out banquet at Hammer). Special effects are graciously subtle rather than gobsmacking and there’s some priceless dialogue and a solid cast who are sadly no longer with us: Willard Walker; Dennis Price, Virginia Fields, Thorley Walters and a captivating vignette of Anna Palk (The Main Chance).

Financed by American producer Robert L Lippert, Terence Fisher’s low-key approach showcases his laudable auteurist credentials in a sci-fi fantasy that unfurls elegantly in early Sixties Surrey, and a far cry from the lurid Gothic fare he went on to make for Hammer Studios. The Earth imagines a prescient vision of England invaded by aliens possessing the power to re-animate and control those who had lost their lives in the rural apocalypse. Willard Parker plays a masterful American test pilot who marshalls the survivors in an upmarket uprising against the alien invasion. Parker makes for an impressive hero, and Virginia Field plays attractive female lead Peggy, in control but also vulnerable to Dennis Price’s snide and supercilious Quinn Taggart, who is desperately trying to sneak her away from the rest of the group in a cheeky subplot (she was actually married to Willard at the time).

This is a classical production dressed by The Avengers costumier Jean Fairlie with dialogue that is terribly twee, despite the ominous tone throughout, Harry Spalding raises titters rather than shocks with lines like: “I’ve got your dinner warming in the oven”. Fisher makes the most of a minimal budget with glowing black and white camerawork from Arthur Lavis. The robots look more like deep sea divers in their natty quilted boxes. than scary monsters from outer space but when the dead characters start to reanimate their eyes glow opaquely in a really unsettling and convincing way, and Elisabeth Lutyens’ atmospheric score completes the picture of middle-class meltdown. That said, The Earth is about as terrifying as a fireside chat with Terry Wogan but equally entertaining. Watch it for the cast and the craftsmanship rather than the chills. MT

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES | THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING IS ALSO ON DVD DOUBLEPLAY

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

The Mercy (2017) ***

Dir: James Marsh | Writer: Scott Z Burns | Cast: Colin Firth, Rachel Weisz, David Thewliss, Ken Stott, Mark Gatiss, Finn Elliot | Drama | 101′

James Marsh captures the tragic Englishness of this sad Sixties maritime mystery about a decent man who loses his way.

Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz are utterly convincing as the loving couple at the heart of this watchable biopic about  the doomed attempt of amateur yachtsman Donald Crowhurst to compete in the notorious 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. Crowhurst’s story is an evergreen portrait of British sporting failure. Spurred on by middle-class ambition, and the desire to make something of his happy but humdrum existence, the competent sailer gets caught up in the headlights of potential fame, and fails – spectacularly. And somehow, only the English themselves can appreciate this also ran tragedy.

The Crowhurst story has spawned various theatrical and literary adaptations, and even a chamber opera: The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. Eric Colvin plays him in Simon Rumley’s upcoming low budget indie thriller Crowhurst which purportedly features the actual vessel that set sail in the endeavour.

Without mining the stormy depths of the tale’s dramatic potential, The Mercy is a poignantly becalmed but strangely gripping family drama with its mystery hanging over us rather like that of the Bermuda Triangle, taking us back down memory lane to the quaint old days of the late 1960s where in the pleasant seaside town of Teignmouth, Devon. the Crowhursts are a respectable family with Donald desperately seeking to shore up his ailing business and educate his kids. Striking a rather bum note in the opening scene, Marsh then guides us through calm waters where Donald attends the annual London Boat Show attempting to sell a special kind of navigation device that nobody’s having. So he decides to turn his sailing hobby into a money-making exercise – the jackpot for the winner being £5,000 – around £70K in today’s money) raising finance via entrepreneur Stanley Best ( a reliable Ken Stott).  It’s an enterprising idea but Crowhurst foolhardily agrees to include his house in the if he fails to complete the race.

Firth is brilliantly cast as Crowhurst – blending just the right amount of pathos and self-belief in his portrait of an unsatisfactory businessman of a rather nervous disposition who can’t take pressure and lacks personal conviction (possibly due to his mother dressing him as a much wanted girl until the age of 17). His marriage is clearly happy and Rachel Weisz plays his wife as a typically supportive English rose, stalwart in her affections and a brilliant mum but rather passive and naive in a commercial sense, as most women were in the those days.

Nagged by doubt, but spurred on by the media circus and a PR man called Rodney Hallworth – a strangely comic turn from David Thewlis – there are clearly technical drawbacks with his boat which looks unsuitable even to cross a puddle let alone the Atlantic – but after ominous delays he finally sets out at the end of October. Follies de grandeur then subside as he encounters his own demons and slowly starts to fall apart off the coast of South America, realising there is no way back or forward in the bathetic denouement, which Marsh leaves suitably vague. We leave overwhelmed with that familiar feeling of sadness mingled with resignation both for Crowhurst and for British sportsmanship, and sympathetic for his wife, not a great role Weisz but one she plays with thoughtful grace. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9 FEBRUARY NATIONWIDE

Ice Cold in Alex (1958) | 4K Bluray release

 Dir: J Lee Thompson | Cast: John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle | UK | 122’

1942: The Libyan war zone, North Africa. After a German invasion a British ambulance crew are forced to evacuate their base but become separated from the rest of their unit. Somehow they must make it to Alexandria, but how? Their only hope is a dilapidated ambulance named “Katy” and an irrational, alcoholic soldier known as Captain Anson. Facing landmines, a Nazi attack, suffocating quicksand and the relentlessly brutal and unforgiving Sahara desert, can Captain Anson face his demons and make the road to hell a journey to freedom? Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and nominated for the Golden Bear Award at Berlin International Film Festival, the film was also nominated for 4 BAFTAs including Best British Film, Best Screenplay and Best British Actor for Anthony Quayle on its initial release. Directed by J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, The Guns of the Navarone) with one iconic set piece after the next and with career best performances from John Mills (Goodbye Mr Chips, Great Expectations), Sylvia Syms (The Tamarind Seed, The Queen) and Anthony Quayle (Lawrence of Arabia), ICE COLD IN ALEX is a suspenseful, invigorating journey which leaves film fans gasping for breath… and a beer.

Special Premiere Screening at Glasgow Film Festival
Thursday 22nd February, Glasgow Film Theatre 1, 12.40pm

New 4k restoration of ICE COLD IN ALEX (1958) released on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download 19thFebruary 2018

 

Neglected British Film Directors: Basil Dearden

BASIL DEARDEN will never join the frontline of British film directors. He won’t be canonised, nor does he deserve to be among ‘Britain’s Best’ alongside Michael Powell, Alfred Hitchcock or even David Lean. So is it fairer to classify him with the likes of Roy Ward Baker, Robert Hamer or Val Guest; as a minor director with major virtues, ambitious for authorship? At the risk of sounding derogatory or ironic, is Dearden just an intelligent craftsman?.

In 1962, British film critic Victor Perkins (1936-2016) launched a savage attack on the director: “Dearden typifies the traditional Good Director in the appalling performances he draws from good actors; and in his total lack of feeling for cinema. He sacrifices everything to impact and, consequently, has none.” In 1993, Charles Barr in his seminal book Ealing Studios said: “If I were re-writing the book from scratch, Basil Dearden’s contribution to Ealing would be handled differently.”

emotionheader5797743533Since then there have been two books on Dearden. And the internet’s font of film knowledge IMDB, notes some positive viewer comments, a BFI education link to Sapphire and Victims high placing, by some critics, in the canon of gay cinema. A customer remark on a Criterion Box set entitled ‘Basil Dearden’s London Underground (consisting of Sapphire, Victim, The League of Gentleman and All Night Long) puts a convincing case for Dearden: ”What Basil Dearden was able to bring to British Cinema during the roughest times in not just the UK but in the world, watching these films today, I was not only amazed and taken back, but I feel proud to have watched cinema that absolutely moved me.”

This is a warm and appreciative corrective against the earlier scorn. Yet I wonder if Dearden’s ‘sociological seriousness’ has hindered his appreciation as a fine UK film director? You only have to look him up in the BFI’s Encyclopaedia of British Film to think that: “It is now less easy to elide the achievement under patronising adjectives like “liberal” and “safe”. Dearden’s films offer, among other rewards, a fascinatinating barometer of public taste at its most nearly consensual over three decades.” I would drop the word safe, retain liberal as a positive and explore those “other rewards” of Dearden’s rich career. I have seen 26 (of his 38 films) and very few are disappointing.

Dearden starts out in the forties with three Will Hay comedies, The Black Sheep of Whitehall (1941) The Goose Steps Out (1942) and My Learned Friend (1943). All entertaining films – the sinister and farcical moments of the last film being his best directed (though with the verbal anarchism of Will Hay, how could Dearden possibly fail?).

They Came To A City Dearden contributes a notable episode to the 1945 portmanteau film Dead of Night and throughout the 1940s he is embedded as an Ealing Studios director.
The Half Way House (1944) and They Came to a City (1941) – pictured left – are deliberately theatrical films posing questions about (a) war-time dilemmas and loyalties and (b) what is to be done in the post-war world? These films are deliberately didactic but not without visual pleasures. Their message is somewhat crudely stated but they retain an intelligent social concern for British identity that still grips. In the National Film Archive records, They Came to a City is listed as “an unusual film which represented the first attempt to carry out socialist propaganda in the first British feature film” These two films begin the crCage of Goldeative partnership of Bail Dearden with Michael Relph. (His contribution was a shared producer-writer-director credit, yet his main creative achievement was as a set designer). The Came to a City and later Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948) have remarkably well realised sets.

Through the 1950’s they produced The Blue Lamp (1950); Cage of Gold (1950) right;  Pool of London (1951); I Believe in You (1952); The Gentle Gunman (1952); and The Ship that Died of Shame (1955) and Violent Playground (1958). I have to admit to having a nostalgic soft-spot for a delightful comedy about a flea-pit cinema The Smallest Show on Earth (1957, Of this group of films, The Ship that Died of Shame strikes me as the most interesting. It’s a story of wartime seamen who continue, after the war, using their Navy Convoy boat, for smuggling. The Ship that Died of Shame (top left) is a fascinating picture, adapted from a Nicholas Montsarrat story, and contains a superb performance by Richard Attenborough –now behaving like a grown up Pinky (Brighton Rock) minus his psychotic behaviour. As a depiction of post war disillusionment / moral decline The Ship that Died of Shame neatly links up with Dearden’s heist drama of 1963, The League of Gentlemen, where British society starts to feel cynical about its old ‘heroes.’

blueAnother noteworthy 1950s film is The Blue Lamp. Yet for me that’s still a problem. Its status as social realism is high, and it does give you a sympathetic picture of London’s police. But an over-melodramatic tone flaws The Blue Lamp. Particularly Dirk Bogarde’s self-conscious performance as a young hoodlum. (Accusations of melodrama have often been levelled at Dearden/Relph’s Sapphire, Victim, and Life for Ruth. Yet in those films melodrama, not in itself a negative trait, is thematically better contained and realised). Sapphire, Victim and Life for Ruth can be viewed as a loose trilogy tackling such themes as racism, homosexuality and religious belief. They have often been dismissively called social problem films, as if that where also a problem for the viewer. I prefer to consider them social issue films whose ‘messages’ are not writ up didactically large. (If you want that please go to the American cinema circa that time and suffer the clunky On the Beach 1962 (Kramer, doing nuclear war) The Victors 1960 (Foreman, doing WW2) and The Blackboard Jungle 1955 (Brooks doing war in the classroom).

img_3130Sapphire (1959) is an outstanding film for four reasons: (1) Its very honest depiction of racism (2) The detail of its police investigation; (3) The technical assurance of a thriller that’s both brilliantly economical and (4); Its employment of an expressive Technicolor design.

A woman’s dead body is found on Hampstead Heath. The victim is Sapphire a music student of black and white parentage. Sapphire passed for white and frequented night clubs in a black neighbourhood. Superintendent Robert Hazard (Nigel Patrick) leads the criminal investigation. Although they suspect Sapphire’s white boyfriend David (Paul Massey) and Johnny, a man Sapphire dated, their attention is also drawn to David’s racist father (Bernard Miles). However in the police’s probing of David’s family complex issues are uncovered. David’s paternalistic father (beautifully played by Bernard Miles) is subtly highlighted to reveal the horrible mix of repression, racism and unfullfillment he encouraged to taint his family.

John Hill in ‘Sex, Class and Realism – British cinema 1956-63’ considers Dearden’s ‘social problem’ film to be creaky (Not so. This is forceful and non-judgemental cinema. Sapphire’s ‘issues’ are effectively worked through the tropes of a crime thriller. With any melodrama kept in check by its visual power – it’s a noirish Eastmancolour production. However Hill concedes to Sapphire’s ‘message’: “For the focus of violence (in Sapphire) is not in fact the blacks but the white-middle class family home. The real danger is not the threat without but the sexual repression that is within.”

hd_pool_of_london_739_084For Hill this creates an irony in that black people are seen as more ‘natural’ than the white characters in Sapphire. But for me they are not more stereotypically ‘natural’ simply more open in their relations, and less hypocritical by being ‘outside’ of English society. Sapphire is a scrupulously balanced film about black and white relations. It won a BAFTA award for best film and was remarkable for its time in being such an astute, multi-faceted picture of a racially motivated crime.

When scriptwriter Janet Green joined Dearden and Relph’s production, they really delivered. Green’s writing is intelligent, subtle, analytic and must be acknowledged as a crucial part of the equation when assessing the directorial status of Basil Dearden. Her sensitive scripting takes social issues out of any obvious message box, so that screen characters are fully realised. Sapphire’s crime movie story has a considerable degree of sharp social observation. Dearden’s films now possess an un–patronising liberal urgency.

In Victim (1960) the issue of gay freedom is tackled as powerfully as Sapphire’s exploration of racism. And like Sapphire it’s another landmark film. Dirk Bogarde plays Melville Farr, a successful barrister happily married to Laura (Sylvia Sims). Farr is contacted by Barrett (Peter McEnery) who appeals for help. He’s being blackmailed. The blackmailer has a photo of Farr and Barrett together that possibly suggests a gay relationship. Farr tries to avoid Barrett. Eventually Barrett, who has stolen money from his employers, for the blackmailer, is arrested by the police. In his prison cell Barrett hangs himself. Farr then takes it on himself to discover who’s behind the blackmailing.

img_3132One of the strong points of Victim is that it’s such a comprehensive and sensitive picture of a gay London community. Dearden strongly fashions it like a crime thriller. Yet Janet Green’s screenplay plays down any melodrama by her empathy with the gay world and such great attention to detail. And both main actors, Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Sims, are brilliant. Bogarde is made to look like a barrister aged about 50, rather than Bogarde’s real age of 39. This gives him a ‘safe’ feel of respectability, presenting a ‘mature’ barrister unable to repress his homosexual feelings. Perhaps this was an artistic error, but the complexity of characterisation in Victim prevents any fall into stock representations of ‘victimised’ gay men. Indeed putting social concerns to own side, Victim is not merely a crusading film about the injustice of illegal homosexual relations in 1961. For near the end of the film, Melville Farr’s anguish and hurt shifts to a deeper sense of his probable bi-sexuality. Farr clearly still loves his wife, yet is also pulled towards a love of men that he cannot deny. It’s Victim’s sense of a more generalised societal repression, blocking a full and workable sexual identity, demanding tolerance and empathy, which makes the film so remarkable.

Of course in today’s social and moral climate Victim appears a mild affair. Bogarde is on record of having said “It is extraordinary, in this over-permissive age (1988) to believe that this modest film could ever have been considered courageous, daring or dangerous to make. It was, in its time, all three.”

If Sapphire and Victim are concerned to tackle societal repression and conformity, in Life for Ruth (1961) ‘intolerance’ of religious belief and matters of conscience are closely scrutinised.

img_3131John Harris (Michael Craig) saves his young daughter Ruth (Lynn Taylor) from drowning in the sea. The child needs a blood transfusion. Harris’s religious beliefs forbid him to give consent. Ruth dies. Her mother, Pat (Janet Munro) separates from John. Doctor Brown, (Patrick McGoohan) of the local hospital, takes legal action against Harris for what he sees as a needless death of a young girl.

Of the Dearden / Relph ‘trilogyLife for Ruth was probably the least commercial project of the three. The film’s storyline making it more a candidate for a BBC Wednesday Play – still a few years down the line. It’s a sombre, even tragic film (aided by Otto Heller’s bleak grey toned photography) where your moral position on Harris’s behaviour constantly wavers. He was wrong to let his child die from not receiving blood. However was the doctor right to ‘hound’ Harris through the courts? The mother becomes horribly conflicted in her sympathies. Whilst Harris, clinging to his religious creed, anguishes over the terrible decision that he must live with.

maxresdefaultThough sharply edited and full of intense drama, Life for Ruth (unlike Sapphire and Victim) doesn’t employ a thriller format. In fact it’s closer (but not quite) to British New Wave realism. However Dearden’s brand of social realism concerns the rules of religion and the ethics of responsibility, rather than issues of class and power. Life for Ruth is about faith put on trial, hardly a fashionable subject for 1962. I can only think of Bergman’s Winter Light (1961) for atmospheric comparison. Though Winter Light is a better and greater film in its dealing with spiritual crisis, the silence of failed relationships and God’s absence. Yet by the end of Life for Ruth the viewer is emotionally shaken by what Harris has done and ponder on his fate after his religion has been seen to ‘betray’ him. Once more, Dearden and Relph are aided by a fine Janet Green script, containing some of her most nuanced writing. “Religion is a tricky business, very tricky-everybody feels, nobody thinks” That’s said by a police inspector. A key line in Life For Ruth about the persuasive, and potentially repressive moral authority of religious belief.

woman-of-straw-4After Life for Ruth, Dearden directed The Mind Benders 1963 (a flawed but compelling thriller about military brainwashing – picture above left) A Place to Go 1963 (A watchable kitchen sink drama worth seeing for Rita Tushingham) Woman of Straw (1963) right; Masquerade (1964); Khartoum (1966) – Charlton Heston starring as General Gordon; Only When I Larf (1968); The Assassination Bureau (1968) and finally The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), a science fiction drama about a doppelganger, starring Roger Moore.

4036544128_ca6c18a530_oDearden died in a road accident in March 1971. He was only sixty. His films after The Mind Benders is only partially successful. Perhaps his best work had already been achieved with Michael Relph- both earlier with Ealing and after they left the studio to set up their own productions. “Versatility” is a word often employed to damn Basil Dearden with faint praise. The Times epitaph described him as “A versatile British Director.” Inferring that taking your hand to many diverse subjects was a workmanlike and very British drudge. Well Howard Hawks tackled most genres with craftsmanship and artistry. And they were rarely chores. Hawks’ versatility is applauded because he is a recognisable auteur. I’m not placing Dearden on the same artistic level as Hawks. Yet both really knew how to finely craft a movie.

At his best Dearden was a maker of serious films of cinematic skill and a passionate integrity. When dealing with issues in British Society he dug deep into cultural pressures and repressions. Perhaps he didn’t go far enough, and finally shied away from exposing the full hypocrisy of power – that was more the job of an outsider like Joseph Losey. And he certainly never had Losey’s dazzling style. However his films always look good. Not just efficiently good. But striking and imaginative (Noir, early British documentary and Neo-realism cluster round his imagery). Author or not, I respond to Dearden’s best films, not out of a sense of moral duty to British cinema, but with a cineaste’s genuine pleasure.
Alan Price 

THEY CAME TO A CITY  is released on 23 April 2018 | Bfi Films | Dual Format 2K |  BLURAYS|DVDS AVAILABLE COURTESY OF EUREKA, STUDIO CANAL, CRITERION | AMAZON.CO.UK

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2018 | 7 – 16 March 2018

The 22nd edition of the London Human Rights Watch Film Festival opens in time for International Womens Day, on 8th March. The festival includes 14 award-winning international documentary and feature films, half of them directed by women. The opening night film Naila and the Uprising directed by Julia Bacha shines a light on the role of the women’s leaders of the First Intifada (which took place 30 years ago) who not only led a popular civil resistance campaign for national liberation, they also fought tirelessly for their rights as women. As ever the programme reaches many corners of the globe, from Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iran, Qatar to Pakistan, France, USA, Venezuela, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo and the closing night film from Liberia which follows environmental activist Silas Siakor as he empowers local people to fight illegal land grab.  It’s a worthwhile and watchable programme rather than a worthy one we particularly recommend:

THE POETESS 

March 9 | 8.45pm | Barbican | March 10 | 8.30pm | BFI Southbank both with Stefanie Brockhaus Q&A

Saudi poetess Hissa Hilal made headlines around the world as the first woman to reach the finals of the Arab world’s biggest televised poetry competition, “Million’s Poet.” The Poetess is the inspiring story of a woman risking her personal safety and seizing an opportunity, live on TV in front of 75 million viewers, to use her wit and lyricism to critique patriarchal society and religious extremism, and to urge a more peaceful Islam.

THIS IS CONGO

March 7 | 6.15pm RIBA London | Benefit Night screening with Q&A with Dir Daniel McCabe + Fergal Keane (BBC)

A whistleblower, a patriotic military commander, a mineral dealer, and a displaced tailor share a glimpse of life amid Africa’s longest continuing conflict. Over the last two decades, the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen more than 5 million conflict-related deaths, multiple changes of government, and the wholesale impoverishment of its people. This is Congo provides an immersive and unfiltered look at this lush, mineral-rich country, from the rise of Rwandan and Ugandan-backed M23 rebels in the North Kivu region of Congo in 2012 to the present day via four profoundly resilient characters.

WOMEN OF THE VENEZUELAN CHAOS.

March 13 | 8.40pm | Barbican & March 15 | 6.15 Barbican with Q&As on both nights with Dir: Margarita Cadenas

What is going on in Venezuela at the moment? Embodying strength and stoicism, five Venezuelan women from diverse backgrounds each draw a portrait of their country as it suffers under the worst crisis in its history amid extreme food and medicine shortages, a broken justice system, and widespread fear. The women share what life is really like for them and their families as the truth of the country’s difficulties are repeatedly denied by the government. Featuring stunning visuals and creative soundscapes, Women of the Venezuelan Chaos presentsa uniquely beautiful country and people, who remain resilient and resourceful despite the immense challenges they face.

12 DAYS

March 10 | 4.00pm | Barbican | March 11 4.00pm Barbican

Every year in France, 92,000 people are placed under psychiatric care without their consent. By law, the hospital has 12 days to bring each patient before a judge. Relying on little information beyond doctor recommendations, a crucial decision must be made: will the patient be forced to stay or granted the freedom to leave? Focusing primarily on these public hearings, renowned filmmaker and photographer Raymond Depardon captures the raw and vulnerable interactions at the border of justice and psychiatry, humanity and bureaucracy. Absorbing and thought-provoking, 12 Days gives a platform to those whose voices are so rarely considered. Golden Eye Prize, Cannes Film Festival 2017

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL 7 – 16 MARCH 2018

The Ninth Cloud (2017) *

Dir.: Jane Spencer; Cast: Michael Madsen, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Megan Maczko, Elena Krausz, Sabina Akhmedova; Switzerland/UK 2014, 93′.

Sometimes films are kept on the shelf for a reason – The Ninth Cloud, a pretentious, verbose Nouvelle Vague rip-off set in Hackney, is a prime example. A male director would be rightly nailed to the cross for this febrile flop.

Three worlds collide when the dipsomaniac ‘damsel in distress’ Zena (Maczko) desperately tries and fails to channel Anna Karina in Band-à-Part (the big coat is a dead give-away). The flat she shares with pregnant Laura (Krausz) and over-sexed Helene (Akhmedova) is a viper’s nest, and no love is lost – later they are joined by a homeless woman.Zena is in love with Bob (Madsen), a pretend gay ‘artist’, who is actually married, but acts out meaningless scripts with his band of followers from the hostel in a derelict warehouse. The third set belongs to posh wannabes  led by Jean-Hughes Anglade (La Reine Margot) who reside in a hotel and fight it out like a bunch of cowboys. As it turns out, Bob is a not gay, and a con-artist to boot, and the scheme to raise money for a boy who lost his leg in the Congolese war is not only in very bad taste, but, like the whole enterprise, gradually peters out.

Bob and Zena talk non-stop about Les Enfants du Paradise with Jean Vigo and Rainer Maria Rilke who both died of broken hearts – but are equally at home on more basic territory: Zena telling her flat mates, that a man told her to touch his penis – the scene is repeated in images for the hard of hearing.

Shooting on the feature should have started in 2008, but the death of its star Guillaume Depardieu (to whom the film is dedicated) in the same year, postponed it for three years, and a two-year post-production did not help either; these may be contributory factors, but do not excuse this train-wreck of a feature. AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON ITUNES

Journey’s End (2017)

Dir.: Saul Dibb | Cast: Sam Claflin, Paul Bettany, Asa Butterfield, Toby Jones | UK | 107′

Saul Dibb (Suite Francaise) make great use of Simon Reade’s taut script to depict this gloomy WWI chronicle, set in a dugout at Aisne Northern France over a four-day period in March 1918.

Based on Vernon Bartlett’s novel and the seminal 1930 play by RC Sheriff, JOURNEY’S END is unrelentingly harrowing. And rather than creating a worthy and alienating throwback to the era, Dibb succeeds in connecting us to the present with well-formed and convincing characterisations of real people who we can relate to, an and feel for, rather than relics from another point in time. Powerfully projecting the narrative beyond the confines of its cramped surroundings, he also makes the threat of the impending air strikes ever-present and audible as a force just over the parapet where the men make their final tragic sortie, he also creates a love interest for Captain Stanhope in the shape of Raleigh’s sister who is captured in a pleasant vignette in her country drawing room, adding welcome contrast to the despondency in the dugout. Sam Claflin plays Stanhope, slowly losing his mind in a haze of whisky. But to everyone else he is a hero. The unit is held together by his second-in-command, Osborne (Bettany), a former schoolteacher, who is gentle and understanding, but somehow longs for his own death. Fresh from the training academy, Lieutenant Raleigh (Butterfield) pleads with his uncle, a general, to secure him a posting in Stanhope’s battalion. He admires Stanhope, who was an older pupil at his school, but nothing prepares him for what is to come. The German offensive keeps the tension as tight as the mens’ measly rations, and when Raleigh and Osborne are sent out with a handful of soldiers they manage to capture a German who will be cross-examined to confirm the exact date of the planned attack. This bloody undertaking is only the curtain-raiser for the mass slaughter that was to occur during the German bombardment. There are terrific performances, among them Toby Jones as the cook, trying to please everybody so he can stay out of the line of fire. DoP Laurie Rose (High Rise) captures the tortuous trenches where the men wait for their death. There have been many war films over the past century commemorating the mass slaughter with ultra-realism and picturing those horrifying days. But this is a grim record that really brings home the realisation that none of us is ever ‘entitled’ to peace or to happiness: We don’t have a right to anything. Remembrance is necessary, and every single record of the two World Wars offers another opportunity for us to recall the bitter events that finally united Europe. And how important that union still is. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 2 FEBRUARY 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017)

Dir: MARTIN MCDONAGH | United Kingdom / 110’ | cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage

In Martin McDonagh’s latest pithy social satire a frustrated and grieving mother antagonises her local police force calling to attention the lack of progress in the search for her daughter’s killer.
Confrontation is the name of the game in this unforgiving black comedy set in the Southern United States. Conflict is rife, incendiary arguments erupt, nearly everyone resorts to violence, be it for political or personal reasons. Grudging forgiveness sometimes follows, but not necessarily as a matter of course. Frances McDormand paints the heroine Mildred as an unlovable tyrant, in the smalltime, small-mindedtown of Ebbing. A divorcee, she has lost her teenage daughter, who was raped and left to  die almost on her doorstep. After a month, the terminally ill sheriff (Harrelson) has not come up with any suspects and the trail has gone cold, so Mildred pushes her own agenda forward, renting three billboards with a strong message accusing the sheriff of incompetence. This is not a particularly sensitive move but it’s an effective one, sending the townsfolk into quiet meltdown against the mother of three. Meanwhile, the much-liked Willoughby is dying of cancer. But Mildred’s vendetta knows no bounds and she finally takes her complaint further, leaving DC Dixon (a strong comedy turn by Rockwell) with terrible injuries. Strangely enough, Dixon seems to learn his lesson and channels his energy into re-opening the case. Dixon and Mildred begin a friendship, but not on the lines the late sheriff would be approve of.
McDormand is brazenly brilliant as the hard-bitten Mildred who conveniently forgets that she argued with her daughter on that fateful last evening, jokingly wishing that she would be raped for not following her advice. Race, gender, anger and forgiveness are the are all in the mix in this toxic town where casual violence is par for the course.  The narrative is anger-driven rather than goal-oriented, and the fun is very much in the process rather than the solution: this is no whodunnit. THREE BILLBOARDS is very dark, shot through with brutal stabs of humour: DoP Ben Davis catches the mood with his stark, widescreen images. This is Trump country, and the Confederate Flag rules. God help America. AS

Martin McDonagh was born in London to Irish parents. He is a renowned playwright and filmmaker, and won an Academy Award for his debut short, Six Shooter (06). He subsequently directed In Bruges (08) and Seven Psychopaths (12), which played at the Festival and received the Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (17) is his latest feature.

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 12 JANUARY 2018

God’s Own Country (2017) | Bfi Flare Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Francis Lee; Cast: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart; UK 2017, 104 min.

Francis Lee’s feature debut is often hard watch to watch. This dour and utterly realistic portrayal of a gay relationship in the Yorkshire countryside does not spare humans or animals. But in spite of the gloominess of landscape and relationships, Lee allows a chink of sunlight into this country-noir.

Johnny Saxby (O’Connor) is a lost soul: he works for his stroke-impaired father Martin (Hart) on the family farm, his mother (Gemma Jones) watching his every step. The only entertainment is alcohol and quick sexual encounters in the pub toilet. Josh resents the world – but not as much as himself. Enter Gheorghe (Secareanu), a Romanian farm worker, hired to help Josh with the overbearing tasks of looking after the varied livestock and the land. Josh might be a country yokel, but he knows how to provoke Gheorghe at their first meeting: he calls him a Gypsy – but Gheorghe, who speaks near perfect English, wrestles him to the ground showing he’s no pushover. Gheorghe comes from a farming family experience and shows imagination and knowledge whilst saving a new-born lamb, Josh warms to him, and after yet another wrestling match in the mud, the two become lovers. With his mother growing more and more suspicious of the two young men, Josh’s father suffers a second stroke, leaving him bedridden for good. Stressed out, Josh takes up again with one of his casual lovers, but is caught in flagrante by Gheorghe, who leaves the farm.

DoP Joshua James Richards (Songs my Brother taught Me) beautifully captures the dappled Yorkshire countryside – always changing from light to shadow in support of the moody narrative. O’Connor is brilliant as Johnny, showing both vulnerability and brutal aggression. Secareanu is his equal: his Gheorghe is a much more developed personality than Johnny, but he is traumatised by the events in his homeland – one can only guess how homosexuals are treated in rural Romania, but we don’t know that he is not bisexual. Josh’s parents are trying to hold everything together, but in the end, they are both totally dependent on their son. So Josh, for the first time, gets a chance to be his own master.

God’s own Country has, in contrast with many contemporary British films, an intricate narrative, and a proper dramatic arc: Lee, who grew up on a farm in Yorkshire, directs with assurance, never rushing anything; incorporating the gloomy landscape into the human mire. A great character study, and a visual feast, even though some more delicate souls might have to close their eyes now and again. MT

Screening during Bfi Flare on 1st April |ON BLURAY AND DVD FROM 29 JANUARY 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

 

 

 

 

Raw (2016) | Bluray release

Dir: Julia Ducournau | France/Belgium | Horror Fantasy Thriller | 99′

RAW has a distinctive visual style that made it one of the most refreshingly gruesome watches of 2016, scooping awards at Cannes, Sitges and London for Franco Belgian auteur Julia Ducournau. Often gory but never schlocky, her debut feature sees a young vegetarian woman struggle with an identity crisis as she completes her training to be a vet, while gradually growing obsessed by meat.

Justine is desperate to conform to her family’s expectations and fit in with her new friends but a freshers’ night hazing ritual forces her to sample raw rabbit liver, awakening her tastebuds to the temptations of flesh of all kinds – not just the animal variety. Previously committed to a diet of free from beast protein she suddenly finds herself drooling over the lusty bodies of the male students and the blood dripping from the severed finger of her close friend during a particularly challenging bout of bikini waxing.

There are echoes of Cronenberg’s body horror and Belgian cult outing Alleluia to Ducournau’s compelling mix of horror and fantasy thriller, which she describes as “a modern ancient tragedy about too much love”, Raw is both grim and bracing in its originality with a dynamite central performance from Garance Marillier (star of Ducournau’s 2011 short Junior) as Justine, the wide-eyed fresher student we first encounter spitting out a piece of sausage during a family lunch on the way to the Vet college, where they also trained decades before. An unsettling scene featuring a horse’s anaesthesia is then followed by a gruesome initiation ceremony where students are drenched in blood before their exams begin – is this from the horse? All very visceral and disturbing. The scenes that follow in her Vet college are steeped in motifs relating to bestiality and brutality.

Ducournau nips between the genres with the help of her cinematographer Ruben Impens who takes us down into a claustrophobic world of sweaty bodies and frightening procedures including one scene where Justine is plagued by a mysterious seeping rash, while mobile phones capture the zeitgeist of the student milieu echoed in a well chosen score that includes the Orties’ aptly named: Plus Putes que routes les Putes. “An animal that has tasted human flesh is not safe,” How true. This clever filmmaker has since returned to the small screen with the series Servant now on AppleTV+. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON limited BLURAY from 19th April 2021 |AMAZON.CO.UK

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

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

 

Brakes (2017)

DIR: Mercedes Grower | UK | Comedy | 85′

Shot on a shoestring budget over several years, this unconventional tragi-comedy compendium explores modern love for Londoners through a series of nine amorous encounters. Depressingly realistic and cringeworthy rather than funny or affecting, BRAKES starts well but is unable to sustain our enthusiasm beyond the half-way mark due to a lack of laughs, questionable production values, tonal uneveness and the overly episodic nature of the narrative. Some of the vignettes are dismal and feel staged rather than authentic.

BRAKES is the directorial debut of English actress Mercedes Grower and is cast from a selection of Britain’s top comedy and dramatic acting talent who do their best in the circumstances: Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh) alongside Paul McGann (Withnail & I), Julia Davis (Nighty Night), Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave), Steve Oram (Sightseers), Roland Gift (The Fine Young Cannibals), Peter Wight (Babel, Atonement), Kate Hardie (Mona Lisa), Seb Cardinal (Cardinal Burns) to name but a few.

The film received a Special Jury Mention for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film at the Edinburgh Film Festival 2016 and has won audiences over at many festivals since, including LOCO London Comedy Film Festival and the inaugural ‘Cineramageddon’ event, curated by Julien Temple, at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. MT

BRAKES IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 24 NOVEMBER 2017

 

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

Revolution: New Art for a New World (2016)

Dir: Margy Kinmonth. With the voices of Daisy Bevan, Tom Hollander, Sean Cronin, Matthew Macfadyen, Eleanor Tomlinson | Documentary | UK | 85min

Bafta-nomimnated documentarian Margy Kinmonth (Hermitage Revealed) provides a whistlestop tour of Russian Avant-garde art  in ths informative and engrossing exhibition on screen – REVOLUTION: NEW ART FOR A NEW WORLD.

Politically, the turn of the 20th century was a pivotal time, but also creatively things would never be the same again as Russia’s young and thrusting artists provided their own revolutionary counterpoint to Lenin’s political agenda. An astute artist in her own right, Kinmonth engages with Andrei Konchalovsky and other descendants of the legendary artists to create a brilliant documentary that combines impressive photographs and archive footage with filmed imaginings (with a sterling British cast) of the radical climate that flooded through Russia a hundred years ago, when inventiveness broke free, flourished and even drove the nation forward in those formative decades, and still exerts a powerful influence on the contemporary art world of today.

img_3083For those interested in art or political history this is a fascinating piece of filmmaking. Kinmonth is clearly well-connected as she tours the State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum and the State Hermitage Museum to show works by Chagall, Pimenov, Rodchenko, Kandinsky and Malevich and to interview leading art world luminaries among whom are Mikhail Piotrovsky and Zelfira Tregulova and the grandson of the architect Shukhov, whose free-standing Shabolovka Tower structure in Moscow provided radio broadcasting throughout the region during the early 1920s.

Despite the often tragic deaths of the artists in Gulags during Bolshevik purges of the 1930s, the revolutionaries had pushed the word out from Moscow and St Petersburg with the aid of ‘art trains’ that promoted their work and ideals  with lectures, agitational propaganda and posters.

Kinmonth deftly weaves her linear narrative through the various Avant-Garde movements of Suprematism, Futurism and Constructivism to Socialist Realism to show how these influential artworks and even ceramics live on to tell their story even after the heyday of the movement with Kazimir Malevich’s famous Black Square Suprematist painting (1915) now valued at many millions of USD. MT

REVOLUTION: NEW ART FOR A NEW WORLD will be broadcast in the BBC’s upcoming Russian Revolution Season and will air on Monday 6th November 9pm on BBC4

REVOLUTION: NEW ART FOR A NEW WORLD will be released on DVD 3rd April 2017

 

 

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

 

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

Quatermass and the Pit (1967) | Bluray release

Dir: Roy Ward Baker | Writer: Nigel Kneale | Cast: James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover | Horror Sci-fi | UK | 97′

The name Quatermass has been iconic in British popular culture ever since 1953, when Professor Bernard Quatermass arrived to save us from aliens and de-mythologize the origin of The Devil. From its BBC television beginnings to Big Screen adaptations, writer Nigel Kneale’s thoughtful creation has stimulated and excited fans of conceptual science fiction.

The 1958/59 TV serial of Quatermass and the Pit had considerably more time to let its ideas breathe than this 1967 Hammer production. However, one of the pleasures of Roy Ward Baker’s film is its condensing of a remarkable storyline. Nigel Kneale wrote the script thus keeping many of the details kept sharply intact.

A mysterious object is discovered at the building site extension to London’s Hobbs Lane tube station. Many sightings of The Devil were recorded as having occurred in the vicinity. The object concerned is a spacecraft containing long dead insect-like creatures who turn out to be Martians who briefly colonised Earth and subsequently influenced human evolution to create earlier manifestations of evil in the form of The Devil. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir) aided by Palaeontologist Dr. Mathew Roney (James Donald ) and his assistant Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley), are forced to combat a spacecraft, drawing its destructive power from the broadcasting equipment on the site.

Although it would be a shame to divulge the plot by describing the film’s climax, the ending is rather predictable, and we are left to witness the disturbing after-effects which are just as impressive as the film’s deliberate inconclusiveness. As Quatermass and Judd stand in the street, a serious of subtle dissolves picture them, still reeling from what they’ve witnessed. Baker’s choice of a long take conveys a powerful impression that the horrors in the pit will still rage within us, together with the awful racial memory that we are part-Martian is embedded in our genes; that this cannot be expunged, and accounts for the aggressive human need to wage war: “We’re the Martians now” says a character in the film: retaining a power to chill and undermine us earthlings. So roll over H.G.Wells’s and his War of the Worlds Martian invasion – it occurred millions of years ago!

Hammer is so stamped with the identity of period horror melodrama that you forget that it was once a studio that produced its own British B picture Noirs and Sci-fi. Surely QUATERMASS AND THE PIT ranks alongside Losey’s The Dammed as their best excursions into Sci-fi. Yet QUATERMASS is also a successful blend of horror and Sci-fi. In the green slimy monster department it scores highly, rather than absurdly, as the convincing models of the Martians, when cut with a scalpel, produce an emetic green liquid. (Moments like this greatly compensate for the killing of army officer Colonel Breen – Julian Glover, for the special effects, for his fried-up body, are really crude.)

Nigel Kneale was a brilliant popular writer for TV and film who knew how to communicate important themes such as race memory, evolution and the nature of evil. You can place Quatermass and the Pit (both film and TV version) up there with 2001, Village of the Dammed; Unearthly Stranger; The Dammed and Under the Skin as titles that opened up intellectual mystery on so many fronts that you instinctively think as much as you shudder. Alan Price©2017

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

Dunkirk (1958) | Bluray release

Dir: Les Norman | Writer: Trevor Dudley Smith, David Divine | Cast: John Mills, Richard Attenborough | History/Adventure | 134′

A new restoration of Leslie Norman’s classic wartime epic DUNKIRK (1958)  follows the dramatic events leading up to Operation Dynamo, where upon the British Army attempted to rescue fellow soldiers and allied troops from Nazi occupied France. Seen from the dual perspectives of a jaded journalist in search of propaganda and a weary soldier desperately trying to give his troop some hope, DUNKIRK never shies away from the brutality of war and the bravery of its soldiers.

Directed by Leslie Norman (The Long, The Short And The Tall), starring John Mills (Ice Cold In Alex, Goodbye Mr Chips, Great Expectations) Richard Attenborough (Brighton Rock, The Great Escape) and a cast featuring genuine army officers, DUNKIRK is one of the most authentic representations of conflict during World War II.

ON, DVD/ Digital Download from 25th September 2017. Featuring brand new extras, Ealing Studios’ remarkable DUNKIRK (1958) will release as part of STUDIOCANAL’s Vintage Classics Collection – a showcase of iconic British films, all fully restored and featuring brand new extra content: www.facebook.com/vintageclassicsfilm.

 

 

 

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

The Ghoul (2016)

Dir: Gareth Tunley, Tom Meeten, Geoff McGiven, Alice Lowe | Crime Drama | UK | 81min

Actor turned director Gareth Tunley’s stylish low budget indie sees a depressed Northern homicide detective (Tom Meeten) arrive in London to investigate a supernatural kind of crime – one where the victims were fatally shot but went on ‘living’. Clearly, he’s not well, but decides to go undercover as a ‘patient’ to investigate a suspect’s psychotherapist Dr Fisher (Niamh Cusack), who chats him through his inner life and probes his dreams.

Chris spends a great deal of his time bumbling around the streets of London to some atmospheric visuals and a suitably doom-laden score, clearly he’s not in a good place. “Is there anyone in your life you have feelings for” asks the lovely and sympathetic Cusack. As a typical middle-aged British male Chris admits to having a tentative thing going with an ex Manchester University friend called Kathleen: she’s actually with his mate, so this is just a smokescreen. But Dr Fisher probes further and Chris feels uncomfortable as the crime investigation fades into the background and he himself becomes the focus of the enigmatic narrative.

As fantasy and reality gradually become one, Chris strikes up an relationship with the suspect that leads to drinks. It turns out that Dr Fisher is transferring both of them to her boss Dr Morland, a rather voluble therapist  who adopts a jovial and imventive approach to his treatment with the opening gambit: “Normal tea or some sort of gay tea” but Chris goes along with it despite his misgivings and the suspect’s warnings that Dr Morland is dangerous. THE GHOUL grows increasingly mysterious as Tunley’s clever narrative has us searching for clues in a mind-boggling psycho thriller with more tricks up its sleeve than we first imagine. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 4 AUGUST 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Howards End (1992) | ***** Re-release

Dir.: James Ivory; Cast: Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter, Vanessa Redgrave, Samuel West, Nicola Duffett, Jemma Rgrave, Joseph Bennett, James Wilby, Prunella Scales, Adrian Ross Magenty, Susie Lindeman; UK/Japan/USA 1992, 140 min.

Based on E.M. Forster’s classic 1910 novel, HOWARDS END is a towering achievement considering the team that made the film – apart from the actors, of course – were not British. American James Ivory got together with Indian Ismail Marchant and asked Polish Ruth Prawer Jhabvala to write the script, which won her an Oscar. Together they evoke English sensibilities to make a film that feels more English than the current state of affairs, harking back to an era of values that have now more or less disappeared. It remains the most successful Forster screen adaptation, and for quite a modest budget.

HOWARDS END is the story of three families: the Wilcox clan, a wealthy industrialist family, the (German) Schlegels, progressive Bohemians in the Bloomsbury mould and the ever so humble middle class couple Leonard and Jackie Bast, forced together through necessity rather than love. Set just before the outbreak of the First World War, which would change Europe forever, the story explores the subtleties of the English class system: a delicately balanced affair so gracefully nuanced in Prawar Jhabvala’s intelligent scirpting.

The Schlegel family meet the Wilcox’s at a party where the youngest of the three siblings, Helen (Bonham-Carter) grows close to Paul Wilcox (Bennett), exchanging a midnight kiss. Since Paul, as the youngest brother “has no money of his own”, he is set to seek his fortune in Nigeria so the engagement has no future. Later Margaret Schlegel (Thompson), the oldest and most responsible of the siblings, bonds with Ruth Wilcox (Redgrave) over the value of spirituality and the dying Ruth leaves her family home, Howards End in Hertfordshire, to Margaret. Her husband and soon to be widower Henry (Hopkins), the unchallenged patriarch of the family, incandescent with discrete rage, burns his wife’s hand-written will, with the support of his daughter Evie (Redgrave) and trumped up son Charles (Wilby) and fiancée Dolly (Lindemann). Touched by the kindness of city clerk Leonard Bast (West), who lends Helen his umbrella to shelter from the rain, a socially awkward friendship develops between Bast and the Schlegels who make an ill-advised suggestion regarding his employment, that will later regret.

Margaret is in no doubt of her position as an ageing single woman and sensibly grows closer to Henry who falls back on her stalwart emotional support soon after Ruth’s demise. The two marry and at the wedding party of Charles and Dolly, Leonard Bast and his wife Jackie (Duffett) make their presence known, in no uncertain terms. An embarrassing truth then emerges that destabilises Henry and he threatens to call his wedding off. Meanwhile Helen,  frustrated and left on the sidelines when her siblings move on, unwisely takes up the Bast’s cause, queering the pitch and crossing the fine line between social milieux as the final chapter of the saga enfolds.

Forster’s novel cleverly illustrates both strong and reckless leadership: Margaret takes responsibility for her sister Helen, who is always embroiling herself in emotional battles, which Margaret has to resolve. Her brother Tibby (Magenty), is a drip, but also a narcissistic student, plagued by the same self-importance indulgence as Helen. It falls to Margaret, to keep the capricious duo afloat. In contrast, Henry Wilcox is strong and pragmatic provided he has a female partner by his side. His children are, in very different ways, countermanded by his dominating authority, having had no chance to develop on their own strength of personality. When tragedy strikes and his position in the family is at risk, Henry tries to be conciliatory. Sitting tired and broken on the lawn, is metaphor and symbolic of the endgame: the slaughterhouse of the Great War. Finally, Leonard Bast is a man of principles, but has no means to realise them. From today’s perspective, Forster’s ending, that the meek should inherit the world – in this case Howards End – is rather wishfully optimistic. Yet in a clever way, this is what eventually happens. Emma Thompson’s brilliantly elegant performance as Margaret, cleverly negotiating her way through enemy lines to victory for all concerned, while maintaining a British stiff upper lip.

DoP Tony Pierce-Roberts (The Remains of the Day), conjures up lush and languid images of the countryside, and rather more detached and austere ones in the London scenes. The countryside is shown as a refuge for a dying era; the city a dark and rather Dickensian place of torment. Emma Thompson reigns supreme, whilst Hopkins is at his acid best. The doom-laden atmosphere prevails in the soft English summer settings, and Ivory makes sure that the emphasis is always on the second word of the title. MT

HOWARDS END IS BACK IN CINEMAS FROM 28 JULY 2017 | COURTESY OF THE BFI

Loot (1970) Bluray release

LOOT (1970)

Directed By Silvio Narizzano

Starring Richard Attenborough, Lee Remick, Hywel Bennett, Milo O’Shea & Roy Holder

Farcical comedy LOOT is a satirical look at 20th century society with an impressive ensemble cast including Richard Attenborough (The Angry Silence, Brighton Rock), Lee Remick (The Omen, Days of Wine and Roses), Hywel Bennett (The Family Way, Twisted Nerve) and Milo O’Shea (Arabian Adventure, Barbarella).

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.

‘LOOT’ come to Blu-Ray and DVD on 28 August. Both films will also screen as part of the BFI’s Joe Orton season in August.

A Change in the Weather (2017)

Dir.: Jon Sanders; Cast: Emma Garden, Bob Goody, Meret Becker, Anna Mottram; UK 2016, 98 min.

Jon Sanders (Back to the Garden) gets to grips with the meaning of love for a close-knit group of luvvies in this low-budget indie set deep in Cathar country, in the mountains of South West France.

Usin WH Auden’s quote “Will it come like a change in the weather…O tell me the truth about love” as a starting point ageing theatre director Dan (Goody), insecure about his feelings, invites a cast of three actresses to discuss their relationships with him: there is Jo (Garden), his real life wife; Lydia (Mottram) who is supposed to play his wife age forty-eight; and Kalle (Becker) who represents his wife age twenty-one, a year before they married.

Family members of Dan and Jo also play small parts, but the action centres around Dan and his three ‘wives’. When Jo wants the discussion to focus on marriage, it becomes clear that she is not amused by the proceedings. She is edgy, and cuts off after questions about birthday presents. Kalle is somehow written out during the process, whilst Lydia (Mottram, co-writer with the director) prefers to toy with the subject, like Dan’s puppet. When life and play-acting eventually converge, the exercise feels rather predictable.

Interactions between theatre and life are quiet common in feature films, most notable the great Jaques Rivette (Noli Me tangere, La Bande des Quatre) has excelled in this subject. But Sanders lacks discipline and structure to succeed, A Change is simply too tepid and spineless, and apart from the ending: its all rather too acquiescent, with everyone delivering their monologues. DoP David Scott, long time collaborator of Sanders, fits in with simple, but uninspiring images. Whilst Back to the Garden had some underlying tension to give it some dramatic heft, this project is still-born from the start because, apart from Dan and Jo, the other character have no axe to grind with each other. One can somehow imagine what Sanders had in mind, but the end result is bland and uninspiring. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 7 JULY 2017

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017 | 21 June – 2 July 2017

Cannes was not the only film festival celebrating its 70th birthday in 2017. Edinburgh International Film Festival is the same shares the same anniversary and takes place from 21 June to 2 July, showcasing a total of 151 features from 46 countries including: 17 World Premieres, 12 International Premieres, 9 European Premieres and 69 UK Premieres.

gods-own-countyHighlights include the Opening and Closing Gala premieres of Yorkshire-set God’s Own Country and England Is Mine a biopic of Morrissey’s early life in 1970s Manchester before becoming the lead singer in seminal band The Smiths.

Kyra Sedgwick will attend the Festival with her screen debut Story of a Girl, along with the film’s star Kevin Bacon. And Stanley Tucci’s Berlinale drama Final Portrait, is also a highlight of this year’s celebration.

Whilst Cannes celebrated by inviting those having won the Palme D’Or to a lavish evening reception, Edinburth with mark the occasion with a retrospective entitled THE FUTURE IS HISTORY attracting guests including Richard E Grant, Peter Ferdinando, Steven Mackintosh, Kate Dickie, Tam Dean Burn, Bernard Hill, Matt Johnson, Gerard Johnson and Polly Maberly to support and deliver a range of exclusive events and film screenings.

18582514_10156335747454062_8855051153228850370_nThis year’s BEST OF BRITISH strand includes exclusive world premieres of Bryn Higgins’ Access All Areas, featuring Jordan Stephens – one half of hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks – on a group road trip to the Isle of Wight’s Bestival music Festival; Simon Hunter’s Edie, starring Sheila Hancock as an elderly woman who aims to climb a Scottish mountain; the Donmar Warehouse’s critically acclaimed all-female adaptation of Julius Caesar; and Danny Huston’s The Last Photograph. Audiences can also look forward to London based filmmaker Alex Barrett’s modern silent film London Symphony; an UK response to Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera and filmmaker Justin Edgar’s noir British thriller The Marker; Daniel Jerome Gill’s look at the perils of modern-day relationships in Modern Life Is Rubbish; Sarmad Masud’s My Pure Land, about a mother and daughter’s fight to protect their home; searing abuse drama Romans, starring Orlando Bloom; and moving family drama That Good Night, starring Charles Dance and the late, great John Hurt. Toby Jones stars in a psychological thriller Kaleidoscope; taut mother-daughter drama Let Me Go; the emotionally raw The Pugilist; Taiwanese drama The Receptionist; and This Beautiful Fantastic, starring Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Brown Findlay. Renowned Scottish author Ian Rankin who will present captivating crime drama Reichenbach Falls.

the_oath_poster(laurels)This year’s EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES strand brings the latest from the continent in the shape of WWII drama 1945, Russian sci- fi Attraction; revenge drama Darkland; Nazi-euthanasia drama Fog in August that stars the Ivo Pietzcker who made his debut in Jack; and darkly humorous corruption drama Glory. There is also visceral Irish Medieval thriller Pilgrimage; Arctic Circle drama Sami Blood; stylish Spanish drama Sister of Mine; and the long-anticipated LGBT art biopic Tom of Finland; Fatih Akin’s roadie Goodbye Berlin;  Norway’s Oscar foreign language entry: The King’s Choice;  Catherine Deneuve’s latest drama The Midwife; and taut Icelandic thriller The Oath. 

SuenoThe WORLD PERSPECTIVES strand will feature Bong Joon Ho’s latest offering Okja, hot off the Cannes red carpet and starring EIFF honorary patron Tilda Swinton, and Indian road movie Sexy Durga; and the Sundance awarded: I Dream in Another Language – a moving study of language, heritage and hidden pasts;

DOCUMENTARY wise there is the enthralling Becoming Cary Grant, The Challenge – a look at the extravagant pastimes of the fabulously wealthy during one sporting desert weekend; Leaning Into The Wind the sequel to documentary hit River and Tides; Pecking Order that explores the world of chicken breeders; Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, that studies the role of native Americans in popular music history.

1249182_afterimage_04-h_2016A special FOCUS ON POLAND will present a snapshot of one of the most vibrant cinematic landscapes in the world. An International Premiere of Katarzyna Adamik’s thriller Amok. Additional notable films will include: Andrzej Wajda’s final feature Afterimage; psychological horror Animals; coming-of-age fantasy The Erlprince; Łukasz Ronduda’s A Heart of Love; the colourful Satan Said Dance; the extraordinary The Sun, The Sun Blinded Me; You Have No Idea How Much I Love You – the film that questions what love really means; and the gut- wrenching Volhynia. The strand will also showcase Polish Shorts: Perspectives; Polish Shorts: 15 Years of Wajda School; and a free lecture by Rohan Crickmar on post-war Polish cinema – Diamonds Out of the Ashes: A Brief Survey of Polish Cinema 1946 to Present.

If the weather is kind to Edinburgh, there is also the Outdoor Cinema strand to look forward to, cashmere at the ready. MT

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 21 JUNE UNTIL 2 JULY 2017

 

 

 

 

Churchill (2017)

Dir: Jonathan Teplitzky | Writer: Alex von Tunzelman | Cast: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, Richard Durden, Julain Wadham, John Slattery, James Purefoy, Danny Webb, Ella Purnell | Biopic Drama | UK | 98min

CHURCHILL is a commanding film of majestic images and thoughtful performances that seeks to imagine the man behind the legendary colossus and succeeds. This is a magnificent tribute to one of the greatest Britons of all time, Sir Winston Churchill.

Jonathan Teplitzky directs Alex von Tunzelmann’s sleek script that chronicles the tense twenty four hours before D-Day. Although the outcome is well known the tension is palpable in a moving  biopic that honours the protagonists involved in an epic interlude of wartime strategy and political manoeuvring that concluded the Second World War.

Brian Cox plays Churchill as a consummate politician; a humanistic man of the people; a respectful husband and ultimately a towering hero in a performance that occasionally feels like a caricature of the cigar-chomping, whisky drinking bulldog of a man who, despite bouts of arrogance, is not too vain to stand corrected. The only gripe here is his way of referring to ‘the Narsies’. We were at war with the Germans and that’s a fact, so let’s not get all politically correct about it in retrospect. As his wife Clementine Miranda Richardson is gracefully immaculate: an imperious English Rose as sharp as cut-crystal, and as inscrutable as sterling silver, she is his anchor and his rudder at times of crisis, while remaining cool as a quintessential cucumber. John Slattery (Man Men) plays an impressively masterful Eisenhower and Julian Wadham exudes class and integrity as Field Marshall Montgomery although James Purefoy is a little too fey as King George VI.

The story opens in June 1944 as the Allied Forces stand on the brink: a massive army is secretly assembled on the South Coast ready to cross the Channel and re-claim France under German occupation. Churchill tries to resist the D-Day plan, mindful of the errors of the Great War, the slaughter of Passchendaele, the Somme and Gallipoli, and – although he would go on to live another 20 years – is exhausted and overweight. Luckily Clemmie intervenes and the rest, as they say, is history. The only slight criticism of the film lies in the inclusion of a slight subplot which not only feels redundant -there is enough here to keep us absorbed – but also feels rather like melodramatic contrivance. Epic in scale and convincing in narrative CHURCHILL is a possibly the most memorable Briitsh film of the year. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 16 JUNE 2017

 

 

Journey to the South (2017) | Creature of the Estuary | East End Film Festival

Dir: Jill Daniels | Doc | UK | 51min

Documentary award winner Jill Daniel’s poetic and often banal voyage of discovery takes her south to the French Riviera where in Menton and Castellar she discovers the villa used by writer Katherine Mansfield and kicks over the traces of a mysterious unsolved murder.

Very much in tune with Agnes Varda’s Cannes outing Faces, Places (2017), Daniel’s leisurely piece randomly engages with the French inhabitants she meets along the way. The photos and diary recollections of Katherine Mansfield give this piece a rewarding historical context as she alights upon ordinary life in rural France. Journey to the South is an artist’s meditation on life and death, on creativity and carving out a more satisfying future away from the gilded trappings of the past. MT

‘Exploring themes of displacement, migration and change, Creature of the Estuary takes us on an entirely different poetic journey, through the muddy netherworld of the Thames Estuary. This new work by Eelyn Lee evokes a creature made of fragments of memory and fear: a montage, part fantasy, part travelogue and part requiem’.

EAST END FILM FESTIVAL \ 18 JUNE | RICH MIX | WEEKENDS IN JUNE AND JUNE 2017

East End Film Festival 2017 |

The 16th EAST END FILM FESTIVAL takes place in London’s East End EVERY WEEKEND in June 2017, and there are 5 epics to look forward to celebrating a different focus and making the most of non-cinema venues premiering an exciting array of bold and challenging feature films and documentaries from new and emerging new talent. Next year the festival plans a move to Spring slot.

HIGHLIGHTS

Tom-of-Finland There will be a chance to see two recent biopics: Benny Boom’s on the multi-talented cult figure Tupac Shakur, ALL EYEZ ON ME and Dome Karukoski’s biodrama on legendary gay icon TOM OF FINLAND. Other documentaries cover topics as contraversial as Brexit BREXITANNIA and America’s Death Penalty THE PENALTY (Dir: Will Francome).

SCREENINGS UNDER THE STARS | WEEKEND ONE

Chitty-Chitty-Bang-BangThe 16th edition of East End Film Festival commences with EAST END OUTDOORS (Fri 2 & Sat 3 June). This weekend of FREE outdoor screenings at Old Spitalfields Market is themed around iconic musicals including a family-friendly matinee of the 1968 British musical classic CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, and an East End screening of WEST SIDE STORY.

COMMUNITY & HERITAGE | WEEKEND TWO

Bred-and-BornReflecting the energy and cultural mix of London’s East End, the second weekend (Thu 8 – Sun 11 June) focuses on films and events with local resonance. The World Premiere of MY NAME IS LENNY (dir: Ron Scalpello, UK) covering the life of the Britain’s famous bare-knuckle fighter Lenny McLean aka ‘the Guv’nor – interesting to compare this with Walter Hill’s Charles Bronson starrer HARD TIMES (1975) – it also has John Hurt in one of his final acting roles. A duet of female films OFTEN DURING THE DAY (directed by Joanna Davis, 16 mins, 1979) is a closely mapped investigation of a kitchen, and women’s relationship to the domestic sphere. And BRED AND BORN (directed by Joanna Davis and Mary Pat Leece, 75 mins, 1983) is an experimental documentary, produced over four years, which interweaves two parallel strands: a women’s discussion group on mother-daughter relationships, and interviews with four generations of women from an East End family. There is also the UK Premiere of A CARIBBEAN DREAM (dir: Shakirah Bourne, UK/Barbados), a Barbados-set re-imagining of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, starring Susannah Harker as Titania.

THE BEST NEW UNSIGNED FILMS – Looking for Distribution | WEEKEND THREE

GholamThe EAST END DISCOVERY (Thu 15 – Sun 18 June) weekend showcases features and documentaries currently looking for UK distribution: and offers the chance to see quality films looking for general release and the best new and unsigned films from emerging directors. Following his role in Oscar-winning The Salesman, Iranian actor Shahab Hosseini takes the title role in the European Premiere of GHOLAM (dir: Mitra Tabrizian, UK) as a man haunted by his past and depressed by his uncertain future. Canadian director Arran Shearing presents FORGOTTEN MAN, a black and white romantic comedy that follows a young actor with an East End theatre company for the homeless, who falls for a wealthy out-of-towner. S_T_R_A_Y_S-300x300The World Premiere of S|T|R|A|Y|S (dir: Barnaby Miller, UK) is an unflinching depiction of modern London that blurs the lines between real life and animation. Also worth a watch is the debut thriller from Bela Tarr protegee Emma Rozanski’s edgy horror sci-fi thriller PAPAGAJKA- a cautionary tale about strange characters in inner city Sarejevo and PROVENANCE that sees a mysterious stranger threaten the new start in life for a classical musician and his girlfriend when they move to Provence (17 June 18.30)

ProvenanceOscar-nominated filmmaker David France (How To Survive A Plague from EEFF2012) documents a legendary fixture of New York’s gay ghetto in the London Premiere of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON (dir: David France, USA) – structured as a whodunit, it celebrates Marsha’s lasting political legacy while seeking to solve the mystery of her unexplained death.

The London Premiere of fiction/documentary hybrid DRIB (dir: Kristoffer Borgli, Norway) re-enacts the story of a failed violent marketing campaign for a well-known energy drink. Three Hackney-based filmmakers follow a $10 bill as it criss-crosses the United States in the European Premiere of FOLLOW THE MONEY (dir: John Hardwick, Ben Unwin, Steve Boggan, UK), building a unique and surprising portrait of the American people.

CROSS-ARTS, CULTURE, MUSIC, MAYHEM | WEEKEND FOUR

The EAST END SUBMERGE (Thu 22 – Sun 25 June) weekend includes includes a massive costumed TWIN PEAKS BALL taking over Andaz Liverpool Street Hotel, and a programme of screenings in the hotel’s hidden Masonic Temple including an Alex Cox acid-western double bill of WALKER and STRAIGHT TO HELL

Another highlight of this weekend will be a live performance with Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair of experimental documentary EDITH WALKS, a programme of artists films from Bethnal Green artist collective no.w.here, a live soundtrack from East India Youth, and a female punk night raising funds for a documentary about X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene. On 23 June, the first anniversary of the Brexit vote, EEFF present the London Premiere of BREXITANNIA (dir: Timothy George Kelly, UK/Russia), a funny, sometimes terrifying and non-judgemental look at new populist politics, followed by a panel discussion with opinions from all sides of the debate. At Castle Cinema, Hackney’s new crowdfunded community cinema, is the venue for the World Premiere of MY NAME IS SWAN (dir: Adam Carr, UK), an odyssey of loss in a shifting cityscape with music by Samuel Kilcoyne and Takatsuna Mukai.

PREMIERES OF BIG NEW INDEPENDENT FILMS | WEEKEND FIVE

MenascheThe EEFF culminates with EAST END HEADLINE (Thu 29 June – Sun 2 July) a handpicked selection of titles on their way to Britain’s cinemas. Berlinale Generation Plus winner BUTTERFLY KISSES (dir: Rafael Kapelinski, UK) follows three friends battling with their own demons in a teenage world that revolves around sex and porn. Not to be missed is another standout Berlinale drama performed entirely in Yiddish, the London Premiere of MENASHE (dir: Joshua Z Weinstein, USA) explores the lonely life of a put-upon widower in Brooklyn’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community as he battle for custody of his son. And James Ball, formerly of WikiLeaks and now Buzzfeed, will be joining the festival for a special discussion around the subject of post-truth politics. MT

THE EAST END FILM FESTIVAL | JUNE 2017 | VARIOUS EAST END VENUES

 

 

Cannes Film Festival Awards 2017

COMPETITION

Palme d’Or: THE SQUARE (Ruben Östlund) – main pic

70th Anniversary Award: Nicole Kidman

Grand Prix: BPM  (Robin Campillo)

Director: Sofia Coppola, THE BEGUILED

Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

Actress: Diane Kruger, IN THE FADE

Jury Prize: LOVELESS (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Screenplay — THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou) and YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (Lynne Ramsay)

SIDEBARS

Camera d’Or: JEUNE FEMME Montparnasse-Bienvenüe) (Léonor Serraille)

Golden Eye Documentary Prize: FACES, PLACES (Visages Villages) (Agnès Varda, JR)

Ecumenical Jury Prize: RADIANCE Naomi Kawase)

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Un Certain Regard Award: A MAN OF INTEGRITY/ Mohammad Rasoulof

Best Director: Taylor Sheridan, WIND RIVER

Jury Prize: Michel Franco, APRIL’S DAUGHTER

Best Performance: Jasmine Trinca, FORTUNATA

Award for Poetry of Cinema: Mathieu Amalric, BARBARA

DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT | QUINZAINE

Art Cinema Award: THE RIDER  (Chloe Zhao)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize — TIE: LOVER FOR A DAY Philippe Garrel) and LET THE SUNSHINE IN (Claire Denis)

Europa Cinemas Label: A CIAMBRA Jonas Carpignano)

CRITICS’ WEEK | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE

Grand Prize: MAKALA Emmanuel Gras)

Visionary Prize: GABRIEL AND THE MOUNTAINS (Fellipe Barbosa)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: AVA  (Léa Mysius)

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY | AWARD WINNERS | LIST BY VARIETY

Dough (2016)

Dir.: John Goldschmidt | Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Jerome Holder, Pauline Collins, Phil Davis, Ian Hart, Natasha Gordon; UK/Hungary | 94 min.

Veteran director John Goldschmidt (Maschenka) is best known for his TV work and here turns his hand to a feel-good portrait of London’s East End, where hero and villains live next door and no harm is done – really.

Kosher baker Nat Dayan (Pryce), whose wife has recently died, is about to lose his family shop to the greedy developer Sam Cotton (Phil Davis). His son Stephen, a Cambridge-educated lawyer, urges him to retire. Enter Ayyash Habimana (Holder), a black teenager from Nigeria, who shares Nat’s religious observance, although his Muslim faith does not prevent him from working for local drug dealer Sam Cotton (Hart). Nat is reluctant to employ Ayyash, whose mother is already on the baker’s payroll but when he does it emerges that Ayyash has hidden talents taking the bakery’s turnover and profits to sensational new heights. When the young Nigerian accidentally drops a pack of hashish into the challah dough, things go slightly out of hand, as Nat’s customers, friends and family are suddenly under the influence with dramatic consequences for all concerned. Masquerading as realism, DOUGH is just a run-of-the-mill early evening TV fare where everything falls into place, including a happy-end for Nat, in the shape of his landlady Joanna Silverman (Collins). Seeing him dancing with his granddaughter in the puddles in front of his shop (having watched Gene Kelly’s original over and over), is too cringingworthy. DoP Peter Hannan (Withnail & I) tries his best to make use of the studio-atmosphere, but cannot do much to save the saccharine narrative. A lightweight and unassuming watch. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 2 JUNE 2017

The Hippopotamus (2017)

Dir.: John Jencks; Cast: Roger Allam, Emily Berrington, Dean Ridge, Fiona shaw, Matthew Modine, Tommy Knight, Lynne Renee, Emma Curtis, Richard Glover, Gerald, John Standing; UK 2017, 89 min.

Based on a novel by Stephen Fry, director John Jencks (The Fold) and writers Blanche McIntyre and Tom Hodgson have come up with a pastiche on the “English Country House Mystery”, which is neither funny nor well-crafted. In fact, it’s pretty much a waste of time.

Just fired from his job as a theatre critic, irritable blunderer (and ex-poet) Ted Wallace (Allam), is asked by his god-daughter Jane (Berrington), who has been miraculously cured from leukaemia, to investigate the source of her cure. For this reason, Allam visits the country estate of the Logans, a family he was once close to Lord and Lady Logan (Matthew Modine, Fiona Shaw) have two sons, Simon (Ridge) and David (Knight), the latter Allam’s Godson. David is supposed to cure humans and animals alike, but Allam finds out the rationale behind the “miracles”: young David is sometimes apt to obtain sexual favours by masquerading as a faith healer – whilst the alcoholic Allam put a bottle full off whisky into the feeding bucket of a horse, which recovered on its own accord. When the light-hearted banter turns into something far more serious, the filmmakers lose the plot completely, when Jane’s mother Rebecca (with whom Allam had an affair) turns up out of the blue.

Complete with caricature appearances by Tim McInnery as the gay ‘Tunte’; Oliver Mills, Lynne Renee and Emma Curtis as the ‘French’ mother/daughter duo of Valerie and Clara Richmonde (sic), The comedy goes from bad to worse. DoP Angus Hudson undermines the project even further by letting his images look as pedestrian and third-hand as the narrative. Not even a persiflage, but just a caricature of itself, this is as tepid as it gets – even John Standing’s butler Podmore is mediocre. AS

THE HIPPOPOTAMUS IS ON RELEASE FROM 2 JUNE 2017

The Secret Scripture (2016)

Dir.: Jim Sheridan | Cast: Rooney Mara, Vanessa Redgrave, Theo James, Aidan Turner, Eric Bana, Susan Lynch | ROI 2016, 108 min | Drama

After some Hollywood mediocrities such as Brothers, director|co-writer Jim Sheridan has tried to recapture his breakout success with My Left Foot by adapting Sebastian Barry’s artful novel The Secret Scriptures. The result is an uneven and often bewildering melodrama, but a moving one that is certainly worth seeing.

Set in the early 1940s and at the end of the 1990s, the drama tells the story of Roseanne McNulty who spent nearly all her adult life in a prisonlike psychiatric ward in Ireland where the film opens showing Vanessa Redgrave as an emotionally distraught elderly Roseanne whose future in the home is threatened due to plans for an upmarket Spa. In flashback the story retraces her young days in Sligo where Rooney Mara is captivating as the young Roseanne who clearly “has power over men”, as the town’s priest Father Gaunt (James), puts it. The Second World War has just started, with Southern Ireland staying neutral but actually supporting Nazi Germany in a clandestine way. Roseanne is marked by the priest as a ‘dangerous’ influence, and soon moved to a dilapidated cottage by her aunt, having worked in her shop and turned too many heads. After rescuing RAF pilot Jack McNulty (Reynor) on the beach one day, she hides him from the paramilitary forces acting on behalf of the Government. The two have a whirlwind affair and marry in haste, but McNulty is captured by his pursuers and executed. Roseanne, pregnant, is send to a horrific church institution for “fallen Women” and gives birth to a son. Learning that the nuns will take her child away and sell it to rich US-citizens, she flees with her baby into the sea.

The narrative is interlaced with Roseanne (Redgrave) telling her story to psychiatrist Dr. Grene (a thoughtfully appealing Eric Bana) and a sympathetic nurse (Lynch). Veering wildly between flash backs and Roseanne’s more contemporary narrative (including her diary, written into a bible), does not help the creation of a dramatic arc: it creates an episodic structure, which not only reduces the emotional impact but also skips over vital clues that muddle and fail to serve what could have been a spectacular denouement.

Whilst Mara, Redgrave and Bana are brilliantly believable, overcoming the shortcoming of Sheridan (both as director and co-writer), the rest of the ensemble is reduced to clichéd cardboard figures despite best efforts from Aidan Turner, Jack Reynor and a mesmerising Theo James as Father Gaunt. But ultimately it is the clumsily-handled finale that robs the film of the glory of its early scenes. Leviathan DoP Mikhail Krichman’s sumptuous camerawork and set pieces of the Irish countryside and interiors are really stunning in conjuring up the romantic past, and the miserably grim atmosphere in the hospital. But Jim Sheridan wastes all this for a sentimental TV melodrama retelling a story which has been told in a much better ways since the original true events. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 19 MAY 2017 NATIONWIDE

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

 

 

Mindhorn (2016)

Dir: Sean Foley | Cast: Julian Barratt, Steve Coogan, Russell Tovey, Andrea Riseborough, Simon Callow, Harriet Walter, Kenneth Branagh, Simon Farnaby, David Schofield | UK | Comedy | 89min

If you liked Alan Partridge or Alpha Papa then MINDHORN will appeal. Washing over you like a cloud of laughing gas there are scenes are so hilarious it’s impossible to remain dignified, others so cringingly embarrassing you will never wear lycra again – let alone tight jeans. Some of it’s self-indulgent and some of it’s just mind-boggling grotesque, but there’s a poignancy too that touches on emotional frailty and the pangs of regret that often surface as we stare back at photos of the past.

MINDHORN is the first feature of TV veteran Sean Foley who has a keen sense of comedy, assembling a accomplished cast of Andrea Riseborough, Kenneth Branagh, Steve Coogan and Simon Callow in his big screen debut. Some of the humour has echoes of TV hits such as John Morton’s Twenty Twelve. It will certainly put you off organising that trip to the Isle of Man – if you were toying with the idea. Seemingly stuck in the Seventies, the island is portrayed as a misty, rain-soaked backwater full of twee tearooms, mildewed caravans, ghastly Civic concrete buildings and mock Georgian manors the English seem unable to escape from. Into this retro retreat steps Julian Barratt as Richard Thorncroft, a pot-bellyed actor who’s lost his touch but not his self-belief (or his skin tight polo-neck and ‘slacks’. He’s joined by his nemesis Simon Farnaby who co-wrote the script and appears as Clive Parnevik, also consigned to scrap heap, a raddled has-been who never really was anything but a stuntman of dodgy origins. A loose narrative gives our comic heroes a vehicle to entertain us with their witty one-liners in the worse possible taste. Barratt’s comic timing in the Police Custody room scene is one of the funniest things you’ll see this year.

Thorncroft is helping the Police with their hunt for a killer called the Kestrel (Russell Tovey) who slips in and out of their grasp. The Kestrel has a mental age of nine and is a keen fan of Mindhorn, believing his to be a real detective. Thorncroft also bumps into his ex love Patricia Deville (Essie Davis) who’s now a ‘serious’ journalist since he walked out on her years before. A man of strong passions and even stronger rivalries he’s also made some enemies, insulting almost everyone on the Isle of Man, including Steve Coogan’s medallion man country club owner Peter Eastman who, from a bit part in ‘Mindhorn’, has spawned a more successful series called Windjammer, and has also been involved with Patricia (now married to Parnevik). Foley’s well-filmed comedy is all extremely silly and outlandishly gross for its sleek running time of 89 minutes. You’ll either be bewildered by the awfulness of it all, or laughing your head off in disbelief. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 5 MAY 2017

SCREENING PART OF THE BFI’s LOCO FIOM FESTIVAL 4-7 MAY 2017

The Pyramid Texts (2015) | Digital release

Dir.: The Shammasian Brothers (Ludwig and Paul Shammasian)  Writer: Geoff Thompson | Cast: James Cosmo, Ethan Cosmo | UK 2015 | 97 min.

In their debut feature, the Shammasian Brothers focus on a lonely and embittered ex-boxer and coach as he recalls a life of repressing his emotions, leading to the death of his only son.

Ray (James Cosmo) sits alone in a boxing ring, sharing his life story – a mixture of regret and pseudo-philosophical meanderings – into a video camera on tripod. Crucially, it centres around his inability to come to turn with his own fears – drowned mostly in alcohol – and his failure to empathise with his son Bomber (named after Joe Louis), who ran away from what looked like a great boxing career. There are very short flashbacks featuring Bomber, but apart from these, Ray pontificates in absolute loneliness.

More of a one-man stage-play than a film, The Pyramid Texts feels aesthetically like a re-run of the grainy black-and-white world of the British cinema of the early 60s, with shades of Karel Reisz’ Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, where sporting heroes from the working class bemoan their fate. Whilst being behind the times with its raving monologue embodying clichéd male excuses, the Shammasian Brothers also abstain from building a dramatic arc: this is unadulterated, repetitive ‘pub talk’ dressed as soul searching. All credit goes to James Cosmo who keeps the film together with an emotional performance of raw intensity, but even he struggles sometimes with the sheer banality of his lines. A tacky ending makes matters worse for a production which does not suffer from the restraints of its mini-budget, but the lack of insight and imagination of its writers/directors. AS

NOW ON Digital Release from April 28th

 

 

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

 

 

The Hatton Garden Job (2017)

Dir: Ronnie Thompson | Writer: Ray Bogdanovich | Cast: Matthew Goode, Joely Richardson, Stephen Moyer, Clive Russell, Larry Lamb, David Calder, Phil Daniels | UK Thriller | 93min

A remarkable real event story turns into an enervating film that can’t be saved by Matthew Goode, Joely Richardson or even veteran David Calder as the plastic perps involved in a 2015 heist known as the “largest burglary in English legal history” involving loot of over £200million. Apart from the usual misogynist script that we’ve come to expect from recent British crime flicks (with lewd jokes that aren’t even funny) the editing is sluggish and cinematography poor. The only watchable sequence is that of the robbery itself and this lacks dynamism and drags the action out to the point of tedium and beyond. This is a film that thinks it’s super cool but just isn’t. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 APRIL 2017

Melody | S.W.A.L.K. (1971) | Home Ent release

Dir: Waris Hussein | Writer: Alan Parker | Cast: Mark Lester, Tracy Hyde, Jack Wild | Drama | UK | 103min

BAFTA Award-winning director Alan Parker started out as an advertising copywriter before moving on to shooting commercials and then directing his own scripts for hits such as Bugsy Malone, The Commitments, Midnight Express and Angel Heart. SWALK (later renamed Melody) was his first ever script, directed by Warris Hussein. A modern answer to Romeo and Juliet, SWALK went on to be one of the 70s best-loved childhood rom-coms with its nostalgic tale of first love and teenage rebellion in a London comprehensive. Co-stars Mark Lester (Latimer) and Jack Wild (Ornshaw) had already worked together on the 1968 musical film adaptation of Oliver! and love interest Tracy Hyde (Melody) was only 11 at the time.

The chalk and cheese bromance at the film’s core is threatened when Latimer falls for Melody Perkins at a school disco. But when they announce their wish to get married (as you do at 14!) their parents’ and teachers’ efforts to dissuade them only make the two more keen on the idea – so much so that Ornshaw decides to facilitate the union by staging a ‘wedding’ in a secret hideout, leading to an riotous finale.

Alan Parker’s script shows how it was to be a child in the early ’70s in the same spirit as did Ken Loach in Kes . An atmospheric soundtrack from the Bee Gees and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Legendary DoP completes the era complementing Peter Suschitzky’s striking visuals in and around the Brompton Cemetery, Battersea Funfair, Trafalgar Square and Soho. MT

OUT ON BLURAY|DVD COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL | THE VINTAGE CLASSICS COLLECTION FROM 8TH MAY 2017

City of Tiny Lights (2016)

Dir.: Pete Travis; Cast: Riz Ahmed, Billie Piper, Roshan Seth, James Floyd, Mohamed Al Amiri, Cush Jumbo, Hanna Rae, Alexander Siddig; UK 2017, 110 min.

With Raymond Chandler in mind, director Pete Travis (Dredd) and writer Patrick Neate, on whose 2006 novel of the same name the film is based, paint a dark picture of London, in this British Neo Noir, where Private Eye Tommy Akhtar stumbles around finding new violent connections, whilst searching for closure on his own troubled past.

Tommy (Ahmed) runs a seedy detective agency called TA – in his own words, he “discovers and buries secrets”. One day, the prostitute Melody (Jumbo) asks him to search for her co-worker Natasha who has gone missing. Tommy can’t find her but he traces Natasha’s last client: a Pakistani business man, murdered in his hotel bed. Enter Lovely Ansari’, a property developer and pillar of the community who is also a good old friend of Tommy. Soon it becomes clear, that many people are interested in the victim: American agent Regan (Schaefter), the leader of Islamic Youth Centre Al Dabaran (Siddig), and the local cops ever ready to give Tommy a hard time. Not that his life is a bed of roses: his cricket obsessed father Farzad (Seth)  never lets him forget that he wants a much straighter lifestyle for his son, and Shelley (Piper) and her daughter Emma (Rae) share a bond from a past trauma with Tommy. The plot is not much more than a McGuffin, and the all-around happy-ending rings false.

Where it not be for the excellent work of DoP Christopher Ross (Detour), we could dismiss Tiny Lights simply as TV pilot. But the nightime images, mostly shot with natural light, are vey invocative: shadows lurk everywhere, and Tommy stumbles through a urban nightmare like the heroes of Cornel Woolrich, with all the implications of a cliff hangar depending on the exact timing.

Pete Travis tries to refresh the genre with the introduction of an Asian lead and his Bangladeshi father, as the shadow of Islam creeps in with shady clerical activity, the film feels much more at home with Akhtar being clubbed over the head by hired thugs, in the best Robert Mitchum tradition, than it ever does with reflecting the complexities of modern Britain.

Unfortunately, unlike Woolrich, Travis/Neate do not care much for an authentic narrative, and are content with a loose, episodic shape. Full points for atmosphere, but the strong cast could have done with some more structure. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 31 MARCH 2017

Mad to be Normal (2017)

Dir. Robert Mullan | Cast: David Tennant, Elisabeth Moss, Michael Gambon, Gabriel Byrne, David Bamber UK | 106 mins

You may not learn a great deal about Sixties psychiatry in Robert Mullan’s impressive biopic of the maverick Scots mind doctor RD Laing, but after Dr Who David Tennant plays him with a stunning magnetic charisma that captures our imagination and goes along way towards helping us understand why he was successful in treating patients who had often been failed by the conventional medicine of the day.

Dubbed ‘the acid Marxist’, RD Laing is certainly an elusive and highly complex character to pin down. Like many dedicated to their cause, he is portrayed as often failing his nearest and dearest in his attempts to be all things to all people, and in particular his patients. But while being intense and empathetic and vulnerable, he comes across as an arrogant narcissist in respect to his avant-garde professional methods.

Robert Mullan has hired himself a splendid cast – Michael Gambon and Gabriel Byrne are impressively convincing as patients afflicted by mental illness, and the narrative in seen through Laing’s relationship with Angie Wood (Elizabeth Moss to appeal to US audiences) – a psychology graduate who comes to meet him for lunch one day, and ends up staying and having his baby, losing her own way and self-respect in the process. Clearly Laing was not a complete cad, acquiescing to all her demands in the East London alternative centre Kingsley Hall; where they live with his medication-free patients in a care in the micro-community-style environment, but he is not prepared to set up home with her when she insists on having a child, despite the threatening behaviour of those in his care who want his continued and undivided attention. Their relationship is often tested, when he own family of four children make themselves known, but Laing always makes it clear what he is about, in a charm offence. The film suffers from some tonal unevenness in the scenes changes: it’s not sure whether it wants to be a straight-up biopic or a dreamy dark comedy, shot in a smoky pot-fuelled haze of pastel peach hues.

MAD TO BE NORMAL makes much of its Sixties sensibilities, the score includes The Kinks “You Really Got Me” and Donovan’s Season of the Witch” and Laing struts his stuff in Beatle boots, besuited in bottle green velvet and Sargent Pepper style patterned tunics. This is a captivating film largely because of Tennant and his memorable portrayal of a man who, like many psychiatrists, might just have been slightly deranged himself in order to enter the minds of his patients. As the saying goes: You don’t have to be made to live here, but it helps”. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6 APRIL 2017

 

Paula Rego, Secrets & Stories (2017) | Tribute to Paula Rego

Dir: Nick Willing | With Paula Rego | UK | Doc | 92min

“Just take of your knickers” said Victor Willing to Paula Rego and thus began a love story that was to dominate the life and work of a talented but timid Portuguese painter who arrived in London in 1950 leaving the comfort of a middle class home and a country in thrall to Salazar’s misogynist dictatorship. Salazar was to die after falling off a canvas deckchair, but Paula Rego fought manic depression and the male-centric art world to achieve international success painting canvasses that left Charles Saatchi gobsmacked.

This unique insight into the celebrated artist, who has died at the age of 87, is pictured above with her her son and film-maker Nick Willing, was brought up in Portugal and in Camden in a house bought by her father, where Paula and her husband the artist Vic Willing, arrived penniless after he was struck with multiple schlerosis, having lost the business left by Paula’s father. Notoriously private and guarded, Rego opens up for the first time, revealing how she channeled her shyness into her art with extraordinary results, using her powerful pictures as a therapy for her own demons, difficulties and personal tragedy. Through painting she continued to raise awareness of female issues and animal rights (her personal favourite charity is Dogs of Barcelona. Nick Willing enriches the film with a fascinating archive of home movies, family photographs and interviews spanning 60 years, describing the evolution of Rego’s work from early days at the Slade to the present day. What emerges is a deeply personal and intimate portrait of an artist whose legacy will survive the years, graphically illustrated in her preferred pastel, charcoal and oil paint. Poignantly, Willing asks his mother about her most proud achievement: “Winning the Slade Summer Prize when I was 19”. MT

PAUL REGO: STORIES & SECRETS IS AVAILABLE On BBCIPLAYER 

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

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Another Mother’s Son (2017)

Dir: Christopher Menaul | Writer: Jenny Lecoat | Cast: Jenny Seagrove, John Hannah, Julian Kostov, Amanda Abbington, Ronan Keating, Susan Hampshire and Brenock O’Connor | UK | Biopic | 90min

Best known for her TV work and the dire docudrama Diana: Last Days of a Princess, writer Jenny Lecoat unearthes another wartime story and this time one close to her own heart. Set on the island of Jersey in 1940 it explores the life of her great aunt and war widow Louisa Gould (Jenny Seagrove) who took in a young Russian prisoner of war in the final days of the Second World War.

Directed for the big screen by Christopher Menaul (Summer in February) with a decent British cast this painterly period piece conveys the community spirit of the islanders who were forced to live in reduced circumstances in the only part of the British Isles occupied by the Nazis. The wartime storyline lends itself to some rich moments of drama and gentle comedy but tension soon mounts in the third act when reality bites in a shocking denouement where the tone suddenly shifts to melodrama as Jenny Seagrove rather hams it up as she is overtaken by unexpected events.

ANOTHER MOTHER’S SON would work really well as a TV drama so it’s unclear why the producers have decided to give it a theatrical release but the significance of the true story, set to Mario Grigorov’s rousing original score; the lushly verdant landscapes of Jersey and some quietly moving performances from Seagrove (as the resourceful but cavalier Gould ), Julian Kostov (the impetuous Russian POV known as Bill), and Ronan Keating (rather appealing as Louisa’s brother Harold) give this tale of love, loyalty and betrayal a resonance that many may find deeply affecting. MT

ANOTHER MOTHER’S SON IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 24 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

The Proud Valley (1940) | Home Ent release

IMG_3426Dir: Penrose Tennyson | Cast: Paul Robeson, Simon Lack, Edward Chapman | Musical drama | 74min | UK

The Proud Valley is rather a quaint but affecting musical drama written for Paul Robeson by Herbert Marshall and his wife, Alfredda Brilliant, who believed that his mellow singing voice deserved a filmic vehicle of its own. It was the second collaboration between Marshall and the actor and directed by Pen Tennyson (a grandson of the English poet) who died in a plane crash at only 28.

The film is important for several reasons: it authentically portrays and champions the working class mining population of the village and it is a fitting tribute to Paul Robeson who is revered as the finest Black actor of the era (before Sidney Poitier succeeded him), and here is endowed with integrity and honour – qualities that were rarely attributed to Black actors back in the day. It was also the first film to be premiered on radio, on February 25th 1940, when the BBC Home Service broadcast a sixty-minute version, reproduced from its soundtrack.

And Robeson gives a charismatic performance as the unlikely named David Goliath, a genial African American, who fetches up in the small Welsh village in the Rhondda Valley where he finds work down the pits as a stoker. Carousing his fellow workers with All Through the Night, he captures the attention of Dick Parry (Simon Lack/The Silver Darlings) and his son Emlyn (Edward Chapman/Convoy) whose dream is to win the national Welsh choir contest.

But tragedy lurks round the corner and is, unsurprisingly, linked to a mining accident. This gives the film its heroic quality in a working class story that imaginatively reflects the gruelling nature of the times without resorting to melodrama or sentimentality.

The Welsh mining community never forgot Paul Robeson. When he was denied a passport by the US authorities (1950-58), they actively campaigned in his support.

THE PROUD VALLEY IS PART OF THE VINTAGE CLASSICS COLLECTION SHOWCASING ICONIC BRITISH FILMS.

THE DIGITAL RESTORATION WAS FINANCED BY STUDIOCANAL IN COLLABORATION WITH BFI’s LOTTERY-FUNDED UNLOCKING HERITAGE PROGRAMME AND IS AVAILABLE ON 27 march 2017

 

A Man for All Seasons (1966) | Eureka Cinema Bluray release

Dir: Fred Zinnemann | Cast: Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern, Robert Shaw, Orson Welles

Fred Zinnemann’s Oscar-winning version of Robert Bolt’s 1960 play (set here in 1530) is fairly true to historical events that have continually captured our imagination with their rich dramatic possibilities. Here Zinnemann portrays the solicitor-general. Rich (John Hurt) as having a close and personal relationship with More, a speculative strand to the storyline, but it’s plausible, all the same. Of the starry cast, Paul Schofield, Robert Shaw and Orson Wells are the standouts, But it’s Scofield’s film and his performance is one of measured dignity with a touch of arrogance as the chancellor who wins on a moral point but ends up losing his head nevertheless.

Henry VIII is played rumbunctiously by an elegant Robert Shaw in an inspired performance that feels warm yet reverent and Orson Wells is awesome as the red-robed Cardinal Wolsey, commanding respect despite his slightly over-grown cherubic appearance, spiked by a snarling wit: “If Wolsey fell, the splash would swallow a few small boats like ours,” murmurs More. . There are some other enjoyable turns from a young John Hurt in his first major role; a striking Wendy Hiller, a glowing Susannah York, Vanessa Redgrave as Anne Boleyn (in an unpaid cameo) and Leo McKern as Cromwell.

The film opens as Henry VIII is making a furious bid to divorce Catherine of Aragon on the grounds of her inability to provide a male heir, and this leads to a clash with the Roman Catholic Church and his own lord chancellor Sir Thomas More who approval is demanded, and withheld – a move that leads to More’s eventual demise.

This film was a spectacular undertaking that was delivered – with the support of the cast taking salary cuts – at a budget of just under $2 million with locations that include Hampton Court Palace, Studley Priory, Beaulieu, Beauline Abbey and royal boat outings on the Thames. Orson Welles claimed he had Fred Zinnemann ‘removed from the set’ and directed his scenes himself and the trial and execution scenes are purportedly based on an eyewitness account, published anonymously in a Paris Newsletter of August 4, 1535. It went on to win six Oscars. Mt

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 20 FEBRUARY 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

Prevenge (2016)

Dir.: Alice Lowe; Cast: Alison Lowe, Kate Dickie, Tom Davis, Dan Renton, Jo Hartley, Dan Renton Skinner; UK 2016, 88 min.

Actor and writer Alice Lowe, tries her hand at directing here in Prevenge, and her script is very much inspired by her film Sightseers, in which she also starred: in both cases, the murderous actions are committed by rather ordinary people in an everyday environment. Acting in both films, Lowe makes the connection even tighter, robbing Prevenge of any originality.

Set in a charmless Cardiff, Ruth (Lowe) is pregnant with a baby girl, the child’s father having died in a climbing accident. The baby seems to have a mind of its own, talking to her mother, mostly encouraging her to commit some gruesome murders. First in line for execution is an uncouth pet show owner (Skinner), who rapidly meets his bloody end; followed by an obnoxious DJ (Davis), and a joyless career woman (Dickie). The last case robs us of any sympathy we might feel for our our heroine, and the other attacks underline the fact that Ruth is an out and out psychotic. This serious factor takes the fun out of the movie, and all that remains is an endless blood feast, and a rather botched ending. Prevenge also suffers from its one-dimensional protagonists who, with the exception of Jo Hartley’s midwife, feel utterly unconvincing.

It is ironic that film directed, written and starring a woman should be aimed at a mostly male audience. Gory repetitions aside, the endless clichés simply overwhelm any sort of attempted humour: in spite of Lowe’s stellar performance, Prevenge  is just a bloody rant. DoP Ryan Eddleston’s images are as pedestrian and redundant as the whole enterprise. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE \ REVIEWED DURING VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016

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

100 Streets (2016) | Home Ent release

Dir: Jim O’Hanlon | Writer: Idris Elba, Gemma Arterton, Tom Cullen, Charlie Creed-Miles

93min | Drama | UK

Dir: Jim Hanlon A trio of family stories run side by side in Jim Hanlon’s clichéd contemporary drama that has its heart in the right place: a cosy corner of South West London where tower blocks rub shoulders with sophisticated squares. But whilst Hanlon’s British drama feels predictable, it also feels quite real: the rich are having plenty of sex, the middle class are striving, the poor are forced to resort to crime – and the intelligentsia are sitting back and analysing it all. 100 STREETS  has Idris Elba as a bored rugby star cheating on his yummy mummy wife Gemma Arterton who gets her own back (with Tom Cullen) – while rushing around John Lewis with the kids. He claims to ‘work hard’ but there’s absolutely no evidence of this in his days spent snorting coke, drinking and appearing on TV. The second strand sees earnest cabbie Charlie Creed-Miles going through a gruelling adoption process with his modest charity-worker wife (Kierston Wareing) before a fatal road accident takes away his confidence, but strengthens his marriage. And finally, drug-dealing Black teenager Franz Drameh finds inspiration and redemption through Ken Stott’s philosophical retired actor, who he meets while doing community service in a graveyard . These characters are all well-fleshed in their everyday predictability, and what is entirely predictable too is that this British indie drama will end in meltdown melodrama. Ken Stott and Franz Drameh give the most enjoyable performances in a film that is watchable enough while it lasts, but instantly forgettable as you leave the cinema. MT

RELEASED ON ITUNES AND SKY FROM 2ND JANUARY 2017
& ON DVD FROM 23RD 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 Blue Lamp (1950) | TPTV

Dir Basil Dearden | Cast:Jack Warner, Dirk Bogarde, James Hanley, Peggy Evans | UK |82 min

Still going today as Ealing Metro, 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 fare to the British film canon, some of it surprisingly radical for the day.

THE BLUE LAMP was one such film that introduced the local neighbourhood ‘bobby’ George Dixon (of ‘Dock Green’ fame) who was taking a new recruit (Jimmy Hanley) through his paces in post war London when he comes to blows with Dirk Bogarde’s sadistic criminal, turning the upbeat drama into a sinister Noirish procedural thriller on the hunt for a killer, but importantly exploring the role of the Police and how they function and depend on local society, thanks to the unique experience of of its Oscar-winning scripter, T.E.B. Clarke (Passport to Pimlico) whose experience as a police officer gives authenticity to an outing which sits on the border between the studio’s dark and light sides. THE BLUE LAMP was a tough film for its time, and particularly for Ealing. There’s tragedy at its core, and a portrait delinquent youth in the shape of a mesmerising young Dirk Bogarde. Although this is a dark turn of events for a film that starting so positively,  its carries with it an indomitable message of comforting optimism and a vision of the society’s power to overcome its negative elements, that has been somewhat lost in today’s Britain.

For English acting legend Dirk Bogarde (The Servant} THE BLUE LAMP was to bring him international stardom , and for Jack Warner a role in iconic police drama of the day, Dixon of Dock Green, which was inspired by this most famous of British Police films. Basil Dearden would go on to direct The League of Gentlemen ten years later, another crime drama but this time centring on a bank robbery, and much lighter in tone.

London after the Second World War: Long-serving policeman PC George Dixon (Warner) and his latest recruit (Hanley) go about their daily routine. When they arrive at the scene of a botched robbery at the local cinema the old policeman confronts the villain (Bogarde) and subsequently gets caught in the crossfire. In a rare turn of events the community and the underworld work together with the Law, to track down the villain and mete out the punishment he deserves.

NOW ON TPTVENCORE and Bluray 

Mum’s List (2016)

Dir: Niall Johnson | Script: Niall Johnson | Cast: Rafe Spall, Emilia Fox, Elaine Cassidy, Matthew Stagg, William Stagg | UK | Drama | 101min

To-do lists and highly personal catchphrases are the legacy Kate Greene (Emilia Fox) left a likeable husband and well-behaved kids in Niall Johnson’s soppy but thoughtful tear-jerker depicting her final months before succumbing to cancer, aged 38, in the idyllic coastal town of Clevedon, Somerset. It would be churlish to criticise this efficient film based on the bestseller by husband and teenage sweetheart St John Greene (Singe), an appealing Rafe Spall. The story flips between the couple’s whirlwind romance as gooey-eyed teens, and the weeks before and after Kate’s tragic death. Don’t expect much backstory on the family’s real life: this is a tribute to Kate’s never-ending dignity. Tissues at the ready. MT

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE VENUES FROM 25 NOVEMBER 2016

 

 

 

The Darkest Universe (2016)

Dir.: Tom Kingsley, Will Sharp; Cast: Will Sharp, Tiani Ghosh, Joe Thomas, Sophie Di Martino, Chris Langham | Comedy Drama | UK 2016, 86 min.

In a bid to be original Tom Kingsley and Will Sharp (Black Pond) deliver a hotchptoch of clichés in an indie drama which is inaccessible and sometimes hilarious – for all the wrong reasons.

Financial trader Zac (Sharp) is looking for his sister Alice (also co-writer) who has disappeared on a boat moored at Camden Lock, along with her boyfriend Toby (Thomas). Random flashbacks tell the story of the missing couple, who have both been unable to communicate properly with friends and family. But soon Zac’s story of “finding himself” takes over: Rejected by his girl friend Eva (De Martino), he cuts off his hair, produces maddening videos, which hardly help to find the missing couple, and visits Toby’s father Alan (Langham), in a country house where Toby grew up. There Zac discovers Toby’s cartoon story by entitled ‘The darkest Universe’, written for his sick mother, when he was little. Zac sinks deeper and deeper into a depression, blaming himself for Alice’ disappearance, having promised their dead mother, that he would look after Alice. The solution to their disappearance is about as nonsensical as the film itself.

DoP Will Hanke’s dreamy images of floating clouds are wasted on this amateurish production, which pretends to be enigmatic, and the actors try in vain not to sink to the level of script and direction – for which they are, at least partly, responsible. AS

ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE VENUES FROM 4 NOVEMBER 2016

You’ve Been Trumped Too (2016)

DIR: Anthony Baxter | UK | Doc | 78min

Anthony Baxter’s sequel to his 2011 film about a certain wealthy US Businessman’s clashes with his Scottish neighbours during the building his luxury golf course (in Balmedie) feels very much like a re-hash of the original. The only thing that’s changed is that Donald Trump is now in running for the American presidency while poor old widow Molly Forbes (92) is still trying to get running water on her property.

Playing out like a comedy – if it weren’t so tragic – YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED TOO – is a series of episodes garnered from Baxter’s previous socially-minded and earnestly intended documentary YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED. It certainly doesn’t make for an engaging watch or an informative one either, unless, of course, you missed the original. Baxter zips through the content like a CNN broadcast, rehashing the familiar news footage of Trump’s campaign interwoven with talking head interviews from both sides of the fence.

But just to recap, Molly Forbes and her farmer son Michael were left waterless when Trump’s builders broke through a pipe that supplied the Forbes with running water. While Mollie chunters around with buckets and kettles etc, Trump speaks very highly of the long-suffering Aberdeen granny, likening her to his mother. On the subject of her son Michael, Trump is less flattering referring to “the disgusting condition in which he lives”, simply because the boy spends his day riffling through rusty old machine parts before reclining on a battered tartan settee. Needless to say, this homespun pair have been offered full use of Trump’s 5 star Golf course, but no running water to their home.

Baxter’s documentary is wafer thin with new facts but stuffed full of election information and Forbes’s visit to the US in a bid to confront Trump’s supporters. Needless to say, he is unceremoniously told to back off by all and sundry. It’s all really rather inconclusive as to why, even now, the Forbes’ can’t get running water from a chap who has billions. And crucially, Baxter fails really to come up with a decent answer, or better still, a solution from anyone in team Trump.

More interesting would have been a documentary about Donald Trump himself – there have been several on Hilary. After Baxter’s first documentary was aired on the BBC, Trump agreed this time to appear in person. Surely a candid and informative film about Trump’s own life and background would have been preferable to this non-event? MT

OUT ON 4 NOVEMBER AT SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.

 

The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963) Prime Video

Writer|Dir: Ken Hughes | Cast: Anthony Newley, Julia Foster, Robert Stephens, Wilfrid Brambell, Warren Mitchell, Roy Kinnear | UK | Drama | 107min | Cinematography: Wolfgang Suschitzky

Ken Hughes was an award-winning writer and director who made his name in the 1950s and 60s after winning an amateur filmmaking competition in the late 1930s at the age of 14.

This stylish comedy caper captures the zeitgeist of early Sixties Soho seen through the eyes of Anthony Newley’s snazzy strip club compere, Sammy Lee, who ducks and dives his way through the bookies’ clutches constantly on his tail for mounting gambling debts. Behind the cheeky vibe of the club, violence lurks on every corner: punch-ups, bloody noses, and slashed faces bear witness to the shadowy underworld of The Krays. Punctuated by jazzy vignettes from dancing girls singing the likes of “Unforgettable”, Kenny Graham’s trumpet score enriches an evocative portrait of one of the 20th century’s most iconic decades.

Ken Hughes directs with panache and the legendary Viennese cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky (Get Carter) showcases London’s Soho in luscious black and white. Sammy’s perky love interest is played by a dizzy blonde in the shape of Julia Foster. Warren Mitchell is almost unrecognisable as his brother and occasional bankroller Lee Leeman and Miriam Karlin (A Clockwork Orange) plays Lee’s glamorous but vituperative Jewish wife ((“you’ve never known a woman with more shoes”).

Slick and watchable, this snappily scripted mercurial film has plenty of dark moments and thrills up its sleeve. Newley acts his socks off, fast-talking, gestures flying rather like a diminutive Leonard Rossiter, as he goes around raising cash from his close Jewish friends and trousering it feverishly as he races against the clock to meet the bookies’ demands. Dennis Nimmo gets one of the funniest lines as the poshly-spoken gay Rembrandt, momentarily breaking the tension. And then comes a most fabulous scene as a Black duo (bass and piano) play velvety Jazz. Wilfrid Brambell, Roy Kinnear and Robert Stevens also star in this simply wonderful and unmissable gem of English filmmaking. MT

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Ethel & Ernest (2016)

Dir: Roger Marwood | Voices by Jim Broadbent | Brenda Blethyn | Animation | UK

Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn are the voices behind Roger Marwood’s ETHEL & ERNEST, an animated portrait of marital togetherness in suburban England. Based on Raymond Briggs’ biographical tribute to his own parents, this is an emotionally resonant drama that glows in its water-coloured tenderness echoing the likes of John Betjeman and Alan Bennett in capturing the quintessential middle class tolerance and quiet humour of the era.

Against the dramatic background of the 20th century, Ethel and Ernest’s modest story unfolds as a delicate domestic tapestry. They first meet in 1928 and go to enjoy 40 years of marriage that sees them through the privations of the Second World War, the start of the Welfare State and other national events, and the birth of their son who went on the create the evocative children’s animation Snowman.

For the most part enjoyable, some of the dialogue verges on twee in phrases such as “Mr Hitler”, and “this nice Mr Atlee” which feel like an attempt to trivialise Ethel – as if women were so ignorant back then. While some of the scenes begin to feel rather predictable, this is a touching arthouse treasure that will appeal to patriotic mainstream audiences and cineastes alike. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 28 OCTOBER 2016

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

 

My Scientology Movie (2015) |

Director: John Dower,  Prod: Simon Chinn Writer: Louis Theroux

99min  Doc   UK | US

Scientology is a body of beliefs and related practices created by American science fiction author L Ron Hubbard, who lived from 1911 – 1986.

Well-known BBC documentarian Louis Theroux blows the roof of the Church of Scientology in this often hilarious exposé of the enigmatic organisation, made with the help of senior ex-members whom have subsequently ‘blown-out’ (been ejected or forced to leave). This is Theroux’s first big screen outing and together with a running time of 99 minutes, the piece  successfully employs the elements that elevate it to feature status: a significant theme of worldwide appeal; a serious Hollywood-style orchestral score, a three-act structure where the third act offers a significant turning point or dramatic nugget. And Louis has certainly achieved this transition to feature doc – ‘cum laude’, as they say in the US.

Louis Theroux is at the top of his game: he is accustomed to dealing with unusual, unpalatable or unexpected themes and all manner of human behaviour which he invariably handles with supreme skill, without offending or seemingly being offended. Non-judgemental in his approach, he elicits remarkable responses from his subjects, often coaxing or beguiling with such self-effacing charm the individuals remain unaware that they are being gently manipulated into revelations or admissions. He uses the same techniques here with often remarkable results.

For MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE, Louis politely requested ‘The Church’s collaboration, but apparently they have flatly turned him down. But he won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, even when he’s simply trying to deliver a letter to the Church’s headquarters in Los Angeles, California. Accused of trespassing on a public road, he eventually turns the tables on his accuser, a senior member of the Church, ‘allowing’ her to stay, rather than drive away in her car with the words: “it’s ok, you’re not trespassing”. When she asks: ‘why are you filming us?’. Louis responds with superlative politeness: “Why are you filming me?” In short these guys are not going to ‘shut his butt down’ on the fascinating subject-matter that he has come to explore.

In order to offer enlightenment and understanding as to the Church’s methods, Louis and helmer John Dower, use actors to role-play the characters and experiences of the ex-members – including one who “finds it easy to tap into a well of anger” to play the part of the current Head David Miscavige. In this way, Louis sheds light on an organisation which exerts control over its members, non unlike those of the Mormon religion, often keeping them from leaving using similar techniques. John Dower uses inter-titles to put the salient facts forward and there is recent archive footage from the Hollywood-style films that L Ron Hubbard created to promote the Church’s activities. What emerges is intriguing and alarming but Louis always keeps the tone light even when he is openly vilified by his collaborator Matt, an ex-senior official, who emerges as somewhat of a narcissistic individual, a personality type the Church seems to attract amongst its followers. Tom Cruise is a close friend of David Malsavige and another senior member who, we learn, has spent around 1 million dollars on courses to rise to the senior echelons of the Church. What transpires in Louis’ documentary will certainly give audiences food for thought and a better understanding of this arcane organisation. Who knows: You may even consider joining. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS | REVIEWED AT BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015

 

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

 

 

 

One More Time With Feeling (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir-: Andrew Dominik | with Nick Cave | Biopic | UK | 112min

Embracing the overwhelming grief Nick Cave is feeling due to the death of his son, New Zealand filmmaker Andrew Dominik has chosen to film his biopic in black and white, and with “ridiculous handheld 3D camera” – his words precisely but with the help of Benoit Debie and Alwin Kuchker things finally get on track. Leaving the 3D glasses off detracts nothing from the well-observed but overlong picture of the musician’s experience since the death of his son. Cave brings his own witty stream of consciousness to the party, as we watch the film taking shape in the studio during a pre-recording session.

With his seemingly idyllic life: a wife and soulmate, and twin sons – actor, writer and musician Nick Cave confessed to having it all in Iain Forysth’s (far superior) 20,0000 On Earth. Here he pours his grief on losing a child into a string of striking lyrics (“your legs are so long they should come with their own elevator”). He now confesses to occasionally feeling “an object of pity”, a fact that does not fit well with his own self image, but his natural self-deprecation prevents this from sounding narcissistic. Cave also admits that songs can foretell certain events, as dreams can be visionary, and this is something he shares with his wife whom he describes as multi-facetted. Clearly death and bereavement has brought them even closer together. But as he gets older he feels that “the struggle to do what I do requires more effort”.

The test of a successful biopic must surely be that it offers entertainment not only to fans but appeal to wider audiences. And here Dominik largely fails as the format and filming detracts from the subject matter. Despite these obvious flaws ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING adds a certain something to the Nick Cave experience that will appeal to his many fans and resonate with the bereaved arthouse audiences. Let’s hope there’s more great stuff to come from this engaging musician and lyricist. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

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

Chick Lit (2016)

Dir: Tony Britten | Cast: John Hurt, Niamk Cusack, James Wilby, Dame Eileen Atkins | Comedy | 90min | UK

Writer/director Tony Britten’s (In Love with Alma Cogan, Benjamin Britten: Peace and Conflict) latest feature provides some welcome humour this summer with its stellar British cast of John Hurt; Niamh Cusack, Caroline Katz, Cathy Tyson, James Wilby and Dame Eileen Atkins to name but an impressive few.

Set in a north Norfolk village where an upmarket mixture of Brexiteers and eclectic London ‘ex-pats’ have found a quieter existence,  the story follows their collective bright idea of using an erotic (aka ‘mummy porn’) novel in the style of “50 Shades of Grey” as a vehicle to raise funds to prevent their local pub from closing its doors on this recherché community.

The ensuing caper is amusingly scripted by Oliver Britten lampooning a series of caricatures (the sexy barrister; the sardonic literary agent; the gay booksellers, the aspiring novelist and the TV exec) all played wittily by a fabulous cast, who gently send each other up. The slightly bumbling chaps get together in the pub one night and agree to each pen several pages of purple prose together to form the book which is then delivered to said literary agent (Eileen Atkins in classic form) where it is snapped up. However, there is a catch, the interested publisher (John Hurt) stipulates a female author – and not four middle class blokes – to spearhead the book’s publicity campaign. Keeping their involvement a secret, they engage an out of work actress to ‘role play’ the part of the author but the tables are turned on the guys when she takes control.

Combining TV and film talent CHICK LIT is an enjoyable comedy drama of the kind you might enjoy on BBC1: it’s amusingly written, attractively filmed and impeccably performed by the best of British acting talent, and best of of all –  it doesn’t take itself seriously. MT

In UK cinemas from September 2nd courtesy of Capriol Films and VOD Trinity |  VoD from September 12th with a US release planned for Autumn 2016 

The Closer We Get (2015) | DVD | VOD release

image005Writer|Director: Karen Guthrie

With Karen Guthrie, Ian Guthrie, Ann Guthrie, Nina Pope

87min   Doc    UK

Karen Guthrie and her mother Ann had decided to make a film together, but Ann’s near fatal stroke brings her daughter back to Scotland in this moving tale of female resilience and male self-centredness, told from Karen’s uncomplaining, non-judgemental viewpoint. From the opening scene of Karen driving back through the night THE CLOSER WE GET has a compelling quality and a gentle lyrical feel to it. Narrated in her soft Scottish burr with a soft guitar score in the background, it is lushly shot by regular collaborator Nina Pope in warm summery tones, her Glasgow family home making an appealingly pleasant domestic setting for a bittersweet saga.

Riffling through the family snaps – both black and white – Karen brings us up to speed on her childhood – her parents, Ian and Ann had met in the early sixties – a sweet and sociable story of Glasgow family life in; aspirational and happy or so it seemed at the time. It emerges that both daughter and father nurtured an adventurous steak that led them to dream of better things and a more adventurous existence. But tight-lipped father Ian takes this a stage further when he suddenly ups and goes to Ethiopia to following his ‘passion for cycling’. On a mountain, there is a single shot of Ian, the only one during his ten years away in Africa. Her parents continue to meet for an exotic holiday once a year – until Ian moves back in again, ten years later and without comment to continue with his former life. But his behaviour has had a seismic yet unspoken affect on family dynamics. And Ann senses that all is not well, although she keeps this to herself until after Karen’s graduation. The repercussions of Ian’s behaviour are far-reaching over the following years, and when Ann suffers a stroke, Karen becomes a long-term carer for her delightfully endearing mum. Surprise and heartache awaits them both again, around the corner, but for now they’re all back together as a family – this time Karen is the mother and while Dad is expressing his dissatisfaction for his childrens’ under-achievements, as she patiently administers his glaucoma eye-drops.

With its shifts in tone and cinematography reflecting the dark more disturbing episodes, THE CLOSER WE GET is an honest, amusing and heartfelt testament to unexpressed feelings and resentments that brew under the surface of family dysfunction when a man’s infidelity results in fractured hopes and dreams for everyone else. Karen sensitively evokes these myriad emotions, as a family wound that gradually heals on the surface but continues to feel raw and sensitive beneath. And as she cares for her parents she gradually gets to know them as real people. “The closer we get, the less we can hide from each other”. MT

CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED DOCUMENTARY ‘THE CLOSER WE GET’ COMING TO VOD 31st AUGUST & DVD 5th SEPTEMBER 2016

Absolute Beginners (1986) | DVD and Bluray release

absolute-beginners-blu-rayDir: Julien Temple | Cast: Patsy Kensit, Eddie O’Connell, Robert Fox, Steven Berkoff | UK Musical | 108min

Helmed by renowned British director Julien Temple (The Filth and the Fury), this lavishly mounted but uneven ’80s musical is based on Colin MacInnes’ revered novel about upwardly mobile creative life in Soho and Notting Hill in the late ’50s. Starring David Bowie, along with his renowned title track, ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS was one of the most ambitious homegrown productions of the decade, and now celebrates its 30th Anniversary with a brand new high definition restoration and the first ever UK Blu-ray release.

Despite occasional flourishes, the film falls down on its undistinguished but workmanlike performances: Patsy Kensit (Suzette) and Eddie O’Connell (Colin) are the flibbetigibbet pair who lead a bizarre casting of Lionel Blair as noncey tin pan alley king Harry Charms, Alan Freeman as Call-Me-Cobber, Steven Berkoff spouting his usual vitriol as The Fanatic, James Fox as Henley of Mayfair and Sade in her big screen debut as Athene Duncannon (her only film role to date). Musically unremarkable and meaningless, apart from Bowie’s contribution, the narrative is flaccid and the tone as camp as a row of tents, despite a curious undertow of racial tension. Nostalgic is the defining word about this new release – perhaps some things are better left to quietly fade away. That said, fans will no doubt lap it up. MT

OUT ON 25 JULY 2016 courtesy of Second Sight Films

 

 

The Intent (2016)

Dir.: Femi Oyeniran, Kalvadour Peterson

Cast: Dylan Duffus, Tayo ‘Scorcher’ Jarrett, Jade Asha, Sarah Akokhia

UK 2016, 104 min.

Directors/writers/producers Femi Oyeniran and Kalvadour Peterson exploit every stereotype of black-gangland in this East London crime thriller. THE INTENT is as foul-mouthed as it is simplistic and self-indulgent.

Led by the trigger-happy Hoodz (Jarrett), the TIC gangland violence soon erupts from weed peddling into robbing shops and post offices. Officer Lee Biggins (Duffus) tries to infiltrate the gang, but his superior, Sergeant Rebecca Smith (Akokhia) cannot work out if Biggins has changed sides. After Naema (Asha), witnesses the brutal killing of her mother in a TIC robbery in their shop, she discovers a mask worn by the gang in her boyfriend’s apartment and goes to the police, but Smith cannot prove anything, having to rely on the dithering Biggins.

DoP Scott Sandford has done a professional job, slow motion and jump-cuts dominating, but he cannot save a banal narrative which uses cardboard cutouts instead of personalities, the result overstays its welcome by at least 20 minutes. Like the whole exercise, the acting is over the top, in a senseless self-parody. Ultimately it seems the filmmakers’ immaturity has rubbed off on the whole project, dangerously reinforcing every single prejudice about black youth in the inner city. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 22 JULY 2016

The Reflecting Skin (1990) | Blu-ray release

Writer|Director: Philip Ridley

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Cooper, Sheila Moore, Duncan Fraser

96min | Fantasy Drama | UK

The Reflecting Skin is seasoned theatre director and novelist Philip Ridley’s feature debut. Unfolding with a blinding clarity of an advert for Kellogg’s Cornflakes. The hyper realist brashness of its copper-coloured cornfields and royal blue skies provide an unlikely backdrop to what is essentially a child’s nightmare rite of passage in fifties rural Idaho. The child is Seth and he’s barely nine years old.

This is American Gothic at its most doom-laden and bible-bashing. A burnished baptism of fire both for its protagonist and its viewers. By cherry-picking from the likes of David Lynch and Terrence Malick, and casting some worthwhile actors (a young Mortensen and Duncan) Ridley hopes to cobble together a decent  film. But he forgets about the script and characterisation and lacks the directorial experience. Stringing together a range of poorly thought melodramatic cyphers: a depressed father (Duncan Fraser) who self-immolates, an abusive unloving mother (Ruth Dove), an aimless widow (Lindsay Duncan) and a sheriff (Robert Koons looking as if he’s lost his way back to the set of a Tarantino movie) and, to cap it all, a carload of text book amateur paedophiles suddenly their hands to adult murder in the closing moments. he delivers an quasi operative experience that is both bafflingly inept and unsatisfyingly unengaging. With The Reflecting Skin he evokes a meaningless world that uncovers nothing and fails to move or entertain us in the process.

The banality of evil is David Lynch’s stock in trade but he also knows how to direct a film and create a false sense of reality where things are rarely what they appear to be. His masterful direction and sense of timing and aesthetics are flawless in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks.  In The Reflecting Skin everything is out in the open: no mystery or magic, no sense of dramatic tension. It is a drama without drama, a horror outing without terror, a ‘fantasy’ that possesses nothing dreamlike for the subconscious.

As Seth Jeremy Cooper is a one dimensional character whose only emotion spills out in the final scene; probably with relief that it’s all finally over. Seth witnesses events that are horrible and bizarre not only from a child’s point of view but also to most adults. Lindsay Duncan is hopelessly miscast as the widow, although she does her best with an underwritten character who lives in a Barrett’s show home on the prairie. An embarrassingly awful love scene with Viggo Mortensen’s young soldier (Seth’s older brother) is singularly un-sensual and meaningless as the pair have no chemistry or romantic arc. Animal cruel aside: The exploding frog scene is sad rather than horrific and the female twins who drift by occasionally with a wounded bird feel out of place and non-sensical but are the film’s only horrific experience. A drop in the ocean of this weirdly irritating fantasy horror that thankfully has a brief running time of 96 minutes. Still that’s 96 minutes you could have been watching something worthwhile.THE REFLECTING SKIN is the perfect film to illustrate just how difficult it is to make a good film. MT

OUT ON BLU-RAY FROM 30 NOVEMBER 2015

K-Shop (2016)

Director: Dan Pringle

Cast: Ziad Abaza, Recce Noi, Scot Williams

UK 2016, 115 min.

Dan Pringle’s confused but stylish K-SHOP has something of the modern day Sweeny Todd about it. Certainly not for the faint hearted: blood and gore dominate in repetitive sequences along with disgusting bodily functions showing Pringle to be self indulgent in a debut that grimly outstays its welcome, and some. But far more questionable is Pringle’s treatment of serious issues such as racism and vandalism with the over-use of  over-the-top, sensationalised aesthetics to hammer home his point – quite literally. Performance-wise there is a particularly strong turn by Abaza, but K-Shop is somehow too muddled and contradictory to be taken seriously.

Briefly, the plot centres on Salah (Abaza), a Middle Eastern political science student who is shocked when his Kebab shop owning father dies at the hand of hooligans. Taking over the joint, he soon falls foul of late night revellers who raise hell one night, racially insulting Salah into the bargain. But when a rowdy victim falls into a pan of chip fat, Salah decides to take the law into his own hands with disastrous consequences for the troublemakers, but positive feedback from his customers. As they say on TV: best not to try this out at home. That said, K-SHOP is the kind of brutal fare that will go down very well at Fright Fest.

OPENS ON 22 JULY 2016

AUB Graduation 2016: the filmmakers of tomorrow

Andre Simonoveisz casts a critical eye on the latest crop of feature and documentary shorts to emerge from Britain’s most respected film schools to reveal a fresh crop of talent in the filmmakers of the future

The Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) is Britain’s Oxbridge of film schools, the students come not only from the UK, but from Europe, Asia and even the USA. All their graduation films are shown every year to a full house at the NFT1. This year’s crop of thirteen films shows an amazing width of talent and it is fair to say that the majority of the productions are certainly not lacking full professional status.

Highlight of the documentary section was ARTIFICIAL SUNSHINE, a portrait of Blackpool, comparing the seaside resort today with the images of the ’60s. Director Conor Rollins and DoP Louis Hollis contrast the family-orientated holiday atmosphere of fifty years ago with the rather seedy and overly commercial aspects of the present. The nightly scenes in garishly lit streets are captured with intensity; the old amusement arcades look very dated in contrast with today’s electronic offerings, ARTIFICIAL SUNSHINE is an astute picture of how radical change has effected the resort – and not for the better.

A special mention should go CRICKLAND, a portrait of the oldest pub in Bournemouth. Director and PoP Rebecca Richards deserves every praise, since her original project, featuring an eccentric gardener in Berlin, was called off at the last minute. CRICKLAND is a very humane and touching study of how the patrons try their very best to overcome adversity as a united force.

The two outstanding feature shorts could not have been more different: SPECTRUM is a minimalist but engrossing study of mental illness, whilst LISTEN UP EMILY tries to emulate Hollywood’s best musicals – on a shoe-string budget. SPECTRUM, directed by Lewis Logan, centres around Chris (John Seward), who is leaving his mother Jackie (Lin Clifton) and sister Charlotte (Francesca Regis) at home to fly to Mars. At least that is what he tells the two women. Whilst his mother occupies herself, watering and pruning her flowers, Charlotte plays a hilarious game with her brother, both pretending to be birds. The surprising finale features the men in white coats arriving and we see him sitting in the car: miles away, he could be really going to Mars. DoP and co-writer Sam Meyer find all the right little nuances to make SPECTRUM a small but shining gem.

LISTEN UP EMILY is a fairy tale in which writer/director Milo Cremer Eindhoven’s heroine Emily (Sarah Swire) escapes her own wedding into the world of ’50s Paris, meeting her own Gene (Dan Burton). We first meet Emily and her father in a house adjacent to the church, where she has fled her own wedding seconds before the fatal ‘Yes’. Talking to her father makes her indecision not better, and she is at first only too happy to literally stumble into a Paris of the ’50s meeting Gene, who dances her off her feet. Quoting Bringing up Baby as well as An American in Paris, the director gives us more than subtle dose of nostalgia, so much so that Emily, miraculously brought back to the church and the altar, has found the courage to say ‘No’ to the puzzled groom – before dancing out of the church. PDs Becky Millward and Lottie Geliot recreate the Paris of the mid 20th century with great imagination, making up for the sparse budget. DoP Leon Pyszora conjures up two different worlds with his imaginative lighting: the huge church is cold and sterile, the faces of the wedding guests white, everything seems frozen. Paris on the other hand, is full of sunny colours, the streetlights giving a particular glow, making Emily into a proper princess on the run. LISTEN UP EMILY is a joyous trip into the cinematographically past.

After such a richness of young talent, we can only hope that it filters through into the productions of tomorrow. AS

A Kind of Loving (1962) | Bluray release

A-kind-of-loving-film-sti-006Director: John Schlesinger | Screenplay: Keith Waterhouse | Willis Hall  | Novel: Stan Barstow

Cast: Alan Bates, Leonard Rossiter, James Bolam, Thora Hird, June Ritchie, Patsy Rowlands

112min | Romantic Drama | UK

John Schlesinger’s debut was a screen adaptation of the first part of Stan Barstow’s trilogy that followed its protagonist Vic Brown through a loveless marriage and divorce in a ’60s Northern mining town. Its understated style and touching lack of pretension was in stark contrast to Schlesinger’s later more stylised outings but it exposes with astonishing attention to detail the humdrum world of ’60s lower middle class England away from the ‘Swinging’ image that often epitomises the era in cultural references.

Alan Bates carries the film as the aspirational Vic Brown, his star quality and dark charisma towering over a sterling British cast with some thoughtful turns from June Ritchie as his clingy girlfriend Ingrid Rothwell; James Bolam, as his friend Jeff and Thora Hird as Mrs Rothwell. There is a wonderful vignette with Leonard Rossiter and even a Brass Band performance – so popular of that era. But Vic is trapped by Ingrid’s small town mentality. Structure-wise the film lacks fluidity but it is beautifully captured in glowing black and white by Dennis Coop (The Third Man); its caustic dialogue brilliantly scripted by Hall and Waterhouse and remains a ’60s classic. MT

OUT ON BLURAY | DVD | EST COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL.

NEW RESTORATION screens on JULY 29 at CURZON CINEMA, Bristol as part of the Cinema Rediscovered series.

 

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 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

 

Overlord (1975) | Criterion Collection UK Bluray release

Director|Writer: Stuart Cooper

Cast: Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball, Julie Neesam, Sam Sewell, John Franklyn-Robbins

83min | War Drama | UK

Stuart Cooper directed this impressionistic Second World War drama that follows a young British soldier from his home town to the D-Day beaches of Normandy. The soldier is Tom Beddows, a polite young man who could have inspired a poem by Wilfred Owen in the Great War. Played here by Brian Stirner (A Kind of Hush), Beddows naively takes a copy of Great Expectations with him to read in his spare time, conjuring up the general impression that the war would be some kind of a temporary blip in everyday life – little did they know.

This is a searingly poignant portrait of an ordinary soldier behind the guns and bluster of the war machine where anonymous death features daily in terrifying scenes and in silent moments where a Spitfire floats over the distant sea below before unleashing a tirade of torpedoes, and savage fires devastate towns and buildings. Stanley Kubrick’s regular DoP John Alcott’s shocking images of soldiers trying to clamber onto the rocky shoreline will remain burnt into the memory and are deftly interwoven with archival footage of giant metal Catherine Wheels rolling along the beaches to explode landmines and cut through barbed wire. Stuart Cooper spent several years compiling the archival and filmed footage in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum. A score of classics such ‘The Lambeth Walk’ lend a nostalgic and sometimes comforting atmosphere to the otherwise pitiful tragedy that unfolds.

Private Beddows meets a girl (Julie Neesam) at a dance. They chat and start to fall in love in a touching way, glad to share human tenderness in the midst of violence. At night, we see the young soldiers talk and smoke in bed as their potential fate gradually dawns on them: “Cannon Fodder – that’s what we are”. But there are lighter moments too as Beddows receives a birthday fountain pen from his parents and writes back to tell them about a trip to the cinema to see Celia Johnson in This Happy Breed. All this is intercut with horrifying footage of war plane flying treacherously overhead the countryside below. One hellish sortie sees an aircraft mercilessly shooting on a train as it puffs its way along a summer cornfield. Tom says goodbye to his parents telling them of his fear but acceptance of death and at never coming home again. He will miss his dog Tina. The final scene takes the form of a dreamlike sequence as Tom runs along the French beaches, imagining the girl embracing and undressing before him as her shadowy figure is reflected in his eyes. But it is not to be. MT

OVERLORD takes it title comes from an operation code word for an invasion sortie during wartime. Restored in a new 35mm print, OVERLORD is a different kind of war film; touching the psyche with a heart-rending sadness and melancholy evoked by Wilfred Owen: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity”. MT

OVERLORD won the Silver Bear at Berlin | AVAILABLE FROM 6TH JUNE 2016 | CRITERION UK —

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 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

 

Silent Storm (2014) |

Director/Writer: Corinna McFarlane

Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Damian Lewis, Ross Anderson

98min  UK   Drama

Damian Lewis is the driving force in Corinna McFarlane’s debut drama exquisitely set on a picturesque Scottish island during the 1930s. With a second world war looming, the local community is leaving the island to move to the mainland and the delights of Glasgow’s Willow tearooms amongst others. Hardly surprising, also, when their much revered pastor is a raving lunatic with unscrupulous Victorian morals and a mercurial temper to boot. Preaching in the local ‘kirk’ with his jet black robes and flaring eyes, Lewis evokes a devilish Dracula figure with the best Scottish accent since Dr Snoddy hit the airwaves in Dr Finlay’s casebook. Clearly, he is a force to be reckoned with and another example of religious fervour masking more deep-seated mental issues. The film opens with his wife, Aislin (Andrea Riseborough) writhing in childbirth: the consequent death of this child, his first born, further erodes his ability to engage with parishioners in a sympathetic and supportive way: his confessional style is one of ‘fire and brimstone’ rather than ‘care in the community’. As a husband, Balor is harsh, truculent and unloving.

In contrast Riseborough’s Aislin is gentleness personified, but with no child or work to keep her occupied she feels rather underwritten as the Vicar’s wife. Until, that is, the arrival of a young delinquent (Ross Anderson) who is delivered to their care and guidance from a local remand home. From the moment he sets foot in the remote Vicarage on the edge of the cliffs, Aislin has one thing on her mind. Andrea Risborough brings a delicate subtlety to her performance and, although she sounds more French than Scottish in some of the scenes, her soft submissiveness is tempered with a new hope radiating and a luminous serenity that transform her completely. Sadly, Ross Anderson makes for neither a believable rogue nor a simmering love interest as the bad boy looking for redemption. Clearly a deep and thoughtful thinker who has suffered a misguided past and enjoys literature; with his tousled curls and soft features, he is more cherubic that Byronic. For this love triangle to really succeed dramatically, the part clearly needed a brooding Colin Farrell type who could add ballast to Damian Lewis’ pugnacious fury as Balor, but the budget had been spent on the others. When Balor leaves for the mainland with a mission to transfer the kirch, the young pair grow closer, as Aislin feels his supportive presence. They are pictured frolicking in the local woods in an ill-advised vignette that is neither convincing nor well-staged with garishly bright lensing making the forest glow a sickly incandescent green. However, Aislin and the lad are clearly enjoying themselves and there is hell to pay in a predictable denouement when Balor finally hits the croft on his return.

Silent Storm is a visually ravishing affair that makes wonderful use of its lush island setting with Ed Rutherford’s superb camerawork. It works best dramatically in the scenes where Damian Lewis’s Balor injects his ebullient, masculine presence: strutting around the island as the bitter and frustrated priest, he is vehemence personified and makes this otherwise tepid story worthy of a watch. MT

SILENT STORM HAS ITS WORLD PREMIER SCREENING DURING THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

 

Golden Years (2016)

Director: John Miller   Script: John Miller, Nick Knowles, Jeremy Sheldon

Cast: Philip Davis, Bernard Hill, Simon Callow, Una Stubbs, Virginia McKenna, Sue Johnston, Alun Armstrong

96min | Comedy Drama | UK

GOLDEN YEARS may have slim appeal to a certain sector of the community who it cynically pictures long-retired and living on the outskirts of otherwise decent such as Wigan or Uttoxeter. Like a Woolworth’s pick ‘n mix GOLDEN YEARS is certainly cheap and cheerful and full of artificial flavours, but even Woolworth’s eventually acquired cult status, a tribute unlikely to be given to this flaccid comedy. It features a talented cast of well-known British actors who do their best to flog what feels like a proverbial dead horse by its cretinous denouement. Philip Davis; Bernard Hill, Simon Callow, Virginia McKenna, Una Stubbs and Sue Johnston all do sterling work to bring a certain charisma to a vacuous 96 minutes of entertainment.

Not so the script. co-written by director John Miller, Jeremy Sheldon and DIY SOS frontman Nick Knowles, it trips lightly through a thousand cliches, suffering middle age spread and then sinking into oblivion by its flatulent finale. Billed as a crime caper, the implausible storyline re-works the theme of financial crisis where Bernard Hill’s Arthur finds himself without a pension and his wife Martha (a game and still resplendent Virginia McKenna) invalided and requiring expensive medical care. Their limited social life revolves round the local club which is threatened by closure due to a bid from the developers. Then Arthur discovers a get rich quick scheme; a cunning plan to rob High Street banks from the unlikely cover of an innocuous-looking caravan, financed by his first hawl of swagger, and parked nearby. Consoling himself that his Robin Hood approach to re-financing is somehow acceptable, due to general feeling of animosity towards the banking fraternity, he manages to spin things out until Martha wises up after an unfortunate incident, and the two decide to garner support from their friends for a final heist. These willing accomplices include metal worker Brian (Philip Davis), policeman Sid (Alun Armstrong) and rambunctious bore Royston (Simon Callow) -amongst others. Whether the film is intended to be tongue in cheek – or just seriously misjudges the mood of today’s more mature filmgoer – is unsure. But GOLDEN YEARS feels like a poor re-working of a Carry On film minus the laughs and the charm, and with moments so toe-curling, they will make you want to curl up and die. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM TUESDAY 29 April  – in over 108 Odeon Cinemas Nationwide, Scotland & Ireland from 29 April

Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945) |Blu-ray |DVD release

imageDirector: Robert Hamer | Cast: Mervyn Johns, Googie Withers, Gordon Jackson | 85mins | Drama | Ealing Studios

In his evocative portrayal of Victorian England, (based on a West End play) Robert Hamer does his best to recreate the draconian outright authority of the family and legal system in an unforgiving tale of emotionally buttoned up men and loose women. In a respectable God-fearing Brighton household a tyrannical husband holds sway. A chemist by profession, Edward Sutton (a masterful Mervyn Johns) has a son David (a peevish Gordon Jackson) who is employed in the business and crosses paths one night with the louche Pearl Bond (an elegant Googie Withers) who is unhappily married to an abusive pub landlord  (Garry Marsh) whom she wishes dead. Naturally David has the means at his disposal, but is he desperate enough to help her out. Diana Morgan’s screenplay is a treat along with a sterling British cast, ‘Quality Street’ cossies and perky bonnets aplenty in this black and white Ealing melodrama. MT

THIS EALING CLASSIC IS NOW REMASTERED ON 2K  | BLU-RAY DVD & EST ON 25 APRIL 2016 | Part of the ‘Vintage Classics collection’ – showcasing iconic British films, all fully restored and featuring brand new extra content: www.facebook.com/vintageclassicsfilm <http://www.facebook.com/vintageclassicsfilm>

Special Features
• Interview with Joanna McCallum (Googie Withers’s daughter)
• Interview with Melanie Williams (focusing on Women at Ealing)
• Behind the Scenes stills gallery
• Restoration Comparison

PINK STRING AND SEALING WAX is The Digital Film restoration was funded by STUDIOCANAL in collaboration with the BFI’s Unlocking Film Heritage programme (awarding funds from the National Lottery).

 

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

Eye in the Sky (2015)

Director: Gavid Hood   Writer: Guy Hibbert

Cast: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Jeremy Northam

102 min | Thriller | UK

Aaron Paul is a drone pilot who balks at pulling the trigger for Helen Mirren in Gavin Hood’s new film.

Before you dismiss EYE IN THE SKY as just another film about terrorism, think again. Gavin Hood’s gripping imagined drama is a tightly-plotted moral maze that places us right in the heart of the decision-making process with a front row seat.

In this Drone Drama, you will share and sympathise with army chiefs and governments ministers, the decision-making red tape that has to be gone through, laboriously and stringently, before anyone can pull a single trigger. The War on Terror is a now worldwide issue but here the anxiety here is distilled into a the sweaty confines of a tiny boardroom where the ‘powers that be’ debate and clash over matters of life and death under pressure and with nerves of steel, making sure that their own backs are covered in the chain of responsibility. Hood shows us the man at the coalface who feels his responsibility to his target just as keenly as a soldier confronting a civilian face to face – on the streets or battlefield.

But where Hood’s thriller falls down is in imagining that so many major minds would be involved in the life of one single person – and that Government ministers and trained soldiers could be driven to tears over such a decision. That said, Guy Hibbert’s script feels plausible and persuasive: in a Whitehall Cabinet office senior officials are summoned by Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman in a masterful final role) to curtail the activities of “most wanted” set of terrorist villains including a British woman allied to the Al-Shabaab militants in Nairobi. Meanwhile an American drone is gliding over the African village and sending information to British Colonel Katherine Powell (a steely Helen Mirren), who in turn is reporting back to the Cabinet and also liaising with her ground staff and local troops in the village locale. The order is sent out to capture but not to kill.

These highly-skilled ground operatives also have at their disposal tiny remote-controlled insect-shaped drones equipped with cameras that can fly into buildings and monitor the movements of their desired targets. As such they are sent in motion by these trained allies in ‘civvies’ nearby, to assist in the bombing of headquarters of the praying terrorists, who are plotting their ambush. Crucial also is the damage limitation required in such an exercise: the chances must be weighed up of a bomb causing collateral death and destruction. In particular, to a  little girl selling bread in the street outside the perpetrators hide-out. To humanise the little girl, we see her  sans hijab, with her parents in their home. When her mother has baked the bread, she is sent off with her camping table to sell her wares.

There are some terrific moments of tension where we root for the ground ally (Barkhad Abdi) and empathise with the ministers and Powell who is tasked with completing her vital mission. There is a deadly humour too to the board room buck-passing that shows how ultimately politicians always cover their backs before reacting; it is not doing the right thing that is important, but how it will be perceived in the newswire aftermath. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 15 APRI 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

The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)

Writer| Director Matt Brown,

Cast: Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel, Toby Jones, Stephen Fry, Kevin McNally, Enzo Cilenti, Devika Bhise

108min | Biopic | UK

Jeremy Irons and Jeremy Irons are screen dynamite in this earnest but intensely moving biopic of pioneering mathematicians G H Hardy and Srinavasa Ramanujan.

The Man Who Knew Infinity attempts to make maths as exciting as the discovery of a new plant species or the cure to cancer in this lush and impressively-mounted turn of the century drama. Blinding us with numbers and equations scrawled in chalk across a blackboard, the maths geniuses slave over desks replete with crumpled formula-filled papers and burn the midnight oil to prove their theories in the hallowed rooms of Trinity College of Cambridge, mesmerising us with this arcane subject matter but leaving us none the wiser as to their tangible achievements by the time the credits roll – there is a banal footnote about black holes in the final scene – but how could maths be so emotionally involving and melodramatic as it is portrayed here? The answer is in the personal story of an man who came from obscurity to share the academic limelight with the ‘luminaries’ of the early 20th century – the only one that stands out to most people will be Bertrand Russell.

In Matt Brown’s exquisitely-crafted sophomore drama, Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons are engaging and imminently watchable as intellectual sparring partners: beautifully attired in their hand-tailored tweed and starched collars, they make a formidable and mildly fascinating couple of spiritually-edged geeks. And there is the cherubic Toby Jones looking genuinely benign as another leading light of figures, John Edensor Littlewood. Matt Brown’s script, appropriately for the era and context, contains lashings of racialism and prejudice towards the Indian 25-year-old prodigy who sprung from the backstreets of 1913 Madras with his ground-breaking theories on continued fractions and pure maths to struggle to the heights of English academia – a spiritual vegetarian in a college where the ‘loads of grub’ largely consisted of meat. The Man Who Knew Infinity is certainly appealing for mainstream audiences who enjoy intelligent dramas but those looking for a biopic of greater ingenuity in its specialised subject, might find this a trifle unsatisfying – if so – the indie title ‘Ramanujan’ is likely to have more appeal.

Adapted from Robert Kanigel’s 1991 biography, this is certainly an entertaining story  with its blend of exotic Madras settings counterpoised with the ethereal backdrop of pre-war Cambridge. The young self-taught Sri dedicates himself to the study of maths forsaking his job as a clerk; his overbearing mother (aptly named Arundhati Nag) and his newly married wife Janaki (Devika Bhise), to beat a path towards England where, hoping to be published, he writes a letter to Professor Hardy who immediately seizes on his brilliance, offering him tutoring at Trinity, despite the open hostility and racial prejudice of the crusty old dons – amongst the most cantankerous being Professor Howard (Anthony Calf). There, in a cramped single room, he eschews nutritional and emotional support (his mother intercepts his wife’s letters) to tirelessly expound his theories which, he claims, are instinctively enlightened and spiritually inspired by his Hindu religion. Hardy is a hard-nosed academic who has no time for love or religion and is more interested in form and discipline than inspiration and free thought, while the generous-spirited Bertrand Russell (a fine Jeremy Northam) urges Hardy to “let him fly”. That said, Irons plays Hardy as a tremendously empathetic and supportive character and not in the least dry or leaning towards Asperger’s, as one might be tempted to expect. Patel brings an energetic sensitivity to his role, with the delicate elegance of an exotic fawn, he is also feisty and diligent.

But as Ramanujan’s health deteriorates with tuberculosis, the mawkish flashes to Janaki pining on the beaches and temples of Madras start a downward spiral in the dramatic tension. The final scenes of this memorable biopic are deeply affecting: not so much because of Ramanujan’s ailing health, but because of the astonishing impact he steadily makes on his intransigent ageing peers in their ivory towers. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 8 APRIL 2016 NATIONWIDE.

 

 

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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.

Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Director: Dexter Fletcher.  Script: Simon Kelton, Sean Macaulay

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Taron Egerton, Tom Costello, Jack Costello, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen, Tim McInnerny

106min | Comedy Biopic | UK

Gentling lampooning Britain’s sporting prowess, Dexter Fletcher champions the ultimate British heroic failure through his story of Michael Edwards, a nerdish West Country plasterer who, from humble beginnings and a startling lack of talent, financed himself to represent us in the 1988 Winter Olympics, eventually carrying the torch, and winning the Nation’s heart with his own brand of sad-sack charm.

Well made and watchable in Fletcher’s capable hands; Maclaulay and Skelton’s embellishment of the true facts nevertheless stretches our imagination to breaking point with a misguided though timely portrait of self-delusion emblematic of the today’s cult of celebrity where average kids  brim over with self-confidencd, egged on by their obsessed parents, to imagine they are more talented than they actually are. Edwards ain’t no superman, he’s just everyman – and that’s what made him an inspiration to Joe Average. But Eddie’s real life is funnier and more surreal than these scripters’ absurd imaginings – which sadly are a jump too far.

Apart from the script, there’s a problem with the casting: Taron Egerton’s Eddie is not endearing, he’s just plain irritating. As a kid Jack Costello’s Eddie is cute; as a grown-up Egerton’s Eddie fails to win any prizes – rocking Mrs Brown style glasses (and a Les Dawson grimace), his curly hairdo brings to mind Kevin Keegan and his waddling posture, Daffyd Thomas (‘the only gay in the village’) – which does him no favours at all: he’s also portrayed as being a teetotal, sexless dork who is ripped to pieces by the more experienced Scandinavian skiers (Finnish skier Matti Nykanen is played by Edvin Endre); he even passes up a quasi-flirt with willing and sultry Cougar bar owner (Iris Berben).  The real Edwards did at least have stunt experience, where here he tackles 40 and 70 metre skiing ramps as a total ingenue who simply dusts himself down after some stratospheric and neck-breaking jumps – seen from his own POV as the jumper. Hugh Jackman has been wheeled in (to garner US box office support) as his fictional coach Bronson Peary – an alcoholic has-been who is now driving a snowplow and tries to teach Eddie how to jump by likening the experience to sex – clearly lost on Eddie. But in fairness, Egerton cools his jets once Jackman is on board, becoming marginally less annoying and more plausible. That said, the film does the real Edwards no favours – the maxim holds that truth is stranger than fiction and the need to embellish it is at best bad taste and and at worst, a downright crying insult to the man himself. To cut to the chase, Edwards finally makes it to the Olympics amid George Richmond’s inventive set pieces. A well-chosen score featuring Thin Lizzy, Hall & Oates and Holly Johnson) adds grist to our appreciation of the film’s more creatively quirky moments. MT

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE from 1 APRIL 2016

 

Black Mountain Poets (2015)

Director: Jamie Adams

Cast: Alice Lowe, Dolly Wells, Tom Cullen, Rosa Robson, Richard Elis, Laura Patch

85min | Comedy Drama | UK 2016.

It looks like Jamie Adams (A Wonderful Christmas), had co-scripter Alice Lowe’s Sightseers performance in mind when he cast her as a scatter-brained would-be-poet in this feeble ‘Five Go Mad in Dorset’ style comedy. Black Mountain Poets sadly lacks cohesion but – more importantly – real humour.

The film opens with sisters Lisa (Love) and Claire Walker (Dolls) forcing their way into a camp site with wire cutters. Their bungling effort is spotted by a security guard who uses his mobile to photograph the pair and their get-away car. The car soon breaks down due to lack of petrol, and the sisters then steal a car belonging to the Wilding Sisters, Alys and Terry, who are on their way to a poetry festival. Finding their invitation in the car, Lisa and Clair immediately decide to impersonate the duo and are welcomed by the organisers and five competitors. Richard (Cullen) and Louise (Robson) have been a couple, but Richard, who has not written a poem for seven years, is jealously in awe of Louise, and soon deserts her for Lisa and Claire, giving them his tent, then sharing it with the sisters after a feeble attempts to erect it. Joined by Gareth (Elis) and Stacey (Patch), two not very well sketched out personas; the poets wander through the woods while the Wilding Sisters try to reach the Festival on foot.

In trying to show all the poets as dilettantes in more ways than one, BLACK MOUNTAIN POETS succumbs to an all-out bumbling approach of its own. The poems are dire and so are the pseudo-philosophical interludes: in one example Claire looks up into the sky, confessing disappointment with her life thus far. Instead of laughing, the audience actually feels sorry for Claire and Lisa, who Adams seems to be denounce and vilify – making them the butt of the humour rather than the generators of wit and repartee.

Visually Black Mountain Poets is flat, repetitive and unimaginative. The actors hector their lines, and even Lowe cannot escape the dour tedium. Bring back Carry-On Camping – at least it raised a real laugh. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 1 APRIL 2016 

Captured, but not tamed: The cinema of John Krish

Until quite recently John Krish was one of British Cinema’s best kept secrets. But in recognition of his valuable contribution to British cinema that started in the late ’40s, the BFI has raised the profile of the now retired auteur with a series of interviews at their Southbank Centre and the re-issue of his early work on DVD, putting his films back on the cinematic map.

John Krish was born in London in 1923 and started his film career in his early twenties at the Crown Film Unit where he assisted Harry Watt and Humphrey Jennings. And though he later worked for British Transport Films making propaganda films, he later became an individualistic and maverick director. Noted for his offbeat features Unearthly Stranger and The Man Who Had Power over Women, he was best known for his documentary shorts that are vivid, humane and insightful film essays showcasing British life.

hqdefault In films such as They Took Us to the Sea (1961) in which a group of children, funded by the NSSPC, are taken by train to the seaside; The Elephant Never Forgets (1953) – a celebration of the final hours of the last South London tram and I Think They Call Him John (1964) that portraits a day in the life of a pensioner alone in his flat; Krish brought dignity, compassion, humour and acute social observation to his subject matter. There is often a moment in a Krish film that crystallizes the inner life of his characters. His powers of observation were well-developed, enabling his camera to evoke the subtlety of body language and expression.  Such allowance of pathos – but never sentimentality – was probably one of the reasons Krish never felt an affinity with the Free Cinema Movement of the fifties: Reisz, Richardson and Anderson always kept more emotional distance back then. In I Think They Call him John, an old working class man goes through his solitary ritual of cooking; watching TV and washing up – a routine that  has gradually solidified his loneliness. Whist looking out of his window, an unseen motorcyclist roars by. John’s vacant expression conveys so much about the post-war world that has simple passed him by. It is a poignant scene comparable to De Sica’s observations of a retired civil servant in the quietly devastating 1952 film Umberto D.

Still-from-the-NSPCC-commissioned-film-by-John-Krish-They-Took-Us-To-The-SeaAnd the obviously happy faces of children on a train in They Took Us To the Sea (it’s ‘the sea’, not ‘the seaside’ – inferring what is practical over what is pleasurable), are intercut with children who look hurt, puzzled and withdrawn. This is not simply a film about the virtues of NSSPC care, but a nuanced depiction of kids who have missed out on holidays because they can barely comprehend horizons beyond their limited existence in the city.

Krish’s naturalism was always aligned to a quirky and surreal way of seeing. The Elephant Never Forgets has a celebratory joy that recalls the early TV work of Ken Russell: watching it now, it is hard to believe that twenty thousand Londoners could get so involved in the life of a tram, just before it was broken up for the eager scrap merchants. However the repeated use of the music hall song, “Riding Along on the Top of a Car” makes for a gem of a film that moves you to tears. And in Drive Carefully, Darling (1975) we have fantasy experts in white coats operating the brain and senses of a reckless motorist. Yet even such Sci-Fi children’s book illustration is cleverly edited with touching shots of a wife, who won’t see her husband alive again, doing the shopping.

day-in_1759625bYet Krish’s most audacious short has to be The Finishing Line (1977). This is a British Transport film about the dangers for children playing near a railway track. By imagining a school’s sports day (a very British occasion) replete with brass band and summer afternoon teas, Krish transcends his public information remit to produce a deadpan horror film. As the children, aided by teachers and parents, compete in such events as racing across the railway track, throwing stones at a train and walking through a long tunnel; the injuries and deaths pile up in a chilling manner that to this day still shock and haunt. The Finishing Line’s graphic violence is always judiciously understated. Krish maintains a cool moralist’s eye. The film’s a nightmarish deterrent for any child considering having fun on a railway track. Occasionally the film teeters on the edge of subversion. Not in the manner of a Lindsay Anderson, with the public school slaughter seen in If…, but a sense in which the authorities (parents, teachers and ambulance staff) calmly manage the games and administer aid in a massacre of the innocents; all the while hinting at darker, unspoken fears about complicity, safety and adult responsibility for its young. Although such unease is subtly generalised throughout the film, it did not prevent Krish’s powerful short from being withdrawn after its TV screening. British Transport had the film banned for twenty one years.

John-Krishs-remarkable-19-010A ban was also placed on Krish’s military intelligence film Captured (1959). Indeed the film so freaked out the authorities that they viewed it as a bad advertisement for anyone wanting to join the armed services. The few permitted screenings (for recruits only) had to be supervised by a senior officer. Captured documents the British soldiers, during the Korean War, who have been captured by the Chinese. The prisoners undergo a stark re-education in the aims and ideals of Communism. One captive (Alan Dobie) is subjected to brain washing, brutal coercion and torture (the uncomfortable water boarding scenes are brilliantly filmed). The film grips like a vice in a tightly framed film noir. Krish also gives Captured complex characters placed in a strongly dramatic storyline. Stereotypes are avoided. Krish frequently points out the need to keep both a collective and individual resistance to interrogation methods. For a divide and rule approach is what the torturers hope to achieve. Indeed it’s the tension between a prisoner who is almost pushed out of the group for suspected enemy collaboration (both ironically rightly and wrongly so) and the victim/torturer scenes, that make for such a morally engaging film. Captured depicts the painful road to travel in order to learn the correct response towards the real enemy, who is always the Chinese and not your fallible fellow prisoner.

Visually outstanding, Captured has many tight and beautiful compositions. Images of an abandoned prisoner; a group of soldiers confined in a hut where fraught conversations are shot with assurance and rigour. Captured is a long short film (65 minutes) in a drama-documentary style and remains a forceful human story transcending its military education aims.

UnknownKrish’s feature debut, Unearthly Stranger (1960) is also an unqualified success. The film was shot on a shoestring, but none the worse for it. The film’s direction, writing, editing and photography are finely focussed on the story of a female alien, Julie (Gabriella Licudi), who’s married to a scientist (John Neville) working on a space project. The twist in the tale is that the alien has fallen in love with the man she has been sent to kill. Her displays of emotion mean that tears literally burn her skin. In a haunting scene were the alien wife frightens children in a school playground, there is sense that they are recoiling from her, sensing her otherworldliness. This is almost Village of the Dammed material played in dramatic reverse. And the film has more than a hint or two of Siegel’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. As in Captured, its ending is uncertain and uncompromising.

dd78eb42e3b5a43bf3f9ace58b3ebf16_ia7f41CXDe7PECaptured was made as an industry calling card to secure John Krish more work as a features director. But the work never materialised and the film was not publically screened till 2003. Krish’s debut feature, Unearthly Stranger was still very short – seventy five minutes, only ten minutes longer than Captured. Both films concern strange hostile forces that want to take over the world. Captured for its Communist ideas, was generally perceived as strange and hostile to Western values. And Unearthly Stranger’s apprehension as to what exists in the stratosphere, beyond our planet. Their Cold War linkage seemed a natural progression for John Krish’s talent, making us long for more Sci-Fi, psychological horror or even thrillers. But Krish was never cut out to work in the style of Hammer Film; he got stuck with material that was not of his own choosing. A handful of features The Wild Affair, Decline and Fall of a Birdwatcher and The Man Who had Power over Women are comedy dramas hampered by clunky scripts and unsure direction. These films have some positive elements: Acute social observation, a surreal touch and incisive editing made his shorts outstanding. He turned the Public Information Film into an art form by stamping his personal signature on the genre. Those works, and his two not quite feature-length films, are his legacy. A concerned humanist with dark energy and vision; John Krish was really quite special. And he is still with us, now aged ninety two. A recent engaging BFI interview with him reveals a feisty and engaging personality. Alan Price©2016

Flare is 30! | LGBT Film Festival 2016 | 17-27 March 2016

FLARE is 30! And to celebrate, the BFI is offering a chance to see the latest films from a flirty selection – appealing to the arthouse crowd and gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender cineastes alike.

summertime-02 Kicking off, quite literally, with the World premiere of THE PASS, Ben A Williams footy-themed drama, stars Russell Tovey and Arinze Kene as Club lovers, in both senses of the word, who come together during an away match thousands of miles from home. And to close, SUMMERTIME  [La Belle Saison], Catherine Corsini’s passionate portrayal of Paris during the ’70s where Cecile de France and Izïa Higelin star as two very different women who fall in love against the feminist street protests in the French capital.

This year screenings benefit from the EASTER BREAK and will continue on the day after this Closing Gala (Easter Sunday 27 March) with a Second Chance Sunday devoted to 2016 Festival best-sellers and a selection of LGBT archive gems from the Festivals’ history. Every ticket on Second Chance Sunday will be offered at the discounted price of £8. As a highlight of the day, the BFI will show the film that tops a brand new critics’ and programmers’ poll of the top 10 global LGBT films of the last 30 years. The result of this BFI poll and all the films screening on Second Chance Sunday will be announced soon.

Mapplethorp - Look at the Pictures  copyBetween 17 – 27 March most screenings will be accompanied by Q&As and a chance to meet and debate with visiting talent including Silas Howard, the first trans director on Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Transparent, who will be in London to regale us with his experiences. Special Presentations include Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, an in-depth and uncompromising portrait of the life and work of the legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe by award-winning World of Wonder duo Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Inside Deep Throat); Rebel Dykes, a work-in-progress screening event of Harri Shanahan and Sian Williams’ documentary which explores the forgotten ‘herstory’ of lesbian punk London in the 1980s. Jacques Martineau and Olivier Ducastel (Jeanne and the Perfect Guy, Drôle de Félix) will also be there in the wake of their Berlinale world prem Theo & Hugo, a finely crafted and provocative French drama.

Of the 50 features screenings, be sure not to miss the following Gala Specials, and highlights from the festival strands HEARTS, MINDS and BODIES.

DEPARTURE British director Andrew Stegall’s touching debut about a mother (Juliet Stephenson) and son Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game) struggling with their relationship. Barak and Tomer Heymann’s touching drama WHO’S GONNA LOVE ME NOW? fresh from Berlinale, which explores the family dysfunction of an HIV positive Israeli finding an adoptive second home in London as a member of London Gay Men’s Chorus. And from the Cult Classic strand CALAMITY JANE at the BFI IMAX will celebrate everyone’s favourite cowboy/girl Doris Day with this dazzling new digital restoration presented on the biggest screen in Britain.

from-afar-06H E A R T S  includes films about love, romance and friendship.

FROM AFAR – Lorenzo Vigas’ Golden Lion 2015 winner at Venice Film Festival;

THE GIRL KING – Mika Kaurismäki’s 17th century lesbian costume drama, set at the court of Queen Christina; CAROL Toddy Haynes’ masterful lesbian screen version of Patricia Highsmith’s novel stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara; DESERT HEARTS a cult classic lesbian ’80s love story as vibrant as ever, the only lesbian film shown at the 1986 edition; WHOSE GONNA LOVE ME NOW a gay Jewish man’s journey to find acceptance and stability amid the perils of hard drugs and HIV

sworn-virgin-01B O D I E S  features stories of sex, identity and transformation.

THE CHAMBERMAID LYNN – Ingo Haeb’s disturbing German story of a hotel-cleaner who becomes a fetish sexworker; NASTY BABY   a Brooklyn-set adoption story with a tragic twist; SWORN VIRGIN – Laura Bispuri’s startling drama stars Alba Rohrwacher as an Albanian whose transition to living as a man involves complex cultural traditions..

M I N D S    features reflections on art, politics and community

welcome-to-this-house-02THE TRIAL OF SIR ROGER CASEMENT a chance to catch a rare screening starring Peter Wyngarde as a man executed for treason in the ’60s; WELCOME TO THIS HOUSE Barbara Hammer explores the life of Pulitzer prize-winning author and lesbian Elizabeth Bishop; WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSEED a  genius Hollywood costumier’s life is told through the stars he dressed and undressed: Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe; KA BODYSCAPES Jayan Cherian’s sophomore drama explores themes of oppression and rebellion in the southern Indian province of Kerala, through the adventures of a young bohemian artist on the cusp of fame

While films and film cultural are at the heart of the BFI, the atmosphere at Southbank brings people from far and wide. This year the hugely popular BFI Flare Club Nights return (Fri 18, Sat 19, Thu 24, Fri 25 and Sat 26) at Benugo Lounge and Riverfront with our favourite DJs and newfound friends including Pitch Slap!, Sadie Lee and Jonathan Kemp, Pink Glove, Club Kali, and for Closing Night Bad Bitches and Unskinny Bop.

www.bfi.org.uk/flare

 

High-Rise (2015)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans Elizabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keely Hawes

119min | Drama | UK

J G Ballard would turn in his grave if he saw Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of his 1975 novel High-Rise. It has Tom Hiddleston as Dr Robert Laing who lives in one of those arrogant ’70s brutalist tower blocks: nowadays these soaring monoliths belong to offshore buyers, bought as investment vehicles and mostly lying vacant. But Ballard, echoing the classic British class system, had the rich occupying the best penthouses while the poorer residents got the lower floors. A doctor, Laing is somewhere in the middle with one of those high walled balconies where he sunbathes naked, trying to keep the status quo as the ‘squashed middle’. There’s no need to leave the building – all the shiny mod cons are on site – but in this microcosm of society the pecking order goes gradually awry: the ‘lower’ classes try to move to the superior flats and as the delicate ecology of this ‘garden pond’ goes septic, mayhem ensues. J G Ballard was a clever chap. But Wheatley ain’t so bright.

The first problem with co-scripter Amy Jump and Wheatley’s film is the lack of visible contrast between their classes. Nowadays, everyone looks the same whether they’re rich, poor or middling. Without this crucial delineation the narrative comes unstuck  – unless you’ve read the book (and luckily they’ve got producer Jeremy Thomas on board to ensure the film gets out there). When the building services start to malfunction (lifts break down, water leaks and so on), the residents only cooperate with their fellow men in getting water and going about the building. It starts with Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), a lower floor aspiring resident who makes a bid to move higher in the status quo, leading his co-residents into rebellion. Crass and rather beligerent, he is also a conspicuous alpha male who enjoys his wild parties and blaring music. Hiddleston keeps his head down: suave and pleasantly poker-faced, adapting chaemelion-like to every situation, he seems the only character with any calm self-possession (poor squashed polite middle classes); Sienna Miller’s Charlotte Melville is his female admirer (spying him from her flat above): quick-witted and cannily pragmatic, she also swims with his tide. Wilder’s wife, Helen (Elizabeth Moss) is the vulnerable earth mother who men just want to protect. Jeremy Irons (Royal) the building’s architect, pontificates from the more luxurious penthouse; he saw his project as a vanity statement and “crucible for change”.

There’s so much glorious material here: and a fabulous cast who do their best (while others wanders aimlessly about) but Wheatley’s HIGH-RISE is a structureless hiding to nowhere replete with aimless plotlines as Wheatley and Jump flounder around in their mammoth budget to create a towering inferno of crude and lurid style over substance ending in a multi-story muddle just waiting for the wrecking ball. At best a creative experiment; at worst a never-ending nightmare that far overstays its welcome at two hours: It may have taken forty years for High-Rise to make it to big screen but this is one disaster movie that’s a disaster in every sense of the word. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE

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

 

 

 

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

 

Breakdown (2016)

Dir.: Jonnie Malachi

Cast: Craig Fairbrass, Emmet J. Scanlon, James Cosmo, Olivia Grant, Amanda Wass, Rab Affleck

UK 2016, 110 min.

What happens if a contract killer has a mental breakdown and wants to leave the profession? First time director and writer Jonnie Malachi answers with a brutal, cliché ridden and poorly acted piece of film full of bad taste and gratuitous violence. The only redeeming feature is an occasional involuntary joke it throws up.

Alfie (Fairbrass) is a contract killer with a decent family and a home straight out of House & Garden. His wife Catherine (Grant) and teenage daughter Maya (Wass), are there to be protected by him – mainly from his employers, a nasty gang called ‘Homefront’. The boss, Albert (Cosmo) is furious when Alfie suddenly blacks out, due to remorse, while torturing a victim in front of a chuckling client. Albert finishes the job and Alfie has to kill a whole gang to keep the rather disappointed client happy, Alfie’s best friend and college, Connor (Scanlon) lusts after Catherine and is only too ready to slip into Alfie’s shoes. Luckily for Alfie, the mighty ‘Homefront’ consists only of six, rather incompetent members, and with the active participation of his family in his revenge killing-spree, Alfie could be all set up for a happy-end. DOP James Friend makes it easy for the audience: soft lensed action means family life; hard colours represent action – of which there is a lot – just enough to kill any idea that this apology for a film could be taken seriously in any way. AS

AT SELECTED CINEMAS ON 15 JANUARY. DVD DIGITAL FROM 18 JANUARY 2016

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

Turkey of 2015 | Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Director: Sam Taylor Wood   Writers: Kelly Marcel, E L James (novel)

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Marcia Gay Harden

125min   Drama

The long-awaited screen adaptation of the E L James popular novel has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons in what is clearly one of the biggest hypes of recent cinema history – if you choose to read the Daily Mail. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY emerges as fluffy and flirty as a freshly-groomed poodle. And as Ms Taylor Wood races to the bank, her classic romcom, a softcore porno outing suitable for teenagers (who are all on pornhub anyway), has captured the imagination of vast swathes of the mainstream cinema-going public.

This saccharine ‘erotic’ fare was scripted by Kelly Marcel, whose previous credits include Mary Poppins drama SAVING MR BANKS. But the tasteful and rather sanitised SHADES is possibly the most innocuous and respectable LGBT outing in cinema history. There were certainly more salacious and revealing adventures happening in Greenaway’s EISENSTEIN IN GUANTAJAUTO premiere which screened earlier in the day during Berlinale 2015.

But don’t be disheartened. There is plenty to enjoy about Taylor Wood’s film. The bland and baby-faced Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth and has come up smelling of expensive aftershave since being born to a crack addict who disappeared shortly afterwards. Adopted by the respectable Dr Grey (a delightful Marcia Gay Harden), he then morphs into a billionnaire (aged 27) with swanky offices in downtown Seattle: a successful career he puts down to his ‘people skills’. But this is more likely due to his being a dispassionate psychopath.

Christian Grey has plenty of time on his hands to interview college literature grad, Anastasia Steele (Melanie Griffith’s daughter, Dakota Johnson) about his business acumen. Taking a shine to Ms Steele, he then showers her with gifts and ‘love bombs’ her into his squeaky clean life of emotional denial and repression, assuring her that he will “fuck her hard”. It transpires that the sweet and sassy Anastasia is a virgin. Any young student with little experience of the male species would naturally fall head over heels for a gent who is solvent, be-suited and sweeps her off in a helicopter promising a good time between the sheets, even if he is a little ‘bossy’. But sexy he ain’t – rest assured – and the chemistry between these nubile lovers is sadly as flat as yesterday’s champagne.

After giving her a reasonable initiation ceremony into his sexual style: a bit of bondage, sexual role play and control freakery – but sleeping together; nights out for dinner and intelligent conversation are only up for negotiation by written contract. He doesn’t do romance but he does do expensive gifts, and the usual reverse psychology ensues – as it does in most early relationships – where the couple jockeys for position and the woman flirts and plays hard to get. And just as Mr Grey is falling hard for Ms Steele, her four-times married mother (a glowing and simpering Jennifer Ehle) has the best advice for her daughter: “I wish I could tell you that things get better – they don’t, you just get to know yourself”. Meredith J Taylor

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 FEBRUARY 2015 – REVIEWED AT BERLINALE 2015

 

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 conn