Posts Tagged ‘TV’

Le Frisson des Vampires (1971)

Dir: Jean Rollin | French, Horror

Disinterred from its crypt in the small hours recently by London Live, not a lot really happens in this fanciful little trifle by Jean Rollin – who David Pirie wrote “it is tempting to see as the Claude Lellouch of the vampire cinema” – but it contains some beautiful colour effects, and an attractively lit chateau housing a coven of female vampires who glide about in big hair and little else.

Vampiress-in-chief, Isolde, is given to making dramatic entrances from hiding places as varied as a grandfather clock (whose door swings open in an image worthy of Nosferatu, from behind a curtain and up a chimney; while her handmaidens dance off into the night together before the film’s conclusion on the director’s favourite location, the beach at Normandy. Richard Chatten


The Investigation (2021) BBCiPlayer | DVD


Dir: Tobias Linholm | Cast: Soren Malling, Pilou Asbaek, Pernilla August, Rolf Lassgard, Laura Christensen, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Hans Henrik Clemensen | Denmark, True crime drama, 2021

True crime doesn’t get any more gruesome than the murder of journalist Kim Wall. So the Danes have thrown their best talent behind this HBO miniseries (now also on BBC 2) written and directed by Tobias Lindholm (whose Another Round is Denmark’s Oscar hopeful) and starring Pernilla August, Borgen‘s Soren Malling, Pilou Asbaek (A Hijacking) and Rolf Lassgard.

This was a murder that shocked the world: a Danish inventor Peter Madsen invited Wall to visit his homemade submarine somewhere off the coast of Denmark. She then disappeared without trace and Madsen was rescued after his vessel sunk near to Copenhagen’s Koge bay. Interviewed by police Madsen later claimed Wall had slipped and hit her head, drowning in a watery grave. But then it gets weird. As Wall’s body parts were gradually washed up, the head some time later delaying identification, Madsen was arrested and charged with her murder, changing his story several times in the aftermath.

Sombre and sumptuously photographed by Magnus Nordenhof Jonck this plays out as a slow burning and evocative thriller that manages to be utterly compelling while respecting the delicate subject matter and Wall’s loved ones, as it carefully chronicles the unfolding investigation – day by day – under the guidance of Malling’s thoughtful Jens Moller. The detective really took it upon himself to ensure that no stone was left unturned in exploring the unpalatable facts, consulting oceanographers and tide experts to fathom out what happened during that fateful night of August 10th 2017.

Wall was an accomplished professional investigative journalist with everything to live for, yet her career was cut short by Madsen who not only ended her life, but in such a macabre way – presumably he hoped the evidence would be destroyed by marine life.

Moller works painstakingly in the suitably grim conditions of a rainy Danish autumn – the whole process took four months – to try and piece together enough evidence to nail Madsen. Dogs detectives join specialist divers and pathologists, and the scenes involving Walls’ parents are particularly moving. The six part structure enables Lindholm to fully flesh out the characters’ backstories in this deeply affecting criminal procedural that widens out into a slice of social history.

Although one tries to avoid the expression ‘Nordic Noir’ in this particular case, it’s just what it is. No disrespect to Wall, she just happened to be the victim. All things considered I think she would consider this a fitting tribute to her life. MT

ON BBC2 from 29 January 2021 | DVD on 1March 2021



Dracula (2020) BBC mini Series ****

Dirs: Jonny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, Damon Thomas | Writers: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat | Cast: Claes Bang, Dolly Wells, Morfydd Clark, John Heffernan | UK Drama | 270′

The BBC rejuvenates the Dracula story with this bracingly biting blood-splattered three parter that references all the usual iconography: crucifixes, coffins and cloaks – but adds multiracial underpinnings and fluidly sexual characters that include a strong female lead in Sister Agatha van Hellsing. The story wanders peripatetically through a Romanian castle, a nocturnal sea voyage aboard a ancient schooner and the nightscapes of contenporary London.

Writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat create a modern masterpiece that feels fresh, complex and surprisingly witty, sending up the vampire legend led by the dazzlingly daunting and dishy Danish actor Claes Bang who terrorises the living cast with a performance that blends condescending camp with arch horror. The cunning count doesn’t seem to mind whether his victims are male or female as long as they invite him to sink his vicious gnashers into their fresh supply of warm blood and tap their credentials into the bargain.

Dolly Wells is simply magnificent as the faithless Hungarian nun who in the opening scenes interviews the (by now) undead and decrepit Jonathan Harker about his experiences with the Count while in thrall to his dubious hospitality. The action cuts back to Transylvania 1897 where Dracula was  planning a move to Victorian London from the turreted terror of his creepy castle where he had perfected his English at every bite of his unsuspecting guest. The dark dungeons light up their sparklingly glib repartee: “You’re a monster”, screams Harker, the count retorts: “And you’re a lawyer, nobody’s perfect”. The following episode takes place on board the HMS Demeter bound for England and introducing fresh blood in the shape of a Romanian crew, a professor from Calcutta, a German Arch Duchess (whom he ravages, having perfected his German on another  deckhand titbit), and a lavender married couple, the husband falling prey to Dracula’s masterful charms. Needless to say, the Count “ absorbs” all their cultural attributes feeding off their jugulars with glib satisfaction only to wash up 123 years later on a Whitby beach in the present day where a tousled haired special branch Agatha meets him with all guns blaring from her Police vehicle.

Once in 2020 the narrative suffers a couple of blips with a collection of millennial characters that don’t pass master with what’s gone before. A Savile Row besuited Prince of Darkness minus his gothic backdrop struggles to retain his chilly persona, but Bang’s towering physique and his suave and sardonic allure restores our belief in his predatory nature, tempered with a cheeky line when he is momentarily confined to a Perspex prison cell: “I’m a vampire: why have you given me a toilet? Writer Gatiss finally gets his on scene moment of glory as Dracula’s dapper and deferential lawyer, a role he also created. The character of Lucy is less inspiring as a modern day source of sustenance for the Count, in the guise of a smug, selfie-seeking psychopath whose millennial magnetism and dusky draw is proved to be only skin deep, after she survives the grotesque cremation scene (most audiences will be crossing this off as an option in their own funeral arrangements). And Zoe (as Agatha’s great great niece) makes for a convincing modern day cancer victim, wasting away before our eyes, her wan charms creating soulful chemistry with the Count as she poisons him with her diseased blood in an inspired plot-twist. She throws down the gauntlet to her doomed lover, taunting him with the steely words: “You seek to conquer death but you cannot until you face it without fear”. So he capitulates by actually facing up to the challenge, walking into the brilliant sunlight his features flooded with its golden rays.  The final scene is both surprising and ultimately satisfying, serving both Agatha’s latent fantasies and Dracula’s atavistic longings. It’s a triumph that creates new hope for the legend while maintaining his gothic allure. MT




Churchill and the Movie Mogul (2019) ****

Dir: John Fleet | Cast: Stephen Fry, David Thomson, Charles Drazin, Jonathan Rose and David Lough | UK Doc

Churchill was not only a politician and writer he was also an avid film buff. And he used his knowledge of the cinema as a political tool to further Britain’s interest in the Second World War, according to this new documentary by director and writer John Fleet.

Archive footage shows how Churchill – down on his luck in the ‘wilderness years” of the early 1930s – made a fruitful alliance with a Hungarian Jew who had started life penniless but went to be one of Britain’s most celebrated film producers. Alexander Korda took Churchill on as a screenwriter and historical advisor in his production company London Films. Churchill had already honed his writing talents in books and newspapers but also proved to be creative in other ways providing script notes for Korda’s productions and an epic screenplay.

When war broke out in 1938, this politician filmmaker collaboration would be significant in bringing victory for Britain and the Allies. US support was vital in overcoming the Germans and Churchill knew a radical approach was needed. Korda by this time was wealthy on the profits of his rousing historical dramas made in Hollywood and Europe. The Academy Award-winning Private Life of Henry VIII established him on the international stage.

By 1940 Churchill was Prime Minister and appealed to his friend Korda to make a film that would boost pro-British sentiment and strengthen the resolve against Hitler. “Many Americans saw Britain as an old-fashioned imperial nation,” remarks Sir Winston’s secretary, John Peck. So Korda offered to turn the whole of Denham Film Studios’ resources over to making a propaganda movie that would screen in the US and put Britain not only on in the map but also in America’s hearts. Korda set off to Hollywood on a mission to complete his silent epic The Thief of Bagdad. While there he directed That Hamilton Woman (1941) another rousing patriotic drama based on Nelson’s sea victory, starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh – the couple of the moment both on and off the stage and screen – with spectacular results.

John Fleet makes a convincing case and a lively documentary enriched by treasures from the archives, previously undiscovered documents and photographs – including one stunner showing Americans supposedly watching the crucial film in an enormous drive-by. Informative talking heads include Stephen Fry. MT






Hugh Hefner’s After Dark: Speaking out in America (2018) **** Canada Now

Dir: Brigitte Berman | Doc CANADA | With: Bruce Belland, Kitty Bruce, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Maher, Ron Simon, Tony Bennett, Dick Gregory, Smokey Robinson, Leon Isaac Kennedy, John Burk, Annie Ross, Tim Hauser, Pete Seeger, Taj Mahal, Barry Melton, Dick Rosenzweig, Barbara Dane, Robert Clary, Roger McGuinn, Sivi Aberg, John Kay, Joan Baez, Michael Wadleigh, Gene Simmons, Jim Brown, Charles Strouse

Brigitte Berman chronicles the Playboy founder’s short but controversial foray into television in her entertaining and informative documentary.

Musical interludes and talking heads are deftly interwoven to provide an appreciation of just about everyone who was culturally significant throughout the Swinging Sixties. The initially engaging film increasingly works as a full-on history of US race relations, showing how black people were ostracised from the mainstream cultural offering music-wise.

This is not Berman’s first foray into the life of Hugh Hefner. In 2009 she made a documentary for Netflix: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel. The thrust of this latest film is his TV career which took the form of two TV shows set in his own bachelor pad where sexy women pander to eminent celebrities of both sexes providing the pithy cultural and political counterpoint to a relaxed soirée:”Playboy’s Penthouse” which began in Chicago in 1959 and was known as a ‘talk-and-music syndicated show’. So while David Frost was presenting That The Was the Week That Was in the UK, Hugh Hefner had found a cool way of inviting America into his drawing where an eclectic mix of black and white musicians (culturally unheard of back in the day, along with Jazz on TV) who performed in the relaxed and genial environment. These affairs  include impromptu numbers from Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Count Basie, Samie Davis Jr; Ray Charles and Toni Bennett.

On of the talking heads is Whoopi Goldberg who points out, Hefner “was a pioneer. There was nothing like it in television. And there was nothing like it because he made sure everybody was welcome.” But in the less liberal south stations refused to air this interracial mishmash and Hefner eventually pulled “Playboy’s Penthouse” in late 1960.

The other politically progressive show more focused on rock music and the counter-culture was “Playboy After Dark”, which launched in Hollywood in the summer of 1968 after Playboy’s operations moved to California. This saw Joan Baez;, Steppenwolf; The Byrds; Gore Vidal, Jerry Garcia. Peter, Paul and Mary, Smokey Robinson, and Woodstock director Michael Wadleigh – who looms rather too large. The mood is not as intimate in tune with the 1970s which felt a lot more serious generally and the chat focused on censorship, ecology and race. This time Hefner had graduated to ongoing partner in the shape of Barbi Benton and the summer-of-love vibe was echoed in “Born to Be Wild”. Another black talking head was football and film star Jim Brown who proudly claims “Hefner lets me say all the things I wanted to say,” namely that America’s black population should now focus on“expertise and finance.” Whatever that meant.

And as the bandwagon rolls on the focus is less on the music and fascinating celebrity chatter and more on general social commentary especially from Pete Seeger, beating his drum in the same old way as torpor gradually take hold of the final 20 minutes or so with the umpteenth rendition of “We Shall Overcome”.

It has to be said that this documentary certainly raises Hefner’s profile in a good way. He emerges culturally aware, racially tolerant, innovative and chipper who is articulate, voluable even, and professional and incisive in his interviewing technique.  And for those who remembered the era this film certainly goes down a treat. MT

CANADA NOW | 24 -28 APRIL 2019

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