Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Juror's Film Festival: Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968)

One of the greatest science-fiction films ever made has been ruined by the mother of all spoilers. If you, by some frankly inexplicable stroke of good fortune, do not know the ending of the original Planet of the Apes, I implore you to go and watch it and stop reading this review forthwith. I envy those who have been able to watch this film unspoilt.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Is 3D dying or has it merely stumbled?

The future for 3D looks pretty bleak, but are things as bad as they seem?

Two weeks ago, I was able to ask Mark Kermode a question: how long do you think 3D has to last? “Less than 12 months”, he replied. I was staggered by his confidence. After all, there are two big films coming up this year which will make money in 3D, namely the Spielberg-Jackson production of Tintin and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. Then, in 15 months’ time, we have The Hobbit in 3D. There seems to be plenty of opportunity for the medium to fire itself back to life.

Juror's Film Festival: Vera Drake (d. Mike Leigh, 2004)

Vera Drake is an absolute masterpiece. It may seem an unappealing prospect to many, but the rewards it gives its audience are immense. This is a drama which is affecting, superbly understated and perfectly delivered in every way.

Set in 1950, the film focuses on an absolutely lovely woman, the eponymous Vera Drake, who is a devoted wife and mother and is always looking out for people around the community. She also “helps young girls out” by performing backstreet abortions, unbeknownst to her family and friends. She believes that it is the right thing to do, but eventually the law catches up with her.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

David Croft, writer of Dad's Army, has died aged 89

David Croft, the creator and writer of many of the BBCs greatest sitcoms including Dad’s Army and Allo! Allo! has died at the age of 89. In a career which spanned five decades, Croft delivered many of the most amusing and brilliant British comedies of the last century.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Juror's Film Festival: Local Hero (d. Bill Forsyth, 1983)

It is a very simple plot. A multi-national oil company attempts to buy out a small seaside town in Scotland, but one resident cannot be bought. There is no great complexity here. Local Hero is uncomplicated, and yet it is a story which deals with so much: greed, redemption, love, loneliness, the idea of one person being able to change things far bigger than himself, and what the point of having a life might be anyway are all covered here in a sweet and funny tale.

Even though it does do all of those things, it should not be thought that the film is at all heavy-handed. It is quite the opposite. In fact, the cornerstone of the charm of this film is how relaxed and natural it feels. It is not a comedy which attempts to go for huge laughs but is very funny with subtle humour and wit permeating both Bill Forsyth’s script and his direction. Everything is handled with the lightest of touches, and as such the film is hugely watchable and entertaining and just seems to achieve greatness effortlessly.

Juror's Film Festival: Requiem for a Dream (d. Darren Aronofsky, 2000)

The last film I saw by Darren Aronofsky was the superb Black Swan, and when I came out of it I was exhilarated, terrified, thrown completely off kilter and just spewing adjectives left, right and centre. My reaction to Requiem for a Dream was very similar, so here goes with the descriptions which just fell out of my mouth.

This is brutal, unrelenting, depressing, crushing, painful, horrific, brilliantly made, quietly clever, devastating and, all in all, the most horrid film I’ve ever seen, but in the best possible way. The fact is that this is a masterful piece of filmmaking from a man who, at the time of its release, was only 31, and it is a thrilling example of visionary filmmaking that will grip you from the start, but it goes on to torture you and as things get worse and worse, and then catastrophically ghastly, you cannot tear yourself away from it and, I for one will admiringly refer to it a lot from this point forward, but I’m never watching it again because to do so would be frankly sadomasochistic.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Juror's Film Festival: Coraline (d. Henry Selick, 2009)

Henry Selick and Tim Burton must have been separated at birth. It is the only explanation for these two cinematic kindred spirits. The pair have (inevitably) worked together, and their styles are incredibly complementary to each other, but there is a crucial difference. Selick, far more than Burton, has the eye of a child. A twisted child at that, but a hugely imaginative one.

Juror's Film Festival: Four Lions (d. Chris Morris, 2010)

Four Lions is undoubtedly one of the most awkward films you’ll ever see. After all, it is a comedy about suicide bombers, made by Chris Morris, a man who has never shied away from the uncomfortable and whose humour is frank, brutal and close-to-the-bone.

It is also one of the most important British films made in the last ten years. It attempts to deal, through the most comedic and ridiculous ways, with perhaps the most troubling element of the war on terror: the humanity of terrorists and suicide-bombers.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Review: Warrior

A predictable plot given a shot in the arm by a superb cast

Director: Gavin O'Connor
Screenwriters: Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Dambakis & Cliff Dorfman
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo and Nick Nolte
Plot: The Conlon family has been torn apart by father Paddy’s alcoholism. Elder son Brendan has built a tentative life for himself and his young family, whilst younger son Tommy has just returned as a disturbed Iraq-war veteran. However, with Tommy facing a dead-end life, and Brendan facing huge financial problems, both chase a $5mn prize in a winner-takes-all mixed martial arts tournament and the family tensions come to the fore.
Running Time: 139m 43s

Given the basic plot of this film, I was surprised to see that it had been rated as a 12A (and a PG-13 in the States). How can one make a compelling film about cage-fighting which doesn’t go all out on making the violence convincing enough that you feel like the characters are in danger? The answer is that this is a film which isn’t really about the violence.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Juror's Film Festival: Blow-Up (Michaelangelo Antonioni, 1966)

Blow-up is clearly a very significant film. It is clearly a pretty superb film. It is also a rather tedious and often ridiculous film. It is the proof that a movie doesn’t have to be simply good or bad but can be an infuriating mixture of the two.

Review: SuperHeavy

Super-group. Mixed album.

It was perhaps inevitable that the overlapping styles and strikingly different artists involved in SuperHeavy’s eponymous album would produce a mixed bag, and that is what we get across the 12 tracks here.

Juror's Film Festival: Big Fish (Tim Burton, 2003)

Tim Burton often thrives on blurring the lines between fairy tale and reality, but whereas with Edward Scissorhands the fairy tale bursts into a world of Americana as an alien force, here the two sit side-by-side, almost undifferentiated.

The story is of Edward Bloom (Albert Finney/Ewan McGregor), a teller of tall tales who is coming to the end of his time. His son, however, has tired of the blatant exaggerations and falsehoods that his father still tells. Over the course of Edward’s last days, the story of his life is recounted, strange and fantastical in its nature, but as his son, Will (Billy Crudup), investigates his father’s life, he discovers that there may be more truth in his father’s stories than he suspected.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Juror's Film Festival

I have been summoned for Jury Service. Starting from tomorrow, I have (at least) two weeks of hanging around and a surprising amount of time-off to fill. So, I’ve decided to hold a personal film festival. For each of the ten working days that I’m on duty, there will be a film which I really should have seen but have not.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Review: Kill List

Brutal but baffling, this is a disappointing mixed bag

Director: Ben Wheatley
Screenwriters: Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump
Cast: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Michael Smiley and Emma Fryer
Plot: Jay and Gal are two hitmen who take on a job to kill three men. The list is bizarre, the people on it being apparently unlinked, nor appearing to have done anything wrong. However, as they begin their killings, they become aware that they are into something far bigger, twisted and dangerous than they could have suspected.
Running Time: 95m 26s

One of the most effectively marketed films of the year, Kill List seems to be most akin to Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes, a brutal and emotional revenge film, made on a shoestring but producing tremendous atmosphere.

Kill List is not a revenge film. In fact, it defies such definition, looking like a hitman film at first, but, even in the very early stages of the film, there are suggestions that this may not be what it seems. In the opening, unpleasant dinner party scene, there is a brief cutaway to show a guest carving an enigmatic symbol into the back of a mirror. Expect the unexpected – you’ll have no idea where this story is headed.

Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

An unexpected man is atop cinema's circus

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenwriters: Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan, based on the novel by John le Carré
Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds and David Dencik
Plot: A mission is botched in Hungary, and the ruling order of MI:6 is sent packing. However, when it emerges that there is a long-standing and high-ranking mole, one of the retired spies, George Smiley, is brought back to "the circus" to find the traitor.
Running Time: 127m 21s
Certificate: 15 - Contains strong language, sex, violence and bloody injury detail

Cinema has a new number one spy. Grey-haired, myopic and a cuckold, George Smiley is a million miles away from James Bond or Jason Bourne, and whereas they would thrill audiences with car chases and gunfights, Smiley exhilarates by interrogating an empty chair.

The fact is that comparisons between those franchises and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are flawed for so many reasons, but if this film is successful (and it has great potential to be so) it will be a great victory for the sort of intelligence which was merely glimpsed in Casino Royale and entirely absent from Quantum of Solace. With a potential trilogy in the offing, could it be that the multiplexes are about to adore a spy who is “small, podgy, and at best middle-aged”?

Read the rest on The Spectator Arts Blog

Thursday, 15 September 2011

John le Carré on Film: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

A look at the first le Carré film adaptation

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is released on Friday, and it is a magnificent film – atmospheric, thrilling and supremely well-acted, it is a piece of filmmaking precision based on a terrific story by John le Carré. I urge you to go and see it, but if you’re stuck at home, try and get a hold of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

Review: The Skin I Live In

In the hands of a madman...

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Screenwriter: Pedro Almodóvar, based on the novel “Tarantula”, by Thierry Jonquet
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet, Marisa Paredes, Blanca Suarez & Roberto Alamo
Plot: Doctor Robert Ledgard is a successful plastic surgeon living in a secluded where he is keeping “a patient”, the beautiful Vera, in total isolation. The arrival of the maid’s criminal son arrives whilst Robert is away triggers a series of recollections about Robert’s tragic past, how Vera came to be there and what her surgery may have been for.
Running Time: 120m 19s

The issue of spoilers in reviews is a tricky one. You must give a small idea of what the plot is but shouldn’t give away too much. It’s the observer effect in film form – to talk to somebody about watching a film is to change their experience of watching it. In the case of Pedro Almodóvar’s new film, The Skin I Live In, it feels as though to say anything about the content of the film or even the films it is drawn from is to tamper with it.