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Becky Sharp (1935)
A technicolor curiosity
My memories of this film are a little jaded because its been years since i saw it and its never been released in the UK.
However what i do remember of it is how good Miriam Hopkins is in the lead role. Although the direction is a little staged and awkward, the experienced cast do help to keep this film watchable. This was the first full length three strip technicolor feature film so kudos to the studio for taking the gamble with making it. It is no great surprise it is studio bound because of the amount of lighting that was needed on early technicolor. Also the technicolor cameras were bulky too making the directors job pretty difficult too. The Art department must shoulder some of the blame for the mixed results though. I seem to remember their colour scheme was really uninspired. They could have used nice bright primary colours to show off the system but they erred on a colour set up that made you feel was lacking in courage. However on a critical note, Becky Sharpe was a decently made costume drama that was fairly average with good performances. However its is interesting to note how quickly technicolor improved after 1935. Check out 'Wings of The Morning' from 1937 to see a film that may have had a bad script but made excellent use of external location filming and the colours were a lot more naturalistic.
Another Year (2010)
I enjoyed it, although some people here obviously didn't.
Mike Leigh is a director that usually polarises people. You either like him or you don't and this film epitomises his style. As with many of his other films the film centres around characterisation rather than plot. The story of a year in the life of the two main protagonists isn't especially interesting but then again other Leigh films like High Hopes and Naked have very little happening in the way of actual plot. The real interest is in watching the characters develop and how it is done in a snapshot of their lives. So the people who are writing their reviews of this film and using words like 'boring' really need to familiarise themselves with the Leigh back catalogue because plot development was never something his films were usually terribly concerned about.
All the main cast are, as usual, excellent. Leigh really knows his actors hence why he is fond of using many of them again and again in his films. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen do a great job and are always believable. Lesley Manville is also well used as the lonely and slightly mad friend whose life appears ready to fall apart like a house of cards. There are other good performances too numerous to mention and this is where Leigh excels, as an actors director. I am slightly surprised that the production budget was £10 million though (assuming IMDb is correct) as that is a considerable amount of money for one of Leighs films.
On the whole this is a decent offering from Leigh. It's not as pretentious as Topsy Turvy but its certainly not a bad film. It epitomises his style which is not to everyones taste admittedly. My favourite Leigh work is Career Girls, Meantime, High Hopes, Life is Sweet and the TV movie Nuts in May, however Another Year lacks the black humour of those films hence why i only gave it 7/10. However its certainly easier to watch than the likes of Vera Drake and is well worth viewing.
Burke and Hare (2010)
Like a Hammer film played for laughs
It is good to see a John Landis film back on the big screen but i feel he missed a trick or two with this average effort. Firstly, for a film set in Scotland i found it odd that the cast was almost entirely English, betraying the roots of the story (and of the English cast only Tom Wilkinson ,a splendid actor, managed to give a good approximation of a Scots accent).
This film felt a bit of a homage to the Hammer films, a point made when a certain Hammer Icon makes a cameo appearance (i won't name the individual as i don't want to add a spoiler). I am guessing Landis is a Hammer fan and to be fair to him the sets and locations work quite well, giving Edinburgh a spooky feel to it. Both Pegg and Serkis are OK in the lead roles and do their best to sound Irish. It was also good to see Jenny Agutter make a brief appearance too, especially as she is invariably remembered for appearing in Landis's American Werewolf in London nearly 30 years ago...a nice touch by the director. In fact there seems to be quite a lot of casting British film and TV icons in this film (Ronnie Corbett being another) so i'm guessing that maybe Simon Pegg or Andy Serkis only agreed to do it if certain British childhood icons of theirs were also given parts.
To be honest the Burke and Hare story has been better done before but this film puts a comedic twist on it that doesn't always work. The bad language feels unnecessary for a start and the gore isn't as bad as i thought (certainly not on the levels of the Hostel or Saw films...and not even as graphic as the Final Destination franchise). There are some genuine laughs to be had but usually when Pegg and Serkis are on the screen. The story itself also swings back and forth between gruesome and the unexpected romantic angles that may have been intended to show Burke and Hare as committing their crimes for something other than just greed.
Basically this is a reasonably graphic horror story with heart and morality that has some good laughs but falls flat in a few areas. The cast give it their best shot and whilst it has an old fashioned feel to it in many ways, it is the unnecessary post-modern touches, the inconsistent rate at which the comedy comes and the rather odd casting that jarred me. However do keep an eye out for the odd cameo appearance from some famous actors and comedians.
Micro Men (2009)
The rise and fall of the UK computer business
Just saw this on BBC4. A very interesting take on how close the UK came to dominating the world computer development and manufacturing industry in the early 80s, only for it to all fall apart just 5 years later.
Despite some garish and unconvincing make-up, Armstrong shows he can do serious drama in his portrayal of Sir Clive Sinclair, the man who brought affordable computing to the masses. Martin Freeman is good (as always) as the confidante in Sinclair's company who, unable to understand Sinclairs bloody mindedness over what to concentrate their efforts on, leaves and sets up arch rival 'Acorn Computers' with an Austrian business partner.
The production team have done a solid job in displaying the drabness of the era. The mix of archive TV footage of the time inter-cut with this filmed TV drama works quite well. The background story of how the UK became a world leader in the home PC market, and then blew it, is a fascinating tale for anyone interested in recent history. At one point Freemans character turns to Sinclair and says 'We could have been the British IBM but you wouldn't listen to me' is very apt. Sinclairs obsession with the notorious C5 is also addressed. It does make you wonder what would have happened had there been more cohesion in the industry at the time rather than the arrogant self interest of the industry that resulted in the UK losing such a massive foothold.
A thought provoking drama that has just enough momentum to keep itself interesting despite some flaws.
Looking for Eric (2009)
A flawed masterpiece....just like Cantona himself.
Man Utd fans will obviously love this and I'm not a Utd fan. However i have to say this is the most entertaining film of Ken Loach's since Bread & Roses nearly a decade ago. It has a good story and is realistically acted by a cast of unknowns and semi-familiar faces. For a film about a legendary and iconic footballer it doesn't ram football down the throats of the non-fans. What the film does do is bring up just how important football is for many people, the way it can unite and connect them in a way that has otherwise disappeared in Britain.
I won't give any of the story away but this film drags you down to a point where you wonder how the protagonist will get out of a very dire dilemma. Yet the ending is so well written you are guaranteed to come out of the cinema smiling at the way just desserts are dished out. The film is brutal in places and the language strong yet the excellent acting keeps it watchable and Monsieur Cantona himself seems very comfortable in front of a film camera (although sometimes his accent makes his dialog a little hard to understand). Cantona plays with his image wonderfully, being both self important and yet always likable and sometimes quite happy to deflate his own ego, being respectful about how lucky he was to have had such a memorable and legendary career without ever being truly arrogant (a fact a certain Mr C Ronaldo could do well to absorb) and acknowledging the role of the fans in his career. Lets put it another way, King Eric will always be remembered and respected in this country by all supporters for his great ability and the respect he had for the game and his club. Ronaldo will just be remembered as a talented but greedy young man who left probably the biggest club in the world for a larger pay packet.
Its difficult for me to say any more without giving away the plot but lets just say this is a film about never giving up hope when all seems lost because sometimes help will come from the most unexpected sources.
Wings of the Morning (1937)
A slightly odd but historically important film
This is the first true technicolor feature to be made in the UK. The story concerns a beautiful young Spanish gypsy woman (French actress Anna Bella) who flees to England where she falls in love with a Canadian horse trainer (Henry Fonda) against a back drop of the UK's premier horse race, The Derby.
The story is a bit unoriginal and the dialogue extremely clunky in places. There is also an element of tweeness to the depictions of gypsy life. Yet despite the so-so plot and (at times) wooden acting there is a certain charm in the film. The Technicolor photography is gorgeous and it provides a very rare colour record of what England & Ireland looked like prior to the second world war. The scenes on Epsom downs are also remarkably well filmed (considering the technical limitations of early technicolor filming on location) and the colour really brings an otherwise very average film to vivid life. There are one or two moments which would make the politically correct viewer squirm, such as the depiction of black & white minstrels.
If this film had been made in black & white i suspect it would have been long forgotten now, but as a curio it is a fascinating insight into another era. The photography is beautiful at times and make the film watchable. If only the same care had been taken with the script. Its a shame that this DVD only seems to be available in the U.S. though as i think it is calling out for a decent release.
The Tony Hancock Special (1972)
How sad to see the great man reduced to doing this rubbish.
Tony Hancock - possibly the first UK television comedy superstar (and comparable in stature to Phil Silvers for comic greatness). Yet by the time he made this show for Australian TV the magic had deserted him (as had Galton & Simpson). Hancocks best work was made 5-10 years before this stinker.
This show was intended to relaunch Hancock in Australia where he was already well known because of his BBC work. Written, produced and filmed in Oz this show has a great concept (Hancock emigrates down under to inflict his values and opinions on another culture) but is poorly executed. The scripts just didn't shine and the lad from East Cheam himself had lost his comic touch. Tony was intending to make a whole new series but died from a mixture of drink and prescription drugs during production of the series and only a handful of these Australian shows were completed. To be honest they just aren't funny and are a pale imitation of his hilarious BBC radio and TV shows. Hancock was a wonderfully droll and pessimistic comic but this series shows that without Galton & Simpson's brilliantly funny scripts (written specially for him when he was at the BBC) as a platform for his talents he was very much lost.
This series does have the novelty value of being made in colour (prior to this his TV shows were black and white) which was what pricked my curiosity to watch them. However there is also a sadness in watching a great comic actor struggle with such second rate scripts. Hancock died in 1968 so i'm not sure why IMDb has this series listed as 1972 (unless it wasn't transmitted until then).
Do yourself a favour and avoid this series. Get the CD's and DVD's of his BBC radio & TV shows instead. Even his films (The Rebel / The Punch & Judy man), despite being relatively mediocre are more watchable than this painful and sad attempt.
Hughie Green, Most Sincerely (2008)
Absolutely spot on portrayal of a TV legend
Trevor Eve's portrayal of this most complicated of TV celebrities is just incredible. Hughie Green always had a reputation as not the nicest of men (off screen) but this drama really helps to flesh out his personality and bring him back to life.
Eve immerses himself in the role in a piece of method acting that would run Robert De Niro a close race. He totally nails all the mannerisms and characteristics that made Green such a memorable character. His appalling treatment of his wife and children is addressed (the scene where he shows his son a train set but won't let him play with it is both blackly amusing and yet hints at the monster within) and yet the scene when he comforts a child contestant who has been sick through nerves, or standing up to a racist TV producer shows that he wasn't totally without redeeming qualities.
The support cast are all wonderful although Mark Benton looks nothing like Jess Yates, and he has a very obviously fake bald pate on. In fact i found myself wondering just how Green managed to become such a firm favourite when he did so many awful things to people, including helping to ruin Paula Yates already damaged life. And yet somehow Green was never short of female admirers. He seemed to live a wonderfully weird life, with sex and alcohol very much at the forefront (and some of the sex scenes are quite graphic)and yet the script has its moments of bizarre black comedy (the scene where Yates and Green sing on national TV is an example of this). Also i should say the period detail is spot on (right down to smallest detail like recreating a period Thames TV studio and an audience looking like they really had stepped out of 1972).
This excellent little film shows that the BBC can still produce excellent drama when its not showing reality show rubbish.
The Curse of Steptoe (2008)
Well acted and made, even though it could have dug deeper.
Steptoe & Son (remade in the U.S as 'Sanford & Son') was one of the seminal British TV sitcoms of the 1960s, and owes a lot to the 'Angry young man' style of theatre and film that came the decade before. Out of that theatre came a slew of gifted actors like Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, Richard Harris, Richard Burton, Laurence Harvey and the underrated Harry H Corbett.
That Corbett's career never reached the heights of the others is the subject of this solid and extremely well acted drama about how he found such success in the BBC sitcom that he was forever stereotyped and unable to break the mould or be accepted as the accomplished stage actor he was. 'Curse' is indeed apt to this predicament, the shows immediate success destroyed any chance he had of regaining his serious career. As he so poignantly states in one scene (and i admit i'm paraphrasing here) "I will forever be known as a rag and bone man".
Jason Isaacs does a splendid job as Corbett, his optimism slowly wearing away as his TV star shines. Trapped by immediate success he rues the day he agreed to do the show. At first the resemblance between the younger Corbett and Isaacs is superficial but once the show reappeared after a 5 year break in the 1970s, the resemblance between the two is striking, and the mannerisms are uncanny too (even the voice). Praise too for Phil Davis for his excellent portrayal of the sad and lonely Brambell, a man who also rues the day he did the show, but for very different reasons.
I cannot fault the two leads and all the actors are marvellous as is the period detail. My grumble is that this could have been a much better drama if the script had been longer and taken the film to a more logical conclusion (Corbetts death in 1982). It is well known that Corbett or Brambell didn't really get on (amazingly Brambell was only 13 years older than Corbett)so a deeper insight into that conflict would have been good. It would also have made more sense to show the ill fated tour of Australia and their post-Steptoe careers, and oddly no mention is made of the two Steptoe feature films they did in the early 1970s.
However this drama shows that Isaacs is a much better actor than his Hollywood career has so far shown. Phil Davis is also still one of the best supporting actors in Britain.
Interesting and entertaining from 2 ex-pythons
Around the time the Monty Python material was coming to an end and they decided to move on to other things, Terry Jones & Michael Palin were able to get the BBC to produce a series of scripts they were working on into TV movies. SECRETS is one of those, from 1973, and is a black comedy about a manufacturer of boxed chocolates in England who find themselves trying to retrieve a consignment of their product that have been contaminated when some workers fall into the machinery and their remains end up being accidentally put into the fillings. Panic ensues as the factory boss (Warren Mitchell) desperately tried to recall the product on the quiet (the accident is hushed up) but unfortunately the new and unusual taste becomes a hit with the unsuspecting British public.
SECRETS was an experimental script that was turned into the film CONSUMING PASSIONS many years later. It's quite well written by Jones & Palin, and although it is just a TV film, it is an interesting watch with Warren Mitchell producing another solid performance. Unfortunately the BBC no longer have the master copy of the tape (presumably it was wiped many years ago) and the only known existing copy is from a 30+ year old home videotape. This tape was cleaned up as far as is reasonably possible and the programme was added as an extra feature onto the RIPPING YARNS DVD released by the BBC (thats where i found out about it). RIPPING YARNS was a great show anyway but putting SECRETS as an extra is a nice little bonus for fans.