Tag Archives: BFI

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #4 – HELL DRIVERS (1957)

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #4 – HELL DRIVERS (1957)

Directed by: Cy Endfield

Produced by: Benjamin Fisz and Earl St John

Written by: Cy Endfield and John Kruse

Cast: Stanley Baker, Peggy Cummins, Patrick McGoohan, Herbert Lom, Sean Connery, William Hartnell, Alfie Bass, Sid James, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson, Jill Ireland etc.

**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****



Often on this blog I will write about very well-known actors or films, however, sometimes it’s good to explore more forgotten cinematic gems. Hell Drivers (1957), is one such film from the past that certainly deserves revisiting. Not simply because it is an excellent action drama, but because it contains an incredible cast, with most of the players going on to have major parts in some iconic screen roles. I caught the film again on the cable channel, Talking Pictures, and it’s a really gripping low-budget British thriller.

The plot of Hell Drivers (1957) is quite simple. Tom Yateley (Stanley Baker), a drifter with an unknown past, turns up looking for work at Hawlett’s truck yard. Their group of drivers carry gravel/ballast from a quarry to site. The drama derives from the fact they must meet a certain quota per day, and this involves driving like maniacs to achieve this. Let’s just say that the Health and Safety executive would have a field day now. But that’s one of the strengths of the script. In post-war Britain men and women were desperate for work and money and therefore prepared to do anything to survive. Thus, the film, amidst the helter-skelter driving action, contains a strong social commentary in regard to the exploitation of the workers. There is of course camaraderie among the men, but fierce rivalries also develop. Such competitiveness drives the conflict within the film.

Cy Endfield, a solid American genre filmmaker, directs the ensemble cast brilliantly. What a cast it is too! It’s essentially a “who’s who?” of “before they were famous” actors, all combining to incredible effect. Stanley Baker as Tom carries the lead role. Baker would gain further success in Endfield’s war epic Zulu (1964), and become a renowned lead until his death at the age of 48. The supporting cast though, is something else. Patrick McGoohan, who plays the bruising antagonist, Red, would cement his fame in the incredible 1960’s cult classic, The Prisoner. Furthermore, we have the first Doctor Who in William Hartnell and of course, James Bond himself, Sean Connery. If that wasn’t all, The Man From Uncle star, David McCallum, features in an early role. So does the already established comedic actor Sid James. James would become synonymous with the quintessentially English, Carry On…, film series. Throw in great characters actors Herbert Lom, Gordon Jackson, Alfie Bass and a very young, Jill Ireland, and you have one hell of a cast; all starring in this excellent British film gem.


FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #6 – THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #6 – THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)

Written and Directed by: Jacques Demy

Produced by: Mag Bodard

Music by: Michel Legrand

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Anne Vernon, Nino Castelnuovo, Marc Michel, Ellen Farmer, Mirielle Perrey etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



I knew there were good reasons to get married. The obvious one is the positive nature of a caring relationship and not becoming a lonely, bitter old man. The other is that given my wife loves films too, she will introduce me to the occasional classic film I may have missed. Thus, we went to the BFI and watched the classic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). While she is a massive fan of the musical genre, I can take or leave it generally. Every now and then though I will really love a musical film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is now one of them.

Starting in 1957 and structured over three acts that end in 1963, we follow the lives and loves of two main protagonists, Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). The ups and downs of their romance drives the narrative. The two struggle to keep their love alive amidst the obstacles of military conflict, social convention and family pressure. While the story is relatively simple, Jacques Demy’s wonderful script and direction warms you to the two young lovers. So much so, by the emotionally gut-wrenching ending, even a grizzled cynic like myself felt like crying.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is not your classic all-singing-all-dancing musical. It is more an opera of everyday life and love. The actors sing the dialogue all the way through and once I got used to this, the device really worked well for the story. Of course, Michel Legrand’s incredible score literally drenches the colourful sets and mise-en-scene with wonder. Moreover, Demy’s cinematographer, Jean Rabier, works miracles; his camera gliding around the actors in small spaces such as shops, garages, apartments and French cafes. Lastly, Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo are such an attractive, but beautifully tragic screen couple. Clearly their touching story, amazing music and Jacques Demy’s cinematic brilliance had a massive influence of Damian Chazelle’s splendid La La Land (2016).

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


LFF REVIEW – THE LODGE (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF REVIEW – THE LODGE (2019)

Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Written by: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Produced by: Simon Oakes, Aliza James, Aaron Ryder

Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage

Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

******* SPOILER FREE *******



If you haven’t seen the Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy (2014), then I urge you to do so. It is genuinely one of the most startling and creepy films of recent years. It psychologically gets under the skin with the story of a mother and her two children, isolated, as she recovers from reconstructive surgery. The directors, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, proved themselves adept at creating memorable imagery, tense dread and a shocking ending up there with the horror classics.

With their latest film The Lodge (2019), they have once again ventured into the horror genre. Working with a fascinating screenplay from Silvio Casci, the film is full of intriguing themes relating to religious cults, grief, isolation, post-traumatic stress and family dysfunction. However, despite stellar work from the cast and compelling direction, the film never quite filled me with fear, nor shocked me enough to satisfy my horror needs. It works well as a slow turning of the screw type story, but at times it was too slow for me.



In essence the narrative is similar to Goodnight Mommy (2019); two kids and a maternal character are trapped together in one location and things get weird. Richard Armitage portrays Richard, a father to Aidan (Jaden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), who is desperate for them to connect with his new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). To precipitate this they spend Christmas at their remote holiday lodge, as you do. When Richard is called back to the city for work, Grace and the kids’ relationship begins to get cold. Thus, amidst the isolation and snowy landscape, a frozen atmosphere exists inside and outside the cabin.

Overall, the film is worth watching for Riley Keough’s committed performance as Grace; a victim of childhood trauma trying to be part of a caring family. Her character is striving for sanity, however, she gets something else altogether. The directors also do sterling work and create a compelling image system, notably around dolls, snow and religious iconography. The lodge itself is rendered creepy with sharp angles, overhead shots, skin-crawling music and darkness all used to sinister effect. But, despite the quality of the production, the central premise, slow pace and confusing plot developments drained any fear I felt by the end. Nonetheless, fans of The Shining (1980), The Thing (1982) and any number of cabin-in-the woods-horror films will find something to chill them here.

Mark: 7 out of 11


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: THIS IS ENGLAND (2006)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: THIS IS ENGLAND (2006)

Written and directed by: Shane Meadows

Produced by: Mark Herbert

Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Jack O’Connell, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

I remember the early 1980’s for: Thatcher, miners’ strikes, racism, teacher strikes, Shergar, penny sweets, Wham, bicycle tyres round lamp posts, white dog-shit, the IRA, hating school, riots, racism, heatwaves, Spitting Image, Duran Duran, caravan holidays in Canvey Island, Sergio Tacchini tracksuits, Bjorn Borg, bombs, the Falklands War, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), sherbet, cap-guns, Spurs winning the FA Cup, Fred Perry, glue-sniffing, school bullies and much, much more.

The early 1980’s were the primary years of awakening for me. I was ten when they started and grew into my teens as they drifted along. I was at a school I hated and was just becoming fully aware of what life and the world around me was about. It seemed to me, for various reasons, a place full of wonder but also injustice, fear and negativity. I grew up on a concrete Battersea council estate full of ruffians, stray dogs, sunshine, cold winters and family dysfunction.

Tapping into such emotions and memories is Shane Meadows’ gritty slice-of-life drama, This is England (2006). Set in the Midlands, it centres on twelve-year-old Shaun, portrayed by newcomer, Thomas Turgoose. Shaun and his mum are grieving the loss of his father; a soldier killed during the Falklands War. Shaun is angry, confused and an outsider at school. But he finds community when he meets Woody, Lol, Milky, Michelle, Gadget and other members of a group of skinheads. They are non-violent and into the music, fashion and generally fending off boredom together.

The first forty minutes of the show are politically infused but relatively light compared to the last hour. When Stephen Graham’s dominant alpha-male, Combo, is released from jail, the narrative dynamic changes and goes very dark. Combo is a bitter racist and angry at the world, blaming, like many ignorant people the influx of people from outside England of diluting the heritage of the nation. Meadows, through the character of Shaun, shows both sides of the impact of skinhead culture. Similar to the film, Platoon (1986), a younger, naive character becomes torn between two surrogate fathers. In this case the violent Combo and the passive, happy-go-lucky, Woody (Joseph Gilgun).

The film has no easy answers and what starts as a reasonably pleasant nostalgia trip backed by a superb soundtrack of punk, ska and reggae music, ends violently and in despair. The socio-political reflections of society through Shaun’s character arc finds a young boy even more lost in this forgotten Midland town by the end. The damning image of this lad chucking an English flag into the sea haunted me.

Shane Meadows, on a relatively low budget, has created a British film masterpiece worthy of the likes of Alan Clarke, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. He captures the look, feel, sounds and even smell of the era so evocatively. As a rites of passage film it works as an antithesis to the shiny Hollywood films with tightly wrapped happy endings. It’s a brutal exploration of identity, politics and racism which lingers long in the heart and mind. In Turgoose’ debut acting performance we get echoes of Englands’ innocence lost forever.

Lastly, the cast are incredible. This film has some familiar faces, all who would become pretty famous. They include: Stephen Graham, Vicky McClure, Joe Gilgun, Jo Hartley and a very young Jack O’Connell. Such actors would go on to bigger things but, collectively, they are never better than in this amazing film. It’s a true and proper drama which spawned an equally memorable and dramatically impressive television series. But, more about that in the future.

SHORT SIGHTED CINEMA 2019 – BRITISH SHORT FILM PROGRAMME REVIEW

THE SHORTEST NIGHTS – 2019

On Sunday the 30th June 2019 I did two of my favourite things. I took a long walk through the city of London and watched loads of short films.

London is obviously a very busy city and hive of activity during the week. However, on a Sunday it, despite there still being traffic, is way more peaceful. Well, especially from eight in the morning until around lunchtime. Indeed, until I got to the tourist trap that is Westminster it had been a pleasure to walk down the Thames Embankment and through the city of London.

I set out to walk from Clapham to Hackney and my destination was the Yard Theatre, Hackney. I made the walk of around ten miles in good time and the event was The Shortest Nights 2019 – Short Film Festival.

Details can be found here:

https://shortsightedcinema.com/

The Shortest Nights is an annual celebration of British short film. They bring you five cutting-edge programmes across a range of themes and genres featuring new works from emerging British filmmakers.

The people running the event are so enthusiastic and put on a great array of different British short film productions. Overall, there were thirty-nine short films and I watched all of them. It was a great day and I was especially impressed by the: comedies, horrors, documentaries, dramas, animation and art-house films on show.

There were low-to-high budget short films of brilliant quality and the programmes were broken down into five categories. So, if you ever get a chance to go to their film events I recommend it to all filmmakers and film fans alike.

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – PETERLOO (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – PETERLOO (2018)

Directed by: Mike Leigh

Produced by: Georgina Lowe

Written by: Mike Leigh

Starring: David Bamber, Alastair Mackenzie,  James Dangerfield, Eileen Davies, Liam Gerrard, Bronwyn James, Philip Jackson, Rory Kinnear, Nico Mirallegro, Maxine Peake, Pearce Quigley, Tim McInnerny plus many more.

Music by: Gary Yershon

Cinematography: Dick Pope

Production company: Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, Thin Man Films

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

peter

Peterloo (2018) is a film of voices, of speech, of reform and of freedom. It is Mike Leigh’s thirteenth feature film production and clearly a labour of love for him, his production team and the army of actors who put their hearts and souls into this powerful work of cinema. Four years in the making, this historical document, as well as paying tribute to those who campaigned for the vote in the 1800s, is also a passionate love letter to Northern England and the proud working classes of the era.

The film begins in 1815 at the battle of Waterloo and then brings us into the factories and streets of Manchester and surrounding Northern areas. As with many Mike Leigh films you can feel the palpable authenticity in the settings, accents and places the characters live. Leigh also cuts to local magistrates who hold up the draconian laws designed to keep the poor in their place; handing out savage justice such as the death penalty to one man for stealing a coat. We also visit London and experience those ruling classes who inhabit the Houses of Parliament and Royal palaces, lording over the oppressed workers.

peterloo_1920x1080

The character strokes are broad at first before Leigh further develops their personalities. The dialogue is delivered formally initially as the characters educate the audience regarding various laws affecting them. This seems jarring but also serves the documentary and historical nature of the piece. As the narrative strands build steadily to the fateful march the editing throughout cross-cuts between the ruling, working and legal classes representing their differing perspectives. The march was intended to be a peaceful demonstration; a plea for Parliamentary reform and the desire to be heard. Surely, that’s the right of everyone in a civilised society?  Well, not in 1819.

With the film driven by a whole host of wonderfully written speeches, it could be argued, Peterloo, lacks the warmth and humour of Leigh’s other more personal films. However, there are some formidable performances amidst the huge cast. Maxine Peake is earthy and convincing in her representation of a mother struggling to make ends meet. Rory Kinnear brings an intelligence and pride to the confident character of Henry Hunt; a wealthy landowner committed to reform and repeal of the onerous ‘Corn Laws’. As is the case with Leigh’s other films the acting is uniformly impressive because you know months of planning and rehearsal would have been committed to the production.

peterloo

The film is also shot beautifully by cinematographer Dick Pope. There is a strong leaning toward a naturalistic lighting palette. Interiors are often bathed in sunlight shining through windows onto the shadowed faces of the characters. His camera is placed ideally to capture the rural and industrial locations of the era. There’s also some wonderful framing within arches and factories. Lastly, Leigh’s meticulous approach to authenticity reveals the machinery from the time, such as the looms and printing presses. Similarly, you can almost feel the reality of the epoch through the excellent costume design.

The final act brings us to the fateful day itself. Mike Leigh handles the massive crowd scenes expertly and shows the injustice and barbarism brought about by the cavalry and law enforcements attacking up to 80,000 people who are protesting for change. Having spent a few hours establishing the characters and their relevant causes the emotional impact of the attacks by the ruling classes is palpable. This is ultimately very powerful cinema which resonated with me because it reminded of the historical events down the ages where people have been murdered or injured while trying to make their voices heard.

_103036547_cut

Peterloo may not be for everyone as it is a long epic with a plethora of dialogue heavy scenes. Yet, I was enthralled as the language and passion of such discourse is very eloquent and heartfelt. The sheer scale of the filmmaking itself is also impressive even if the narrative lacks a specific personal focus throughout. Mike Leigh’s approach is very clear as it represents the working class as victims to an oppressive regime which has no regard for human suffering. Indeed, it should be every person’s basic right to have a voice and given past and current social and political events Peterloo contains a message that remains very valid today.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

PETERLOO (2018) will be released in the UK on 2nd November 2018

THE LEVELLING (2016) – SKY CINEMA REVIEW

THE LEVELLING (2016) – SKY CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Hope Dickson Leach

Written by: Hope Dickson Leach

Starring: Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden

Music by: Hutch Demouilpied

Cinematography: Nanu Segal

levelling-980x520

I grew up watching visions of the English countryside as represented by television shows such as H.E. Bates’ The Darling Buds of May and James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. With such rural narratives you were never far from a beautiful landscapes, wonderfully sunny skies and country folk working together, on the main, as a community. Hope Dickson Leach’s independent British drama is an altogether different beast. It’s a muddy, grieving, bloody and filth-ridden exploration of how tough family and farming existence is.

Featuring some fantastic performances from Ellie Kendrick and David Troughton the story is very simple. Clover (Kendrick) returns from Veterinary College following the sudden death of her brother. While her father is steadily drinking himself to death, she tries to make sense of her sibling’s apparent suicide. Her father, an army man and farmer is living in a caravan next to the battered family home. The farm business is sliding to bankruptcy and their home has been rotting since the Somerset floods a couple of years before. All round their property and livestock are threatened by damp, disease and death.  In short: this is NOT The Darling Buds of May.

levelling-633x356

Ellie Kendrick, who I recognised from several TV shows including Game of Thrones, absolutely owns the character of Clover. She is seen as weak and unreliable by her father but is in fact an intelligent and resilient character who is prepared to work hard and dig deep for some respect. The plot itself reminded me a lot of the Michael Caine gangster classic Get Carter (1971); accept with a female lead and more cows. As Clover attempts to steady the fortune of the farm, caused in part to mis-management by her father and brother, she also turns detective, stealthily delving into circumstances relating to her brother’s death.

LEVELLING_1

Overall, Hope Dickson Leach has made a really touching personal story of grief. This is a very emotional story about a family torn apart by death on personal and financial levels. I don’t know much about farming life, but while it may be idealized in certain books and films the reality is much tougher. Animals, while commodities are often culled because of disease and farmers are at the mercy of the weather. Moreover, it would appear to be much tougher for women too progress in a male-dominated world which favours sons over daughters.  What the film ultimately shows too, in many brilliantly acted and directed scenes, is we must transcend our differences and work together as one – as family – in order to survive.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)