DVD Review: The Blue Lamp

Upholding the law ....

Upholding the law ….

 

Director Basil Deardon

Certificate PG

Starring Dirk Bogarde, Jack Warner, Jimmy Hanley, Robert Flemyng, Bernard Lee

Released 12th December 2016

 

“Excuse me, officer.  Can you direct me to Paddington Station?”  The opening and closing lines of Basil Reardon’s The Blue Lamp are identical and pronounced in a clipped, very English accent. They hark back to a bygone era as, indeed, does the film which is back on DVD as of Monday in a newly restored version, some 66 years since its first release.

To put it in context, World War II has ended just a few years ago, rationing is still on and there are huge derelict spaces strewn with bricks and debris between the buildings.  The narration tells us that a new generation is on the rise, “delinquents”, young people who’ve taken up a life of crime but doing it their way, not sticking to the rules followed by more established crooks.

And that narration establishes the film’s documentary credentials.  It’s also the first British police procedural: despite the lack of forensics and technology, that’s what it is.  In the opening credits (it’s old enough to have all the credits at the start) it acknowledges the contribution of the Metropolitan Police the making of the film.  It meant they could use the real life Paddington Green Station and New Scotland Yard as locations.  The screenplay also came from former policeman T E B Clarke (he won an Oscar three years later for The Lavender Hill Mob), all of which contributes towards two of the film’s most distinctive features.  Firstly, it feels like a piece of PR for the police force at the time, showing them in a consistently positive light, patrolling the streets to keep the public safe, helping old ladies cross the road and knowing their beat in minute detail.  Secondly, combined with the almost total absence of music, it has the feeling of a documentary rather than a drama.

That’s not to say it’s not dramatic.  After we’re introduced to the officers at Paddington Green Station, including PC George Dixon (Jack Warner) and newly-arrived PC Andy Mitchell (Jimmy Hanley), we then meet a couple of young crooks, Ted (Dirk Bogarde) and Spud (Patric Doonan) who have young runaway Diana (Peggy Evans) in tow.  She helps them set up a robbery at the local cinema, but while it’s under way Dixon arrives on the scene and caught in the crossfire.  His colleagues at the station find themselves relying on the community, including the criminal underworld, to help track down the culprit.

It’s no spoiler to say that Dixon is shot and eventually dies.  The film’s been around long enough for us to know that, although the fact that he’s killed at the half way point would have caused raised eyebrows at the time.  Jack Warner was a big name in British cinema, so to bump off somebody of his stature so early in the action would have been a shock.  But it didn’t prevent the film from inspiring the long-running TV series, Dixon Of Dock Green, which starred Warner in the same role.  It made its first appearance in 1955 and ran for 21 years.  Even though he gets top billing, Dirk Bogarde had yet to become a favourite with British cinemagoers – the Doctor series didn’t arrive for another four years.  His performance as the murderous tearaway is a cruder version of Richard Attenborough’s Pinky in Brighton Rock (1947), with large, staring, slightly mad eyes.

There’s also a number of familiar faces in bit parts who went on to become familiar on the big and small screen – Sam Kydd, Glyn Houston and Anthony Steel.  Bernard Lee had already been Trevor Howard’s loyal sergeant in Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949) and went on to be M to Sean Connery’s 007 in the James Bond movies.

For its day, The Blue Lamp was strong stuff, with its depiction of urban crime and the use of the word “bastard” – not much to write home about now, but in those days considered a strong swear word.  Today’s audience may find it tame and familiar – the police community, for instance, is a close knit community which comes together when one of their own is killed – but that’s only because it was the first in what is one of our most well-established genres.  As the starting point for future films and TV series, as well as a mirror held up to the attitudes and conventions of post-war Britain, it’s a really interesting watch.  And it’s certainly another world.

 

Verdict:                     3.5

 

The Blue Lamp is released on DVD on Monday, 12 December and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 15 December.

DVD Review: Nine Lives

Why am I in this?

Why am I in this?

 

Director Barry Sonnenfeld

Certificate PG

Starring Kevin Spacey, Christopher Walken, Jennifer Garner

Released 12th December

 

Once upon a time there was a guy in the movies called Barry Sonnenfeld.  He had a well above average CV: director of cinematography on Blood Simple, When Harry Met Sally and Misery, then director of The Addams Family, Get Shorty and Men In Black.  But TV came calling and he only occasionally returned to the big screen.  After Nine Lives, the kindest thing all round would be to never let him loose on a film again.

Amazingly, I made it as far as the end credits on the DVD, which is released on Monday, and they indicate he might not need telling.  Usually, they’d start with the director.  Not here.  The first credit is for the cat trainers.  Are you kidding me?  None of the moggies, real or CGI, behave like any real one I’ve ever seen so I doubt the trainers had much to do.  And the fact that Sonnenfeld’s name doesn’t come top of the list speaks for itself.

Before you ask, I am a cat person.  I’m also a huge fan of Kevin Spacey, so the combination of the two in a film should mean it has my name all over it. I may be a fan, but I’m not an indiscriminate one and, when I wasn’t wincing or checking my watch, I kept wondering what on earth possessed him to agree to be in this.  He plays a narcissistic business mogul, neglectful of both his wife and daughter and a nightmare to work for.  When his daughter’s birthday comes along, he buys her what she’s asked for, a cat.  But a freak accident, combined with a bit of magic from the mysterious pet shop owner Mr Perkins (Christopher Walken), means he finds himself inside the body of the cat – and he’s stuck there until he learns to be a nicer human being.

Yeah, yeah, all very Dickensian and all very contrived.  Potentially, there could have been some laughs, but they all passed by unnoticed.  I didn’t even raise a smile, perhaps because I was distracted by just how bad the film was.  How Mr Fuzzypants – that’s the cat’s name – has a collar with a mind of its own.  Sometimes it’s round his neck, and sometimes it’s not.  How the special effects are so glaringly obvious you question what on earth its reported $30 million budget was spent on.  And why it was obviously made by people who knew nothing about cats.

Admittedly, Spacey in human form spends most of the film in a coma, appearing mainly in voice form only.   Just as well, because when he’s not being a cat, he looks like he can’t wait to grab the pay cheque and get the hell out.  Walken doesn’t have that option as cat the whisperer, but perhaps he has the right attitude.  He clearly, and quite rightly, doesn’t take his role or the film in the slightest bit seriously and there’s always a hint of him being close to hysterical laughter.  Unlikely for Walken, I know, but it was either that, or he sucked hard on a lemon before delivering each of his lines.

I won’t rant on.  Very simply, Nine Lives is just bad.  In the traditional sense.  Presumably, it’s been released on DVD to cash in on the stocking filler market.  But, if you dislike somebody that much, just save yourself the money and buy them nothing.

 

Verdict:         1

 

Nine Lives is released on DVD on Monday, 12 December – not that it’s worth your money.  It’s also reviewed – briefly – on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 15 December.

 

Review: Snowden

Truth? Or fiction?

Truth? Or fiction?

 

Director Oliver Stone

Certificate 15

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Tom Wilkinson, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage

Released 9th December 2016

 

Controversy is the life blood of Oliver Stone’s films.  Sometimes it’s the subject matter that stirs things up, but more often than not it’s his interpretation and viewpoint.  At least, that used to be the case.  His more recent output – Alexander, World Trade Centre and W, especially – hasn’t had his customary clout.  And in his latest, Snowden, he’s showing signs of intransigence.

This is his hymn of praise to whistle blower, Edward Snowden, who famously leaked thousands of classified documents to The Guardian newspaper in 2013.   He’s also one of the most controversial figures of modern times, making him a natural subject for Stone.  Or so you would think.   The director traces his career, starting with the Army – where he didn’t exactly shine – followed by the CIA and, ultimately, the NSA.  As he becomes more deeply involved in security issues, his disillusionment grows, as does his conviction that the public should know what they’re doing in the name of their country.  His revelations to The Guardian provoke a furious storm, which leads him to go on the run, eventually finding refuge in Russia, which is where he’s stayed to this day.

Stone’s view of Snowden is emblazoned on the film’s sleeve and just about everywhere else.  The man is a hero, a patriot and a man of principle.  End of.  It’s probably a more controversial view in the States than here, but it’s impossible to escape the thought that there’s another side to the story and we’re not even getting a glimpse of it here.  Anybody holding different views to Snowden is simply portrayed as the enemy, an idiot or both and such a tub-thumping approach gives the film an uncomfortably hectoring tone.  Stone’s usual questioning attitude is completely absent and he’s not allowing his audience that luxury either.

The film’s come for a lot of flack.  It’s customary for a Stone movie, although it’s his views that usually attract attention like a magnet.  This time it’s his skills as a director falling under the microscope, and the film being described as “dull” or other words to that effect.  In truth, it’s not all bad, although its very one-sidedness makes it clumsy and heavy handed.  On the plus side, it has a very nice line in paranoia, rippling through the story like it was a stick of rock and even getting your skin ever so slightly.  Be warned: you might find yourself getting suspicious of that webcam built into your laptop.  You may even consider covering it up.

The other plus is the ensemble cast that’s such a regular Stone feature.  It’s held together by an excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role, idealistic and naïve at the start, but losing his illusions layer by layer as the film progresses.  Shailene Woodley proves beyond doubt that she’s utterly wasted in the Divergent series, playing the girlfriend who stands by him, no matter how difficult.  There’s Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, Joely Richardson, Ben Schnetzer, Rhys Ifans, Scott Eastwood and even Nicolas Cage.  That’s some list and most of them have their moments.  Wilkinson convinces as an experienced hack and the chameleon-like Schnetzer is wonderfully plausible.  The same can’t be said for Cage, who over-cooks his role and Eastwood, who’s so wooden you can see splinters on the floor.

In an effort to show he’s not alone in his view of events, Stone has recruited Alan Rusbridger, Editor In Chief at The Guardian in 2013 when the original story broke.  He puts in an appearance as himself, even though he’s not billed by name, but it’s very obvious why he’s there.   But the scene is also an instance where we don’t know whether what we’re seeing actually happened, or whether it’s just dramatic license designed to fit Stone’s view of events.  All of which makes Snowden one of his least questioning projects.  In fact, it’s closer to an old fashioned piece of propaganda.  Ironic, really.

 

Verdict:                     3

 

Snowden is in cinemas now and was reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 8 December.

 

Review: Moana

Behind you ……..!

 

Directors Ron Clements, Don Hall

Certificate PG

Starring the voices of Auli’I Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement

Released 2nd December 2016

 

Disney’s really packing them in.  August was comparatively quiet with the lower key Pete’s Dragon and October saw the arrival of the modest Queen Of Katwe.  But the end of the year is nigh and so is the Christmas market.  In two weeks’ time, it’s the next Star Wars movie, Rogue One (The Force Awakens was released at the same time last year).  First, however, comes its latest animation and, while it’s early for the holidays, it points towards a very happy Disney Christmas this year.  You’d think the studio had taken over the festive season from Dickens.

Not that it’s a film about holly and mistletoe.  Moana is set in the South Seas, with all their natural beauty and colour – a gift to film makers and animators especially.  The Moana (Auli’l Cravalho) of the title is a teenage girl, the teenage daughter of the chief of Motonui, who will lead her people one day.  But she has an instinctive connection with the sea – something her father actively tries to prevent – and she wants to explore beyond the reef around the island.  And eventually she breaks free, but with good reason.  The island is slowly crumbling, the vegetation is dying and her people can’t feed themselves.  And the reason is that demi-god, Maui (Dwayne Johnson) has stolen the stone at the heart of the island.  She has to persuade him to bring it back.

It’s no small order, as Maui is a shapeshifter – when his large hook, forged by the gods, is behaving itself.  When Moana finds him, his hook has been lost so he has no powers as such – except a fast tongue, which he uses to get rid of her.  Or at least try, because she’s a determined, empowering and inspiring heroine, clear in her own mind that she’s fulfilling her destiny – both for herself and her people.  And, even though she admits she doesn’t really know what she’s doing, she’s not allowing anything to stand in her way.

It’s a film that has more than a few echoes of the past, unlike one of Don Hall’s previous Big Hero Six.  Moana has two pets, one of which comes along with her for the ride.  Dim-witted isn’t the word when it comes to her chicken, Heihei.  Well, actually it is.  But it’s also a profoundly irritating creation which bears a striking resemblance to Becky, the goggle eyed bird in Finding Dory.  Although this time HeiHei does have a part to play in the storyline.

The setting is lush – a rich abundance of colour and beautiful animation.  Again, the sea floor has shades of Finding Dory.  The voices are well chosen, especially the inspired selection of Dwayne Johnson as Maui, who has the right mixture of impudence, fun and masculinity.  His tattoos are almost characters in their own right as well, disagreeing with him, sometimes being banished to other parts of his anatomy when he gets annoyed.

The music, and the songs especially, aren’t just bolted on either. They actually do contribute to the story and move things along or give us insights into the characters.  Who would have guessed that The Rock had a half decent voice as well?  If they can sort out the practicalities of the ocean on stage, I foresee a musical version in the next few years.

With its modern, feisty heroine, likeable rogue of a demi-god and sumptuous animation, Moana is a sure fire winner with families in the run-up to Christmas.  It probably doesn’t have quite the level of originality we’ve seen in other films from the Mouse House, but it has plenty else going for it.  It’s fresh enough and contemporary enough to round off what has been an extraordinary year of animation for Disney – Zootropolis was a triumph and Finding Dory not far behind it.  Moana completes the trinity in joyous style.

 

Verdict:                     4

 

Moana is released on Friday, 2 December and was reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 1 December

 

Review: Sully

We're going to land on the river .....

We’re going to land on the river …..

 

Director Clint Eastwood

Certificate 12A

Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Jamey Sheridan

Released 2nd December 2016

 

After a run of frankly disappointing films – Jersey Boys and J Edgar for two – it looked like Clint Eastwood was either winding down or losing his touch.  But he’s back again this week, with yet another true story and one that most of us will remember.  And, if we don’t, we’ll certainly recognise the photographs that whizzed around the world on one freezing January day in New York in 2009.

Sully is the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot at the controls of a flight out of La Guardia when a bird strike caused both engines to fail catastrophically.  Instead of aiming for a nearby airport, he landed the plane on the Hudson River and the event was instantly dubbed The Miracle On The Hudson.  Remarkably, it was an action that saved the lives of all 155 people on the plane.  We know all this right from the start.  So how does Eastwood go about making a film where everybody knows the ending and yet still give it some tension and sense of expectation?

Part of his solution is to take a leaf out of Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 book, another story where the audience know the ending.  Like Howard, Eastwood gives us what we know, but shows it from a different perspective, insights we didn’t know about or could ever have imagined.  In the case of Sully, you get two.  Those photographs at the time – and, indeed, the film’s own poster – make the crash look smooth and easy.  They’re almost sanitised.  The reality was anything but.  We’re shown the event through the pilots’ eyes and from the point of view of the passengers. Just to reinforce that, there’s a few individual passengers we’re allowed to identify with, although at best they’re sketchy.  But, despite knowing the outcome, there’s definitely some tension.

And then we’re shown the landing all over again, but in a totally different context.  While Sully and his first officer, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), listen to the recording of the events of that day – this takes place at the subsequent hearing – they re-live the landing all over again and we’re taken with them.  This time it’s a harder watch, with more detail.  The freezing water gushes into the plane, Sully makes sure everybody gets out safely, handing out clothes to keep them warm, and there’s the just audible sound from the main cabin that penetrates the cabin door.  The stewardesses are yelling in unison “heads down, stay down” over and over again.  The impact of the plane on the water doesn’t lose anything second time around.  If anything, it gains.

It isn’t all about the landing.  There’s the side that most people weren’t even aware of when it was happening, the inquiry to determine what happened, a row of hard faced bureaucrats who seem hell bent on proving Sully did the wrong thing.  And the prospect of being found culpable would mean him losing everything, which is the most frightening thing of all for him.  For all their computer simulations, the panel seem to have completely ignored the human element.  That Sully is a born pilot, an instinctive natural with over 40 years’ experience, including military aircraft, so the chances of him panicking or making the wrong call are slim.  Which makes their desire to bring him down a puzzle that’s never fully resolved.

Hanks is a good choice in the role.  He’s not quite on Captain Phillips form, but he captures the essence of the private man who plays it straight but is actually something of a swan underneath that calm exterior. Eckhart is great as his right hand man, a more humorous counterbalance to Sully, and if there’s an award for the Best Moustache In A Supporting Role, it has his name on it.

It’s a solid, sincere movie and it’s clear a great deal of research has gone into it, especially on the technical side.  Following the footsteps of Paul Greengrass and his magnificent United 93, Eastwood has included a number of people in the film who were actually involved in the events of that day in 2009.  And Sully himself played an active role in preparing the script. Ultimately, the focus is very much on the two pilots and what happened in the air and on the water that day.  As one of the first responders says to a passenger he’s just fished out of the water, “Nobody dies today”.  And that’s not a spoiler.

 

Verdict:                     3.5

 

Sully is released in cinemas on Friday, 2 December and was reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 1 December.

 

Review: Molly Moon And The Incredible Book Of Hypnotism

What green eyes you've got .....

What green eyes you’ve got …..

 

Director Christopher N Rowley

Certificate U

Starring Raffey Cassidy, Dominic Monaghan, Emily Watson, Lesley Manville

Released 2nd December 2016, on DVD 5th December.

 

 Here I go, coming over all nostalgic again.  Kids like me, growing up in the 60s and 70s, had their first taste of the magic of the cinema courtesy of the Children’s Film Foundation.  It made movies no more than an hour long, starring some well-known faces but always with children as the central characters.  And they distributed them to Saturday morning cinema clubs around the country.

Sadly, the CFF is no more, but a smidgeon of its spirit seems to live on in Molly Moon And The Incredible Book Of Hypnotism, released in cinemas this Friday.  It’s a story that seems to have been heavily influenced by Roald Dahl – there’s the mandatory unpleasant adults who don’t like children, orphanages out in the countryside and the like – and it also has aspirations in the same direction.  There’s hints of the more traditional The Emperor’s New Clothes and it even manages something more contemporary in the shape of celebrity and pop culture, X-Factor style.  So if it sounds like a mish-mash, that’s because it is.

The film is based on the first of a series of children’s novels by Georgia Byng, who also had a hand in the screenplay.  Molly Moon (Raffey Cassidy) lives in an orphanage, under the fierce regime of Miss Adderstone (Lesley Manville).  A regular at the local library, Molly has discovered a book that teaches her to hypnotise people, an ability that takes her all the way to London and makes her an overnight teenage star.  But she’s being followed by somebody who wants to get his hands on the book for much more nefarious reasons.

While it’s a film that clearly knows its audience, it doesn’t seem to know how to communicate with them.  Most of the adult actors seem to have been encouraged to go right over the top, playing their roles as if they’re in a pantomime. The only one who bucks the trend – and is much more successful – is Emily Watson as the solitary nice adult in the orphanage.  She’s much more low-key, gentle and believable.  But the likes of Lesley Manville and Celia Imrie lay it on with a trowel and even the youngest members of the audience won’t buy it.  There are other familiar British names among the adult cast, with Ben Miller playing, well, Ben Miller and Gary Kemp and his spiky hair looking like Yondu Udonta in Guardians Of The Galaxy. None of them, with the exception of Watson, manage to walk away with even a smidgeon of credit.

The younger members of the cast fare much better, Raffey Cassidy in particular confirms the poise and screen presence that she displayed in Disney’s Tomorrowland.  She plays her role with assurance but never overcooks it and the adults could have learned from her.

Interestingly, this gets a limited release in cinemas at the end of the week, as well as being on demand, and then it’s out on DVD the following Monday.  Given that Disney’s Moana is released the same day, this will hardly scratch the box office and it’s actually much better suited to the small screen.  For one thing, the budget special effects – take a look at the snow towards the end! – won’t quite so obvious.

It’ll make an acceptable stocking filler, but one that could find itself languishing at the bottom of the pile, with its wrapper intact.

 

Verdict:                     2.5

 

Molly Moon And The Incredible Book Of Hypnotism is released in cinemas and on demand on Friday, 2nd December and on DVD on Monday, 5th December.  It’s reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 1st December

Marion Cotillard on Talking Pictures

 

A United Kingdom.  Paterson.  Allied.  It’s a classy line-up on this week’s Talking Pictures, which also includes Marion Cotillard in the hot seat for this week’s Big Interview.

Also out in cinemas are documentary Magnus, about the world’s most successful chess champion, British weepy Mum’s List and psychological drama The Incident.

On DVD, your choice of stocking fillers includes The BFG, Star Trek Beyond and Ghostbusters.  Plus there’s the new top five at the British box office and the week’s movie news headlines.

Your essential guide to the movies is packed into 20 minutes.  It’s on iTunes, TuneIn and right here: