DVD Review: One Million Years BC

That bikini .......

That bikini …….


Director Don Chaffey

Certificate 12

Starring Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswick

Released 24th October 2016


Fifty years of hindsight isn’t necessarily a help when watching a film.  It can be positively distracting – as if there aren’t enough in the re-release of Hammer’s One Million Years BC, which returns, newly restored, on DVD this Monday.

There’s the obvious distraction, of course, and the one that made Raquel Welch an overnight star.  That fur bikini, which sticks to her like glue despite promising otherwise and which became one of the most memorable images of 1960s cinema.  But there are others.  That it was obviously filmed in the Canary Islands, Tenerife and Lanzarote specifically.  That the brontosaurus, which makes only a brief appearance, would have had a hard time in that near-barren landscape because, as we now know, they were plant eaters.  And that the pouch that Welch carries on her shoulder looks remarkably like a pre-historic handbag.

With those out of the way, here’s how it goes.  As the narration at the beginning tells us, “this is a story of long, long ago, when the world was just beginning.”  The Rock People tribe live in the mountains, an aggressive band of meat eaters and, when his on-going argument with his brother Sakana (Percy Herbert) comes to a head, Tumak (John Richardson) is expelled by his people.  He finds his way to the coast, where he discovers the Shell People, who show him a different way of life and where he meets Loana (Welch).  While the two tribes initially come into conflict, they eventually find themselves coming together in a battle for survival.

Raquel Welch and that bikini have always overshadowed the reality of the film.  It’s essentially a dinosaur movie – in fact, the most successful dinosaur film until the release of Jurassic Park in 1993.  And each section of the film culminates in the appearance of a monster, the work of the legend that was Ray Harryhausen.  Some of them (the giant turtle especially) aren’t quite up to his usual standard, and others are just magnified real creatures (the tarantula is the most obvious), but they’re just appetisers for the main courses: the battle between the triceratops and the ceratosaurus and the female pteranodon swooping down and plucking a swimming Welch out of the water (as a tasty snack for her chicks).  They’re the maestro at his best and, while not on a par with today’s CGI, they’re still impressive for their day.   Once their scenes have been exhausted, director Don Chaffey throws the kitchen sink at the film for the climax, a special effects fest of a volcanic eruption and earthquake.

The story, such as it is, is straightforward and there’s little or no dialogue, apart from the occasional word and various grunts, so the demands on the cast are more physical than anything.  But the contrast between the two tribes has a curiously modern resonance.  The Stone People are dark, hairy, aggressive and carnivorous, while the Shell People are blonde, smooth, more peaceable and live on a diet of fruit, vegetables and fish.

The combination of Harryhausen’s dinosaurs and Welch’s bikini turned One Million Years BC into a box office smash, Hammer’s biggest commercial success.  Fifty years later, while it’s easy to see why it brought in late 1960s audiences in their droves, it doesn’t offer much more than curiosity and nostalgia.


Verdict:           3


One Million Years BC is released on DVD on Monday, 24th  October and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 27th October.


Queen of Katwe Reigns On Talking Pictures!


There’s a touch of (Hollywood) royalty about this week’s Talking Pictures, with the star of Disney’s Queen Of Katwe, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (above, right) taking up the Big Interview hot seat to talk about the film.

Also in the spotlight is Ken Loach’s Palme D’Or winner, I, Daniel Blake and French animation Phantom Boy, both of which are also released in cinemas.  On DVD, it’s feminist western, The Keeping Room, alongside two re-releases: a newly restored version of the 1968 classic, The Lion In Winter, and Al Pacino’s documentary, Looking For Richard.

Plus, after making way for the London Film Festival, there’s the new top five at the British box office and the latest movie news headlines.  And a final look at this year’s 60th anniversary LFF.

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



Review: Phantom Boy

His strength is fading .......

His strength is fading …….


Directed by Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli

Certificate PG

Starring the voices of Fred Armison, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jared Padalecki, Marcus D’Angelo

Released 21st October 2016 


Animation Phantom Boy made its UK debut as part of the Family strand at the London Film Festival this month.  Now the latest from Gagnol and Felicioli, makers of A Cat In Paris (2010) spreads its wings into British cinemas – and the directors have moved the action to New York.

Eleven year old Leo has a secret.  He’s in hospital with a serious illness, but he also has the ability to transform himself into a phantom boy.  This means that, while he’s asleep, he can leave his body and fly around the city without anybody seeing him.  While he’s in hospital, he meets a cop who has the same condition but is stuck in a wheelchair after trying to arrest a gangster who’s holding the city to ransom.  The race is on for the two, plus a fearless journalist, to save the city from total destruction.

The special powers idea is straight of super hero comics and both Gagnol and Felicioli gives themselves plenty of opportunities to indulge in their favourite art form.  Here, though, those powers are mixed with reality and the have their limitations.  Leo’s illness is clearly life threatening and it has a serious effect on his family: his parents constantly worry and his little sister talks to him when he’s not there simply because she misses him.  His illness has weakened him, which makes stopping the gangster from destroying his home city even harder.  He can only stay out of his body for a certain amount of time, after which what’s left of his strength starts to fade.  He doesn’t know for sure what would happen if he pushed his powers too far, it’s a safe bet that the outcome wouldn’t be great.  He may be flying through the air, but the film’s feet are firmly on the ground.

There’s plenty in here for all the family.  Adults will pick up all the references to detective stories and thrillers: the film positively overflows with them and it’s similar to watching a lighter weight cop drama.  Diagnosis Murder, perhaps, but with no Dick Van Dyke.  For children, it’s open and honest about the realities of being in hospital – needles, taking blood and feeling ill – but that’s all balanced by characters having exaggeratedly comic moments, in an almost Loony Tunes or Tom and Jerry style, so there’s some laughter as well.

The animation mixes computer graphics with hand-drawn images on paper: the drawings were in wax crayon and the backgrounds re-worked on a computer.  So the pencil and crayon lines are visible on screen, and it emphasises that what we’re watching hasn’t all come out of a machine.  It helps in another way, because the style is angular – people have slanted eyes and pointed faces – so the hand-drawn lines soften what could otherwise have been very hard images.  There’s some imaginative moments as well, literally allowing the audience to look at the world through the eyes of the characters, eyelids and all.  Put together, it produces images that you easily accept and, because the English voice overs are an especially good fit, you take it all in.

The film makers’ heritage gives it a pleasantly old fashioned feel, even if the setting is very much present day – mobile phones come in rather useful, but there’s a payphone in there as well.  Phantom Boy has enough action to keep the children interested and more than enough to cater for the adults.  The only thing it lacks is just that extra spark of originality.


Verdict:         3.5


Phantom Boy was released on Friday, 21st October and reviewing on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 20th October.


DVD Review: Looking For Richard

My horse, my horse ........

My horse, my horse ……..


Director Al Pacino

Certificate 15

Starring Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder, Aidan Quinn

Released 17th October 2016


Richard III is Shakespeare’s most frequently performed play, or so we’re told in Al Pacino’s documentary, Looking For Richard.  No wonder, then, that it holds a fascination for the theatrical community.  Pacino starred in, wrote and directed this documentary, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, hence the DVD re-release this week.  But he’s not the only one to have made an exploration of the play and Shakespeare’s most notorious villain.  Fast forward to 2014 and Now: In The Wings On A World Stage, which documented the Old Vic’s touring production of Richard III, with Kevin Spacey in the title role.  Here, he’s Buckingham to Pacino’s Richard.

Pacino’s film seeks to find the answer to a couple of big questions.  Why do Americans have problems acting Shakespeare?  How relevant is Shakespeare to today’s theatre and its audiences?  On top of that are rehearsal sessions for a production of selected scenes from the play, location shoots and discussions with members of the cast about their individual characters.  And, for some objectivity, commentary from theatrical luminaries such as John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Derek Jacobi, Peter Brook and Kenneth Branagh.  All Brits, curiously enough.

If Pacino’s conversations with members of the public in New York are to be believed – and they were filmed 20 years ago – very few people have heard of Shakespeare, let alone been to see one of his plays.  So he and his cast are taking on a big job in getting them to try Shakespeare.  But as far as the film is concerned, there’s a strong sense that it’s preaching to the converted.  It’s very much aimed at audiences who are interested in the theatre, the acting process in particular, and assumes more than a little knowledge on their part.  That knowledge includes recognising the theatrical dignitaries sharing their thoughts, because there isn’t a single caption to be seen.  But, just in case they need their memories refreshing on the technicalities of Shakespeare, there’s a scene explaining the iambic pentameter, so fundamental to his blank verse.

While Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, it’s also one of his most complicated, so chunks of the plot need to be explained to unravel all the relationships involved.  Even Pacino, despite having immersed himself in the project, looks baffled at times.  As the film progresses, it increasingly concentrates on the performance side of things, with longer and longer extracts enacted by a cast that includes Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder and Aiden Quinn.  The locations vary, from gloomy interiors, to an actual theatre and a field representing Bosworth, where Richard meets his end.

As Pacino’s directorial debut, it’s also deeply personal and he’s hardly off the screen.  His villainous king doesn’t bear any resemblance to the most famous interpretations – Laurence Olivier on both stage and screen in the mid-1950s and Antony Sher’s “spider king” from the mid-1980s – nor does anybody ever refer to them.  For such a flamboyant actor in a showy role, Pacino offers us something surprisingly pared down with little emphasis on Richard’s physical characteristics.  It’s all about his words, looks and gestures.

The film only partly manages to answer its own questions.  American actors are probably too reverential in the way they approach Shakespeare, so they always feel awkward speaking his lines and that gets in the way of their performances.  But surely there’s more to it than that?  As for its relevance to audiences, that’s very much down to the people on the street who interviewed on the subject.  And, from what they say, the answer is “not very”.  If that was actually true then, and still is now, then it’s really rather sad.  And it’ll take more than one documentary to change things.


Verdict:           3.5


Looking For Richard is re-released on DVD on Monday, 17th October and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 20th October.

DVD Review: The Lion In Winter

The royal couple .....

The royal couple …..


Director Anthony Harvey

Certificate 12

Starring Katharine Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton

Released 17th October 2016


I shouldn’t mention the “C” word in October – and by that I mean Christmas.  But it’s impossible to talk about Anthony Harvey’s Oscar winner The Lion In Winter without at least a passing reference.  For one thing, it’s the setting for the film – and the original stage play of same name from James Goldman – at the court of King Henry II in 1183.  There’s also something resembling a Christmas tree, presents for everybody – and it’s all a total anachronism.

Yet, it’s also the perfect backdrop.  The time of year when families come together – and very often argue.  And, boy, do Henry (Peter O’Toole) and his family argue!  Months after the death of his son and heir, Henry, he’s obsessed with sorting out the succession, so he summons his three remaining sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John, to court.  And he demands that his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), who he’s kept imprisoned for the past ten years, attends as well.  They all scheme, plot and fight to decide who will wear the crown after Henry’s death.

There’s two other key players.  Alais, a French princess who’s been long promised to Richard but is Henry’s lover.  And the young King Phillip II of France (Timothy Dalton) who has arrived to determine Alais’ future but also has something of a past with Richard (Anthony Hopkins).

It’s a film with built-in curiosity value.  It marked the screen debuts of both Hopkins and Dalton, while Hepburn made history by winning her third Best Actress Oscar and uniquely tying with Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl.  She’d also won the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? and picked up her fourth in 1982 for On Golden Pond.  For O’Toole, this was the second time he had played Henry II, the first being in Becket (1964) set 12 years earlier.  He was Oscar nominated for both performances.

This restoration and re-release on DVD arrives just short of the film’s 50th birthday and it is something of a period piece.  Not just because of its setting, but also its style.  Its stage origins are transparently clear, even though it starts with a series of exteriors and ends with one.  The bulk of the action takes place inside the castle and it’s not difficult to image how it would have looked in the theatre.  And it’s a brooding, shadowy setting that creates a real intensity, that sense of another argument just around the corner waiting to explode.

The acting, by today’s standards, looks just a tad overwrought, with the scenery in imminent danger of being chewed, but the tungsten tipped dialogue translates brilliantly to the big screen.  Both O’Toole and Hepburn have some fabulously savage yet witty lines.  Perhaps the most memorable of all comes from Hepburn, after her most vicious confrontation with O’Toole.  Slumped on the floor, shattered and unkempt, she lets out a sigh of resignation and wonders “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?”

The pair dominate the film, which moves from one set piece to another, sometimes a two hander, sometimes more.  Both Anthony Hopkins, who plays Richard (later Richard The Lionheart), and Timothy Dalton make impressive debuts.  Henry’s second son, the cold blooded Geoffrey, is played chillingly by John Castle and the only weakness is Nigel Terry as John (later King John) who, frankly, over-acts something rotten.

Time hasn’t been kind to The Lion In Winter, but it hasn’t erased the film’s power and magnetism.  It’s like watching a high-stakes human chess game, with the characters manipulating each other to get the upper hand.  I first saw it as a teenager in a double bill with Becket and, if you can get your hands on that DVD as well, it’s a smart move.  Not only do you see how Henry II develops from the young king to the grizzled older one, but it means a lot of the references in this film make more sense.

After nearly 50 years, the lion is still roaring.


Verdict:           4


The Lion In Winter is re-released on DVD on Monday, 17th October and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 20th October.


Review: I, Daniel Blake

Struggling with the system .....

Struggling with the system …..


Director Ken Loach

Certificate 15

Starring Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Briana Shann, Dylan McKiernan

Released 21st October 2016


It’s the people’s film.  The hashtag is #WeAreAllDanielBlake, the London premiere was billed as “the people’s premiere” and there have been hundreds of free preview screenings around the country.  And, once I, Daniel Blake has been released, distributor EOne will make DVDs available for community screenings.  Ken Loach’s searing indictment of the benefits system is gathering a head of steam.

It could happen to anybody.  Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) has had a serious heart attack.  Both his GP and the hospital are adamant he’s not fit for work, but the DWP assessment thinks otherwise.  So, even though he can’t take a job if he’s offered one, he’s still forced to look.  He’s stuck.  At the same time, he befriends hard up single mum Katie (Hayley Squires), who’s just moved up to Newcastle from London and they support each other as they both struggle to navigate their way around the system.

The complexities and consequences of the benefits system are in the full glare of Loach’s spotlight.  The lengths Katie goes to in an effort to earn money to make sure her daughter’s shoes don’t fall apart.  Daniel’s stumbling efforts to fill in an online form: in his own words, he’s “pencil by default” so he commits the cardinal sin of a handwritten CV.  Some of it is truly distressing.  Katie’s visit to the food bank ends with her opening a can of baked beans there and then, eating the contents because she’s so hungry.  And, if that sounds over the top, screenwriter Paul Laverty based the scene on a true story.  There are many more like that.

But in case that all sounds one-sided, Loach gives us a balanced story, one that’s told in sorrow and anger.  This isn’t just a system that makes it hard for unemployed people to survive: in its way, it’s just as demeaning for the staff at the Jobcentre.  They come across as robotic or unfeeling, or both, but that’s a result of what they have to do at work.  For some, it’s a defense mechanism, for others they’re just trying to hold on to their jobs.  Only one of them shows a spark of humanity and she gets her ear bent by her manager – and not for the first time.  Whichever side of the fence you’re on, it’s a soul-destroying experience and, again, it’s all based on reality.  The film’s credits acknowledge help from DWP staff, although none of them can be named.

I, Daniel Blake doesn’t beat you around the head with its message.  It doesn’t need to because it’s there for you to see.  Made in Loach’s customary semi-documentary style, it also makes great use of local people, from the hen party who watch Daniel spray paint his protest on the Jobcentre, to the staff in the food bank.  It’s a genuine food bank, they all work there and their understanding, practical approach is a complete contrast to the staff at the Jobcentre.  It’s film made with passion and compassion and it’s not an easy watch.  It’ll probably make you angry.  So it should.


Verdict:         4


I, Daniel Blake is released in cinemas on Friday, 21 October and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 20 October.


DVD Review: Me Before You

Soap .....

Bog standard soap …..


Director Thea Sharrock

Certificate 12

Starring Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Brendan Coyle

Released 10th October 2016


Given the reputation of the Me Before You, there shouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house.  But the eyes were mine and they were totally dry.  For a serial blubber like me, that’s quite an achievement.   Perhaps I was all cried out after the emotional offerings at this year’s LFF.  Or perhaps it just didn’t tug at my heart strings.  I’m inclined towards the latter.

This is based on the romantic best seller by Jo Jo Moyes, who also wrote the script.  Louisa (Game Of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) loses her job and, with money tight at home, has to take whatever she can get.  It turns out to be a well-paid job looking after Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), son of the wealthy local landowners and confined to a wheelchair following an accident.  He’s a difficult patient, having all but given up, and she’s one in a long line of carers, but her determination to show him that life is worth living brings a smile back to his face.  But he’s not going back on one crucial decision.

Since the film was released earlier in the year and attracted a lot of publicity, I’m not going to worry about spoilers.  The media attention was sparked by the euthanasia part of the storyline, with Will deciding to end his own life in Switzerland.  It caused some public upset, and it upsets somebody in the film, not just Louisa – by that stage, she and Will have fallen for each other – but her Mum.  But all she has to say on the subject is that “it’s wrong”.  And that’s about as deep as the film gets on the subject.   Or, indeed, anything to do with the quality of life for somebody with a disability, paraplegic or otherwise.

And it’s that superficiality that’s the problem for me.  That, plus the same issue that I had with Still Alice.  The family has pots of money and can afford very best care available.  Will lives in a specially adapted annex at the family home, he has a professional nurse as well and there’s a converted people carrier so that he can be driven around.  None of that is available to many in with his disability, so somebody with a lesser income would have a much harder time.  But, then, I’m talking about another film.  In truth the disability and euthanasia themes are just the mechanic for delivering a romance between two unlikely lovers.  It goes without saying, of course, that Will is handsome, intelligent and witty – once he gets over his cynicism and has his beard shaved off to reveal those good looks, of course.

It’s soap for the big screen.  In the days before mass market TV, people went to the cinema for their entertainment, so you had big, lush romantic melodramas instead – the soap of their day but, in some cases at least, superior soap.  Think Now Voyager, or David Lean’s Brief EncounterMe Before You is just bog standard soap.  Glossy, admittedly, thanks to the wealth of the Traynor family, but still soap.

As for the performances, Emilia Clarke certainly isn’t guilty of being typecast.  Sarah Connor from the risible Terminator:Genisys is now a 21st century Pollyanna in child-like clothes, but she’s fresh faced enough to get away with it.  Sam Claflin is yet another buttoned up posh Englishman hiding his feelings but eventually melting for the right woman: he did it at the LFF last week in Their Finest, only there he had a moustache and specs.  The object of his affection was Gemma Arterton, not unlike Clarke to look at, so it seems that he’s being allocated a type – and he’s the one that’s getting typecast.  So it’s left to a trio of experienced actors to bring some character depth to the story.  Charles Dance and Janet McTeer as Claflin’s protective parents and Downton Abbey’s Brendan Coyle as Louisa’s likeable dad all deliver and give the action some credibility.

But, whichever way you look at it, the film is superficial and if it can’t raise a tear out of me, then it’s definitely missing something.  It didn’t move me at all – except to sigh with relief when it was over.


Verdict:                       2


Me Before You was released on DVD on 10th October and reviewed on Talking Pictures on 13th October.