Cinema reviews, film news and previews for upcoming movie and moving image presentations.


FILM REVIEW: Faithfull ‘leaves us feeling won over, yet still curious’

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4 stars

As two examples of strong, independent women from different generations doing what they want, you could certainly compare Marianne Faithfull to Lady Gaga. But where French actor-director Sandrine Bonnaire’s new documentary on the “British Invasion” star is concerned, the younger star’s Five Foot Two Netflix piece really does fall short in contrast.

For such an alluring life story, this new feature has been captured beautifully by the Vagabond star, who has ambitiously put together a portrait of intimacy and tenderness through a collection of candid interviews, archive television footage and classic photographs in a surprisingly brief narrative.

Despite the inclusion of the already well-known biography of Faithfull’s rise to fame, it is the sincere classic and modern footage of the singer reminiscing that truly shines: we see a woman who genuinely doesn’t care for fame; calling it: ‘a game that I’ve played before, and I don’t like it’.

When probed on the subject during the early days of her career, Faithfull is frank about her job, stating that the music business is built up of controllers taking advantage of people to make money on their behalf.

Refreshingly, when you compare her to fame-hungry types in the same profession, you sense that Faithfull isn’t completely comfortable to take part. She’s never embarrassed, is consistently proud of her work, and admirably forthright; yet she is more satisfied when talking about others instead of herself.

“I work with very good people,” says Marianne. “Maybe I’m just lucky. Maybe I have good taste”.

It is very easy to warm to the Marianne Faithfull we see on the screen. She’s candid, funny, a touch awkward, but always polite, and is very complimentary about the people in her past as well as her modern day bandmates, such as Ed Harcourt, with whom she toured in 2014.

Faithfull is also full of praise and confidence for this film’s director. But when Bonnaire outstays her welcome with more than a lingering shot, she receives the firm instruction to stop recording. It is very clear that this is an artist who likes things done her way and knows when enough is enough; but this is a woman who also prefers not to demonstrate her ugly side for the cameras.

Marianne Faithfull The Girl On A Motorcycle

Even though Bonnaire seemingly provokes Faithfull to induce cinematic titbits (as it is, Faithfull gives entertaining value already), she does a wonderfully snappy job of charting her progession as an artist, from her roots as the new darling of swinging London, to her shift to the movie world, acting in films such as The Girl on a Motorcycle.

Faithfull also touches on Marianne’s personal and professional relationship with Mick Jagger (‘Mick shared my brain’), the drugs scandals, and the addiction which left a very small and delicate Faithfull living on the street and suffering from anorexia.

Whereas Gaga’s recent rather self-indulgent documentary left many viewers feeling a little cold, it seems fitting that Faithfull – clocking in at a snappy 62 minutes –  leaves us feeling won over, yet still curious about the much wider span of its enigmatic subject’s life.

● Faithfull shows at Curzon Mayfair on Friday 6 Oct at 9pm | More about the BFI London Film Festival 2017 

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FILM REVIEW: The Marker “bodes well for an interesting future of filmmaking”

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Justin Edgar’s noir thriller The Marker tells the story of underworld criminal Marley (Frederick Schmidt) accidentally killing a woman called Ana (Ana Alaru) in front of her 9-year old daughter, Cristina (Lara Peake) during an ill-fated incident over an unpaid debt.

Marley is relentlessly haunted by his guilt in the guise of the ghost of his victim, and he seeks redemption by vowing to look after the young girl upon his release from prison. His return to the murky underworld of the Second City uncovers a dark web of corruption and people trafficking and he must use his criminal skills and knowledge of a brutal underworld to find Ana’s child and lead her to safety.

Shot and edited in the post-industrial heartlands of Birmingham, The Marker is Edgar’s fourth feature film. It’s a captivating watch, thanks largely to some sturdy performances and an unforgiving and brutally realistic portrayal of criminal life.

Despite some impressive cinematography, there is no deliberately glamorous post-production touching up of either the actors or the scenery here. You rarely see any of the Midlands sunshine, and the actors look ravaged, grimy and depleted. You can almost smell the urine-soaked streets they bound through, as well as their nicotine-tainted hair.

For a story so grim, laughs are obviously limited, but when they come, they come hard and strong. During a graphic bedroom murder scene, a crime accomplice offers advice on how to clean up the operation: “You missed a bit. There’s a bit of eyeball and bollock on the lamp shade over there.”

Frederick Schmidt is convincing in the lead role as a man haunted by guilt, on the quest for forgiveness for the crimes he has committed.

The Marker is a smart and independent feature, yet there are similarities throughout. Schmidt’s performance harks back the work of Tom Hardy and Jack O’Connell (with whom he co-starred in David Mackenzie’s Starred Up); and the image of Cristina (played by Lara Peake) prompts the memories of watching a young Drew Barrymore.

There are occasional moments that jar for the wrong reasons. Cathy Tyson’s role is so fleeting, it seems a massive shame not to give her usually dynamic talents something more substantial. The somewhat lacklustre scenes where the illusion of murdered Ana appear to remind Marley of his wrong-doing aren’t quite eerie enough and seem a little underplayed. John Hannah’s portrayal of Brendan Doyle is compelling, but the sheer weight of his menace is only really demonstrated an hour into the film. A missed trick, surely?

Small gripes aside, The Marker is a solid and entertaining piece of work by Justin Edgar. And considering how modest his movie production line is so far, it bodes well for an interesting future of filmmaking.

● The Marker opens in UK cinemas this Friday


The Marker [DVD]

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Release date October 9, 2017.

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FILMPodcast Updates

A review of Lady Macbeth: in cinemas this weekend

The film is loosely based on a nineteenth century novella called Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov and was later adapted as an Opera.

Florence Pugh (The Falling) takes the lead in the 19th Century period drama. Cosmo Jarvis (Spooks: The Greater Good) plays opposite Pugh while supporting cast include Paul Hilton (Wuthering Heights), newcomer Naomi Ackie and Christopher Fairbank (Guardians of the Galaxy).

Rural England, 1865. Katherine (Florence Pugh) is stifled by her loveless marriage to a bitter man twice her age, and his cold, unforgiving family. When she embarks on a passionate affair with a young worker on her husband’s estate, a force is unleashed inside her so powerful that she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

I took singer Katherine Ellis to a special preview screening to see the movie. Check out our review video below.

● Lady Macbeth is released in the UK and Ireland on April 28.


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FILM REVIEW: Mica Levi – Under The Skin with London Sinfonietta

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Anyone who has already seen Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin will know that it’s a smart idea to screen it with a live orchestral accompaniment.

Despite clearly not being a film for everyone, this brooding 2013 science fiction drama impressed critics with its uncomfortable portrayal of an otherworldly predator (played by Scarlett Johansson) who preys on men in Scotland.

Much like many films over the years, the unnerving disposition throughout Under The Skin is undeniable. But take away the film’s chilling score, and it wouldn’t be anywhere near as powerful.

Think for a minute how music plays a crucial part in cranking up the tension in the following movies from the last sixty years: Bernard Rose’s 1990’s creepy fantasy horror Candyman, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980s ice-cold fright-fest The Shining, John Carpenter’s 1970s slasher epic Halloween, and Hitchcock’s 1960s shocker Psycho. Of course, we have Philip Glass, Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind, John Carpenter and Bernard Herman to credit, respectively.

Whilst it’s a distinctive piece of work, there are similarities linking Under The Skin to previous works. The soundtrack’s screeching string section and gloomily repetitive percussion work magnificently because they bring forth a mood of isolation and a feeling of unease, rekindling images of Jack Torrance’s swinging axe and the plunging knife of Norman Bates.

The Royal Festival Hall at London’s Southbank Centre is the perfect location for hosting an event like this. Firstly, the screen is big enough to hang behind the orchestra as a backdrop without it being such a size that it takes away the emphasis of them. Tonight, the orchestra providing the musical backing is the London Sinfonietta, one of the world’s leading contemporary music ensembles. Their conductor is Jonathan Berman.

The screening gets a massive initial boost with the announcement of two very special guests – the film’s director and co-writer Jonathan Glazer and composer Mica Levi, who are both greeted with an enormous welcome by the audience in the large auditorium. It’s a fascinating introduction to how both met and started working together. Levi’s slightly awkward, nervous shuffling and matter-of-fact explanations of her work – and unrehearsed quips – are charming to watch, and a comforting way to begin what is essentially a very dark piece of cinema.

“Composing for a film was new territory for me”, says Levi. “I actually kept it a secret from a lot of people while I was working on it. The idea was to follow Scarlet Johansson’s character and try to react in real time to what she was experiencing, not to pre-empt or reflect on things that had already happened in the film. Some parts are intended to be quite difficult to listen to and watch. If your lifeforce is being distilled by an alien, it’s not necessarily going to sound very nice. It’s supposed to be physical, alarming, hot.”

Under The Skin starring Scarlet Johansson

Once the film is underway, I am curious as to how the orchestra manage to keep pace with the film’s running time. For a short while, I am so intrigued by how the orchestra respond to their simultaneous programme alignment that I temporarily forget that the movie is being shown at all. Likewise, as I become engrossed in the movie, I let slip from memory that the musicians are on the stage in front of me. Their playing is so rich and enveloping that I become completely beguiled by the sights and sounds surrounding the hall.

I first saw Under The Skin upon its initial release, but enjoying it for the second time with the addition of a live orchestra has given me a totally enhanced experience of it. Forget the places that coax you with a vibrating chair, outdated 3D and deafening surround sound; this is the truly moving movie experience.

Georg Friedrich Haas : In Vain (which will partly be performed in complete darkness) is running at London’s Royal Festival Hall on Thursday 27 April at 7.30pm 

Under The Skin – OST

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The Naked Civil Servant gets brand new restoration

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Originally broadcast on British TV in 1976, The Naked Civil Servant was the compelling drama that won John Hurt his first Best Actor BAFTA.

It tells the remarkable true story of Quentin Crisp, self-proclaimed England’s Stately Homo, who lived an openly homosexual lifestyle from the 1930s in London at a time when it was a criminal offence.

Following his openly flamboyant life through the haunts of Belgravia, Chelsea and Soho, it brings us into the 1970s. His best-selling autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant forms the basis for Philip Mackie’s script for this highly acclaimed drama.

BAFTA-nominated for best Single TV Drama and winning the prestigious Prix Italia Award, The Naked Civil Servant provides John Hurt with a career-defining performance and it gave Quentin a celebrity status that saw him perform one-man shows and take small acting roles including Sally Potter’s Orlando (1992). He died in 1999.

Executive produced by Verity Lambert (Doctor Who) and directed by Jack Gold, there are cameo early roles for Roger Lloyd-Pack (Only Fools and Horses), John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Patricia Hodge (Rumpole of the Bailey, Miranda).

Voted fourth in BFI’s Top 100 TV programmes of 20th Century, the film has been fully restored in high-definition from the original film elements and still retains its power and social relevance, particularly in the year that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act.

It remains one of the most significant LGBT dramas of all time as well as a fitting tribute to John Hurt, a much loved actor, who died in January.

● The Naked Civil Servant is released by Network and available on BluRay/ DVD on 5th June. DVD extras include: Commentary with John Hurt, Verity Lambert and Jack Gold; ‘Making Of’ documentary; ‘Seven men – Quentin Crisp’ documentary. To pre-order, click on the link below.

The Naked Civil Servant [Blu-ray]

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BFI FLARE 2017 REVIEW: Against The Law / After Louie

Against The Law is a timely and sensitive biopic based on Peter Wildeblood’s bestseller which tells the story of his affair with a serviceman he met in Piccadilly and the devastating consequences of their relationship.

Wildeblood had been a celebrated and well-connected journalist with a range of acquaintances that included Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. He is played by Daniel Mays, in a performance that charts his journey from Fleet Street via public vilification to his imprisonment under the same legislation that sent Oscar Wilde to Reading Gaol.

2017 sees the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which decriminalised homosexual acts in England and Wales between adult males, in private. While it would take several decades before homosexuals would reach anything like full equality in this country, this legislation marks the beginning of this journey. The BFI is marking the 50th anniversary with a new season of screenings and events.

The importance of Peter Wildeblood’s case (jointly brought against him, Lord Montagu and Michael Pitt-Rivers) is that it brought the debate about homosexuality into the public domain. It led the way to the creation of the Wolfenden Committee on sexual law reform that eventually resulted in the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which changed the lives of thousands of gay men with its partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts.

After Louie stars Alan Cumming as a New York artist whose life is turned upside down by an encounter with a much younger man.

● Against The Law will be shown on BBC Two later this year. BFI Flare runs 16th March – 26th March 2017.  

Out at the Movies: A History of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual and Queer Cinema

Kindle Edition: Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only

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The trailer for Lady Macbeth has just gone online and it looks spellbinding

The film is loosely based on a nineteenth century novella called Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov and was later adapted as an Opera.

Florence Pugh (The Falling and Screen Star of Tomorrow) takes the lead in the 19th Century period drama. Former Screen Star of Tomorrow Cosmo Jarvis (Spooks: The Greater Good) plays opposite Pugh while supporting cast include Paul Hilton (Wuthering Heights), newcomer Naomi Ackie and Christopher Fairbank (Guardians of the Galaxy).

I’ve got to be honest: history was never my strong point at school. There was something about the vast differences in style, attitude and affairs from years gone by that didn’t resonate with me.

As I fast-forward from my younger years, I learn to appreciate the intrigue of history lessons.

In movie terms, history can be hugely pleasurable when the direction is good and the plot draws you in. The premise of Lady Macbeth seems perfect for the big screen.

Rural England, 1865. Katherine (Florence Pugh) is stifled by her loveless marriage to a bitter man twice her age, and his cold, unforgiving family. When she embarks on a passionate affair with a young worker on her husband’s estate, a force is unleashed inside her so powerful that she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Girl power? Probably. Here we have a beautiful, determined and merciless young woman seizing her independence in a world dominated by men. It might not, however, be the kind of female influence that is fun for all the family.

Whilst the design of the movie is all about looking back, its backbone appear to be about nurturing for the future: the script was written by up and coming playwright Alice Birch, winner of the 2014 George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright.  We could potentially be looking at a catalyst for a future of riveting cinema.

● Lady Macbeth is released in the UK and Ireland on April 28.

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Today I was joined by singer-songwriter Katherine Ellis to review the movie Sully.

The movie is based on the true story of Chesley Sullenberger who back in 2009 was hailed as a national hero in the United States when he successfully executed an emergency water landing of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River off Manhattan, New York City.

Sully is released in UK cinemas on Dec 2.


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