“I will find them, I promise you that.”
The Impossible is based on the true story of the Alvaraz family and their incredible struggle to survive the Tsunami which devastated Thailand in 2004. Though the family’s nationality has been changed from Spanish to British the film is apparently a credible recreation of events. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play parents whose career worries fade into insignificance when they are separated from each other by the disaster. Henry (McGregor) is left with two of their boys, while eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) is swept away with Maria (Watts).
Director Juan Antonio Bayano made his feature debut with the creepy horror film The Orphanage (2007) and you can see the influence of that genre here. Bayano builds tension with close-ups of everyday objects being used (a juice blender, a ball bouncing) that coupled together with the ominous music seem to act as portents. The first act makes it very clear the devastating the effects of the Tsunami hitting the resort and the sound design department captures every crunching noise as trees are snapped like twigs, buildings demolished, and people dragged underwater. Camerawork is often handheld and used to disorient the viewer.
It would be unfair to reveal any more except to say after this powerful opening sequence the film becomes a journey through a ruined landscape as the survivors come together and try to find their own folk. While Watts received an Oscar nomination for her performance and McGregor also impresses young Tom Holland steals the film as the resourceful Lucas. There is also a striking but all too brief appearance from Geraldine Chaplin as a kindly stranger. The Impossible is a powerful but ultimately rewarding viewing experience.
Written by Sergio G. Sánchez, Maria Bélon
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayano
Running time 114 mins
“The wild is no place for gentle folk who can neither fight nor fend for themselves.”
These days director Peter Jackson is now so firmly identified with the world of J. R. Tolkien it seems hard to believe there were doubts back in the late 90’s when it was announced he would adapt The Lord of the Rings. Back then Jacksonwas best known for making gory low-budget horror films, although Heavenly Creatures (1994) based on a notorious matricide in New Zealandshowed a more serious side. Adapting Tolkien’s epic trilogy had already defeated a number of filmmakers notably John Boorman, while an animated version by Ralph Bakshi in 1978 was abandoned halfway through. The Lord of the Rings may have been larger in scale than anything Jackson had attempted but the signs were there he could deliver. These early films might feature ridiculously gory scenes of aliens being dismembered with chainsaws, or sheep getting blown up by rocket launchers, or a kung-fu kicking priest beating up zombies, but they also show Jackson’s flair for special effects and his gift for the fantastical.
After the success of the Lord of the Rings movies which culminated in a Best Picture Oscar for Return of the King (2003) it seemed likely The Hobbit would be next. Jacksoninitially intended only to produce the film. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) was hired but left the project after two years of pre-production so Jackson once again resumed directorial duties. The Hobbit is naturally enough for a film based on a children’s novel lighter in tone to The Lord of the Rings though it feels very much like a return to the world created by Jackson and his team over a decade ago.
The cast is largely made up of television stars and trying to recognise them under their makeup is part of the fun. Martin Freeman is impressive as Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit persuaded by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to help a group of dwarves regain their homeland, but see if you can spot former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy, Richard Armitage (Spooks), James Nesbitt (Cold Feet), Ken Stott (Rebus), Aidan Turner (Being Human), and Brett Mackenzie (Flight of the Conchords). Barry Humphries, better known as Dame Edna Everage, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), and Manu Bennett (Spartacus: Blood and Sand) are in all in there as well although their performances are motion captured and then recreated by computer generated imagery.
Kind of appropriate to be showing Brief Encounter in a cafe restaurant next to an abandoned railway line. Amazing film and I’ll take Lean’s early Noel Coward and Charles Dickens adaptations over his later epics any time. Here’s my notes for The Station screening of Brief Encounter.
“But the minutes went by…”
Brief Encounter is the fourth and final collaboration between Noel Coward and director David Lean having previously worked together on the war films In Which We Serve (1942) and This Happy Breed (1945) as well as the comedy Blithe Spirit (1945). An adaptation of a one-act play by Coward called ‘Still Life,’ the film takes place in and around a railway station as two people consider having an affair. While Brief Encounter is thematically similar to Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz) the latter is the kind of Hollywood escapism Alec (Trevor Howard) and Laura (Celia Johnson) would go and see on the Thursday afternoons they spend together. Laura is certain such grand passion couldn’t happen to somebody who shops in Boots the chemists. Alec and Laura are blindsided by their emotions as their casual acquaintance develops into something much deeper. It is all too easy now to make fun now of the perfectly clipped accents in Brief Encounterand its old-fashioned sense of decency, but the film has lost none of its power.
Sound is important in Brief Encounter. The haunting musical score is Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2 and it counterpoints Alec and Laura’s restraint in public with the emotional turmoil they feel. The noises heard at the station; the trains arriving and departing, the announcements, the whistles, all recurring in the background are a reminder of the possibilities of escape. David Lean often uses odd camera angles and films the lovers in shadow, a technique more common in thrillers than in romances yet it adds to the feeling they are somehow transgressing. Bear in mind Coward was a closeted homosexual so forbidden love, clandestine meetings, and being very careful not to attract attention would almost certainly have been part of his romantic life.
There is an argument Brief Encounter represents a gentile and timid form of British cinema though this seems largely reductive. It is rare to find a British film from this period which is so emotionally open or poetic. It also has a complex narrative structure which begins at the end and then shows us through Laura’s memories and her accompanying voice-over events filtered through her own sensibilities before we again see the beginning/end with the added pathos of knowing what we are seeing this time around. Lean would later turn towards large-scale epic productions like Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dr Zhivago (1965) but this small intimate movie about lives thrown out of kilter by romantic longing is his most extraordinary work.
“It’s so nice to meet a man you feel you can trust..”
Ladies man Brad (Rock Hudson) and career woman Jan (Doris Day) fall out over his excessive use of their shared phone line. Brad’s best buddy Jonathon (Tony Randall) confides in him about his infatuation with the attractive interior decorator who redesigned his office and mentions how she is having trouble with a neighbour. Figuring out Jan is the lady in question Brad pretends to be a country boy from Texas and sets out to seduce her.
The Doris Day/Rock Hudson partnership is one of cinema’s most iconic pairings. Day was already famous for musicals like Calamity Jane (53, David Butler), but the success of Pillow Talk turned her into Hollywood’s biggest female star. Hudsonhad worked his way through the studio system but as a leading man he seemed bland and wooden in genre films. However he made a huge impression as a dramatic actor proving himself to be more than a 6’4 hunk in a series of films for director Douglas Sirk (Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels). Dismissed somewhat patronisingly on their release as being merely ‘women’s pictures’ they are now recognised as classics and Hudson’s performances show a remarkable depth of feeling. New to comedy and wracked with doubts about his ability to be funny Hudson was lost until Pillow Talk director Gordon told him to play it as seriously as if he were acting in a tragedy. It probably helped having gifted comic actors like Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter around him though.
Producer Ross Hunter was an influential figure in the making of Pillow Talk. The findings of the recently published Kinsey reports (1948, 53) signalled the changing mores of American society. Hunter was fed up adhering to the Hay’s Code, a censorious set of rules which had been in place since 1930 and aimed to protect public morality. Pillow Talk may seem tame by modern standards but screenwriters Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin push the envelope with suggestive dialogue. Michael Gordon also uses a split screen technique (see picture left) so Jan and Brad appear to be in the same bathtub or bed which in 1959 would still contravene the Hay’s Code.
Pillow Talk was so popular Day/Hudson/Randall reteamed again for two other films – Lover Come Back (61, Delbert Mann) and Send Me No Flowers (64, Norman Jewison). What seemed progressive in 1959 dated in the 60’s as younger audiences turned away from the popular entertainment their parents liked. By the early 70’s all three leads were working primarily in television. Tony Randall had a huge hit with the long-running TV version of The Odd Couple. Hudsonstarred in McMillan and Wife and made his last onscreen appearance in 1985 as a regular on Dynasty, essentially a trashy but fun distillation of the kind of melodramas he made back in the 50’s. Sadly Hudson is best known these days for being the most high profile victim of the AIDS virus. Doris Day starred in her own comedy show until 1973 but retired from public life afterwards. In 2011 she made a comeback of sorts by releasing a new album entitled ‘My Heart.’
Can’t say I cared much for Skyfall but clearly I seem to be in the minority. Anyway here’s the programme notes for the latest screening at The Station.
Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes)
“Sometimes the old ways are the best.”
Having successfully rebooted the Bond franchise with Casino Royale (2006, dir. Martin Campbell) producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson found making a worthy follow-up problematic. A strike enforced by the Writers Guild of America meant Quantum of Solace started filming without a finished screenplay. The resulting movie naturally enough seems rushed but despite the low-key approach and its perceived failure Quantum of Solace remains one of the more interesting Bond films. Not many big-budget action movies are concerned thematically with the effects of grieving.
Still it wasn’t what audiences wanted after the confident approach of Casino Royale. Worse was to come for Eon Productions when their partners MGM filed for bankruptcy. There were worrying echoes of the prolonged absence from the screens after 1989’s Licence to Kill (John Glen) when a series of legal wrangles shut down the franchise for six years and led to the cancellation of a proposed third Timothy Dalton film titled ‘The Property of a Lady.’ For a few months it seemed like Daniel Craig might share the same fate as his predecessor until Sony stepped in and signed a deal to co-finance and distribute all future Bond films.
Eon have brought together an impressive group of A-List talent. Director Sam Mendes won an Oscar for American Beauty (1999) and previously worked with Daniel Craig on the gangster movie Road to Perdition (2004). Cinematographer Roger Deakins (The Assassination of Jesse James) is widely regarded as being one of the greatest in his field. Spanish actor Javier Bardem is an impressive bad guy sporting a haircut that’s every bit as weird as his barnet in No Country for Old Men (2008, Joel & Ethan Coen). The plot is relatively straightforward. Bond must battle to save his surrogate Queen M (Judi Dench) from a vengeful former agent while Intelligence Chief Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) tries to enforce her retirement.
Skyfall feels like a new beginning once again reinstating classic elements from the Bond franchise including Q (Ben Wishaw) and the Walther PPK, but also reinventing the past. Danny Boyle opened the Olympics in style with a short film showing James Bond escorting a certain VIP to the opening ceremony. Mendes continues this celebratory theme for the franchise’s 50th anniversary year and affirms James Bond’s place as a British cultural icon even going as far to emphasise his Anglo-Scottish roots. Time will tell if Skyfall deserves a place alongside the great Bond films but for now it is the right film at the right moment.
“All the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) scandalises Russian society by embarking on a tempestuous affair with handsome young cavalry officer Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) thus putting her husband Karenin’s (Jude Law) political ambitions in jeopardy. Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard’s formally daring approach to Tolstoy’s novel sets the action within an elaborately constructed theatre. By refusing to place events in real locations Wright adds a phantasmagorical touch as if these characters exist out-with their own time replaying events from the past. It is a bold conceit but one that never diverts from the power of Tolstoy’s story or the very fine performances from Knightley and in particular Jude Law.
Director Profile – Joe Wright
British director Joe Wright started his career directing dramas for the BBC, most notably Charles II: The Power and the Passion (2003). This led to him being chosen to direct Pride and Prejudice (2005) for Working Title Films with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen (both of whom appear in Anna Karenina). Another literary adaptation followed with Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2007) again with Knightley. The Soloist (2009) based on the true story of a musician who develops schizophrenia and ends up homeless didn’t receive the acclaim of Wright’s earlier films but it is an affecting work with great performance from Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. Hanna (2009) is an odd mixture of action movie and fairytale starring Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan as father and daughter assassins.
Tolstoy on Film
Tolstoy has been well served by film. Greta Garbo made an impression in a 1935 version of Anna Karenina (dir. Clarence Brown). Russian actor-director Sergei Bonderchuk’s 1967 take on War and Peace is eight hours long but still quicker than reading the book. Robert Bresson’s final film L’ Argent (1983) is a masterly reworking of the Tolstoy short story ‘The Forged Coupon.’ Italian brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani made a typically spare and elegant adaptation of Tolstoy’s ‘Father Serguis.’ With Ivansxtc (2001) Bernard Rose relocates ‘The Life and Death of Ivan Ilyich’ to contemporary Los Angeles as a Hollywood agent faces up to his own mortality.
Screenplay by Tom Stoppard (based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy)
Directed by Joe Wright
Running time 2 hours 10 mins
North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)
Introduced by Allan Hunter
“Goodbye Mr Thornhill, wherever you are.”
A man wrongly accused of committing a serious crime and struggling to prove his innocence is a recurring figure in the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Suave advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) raises his hand at the wrong moment in a restaurant and is mistaken for a spy named George Kaplan. Thornhill is then pursued across the country by foreign spies and the police who believe him to be a murderer. Worse still, his mother wants him home for dinner. Thornhill hooks up with a stranger on a train, the achingly lovely Eve (Eva Marie Saint) and the two try to prove his innocence but can she be trusted? Everybody involved in the production brings their A-game. Ernest Lehman’s witty screenplay plays around with notions of identity and truth as well as being daringly suggestive for the times. Bernard Hermann’s score mixes suspense with romanticism. Hitchcock’s stunning use of set-pieces and spectacular locations lays down the template for the modern action movie blockbuster. For a film in which deception features so strongly there is nothing fake about Grant’s effortless charm or his onscreen chemistry with Marie Saint. North by Northwest is an action thriller with plenty of depth.
Film journalist for the Daily Express and Screen Daily, Allan Hunter is also the co-director of the Glasgow Film Festival, an event growing in stature every year. In 2010 Mr Hunter oversaw a retrospective of Cary Grant’s career at the GFF. An admirer of Grant’s work, Mr Hunter will introduce tonight’s screening and afterwards talk about the film.
Cary Grant – Roger O. Thornhill
Eva Marie Saint – Eve Kendall
James Mason – Philip Vanda
Jessie Reynolds – Clara Thornhill
Leo G. Carroll – The Professor
Martin Landau – Leonard
Screenplay by Ernest Lehman
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Running time 2 hrs 16 mins