Friday, 25 December 2015

Funny Face

1957 - Dir. Stanley Donen - 1 hr 32 mins

Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 27th December, 2015
 Audrey Hepburn loved fashion, and this is a film about fashion. Its supposedly based on the romance between photographer Richard Avedon and fashion editor Diana Vrieland. Mr Avedon maintained that this wasn’t the case but was involved in the making of the film - he produced the photographs for the chic title sequence, and the colourised stills from the photo-shoot sequence, which is all based on his signature poses and favoured moody locations.
Although the costume design credit goes to Hollywood’s Edith Head, many of the costumes in this film are by Givenchy. Audrey Hepburn insisted that her friend Hubert de Givenchy be allowed to design the most stylish creations - in fact she insisted that he alone would design for her in all subsequent movies. Here the familiar fantasy of the shop girl catapulted to fame is balanced by the films understanding of the mechanics, and the personalities, of the fashion world.
While Hepburn shimmers in Givenchy’s silk gown at the end of a Paris catwalk, Funny Face reminds us of the people behind the scenes (like Avedon) who put the girl in the frock in the first place. Think pink!
●    Audrey Hepburn’s Mum appears in Funny Face as a customer in a pavement cafe - and Audrey’s dog (Mr Famous) appears as “dog in basket” in a sequence on a train.
●    It rained constantly on location in Paris but the sun shone for the critical musical numbers - which makes the decision to use the rainy shots in the film’s trailers a little odd.
●    Fred Astaire’s real name was Frederick Austerlitz - his father was an Austrian brewer who had emigrated to Nebraska. He retired in 1946… but was persuaded to come back to the screen by a 10,000 signature petition produced by the patrons of a single cinema in New York.
●    Audrey Hepburn sings perfectly well in this film. She was understandably disappointed when an opera singer (Marnie Nixon) was brought in to dub the more demanding songs in “My Fair Lady”. Typically, she listened to both versions and readily admitted that the decision was justified.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Imitation Game

2014 - Dir Morton Tyldrum - 1 hour 44 minutes. Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 28th November, 2015

This is, incredibly, the first English language film to be directed by Mortem Tyldum, hitherto best known for his Norwegian thriller Headhunters. It’s a directing masterclass down to the smallest details. A cracklingly taught thriller mixing searing tension with raw emotion - and pivoting on the hot property actor of the moment. In days gone by movie heroes were dashing, handsome, womanising hunks who in the main played themselves. Here we have a classical actor with a strange name playing an oddball genius - and a gay oddball at that - in an incredibly popular film. How times have changed…
There has been much debate in the press about the accuracy of the Enigma story but the fact remains that this is a superb portrayal of a man who did his utmost to make it possible for the allies to win the war, saving thousands, if not millions, of lives in the process - and who, when it was all over, was shamefully treated by the authorities. It would be comforting to think that it couldn’t happen now.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Alan Turing are actually related in real-life. the two are 17th cousins with family relations dating back to the 14th century. Both are said to be related to John Beaufort, the first Earl of Somerset.
Alex Lawther, who plays the young Turing, and Benedict Cumberbatch wear dentures in the film which are exact copies of Alan Turing's own 60-year old set of false teeth. 
Alan Turing is shown running on various occasions and although it’s never mentioned in the movie, he was a world class distance runner with a personal marathon time of 2:46:03, achieved in 1946. 
This film went on general release in the UK on November 14th. Coventry was blitzed by the Luftwaffe on the same day in 1940. It is thought that plans for the attack had been discovered by the Bletchley Park code breakers but no action was taken to stop it because the Government were worried that such action would disclose the fact that the Enigma code had already been broken.

Life of Riley

(Aimer, Boire et Chanter) 2014 - Dir Alain Resnais - 1hr 48min. Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on 20th November, 2015

What a paradox this is! A film made by a veteran French director, written by a distinguished English playwright, spoken in French…but set in Yorkshire. It could be a recipe for disaster but when the distinguished French director is Alain Resnais and the playwright is Alan Aykbourn there is a more than a glimmer of hope that the result will be rather special.
This is M.Resnais’ final film. He died at the age of 92 soon after its first showing. He left us this gentle, muted swansong: an adaptation of the stage-play “Relatively Speaking”, by Alan Ayckbourn – an English author to whom Resnais was as attached as Claude Chabrol was to Ruth Rendell. 
A trio of couples are united in shock and anxiety as they hear that their old friend, George Riley, is terminally ill, with just a few months left. All of the women have some emotional or sexual history with Riley (who, like Godot, remains absent from the stage) and when they sentimentally invite him to take part in an amateur drama production they’re involved with, these long-submerged tensions rise to the surface.
The setting is deliberately theatrical - the characters are rehearsing for the local amateur dramatic show and their on stage characters mix with their off stage “real” characters. Perhaps emphasizing that “all the world’s a stage” and that, despite all our farcical machinations, we’re only here until the great stage manager in the sky decides that the curtain must fall.

The Night of The Hunter

1955 - Dir Charles Laughton - 1 hour 32 minutes. Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 31st October, 2015

Oh, how the Americans hated this! A limey director, a maverick star and a horror film that was short of graphic horror… but still had the power to terrify. The studio didn’t know how to handle it. Somebody decided it should be publicised as a B movie shocker but that’s exactly what it wasn’t. It’s one of the cinema’s abiding tragedies that the directing career of one of our greatest actors was cut short by the bad handling of this, his one and only, directorial effort. Mr Laughton retired, mortified by the experience, not to the bottle (as popular myth would have it) but to the stage and radio. There’s no doubt that this is one of the strangest films ever to come out of Hollywood and we have to warn you that it’s not, even after all of these years, a comforting tale. Nobody who sees it ever forgets it - or the menace of Robert Mitchum’s performance… Take care on your walk home.. Children…

The Englishman who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain

1995 - Dir Christopher Monger - 1hr 42min. Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on 16th October, 2015

The British love characters in their films - eccentrics, oddities and quaint folk. They’re not so good at tolerating them in real life but, as long as they’re up there on the screen, they’re OK. This film abounds with them - and, even better, most of them are Welsh - which makes them even funnier!
Her Majesty's Ordnance Survey Office has for more than a century been mapping the British Isles down to the smallest lane, hill and footpath. Country walkers can buy a map so detailed it includes clumps of trees. These maps are of incalculable importance to the people whose lands they detail, since they touch on old wounds: feuds, battles, disputed place-names, historical perceptions. The film begins as two surveyors for the O. S. arrive in a small village in Wales. Their purpose: To measure the local "mountain," Mountains must be at least 1,000 feet high. Anything smaller is a large hill.
The lengths to which the villagers will go to prove that their hill is a mountain makes for classic British film comedy - gently daft community action by “ordinary” people - think “Passport to Pimlico”, “Whisky Galore” and “Waking Ned” . Those who remember Feckenham’s brief, but glorious, spasm of civil disobedience when The Square (the village green) was threatened will know that this spirit lives on in real life - we still haven’t discovered who it was that “accidentally dropped” a mixer full of quick setting  concrete on the Vicarage drive….

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

What We Did on Our Holiday

2014 - Dir Guy Jenkin & Andy Hamilton - 1hr 35min
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 26th September, 2015

It’s difficult not to enjoy this big-hearted and sweet-natured British family movie from Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin – effectively a feature-format development of their smash-hit BBC TV comedy, “Outnumbered”, which pioneered semi-improvised dialogue from the children. It creates a terrifically ambitious (and unexpected) narrative with a ton of sharp gags. It might have been expected that Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner would reprise their roles as the mum and dad, but because TV viewers have seen their fictional children grow up on the small screen, that wouldn’t have rung true. The gentle direction does a good job of making the young characters look terrifically spontaneous, and the adult cast is rife with expertise: Ms Pike is both frazzled and dry, while Mr Tennant proves that his wide-eyed intensity works as well as a comic tic as it does when he’s playing an existentially tortured bloke in more serious fare…. and Billy Connolly is… well, Billy Connolly actually - a man doing a very good impression of a national treasure (having moved back to live in Scotland from California).
The original idea for tonight’s feature film sprang from “Outnumbered” which ran on BBC1 for 5 series between 2007 and 2014. This was the brainchild of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin who had previously collaborated on “Drop the Dead Donkey”. The show was mostly devised and improvised in rehearsal and the kids were encouraged to be as spontaneous as possible.

Carmen from Sydney Harbour

A special deferred relay performance by arrangement with CinemaLive and Opera Australia
at The FeckenOdeon on 29th August, 2015

Opera Australia, not content with having one of the most dramatic and well known opera houses on Earth, decided to take advantage of the unique setting of Sydney harbour by staging summer seasons of operas on a floating stage moored in front of one of the world’s greatest backdrops. To one side is the famous bridge and the opera house, to the other the twinkling lights of the city centre - all given added sparkle by the water and punctuated by the ferries passing by. The specially constructed “theatre” seats nearly 4,000 people and there are bars and restaurants serving all sorts of food and drink.  The shows run for 4 weeks and they’re all sold out months ahead (55,000 people attended last year) - so we’re privileged to be able to offer you all front row seats tonight.

Producing opera on this grand scale - and in the open air - and on water - calls for a different approach to that taken in  normal opera house. For instance, you can’t see the orchestra but it’s there. The 80 musicians are in a humidity controlled environment under the stage - exposure to the changes in humidity in the open air would have made the instruments go out of tune. Opera singers don’t need amplification indoors but you’ll see the mikes tonight. Expert live mixing blends the voices perfectly with the subterranean musicians.

Similarly the scale of the event means that some liberties have to be taken with the content. If you’ve seen Carmen before you may remember that there’s quite a lot of spoken dialogue. Much of this has been cut and the director has concentrated on keeping the action moving in order not to lose the attention of those seated far from the stage. It makes for a crisp and fast paced version of the opera and the visual and aural delights more than make up for the loss of dialogue.

That this story is such a crowd pleaser is a little strange. It’s a dark tale of lust, treachery, infidelity and murder set against a background of crime and barbaric blood sports. The glorious music and spectacle sugar the pill but what it all boils down to is “man fancies woman, woman fancies a bullfighter, man kills woman…. and nobody lives happily ever after”.

The opera was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1874. The depictions of proletarian life, immorality and lawlessness, and the tragic death of the main character on stage, broke new ground in French opera and were highly controversial. After the premiere, most reviews were critical, and it was not revived in Paris until 1883; thereafter it rapidly acquired celebrity at home and abroad, and continues to be one of the most frequently performed operas.

Over the years the piece has been prey to all sorts of directorial distractions. Many (like our show tonight) concentrate on the spectacle with the central tragedy struggling to break to the surface (because of the power of the music it always succeeds to devastating effect). There have been Carmens set in the Bronx, in the desert, on the Moon… and a memorable WNO version set in a Siberian salt mine where Carmen made her first entrance tied up in a sack and riding on a rusty railway truck. Some directors have shied away from the decidedly non-PC profession of the factory girls and others have positively embraced it with entire choruses puffing away at Gitanes while the audience choked in sympathy. Whatever the treatment, the show seems to weather it and triumph. The music is glorious, the drama gripping and the ending is unfailingly moving… we trust you brought a hankie… unless you’re made of stone, you’ll almost certainly need it!

Sunshine On Leith

2013 - Dir: Dexter Fletcher - 1 hour 35 minutes
Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on 14th August, 2015

“If aliens landed in the centre of Edinburgh tomorrow and asked us to tell them all we know of Scottish arts and culture, how on earth would we explain the Proclaimers? Are Craig and Charlie Reid, the Leith-born twins with matching glasses and accents thicker than yesterday’s porridge, an accomplished folk-rock duo of three decades standing, or a novelty pop act? I’m never entirely sure: any karaoke veteran will appreciate the mesmeric hold “I’m Gonna Be” (500 Miles) can have over a beery mob, and yet the duo’s lyrics ring with a blunt poetry that’s seldom acknowledged, let alone savoured. 
Well, there is plenty of opportunity to savour it in Sunshine on Leith! This musical film directed by Dexter Fletcher is built around 13 Proclaimers’ songs that leaves you with cask-strength, capillary-reddening tingles of happiness that run to the very tip of your nose.”  Robbie Colin, Daily Telegraph.
….and so say a whole host of reviews of this cheery adaptation of the stage musical of the same name. “Dundee Rep” was the theatre that commissioned, nurtured, and first staged this show, back in 2007, in a memorably inventive and joyous production by the then artistic director James Brining, now in charge of West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. Mr Brining worked with writer Stephen Greenhorn to develop the show, and forged the script and the music into a fast-moving, beautifully staged production…. And it was the Dundee Rep that then took the risk – and the eventual financial loss – involved in scaling up the show for a UK main stage tour, which played to packed houses at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh at Christmas 2008, but did less well south of the Border. It’s interesting that, now that the seal of “international” financial interest has been stamped on the big screen transfer, southern English critics and audiences have suddenly become enthused. No matter - this is a movie forged in the north and celebrating life regardless of what the rest of he UK is worrying about. 
It has been said that this is the ultimate antidote to British miserabilism and that it  does the same job for The Proclaimers as Mamma Mia did for Abba. Part of its appeal lies in that it’s much better sung than Mamma Mia was on film, and combines a few actors we didn’t know could sing with young stars who have enough talent to storm the West End. It has the same quality that made something remarkable out of Alan Parker’s The Commitments: the power to mix working-class grit with a classless love of pop music, and an optimism about the way we’re going. Sunshine On Leith is not intended to be a political film, but it captures something all too rarely recognised about UK culture, which is far too obsessed with London and patronisingly depicts the rest of the country as dour and in decline. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

2015 - Dir: John Madden - 2 hour 2 minutes
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 10th July, 2015

We’re not great fans of sequels at The FeckenOdeon. They very often turn out to be a pale and prolonged rehash of the original film - the idea just doesn’t sustain and should have been left to rest in peace. There are always exceptions to rules and tonight’s film is one. The characters are so well drawn and the actors, with millions of screen hours under their collective belts, are so at ease with the script that it’s as if the first film had never been made…. of course it could be, given their advanced years, that the actors have forgotten that they’ve done it all before…..
The original Best Exotic film was a bit of a game changer. The film distributors, forever chasing the pocket money of a young audience, had no idea that a film featuring a whole busload of ancient actors would romp to the top of the box office charts. Of course they reacted in the way they always do - by immediately trying to repeat the trick. A whole raft of (allegedly) feel-good oldie movies was hurriedly thrust into production with varying degrees of success. Of them only the funny and touching “Quartet” really hit the money - but at least a lot more elderly thespians got some work - and were able to keep the gas meter topped up when the weather got chilly last winter.
It’s not difficult to understand why Exotic Marigold was so popular. Those of us who are the wrong side of the bus pass age are only too aware that old people are just young people trapped inside increasingly unreliable and saggy shells. We’re just as daft, playful and downright irresponsible as any teenager. It’s a well loved formula exploited by Roy Clarke’s long running “Last of the Summer Wine” on the telly. All that’s happened here is that they’ve transferred it to a colourful and interesting location and added a bit of big screen glitz - and it works! Mind you, it would have been fascinating to see how Compo and Nora Batty coped with Bangalore….

(Moved from FeckenOdeon 2 to the larger Main Cinema because of public demand).

The Theory of Everything

2014 - Dir: James Marsh - 2 hour 3 minutes
Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on 22nd May, 2015

This is the story of Jane and Stephen Hawking - you’ll note that Jane is the first named in the catchline - and that’s quite deliberate. What this film represents is a triumph of Jane’s experience and persona after decades in which the family was viewed solely through the prism of Stephen’s genius, who as well as being the world’s best-known scientist is also the world’s best-known sufferer of motor neurone disease.
Stephen Hawking’s verdict on the movie was that it needed more science - but Jane said that it needed more emotion. Both however approved of the film. They met the actors - Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne - before the filming began and were both astounded by how closely they were able to represent the mannerisms, gestures and speech patterns of the young Hawkings. Jane said, “When I saw the film, I thought: she’s stolen my personality!”
The relative lack of science in the film isn’t so much down to the film makers not wishing to burden audiences with a weighty subject - more a desire to reflect Jane’s experience. “The truth was, there were four partners in our marriage,” says Jane. “Stephen and me, motor neurone disease and physics. If you took out motor neurone disease, you are still left with physics. Mrs Einstein, you know, cited physics as a difference for her divorce ...” During their marriage, she says, Stephen would retreat into himself. And, though he tried to explain physics to her, she always felt shut out of the world that was so crucial to him.  She also explains her reaction to the movie by saying “The important thing is that the feelings, where they are there, are very much true to our experiences. So from an emotional point of view, it’s spot on. The only thing is that they’ve had to minimise the strains and struggles, because in our real life the difficulties of dealing with Stephen’s disease were much greater than they appear in the film.” And, yes, the impression given in the film that she and Stephen managed to split up without too much acrimony – and that Jane’s new partner and now husband, musician Jonathan Hellyer Jones, became part of their immediate family – is indeed an accurate one.
The Theory of Everything, which was based on Jane’s memoir of their time together. Now 71, she and Jonathan divide their life between Cambridge (where Stephen lives nearby) and their house in northern France, and she makes regular visits to Seattle where her and Stephen’s eldest child, Robert, works for Microsoft and has a son and a daughter. Looking back she says “Being Stephen’s carer was such a struggle, and it’s a lonely job looking after a disabled person. Thinking back, I honestly wonder how I got through it. But what you hope is that the years since have brought improvements to the lives of disabled people and their carers, and I think for a while it was like that. But now the clock is turning back, and we can’t let that happen.”

Friday, 8 May 2015

The Invisible Woman

2013 - Dir.: Ralph Fiennes - 1 hours 51 minutes
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on April 25th, 2015
Ralph Fiennes may be the director and star of this handsomely mounted tale of the private life of Charles Dickens, but it's Felicity Jones who makes it fly. She plays Nelly Ternan, a young actress of indeterminate talent who captures the author's eye and heart, but wrestles (philosophically, morally, practically) with the idea of becoming his mistress. Abi Morgan's insightful script takes its lead from Claire Tomalin's book of the same name. At the heart of Nelly's dilemma is a gender inequality that Morgan's screenplay lays bare; the progressive "freedom" from marriage that Dickens and cohort Wilkie Collins (Tom Hollander) merrily espouse is a liberty for men only. 
The invisibility of the title appears to allude to Nelly, whose status in his life Dickens never really acknowledged, but Morgan and Fiennes show us that as the wronged wife, Catherine was also invisible, and so was Nelly's drawn and haunted mother, who considered it her duty to stand aside and let the great author have his high-minded, tortured way. 
The film is certainly based on fact. Dickens was forty-five when he met Ellen (Nelly) Ternan and she was eighteen, slightly older than his daughter Katey. Nelly Ternan was clever and charming, forceful of character, and interested in literature and the theatre. Dickens referred to her as his "magic circle of one". Matters came to a head in 1858 when Catherine Dickens opened a packet delivered by a London jeweller which contained a gold bracelet meant for Nelly with a note written by her husband. The Dickenses separated that May, after 22 years of marriage. Nelly left the stage in 1860, and was supported by Dickens from then on. She lived in houses he took under false names at Slough and later at Nunhead, and is thought to have had a son by him who died in infancy. Dickens left a legacy of £1,000 to Nelly in his will on his death in 1870, and sufficient income from a trust fund to ensure that she would never have to work again

The Straight Story

1999 - Dir: David Lynch - 1 hour 47 minutes
Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on 17th April, 2015
This is the most unlikely film to be directed by David Lynch. Mr Lynch is known for his surrealist films and has developed a unique cinematic style. The strange and, in many cases, violent elements contained within his films have been known to "disturb, offend or mystify" audiences. Nothing in this film is likely to do any of those things. His earlier work includes “Eraserhead” - a horrific and disturbing film involving the death of a child and inner demons. He achieved mainstream success with “The Elephant Man” which, while still dealing with a difficult subject, had a message of compassion. He then saddled himself with filming the un-filmable in the form of an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic “Dune” - a massive flop. Then there was the strange “Blue Velvet” which started off with a severed ear and went on to psychopathic rape… and then there was “Twin Peaks” for television… and so it goes on. Everything Mr Lynch has done is disturbing, shocking, even revolting… and then in 1999 he decided that the story of Alvin Straight was “what I fell in love with next”. No sex, no violence, no guns, no grossness - and it’s fantastic. 
It’s not often that a film is so faithful to the events that inspired it. It’s a fact that Alvin Ray Straight, was a WW2 veteran who lived in Laurens, Iowa. Just as the film depicts Mr Straight travelled 280 miles on a 1966 John Deere riding lawn mower to visit his 80-year-old brother Henry who had recently suffered a stroke and who lived in Blue River, Wisconsin . At a top speed of 5 miles per hour, the journey took six weeks. The event happened in the summer of 1994 when Alvin was 73 years old. Mr. Straight could not see well enough to get a driving license so he decided his only option was the mower. Setting off in early July, he towed a trailer loaded with gasoline, camping gear, clothes and food, and arrived at his brother's house in mid-August. Henry Straight recovered and moved back to Iowa to be closer to his family. Alvin died in 1996.
Mr Farnsworth, who plays Alvin, was a stuntman who first appeared in movies in 1937. He worked, mainly in Westerns, for many years and was one of the industry’s most respected (and mostly uncredited) performers. When David Lynch offered him the role, Farnsworth had no idea who he was. Farnsworth did not like violence or swearing, and Lynch assured him that there would be none of that in the movie. The lead role was a rarity for a man his age - 79 at the time of shooting. He was married for 38 years to Maggie and following her death took up with an airline stewardess 35 years younger than him. He was nominated for an Oscar for this role in 1999 but sadly, unable to cope with the pain of bone cancer, he committed suicide in 2000.
A distinguished British cinematographer and director, Mr Francis was 82 when he made this film. He completed the shoot in just 23 days. The age and infirmity of the main actor made precision and speed essential but the result is beautiful. This is his last film - but he lived to be 90.