MEANER STREETS

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While the 2014 Oscars were dominated by the likes of The Imitation Game, Birdman and The Theory of Everything, Nightcrawler also hit the cinemas. Available on DVD and Blu-ray now, Nightcrawler portrays Louis Bloom (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), an LA resident with a directionless life who gets attracted to filming the underbelly of the city. He finds an affinity for capturing the horror of the crimes that are committed in the city each night and begins to sell his video footage to minor TV station manager Nina Romina (Rene Russo). But as the film progresses, we become to realise that the true horror is that Bloom’s personality mirrors the violence and the amorality of Los Angeles. Nightcrawler is also a dark commentary on the desperate nature of media as it turns out that Romina is so desperate for ratings for the minor station she works for that she is prepared to overlook things like the facts of a story. It is a brilliantly satirical film, a true work of proper cinema, director Dan Gilroy has done a wonderful job creating a very very hyper-real LA and Gyllenhaal is mesmerising as Bloom. Fans of real cinema which has something to say should check Nightcrawler out, a film which is destined to be a cult classic…

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BRITISH INSTITUTION
Ealing Studios was a British institution and it’s easy to forget that they didn’t just make comedies. This month, Studio Canal have three of their films released (Nowhere to Go, The Titfield Thunderbolt and Dance Hall). Nowhere to Go and Dance Hall have been issued on DVD whereas The Titfield Thunderbolt, tying in with its 60th anniversary, is getting a Blu-ray and a DVD release.
Nowhere To Go is a great British noir film, based on the novel by Donald McKenzie and scripted by Kenneth Tynan, made in 1958. This is an uncut version of the film which has never been released before. Canadian conman Paul Gregory (played by George Nader), has come to London to steal the rare old coin collection of old woman Harriet Jefferson (Bessie Love). He does this successfully but ends up going to prison, sentenced to ten years. The spivvy Victor Sloane (Bernard Lee, playing against type here) helps to break Gregory out of prison but despite the fact he does escape prison, his journey to flee the country is hindered by a number of double crosses and accidents and so he finds himself on the lam with young socialite Bridget Howard (a very young Maggie Smith). Director Seth Holt, who also went on to make Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb and The Nanny, moves the action on with panache and Nader is very good as its protagonist and it’s refreshing to see Lee in a role that’s quite different. Nowhere To Go is an exciting slice of fifties noir with a very British feel and it’s certainly worthy of a new home cinema release…
The Titfield Thunderbolt, which was made in 1953, deals with a classic Ealing preoccupation: small town vs big business. A group of railway enthusiasts decide to run their own train when British Rail decides to cancel their service. The restored cut does look lovely on screen but The Titfield Thunderbolt does feel rather lightweight these days. Director Charles Crichton (Lavender Hill Mob) does manage to make the journey entertaining though, with his lightness of touch and bringing the bucolic Titfield to life, and the cast, which includes Stanley Holloway, John Gregson and even a cameo from Sid James, do bring an infectious liveability to what is a very slight film. It’s not up there with Ealing’s classic output but it is definitely worth a watch…
Finally, Dance Hall, which predates The Titfield Thunderbolt by three years but was also directed by Charles Crichton. This is an odd film: a drama about four factory girls and their romances at the local dance hall. Alexander Mackendrick, who went on to direct The Ladykillers, is one of the screenwriters here and Dance Hall does have its own naive charm. We get to see a young Petula Clark and a youngish Diana Dors as two of the girls, although Dors was never much of an actress. It is interesting to see London in 1950 but much of it feels very artificial. There are some nice moments though: the fight between the two men caught in a love triangle, Alec (Bonar Colleano) and Phil (Donald Houston), is surprisingly well orchestrated and there are some well-delineated relationships between the characters. Natasha Parry as Eve is also stunning and magnetic on screen. It doesn’t compare to Ealing’s classic films either but it is worth watching if you’re an aficionado of British cinema. Dance Hall is a curio but still worth checking out.

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A DARKER SIDE TO LONDON

It Always Rains on Sunday is a little-known Ealing Studios film, released in 1947. Directed by Robert Hamer, who went on to helm Kind Hearts and Coronets, and based on the book by Arthur La Bern, this film, juts released as a restored BFI version on Studio Canal Blu-ray, is a British noir about housewife Rose Sandigate (Googie Withers) who is put in an impossible position when her former lover, criminal Tommy Swann (John McCallum) escapes from prison and turns to her to hide him from the police. It paints an interesing picture of post-war London and the cast especially Withers, McCallum and Jack Warner as Det. Sgt Fothergill are very watchable on screen. Director Hamer keeps the action moving well, keeping the various elements of the plot engaging including a sub plot about record shop owner Morry Hyams, played by Sydney Tafler and his infidelities. Of course, noir films only end one of a few ways and it doesn’t take a genius to work out how this concludes but it is an interesting curio, showing that Ealing could tackle more than just comedies. It’s not a classic in the vein of the best Ealing work like Kind Hearts and Coronets or The Ladykillers but if you’re a fan of their films and would like to see some a little bit different, you wouldn’t go far wrong with It Always Rains on Sunday…


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ISLAND STRIFE

Martin Scorsese is a director responsible for one of my favourite films of all time, Goodfellas. While his output has been up and down for the last couple of decades, his films are still nearly always worth watching. Shutter Island is an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel of the same name. His work has been adapted to the big screen before (Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone) and it is because his writing is so filmable that his books keep getting optioned. Shutter Island is set in the Fifties and starts with Leonardo DiCaprio as Marshall Teddy Daniels investigating the escape of a prisoner from secure hospital Ashville, located on an island in the Atlantic Ocean near Boston. Accompanied by his partner Chuck Aule (played by Mark Ruffalo), he encounters enigmatic head doctor Cawley (Ben Kingsley) who appears to be hiding something. In fact, you are thrown off-balance from the start: this is the first case that Aule has worked with Daniels and at times his partner seems like the only person Daniels can trust. Scorsese and his regular collaborator Dante Ferretti have done a great job of creating a place rife with paranoia and terror. Some critics have had a pop at Scorsese because Shutter Island is a deliberate pastiche of many of the director’s favourite film noirs but this is not something I had a problem with. Also, it’s a bit rich that when Tarantino does something similar in his clumsy but almost unversally feted Inglorious Basterds, he is celebrated but apparently that’s not acceptable with Shutter island. While not a movie classic like Goodfellas or Casino, this film is still the director’s best in some time with another magnificent performance from DiCaprio and solid support from people like Rufalo and Kingsley. Admittedly, the twist at the end, which I won’t spoil here, is foreshadowed throughout the script but the journey is enjoyable enough for this not to matter. If you enjoy the sort of films that Shutter Island tips its hat to (North By Northwest, Spellbound, Out of The Past) and want to kill two hours with a solid movie, you could do worse than check out this film…