3 new films, Arrival, Nocturnal Animals and a new Storyville.

Arrival.

Arrival.

Arrival divided critics when it reached cinemas this autumn, with some hailing it as a strong contender for film of the year and others wondering what all the fuss was about. It’s a scifi film from Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve in which Amy Adams is given the task of trying to decode the alien language of the visitors who arrive here from outer space.

It is just about worth seeing, but only because of the subtle twist it has in its tail and the less you know about that the more pleasantly surprised you’ll be by it. But it’s a very conventional film. One to put your feet up to with a calming cup of cocoa on a rainy winter’s eve.

Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals.

Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals.

Nocturnal Animals is the second film from Tom Ford after his impressive debut with A Single Man in 2009. The latter, as well as being as exquisitely crafted as everyone assumed it would be, it being a Tom Ford film, was also a quietly moving film with significantly more in the way of emotional depth than many had expected.

His latest offering however is exactly the sort of vapid exercise in surface style that everyone had feared would be the result first time around. Amy Adams stars again, this time as a privileged gallery owner in LA whom we’re clearly meant to sympathise with. She gets sent a novel written by an ex and the film morphs into a neo noir tale of southern revenge.

Colin Firth in A Single Man.

Colin Firth in A Single Man.

It all looks impeccable of course, but all Seamus McGarvey’s sumptuous photography does is to further emphasise how little there is here beneath the surface. Whether Nocturnal Animals is an aberration, and the real Tom Ford is the man who brought us A Single Man, or whether in fact that film’s success had more to do with Colin Firth and the source material provided by the Christopher Isherwood novel, only time will tell.

James Foley.

James Foley.

I promised myself that I would force myself to watch all and any Storyville docs that were screened on BBC4, but I really wasn’t looking forward to what I presumed would be a dull but worthy film on James Foley, the American photo-journalist executed by Daesh. Once again, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

p01q1kmxJim – The James Foley story was a riveting window into what life was like for the nineteen other journalists who were imprisoned with him in Syria, and an incredibly moving celebration of a life cut short. In a dignified and measured way it was absolutely devastating.

If you’re not familiar with the Storyville strand, I reviewed it and three or four of its remarkable films earlier here. And if you can, watch the James Foley Story. You can see the trailer for Arrival here and the trailer for Nocturnal Animals here.

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“The Gatekeepers” an Amazing Window on Israel.

Ami Ayalon, now in the Israeli Knesset.

Ami Ayalon, now in the Israeli Knesset.

In the week when the new Swedish government announced its intention to recognize the state of Palestine, and after the back bench British MPs made a similar show of public support, last weekend’s screening of the BBC Storyville documentary The Gatekeepers made for timely viewing.

This is one of those films that you feel you ought to watch, rather than one you actually want to see. And like so many of those, it turns out to be absolutely riveting.

Directed by the Israeli Dror Moreh, who was inspired by Errol Morris’ extraordinarily revealing interview of Robert S. McNamara for The Fog Of War, The Gatekeepers is an extended interview with the last six heads of the Israeli secret service, the Shin Bet. Remarkably, it’s every bit as revealing as the film that inspired it.

The remarkable Rodriguez.

The remarkable Rodriguez.

For the last 35 years, these six men have been in charge of Israel’s internal security. And watching them grapple with their consciences whilst bemoaning the refusal of leaders on either side to seriously engage with their opposite number was fascinating, depressing and ultimately somehow hopeful.

If only, you couldn’t help but feel, it had been some of these men who’d been running the country instead of the ones who were actually elected. One of them has indeed now joined the Knesset. We can only hope. The message from all six of them was unanimous. We must engage. We need to talk. You can’t secure the state of Israel without acknowledging the fate of the Palestinians.

Muscle Shoals.

Muscle Shoals.

This is yet another in an ever more impressive rostra of docs form the Storyville team. If you haven’t already, watch Searching for Sugar Man (reviewed earlier here), Muscle Shoals (here) or the amazing and sobering The House I Live In (here). In fact you can pretty much watch any one of their films. It’s the most consistently impressive strand of documentary film making anywhere in the world. You can see the Gatekeepers trailer here.

Sign up for a subscription right or below, and I shall keep you posted every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Television and Music!

Subscribe here for regular updates. And get your FREE GIFT of the first 2 chapters of my book, A Brief History Of Man.