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Gender on the agenda in bizarre grudge match


A parade of eccentrics and marginalised folk on the menu this week, feisty females and grumpy old men. Does this remind you of anywhere?! The Battle of the Sexes (Channel 4, 21.00, Sat, 8 Aug) recounts the bizarre events surrounding the challenge by self-confessed Male Chauvinist, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell in majestically infuriating form) to Billie Jean King (Emma Stone). It was to be a tennis match to prove there was no equality of the sexes. Writer and director team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris, who made the sublime Little Miss Sunshine, are masters of the absurd, taking a daft scenario and wringing the most from it. This is a battle of self promotion in the time before the internet. Behind the Candelabra (BBC1, 00.05, Sun, 9 Aug) is an affectionate portrait of Wladziu Valentino Liberace in his latter years in Las Vegas. Michael Douglas is suitably mercurial as the Camp Commandant of the keyboard and Matt Damon is his very personal assistant. It’s such a shame that such a lovely young man never found the right woman! Steven Soderbergh enjoys the air of artificiality and sequins to set the man off to best effect. A rather different piece of showbiz legend is to be found in Saving Mr Banks (BBC1, 22.30, Sun, 9 Aug). Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay and plays P L Travers, creator of Mary Poppins, as she battles the Empire of the Mouse to protect her creation from terminal Disneyfication. She is majestic and leaves Tom Hanks in a decidedly supporting role as Uncle Walt in an intriguing tapestry of sentiment and stubbornness. Disobedience (Film 4, 21.00, Tue, 11 Aug) also showcases the talent of one of our greatest actresses, Rachel Weisz. She plays a photographer who returns to her orthodox Jewish family after many years and being shunned for her love of another woman (Rachel MacAdams). When she returns the relationships start to mend but the passion for her teenage sweetheart has not abated. There will be tears. The stellar British cast also includes Anton Lesser, Allan Corduner and Alessandro Nivola. Moonrise Kingdom (Sony Movies, 15.00, Sun, 9 Aug) moves eccentricity on to a grander scale as, in the hands of Wes Anderson, it really has nowhere else to go. It is 1965 and 12-year-old Sam has left scout camp and run off with his sweetheart Suzy. And there is a storm coming. This is the search conducted by Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton. They’ll not get far then, will they? From the mind that was hatching Grand Budapest Hotel at the time, nothing runs according to plan. Rather more down to earth is The Florida Project (Channel 4, 01.55, Mon, 10 Aug) where the wayward kids of a wayward mum run riot in a run-down motel in the shadow of Disney World – who said Americans didn’t do irony?! They are overseen by the urbane and caring manager played with great poise by Willem Dafoe. This was on my list of things to show at StokeScreen. Its predecessor by the same director, Sean Baker, Tangerine (Film 4. 01.50, Tue, 11 Aug) is even more raw and rowdy as it follows a street hustler in Miami, trying to track down her pimp and lover on Christmas Eve. I doubt it will replace It’s a Wonderful Life as traditional yuletide viewing, but it has an energy and boisterous humour which takes us to places that (I suspect) none of us has ever been. It is also remarkable for having been shot on iPhones and looks none the worse for it. Her (Channel 4, 01.55, Thu, 13 Aug) is also on the StokeScreen hit list. It is a thoughtful, yea, challenging romcom about the relationship between a recently dumped writer (Joaquin Phoenix) and the operating system of his computer (voice of Scarlet Johanssen). It is a sort of Looking for Mr Right Click which may well have strong resonances in these days of emerging AI and Lockdown. It is sci fi, Jim, but not as we know it! So, what should we be watching during a pandemic? Well, zombie movies, of course. More American irony in evidence with George A Romero’s Land of the Dead (Horror, 21.00, Mon, 10 Aug) finds the living vastly outnumbered by the dead. In his canon of zombie movies, Romero has satirised racism, consumerism and the media. This may be more of a shoot ‘em up pot boiler, but all is never as it seems on the surface.

If this is not for you, then for sheer silliness, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Film 4, 01.30, Sat, 15 Aug) might suffice and enlighten you to some of the attributes of Elizabeth Bennett that you had never previously considered. So, dear reader, I eviscerated him!! If, perhaps, you are looking for more traditional action then David Mamet’s Heist (Sony Movies, 23.25, Thu, 13, Aug) may prove satisfactory. It’s the ‘one last big score’ scenario for Joe Moore (Gene Hackman) with more twists and turns than your average corkscrew, and a lustrous cast (Danny De Vito, Delroy Lindo, Sam Rockwell), but star of the whole show is Mamet’s cracking dialogue. Denzel Washington gives a commanding performance as American Gangster (ITV, 22.45, Fri, 14 Aug) based on a real life story of Frank Lucas, head of a New York drug empire, pursued by a determined narcotics detective, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). Ridley Scott makes NY look like, well, several million dollars of somebody’s money. I Saw the Light (Sony Movies, 21.00, Tue, 11 Aug) is the Hank Williams biopic with Tom Hiddleston in the lead role, ably supported by Elizabeth Olsen (Wind River) as his frequently suffering wife. It’s a fairly orthodox tale of rags to riches, alcohol and tuberculosis, becoming the poet laureate of country music, and following his cheating heart, but the performances are very good and the music stands the test of time. Nebraska (Film 4, 01.35, Wed, 12 Aug), however, is an undervalued gem of a movie with Bruce Dern as the grumpy and sozzled old so-and-so who makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska to see his son and collect his lottery winnings that may or may not exist outside his head. This is beautifully balanced and realised by Alexander Payne, a consistently fine film maker who has also made Sideways, Election and The Descendants. For sterner stuff, you might like to try Graduation (Film 4, 00.45, Fri, 14 Aug), by Romanian director, Christian Mungiu, maker of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Graduation won him best director award at the Cannes Film festival in 2016. When things go seriously wrong for his academically talented daughter, Doctor Aldea finds that his high principles, those that he taught his daughter, become deeply compromised.

Classic comedy of the week might very well be The Two Way Stretch (Talking Pictures TV, 19.15, Wed, 12 Aug) in which Peter Sellers, the arch criminal jewel thief, is banged up in chokey, the perfect alibi for him as he slips out and carries out another job. He is ably assisted by Bernard Cribbins, Wilfred Hyde White, Lionel Jeffries and Irene Handl. Watch out for news of StokeScreen Film Club restarting its programme of great films at Coventry & North Warwickshire Sports Club, Binley Road, Coventry. Email stokescreenfilmclub@aol.com; go to Facebook: stokeScreen at CNWSC; log on to www.StokeScreen.uk; keep watching elementarywhatson.com for latest news

Winner!