A happy new year of films coming to our TVs
JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, introduces us to 2021 with his pick of the films coming to TV (from Jan 3).
I hope you had an enjoyable Christmas and found plenty of fine viewing in front of which to fall asleep.
I had the good fortune to get to see the new Pixar release, Soul, the new animation by the maker of Up and Inside Out. It is a visually inventive reflection on life and death and the impermanence of things, involving a frustrated jazz musician (is there any other kind?). This is not something to set before the kids and retire to the washing up. I am really not clear who the target audience is, but it is a fine piece of work which will engage all ages for 100 mins. I simply regret not being able to see it properly, on a big screen with an audience of equally stunned viewers. Maybe later this year.
Meanwhile, back in our ‘humdrum lives’ in front of the one-eyed monster in the corner of the room, I have been seeking joy and a little intrigue. The headline film for the week will be The Wife 2017 (BBC2
21.00 Fri 8 Jan), an Anglo-Scandinavian collaboration which focuses on the choices made by wife, Glenn Close, pictured above, as she accompanies her writer husband, played by Jonathan Pryce, to Stockholm to collect the Nobel Prize for literature. I have wanted to see this for a couple of years. I think that it did play for three days in Leamington when it first came out and was shortlisted for performance honours during the awards season of 2018. It then disappeared except, I suspect, to be shown on long haul flights. Expect serious marital issues and a feast of acting.
The other unknown quantity of the week is Why Him? 2016 (Film4 21.00 Sun 3 Jan) in which Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston plays a father whose daughter’s choice of fiancé is not the one that he would have made. James Franco (127 Hours) is the unwelcome suitor. I trust the performers; the rest is in the lap of the script.
It is probably worth mentioning, while we are here, Mike Leigh’s Another Year 2010 (Film4 23.45 Sun 3 Jan). Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are the happily married couple around whom friends’ and family’s life happens. Impeccably crafted and realised from improvisational development, this is what Leigh does best. It marks him out as a genius of cinema and storytelling and is why actors queue up to work with him. Leslie Manville and David Bradley forced their way to the front of this queue.
There are a couple of interesting music docs this week. Amazing Grace 2018 (BBC2 20.30 Sat 2 Jan) follows Aretha Franklin preparing and performing with a gospel choir at a church in Watts, LA in 1972. It has sat on a shelf for 45 years but is sure to be worth watching, now that we have the chance.
The other doc, Max Richter’s Sleep 2019 (BBC4 22.00 Sun 3 Jan), is of a very different kind, but no less spiritual in its ambition. Richter is probably best known for his film soundtracks (Miss Sloane, The Sense of an Ending) but has composed this massive, meditative electronic work which has the capacity to transcend time. It is contemporary, yet very accessible, music.
You might also enjoy Nothing Like a Dame 2018 (BBC4 21.50 Thu 7 Jan) in which the crème de la crème of female acting royalty, Smith, Atkins, Dench, Plowright et al, gather together to talk and reminisce about acting, life, love and other catastrophes.
As if it were planned, Film4/Channel 4 are running a season of feminist westerns in which the feisty women of the West stand firm and resist the social norms of the time. Jane Got a Gun 2015 (Channel4
02.25 Tue 5 Jan) is the story of a woman who enlists the aid of her ex to save her outlaw husband from his vengeful gang, but it is set against the eternal triangle - of course. It never rains but it pours! Natalie
Portman is frontierswoman Jane, Joel Edgerton is the gun toting ex, and Ewan McGregor the hissable villain and leader of the Bishop gang (isn’t that a conclave or synod?).
The Keeping Room 2014 (Film4 02.10 Fri 8 Jan) is a siege story from the latter days of the Civil War where a homestead of women is under threat from retreating Confederate soldiers. Brit Marling is Ma, Muna Otaru, ‘the help’ and Hailee Steinfeld, the daughter. It is rife with threat and tension.
It is from 2010’s True Grit (Film4 01.05 Sat 9 Jan) that we came to learn about Hailee Steinfeld, playing Mattie Ross, the young daughter offering her help to the weathered and world weary marshal, Rooster Cogburn, (Jeff Bridges), hunting down her father’s killers. This is the Coen Brothers loving the genre of the Western and seeing just how much they can play around with it. It garnered 10 Oscar nominations and came home empty handed. What fools these academy folk be!
We have a cluster of classics with a noir feel. Double Indemnity 1944 (Sony Action Movies 22.50 Fri 8 Jan) is one of the cornerstones of film noir where honest Joe insurance broker (these were, indeed, more innocent times), Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), is seduced into a murder and an insurance scam by Phyllis the siren, played by Barbara Stanwyck. Convoluted and built on double dealing and betrayal, this is a textbook definition of the genre but also, still, a cracking thriller.
Without this heritage to draw on, Mike Figgis’ Internal Affairs 1990 (BBC1 00.25 Sun 3 Jan) about police corruption and the challenges set for the IA officer, Andy Garcia, to bring rotten cops to book would have been a longer-winded story, but we already know the score. As the villainous Dennis Peck, Richard Gere gives one of the finest performances of his career. It is all the more powerful because, prior to this film, he always played the good guy. Here, he shows how good he is at playing bad, like a present day Iago.
In a slightly less ominous mode, we have Hud 1963 (Talking Pictures TV 22.00 Tue 5 Jan) where rancher Melvyn Douglas is at odds with his wayward, hedonistic, alcoholic son - Paul Newman, giving one of his finest performances. His father tries to come to terms with the devastation that Hud wreaks on the family, including causing the death of his brother.
Musical of the week: I would suggest Into the Woods 2014 (BBC2 12.40 Sat 2 Jan). The film version of Steven Sondheim’s take on fairy tales has a starry cast /motley crew, including Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, an awkward James Corden and an outstanding Emily Blunt. Good musical, average movie and probably sanitised a bit by Disney.
Heart warmer of the week: Saving Mr Banks 2013 (BBC2 17.00 Sun 3 Jan) tells of Pamela Travers and her fight with Walt Disney as she tries to retain the integrity of her beloved books about Mary Poppins, preventing them from meeting the fate that was to befall Winnie the Pooh a few years later. Emma Thompson plays P L Travers and Tom Hanks (15 years after he was Saving Private Ryan), is Uncle Walt.
Emma T has just the right balance of indignation, determination and baleful sentimentality to make you believe her and Hanks is plausibly charming and persuasive as the founder of the Mouse House.
Let us dream of a life beyond lockdown in the year to come when we can, once again, gather in the Function Room of the Sports Club in Binley Road, Coventry, and watch films as they are supposed to be seen - on a big screen, among familiar folk and the friends we have not yet made.
Happy New Year.
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