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Ang Lee astonishes with martial arts epic


JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, is back with his pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, June 19).

First of all, I would like to thank my good friend Kevin Cryan for holding the fort for me while I was off exploring forts in Northumberland last week. We found ourselves unable to go to Bamburgh Castle as it was in use as a film set. Oh how ironic!

Harrison Ford was spotted in the neighbourhood as he is shooting Indiana Jones V and the beach was set for D Day. I recall that beach was also the setting for the opening of Polanski’s Macbeth in 1971; horses pound along the strand in a hazy blue of early morning. I have a suspicion it has also featured in one of the Harry Potter movies.

Kevin picked up on a couple of films that are repeated this week, so are worth comment. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2000 (GMC (Sony Classics) 18.35 Thu 24 June) is an astonishing piece of choreography, colour and movement. When I saw this first, I had the sense of never having seen anything like it. The film (pictured above) transcends the orthodox martial arts dramas by having a far stronger storyline. This is a film by Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain). His films are always, in some way, about families, their dynamics and psychology. Try it, you might like it.

Like Kevin, I have watched the trailer for Bad Times at the El Royale 2018 (Film4 21.00 Wed 23 June) and assumed that it was a Tarantino rip-off but other critics have reported that this has rather more to offer, so I shall be watching with interest.

Let’s have a look at a few more diverse but influential directors. Max Ophuls came to Hollywood from Germany, a refugee from Nazism. There he made a series of melodramas that enshrined him as one of the greatest artists in cinema. Films such as The Reckless Moment, my favourite, La Ronde and Letter from an Unknown Woman 1948 (BBC2 11.00 Sat 19 June) injected a European sophistication and ambivalence to the Hollywood model. Set in turn-of-the-century Vienna, it tells of a philandering concert pianist fleeing from a duel, who is distracted by receiving a letter from a past (and forgotten) lover. They meet again and, well, tragedy ensues. Louis Jourdain plays the debonair ivory tinkler and Joan Fontaine is radiant as the wronged woman. You may need tissues.

We have spoken frequently of Stephen Frears with films ranging from Dangerous Liaisons to Dirty Pretty Things and Philomena. The film that brought him to wider notice screens this week, My Beautiful Laundrette 1985 (Film4 23.15 Sun 20 June), was an early production by Film Four which got theatrical release. It caused some controversy for featuring a gay sexual relationship. It caused further feather ruffling because it was a relationship between a white working class boy (an early appearance by Daniel Day Lewis) and the son of an Asian businessman (Gordon Warnecke). What you get, in addition, is a critique of enterprise culture in Thatcher’s Britain. Frears took Hanif Kureishi’s script and injected it with his waspish sense of humour and irascibility.

Compare and contrast this with Love Simon 2018 (Channel4 23.55 Thu 24 June), which is a Hollywood coming-of-age movie, the first to feature a young gay man as its protagonist. With most of the political edge stripped away, this is a much less controversial proposition.

We have a pair of films by Mel Brooks, master of rib tickling comedy. Blazing Saddles, 1974 (BBC4 22.10 Thu 24 June) deconstructs the Western for comic effect and mild social comment, with the black sheriff (Cleavon Little) riding into town and coming into conflict with the businessman who owns the place. He and the town drunk (Gene Wilder), seek to right wrongs and tame the West. Coming at the time of the Watergate scandal, more got read into this scenario than, I suspect, Brooks ever imagined. It will be interesting to see whether this has stood the test of time.

What has, most certainly, is The Producers, 1968 (BBC1 22.35 Fri 25 June), the plan by failing Broadway producer (Zero Mostel) and his naive accountant (Gene wilder, again) to make a show so bad that it will close on the first night, allowing the producers to pocket the money from their backers. It is splendidly tasteless and, in true Brooks fashion, parodies the genre, the musical, with outlandish Busby Berkley dance routines and a celebrated song in praise of the Fuhrer. Of course, nothing will run as planned. In this case, the show will go on, even when they don’t want it to!

The other pair of films for this week is that of British director Ben Wheatley. His forte is horror and Kill List 2011 (Film4 23.35 Sat 19 June) is a tidy example of this. Here we have a hit man commissioned with three assassinations who finds his world and his grip on reality is crumbling around him. You may recognise this as a trend as, in A Field in England 2013 (Film4 01.25 Sun 20 June) a small band of deserters leave their regiment during the Civil War and stumble into a field where an alchemist is searching for lost treasure. Here, they accidentally ingest magic mushrooms and life becomes increasingly unhinged.

Gurinder Chada has had an interesting career exploring British Asian life from Bend It Like Beckham to, most recently, Blinded By the Light. In Viceroy’s House 2017 (BBC4 20.00 Mon 21 June), she examines partition and the end of the Raj. Viewed from the perspective of Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville), his wife, Edwina (Gillian Anderson) and Indian staff in the Viceroy’s House, it is a portrait of political intrigue and betrayal which exonerates Mountbatten of responsibility for the botched settlement and ensuing catastrophe. She lets him off quite lightly but tells a fascinating tale of the end of Empire in spectacular Indian settings.

Made in the year of partition, Brighton Rock 1947 (Talking Pictures TV 18.10 Fri 25 June) is an adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, giving baby faced Richard Attenborough one of his first starring roles as the psychopathic spiv, hunter turned hunted. It was one of the films to set the standard for post war British cinema. Over the past few weeks of writing these previews, it has struck me just how many great films were made in 1947. It must have been a joy to be a cinemagoer then.

In brief:

Gentleman’s Agreement 1947 (Talking Pictures TV 15.35 Sat 19 June) Gregory Peck plays a journalist pretending to be Jewish to uncover anti-Semitism in America and unearths a seething mass of bigotry. Director Elia Kazan, was no stranger to social issues and controversy as illustrated by On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando.

Starman 1984 (Horror 2017 12.50 Mon 21 June), two years after ET, casts Jeff Bridges as a visitor from outer space accepting the invitation to come to Earth. John Carpenter relishes the humour in the situation. It is one of his best and least horrific films.

Chocolat 2000 (5 Select 21.00 Fri 25 June) finds Juliette Binoche as the chocolatiere of the soul disrupting a small French village. This adaptation of Joanne Harris’ novel is directed by Lasse Halstrom (Cider House Rules, My Life as a Dog) with Judi Dench and Alfred Molina among the supporting cast. It looks beautiful and delights in sensuality even if it lacks a bit of substance.

Anthropoid 2016 (Film4 23.05 Mon 21 June) is the account of the assassination attempt by a couple of Czech partisans (Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan – mostly keeping his clothes on. Sorry) on SS Kommandant, Reinhard Heydrich. This act of outstanding courage was planned in Leamington Spa.

Anomalisa 2015 (Film4 01.55 Thu 24 June) is an animation for adults written by Charlie Kauffman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) with his characteristic introspection and flashes of surrealism. David Thewlis voices the main character, Michael Stone, who is paralysed by his humdrum life until extraordinary things start to happen. Kauffman will take you places you have never been before in a story that could only be realised as animation.

An Impossible Love, Un Amour Impossible 2018 (BBC4 22.00 sat 19 June) is a tale of passion thwarted by class difference in rural France in the 1950s. It is directed by Catherine Corsini, who takes an original feminist view of life and society in France. She is always worth your time and attention.

StokeScreen notice: We have now confirmed dates for the resumption of our 2020 programme and plan to resume at the Coventry & North Warwickshire Sports Club, Binley Road, Coventry, on Thursday, 23 Sept. I shall publish the revised schedule shortly, once we are able to confirm that we can reopen the screen safely.

To contact StokeScreen email Stokescreenfilmclub@aol.com Facebook: StokeScreen at CNWSC and www.StokeScreen.uk