Classic adventure that unveiled young stars-in-the-making
JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, Feb 6).
I started writing this on Groundhog Day, where everything is destined to repeat. Looking at the schedule, I am inclined to understand what they mean. Let’s be positive. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade; when the schedule gives you a deluge of reruns, revisit and reassess.
Stand By Me 1986 (5Star 11.50 Sat 6 Feb), pictured above, is a good place to start. This is the adaptation of a book by Stephen King, monarch of all things monstrous and macabre. It is directed by Rob Reiner, master of comedy and satire (This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, The Bucket List and the incomparable The Princess Bride). This, however, is a nostalgic reflection on the childhood of a group small town kids who go in search of a lost child. Stephen King is not renowned for representing innocence and this, for all its sense of wide-eyed adventure, keeps a warm sense of humour. Tension is added by the gang of older, rougher boys, also intent on gaining the glory of finding the child and serving their community. The quest puts our young heroes to the test so that they come to learn the meaning of friendship and self reliance. In stepping outside their conventional fields, writer and director create something more than the sum of its parts.
Rob Reiner succeeded in assembling a fine cast of young actors who were to make their names in the next decade. Among the older boys are 80s' Brat Pack stars Kiefer Sutherland, John Cusack and Casey Siemaszko, while the younger cast boasts Wil Wheaton, later of Star Trek and Big Bang Theory fame, and the late lamented River Phoenix. It will be interesting to see how this stands up after 35 years.
There is no question about The Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954 (Horror 13.00 Mon 8 Feb). As the Radio Times describes it, “It’s horribly dated, the acting’s lousy and the monster is a man in a rubber suit. Yet it remains one of the classic monster movies”. What makes a cult movie? Is it something that keeps you recalling it, regardless (or because) of how bad it is? If you have seen The Shape of Water, you will have seen a later iteration of this beast given a more sympathetic press, asking us to sympathise with the outsider, the alien and the misunderstood. I think that Black Lagoon is a film best appreciated with a bottle of something mellow on a Monday lunchtime.
In the realm of science fiction (although transcending the genre) is Ex Machina 2014 (Film4 23.40 Fri 12 Feb), one of the most thought provoking films of the last decade. Written and directed by Alex Garland before he made the TV series DEVS, it reveals the world of a reclusive billionaire inventor and entrepreneur, Oscar Isaac, (Citizen Kane meets Elon Musk) creating androids with artificial intelligence: effectively, playing god. Here, in his mountain hideaway, he is visited by a promising young programmer, Domhnall Gleeson, who is set to assist him in his work, especially with his most advanced prototype, Ava (Alicia Vikander). What ensues is an exploration of what makes us human and how we interact with, and differ from, machines. This is a film I never tire of watching. It leaves you with much to ponder and worry about.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 2017 (Film4 21.00 Mon 8 Feb) returns to our screen. A StokeScreen favourite from 2019, it also rewards repeated viewing. The central trio of Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are a delight to watch repeatedly.
Peter Strickland makes highly original, frankly, weird movies. I like Berberian Sound Studio most but In Fabric 2018 (BBC2 23.20 Sat 6 Feb), I am less convinced by. It is a ghost story about a dress that appears cursed, passed on to a chain of unwitting victims. The casting is equally off-beat, not quite grotesques but clearly chosen for their singularity. At the heart of In Fabric is Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen (the PM in Borgen), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secrets and Lies, Broadchurch), Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh) and Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones). It feels European or is it just pretentious?! And what’s wrong with a bit of pretension, if you do it right?! Marmite.
Two further samples of European cinema are the philosophically titled A Pigeon Sat on a Branch
Reflecting on Existence 2014 (Channel4 02.15 Mon 8 Feb) in which a couple of novelty salesmen conduct their rather hopeless business while contemplating the Meaning of Life. Of course it is absurd! But it also quite engaging.
White God 2014 (Film4 01.25 Tue 9 Feb) is a visually arresting film from Hungary. The synopsis says it is about a young girl whose pet hound is set free on the streets. She sets out to rescue him and what she encounters is a dark and complex world. There are unforgettable sequences of a pack of dogs running free in the streets, shot at dog’s eye level which gives an entirely fresh view of the world. It is not a lovely world and is probably not for the faint-hearted dog lover, but is memorable stuff.
Lady Macbeth 2016 (BBC2 23.20 Fri 12 Feb) has nothing to do with Shakespeare but is a 19th century tale of a young woman sold into a loveless marriage, who starts an affair with a farm labourer. It ventures into the realms of Bridgerton but is cold and scheming. It introduced the world to Florence Pugh (Little Women, The Little Drummer Girl). It may look like an orthodox costume drama, Thomas Hardy, perhaps, but is unapologetically feminist in outlook.
A much softer take on feminism is taken in The Other Woman 2014 (Channel4 23.20 Sat 6 Feb) in which Cameron Diaz is the other woman, unwittingly caught up in an adulterous relationship, who collaborates with the love rat’s wife - oh and another woman he has picked up along the way, to wreak revenge and set him straight. It is not as funny as it thinks it is, but will pass an hour and a half without too much effort being required.
The four-way dynamic of Closer 2004 (Sony Movies 21.00 Fri 12 Feb) is another case altogether. This is a very smart and stylish chamber piece by Patrick Marber (Notes on a Scandal, Alan Partridge) with Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman and Keresley’s very own Clive Owen as the intense quartet. It is a genuinely adult film which will leave you with plenty to talk about.
Relationships are under the microscope in the musical of the week, The Last Five Years 2014 (Sony
Movies 23.25 Mon 8 Feb) which studies Cathie and Jamie, played by Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, as it ebbs and flows over, well, five years. It is almost entirely sung, giving rein to a more personal and internal response to finding love, settling down and then facing up to problems. If that does not entice you, then Danny Kaye is The Court Jester 1956 (Talking Pictures TV 11.55 Wed 10 Feb). This is a fabled land of Hollywood’s ‘Merriye Engerland’ in the time of ‘Rabbin Hood’ where tongue twisters seem to be the most challenging obstacle in life.
Not exactly a documentary but a film about about a documentarist and explorer, The Odyssey 2016 (BBC2 00.00 Mon 8 Feb) is the biopic of Jacques Cousteau, undersea naturalist and pioneer of nature programmes for TV. Lambert Wilson plays the frogman prince, ably supported by Audrey Tautou (Amélie) as his missus.
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