De Niro is a knockout in boxing drama Raging Bull
JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to a TV near you (from Jan 23).
Burns night is here again but with fewer celebrations, except among the herds of haggis happily heading for the Highlands as fast as their three legs will carry them, celebrating the suspension of the annual cull.
There are a number of eye-catching films that I have not seen, or have seen and thought that they were not essential viewing for the discerning public of Coventry and Warwickshire; but upon being reminded of some, I think there may be a few forgotten gems here.
I have heard consistently good reports of The White Crow 2018 (BBC2 21.30 Sat 23 Jan) in which Oleg Ivenko has the unenviable responsibility of representing the fiery and abandoned talent of the young Rudolf Nureyev in Ralph Fiennes’ account of Nureyev’s defection to the West from the Soviet Union. This is a real-life cloak and dagger story of the world's most prominent ballet dancer evading the KGB to escape to Paris.
It's followed by Pawn Sacrifice 2014 (BBC2 23.30 Sat 23 Jan): more Cold War rivalry when eccentric American child chess prodigy, Bobby Fischer, challenges the Soviet Grand Master, Boris Spassky for global superiority. Beyond the challenge of making chess worthy of cinema, this is a study in the psychology of a gifted but troubled talent.
As if in direct competition, at the same time, ITV presents one of the most revered sport movies, Raging Bull 1980 (ITV 22.55 Sat 23 Jan), Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning biopic of boxer Jake LaMotta, as depicted by Robert De Niro (pictured above). Shot in black and white, it uses innovative camerawork to involve its audience directly in the action. It also draws us into LaMotta's violent, raging personality out of the ring, which seriously damaged his life.
De Niro appears in another classic this week, Michael Mann’s flashy but compelling Heat 1995 (Film4 22.50 Wed 27 Jan) alongside Al Pacino. This is cops and robbers playing cat and mouse on a grand scale. Atmospherically shot and lit, and with an outstanding soundtrack, including work by Michael Brook and Kronos Quartet, this deserves the plaudits it received and is Mann’s finest movie to date.
Not starring Robert De Niro is A Taxi Driver 2017 (Film4 01.10 Mon 25 Jan), a Korean thriller by Hun Jang in which a Seoul taxi driver drives a German journalist around to cover the political unrest of 1980, only to discover how close to home the events have drawn him.
Other notable works of world cinema include I Remember You 2017 (BBC2 00.45 Sat 30 Jan), a slice of Scandi Noir from Iceland (so, not exactly Scandi), in which a couple move into a house which is haunted by the tragedy of a missing child, and The Guilty 2018 (Film4 21.00 Wed 27 Jan), a Danish kidnapping drama and race against time which was a candidate for Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2018.
European, but English language, is Woman in the Fifth 2011 (Film4 02.00 Fri 29 Jan), Pawel Pawlikowski’s haunting tale of an American in Paris. Ethan Hawke plays a writer and academic who flees to the City of Light to put his life back together after a scandal back home. This does not go so well and he ends up working in a less than salubrious hotel. In walks a mysterious woman in the shape of Kristin Scott Thomas who sparks a passionate romance and a string of inexplicable events. Pawlikowsky made Cold War, Eva and My Summer of Love, and is a master of thoughtful psychological dramas.
There are a couple of oddities that may be worth your time, or worth mine revisiting, as my recollections are a bit vague now. American Animals 2018 (Film4 21.00 Tue 26 Jan) is, I think, based on a true story of a group of privileged white students in Kentucky who plan to steal and sell a set of rare books from their university library. It cuts back and forth between interview and dramatisation. It has echoes of Hitchcock’s Rope, but what could have been existential crisis ends up looking like a prank from a bunch of brats - but it is still interesting storytelling.
Thoroughbreds 2018 (Channel4 00.10 Sat 30 Jan) is one I shall certainly revisit. Anya Taylor-Joy, a star on a very sharp trajectory after The Queen’s Gambit, plays a young woman reunited with an old school friend who is escaping from scandal and/or breakdown in her parents’ stately pile. Amanda suspects that her mother has paid Lily to befriend her again and the tension between to two crackles like juvenile Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (although rather less camp).
Adolescent encounters of a less ominous kind feature in P’tang, Yang Kipperbang 1982 (Film4 01.00
Tue 26 Jan), an early Film on Four production about Alan, a 14-year-old who is obsessed with cricket and Ann, amid the optimism of the 1960s. It is written by the wonderful Jack Rosenthal (Bar Mitzvah Boy, The Knowledge) and directed by the late Michael Apted (7 Up, Enigma, Coal Miner’s Daughter) who died earlier this month. It does, however, feature one youthful Maurice Dee, erstwhile breakfast presenter for BBC CWR, and if my unreliable memory serves me well, has a scene shot at Courtaulds’ sports ground.
While we are on the subject of young love, the (by now) grand daddy of them all, The Graduate 1967 (Sony Classics 21.00 Thu 28 Jan) gets another welcome outing – for those of us who can access the channel. This was the breakthrough movie for Dustin Hoffman who is ably supported by Katherine Ross, before Butch Cassidy, and Ann Bancroft. This is sun-drenched comedy with some memorable visual storytelling.
This week also sees Holocaust Memorial Day which is marked by a screening of Night Will Fall 2014 (More4 21.00 Sat 23 Jan), a documentary derived from recently discovered footage shot by Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps in Germany in 1945. While it illustrates the unimaginable cruelty inflicted on the prisoners, it also focuses on the healing process for all those who endured and witnessed the nightmares.
The other documentary to look out for is of a lighter nature. Score: A Film Music Documentary 2016 (BBC4 22.00 Mon 25 Jan) explores the power and the glory of cinematic music and features composers’, conductors’ and directors’ contributions to movie art. Many of the names will be unfamiliar but the music and scenes they complement will be well known to you, and their impact undeniable.
Musical of the week is Sweet Charity 1969 (Sony Classics 20.00 Sat 23 Jan). Shirley MacLaine is the dancer dreaming of making it big on Broadway and belting out Big Spender and If My Friends Could See Me Now. This, Bob Fosse’s first feature film, was almost his last, so badly did it perform at the box office. Time has been kind to the movie and Fosse went on to make Cabaret and All That Jazz.
As ever, it is always good to hear back from you, so please put your thoughts down and send them to us at Stokescreenfilmclub@aol.com Facebook: StokeScreen at CNWSC and www.StokeScreen.uk. This week, I discovered that Freeview does not offer the same range of channels as FreeSat, so it is useful to know what you can’t receive as I want to keep my recommendations as accessible as possible.