Get the popcorn ready for this motley collection
JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, Feb 27).
One sixth of the way through the year already. It seems like only yesterday that I was putting the Christmas decorations away in their boxes. It was. Leave a box unattended and the cat will occupy it!
There is a motley collection of films to preview this week. The Radio Times is flagging up Apocalypse Now: Final Cut 1979/2019 (BBC2 23.00 Sat 27 Feb) pictured above, as a major highlight. It is, indeed, a very fine film and a fascinating document of the time in which it was made but the final cut is its fourth iteration. It began as a modest two and a half hour epic, featuring The Ride of the Valkyries. By the time we have passed through three other versions on to this, the director’s cut, it runs at a Wagnerian length of over three hours. That would require one hell of a lot of popcorn to consume!
Apocalypse Now brought the fertile cinematic decade of the 1970s to a close. There are a few other interesting examples of that decade on offer. Robert Mitchum plays Philip Marlowe in the 1975 version of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely (Talking Pictures TV 22.05 Sun 28 Feb). The dark and corrupt world of Chandler’s detective stories fitted well with the sense of duplicity and corruption in the post Watergate world. Mitchum brings a wrinkled-featured world weariness to the role. Charlotte Rampling is the double-dealing dame at the heart of the affair (always the most interesting part). The cast includes Harry Dean Stanton, before he achieved cult status, and a youthful Sylvester Stallone before Rocky.
In this country, 1971 saw the release of Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Sony Classics 22.50 Sun 28 Feb). Peter Finch, Murray Head and Glenda Jackson are the emotional triangle at the heart of the drama, a dynamic that was shocking and exciting at the time (so I am told). The Swinging Sixties were over and this film was exploring new options. Director, John Schlesinger was coming to this after making the equally sensational Midnight Cowboy, setting the tone for the new decade.
I shall concentrate on the lesser known films for this week as I have already covered the likes of Bridge of Spies 2015 (Film4 18.15 Tue 2 Mar) and A Most Violent Year 2014 (Sony 21.00 Wed 3 Mar) in past weeks. They are outstanding films but I think it more worthwhile to talk about some of those films that would otherwise be swept under the sofa (along with a crochet hook and a provocative tree bauble).
Earth Girls Are Easy 1988 (Sony Classics 01.20 Sun 28 Feb) is a delightful piece of Californian fluff about a trio of furry aliens, Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans, who crash their spaceship into the swimming pool of Valley Girl, Geena Davis. She teaches them about humans and in particular, womankind, in a singularly 1980s' style. In this part of Los Angeles, looking alien is nothing out of the ordinary. British director, Julian Temple has a lot of saucy, feelgood fun with a few simple ideas.
American Honey 2016 (Film4 00.45 Wed 3 Mar) is another American story with a British director,
Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank). The film follows the lives of a team of young door-to-door sales folk in the Mid-West who work hard and play even harder. It is a fascinating portrait of the American Dream seen through the prism of the variously damaged lives of the young people drawn to it. This film introduces Sasha Lane, who looks extraordinary and holds the film together compellingly. Andrea Arnold’s kitchen sink take on Wuthering Heights 2011 (Film4 00.50 Thu 4 Mar) is also screening this week but I found this less convincing (but upon reflection, it will make a fascinating comparison).
Nico 1988 2017 (Film4 01.20 Tue 2 Mar) documents the final days of German singer and ex member of Velvet Underground, trying to complete a European tour while combating the temptations of drugs and
alcohol, a sad shadow of her former glamorous and enigmatic self. Trine Dyrholm gives an uncomfortable portrayal of Christa Paffgen aka Nico, and John Gordon Sinclair (yes, as in Gregory’s Girl) is her beleaguered manager.
Unsane 2018 (Film4 21.00 Tue 2 Mar) is a latter work by Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brokovich, Ocean’s Eleven) in which Clare Foy (alias Her Majesty in The Crown) finds herself in serious trouble in a mental institution, being subjected to all manner of horrors which may be real or may be delusions. I have not yet seen this as it got minimal release but it is a serious work from one of America’s most consistent and questioning directors.
Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep 2012 (BBC2 23.30 Sun 28 Feb) has been on the list of titles to show at StokeScreen. It has turned up on TV after the witching hour in the past year and only got minimal exposure in cinemas. It is a fascinating and tense epilogue to 1960s' radicalism, featuring a group of friends, now far more mature and part of the establishment, reflecting on and escaping from their revolutionary past. As well as directing, Redford stars alongside Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon and Julie Christie in this pensioners’ thriller about truth, justice and owning our past.
A United Kingdom 2016 (BBC4 21.00 Thu 4 Mar) is the BBC4 showcase movie of the week, recounting how Sir Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) met and married a Londoner (Rosamund Pyke) and later became the first president of newly-independent Botswana in the 1950s. The mixed marriage upset not just the conservative elements in that country, but also the neighbouring nation of South Africa, which was establishing apartheid and did not like the message this sent. It is a potent political saga but also a powerful love story (with lovely 1950s' frocks). British director, Amma Assante went on to direct Mrs America and The Handmaid’s Tale.
Clio Barnard (The Selfish Giant) directed Dark River 2017 (Film4 23.00 Tue 2 Mar) which is a bleak tale of a woman returning to help run the family farm after the death of her father. Ruth Wilson is outstanding as the troubled but resilient and dutiful daughter.
Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) directed You Were Never Really Here 2017 (Film4 23.30
Fri 5 Mar) in which Joaquin Phoenix (Joker, Walk the Line) gives a terrifying performance as a traumatised veteran who tracks down abducted children, only to be stalked by his own demons. This is scary stuff but riveting. And here we have a mini season of films by the most preeminent women directors from these shores.
There is also a chance to see one of Mike Leigh’s most successful films, Secrets and Lies 1995 (Film4 00.55 Sun 28 Feb) in which Timothy Spall leads a fine ensemble cast which unpicks the complications of a family whose relationships run in a less than linear pattern. I recall interviewing him for BBC CWR about his role in the film after what I can only assume was a largely liquid lunch. He was entertaining, ever the professional but perhaps, lacking a little insight. He is now an entirely reformed character!
This week’s forin muck includes a couple of unseen but curious oddities: The Birdcatcher 2019 (Sony
Action 19.05 Sun 28 Feb), is set on a farm in Nazi occupied Norway. Esther, a Jewish girl, has to conceal her identity and gender while she plans her escape to Sweden. It picked up one of the jury prizes at the Toronto festival in 2019 and had a brief glimpse of theatrical daylight in January last year, in those blissful, nostalgic days when we were still allowed to visit cinemas.
Sorry, Angel 2018 (BBC4 22.00 Sun 28 Feb) is a gay love story of an older writer in Paris and his inamorato in Rennes. We are in It’s a Sin territory, making a plea to live for now as you never know how long you’ve got.
Pick of the bunch is Frantz 2016 (BBC2 01.55 Sun 28 Feb) by Francois Ozon. This is an affecting and surprising story, set in the years after WW1 in which a German soldier strikes up a relationship with a French war widow. Ozon is frequently mischievous, camp and subversive. In this film, he is restrained and sensitive but still manages to pull a rabbit out of a hat. His earlier film, Potiche, is scheduled to play at StokeScreen, once we are able to reconvene.
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