John reaches 50 not out with spring in his step
We reach a milestone this week - amazingly, it's JOHN GORE'S 50th pick of the films coming to TV (from Sat, March 27). Since the start of the pandemic crisis a year ago, his always insightful and entertaining (and sometimes quirky!) tips have brightened up our covid-battered lives. Thanks John!
We reach the half century at the weekend that the clocks go forward. If you fail to acknowledge this (as a BST denier, for example) then for the programme that you are late tuning in for, you will be equally late for on the +1 channel.
I don’t know why, but Easter tends to bring out a clutch of war films. I have latched on to a few of the more eccentric choices. The Men who Stare at Goats 2009 (BBC2 23.00 Sun 28 March) which is an adaptation of a book by Jon Ronson about a journalist, Ewan McGregor, who encounters a serviceman, George Clooney, who claims to have been part of the ultra-secret New Earth Army which employed paranormal powers in their missions. As shaggy dog stories, or hallucinations, go, it shows great promise - but the film does not realise much of that. Enjoy the yarn but don’t expect a big pay off. How shaggy would you like your dog to be? You decide.
Foxtrot 2017 (BBC4 23.40 Sat 27 March) was the talk of the festival circuit in 2017. Sadly, I did not get to see it but BBC4 has given it pride of place in its cultural cinema spot. It unfolds following the death of a soldier at an Israeli army post, the relaying of the news to his parents and the effect it has on them. It puzzles me that a country with such conservative leadership consistently produces such questioning and subversive cinema. I think that this will be worth my time, at least.
Without stretching the parameters of the subject, I would also include Four Lions 2010 (Film4 23.15 Thu 1 April). This is one of the bravest, fiercest and funniest British films of the last decade. Written and directed by Chris Morris, of Brass Eye notoriety, it focuses on a group of young British Muslim men set on becoming jihadists. Incompetence and ignorance does not begin to cover their hare-brained schemes. It suggests that these recruits might really just be ill-informed adolescents. Riz Ahmed (Rogue One, The Sound of Metal) and Kayvan Novak (What We Do in the Shadows) are brilliant playing comedy, and a reason to watch anything. The film gave Morris instant kudos and fame in the States where they could not believe his audacity.
Speaking of the best British movies of their decade, The Third Man 1949 (BBC4 21.00 Thu 1 April) held the top spot in the critics’ choice for a couple of decades. If you have not seen it, you must. Set in post-war, divided Vienna, it is directed by Carol Reed, a very competent British director of Czech heritage. It stars Joseph Cotten as novelist Holly Martins and Orson Welles as the notorious Harry Lime (cue zither accompaniment). Holly is in town to research the death of his friend Harry. Cue spoiler: he’s not dead. Shot in haunting black and white, shrouded in menacing shadows, the film peels away the facade of post-war unity and collaboration to reveal a web of profiteering and corruption. Welles is outstanding and has frequently been cited as having advised Reed on the direction. Whether or not this is true, it stands out as his finest work and still has the power to shock and convey a sense of loss and isolation that makes it remarkable.
The biopic of Colette 2018 (BBC2 22.00 Fri 2 April) is a cut above the literary costume drama norm. Keira Knightley plays the writer Colette. I recent years, Knightley has matured into an excellent portrayer of neurodiversity (or what, in the language of the time would have been dismissed as ‘neurotic’). Colette is enthralled by the rakish and manipulating Willy, played with terrific conviction by Dominic West. His charm is so palpable you understand perfectly why she let herself be hoodwinked by him. Willy is an established writer who offers to help Colette get her stories published under his name but then claims the glory - and of course, the profit. Needless to say, it looks lush with its fin de siècle décor but is more than coffee table confectionary.
Sense and Sensibility 1995 (C5 22.25 Wed 31 March) is also more than you would expect from a Jane Austen adaptation (with the notable exception of the work of Andrew Davies, of course) as Emma Thompson adapted the novel for the screen as well as playing Elinor Dashwood, alongside Kate Winslett and Hugh Grant. The film is directed by Ang Lee, the Taiwanese maker of Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Lee has an acute insight into the mechanics of family. Whether they be superhero stories or tales of life in his home town, everything reverts to family relationships. The consequence is that, however fanciful, you care about the characters.
Earlier the same evening you can witness Hugh Grant’s finest hour and three quarters in Four Weddings and a Funeral 1994 (Film4 21.00 Wed 31 March), which would register in a lot of people’s list of the finest British movies ever.
Still on the wedding theme and even more expletive filled than Four Weddings, comes Bridesmaids 2011 (ITV2 21.00 Fri 2 April) which fits into the category of ‘guilty pleasures’. Directed by Paul Feig (Knocked Up), who set out to make a female equivalent to the gross-out male comedies that made him famous. He managed it and in the process made stars out of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. It is coarse, filthy and awfully funny.
The Road to Perdition 2002 (Sony 21.00 Mon 29 March) finds Tom Hanks playing against type in a Depression-era story of revenge and redemption for a mobster and his father. Directed by Sam Mendes, probably better known these days for Bond movies, it is a dark and violent night of the soul in the company of a bevy of acting talent: Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Paul Newman and Jennifer Jason Leigh among them.
Lions for Lambs 2007 (Sony 21.00 Sun 28 March) is also worth your attention. It is directed by Robert Redford who was never shy about making political statements. This is an investigation into the death of two US service personnel in Afghanistan. Tom Cruise is intelligently cast as the political hopeful trying to spin the story to his own ends. Meryl Streep plays the investigating journalist, while Redford adds his weight to proceedings as the academic analyst.
Out of the archives comes Wim Wenders' The American Friend 1977 (Film4 01.05 Thu 1 April) staple programming for independent cinemas throughout the 1980s. This is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game about the consummate con man and chameleon, Tom Ripley. This is a yarn about faked paintings and assassination with a less deranged than usual Dennis Hopper as Ripley, and Brunos Ganz as the forger. I have yet to catch up with it but it was one of the films that drew attention to Wenders and encouraged him to go to the States to make the haunting Paris, Texas.
John is founder of the StokeScreen Film Club. Email: Stokescreenfilmclub@aol.com Facebook: StokeScreen at CNWSC or log on to www.StokeScreen.uk