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Teens go wrong in a dark comedy drama

JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, August 7.

I have a clutch of rather fine American indie comedies this week. They may look, on the surface, like teen pics but they are darker and more subversive by far. Let’s start with Gus Van Sant’s To Die For 1995 (Talking Pictures TV 21.00 Mon 9 Aug) pictured above, in which ingénue weather girl at a local TV station (Nicole Kidman), driven by ambition, grooms a group of disaffected youths to bump off her old man and clear her way to the top. This is Kidman before she reached megastar status and she plays the role with infuriating precision. Her brood of accomplices are Joaquin Phoenix in one of his earliest roles, Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea), equally callow and the much underrated Illeana Douglas (Grace of my Heart – I must show you this film. It is wonderful). Van Sant is very concerned with the lives of teenagers, especially when they go wrong, as demonstrated in My Private Idaho and Elephant. Unlike those films, this one is consistently, darkly funny.

While We’re Young 2014 (GM 21.00 Wed 11 Aug) is the creation of Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha and also Mr Greta Gerwig). Nominally, it is a loose adaptation of Ibsen’s The Master Builder but that rather passed me by. This is the study of a couple reaching middle age (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) who encounter a young, carefree bohemian couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) and endeavour to sustain their youthfulness by trying to keep up with the younger pair. As with many of Baumbach’s comedies, it is as much about pain, pathos and disappointment as it is about absurdity, pretension and realising that you are not as young as you were.

Peanut Butter Falcon 2019 (BBC1 22.35 Fri 13 Aug) came as a very pleasant surprise to me. It is remarkable because it is the first feature of which I am aware, whose lead character has Down’s syndrome. But that is not the subject of the film. Zak (Zak Gottsagen) runs away from his care home on a quest to become a professional wrestler and study with a legendary wrestler from the past, played with sublime resignation by Bruce Dern. Analogies have been drawn with Mark Twain, as our hero and a couple of casual acquaintances make their way through the wilder parts of the American South. It has a wry sense of humour and is never patronising. It gets perilously close to being a feel good movie without pushing emotional buttons.

While we are on this page, there is another chance to see Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands 1990 (Channel4 11.20 Sat 7 Aug) a modern day Gothic fairytale with Johnny Depp as the boy with scissors for hands. Here is an oblique parable of difference and disability played with compelling melancholia by Depp. This is also not the kids’ film it may appear to be at first.

Miss Sloane 2016 (Channel4 00.20 Mon 9 Aug) is a tale of political lobbyists in the twilit world of Washington's corridors of power. Jessica Chastain is mesmerising in the title role and takes us through a jungle of dilemmas which lead her to choose between the ruthless professional path and the personal, more vulnerable route. This is one of her finest performances. The choice of director is unusual. For this most American of subjects, the job was given to John Madden who made his name with Shakespeare in Love and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Room 2015 (Film4 23.40 Wed 11 Aug) won an Oscar for Brie Larson as the mother of a 5-year-old child, both held captive by a psychotic man until they finally succeed in escaping. It then becomes more the story of how the boy discovers the world that has been denied him until then. It begins as a harrowing account of the captivity but blossoms into a celebration of rebirth and discovery.

This week’s offering of classic Laurel and Hardy films begins with The Flying Deuces 1939 (Talking Pictures TV 16.00 Sun 8 Aug) in which heartbroken Ollie flees Paris with Stanley in tow to join the Foreign Legion to forget. Some chance! This is followed by Laughing Gravy 1931 (Talking Pictures TV 17.20 Sun 8 Aug) which is not about a brand of Jamaican overproof rum but a dog Stan and Ollie are hiding from the landlord of the hostel in which they are staying, one with a ‘strictly no pets’ policy. Then, there is another chance to see County Hospital 1932 (Talking Pictures TV 15.35 Thu 12 Aug). No grapes for Ollie here, Stan brings him hard boiled eggs and nuts and more trouble than you can shake a cast at.

On the same channel, there is a chance to see an Alfred Hitchcock oddity: Lifeboat 1944 (Talking Pictures TV 12.00 Sat 7 Aug) about a group of survivors of a ship torpedoed by a U Boat. The U Boat is also sunk and they find they have the captain among their number. Tallulah Bankhead leads the cast in a tale of confinement and struggle for survival.

There are more musicals than you can shake your jazz hands at:

Saturday Night Fever 1977 (Channel5 23.00 Sat 7 Aug) with John Travolta and a white suit. An introduction to disco.

Dirty Dancing 1987 (Channel5 14.30 Sat 7 Aug) with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey clearly having the Time of Our Lives.

High Society 1956 (BBC2 15.00 Sat 7 Aug) remaking The Philadelphia Story with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly – well, did you evah!

Hello Dolly 1969 (Channel5 14.30 Sun 8 Aug) Gene Kelly directs Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau and Michael Crawford in the tales of a New York matchmaker. This includes the last appearance on the big screen of Louis Armstrong.

 Barbra Streisand also stars in Funny Girl 1968 (GMC Thu 18.05 12 Aug), the musical biopic of Fanny Bryce.

Cover Girl 1944 (GM 16.40 Fri 13 Aug) has Rita Hayworth as a promising chanteuse whose ambition is threatening her relationship with hoofing mentor, Gene Kelly.

I hope you find something in here to enjoy.

I pass on the onerous burden of sieving the silt of free-to-air TV to find the nuggets of cinematic gold to my good friend Kevin Cryan next week. I am sure he will find things to fascinate frighten and delight.

It is always good to hear back from you, so please put your thoughts down and send them to us at Facebook: StokeScreen at CNWSC and

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