TV schedules drumming up a feast of movies
JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from March 13).
Just when I was thinking that Lent was being applied to film programming on TV, an unexpected feast is delivered to leave us spoilt for choice.
Director Damien Chazelle is clearly a movie brat, as illustrated by his first feature, Whiplash 2014 (BBC2 23.20 Sat 13 March), pictured above. In 2016, he famously failed to win the Oscar for Best Film for La La Land. That was a musical for people who don’t like musicals about a jazz musician playing music for people who don’t like jazz. In some respect, it was the antidote to Whiplash, which is about the training and emergence of a young jazz drummer, Miles Teller. His teacher/father figure, played by J K Simmons (Law and Order, The Closer) is full of the supercilious put downs and authoritarian drive of a sergeant major. It is a variant of the A Star is Born narrative and is directed and edited with a bravura virtuosity that marked Chazelle out as the New Kid on the Block. He got an Oscar nod for it but did not win. It is a far better film than the one for which he did get the Best Director gong, two years later.
We have a clutch of films this week about actors and their diverse insecurities. Top of the list is the impeccable All About Eve 1950 (Talking Pictures TV 20.20 Sat 13 March), a nominee for a StokeScreen classic screening. Bette Davis plays Margo, a well established darling of the theatre, who finds herself under threat from a seemingly innocent younger pretender, Anne Baxter. The film exalts in a waspish script of theatrical bitchery, one of the finest ever created. Davis gets to portray the spectrum from vinegar to vulnerability which places her among the all time greats. As a footnote, the next young pretender, already waiting in the wings to challenge Anne Baxter’s Eve, is a young Marilyn Monroe in one of her first film roles. I think you could call that prescient casting.
Echoes of Eve are to be found in Clouds of Sils Maria 2014 (BBC2 02.00 Sun 14 March), a contemporary tale of sensitive actress Juliette Binoche being manipulated by her ambitious personal assistant, Kristen Stewart (Twilight). The action of Olivier Assayas’ film focuses on the established actress coming to terms with being cast in a revival of the play which made her famous. but as mother instead of daughter. It is however, the backstage politics which produces greater drama. It is billed as a comedy. It is, but not of the laugh-out-loud variety. This was the first time that I witnessed Stewart shed the teen pic image of the Twilight films to demonstrate a subtlety and depth previously not called upon.
It is the personal assistant’s story which drives David Cronenberg’s unsettling portrait of Hollywood in Maps to the Stars 2014 (BBC2 23.20 Fri 19 March). In this case, Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre) plays the starstruck movie wannabe hired to help fading star Julianne Moore. Robert Pattinson (also Twilight), John Cusack and Olivia Williams lend weight to the cast of a film that picks at the seamier side of the dream factory. Not easy viewing, but without the visceral horror of Cronenberg’s 1980s' films such as Videodrome. Reality can be just as ghastly.
In contrast, there is a chance to see Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor in Singin’ in the Rain 1952 (BBC2 14.35 Sun 14 March) for the first time since Christmas Day. It's a joy from start to finish with some of the greatest dance sequences on film or, as I might say, an inspired auto critique of film making and the growing pains of an industry adjusting to the introduction of new technology. You choose.
Musicals: did you want some more? Oliver! 1968 (C5 15.30 Sun 13 March); Lionel Bart having a Dickens of a good time amid Food, Glorious Food, As Long as He needs Me. and Ron Moody’s scene-stealing I Think I Better Think it out Again. Mark Lester, who plays Oliver, is 63 this year.
If your taste is more to horses and the High Sierra, there is a clutch of classic westerns in which to indulge, rounded up and headed out by Howard Hawkes’ Red River 1948 (ITV4 14.10 Sun 14 March) in which John Wayne and Montgomery Clift lead the cattle drive from Texas to Missouri in the wake of the Civil War. Incidentally, also on this week is Hawkes’ later, lesser, big game adventure Hatari! 1962 (Film4 15.40 Thu 18 March).
From the year after Red River, the Duke mosies out again in a John Ford classic, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon 1949 (Sony Action 13.50 Wed 17 March), a cavalry western which displays a more conciliatory attitude towards rebellious native Americans and a mutual recognition of time passing and change affecting everyone, as Wayne’s captain commiserates with Comanche elders about the hot-headed youth of today.
The other western that you need to be able to say you have seen, is The Magnificent Seven 1960 (ITV4 20.00 Sat 13 March). Adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, this is a tale of a bunch of mercenary gunfighters brought together to defend Mexican farmers from murderous bandits. It is more the story of how this motley crew was brought together and the flaws and traumas that distinguish them. It has been the model for so many movies in different genres, including the magnificent (in its own right) Japanese noodle western Tampopo, which I hope to screen in the near future. As a cinematic myth, it works very well.
Since we have established the close link between westerns and samurai tales, this would appear to be the appropriate point at which to mention Blade of the Immortal 2017 (Film4 23.25 Fri 19 March), the 100th feature by Takashi Miike. There is stunning swordplay in a supernatural context here, as a samurai cursed with immortality agrees to seek vengeance for a young girl. Miike is a consistently good Japanese director (Audition and 13 Assassins are particularly good) with a great sense for action and not a little mischievous humour.
Thelma and Louise 1991 (5Star 23.00 Sat 13 March) Ridley Scott’s road movie tells of best friends, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, leaving hearth and home to head south of the Border - but their adventure turns into a flight from the law. Is this a feminist Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Discuss.
There are a couple of bits of British cloak and dagger on offer. The Looking Glass War 1970 (Talking Pictures TV 23.40 Sun 14 March) may have John Le Carre’s name attached to it but the critics have not been kind to it. It appears to be showing signs of the time in which it was made. The Quiller Memorandum 1966 (Talking Pictures TV 20.20 Mon 15 March) has fared a little better. This film covers an investigation into the murder of a couple of British agents by a Nazi group in Berlin in the Cold War era. George Segal, Alec Guinness and Max von Sydow promise something better and at the very least, it has a score by John Barry, creator of the Bond themes.
There's politics of a different and far more grounded nature in Peterloo 2018 (Channel4 22.00 Sat 13 March), Mike Leigh’s account of the Petersfield massacre in Manchester in 1819, and a tribute to the protesters who died. A peaceful demonstration to demand political reform and to protest at the rising levels of poverty is brutally broken up with several fatalities. It is a lengthy film which plays like a lecture at times but has strong and committed performances by Rory Kinnear and Maxine Peake to commend it. It is Leigh’s most overtly political work and recounts a significant moment in our history which is seldom mentioned.
A little gem of more recent history is I Was a Fireman/Fires Were Started 1943 (Talking Pictures TV 12.25 Mon 15 March), Humphrey Jennings' homage to the fire-fighters of the London Blitz. This is docudrama, reconstructions of a typical night under fire that has become one of the seminal films documenting events and shaping the way that we perceive life during wartime.
In marked contrast comes the adaptation of Blake Morrison’s autobiographical And When Did You Last See Your Father? 2007 (Film4 01.30 Mon 15 March). This is a bitter-sweet reflection of a son on his father who is being lost to dementia but still retaining a strong presence in Blake’s life. Colin Firth plays Blake, and Jim Broadbent his father. Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) succeeds in retaining a lightness of touch to difficult subject matter.
Two films that you may have missed at StokeScreen that I would, of course, warmly recommend: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot 2016 (Channel4 02.15 Tue 16 March) is an observation of American involvement in the war in Afghanistan, reminiscent of MASH. Tina Fey is a deskbound journalist who finally gets her chance to cover the big story on the front line. The other film is one which surprised a lot of people. Wild Tales 2014 (Film4 01.35 Thu 18 Mar) is an Argentine portmanteau movie which explores the little torments and frustrations of modern life which can magnify into something disproportionately huge. We laughed a lot.
There is further interesting stuff from Europe in the shape of a delightful comedy I Got Life (Aurore) 2017 (BBC4 22.00 Sun 14 March) in which a woman hitting menopause chooses to treat it as a new beginning. She quits her job and husband and looks up an old flame. Things never run according to plan. Agnes Jaoui is a very gifted comic actress and had a major role in scripting the film.
Here are a few other films that have caught my eye:
I would not mind watching again Misery 1990 (Film4 21.00 Wed 17 March) with Kathy Bates as the superfan who kidnaps successful author James Caan, in Rob Reiner’s adaptation of a Stephen King novel.
I have seen very little of Judy Holiday, so a chance to watch It Should Happen To You 1954 (Sony Classics 09.20 Tue 16 March), in which she teams up with Jack Lemmon and director George Cukor is very welcome.
Nosferatu, the Vampyre 1979 (Talking Pictures TV 00.05 Wed 17 March) is Werner Herzog’s reimagining of the classic silent film which first brought a version of Count Dracula to the screen. Here, Herzog’s regular lead, Klaus Kinski, makes a sickly, pallid antihero with sharpened incisors, not canines, in an atmospheric nightmare.
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