By John Morrish

In the early hours of tonight (in other words, Saturday 4/9) at 00:05, BBC2 has The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019). It’s really excellent. 

Zak, a 22-year-old man with Down’s Syndrome, has been placed in an old people’s home in rural Carolina by the state authorities. A rebellious old man helps him escape so he can try to meet his idol, a professional wrestler he has only seen on old VHS tapes. He encounters a failed shrimp fisherman who is being pursued by some bad guys. The two team up and head for Florida, where the wrestler supposedly has a wrestling school. Zak’s caring nurse is sent to find him before the state transfers him to a really terrible facility for its ‘flight risk’ charges. 

In outline it is a very simple, almost mythic, tale owing a lot to Huckleberry Finn. What makes it so good is that the script gives every character a purpose, from the big stars (Shia LaBeouf, Bruce Dern, Dakota Johnson and Thomas Haden Church) down to the people they meet on the way: they have agency, in the modern jargon. Zak, played by Zack Gottsagen, whom debut writer-directors Tyler Wilson and Michael Schwartz met on an acting camp for the disabled, also wants to have control over his own life. That presents problems for everyone. But in order for him to survive on their long trek south, Tyler, the fisherman (Shia LaBeouf), has to give him both responsibility and power. He teaches him to fire a gun, for instance, which comes in handy when things turn rough. 

When his carer, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) turns up, she immediately reverts to treating him like a child. ‘Don’t call him a retard!’ yells Tyler. She protests that she would never use such a word. But Tyler tells her that that is effectively what she is doing. 

The story plays out in a lawless environment where people are strangers to polite euphemisms and expert authority. They make their own rough-and-ready human decisions on how to treat Zak, but he survives. He is allowed to be a person, rather than a ‘client’ or a ‘charge’. 

The film resonated with the wide American public, becoming the biggest indie film of its year, and even doing well in the multiplexes, though the critics were sniffy about its ‘obviousness’ and its ‘niche appeal’. It’s very funny, uniformly well-performed, nicely photographed and has an excellent country-folk-gospel score. Uplifting, too, and not in a trite feel-good way. 

World Cinema

Tonight (technically Saturday 4/9) at 01:50, Film4 has Birth of the Dragon (2016). The story of the early days of Bruce Lee in 1960s San Francisco. Fans of Lee consider he is badly portrayed. At 11:00, Film4 has Moomins on the Riviera (2014). The beloved Tove Jansson characters leave Finland for the South of France, a typically daft Hollywood update. 

On Sunday (5/9) at 01:20, BBC2 has I Remember You (2017). Icelandic horror about a young man and two women moving to an abandoned house. ‘One effective jump scare, but that’s it,’ writes an unhappy IMDB contributor. Nothing to do with Frank Ifield, sadly. At 22:00, BBC2 has The Keeper (2018). True story of love and marriage between an Englishman and Bert Trautmann, a German POW who stayed behind after the war to play for Manchester City. 

On Monday (6/9) at 01:00, Channel 4 has Blade of the Immortal (2017). Live-action Samurai adventure derived from manga stories. A lot of chopping and slicing. 

Maggie Mulubwa in I Am Not A Witch

On Wednesday (8/9) at 23:15, Film4 has I Am Not a Witch (2017). A child in Zambia is accused of being a witch and sent to live with other captive sorceresses. Strange, surreal, haunting. Shown at CFS in 2018/19 to a rather mixed reception. 

On Friday (10/9) at 01:00, Film4 has The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion (2018). Plot-heavy Korean revenge drama about a schoolgirl, injured in a medical incident, who tries to find out what went wrong. 

Stephen Ilott’s Picks

Tomorrow (4/9) at 09:15, BBC2 has Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014). Steve Carell family comedy about a 12-year-old boy who wishes bad luck on his household and sees his wish come true. 

On Sunday (5/9) at 23:00, Channel 4 has Three Identical Strangers (2018). Identical triplets separated at birth are reunited in their late teens. So far, so heart-warming, but the facts that emerge about their early lives are truly shocking. Maybe all this long lost family stuff isn’t so great after all.

On Wednesday (8/9) at 22:00, Paramount has Unforgiven (1992). Clint Eastwood won two Oscars for this rather bleak film, which rather rehabilitated the Western for modern audiences. 

Other modern films of interest

Tomorrow (4/9) at 22:30, BBC4 has The Cult That Stole Children: Inside the Family (2016). In the 1960s and 1970s, an Australian woman who believed herself to be Jesus illegally adopted numerous children and raised them as her own. At 22:35, BBC1 has Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Jokey Marvel film about intergalactic criminals. 

On Sunday (5/9) at 21:00, Great Movies has Heist (2001). Also on Thursday at 23:30. This is David Mamet’s 8th film and we are in familiar twisty territory, writes John Russell.  Gene Hackman and Danny De Vito are ill-suited partners in crime who fall out badly after a bank heist goes wrong and Hackman is forced to do ‘the Swiss job’, robbing gold from a plane.  Nothing is what it seems, of course, but that’s the fun of it. There is a welcome appearance by the much-missed magician and Mamet stalwart Ricky Jay.  And the dialogue is choice.  At one point, an exasperated De Vito says: ‘I hate to do anything as dramatic as count to three… but one, two, three.’ At 21:00, Sky Arts has Freddie Mercury : The Great Pretender (2012). Feature length documentary about the solo career of the former Queen frontman. 

On Monday (6/9) at 22:50, Film4 has Mickey and the Bear (2019). American indie feature about a teenager who has to take care of her father, a drug-addicted war veteran. 


On Saturday (4/9) at 21:00, Great Movies Action has A Man Called Horse (1970). Richard Harris plays a English aristocrat who is captured by Sioux Warriors and eventually inducted into the tribe in a gruesome ritual. Andrew Holt told me this film made an indelible impression on his teenage self. I’m not sure I want to inquire too deeply into that. 

On Sunday (5/9) at 19:05, 5 Star has Clear and Present Danger (1994). Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, fighting rogue elements in the CIA. Also on Friday at 21:00. At 22:00, the same channel has Patriot Games (1992). Ryan (Ford) again, this time fighting IRA assassins in London. (Also on Friday at 23:55.)

On Wednesday (8/9) at 01:55, Film4 has Playing Away (1986). An English village cricket team invites a black team from South London to play a match, with predictably awkward and sometimes comic results. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *