Freeview films 25/12/21 to 31/12/21

World Cinema

Tuesday (28/12)         01:20   Film4                  Wings of Desire (1987). Powerful and poetic Wim Wenders fantasy-romance about an angel (brilliant Bruno Ganz) who falls in love with a trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin) and desires to become mortal. Haunted and haunting German classic.

                                    23:35   Film4                  Snowpiercer (2013). The first English-language film by Bong Joon-Ho, who subsequently made the all-conquering Parasite. Survivors of environmental catastrophe live aboard a fast-moving train, ruthlessly divided on class lines. With a starry cast including Chris Evans, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell and a ferocious Tilda Swinton, channeling Mrs Thatcher and assorted cartoon villains, it is inventive, pacy and violent in true Korean style.

Thursday (30/12)       01:50   Film4                  Monos (2019). Alejandro Landes’ extraordinary, visceral film about child soldiers, the Monos of the title, guarding an American captive in the Colombian mountains, while a war continues elsewhere. The performances by the young, largely non-professional cast are stunning, as their characters experiment and learn about themselves and maturity in the most extreme circumstances imaginable. With shades of Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now, it won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2019.

Friday (31/12)            19:10   Great Movies    Arctic (2018). Swift return for Joe Penna’s adventure, with Mads Mikkelsen stranded in the frozen wastes and forced to battle on without appropriate clothing. We have a Liking for Viking, don’t we, ladies?

Stephen Ilott’s Picks

Monday (27/12)         17:55    BBC2     Paddington 2 (2017). One of those sequels that far surpasses the original, with Hugh Grant in fine form as a vain, bitter, egotistical actor. Sweet, wholesome, irresistible, unlike a lot of the fare we’ll be enjoying this Christmas. Don’t tell your children, but the bear isn’t real.

Thursday (30/12)       21:00    BBC2     Judy (2019). Bravura turn by Renee Zellwegger as the tortured artiste Miss Garland. Includes the smell of burning martyr, and a trite subplot about a couple of gay fans, a stereotype that has done nobody any good. But kudos to Renee.

                                     23:45    ITV4      The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Three hours of Leo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese deploring the lifestyle of the attack dogs of neo-liberalism while simultaneously glorying in it. All those gangster movies were good practice.

Friday (31/12)             08:55    BBC2    El Cid (1961)  (also Talking Pictures Saturday 14:30/Friday 11:40). Not a biopic of the South African Jewish cockney stalwart of the Carry On stable, but an Anthony Mann epic, with Charlton Heston, as a hero of the reconquista, which saw ferociously Catholic Castile struggling to retake Spain from the Moors, who had made themselves quite at home.

                                    09:10   BBC1    Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017). ‘With a tidy plot, clean animation, and humor that fits its source material snugly, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is entertainment that won’t drive a wedge between family members,’ writes Rotten Tomatoes, employing a joke that should have stayed in the recycling bin.

Other modern films of interest

Saturday (25/12)         18:45    Sky Arts  The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years (2016) (also Thursday 23:00). Ron Howard’s documentary about the Beatles’ touring career from 1962 to 1966, which now seems like a very short time. Contributions from the band, as well as Richard Curtis, Eddie Izzard, Brian Epstein, Neil Aspinall and Elvis Costello, among others. I expect quite a few Cheltenham people saw them play here.

Sunday (26/12)           17:10     More4    Bridge of Spies (2015). Steven Spielberg’s fact-based account of insurance executive and former lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), defending Russian Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) when he is arrested in New York in 1960 on spying charges.  Initially reluctant to become involved in the case, Donovan is drawn further in and ends up in Cold War East Berlin, negotiating the release of captured U2 pilot Gary Powers. The chilly world the other side of the Iron Curtain is rendered well, as is the populist reaction to Donovan’s legal defence of a Communist. Mainly a stage actor, Rylance was appearing in his first film for some time, and for the audience it was worth the wait.

Thursday (30/12)         23:50    Film4      Hell or High Water (2016). Scottish director David McKenzie (Hallam Foe, Starred Up) directs Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine in a neo-Western set in Texas about brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) who embark on a series of bank robberies in an attempt to save the family ranch from repossession. Bridges plays Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, who, with his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), tracks the brothers across the state, exchanging world-weary banter along the way.  This is one of Bridges’ finest performances, and the drama plays out powerfully against the scarred, exhausted landscape.


Saturday (25/12)        11:10    BBC2                Casablanca (1942). Michael Curtiz’s wartime classic, with Humphrey Bogart as Rick, an American expatriate running a club and casino in Casablanca and Ingrid Bergman as his former lover Isla who unexpectedly appears in town, seeking help for herself and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a member of the Czech Resistance, as they need to leave the country. Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre all play a part in the seedy milieu, with cinematography by Arthur Edeson. ‘As Time Goes By’, by Herman Hupfeld, famously features. And it didn’t do Woody Allen any harm.

                                    12:50    BBC2                 Meet Me in St Louis (1944). Glorious Vincente Minnelli MGM musical, starring Judy Garland, Marguerite O’Brien and a boy next door. A corrective for anyone buying into the victim myth represented by the Renee Zellwegger film above. Art is hard. Comedy is hard. The fresher the eggs, the lighter the soufflĂ©. Not too beating, though. That’s important.

                                   17:20    BBC2                 The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Wonderful technicolour Hollywood history, with Errol Flynn as the man in green. Listening to R3 the other morning when one of the muppets (Petroc?) started tittering about a spat between Sheffield and Nottingham about who really owns Robin. Politicians involved, of course. There’s a lot of money in heritage, and even more in myth, because you can make it up. Then they played a chunk of Korngold’s score. R3 can’t get enough of Korngold but I think there are few more over-rated film composers. John Williams, of course. Don’t get me started.

                                    21:00    Paramount       Dirty Harry (1971)  (also Friday 21:00). Where it all really began, or rather continued, for Clint Eastwood, in his first appearance as San Francisco detective Harry Callaghan, directed by Don Siegel.  Callaghan employs his non-liberal methods in pursuing Andy Robinson (as psychopathic killer Scorpio) across the city through a trail of bodies. Is it ideal Christmas fare? Do you feel lucky?

Sunday (26/12)          12:40    BBC2                  Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Part musical, part satire of the silent film era. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen and featuring Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor, with Jean Hagen as the star who has trouble making the transition to talkies. Exuberant, rousing, unforgettable. [Editor’s note: not to be confused with Signin’ in the Rain, the TV project I’m developing with my talented niece, Bethan Morrish, in which celebrity duos bicker their way around the Brecon Beacons, while communicating only in BSL. Network executives: call me.]

                                    14:20    BBC2                  Some Like It Hot (1959) Billy Wilder’s last great film, following The Apartment in 1959.  But what a film.  It was refused Hays Code approval because of the cross-dressing involved in Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon fleeing from the mob after the St Valentine’s Day Massacre disguised as female musicians. Along the way they run into Marilyn Monroe as Sugar, the singer who has a habit of picking the wrong guy, and Joe E Brown as a millionaire strangely drawn to Lemmon.  George Raft appears as a textbook baddie.  The Hays Code didn’t last much longer anyway.

                                      15:35    Film4                 Sense and Sensibility (1995)  (also Friday 11:00). Ang Lee’s take on Jane Austen’s first published novel, about a family ousted from their home due to the inheritance laws of the time. The script was by Emma Thompson, who also plays Elinor. Lee, who spoke almost no English, accentuates the comedy to good effect and the cinematography is ravishing, making even the sisters’ descent into relative poverty look quite nice. A great cast includes Kate Winslet (as Marianne), Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Greg Wise, Robert Hardy, Harriet Walter, Gemma Jones and Hugh Laurie.

Monday (27/12)         10:05    BBC2                 A Star Is Born (1954)  (also BBC4 Thursday 22:50). The Judy Garland / James Mason version of the frequently remade Hollywood myth. Directed by George Cukor. A talented young woman is taken up by an older star, who marries her. But then she outshines him. Musicals are magic, but need to be made by artists, rather than accountants, as poor Mr Spielberg has just discovered.

                                    13:10    Channel 5        My Fair Lady (1964)  (also Thursday 11:15). Big, lush screen version, directed by George Cukor, of Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) is a phonetics professor who wagers that he can train a Covent Garden flower seller (Eliza, Audrey Hepburn) so she can pass as a duchess. A good thing he has such brilliant material to work with, but be careful what you wish for, as they say. Includes appearances by Wilfred Hyde White, Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper and Jeremy Brett. Hepburn’s voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon, who was supposed to keep quiet about it. The film won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director.

                                     16:35    BBC2                 West Side Story (1961)  (also BBC4 21:00). Sublime. I’ve written about it a lot. Tony Palmer was once interviewing Leonard Bernstein and a leading Mahler scholar for a film about that composer, when Bernstein suddenly had a crisis of confidence. ‘I could have been a good composer,’ he wailed, ‘but I’ve wasted my time with all this teaching and television and showbiz and…’ ‘But Lenny,’ said the Mahler expert, ‘You did write “Maria”‘. ‘Oh,’ said Bernstein. ‘I suppose I did.’ Watch this film. Your soul will thank you.

Tuesday (28/12)          00:15    BBC1                When Harry Met Sally (1989)  (also BBC4 Friday 22:40). Romcom directed by Rob Reiner from Nora Ephron’s script, and featuring the famous Meg Ryan scene in which she demonstrates the art of faking. She is Sally and Billy Crystal is Harry. They know each other from university and reconnect at various times, hovering between friendship and something more. Carrie Fisher is Sally’s more hard-headed friend. It spawned a raft of imitations that weren’t as good.

                                    17:10    Channel 5        Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). Road trip and/or buddy movie by John Hughes, featuring Steve Martin as an ad executive and John Candy as a shower curtain ring salesman thrown together after snow makes it impossible for them to get home the usual airborne way for Christmas. Gradually they exhaust the alternative transport options. Unusually, Martin plays more of a straight man role but the finished article is still pretty funny.

                                    23:15    Channel 4         Misery (1990). The only film of a Stephen King novel to win an Oscar (Kathy Bates, for Best Actress). James Caan is the writer injured in a road accident and Bates the nurse and fan who retrieves him and takes him to her remote home, where she proceeds to terrorise him. More interesting than you might think. Rob Reiner directs.

Wednesday (29/12)   08:40    BBC2                 Bringing Up Baby (1938). Howards Hawks’s screwball comedy, starring Cary Grant as a paleontologist and Kathryn Hepburn as an heiress, who owns a leopard called Baby. He is searching for a missing bone for his Brontosaurus, and is about to get married. She is free-spirited and not his usual type: feathers fly. The film was a flop on release and led to Hepburn being labelled ‘box office poison’ for a while. Who cares? It’s brilliant.

                                     16:35    Channel 5         The Glenn Miller Story (1953). James Stewart plays Miller in Anthony Mann’s poignant biopic of the band leader who changed the face of dance music and then became part of the war effort, boosting troop morale. June Allyson plays Miller’s wife Helen. Not very accurate, but irresistible fan fiction.

                                   23:15    Sky Arts            The Sugarland Express (1974). Early Steven Spielberg thriller, starring Goldie Hawn and Michael Sacks as real life couple Lou Jean Poplin and her husband Clovis. He is incarcerated but is persuaded by her to escape, so that they can retrieve their son from foster care. On the run, they take a cop hostage and are pursued by large numbers of his colleagues. The genre was a departure for Spielberg and he didn’t return for more. An oddity.

Friday (31/12)             14:45    BBC2                 Shadowlands (1993). The first of an Anthony Hopkins double bill. In this period drama, set in the late 1950s, he plays Oxford don, children’s author and Christian propagandist C.S. Lewis, who falls in love with American poet Joy Davidman Gresham (Debra Winger), who is visiting the city with her son. Their burgeoning relationship is beautifully depicted, as well as their cultural and emotional differences: she is Jewish. Sadly, she is diagnosed with cancer and her task becomes one of preparing him for the inevitable. Richard Attenborough directs. Very powerful, especially the choral music. A BBC Wales film, when such a thing was possible.                                        

16:50    BBC2                 The Remains of the Day (1993). In James Ivory’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Hopkins plays Stevens, butler first to the Earl of Darlington, an English aristocrat with Nazi leanings, and then to a US Congressman. The framing for the film is Stevens’s quest to reconnect with Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), the former housekeeper at Darlington Hall, whom he hopes to persuade to return. A brilliant portrait of emotional reticence, which foregrounds period romance over historical-political resonance: the novel is more explicit in that respect.

2 thoughts on “Freeview films 25/12/21 to 31/12/21

  1. Just to thank you and Stephen and anyone else involved for all the work you put into these film surveys – often I don’t agree with your views but never mind, it is good to have them. And to wish you a happy Christmas and a much better 2022. Don’t give up!

    1. Thank you Jo. I’m hoping I’ve found someone to help a bit in the coming year. I rather like that you don’t agree with everything. We aim to provoke thought and discussion. Film culture is in a terrible state, but it can be saved by enthusiasm, commitment and fun. Hope you’ve had a good Christmas. I’m planning on relaxing for all 12 days this year. Then I don’t want to hear the word Christmas for another 353.

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