World Cinema 

Sunday (10/4)       22:30    BBC4     Yuli (2018) .This is billed as a biopic of the Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta, but as a film it is much more than that. It is directed by the renowned Spanish actress, writer and director Iciar Bollain, and co-written, with Acosta himself, by Paul Laverty, long-time screenwriter for Ken Loach. It combines documentary and dramatised reconstruction, the political and the personal, with great energy and skill. The depiction of Acosta’s childhood provides a lot of insight into the social fabric of Cuba in the 1970s and the high status accorded to the arts. The adult Acosta, who did not want to be a dancer when he was a child, is shown developing and choreographing a ballet loosely based on his own life: he dances the role based on his own father. A fascinating film, even if you have no interest in dance. (PW)

Monday (11/4)      01:15   Film4     Amanda (2018). In this intense feature by Mikhael Hers, Vincent Lacoste plays a somewhat self-centred young Parisian who finds himself taking charge of his seven-year-old niece Amanda (Isaure Multrier) after his sister is killed in a terrorist attack in a park. (39 people were killed in the city in November 2015: a Belgian man is currently on trial.) The film concentrates more on grief and its impact on a single, rather insular family than the broader societal/political picture, which led to some critical reservations. Clarisse Loughrey in the Independent put it like this: ‘Amanda may explore loss with sensitivity and grace, but only after it’s shielded its eyes from the rest of the world.’ (JM)

Thursday (14/4)     23:10   Film4     Shadow (2018). Spectacular historical epic by Zhang Yimou, who made such classics as Raise the Red Lantern and the extravagantly choreographed House of Flying Daggers. A general devises a plan to defeat a rival kingdom, using his wife, a lookalike and two kings. According to Rotten Tomatoes, ‘a thrilling and visually sumptuous wuxia epic that finds director Zhang Yimou near peak form’. Such an accolade immediately forced me to look up wuxia. Read all about it. (JM)

Stephen Ilott’s Picks 

Sunday (10/4)       23:40     BBC1                      Out of Sight (1998). Steven Soderbergh directs possibly the best translation of an Elmore Leonard novel to the screen, aptly conveying the characterisation, dialogue and streetwise wit of the book. George Clooney is Foley, an escaped bank robber who kidnaps cop Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) when she tries to apprehend him. The pair end up in the boot of the getaway car, and their sensuous relationship develops from there, even while he is planning his next job. An excellent supporting cast includes Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames, Viola Davis, and Albert Brooks as a tropical-fish-collecting con in jail at the same time as Foley. Roger Ebert described Clooney’s performance as the mark of his transition from television leading man to big screen star. (JR)

Cate Blanchett as Carol

Tuesday (12/4)      01:20    Film4                      Carol (2015). Todd Haynes’s sumptuous, emotionally disarming drama follows a romantic affair between the title character, played by the wonderful, Oscar-winning Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara’s Therese, who meet coincidentally one day in 1960s Manhattan, when homosexuality was frowned upon. The women find affinity from each other and take a trip to escape their stale relationships and Carol’s struggles with motherhood, which disturb her conventional husband (Kyle Chandler). The period settings and performances are so authentically realised that you escape into the film. From a story by Patricia Highsmith, whose atypical take on the world has been golddust for so many filmmakers. (MH)

21:00    ITV4                       Aliens (1986). Often cited as one of the very few examples of a sequel outdoing the original, and a firm audience favourite. James Cameron’s second film is more action-focused than Ridley Scott’s horror-inflected 1979 Alien. Sigourney Weaver returns as Ripley to lead a crew of hardened marines investigating events aboard the Nostromo spacecraft in the first film, which brings her again face to face with the creatures and more. (MH)

Thursday (14/4)     11:40    Talking Pictures    Rebecca (1940). A masterpiece of mystery and plot from Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspence. Joan Fontaine’s unnamed character, a naive but increasingly determined young woman, is wooed by Laurence Olivier’s Maxim DeWinter with the promise that she will come to live with him in his gothic mansion, Manderley. All seems well until she arrives and immediately feels unwelcome, before finding out more about Maxim’s ex-wife and the circumstances of her death. Wonderfully haunting work by Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers and superb direction by Hitch, in one of his three Daphne DuMaurier interpretations, alongside Jamaica Inn and The Birds: this is definitely the pick of the bunch. (MH)

Friday (15/4)           21:00    BBC3                      Whiplash (2014). Damien Chazelle’s fourth feature, coming before La La Land and First Man. It is really a two-hander, with Miles Teller as a budding jazz drummer and J K Simmons as his college tutor. Simmons is astounding, plumbing the depths of cruelty and manipulation in a performance that earned him the Oscar, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards for Best Supporting Actor. He conjures up people that most of us have encountered at one time or another, but fortunately not in this kind of frightening intimacy. And the music still manages to sound great. (JR)

Other modern films of interest 

Sunday (10/4)             21:00    BBC4   Alvin Ailey: A Legend of American Dance (2021). Released in the US as Ailey, reflecting their greater familiarity with the subject, a dancer and choreographer who drew on blues, church and his experiences in the South, building a career as the most prominent black artist in the field of modern dance. The film, by Jamila Wignot, also explores his private life. ‘Despite having relationships with men, Alley was not integrated into the queer community,’ explains Simran Hans in The Observer. I would say that was his own choice, wouldn’t you? He died in 1989, aged 58, from AIDS complications. (JM)

21:00    Pick     Busby (2019) . Biographical documentary about the football manager Sir Matt Busby, who rose from grinding Scottish poverty to the top of the heap. With the usual archive footage and interviews, including contributions from biographers Michael Crick and Eamon Dunphy, whose Only A Game?, a diary of the 1974-4 season he spent at Millwall, was perhaps the first honest book ever written by a serving player. Career blighted, he became a writer. His biography of U2 led to a spat in which he called lead singer and global saviour Bono ‘a pompous git’. Good on ya, Eamon. (JM)

Astronaut welcomes plucky British loser to manned space programme. Note to NASA: I’m still available.

Monday (11/4)           19:30    BBC4   8 Days: To the Moon and Back (2019). A dramatised documentary about the Apollo 11 mission of 1969, built around original audio recordings, archive footage, studio reconstructions and computer imagery. Made by the BBC and PBS and directed by Anthony Philipson. With Rufus Wright as Neil Armstrong, Jack Tarlton as Buzz Aldrin and Patrick Kennedy as Michael Collins. I’m a space nut, but I haven’t seen this one. In 1989 I won an Omega Speedmaster moon mission watch in a Science Museum raffle and Michael Collins put it on my wrist at a ceremony in Bond Street. I can’t believe there’s anyone left in Cheltenham who hasn’t heard me tell these stories or seen the watch. (JM)

Wednesday (13/4)     23:05    Film4   American Honey (2016). Andrea Arnold made her name with such quintessentially British fare as Fish Tank and Red Road. Then she went to the US and tried something similar with this tale of young people travelling across the flyover states trying to sell magazine subscriptions. She used lots of non-professional actors, including lead Sasha Lane (playing ‘Star’), finding them on the streets and in car parks. Cast and crew are listed alphabetically in the credits, with no hierarchy. The result, which charmed critics more than audiences, is colourful, messy, diffuse and overlong at 2 hr 40m. For her pains, Andrea got a gig on the star-packed US TV series Big Little Lies, only to find most of her work reshot and reedited for reasons of ‘visual continuity’. She has since had a big hit with the animal documentary Cow, whose title is not thought to be a reference to either of the producer/stars of Big Little Lies, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. (JM)


Saturday (9/4)              16:10   Talking Pictures    The Rocking Horse Winner (1949)  (also Thursday 14:15). Directed by Anthony Pelissier and based on a story by D H Lawrence, this film shows the desperation and obsessions behind the façade of respectability. The upper middle class Grahame family is seriously in debt, thanks to extravagant spending habits, particularly of the mother, played by Valerie Hobson. Her son Paul receives as a present a rocking horse, which he rides with alarming intensity. The boy develops a knack, gained he believes from his communication with the rocking horse, of picking the winners in real horse races. He joins forces with a family servant and former jockey (played by John Mills) in a betting syndicate. Their winnings are spent wildly, and inevitably the winning streak comes to an end. The boy is played by John Howard Davies, who had starred as Oliver Twist in David Lean’s film of 1948. In his adult career he was responsible for either commissioning, producing or directing just about every successful TV comedy from the 1960s to the 1990s, ranging from All Gas and Gaiters and Benny Hill to Monty Python, Not the Nine O’clock News and Blackadder. (PW)

Sunday (10/4)               09:15    ITV4                       Galaxy Quest (1999)   (also Wednesday 00:50).  Very funny take on the Star Trek school of Space Opera, with brilliant turns from Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman as co-stars and rivals in a long-running TV franchise, who turn up at a fan convention and find themselves embroiled in an actual galactic adventure. By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Worvan, if you haven’t already seen this one several times, you should definitely seek it out. (JM)            

12:20    BBC2               Easter Parade(1948). Irving Berlin’s songs pepper this backstage musical, which features Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. Gene Kelly was supposed to play the lead, but hurt his leg after stamping in frustration after losing a volleyball game (it says here). Garland had never met Astaire and was somewhat intimidated by him. He was brought back from retirement, and is somewhat elderly for the part, but he enjoyed himself so much he stayed onscreen for another 20 years. A typically sumptuous offering from MGM, now part of the evil Amazon empire and doomed to be pillaged for lousy mini-series ‘ideas’. (JM)     

15:00   Sky Arts                 The Magnet (1951)  (also Thursday 21:00). Little-known Ealing comedy about a boy who cons another lad out of a giant magnet (playground gold in those days) and subsequently gets into various scrapes. Set in and around Merseyside, which is unusual for the Home Counties studio, with a group of local lads played by non-professionals.                                         

15:10   Talking Pictures   Green For Danger (1946)  (also Tuesday 10:00). The magnificent Alastair Sim stars as a police inspector in this crime thriller from the team of producer Frank Launder and director Sidney Gilliat. A man dies on the operating table during a bombing raid and then the nurse who suggests that the death might have been murder gets bumped off herself. Enter Inspector Cockrill. This is a classic whodunit: a closed group of suspects, all of whom have something to conceal, a nail-biting sequence in the operating theatre and a couple of plot twists all enhanced by the droll humour of Sim’s character and excellent performances from a cast of British stalwarts of the period – Trevor Howard, Leo Genn, Rosamund John, Sally Gray, Ronald Adam and Megs Jenkins. (PW)

Tuesday (12/4)              21:00   5Star                      Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995). John McTiernan, who directed the original, returns to direct the third in the Die Hard series, in which John McClean (played again by now-retired Bruce Willis) teams up with Samuel L Jackson to save the day. Against the clock, they must travel in and around New York City and decipher a number of clues issued by Simon, a riddler-style terrorist, played by Jeremy Irons, who has a personal vendetta against John. Otherwise, he will let off a series of bombs in a grisly game of ‘Simon Says’. Laughs, action and charisma abound. (MH)

Friday (15/4)                  14:00   ITV                         Matilda (1996). A charming adaptation of Roald Dahl’s enduring tale of a young genius bookworm, played by former child star Mara Wilson. Matilda is a special child. She develops telekinetic powers and must use everything she can, including her unrelenting kindness, to break free from her crude, ignorant parents and brother. She finds comfort in the education provided by her kindhearted teacher Miss Honey, played by Embeth Davidtz. Also starring a deliciously evil Pam Ferris, Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito, who also narrates and directs in a distinctive visual style. (MH)

17:40   ITV2                      Back to the Future (1985). Robert Zemeckis’s brilliant time-travelling fantasy, which appeals to all ages.  Michael J Fox is Marty, a slightly wayward teen who likes playing very loud guitar and assisting local scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd in a career-defining performance) with his experiments. Through another lens that might seem a bit weird but the tone is perfect. It all goes a bit wrong when events conspire to send Marty in Doc’s DeLorean-based time machine back to 1955, before his parents had met and before the Doc had perfected his theories. Marty realises his mission is to ensure his parents get together, and that he actually has a future. Cue loads of misunderstandings and jokes about time, with Marty constantly referencing things that haven’t happened or don’t exist yet (Reagan being president, Calvin Klein jeans, rock’n’roll) to the mystification of the people he meets. More serious and ambitious films have tackled the subject less successfully.  Fox wasn’t even the first choice for the lead role: that was Eric Stolz, who filmed for a few weeks before the part was re-cast. Anyway, it all worked out: Fox helped start a much-loved series, the film was a critical and commercial success, and Stolz got to be in the heart-stopping Uma Thurman revival scene in Pulp Fiction. Would he trade that now?  (JR)

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