World Cinema

Saturday (25/6)        22:30   BBC2                Borg vs. McEnroe (2017). A rather good dramatisation of the rivalry between the two tennis greats of the 1980s, with excellent performances by Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf in the title roles. I like Shia, especially since The Peanut Butter Falcon, one of my favourite modern films. (JM)

Monday (27/6)         02:20   Film4                Menashe (2017). A family drama set among retailing folk in Brooklyn’s orthodox Jewish community and performed entirely in Yiddish. Having favourite languages is fundamentally silly, but I do have a soft spot for Yiddish. And Basque. And Welsh. (JM)

Tuesday (28/6)         01:55    Film4               The Oath (2016)

Icelandic froid

The Oath in question is the Hippocratic one, as alpha-male heart surgeon and obsessive triathlete Finnur finds himself dangerously embroiled with drug criminals, while trying to protect his vulnerable daughter, Anna. Co-writer and director Baltasar Kormákur plays Finnur with sang froid intensity and Gísli Örn Garðarsson is superb as Óttar, Anna’s drug-dealing boyfriend, very much from the other side of the tracks in prosperous Reykjavik.

Kormákur’s film, which was the top box office draw in Iceland in 2016, works on two distinct levels: as an edge-of-the-seat crime thriller, and as a dark psychodrama about fractured family relationships, where the human heart cannot always be fixed as expertly as it can be in the operating theatre.  Recommended. (SF)

Wednesday (29/6)   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. With a script by Peter Handke, and a cameo by Peter Falk as Der Filmstar, it is utterly glorious. Later remade as City of Angels with Nic Cage and Meg Ryan. Bravo Signor Coppola for trying, but Tinseltown, as usual, somewhat missed the point. (JM)

Friday (1/7)               01:30   BBC4                Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (2015)

Documentary by Stig Bjorkman and narrated by Alice Vikander about the marvellous Ingrid, praised for her artistry and graciousness, using her own comments and with contributions from among others, daughters Pia Lindstrom and her Isabella Rossellini, Liv Ullmann and Sigourney Weaver.  Apart from appearing in an impressive catalogue of films (Casablanca, Notorious, Cries and Whispers, Spellbound) she won three Oscars (for Gaslight, Anastasia and Murder on the Orient Express), two Emmys and a Tony, and managed to have quite an eventful personal life, including leaving her Swedish dentist husband for Italian film director Roberto Rossellini, which proved controversial at the time.  She had four children altogether and one says ‘The only thing I think any of her children would say is we wish we had more of her’. (JR)

Stephen Ilott’s Picks

Saturday (25/6)       13:20   BBC2                      Casablanca (1942)  (also Thursday 21:00 BBC4)

It is often said that Citizen Kane is the best movie ever made, but it doesn’t have the emotional warmth or suspense of Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca, which many viewers would prefer to watch, ideally in a double bill with Woody Allen’s tribute act in Play It Again, Sam.  Humphrey Bogart turns in a classic performance as the jaded Rick, owner of a bar in Vichy-run Casablanca during WW2. Ingrid Bergman also triumphs as Ilsa, his former love, who turns up in the bar looking for help getting letters of transit for herself and her resistance leader husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). The mood of doomed romance is perfectly caught, as Rick’s cynicism about their past relationship clashes with Ilsa’s idealistic support of her husband. 

Rick and Ilsa, earning their stripes in the free market.

The cinematography by Arthur Edeson is fascinating: cineastes love, for example, the scene in the market place, in which the couple cross paths and joust verbally, set against a striped background suggesting their entrapment. Claude Rains as Captain Renault is a great foil to Rick, and stalwarts Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet also appear. Joy Page plays refugee Annina Brandel, willing to risk everything but getting short shrift from Rick. The soundtrack isn’t bad either. Critics didn’t always rate it highly, Pauline Kael and Umberto Eco among them. What do they know? (JR)

Sunday (26/6)          14:55   BBC1                      Monsters, Inc. (2001)  (also Friday 19:00 BBC3)

Another delightful animation from Pixar. In a world populated by monsters, and powered by the screams of scared children, the industry of harvesting the raw fuel, direct from the source, is threatened by a megalomaniacal CEO. The slightest contact with children is highly toxic, but the boss has a secret he must keep under wraps at all costs. John Goodman and Billy Crystal star as the loveable odd couple James P. ‘Sulley’ Sullivan and Mike Wasowski. As is often the case, the superb voice casting helps to communicate character traits immediately and helps make them some of the more appealing movie monsters. (MH)

22:05   Talking Pictures    Notorious (1946)

One of the genuine masterworks directed by Alfred Hitchcock, who uses his flair for cinematography and skill in building tension to tell the story of US agent Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia (Ingrid Bergman), daughter of a convicted German war criminal. She must go undercover for him to help build a case against a suspected Nazi, played by Claude Rains. Devlin and Alicia start to fall for each other, but as she slips further into her honeytrappish role, the boundaries between reality and play-acting begin to blur. The film gained notoriety on release for a kissing scene that lasts for minutes. Tame by today’s standards, but incendiary at the time. (MH)

Wednesday (29/6)  22:00    BBC4                     Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1989).

One of the BBC mini-series that had us all mesmerised at the beginning of the 1980s, not only for its cheerful account of teenage lesbian rebellion (Charlotte Coleman and Charlotte Bradshaw, both charming), but also for the weirdness of the Northern working-class evangelical culture that struggled to contain it. From Jeanette Winterson’s novel, directed by Beeban Kidron, a BBC star, who apparently was once a stripper. Sadly, she doesn’t seem to have made a film since InRealLife (2016), a documentary about the harm the internet does to teenagers, which must have offended our modern God-Emperors. (JM)

Friday (1/7)               03:15   Sky Arts                Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011).

A documentary about the legendary maker of low-budget independent films, many of them gloriously trashy. Packed with the stars whose careers he launched, including priapic Jack Nicholson, who sheds a tear for his old mentor. (JM)

Other modern films of interest

Sunday (26/6)          03:00   Sky Arts            Poly Styrene – I Am a Cliche (2021). A one-hit wonder? How very dare you. ‘O Bondage, Up Yours!’ I really liked Poly, who died in 2011, aged 53, of cancer. I didn’t know her: I just liked her songs. This film was made by her daughter and is very concerned with the mother-daughter relationship. Poly now seems to have been repurposed as ‘the first woman of colour to front a successful rock band in the UK’, although no-one at the time really noticed. She had a rackety early life and, after recording that debut single, fell foul of the men in white coats. According to Wikipedia, ‘In 1978, after a gig in DoncasterSouth Yorkshire, Styrene (real name Marianne Elliott) had a vision of a pink light in the sky and felt objects crackling when she touched them. Thinking she was hallucinating, her mother took her to the hospital where Marianne was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, sectioned, and told she would never work again. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1991.’ Not an uncommon experience for young people of a sensitive and artistic disposition, especially if they are troublesome to their families and friends, and especially if they take recreational drugs: cf Brian Wilson. Unfortunately, the daughter seems to have bought into the myth of inherited mental illness and its biochemical etiology, a depressing cult that does nothing for people who suffer difficulties in their lives: which is most of us.

Monday (27/6)        23:35   Film4                 Mother! (2017)

Director Darren Aaronovsky comes up with an over-egged confection, about the lengths an artist might go to for their art. In this case a long way, as Jennifer Lawrence plays Mother, the wife of Him (Javier Bardem), a poet with writer’s block and a strange crystal object. They are visited by Man (Ed Harris), who is a fan of Him, and his wife Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their two sons (Brian and Domhall Gleeson). They overstay their welcome, leading to complications with Mother’s pregnancy.  All the action takes place in an elaborate set representing a house, which feels very claustrophobic.

Jennifer Lawrence spoke of the story representing the rape of Mother Earth. Rex Reed in the New York Observer said ‘I hesitate to label it the ‘Worst movie of the year’ when ‘Worst movie of the century’ fits it even better’. Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian said ‘Aaronovsky’s toweringly outrageous film leaves no gob unsmacked. It is an event-movie detonation, a phantasmagorical horror and black comic nightmare that jams the narcosis needle right into your abdomen’. Maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time. (JR)

Tuesday (28/6)        22:00   BBC4                  Citizen Ashe (2021). A near-hagiography of Arthur Ashe, the first black man to win Wimbledon. He seems to have been a near-saint, which was the only way black people were able to succeed in those days: cf Sidney Poitier. Quite the opposite now, of course: cf Kanye West. (JM)

Wednesday (29/6)  01:05   Channel 4         Rebel Dykes (2021). According to Rotten Tomatoes, ‘the story of a bunch of kick-ass young dykes who find each other in post-Punk London, and carve out a rebellion that has been detonating ever since’. Slightly disappointing to me. I’d hoped it was about radical new developments in poldering. (JM)

Thursday (30/6)       01:05   Channel 4        Love, Simon (2018) This was the first gay teenagers romcom made by Hollywood, and is built around a young man’s interactions with someone he meets on the internet. Funny, charming, essentially harmless.


Saturday (25/6)        22:50    Talking Pictures           Dance With a Stranger (1985). Miranda Richardson stars as Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, in this impressively dour and detailed account of 1950s Britain in the grip of a moral panic. Directed by Mike Newell from a script by the redoubtable Shelagh Delaney, who had made her name with A Taste of Honey in 1961, back when kitchen sinks smelt of Vim. With Rupert Everett as the aristocratic charmer who provokes Ellis into a most unladylike course of action. Capital punishment was a live issue in Thatcher’s Britain, as it still is in various fascist regimes around the world, starting with the World’s Policeman: bent coppers do love to bury their mistakes. (JM)

Sunday (26/6)           15:45    Channel 5                     Labyrinth (1986)                              

This film gained cult status almost immediately after release. Young Jennifer Connolly’s baby brother is whisked away to a magical land whilst she is babysitting, so she must follow to get him back. She comes face to face with a myriad of creatures (wonderfully realised by the Muppet master Jim Henson, who also directs), a maze of tasks to complete and an enigmatic, menacing David Bowie as the Goblin King. Bowie also wrote the songs. It would be interesting to know what a 21st-century audience will make of this colourful fantasy: its place in the hearts of those who saw it at the time remains secure. (MH)

21:00    5 Star                             The Full Monty (1997)  (also Thursday 21:00)

Winning comedy-drama, directed by Peter Cataneo, about six unemployed men in Sheffield who turn to stripping to make some money, and confront some of their sexual and relationship problems along the way. The great cast includes Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Addy, Wim Snape, Steve Huison, Paul Barber, Hugo Speer and Lesley Sharp, and the depressed nature of post-Thatcher Britain is acutely rendered. It won the Best Music Oscar and was nominated for numerous other awards. (JR)

Monday (27/6)         10:00    Great Movies Action Build My Gallows High (1947)                    

Can you escape the past?

Robert Mitchum gives one of his best performances in this classic 40s film noir, also known as Out of the Past. Forced to leave his tranquil rural hideaway and his romantic interest Ann, ex Private Eye Jeff Bailey must confront a twilight world of criminality, betrayal and constant ambiguity, where nothing and no one can be taken at face value.

Director Jacques Tourneur also made the seminal 1942 B-movie Cat People, and later, the great British supernatural horror, Night of the Demon. The story here – adapted by Daniel Mainwaring from his own novel in the hard-boiled style (with uncredited revisions by James M Cain) – pits Mitchum against crooked gambler Whit Sterling, a serpentine Kirk Douglas, before he was established as a leading man. Jane Greer, in her most celebrated role as Kathie, is memorably both femme and fatale.

The classical Hollywood dichotomies of good girl/bad girl and small-town decency versus metropolitan corruption are key themes, but as always the bad girl, the bad guys and the big city are a lot more fun, always subverting the conservative edicts of the Hays Production Code.  (SF) 

16:50    Film4                              Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)  (also Friday 12:40). WWII submarine drama, starring Clark Gable as the commander and Burt Lancaster as the lieutenant who was passed over when Clark got the job. Their only film together, directed by Robert Wise, only three years before The Sound of Music. Efficient, perhaps, rather than inspired. (JM)

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