World Cinema

Saturday (16/7)        23:15   Film4    Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020).

A delightful Japanese micro-budget time-travelling comedy about a young bloke who is suddenly addressed by a face on his iMac. It’s himself, two minutes into the future. He shows his friends in the cafe where he works (above). A succession of clever and charming gags ensue. The film, part of a small movement called nagamawashi (long-shot) was created by a Kyoto theatre group in the cafe where they meet, shot on a tiny camera attached to the front of an iPhone, and edited to look like a continuous take. It was eventually premiered to an audience of 12 before finding its way on to Amazon Prime. Here’s an interview with the director, Junta Yamaguchi. If you don’t see it here, you can find it easily enough online. You’ll need to click on the little cogwheel to find the subtitles. Select Felerit/Angol. Better, make one yourself. You don’t need a degree in film: ideas are more important. This little gem apparently cost less than £20,000 to make and has been shown all over the world. (JM)

Monday (18/7)         01:20   Film4    The Woman in the Fifth (2011) 


Troubled novelist Tom (Ethan Hawke) arrives in Paris, attempting to reconcile with his estranged wife and young daughter.  After his baggage is stolen he ends up broke, in the Latin quarter, in a particularly scuzzy hotel, where the proprietor (the excellent Samir Guesmi) offers him the kind of job not advertised in jobcentres.

Things seem to be looking up when a bookseller invites Tom to a literary soirée, and he encounters the mysterious and beautiful Margit, a beguiling Kristen Scott Thomas; but events soon take an unsettling turn.  

Not much more should be said about this intriguing noir romance, which asks more questions than it answers but didn’t leave me feeling shortchanged. Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski adapted the Douglas Kennedy novel, and his fragmented visual style here is very effective – as is a spare and eclectic piano-based score by Max de Wardener. There are eery, atonal sequences that sounded almost electronic, but are in fact acoustic: cloud chamber bowls. You can look those up. (SF)

Tuesday (19/7)         01:55   Film4    Chevalier (2015)  

A group of men, mostly old friends and rivals, gather for a fishing trip on a yacht in the Aegean. There follow various types of ritualistic bonding, game-playing, one-upmanship and what my psychoanalyst used to call ‘prick-fencing’. Director Athena Rachel Tsangari has made one of those stylised dissections of toxic masculinity that are typical of modern Green cinema. It has been highly acclaimed but it does suffer from longueurs. Click the main link for the rave reviews. I have a degree of sympathy with the lone dissenting voice I have found, a podcaster called Daniel Barnes: ‘Tsangari seems less interested in satire than in digressive dawdling. While she probably achieved exactly the sterile tone that she wanted, a lot of Chevalier plays like Kubrick on horse tranquilizers, empty and benumbed.’ (JM)

Stephen’s Selection

Saturday (16/7)         00:40   Film4    Carrie (1976). (Yes, we know the email’s too late, but you can find it elsewhere if you fancy it.)

Brian de Palma’s classic slow-burn horror deals with the difficulties of fitting in for a misfit school girl, played by Sissy Spacek, ridiculed by class mates and isolated for being different. She is unexpectedly invited to the prom by one of the most popular boys in school, but she takes extreme action when things are exposed as an elaborate hoax at her expense. Her home life provides no respite due to her overbearing, religiously motivated mother. One or two moments of this Stephen King adaptation have deservedly gone down in horror film folklore, which make it a must-see for fans of the genre. (MH)

02:20   Talking Pictures   The Girl Can’t Help It (1956)  

Jayne Mansfield stars in this early rock musical about a young woman whose gangster boyfriend wants to turn her into a pop star. He hires an unattractive has-been agent to coach her, but she can’t carry a tune in a bucket, and then a love-triangle develops. Thank goodness nothing like that could happen in our modern incorruptible music business. Opinions vary about the merits of the film: certainly it gets plus points for an early appearance by Little Richard. John Waters, the grand panjandrum of trash, liked it a great deal, rightly observing that Mansfield, often dismissed as a second-rate pre-Marilyn, was a good comedienne who was certainly in on the joke. (JM)                       

23:30    BBC2                     Vice (2018)

Directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short) and starring Christian Bale, who under the prosthetics is almost unrecognisable as Dick Cheney, selected by George W Bush as Vice President, possibly because he couldn’t be bothered with certain areas of government himself. A power grab ensues. If you didn’t know much about Cheney before, this will open your eyes, assuming you trust the film’s accuracy. Various critics were dubious about that, but it makes for compelling drama. Amy Adams plays Cheney’s wife Lyn, Steve Carell is Donald Rumsfeld and Sam Rockwell is Bush. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian called it an ‘entertainingly nihilist biopic’. (JR)

Monday (18/7)          23:10    Sky Arts                Laurel & Hardy: Their Lives and Magic (2011)

Thorough soup-to-nuts documentary about the black-and-white comedy duo, made by a German television journalist and director called Andreas Baum. Well done him. Hollywood has no interest in its own heritage: never has. Stan was an English music-hall artiste, of course, like Chaplin: but rather more approachable. (JM)

Friday (22/7)              02:45   Talking Pictures    Hangover Square (1945)

Not necessarily in the right order

In this tight (78-minute) period thriller, adapted from the novel by Patrick Hamilton,  Laird Cregar is great as George Harvey Bone, a tortured composer (aren’t they always) who enters an altered state when hearing dissonant music, and may or may not be responsible for a spate of violent murders. It’s just as well Stravinsky and Bartok didn’t have that problem. The film, produced by 20th Century Fox, had a relatively large budget, which pays off particularly in the dramatic finale. Linda Darnell is suitably manipulative as a showgirl on the make – playing bad in a classical Hollywood good girl/bad girl dichotomy. George Sanders is George Sanders, immaculate as always, though he had a major difference over his final line. Very sadly, Cregar died of a heart attack, shortly before the film’s release, aged just 31. 

Director John Brahm had a background in German theatre, but with the rise of Hitler left the country in the 1930s and progressed into cinema direction. There is a strong expressionist feel to many scenes, particularly a nightmarish Bonfire Night sequence. The classical score is an early one by Bernard Herrmann and includes part of a romantic piano concerto which, in the narrative, is composed and performed by Bone. Though Cregar mimed the playing, it can be seen that he was an accomplished pianist. Hangover Square Parts Two and Three were never made, but if they had this would have remained easily the best. (SF)

Other modern films of interest

Sunday (17/7)          18:30   Channel 4       Little Women (2019)

A wonderful adaptation of the timeless novel about the titular March sisters, brought up by their mother while their father is away in the American Civil War, by Louisa May Alcock. Director Greta Gerwig bravely and skilfully reinvents and updates the structure to tell the tale with new relevance, all with the help of an excellent young cast including Emma Watson, Saorsie Ronan and Florence Pugh, supported by the likes of Laura Dern and Chris Cooper. It does exactly what an adaptation should do, reinterpreting the source material with a new stance and new meaning, making it altogether exciting yet still familiar. (MH) LIterary note: the book is variously acclaimed as the start of ‘gendered’ children’s literature, the start of a new era of realism, and a clarion-call for feminism. I would also recommend March, by Geraldine Brooks, which invents a narrative for the girls’ father in the Civil War: a kind of upmarket ‘fan fiction’. (JM)

22:10   BBC4               The Price of Everything (2018) 

I’ve not seen this. It’s an acclaimed 105-minute documentary about the art market, questioning the notion of ‘value’ as manipulated by dealers, agents, speculators and collectors. Art is one of my interests, as a practitioner rather than a fetishist, so I’ll try and catch it. I’m also hoping to put on some art-related (not ‘art’) films at a site-specific venue quite soon. Watch this space. (JM)

22:30   BBC1               Blade Runner 2049 (2017) (also BBC3 Monday 21:50)

Some 35 years after Blade Runner, acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve manages to avoid the expected pitfalls of long-delayed sequels in BR2049, while exceeding expectations. The feat is all the more impressive when he had to folow something as enigmatic and influential as Ridley Scott’s 1982 original. Former replicant-hunter Harrison Ford returns to help Ryan Gosling’s K uncover the true nature of his past and existence. With gorgeous visuals, real technical prowess and – crucially – a well thought-out plot, the folkloric quality of the original is well retained. Most die-hard fans of the original should be encouraged by this impressive follow up to one of the most revered sci-fis. (MH)

Thursday (21/7)       02:00   Sky Arts          Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary (2016)

A generally compelling feature documentary about the legendary American modern jazz saxophonist known to jazz aficionados simply as Trane. If perhaps a tad too reverential at times, it also serves as an excellent introduction for non jazz aficionados – like myself.

The film, by John Scheinfeld,  moves chronologically from Coltrane’s childhood in 1920s/30s North Carolina – steeped in music and religion,  but also the stain of racial apartheid – then to his early progress as a musician in the 1940s, through to a formative period in the Miles Davis quintet in New York in the late 1950s, where he began to evolve his distinctive voice and style. Davis was generous in allowing Coltrane to develop, he was allowed longer solos than Miles himself.  In the 1960s, Coltrane, now with his own quartet, released a series of groundbreaking albums where he largely composed all the music, culminating in the hugely successful A Love Supreme, before an abrupt change of direction into a more radical style which divided jazz audiences, in particular the experimental Ascension – his final major work – which I really like, and which doesn’t sound much like jazz at all, but rather a powerful piece of ensemble contemporary music, though clearly underpinned by the blues.

This story is told with generous concert footage, newsreels,  home movies, and through the spoken contributions of biographers, family members and such musical luminaries as Wynton Marsalis, Sonny Rollins, John Densmore (of the Doors) and even the Sax playing ex US President, Bill Clinton. Last but not least, we have Denzel Washington voicing Coltrane’s own words, a considerable coup, and asset for this project.

The last segment covers a final tour of Japan – and an engaging Japanese Coltrane obsessive – and inevitably his tragic death in 1967 aged just 40; but then as a postscript, Coltrane relaxed and happy in a family home movie, and a final, redemptive quote that you’ll need to watch to the end to hear. (SF)

Friday (22/7)             01:00   Channel 4      Lucy, the Human Chimp  (2021)

Somewhat reverential documentary about a strange disturbing story. Lucy was a chimp raised by a university psychologist to be as near to a human child as possible. As so often with American ‘science’, a great deal of show business was involved: she appeared on the TV chat shows in the 1970s. A graduate student, Janis Carter, was hired to keep her presentable. But Lucy grew up and became a handful, so Janis set off to an island in Gambia to live with her alone on a desert island. It was not a happy experience. Here we have interviews and footage, plus dramatised sequences starring a young actress as Janis. Humans have always interacted with animals and used them for our own purposes. Eating them doesn’t trouble me. I’m less happy with buggering about with their essential identities. Maya, the tiger film we showed online a while back, is another, more thoughtful, version of the same dynamic. (JM)


Saturday (16/7)        13:45   BBC2                      Dark Victory (1939)  (also BBC4 Thursday 22:40)

Bette Davis plays Judith, a Long Island socialite who discovers she has a serious illness, in Edmund Goulding’s melodrama, based on a 1934 play. Humphrey Bogart, bizarrely, plays Michael, the Irish horse trainer she spars with. George Brent is Dr Frederick Steele, an eminent doctor who is asked by her friend Ann (Geraldine Fitzgerald) to examine Judith after she experiences a fall when riding. The impossibly rich milieu and the frantically-paced dialogue can initially be a bit irritating but Davis’s transformation from impatient gadabout to anxious patient under Steele’s gaze is a marvellous piece of acting. When Judith’s prognosis becomes clear, she takes a number of brave decisions and the film delivers on its dramatic promise. (JR)


15:25   BBC2                      Now, Voyager (1942)  (also BBC4 Thursday 20:45) 

Another Bette Davis film about transformation, in this case involving the mental health of her character Charlotte, an heiress who suffers under the oppressive regime of her mother. The older woman is punishing Charlotte for a previous flirtation on a cruise ship, but no doubt for deeper psychological reasons as well. Fortunately Charlotte is introduced to psychiatrist Dr Jaquith (Claude Rains), who patiently draws her out and encourages her to take another trip, this time alone. There she meets Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid), a married would-be architect with a manipulative wife and a troubled 12-year-old daughter. Charlotte embarks on an emotional journey that leaves nothing unchanged. Irving Rapper directs. Leslie Halliwell said of it ‘suffering in mink went over very big in wartime’.  (JR)                              


21:05   Talking Pictures    Music Box (1989) (also Monday 21:00)

Jessica Lange, who cornered the market in angst for a while in the Eighties, stars as a lawyer defending a Hungarian man accused of Holocaust atrocities: he’s also her father. Directed by Costa-Gavras, whose American films never matched the acclaim of his early work at home in Greece. The complaint made about this one is that it focuses on the courtroom drama rather than the truth of the accusations and the experiences of the father. But no Holocaust movie is ever greeted with universal acclaim. Except possibly Spielberg’s terrible Schindler’s List. (JM)

Sunday (17/7)        15:05   Talking Pictures   The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949)   (also Wednesday 10:50)

Angry social drama by the Welsh playwright Emlyn Williams and starring Edith Evans and Richard Burton, then 24. The authorities want to flood and destroy a North Wales village to build reservoirs to water England’s industrial cities. An old lady fights. Based on a real sequence of events that caused great bitterness. (JM)


20:00   Sky Arts                 Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Case of Mr Pelham (1955)  (also Thursday 23:00)

Another of Hitchcock’s US television short thrillers. This one is about a man who is haunted by his own double. Starring the shy character actor Tom Ewell, who claimed never to have seen any of his movies and only caught himself on television by accident when his wife was watching something. (JM)

Monday (18/7)         15:50    Film4                    A Town Like Alice (1956)  (also Friday 13:40)

Based on the novel by Australian Neville Shute and directed by Jack Lee. Virginia McKenna plays Jean, who recalls her time in Malaya during WWII. After the Japanese invade Kuala Lumpur, she becomes part of a group of women and children who are forced to walk to Singapore along a forbidding route. Peter Finch is Joe, a POW she meets who works for the Japanese. Their relationship plays out over a period of years and thousands of miles. Alice Springs, midway between Adelaide and Darwin, is Joe’s home town. The behaviour of the Japanese is shown as brutal, unsurprisingly given when the film was made. There is a bleak, unsparing quality to it, but the romance is undeniable. (JR)


23:45    Film4                    Hear My Song (1991)  

Rather nice Miramax fantasy romcom about a Liverpool nightclub promoter (Adrian Dunbar) who promises to bring the legendary Irish tenor Josef Locke, AWOL for tax reasons, back to Britain to perform. Locke is played by Ned Beatty, with support from Shirley Anne Field, Tara Fitzgerald and David McCallum. Instrumental in reviving the real Locke’s career. I liked Adrian a lot before he became typecast in the endless crime caper Line of Duty. I’d like to see him in something good. (JM)

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