World Cinema

Monday (8/8)           00:15    Channel 4    Bombay (1995)

This week I’ve found myself writing about a lot of films I haven’t seen, and this is one of them. It sounds good. A Tamil-language drama with songs, by Mani Rathnam, it was one of the first subcontinental films to deal with a mixed marriage, in this case between a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy. They have twin sons. Bombay (as was) erupts in communal violence, and the family becomes embroiled. The film caused a sensation and police were posted outside cinemas to protect those who wanted to see it. The only real review I have found of it is in a video podcast by Jimmy Cage and Deniz the Buddymeister, who are apparently two German guys living in Austria who like to scrutinise Bollywood-type films. One is white and one is brown, and their accents are unplaceable. There’s banter, of course, but they also talk seriously about the film. They praise its humanity and wisdom, describing it as ‘beautiful’. Good for them. (JM)

Thursday (11/8)       01:10    Film4            Paris, Texas (1984).

Harry Dean Stanton plays a drifter who emerges from the desert after four years to reconnect with his abandoned child and seek his lost wife, played by Nastassja Kinski. From a series of Sam Shepard short stories called The Motel Chronicles, and directed by Wim Wenders with images by Robby Muller. Joe Pollack in the St Louis Post-Dispatch wrote at the time that the pair had a deep fascination with the land, ‘almost as if their European upbringings had made them envious of the wide-open spaces’. He obviously hadn’t travelled much. The film is undeniably affecting, with a brilliantly minimal bottleneck-guitar score by Ry Cooder, but, as Pollack currently identifies, it might have usefully had been pruned a little. Sacrilege, I know. Burn me. (JM)       

20:00    BBC4            Midnight’s Children (2012) 

Well, I don’t mind a literary adaptation, and I did admire the book when it originally appeared, in 1981, being a solid-gold Oxbridge ponce and not very familiar with the South American magical-realists whom Salman Rushdie channelled. Rushdie subsequently became the world’s most sociable recluse, attending countless literary parties while also apparently in constant fear of evisceration. Born and educated into enormous privilege, he has never lacked confidence, and his decision to script the film of his multi-garlanded book (it won the ‘Booker of Bookers’ or something, didn’t it?) was plain dumb. The four-times-divorced author even used a voice-over to make absolutely sure it was all about him and gave director Deepa Mehta little to do except make poverty beautiful. I could go on, but Deborah Ross in the Spectator pretty much kebabbed him in her review. ‘The trouble with this adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Booker prize-winning Midnight’s Children, aside from the fact it is a mess and a muddle, is that it goes on and on and on and on. And on. And on. And then, just when you think it has to be over, it goes on some more.’ As a writer, I still admire the book, for its ambition and all-round weirdness, but I can’t say I have ever had any great desire to reread it. (JM)

Stephen’s Soaraway Selection

Saturday (6/8)          22:00   5 Star                    Inglourious Basterds (2009)            

Quentin Tarantino’s unsubtle, Marmite style may not be to everybody’s tastes, but all of his writing and directorial skills are brought together in an entertaining way in this reimagining of World War 2 history. A clan of Nazi Hunters hatch a plot to take down the powers of the Third Reich, and Tarantino gets to display his usual OTT violence and sparky dialogue. Alongside the likes of Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, there is a deservedly Oscar-winning performance by then mostly unknown Christoph Waltz, as SS Colonel Hans Landa. His acting here reaches heights that others can only dream of, never more so than in the sublime opening scene, his interrogation of a suspected Nazi sympathiser. (MH)

23:40   BBC1                     Zodiac (2007)

David Fincher’s adaptation of the books by Robert Graysmith about the serial killer who terrorised California in the 1970s. His calling card was a series of coded messages that were posted to local newspapers, sending everyone into meltdown. Mark Ruffalo plays detective Dave Toschi, who leads the investigation and who became the model for both Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callaghan and Steve McQueen’s Bullitt. Jake Gyllenhall is Graysmith, a cartoonist on the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes obsessed with the mystery. Robert Downey Jr is Paul Avery, a crime reporter with whom Graysmith teams up.  Beautifully shot, it has some truly chilling moments, and it does seem to be a good idea not to go into a stranger’s basement. (JR)

Sunday (7/8)             00:10   Sky Arts                The Birds (1963)

Classic Hitchcock terror, loosely based on a Daphne du Maurier short story. Socialite Melanie (Tippi Hedren) goes to visit her lawyer fiancée Mitch (Rod Taylor) in Bodega Bay, taking a pair of caged love birds with her – very romantic. On the way, she is seemingly randomly attacked by a seagull, and she goes on to experience further unexplained incidents. Maybe the problem lies with Mitch’s mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy), who is less than welcoming, or his ex, Annie (Suzanne Pleshette), the local schoolteacher. There are outstanding scenes, such as the moment when Melanie is sitting smoking a cigarette outside the school, unaware of what is behind her. The film has been a feast for cultural commentators and academics, with interpretations ranging from it being an analogy of the Cold War, to a critique of female hysteria. There certainly seems to be something Oedipal going on, but none of that is necessary to appreciate it, appealing as it does to the gut as much as the head. (JR)

01:20   Talking Pictures   Room at the Top (1959).

Pamela reviewed this very enthusiastically last week, so dig out that email. I could paste it back in, but I’m saving the planet, one sub-atomic particle at a time. Server farms are environmentally disastrous. Suck on that, paper-haters. (JM)

21:00   Sky Arts                 Frenzy (1972)

Late Hitchcock, his penultimate, with a screenplay by Anthony Shaffer. It stars Jon Finch as Blaney, an irascible ex-fighter pilot on his uppers, and Barry Foster as Rusk, his forces pal who runs a business in Covent Garden. There is a strangler on the loose in London and women’s bodies keep turning up, each with a tie around its neck. When Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), Blaney’s former wife, is found strangled, and he is seen in the vicinity, he becomes suspect number one. It’s an atypical offering from Hitchcock, sometimes lacking drama, and it includes a brutal rape scene disturbing even to a modern audience. The cast includes Anna Massey as Blaney’s girlfriend Babs, Billie Whitelaw, Jean Marsh and the late Bernard Cribbins in one of his lesser known roles, as a pub landlord. Michael Caine, Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Mirren turned down roles in it and Eileen Atkins said the script was ‘disgusting’. The opening scene, filmed outside County Hall when it was a seat of democracy, features a politician announcing the end of pollution in the Thames, which is ironic given the state of Britain’s rivers 50 years later.  (JR)

Wednesday (10/8)   18:25   Talking Pictures    Hog Wild (1930)

In the 19m short for Hal Roach, Laurel & Hardy attempted to put up a radio aerial (or, as they would say, antenna). I love radio. Hilarious that people believe in ‘wireless’, the ludicrous digital lash-up that lets us down every day. In 1934 the BBC could cover most of the world from Droitwich, and you could pick up the long wave signal on a length of wet string. It is still going, and it is still powered by thermionic valves, apparently a metre high and the last in the world. It’s going to be switched off, apparently. But they’ve been saying that for yonks. (JM)

Other modernish films of interest

Sunday (7/8)              22:35   BBC4          The Hijacker Who Vanished: The Mystery of D.B. Cooper (2020)

This is a Storyville documentary, originally on HBO in the States, about an extraordinary incident that most of us will probably not remember. In 1971, a man identified by news media as DB Cooper hijacked a Northwest Airlines 727 in Portland, Oregon, showed the stewardess a bomb and demanded $200,000. The plane landed at Seattle, he got the money, the passengers were allowed off and he instructed the crew to fly, low and slow, to Mexico. Then he jumped off. Cooper was never found and speculation has raged since. John Dower, who made this film, tries to find out what happened, but the trail is cold, so he mostly talks to and about the legion of enthusiasts who have devoted their life to speculation about the incident. It has also launched lots of fictional responses: DB Cooper is the name of the investigating agent in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. I liked Euan Ferguson’s observation in The Observer: ‘ I was left with two thoughts: evidence, without any additional motive or context, is not as it says; and all Americans want to be, briefly, acknowledged for their life, preferably on screen.’ (JM)

Monday (8/8)             00:15  Sky Arts      David Byrne’s American Utopia  (2020)

Spike Lee’s effective record and contextualisation of the New York übernerd‘s 2018 show, as premiered on Broadway. It formed the shop window for HBO Max, the subscription channel. David Byrne is an interesting and powerful figure now, operating in the nexus between high art and low commerce, and his shows are unfailingly ingenious, glossy and slick. He’s got the whole globalism thing going on and he still can’t dance. I can’t say I warmed to him when I met him: neurosis as career strategy. But I approve of him (he rides a bike) and I like all his records, starting with Talking Heads’ debut, ’77. Sad about the war between him and the Tina/Chris axis, but there’s a whole murky saga there. Drugs were taken. I’m not telling you about it. You’ll have to ask them. Meanwhile, Spike! Whassupp? Make better films. (JM)

Tuesday (9/8)             23:15   BBC2          Young Adult (2011). A lightweight comedy about a hard-living writer of ‘young adult’ fiction, played by Charlize Theron, who returns to her hometown to reclaim her teenage sweetheart. In my life as a literatus, or possibly literato, I seem endlessly to stumble across people who write and read ‘young adult’ fiction, many of them not exactly in the target zone. I don’t write it myself. I write ‘old adult’ fiction: I don’t have much choice, really, do I? (JM)

Wednesday (10/8)     22:40  BBC1          The Duchess (2008). When I wrote about it in 2020, I said ‘with Keira Knightley as the controversial 18th century socialite Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.’ I apologise. Is there a more meaningless word than ‘controversial’? If you remember, this film, a glossy vehicle for the underrated Knightley, was marketed as a kind of historical forerunner of the Diana-Charles-Camilla saga. Hilarious note from IMDB: ‘The real Duke and Duchess of Devonshire were 25 and 17 when they married, and were 8 years apart in age. The actors Ralph Fiennes and Keira Knightley are 23 years apart.’ (JM)

Thursday (11/8)          00:15  Sky Arts     The Story of the Jam: About the Young Idea (2015).

Weller, Weller, Well, Tell Me More, Tell Me More, like did Saint Paul really court the skinhead fraternity in 1976 or did he just like far-right iconography and rhetoric for artistic reasons? Lots of people did, including Saint David Bowie, whose sins have been forgotten: Eric Clapton, not so much. I saw The Jam a couple of times near the start and they were punishingly loud, fast and aggressive. If you had previously been a dedicated fan of Yes, Procol Harum and Gong, they were a tonic and, having been a Scout and marched around a bit, I was never allergic to the Union Flag. This documentary is directed by Bob Smeaton, purveyor of huge numbers of bland archive/interview films for dedicated merch collectors. I have no idea about it beyond that, although the lead review on IMDB is not keen. Most people now think of Weller as a smooth soul wannabe, and well done him for growing up. It happens. (JM)


Saturday (6/8)     14:15     ITV4                      Groundhog Day (1993)

Harold Ramis’s celebrated comedy about a disillusioned television journalist, played by Bill Murray in his usual bone-dry style, who is sent to a town that relies on a local groundhog to predict prevailing weather. Inexplicably, he becomes stuck in a loop, repeating the same day over and over, while all others are oblivious to his plight. After struggling, he uses the phenomenon as an opportunity for good, to voice his true feelings to his colleagues and eventually wear down love interest Andie MacDowell. The film has become something of a comedy touchstone and given a curious little ritual, carried to New England by the Pennsylvania Dutch (actually Germans), global currency. (MH)

 20:00   ITV              GoldenEye (1995)

The first Pierce Brosnan Bond, with Sean Bean as a villain, which benefits from the opening up of Russia after the Cold War. There is notable tank chase through St Petersburg, for instance. Capably directed by Martin Campbell, who made the astonishing Edge of Darkness for the BBC, from Troy Kennedy Martin’s ‘Protect and Survive’-era script, before wrecking it in Hollywood as a vehicle for Mad Mel Gibson. (JM)

23:05    Film4                     Blue Steel (1990)  (also Thursday 23:20) 

I volunteered to write about this film by mistake. I was confusing it with another film with Steel in the title. There are dozens, including one about The Owls. Sheffield Wednesday, to you. Anyway, this one, which I haven’t seen is a stylish thriller, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and starring Jamie Lee Curtis. She is a rookie cop, she shoots an armed robber, a psychopath runs away with his gun and starts a serial-killing spree, she is accused of shooting an unarmed man, and then she teams up with a hunky detective to clear her name and nail the actual perp of the murders. An ‘unexpected romance’ takes place. The critics were divided, to say the least. Nigel Floyd, pretty low down the totem pole at Time Out when it came out, said this in 2006: ‘Short on plausibility but preserving the psycho-sexual ambiguities throughout, Bigelow’s seductively stylish, wildy fetishistic thriller is proof that a woman can enter a traditionally male world and, like Megan, beat men at their own game.’ On the other hand, Rita Kempley of the Washington Post, writing in 2000, said this: ‘A mean and unsavory celebration of misplaced misogyny milked for dollars, a mindless soup of urban neurosis and sexual loathing.’ Jamie is great. Her career has always suffered from the bizarre rumour that she was born male. It was possibly a misplaced desire to silence that particularly irksome canard that persuaded John Cleese to showcase her mammalian appendages in A Fish Called Wanda. Possibly. (JM)

Sunday (7/8)        22:00    Talking Pictures   Sudden Fear (1952) 

A twisty noir, with playwright Joan Crawford marrying an actor (Jack Palance) and then discovering that he and his lover (Glorious Gloria Grahame) are planning to bump her off. A guest critic for this one. François Truffaut, writing in Cahiers du Cinema: ‘While respectable, nothing in his recent career led us to suspect that David Miller would give us the most brilliant “Hitchcock style” known in France. Outside of two very short but fairly unpleasing sequences (a dream and a planning sequence in pictures), there is not a shot in this film that isn’t necessary to its dramatic progression. Not a shot, either, that isn’t fascinating and doesn’t make us think that it is a masterpiece of filmmaking.’ Careful with those double negatives, mon brave, but otherwise 10/10. (JM)

Tuesday (9/8)       17:30    Sky Arts                Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Mr. Blanchard’s Secret (1956)  (also Wednesday 10:30)

Another of HItch’s US TV mysteries. Babs Fenton is a crime writer with a boring husband. She starts observing her next-door neighbour and speculating about him and his oddly invisible wife. IMDB tags this under the heading ‘Couples sleep in separate beds’. The depravity of the suburbs: will it never end? Hitchcock’s famous spoken introduction is suitably mischievous: ‘By the way, I’ve been asked to announce that some of you are missing this program unnecessarily. You have moved and not kept us informed of your address. So we don’t know where to send the show to you. I hope you’ll take care of that matter at once.’ I wonder what he would have made of smart televisions, Alexa, IP sniffing, Google StreetView and the kindly cradle-to-grave Metaverse? (JM)

Thursday (11/8)   07:30   Talking Pictures    D.O.A. (1949)

Another noir, this time with a famous opening sequence. The camera follows a man through a crowded claustrophobic police station until he finally finds a detective’s office, where he is able to report a murder – his own. Directed by Rudolph Maté and starring Edmund O’Brien. Sadly, all the approving reviews seem to be behind paywalls. Here’s a rather more entertaining one by Nick Schager on the website Slant: Once the film proceeds with its flashbacked tale of how O’Brien unknowingly ingested fatal “luminous” poison (which, as its goofy name implies, glows in the dark), Rudolph Maté’s seminal thriller—aside from a few choice one-liners and a sexualized jazz club sequence—rapidly decomposes into a campy, confusing bore. The overly complicated explanation for O’Brien’s poisoning, however, is no more confounding than the dead man’s tolerance for Pamela Britton’s nagging, needy, marriage-obsessed girlfriend.’ (JM)

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