World Cinema

Monday (17/10)   01:35   Film4             Night of the Kings (2020)

MACA (Maison d’Arrêt et de Correction d’Abijan) is the main prison of the Ivory Coast’s capital and a world unto itself. Philippe Lacôte’s second feature follows Roman (Bakary Koné), a new arrival, who is forced to entertain fellow inmates with stories throughout his first night or face death at the hands of the prison’s fading overlord, Blackbeard. Roman gives them a magical-realist version of the rise of Zama King, leader of the “microbes”, Ivory Coast’s terrifying youth gang. Meanwhile, power struggles rage inside the jail. A grimly authentic film from Lacôte, whose mother served time in MACA, elaborating on a real prison tradition and with a cast including former inmates. Shortlisted for the 2021 Best International Feature Film Oscar and a winner at the Toronto festival in 2021. (JM)

01:45   Channel 4     This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (2019)

In Lesotho, an old widow is mourning the loss of her only surviving son in a mining accident. Then she and the other villagers learn that their traditional burial grounds are to be flooded as part of a dam project intended to provide electricity for their neighbours in South Africa. They decide to protest to their King. Wael Khalry on the said this feature, by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, who did not go to film school, is ‘as unforgettable as any film I’ve seen.’ His review is very eloquent. Take a look at that. With a score by a Japanese musician, Yu Miyashita. (JM)

Friday (21/10)       01:55   Channel 4     Corpus Christi (2019)
In Jan Komasa’s third full-length film, nominated for the international feature award at 2020’s Oscars, a young man called Daniel (Bielenia) is serving a sentence in a juvenile detention centre when he experiences a spiritual awakening. Banned from the clergy on account of his criminal conviction, he walks into a Catholic church and tells a young woman (Rycembel) praying near him that he is actually a priest. Soon he is ministering to the needs of a beautiful but wounded rural parish and its unhappy people, becoming a kind of ‘cool priest’ to the young and all the while fearful of discovery. A thoughtful, original film that benefits from a dynamic central performance. Jan is a nice guy, who showed his bonkers debut, Suicide Room, for a nano-audience at one of our International Film Festivals. Young people might prefer that. (JM)

Stephen Ilott’s soaraway selection

Saturday (15/10)   12:10   Channel 4             BlackKklansman (2018) 

BlacKkKlansman (2018) is a product of the mature Spike Lee, inspired by fact: fact is not only stranger than fiction, it can also provide a short-cut to truth. In the early Seventies, Ron Stallworth was hired as the first black policeman in Colorado Springs, slap-bang in the middle of white America. Keen to prove himself under cover, he telephoned David Duke, Grand Wizard of the KuKluxKlan (then desperate to present itself as a mainstream movement), and convinced the would-be politician that he was white and eager to further the cause. In Lee’s film, a more senior Jewish detective, Flip Zimmerman, is recruited to pose as Stallworth in face-to-face meetings with Klan members, who invite him to join in their menacing activities without noticing that he is only pretending to be Aryan. Lee extracts both drama and comedy from this absurd situation, while discovering that race is anything but black and white. Adam Driver, as Zimmerman, is a reliable presence, but the film really belongs to John David Washington, as Stallworth, who is revelatory. Local interest: Spike owes his career to David Putnam, who was patron or something of Cheltenham Film Society until the committee reminded him of that fact, at which point he asked us to leave him alone. I wanted to ask Spike to take on the role. Support for this suggestion: 0. (JM)

21:00   Great Movies       Inside Man (2006)

This is unusual territory for Spike Lee but definitely worth a look. Denzel Washington and Clive Owen are pitted against each other as hostage negotiator and taker, in a bank heist with unusual features. One is that the hostages and captors wind up clad in the same outfits, making it hard for the cops to decipher who is who. Racism and otherness are explored in this post 9/11 moment, laced with wry humour. And what exactly is in Bank President Christopher Plummer’s safe deposit box?

A first screenplay by a lawyer called Russell Gerwitz, who took five years developing the script before succeeding in selling it to Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment, the production company owned by Ron ‘Happy Days’ Howard and Brian Grazer. After Howard dropped out, the Northern Irish scriptwriter Terry George added a subplot about the sinister source of the riches in that box and the employent of a fixer, played by Jodie Foster, to keep it out of the hands of the gang. Originally the gang were supposed to be masked and wear sunglasses throughout, but when Owen came on board, he wisely had the script rewritten so you could see his face.

Lee says his inspiration was Sidney Lumet’s 1975 hostage drama Dog Day Afternoon, which everyone should know. [JR]

Sunday (16/10)      01:20   Channel 4             Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) 

Six strangers arrive at an old hotel on the California-Nevada border and their lives become intertwined. Twisty neo-noir, with bogus priest Jeff Bridges, dapper John Hamm and hippie Dakota Johnson. “Deranged and ingenious” (The Times). “A protracted crime thriller with a very cumbersome screenplay” (The Independent). Take your pick. I like the cast very much and director Drew Goddard got a raw deal in Hollywood, having graduated from television to a Marvel project that was taken off him. Some sniffy critics complained that this was a sub-Tarantino knock-off. I don’t like Tarantino very much. This seems a little more Coens, if you ask me, although obviously that’s largely due to the corroded, cast-iron Bridges on which it depends. (JM)

Monday (17/10)    21:00   Great Movies       Prisoners (2013)  

Before Denis Villeneuve established himself as a member of modern Hollywood’s elite, he directed this impressive crime thriller about two young girls who go missing from outside their homes, with father and detective fighting to rescue them from an uncertain fate. Gorgeously shot by Roger Deakins, using a noticeable visual motif soaked in light and dark, and boasting fine work from an impressive cast of Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhall, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo and Viola Davis. (MH)

23:15   BBC2                   Poltergeist (1982)

This supernatural horror from Tobe Hooper (Texan Chainsaw Massacre), written and produced by Steven Spielberg, has managed to gain cult status, but in truth, may be overestimated. It may be underwhelming to modern audiences, thanks to its very 80s special effects and storytelling: it neglects some of the basics of character development. Given the pedigree of the creative powerhouses behind it, it ought to linger in the memory than it does. (MH)

Tuesday (18/10)    23:15   Great Movies       A Most Violent Year (2014)

Directed and written by  J C Chandor (Margin Call, All Is Lost), this is more epic than his previous work. It shows first-generation migrant Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) trying to establish his heating oil company in 1981, the year with the highest crime rate in New York’s history. He is pitted against the Mob, the banks and the legal system in this tightrope endeavour, as he strives to retain his sense of honour. He is assisted by his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), the daughter of the Mafia boss who sold Abel the company in the first place, who proves to be made of tough material. David Oyelowo plays the District Attorney investigating Abel’s company and Albert Brooks his faithful attorney. The large-scale set pieces are brilliantly done, as are the more intimate scenes. Critics likened Chandor to Sidney Lumet, though sadly it didn’t fare well at the box office.  (JR)

Other 21st century films of interest

Saturday (15/10)          23:20   Film4             The Nightingale (2018)

A protracted revenge drama about a young Irishwoman in colonial Tasmania who is raped, widowed and loses her child. She teams with an aboriginal fella and the pair of them head off to seek a gruesome revenge. Written and directed by a young woman called Jennifer Kent, who had previously attended Australia’s top drama school, appeared in various films and managed to wangle herself into visiting a Lars von Trier set. She then made her first film, the horror-fantasy The Babadook. This one has excellent performances, careful production design and efficient action. An American called Jeffrey Zhang praised it because he said it ‘holds a darkly sober mirror that reflects the horrors of colonialism, racism, and misogyny’. That’s a ‘trifecta’ of nonsense, in my view. Confected anger is not a helpful approach to history’s complexities. (JM)

Sunday (16/10)             16:00   Channel 4     Shrek 2 (2004) 

2001’s Shrek was an instant classic upon release, and this sequel does a good job of building on that film’s mix of fairytale lore and nudge-nudge, wink-wink satire. The titular ogre and his new wife Fiona are invited to meet her parents, King and Queen of the Kingdom of Far, Far Away, both of whom are less than impressed by their daughter’s partner. Inspired additions to the original voice cast include Jennifer Saunders, as the fairy godmother who is desperate for her son Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) to rule the kingdom, and Antonio Banderas as the show-stealing Puss in Boots. (MH)

Monday (17/10)           21:00   BBC4              The Fire Within (2022)  

This is Werner Herzog’s documentary about the volcanologists/filmmakers Katia and Maurice Krafft, who travelled from their home in Alsace to make a film on Mt. Unzen, Kyushu, Japan. On June 3rd 1991, it released a a cloud of superheated gases and particles and they were killed instantly. Herzog was given access to their library of footage and crafted this meditation on the pair and the terrifying power and beauty of mother Earth. Not everyone liked it: Cinamore, a British blog that claims to be ‘giving power back to journalists’ while not putting names on most of its reviews, described it as ‘a jumbled, non-linear highlight reel of magma, eruptions, and perilous situations that would better be demonstrated on NatGeo than tarnished by Herzog’s typical voiceover’.  Like nothing else this week, or most weeks. (JM/JR)

Tuesday (18/10)           23:45   BBC2             Loving (2016)  (also BBC4 Thursday 22:55)

Directed by Jeff Nichols, this feature is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who in the 1950s were guilty of miscegenation, an ugly word for an ugly law which prohibited interracial sexual relations or marriage in certain states. The couple marry in Washington but are arrested when they return to Mildred’s home of Virginia, where they hope to build a house and make a home. Although they are released, they are effectively exiled. Inspired by the March on Washington, they appeal to the Attorney General Robert Kennedy and their case is eventually heard by the Supreme Court  in 1967.  Had it been the current US Supreme Court one can only guess what the outcome might have been.   Brian Tallerico of admired the film’s quality of provoking ‘frustration and rage without resorting to monologues or melodrama’.  Joel Edgerton as Richard and Ruth Negga as Mildred produce ‘two of the best acting turns you will see this year . . . As phenomenal as Edgerton is here, it is arguably Negga’s movie.  It’s her eyes that I will remember, converying so much inner monologue with just a downward glance or adoring look at her husband’.   (JR)

Wednesday (19/10)     23:35   Film4             In Bruges (2008)

Bone dry black comedy from Martin McDonagh, who has since carved himself out a bit of a niche in Hollywood with such hits as Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Two Irish contract killers played by Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson find themselves with time to kill while hiding away in Bruges in light of a hit gone horribly wrong. Ralph Fiennes supports as their gangster boss who wants to hunt them down.[MH]

Friday (21/10)               22:45   Film4             Saint Maud (2019) (JM)

A debut feature by a young writer-director, Rose Glass. This one is a ‘body-horror’ about religious possession, set among young women in a creepy convent. There’s an older American lady with dubious intentions. Highly praised, not to say hyped, by critics when it came out, during the lockdown. ‘Fairly interesting and the lead actresses were superb’, said Stephen Ilott when he saw it, masked, at Cineworld. I wonder why the film industry is so obsessed with extracting cheap thrills from other people’s deepest beliefs and traditions. I also wonder why so many feminists think the most appropriate response to their own bodies is horror. (JM)


Saturday (15/10)            00:05   Channel 5                What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993)

Biopic of Tina Turner, aimed squarely at the female martyrdom market, with saintly Tina battered physically and mentally by Ike, her nasty husband and musical director. Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne do their best with a somewhat obvious screenplay. The great Phillip French in the Observer said it was ‘like a concert movie interrupted by horrendous intervals of wife-beating’. At one point, Phil Spector arrives and transmutes the pair’s emotional trauma into ‘River Deep, Mountain High’. Being a Spector obsessive, I have the tapes of those sessions. Ike wasn’t involved. The drama was between Phil and Tina, and he is brutal. I also have the complete sessions of Phil’s prodigy, Brian Wilson, creating ‘God Only Knows’. The contrast between nasty Phil and gentle Brian couldn’t be more acute. But it was Phil who was loved by the industry, including that other wife-beater, John Lennon. (JM)

13:00    BBC2                        The Man in the White Suit (1951)

Ealing satire about planned obsolescence, starring Alec Guinness as Sidney Stratton, a young Cambridge graduate working in the North of England who invents a suit that never wears out, to the dismay of local textile workers, who realise their jobs will be affected if his invention is allowed to succeed. Joan Greenwood plays Daphne, the daughter of a mill owner, who finds herself sympathising with Sidney. The BFI nominated it the 58th greatest British film of all time. Surely no one who went to Cambridge would ever do such a daft thing. (JR)

15:05    5 Action                   Rio Grande (1950) 

John Ford directs John Wayne, certainly the the most bankable actor/director pairing before Scorsese met De Niro. Wayne plays an army colonel who must juggle his regiment and family life after his estranged son Jefferson is recruited to his unit, and Jefferson’s mother (Maureen O’Hara) turns up to try and take him home. Despite the obligatory western chases and gunfights, lots of scenes of singing help keep the film’s cheerful and light hearted tone. [MH]

23:35    BBC1                         Halloween (1978)  (also BBC3 Friday 22:00)

John Carpenter’s 1978 milestone follows a psychopathic killer who murdered his sister as a young boy and 15 years later escapes from his mental hospital to return to the scene of his terrible crime, Haddonfield. It helped kick-start the slasher genre heyday and has become synonymous with understatedness due to the straight forward approach and lack of actual violence shown. It relies on tension building, helped in no small way by the now iconic music and killer, Michael Myers. As seems to be the way in the modern world, there are now a slew of Halloween reboots which, perhaps unsurprisingly, fall far short of the mark. [MH]

Wednesday (19/10)      00:20    Talking Pictures      Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

I’d never heard of this film, which is odd, given the personalities involved. It’s directed by Martin Scorsese, with a script by Paul Schrader, sometimes called the best writer never to win an Oscar. They brought us Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Then there’s the cast: Nic Cage, John Goodman, Patrick Arquette and others. In this New York story, Cage plays a paramedic at the end of this tether, roaming the streets at night, just like Travis Bickle. A couple of mates are with him, urging him to hold it together. But then he meets a woman, the daughter of a victim, and things look up. Maybe that story arc is not what people wanted. Here’s what Lisa Alspector of the Chicago Reader had say about it: ‘Its hard-to-pin-down tone is frighteningly original — simultaneously world-weary and adolescent with an aura of perpetual anxiety, as if the characters and filmmakers were in pursuit of a catharsis everyone knows will never come.’ It sounds rather intriguing to me. (JM)

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