Freeview films from 19 November 2022

World Cinema

Wednesday (23/11)       01:25   Film4    Two of Us (2019)

Well, this is the film we saw at Cheltenham Film Society the other week. I had seen it before but didn’t remember it. I got much more from it the second time. A couple of ladies in mature life are in love but live in separate flats in the same block because the older one (Madeleine, played by Martine Chevalier) dare not let her censorious children know of her new attachment. That would involve revealing how horrible her ‘loving’ husband – their father – was to her and betraying her duty as a French wife. Nina (Barbara Sukowa), the younger and bolder of the pair (a German, to boot) plans an escape to Rome, which will mean disposing of the nest-egg apartment in well-heeled provincial France and telling the children. Under stress, Madeleine has a stroke, which rends her mute and apparently insensible. Nina, with no formal connection with Madeleine, is shut out. But she fights. Wonderful acting, intelligent direction by first-timer Filippo Meneghetti, and clever diagetic and non-diagetic music, using a sprinkling of classical piano, some wonderful chansons, and a clever, minimal score that made about five distorted synth/guitar notes do a great deal of dramatic work. If you don’t know what ‘diagetic’ means, look it up. That’s your homework. It’s jargon, but it has its uses. (JM)

23:55   Film4     Les Miserables (2019)

Neither the musical, nor a remake of the classic British radio comedy The Glums, this is an angry, energetic drama about gangs and racial tension in the Paris banlieues, where tourists rarely venture. A debut feature by Ladj Ly, who apparently grew up there. There’s a whole story to be told about politicians of both right and (in this case) left conspiring to keep non-metroplitan French people out of The City of Eternal White. (JM)

Saturday (26/11)            00:40   Film4     Ghost in the Shell (1995)

The film that showed the world what Japanese anime could do, and inspired countless filmmakers (pictured above). Those in debt to director Mamuro Oshii include the Wachowskis, in their making of The Matrix, and James Cameron, who said it was ‘the first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence’. In an age of technology-integrated humans, we follow a special police force investigation into a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master, who is remotely taking over people and hijacking their bodies (‘shells’) to carry out tasks. The wonderful screenplay asks questions of identity in a technologically advanced world, making it particularly relevant today. (MH)

Stephen Ilott’s Sandbox

Sunday (20/11)               12:45   ITV                         Babe (1995)

James Cromwell stars as Hoggett, the farmer of few words, in the Australian-made, Hollywood-financed sleeper hit about a runt piglet who makes farmyard friends through his unstoppable kindness, becoming a champion sheep-herder, beating the dogs. In addition to the uncommonly likeable story, hints of philosophy and worthy themes of kindness and perseverance elevate this from a run of the mill children’s animal-based adventure. Adapted from The Sheep Pig by failed schoolteacher, failed farmer and failed shoe salesman (his own description) Dick King-Smith. ‘That’ll do pig.’ (MH) [The piece I wrote about the film was the single most lucrative piece of journalism I ever did. After it appeared in the Telegraph Magazine, it was sold to British Reader’s Digest and then to US Reader’s Digest. I got paid each time. I didn’t do as well as Dick King Smith, of course, but even he wasn’t exactly elevated into the stratosphere. He was able to take his disabled wife on a cruise, and bought a green Mercedes, but stayed living in his little house just outside Bristol. Note to aspiring journalists: don’t sell copyright. Here’s the piece. JM.]

21:00   Sky Arts                 Double Indemnity (1944)

One of the greatest of Hollywood golden age noirs. Billy Wilder directs, from a Raymond Chandler script. Fred Macmurray is an insurance salesman who, during a routine client meeting, meets Barbara Stanwyck, the disgruntled wife of a man who has just taken out a large life insurance policy. They plot to do away with him and collect the winnings. Things seem to go well at first, but a dogged claims inspector, Edward G. Robinson, begins to grow suspicious. The film was nominated for seven Oscars. (MH)

22:00   BBC2                      Surge (2020)  Also Wednesday (23/11)

I feel I really should watch this but have not yet had a chance. Ben Whishaw plays an airport security guard who becomes overwhelmed, starts running around wildly, robs a bank, has an ill-advised sexual encounter and then heads off into a sort of manic episode. Those who know me (or think they know about me, which is a larger group) will understand why I need to see it. Whishaw’s performance was highly praised. The film was directed by Aniel Karia and written by her with Rita Kalnejais and Rupert Jones, the brother of the actor Toby Jones. The director has attempted to embody the experience of mental disorientation and disintegration, which means relentless noise, confusing dialogue, pounding music, jump-cuts, and psychotropic editing. Well, having been there, it wouldn’t be my first choice of entertainment, but I reserve judgement. Here’s a very positive review by blogger Robert Butler. And here’s a very negative, angry one by Asher Luberto in The Playlist. Butler sees it as a film about mental illness; Luberto seems to think it’s a film about neurological mental impairment. In both cases, they are writing about things they have seen but have apparently not personally experienced. I really should watch it. (JM)

23:10   ITV4                       The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Martin Scorsese shocked filmgoers with this undiluted, unapologetically racy telling of the career of real-life stock market trader/fraudster Jordan Belfort, who earned millions in commission selling unregulated stocks over the phone to unsuspecting mugs. Leonardo DiCaprio takes us through Belfort’s drug-fuelled adventures in his usual sly manner, supported by Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey. There is an argument that the film lacks depth, but to quote myself, ‘If the purpose of a film is purely to entertain the viewer, then few others I’ve ever seen do their job as well as Wolfie.’ See the brief write-up on my blog. (MH)

Friday (25/11)                 09:25  Talking Pictures    Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Psychological noir from John M. Stahl, starring Cornel Wilde as a writer who meets a gorgeous woman (Gene Tierney) on a train and becomes entangled with her. She leaves her fiancé (Vincent Price). Unfortunately, he subsequently discovers she is insanely jealous and all-round bonkers and suffers a case of buyer’s remorse on a par with that experienced by Boris Johnson. Here’s what the LA Times said in 1945: ‘Miss Tierney enacts this sordid virulent role in a manner that will prove strangely arresting for those who look on. It is even the kind of interpretation that may win the Academy award.’ Unusually for a noir, it is in couleur. (JM)

Other sort-of modern films of interest

Saturday (19/11)      21:00   Sky Arts         The Ghost of Richard Harris (2022) (also Wednesday 00:45

Richard Harris was on occasion a tremendous actor but he was also a member of that gang of male narcissists and bullies known as ‘hellraisers’. You know who you are. ‘An unvarnished portrait of a man who was talented, charming, but also deeply feared by everyone who knew him, including his own children,’ wrote Kevin Maher in The Times. Deeply feared? By his children? How sad is that? Before the recut version of this documentary, by Adrian Sibley, people just thought he was a drinker. He was also a prodigious consumer of cocaine, God’s way of telling you you have too much money. In The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw correctly noted his excellent turns in The Field and This Sporting Life, as well as his singing career (he deserves our eternal gratitude for bringing Jimmy Webb’s ‘Macarthur Park‘ to the world). Then he went and spoilt it all by saying something stupid: ‘I liked Harris’s contemptuous refusal to be cowed or psychoanalysed: he indulged because he loved it.’ Lynn Barber, the great celebrity interviewer of my day and a thorn in the side of the men who ran showbiz London, went to profile him in the late 1980s. She noted in passing that throughout their hotel-room chat he was indulging ‘in what schoolboys call “playing pocket billiards”.’ I sent Brian Case, my best Time Out writer, to do the same gig. He wrote a nice enough piece, but I pointed to the zinger in the interview by ‘The Demon Barber’. ‘We all noticed that,’ he said, ‘but we didn’t think we should mention it.’ Of course they didn’t. That’s celebrity journalism. See no evil, hear no evil, write no evil, get a nice trip to a film festival or an exotic location. (JM)

23:00   BBC2              Apocalypse Now (1979)  

Francis Ford Coppola’s masterwork, though also probably the film that gave him the most grief in terms of being difficult to make, with one of its stars (Martin Sheen) having a heart attack during the process, while the other one (Marlon Brando) was not exactly ready for performing. This is the original, and not the later director’s cut, which had extra (quite interesting) scenes. Based on Joseph Conrad’s colonial novel Heart of Darkness, with Brando as Colonel Kurtz, who has gone apeshit in the Cambodian jungle, waging his own war against the Vietnamese, while claiming to be against war in the first place. Sheen is Willard (Marlow in the novel), who is looking for a mission, and for his sins is given one, that of taking Kurtz off the map. The narrative follows him from his hotel room, where he is having some R’n’R, up the Nung River to Kurtz’s outpost, navigating numerous obstacles along the way. These include encounters with the enemy, wild animals and Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), who commands an airborne cavalry unit, and is keen on surfing. Frederic Forrest, Harrison Ford, Laurence Fishburne, Sam Bottoms, Scott Glenn and Dennis Hopper all feature, and Hopper in particular looks very much at home. A host of others might have appeared, had they accepted (Welles, Redford, Keitel, Caan, Nicholson, Eastwood, McQueen). But they didn’t and the finished product is none the worse for that, even if Brando’s performance sometimes verges on farcical. The experience is almost as hallucinogenic for the audience as for the participants, and it is not hard to believe that the war itself might have been something like this. (JR)

23:20    Sky Arts        The Show Must Go On: The Queen + Adam Lambert Story (2019) 

Maybe this is deeply fascinating, but on the face of it, barrels have rarely been so thoroughly scraped. This is the story of how Freddie Mercury (who pretty much was Queen) was replaced by somebody who wasn’t, so the rest of them could keep the tills jingling. Stoking the star-making machinery behind the popular song, in the words of the sainted (and somewhat martyred) Joni. (JM)

Thursday (24/11)        02:00   Film4             Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019)

Documentary directed by Alexandre O Philippe (Hitchcock’s Shower Scene) about how Alien came into being. Probably aimed at true believers, but still intriguing for laypeople. Includes contributions from Dan O’Bannon (who wrote Dark Star, a comic precursor) and his wife Diane, the artist Hans Giger and his wife Carmen, Roger Christian the film’s art director, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright and Ridley Scott himself.  

Among other things we learn, here are five things you may not have known about Alien:

1.  Dan O’Bannon, the scriptwriter, grew up in rural Missouri and as there were no books at home, he had to order boxes of them (mostly sci-fi) from the nearest library. The Alien script was in part influenced by a comic called The Seeds of Jupiter, about a US aircraft carrier that picks up some strange seeds.

2.  Roger Corman decided not to pursue his interest in making the film because it needed a bigger budget than he could manage. Ridley Scott, described here as the greatest visual stylist since Kubrick, was only third choice. 

3.  The craft in Alien is called Nostromo. Apocalypse Now was being made at the same time (1979) and also incorporated elements from Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness). Both films explore themes of colonialism and exploitation.

4.  The studio saw examples of Hans Giger’s work and wanted nothing to do with him. Scott immediately liked them and saw him as central to the design.

5.  The stomach-exiting creature was influenced directly by Francis Bacon’s painting ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’. 

However fascinating this all is, Alien didn’t get where it is today without being great entertainment. And a cat is involved. (JR)

19:45    BBC4             Nothing Like A Dame (2018)  (also Friday 00:55)

Four grandes dames (I was tempted to say grandes horizontales, but that would be untrue) of the theatrical world, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Maggie Smith and Joan Plowright, lob anecdotes to director Roger Michell. I like them: old enough and powerful enough not to give too many of those f-word things that cause so much trouble. I do wonder, though, how I would feel if I was an 18-year-old actress, not from a theatrical, film or television dynasty or a major public school, trying to get a break in 2022. I met Game Judi with a couple of other stage dragons (Maggie Smith and Patricia Hodge) in 1995, when they were promoting some West End musical thing. I renewed my acquaintanceship with her last year when she was doing a lame ‘audience with’ event at the Pump Rooms last year. She couldn’t remember the name of the show she had been promoting – but then neither could I. I’ve looked it up. It was A Little Night Music, Dame Judi’s second appearance in a stage musical after Cabaret in 1968. She was scared stiff at the prospect, or so she said. I think I’d have remembered that. (JM)

21:00    Sky Arts        Kubrick by Kubrick (2020)

I know nothing about this, except that it’s a documentary about the monomaniac director by a Frenchman struggling with lack of access. Not much liked, but who knows? Maybe the lack of access made him try harder. (JM)

23:40    Sky Arts        Listen to Me Marlon (2015)

Documentary by Stevan Riley about Marlon Brando, which won awards from the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and Peabody. The film is unusual in that it comprises extracts from private tapes made by Brando himself in various settings, including business meetings, and, interestingly, therapy. The horror, the horror. Or maybe not. (JR)


Wednesday (23/11)    15:00    Legend                 They Made Me a Fugitive (1947) (also Thursday 11:00)

This is a 1947 British noir thriller by Alberto Calvacanti, perhaps the most talented and the least known of the immigrants who arrived here and started making films in the war years. He had worked for the GPO film unit, which effectively invented the documentary, and then moved on to work for Michael Balcon (Daniel Day-Lewis’s granddad). In this one, Trevor Howard is an ex-serviceman dragged into a drug-smuggling gang run by a man called Narcy. The clue’s in the name, Trev. Anyway, he then tries to get out of it so is framed by his boss, but later helped by the boss’s attractive doxy. It is apparently excellent, but was disliked at the time because people wanted escapist fluff and not the gritty realities of Bent Britain. There’s an excellent review of the film and overview of Cavalcanti’s career by Joanne Laurier on the World Socialist Web Site. This is the ‘online publication of the world Trotskyist movement, the International Committee of the Fourth International’. I am not very keen on Trotsky. In particular, I preferred his earlier, funnier politics to his masterminding of the Ukrainian hodomor. But this is an excellent piece of writing and, as a lowly scribe, I find you have to do a lot of supping with a long spoon. I wrote for the Daily Telegraph for years and years. (JM)

18:50   Talking Pictures   Laughing Gravy (1930)

Laurel & Hardy 40-minuter in which the pair keep a dog in their apartment. Then, that was considered a suitable subject for farcical comedy, now pretty much standard for a lot of town-dwellers. Would anybody like my next door neighbours’ miniature dachshund? I’ve had enough of it. (JM)

22:00    BBC4                    Down Among the Big Boys (1993)

I can tell you almost nothing about this Caledonian crime caper, except that it stars Billy Connolly as some kind of hard man. Directed by Charles Gormley, a Scot who has not really been heard from since, and written by Peter McDougall, who penned the ill-conceived 2016 remake of Whisky Galore. He is, however, the winner of this week’s Most Impressive Facial Topiary Award. When a film with a big name in it effectively disappears, it’s a bit of a mystery. Maybe everyone involved upset someone important; maybe it reeks. (JM)

Thursday (24/11)           21.00   BBC4                     Mrs Brown (1997)

Thankfully nothing to do with the TV series but instead an account, directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) of the widowed Queen Victoria’s close relationship with Prince Albert’s servant John Brown, who is brought to court to encourage her out of mourning. He becomes so close to her and so influential that practically everyone objects, in time-honoured fashion. Spoiler: the establishment wins out. Touching and enraging in equal measure, it certainly subverts notions we might have had of Victoria as a stuffy, passionless individual. Judi Dench and Billy Connolly do a fine job as the unlikely pair and Dench won the BAFTA for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Gerard Butler makes his first film appearance, as Brown’s brother Archie. (JR)

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