Now, as usual, some of these films had been transmitted by the time we got the page away. But it’s the modern world and you can find them online if you want them. I recommend JustWatch. There’s a search function and that will show you all the options for downloading or streaming. Don’t bother making an account unless you want to be annoyed by marketing. Some of these works of art are cheaper than chips. And much better for you.

World Cinema

Saturday (18/12)     00:55     Film4   The Square (2017)

Art-world satire in Danish, Swedish and English from Ruben Östlund, with Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West. Our Film of the Week in June 2020. Some people love it, others hate it. Unusually for me, I can see both sides. Certainly preferable to his current outing, Triangle of Sadness, a thin satire on the über-rich and mega-famous. As we all know, they don’t care about being satirised. We should just get on and eat them, as recommended by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. (JM)

Monday (19/12)      01:40     Film4   Monos (2019)

Visceral and unrelenting drama directed by Alejandro Landes, about a group of adolescent soldiers, the Monos, who guard Doctora, an American hostage (Julianne Nicholson), first in the Colombian mountains and later in the jungle, while an unspecified war goes on. The cast is mainly non-professional and the tone is somewhere between Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now, so some aspects of it feel familiar, others definitely not. Being essentially kids with assault weapons, and with nothing much to do outside the occasional visits from their superior officer The Messenger (Wilson Salazar), the soldiers do a lot of experimenting with drugs, relationships and rituals, with mixed results. One of their number, the androgynous Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura) makes a break for the outside, wondering what she will find there. Winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award at Sundance in 2019.  Haunting visuals by Jasper Wolf, searing soundscape by Mica Levi. (JR)

Saturday (23/12)     00:55     Film4   Memories of Murder (2001)

This early crime drama from Bong Joon Ho (of Parasite fame) broke box office records at home. Based on historical events, it shows two dim and crude cops sent to investigate a double murder in a provincial town in the 1980s. It emerges that they have stumbled upon the trail left by the South Korea’s first serial killer. Highly praised by critics around the world for its portrait of a society under strain as well as the expected efficiency and verve of its narrative, although that acclaim had to wait more than a decade after its original release. (JM)

Stephen’s Seasonal Selection I

Sunday (18/12)   21: 00   5 Action           Unforgiven (1991)

Often referred to as the last great Western. Director and Star Clint Eastwood’s ageing farmer and former outlaw has turned his back on the criminal life but dusts off his cowboy hat when he is hired by a young pretender to exact revenge on a group of bandits who have attacked a prostitute in the town. Wonderful performances from Morgan Freeman, Gene Jackman and Richard Harris bring this dark story to life. (MH)

23:45   Great Movies   M*A*S*H (1970)  (also Friday 21:00)

Robert Altman’s Korean war satire, centred on a mobile surgical hospital, staffed by Donald Sutherland (Hawkeye), Elliott Gould (Trapper John), Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman (Hot Lips) and Robert Duvall (Major Burns). Naturally the medics combine riotous behaviour with being excellent surgeons. The screenplay was written by Ring Lardner from Richard Hooker’s novel. It’s all very anarchic and cynical and intermittently funny. Has it aged well? Maybe, but Hot Lips is a figure of fun with these guys and it’s hard not to feel sympathy with her. Having said that, the film was deemed culturally, historically or aesthetically significant by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and was nominated for five Oscars, winning one. So take your pick. It’s also probably less well known now than the TV series it spawned, starring Alan Alda and Wayne Rogers, which Altman hated, saying it was doing the exact opposite of what the film intended.   (JR)

Thursday (22/12)      15:35    BBC2                 Casablanca (1942)

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)

19:05   Film 4                 The Addams Family (1991)

The first film made from Charles Addams’s New Yorker cartoons and the subsequent TV series. Starring Angelica Huston as Morticia, the role she was made for, along with Raul Julia as Gomez and Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester. Thing is uncredited. (JR)

Friday (23/12)           15:35    BBC2                  Paddington 2 (2017) 

One of those sequels that far surpasses the original, with Hugh Grant in fine form as a vain, bitter, egotistical actor. Sweet, wholesome, irresistible, unlike a lot of the fare we’ll be enjoying this Christmas. Don’t tell your children, but the bear isn’t real. (JR)

23:00   Film4                  Blood Simple (1983)

The impressive noirish debut feature from the now household names Joel and Ethan Coen. The complex plot follows an investigation into infidelity which evolves into a twisting, turning mystery, written and shot with real style. The wonderful Frances McDormand stars, in the year she married Joel. Blood Simple‘s DNA can be found in subsequent Coen Brothers films, not least in arguably their finest work No Country for Old Men. (MH)

Other modernish films of interest

Saturday (17/12)        21: 00   Great Movies     Inside Man (2006) (also Friday 21:00)

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]

21:00   ITVVBe                 The Blind Side (2009)  (also Friday 20:00)

Sandra Bullock won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Leigh Ann Tuohy, the foster parent to Michael Oher, a black American footballer who came from a deprived background and made it to the National Football League. Quinton Aaron plays Oher and Tim McGraw plays Sean Tuohy.  The Tuohy family take Michael in when they learn about his history.  The film did well at the box office, topping $300m, and demonstrates the redemptive power of sport, a quality not lost on Qatar, presumably.  (JR)

Sunday (18/12)        16:10   BBC2                     Saving Mr Banks (2013)    

The story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) persuaded an extremely reluctant P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to let him make the movie of Mary Poppins. I suspect Tom is a lot more charming than the actual Walt. (JM)                  

Tuesday (20/12)       17:15   Channel 5            The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Sparky British biopic about Charles Dickens and the writing of ‘A Christmas Carol’, which rather proved a golden goose. With Dan Stevens as the writer, Miles Jupp as Thackeray (portrayed as his deadly rival, although actually that happened later). The reviews say the late Christopher Plummer plays Scrooge, but IMDB doesn’t credit him. (JM)

23:20   Film4                    Shiva Baby (2020) 

This sounds intriguing.  Written and directed by Emma Seligman, it follows Danielle (Rachel Sennett) as she attends a shiva, the mourning period following a Jewish funeral, with her parents, only to run into her sugar daddy, who is there with his family, and an ex-girlfriend, who wants her back. Seligman suggested there are ‘a lot of young women, young people, not having self-worth beyond sexual validation’. Indiewire described it as ‘Claustrophobic Jewish humour with a sexy premise’. (JR)

23:55   Sky Arts                If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd (2018) 

Documentary about the band from Jacksonville, Florida, made famous by songs like Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird, who were struck by tragedy in 1977, when their chartered plane crashed. The main focus is on frontman Ronny Van Zandt, who died in the accident, and there are interesting asides, given the band’s Southern roots, about the meaning of the Confederate flag and how it has been appropriated. (JR)

Thursday (22/12)     15:15   BBC1                     Paddington (2014)  

Successful adaptation by Paul King of Michael Bond’s popular books, which seems to satisfy children and adults alike. Also touches on issues of migration and xenophobia, though ultimately the important thing is it delivers the goods. Sally Field and Hugh Bonneville are the Browns, who take in Padddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw). Nicole Kidman is the evil Millicent Clyde. (JR)

22:00   Sky Arts                Pink Floyd: A Technicolor Dream (2008)  

Documentary by Stephen Gammond about a musical happening at Alexandra Palace in 1967. It was in aid of the underground paper International Times, and the band included Syd Barrett, who was just beginning to unravel, thanks to LSD (the drug, not the currency, although that didn’t help either). With contributions by Kevin Ayers, Roger Waters, John Hopkins and Nick Mason. (JR)           

Friday (23/12)           09:55   BBC1                    Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

Aardman fable about a farmer who unintentionally abandons his flock and winds up in the city, from where he has to be rescued by his creatures, led by Shaun, who takes charge in an ‘Animal Farm’-ish kind of way. The baddies are all in the city, of course, and it’s thankfully free of all the nasty stuff that actually happens on farms. Entertaining, though. (JR)

Saturday (24/12)        00:25   Channel 5           Notes on a Scandal (2006)

Bizarrely billed as ‘Judi’s: Notes on a Scandal’, which won’t please director Richard Eyre, this is a strong adaptation of Zoë Heller’s second (and penultimate) novel. Heller is a journalist, and this is a ‘ripped-from-the-headlines’ story calculated to touch the hot buttons of Daily Telegraph readers in 2003, and still relevant now newspapers are history. A middle-aged female teacher (Judi Dench) is drawn to a younger colleague (Cate Blanchett). The colleague, it emerges, is an affair with a male pupil (Andrew Simpson). The older woman uses this information to coerce the younger. Written by Patrick Marber, one of those young writers whose first play opened at the National Theatre. The film is directed with economy, efficiency and intensity by Richard Eyre, who had been director of the National and understands actors. With Bill Nighy, Tom Georgeson, Michael Maloney and Joanna Scanlan, and a score by Philip Glass. Almost universally praised, although the Houston Chronicle said it was a melodrama: ‘overstatement saturates just about every piece of this production’. (JM)


Saturday (17/12)      14:20    BBC2                              Meet Me in St Louis (1944) 

Glorious Vincente Minnelli MGM musical, starring Judy Garland, Marguerite O’Brien and a boy next door. A corrective for anyone buying into the victim myth represented by the Renee Zellwegger film. Art is hard. Comedy is hard. The fresher the eggs, the lighter the soufflé. Not too much beating, though. That’s important. (JM)

Monday (19/12)       16:10   Channel 5                      Scrooge (1951)

Alastair Sim takes the title role in this classic version of ‘A Christmas Carol’, Dickens’s imperishable fable.

Wednesday (21/12)  06:30   BBC2                               A Christmas Story (1983) 

I don’t know anything about this film, which is directed by Bob Clark. It is apparently a minor classic, a nostalgic but nonetheless somewhat acerbic tale of a family Christmas in Midwestern America in the 1940s. Where’s the English midwest, I wonder. Calne? (JM)

15:10   Great Movies Action   3:10 to Yuma (1957)

The original version of the classic western, directed by Delmer Davies and  based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, with Van Heflin as rancher Dan Evans, and Glenn Ford unusually cast as outlaw Ben Wade, who is captured after a shooting. Evans agrees to transport him, for a bounty, to catch the train to Yuma. The shifting moral complexities make it a satisfying watch.

Thursday (22/12)      22:30   BBC4                               Schalcken the Painter (1979) 

TV horror film based on a Sheridan Le Fanu story.  Gottfried Schalcken, an artist (Jeremy Clyde), wants to prevent his true love Rose (Cheryl Kennedy) the niece of the artist Gerrit Dou, from marrying Vanderhausen of Rotterdam, a threatening figure. His ambition prevents him from intervening, with dire consequences.  Based on the lives of actual historical figures.  Arthur Lowe was considered for the role of Gerrit Dou but was unavailable.  (JR)               

Friday (23/12)            13:40   BBC2                               The King and I (1956)

Rodgers and Hammerstein musical based on the novel by Margaret Landon, itself based on the experience of Anna Leonowens, a teacher who became governess to the children of the King of Siam in the 1860s. Deborah Carr plays Anna and Yul Brynner plays King Mongkut, whose slave-owning, polygamous regime is shown to soften under Anna’s influence. Among the songs are ‘Getting to Know You’, ‘Whistle a Happy Tune’ and ‘Hello, Young Lovers’.  It won 5 Oscars, including Best Actor for Brynner. Brynner was a fascinating figure, who enjoyed embroidering his own mythology. He sometimes claimed to have been of Mongol descent. While there might have been a little bit of that in him somewhere, he was mostly the son of wealthy Swiss-Russian mining folk, born in Vladivostok. (JR)

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