Recommended films on TV

FILM OF THE WEEK

Blue Velvet (1986) was a shocking film when it came out and remains a shocking film. A weird blend of psychological horror and neo-noir, it reveals a world of violence and sexual depravity lurking beneath the manicured lawns of American suburbia. It begins with Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), a student, returning to his home town and stumbling across a severed human ear. This leads to him becoming involved with Dorothy, a nightclub singer (stunning Isabella Rossellini in her first important role), Frank, a psychopath (Dennis Hopper) and Sandy (Laura Dern), the teenage daughter of a detective. The action that follows has never lost its power to disturb, but the film, brilliantly art-directed with an excellent score, has come to be seen as perhaps the most successful in Lynch’s rocky career and even something of a classic. It must be said, though, that when a film’s villain was too violent for Harry Dean Stanton and Steven Berkoff to play, you know you are not in for a relaxing evening. Blue Velvet is on Film4 on Sunday (1/11) at 22:45. 

World Cinema

For Halloween, Film4 has unearthed Juan of the Dead (2010), a Spanish-Cuban zombie comedy that somehow manages to combine the gore of the genre with political comment. It starts with a couple of wasters on a fishing raft, reeling in a body which proceeds to attack them. Then things get bad. That’s on Saturday (31/10) at 01:40. At 18:00 the same day, and again on Friday (6/11) at 14:40, Talking Pictures has Is Paris Burning? (1966), an epic about the 1944 liberation of Paris, directed by Réné Clément from a screenplay by Gore Vidal, Francis Ford Coppola and a host of others, and starring a lot of the greats of French, American and German cinema of the day. 

On Sunday (1/11) at 01:00, and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC2 has the delightful Our Little Sister (2015)  by Hirokazu Kore-eda, which we showed in 2016/17. If you didn’t see it then, do give it a look now. At 22:20 the same day, and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC4 has Happy End (2017), a typically uncomfortable tale from Michael Haneke, with the dream casting of Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trantignant. 

On Tuesday (3/11) at 01:40, Film4 has Brother (2000), a thriller about a Japanese Yakuza exiled to Los Angeles where he teams up with his equally criminal brother to try and corner the local drug market. Written and directed by, and starring, Takeshi Kitano.

My Pure Land (2017) is a British-financed film, set in Pakistan and made in Urdu, based on a true story about a group of  women who defended their home against a gang of 200 armed men. That’s on Channel 4 on Wednesday (4/11) at 02:10.

Finally in World Cinema, Sony Movies has the popular District 9 (2009) on Friday (6/11) at 23:15.  In South Africa, a group of aliens are interned in a refugee camp until the government hires a company to move them somewhere else. Interesting, and then, as the action takes off, less so. 

Stephen Ilott’s picks

Stephen begins with another Halloween movie, Poltergeist (1982), directed by Tobe Hooper from a Steven Spielberg script. Objects move around in a family home, to everyone’s amusement. Then the spirits turn nasty. That’s on Saturday (31/10) on BBC2 at 23:10 and subsequently on iPlayer. On Sunday (1/11) at 10:05, 5 Select has The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), a William Wyler melodrama about three WWII vets returning to their homes in small-town America. Then on Wednesday (4/11) at 22:50, Sony Action has The French Connection (1971), with Gene Hackman and an unforgettable car chase. 

Other modern films of interest

The Witch (2015), which is showing on Channel 4 on Saturday (31/10) at 00:15 is, as the title suggests, another Halloween film. This one is a brilliantly realised period tale about a puritan family in New England in the 1630s. The same day, at 22:55, Channel 4 brings us Whitney (2018), a documentary about the life and music of Whitney Houston, directed by Kevin Macdonald, who most famously brought us the terrifying mountaineering film Touching the Void (2003). 

On Sunday (1/11) at 20:00 and again on Monday (2/11) at 02:50, BBC4 has, by coincidence, Climbing Blind (2020), a documentary about blind climber Jesse Dufton’s ascent of the Old Man of Hoy. That’s already available on iPlayer. 

On Monday (2/11) at 21:00, and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC2 has The Children Act, an efficient version of Ian McEwan’s novel with Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci and Jason Watkins. 

The Booksellers (2019) is a documentary about the world of rare books in New York. That’s on Sky Arts on Tuesday (3/11) at 22:00. 

On Wednesday (4/11) at 23:30, and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC4 has Notes on Blindness, a documentary in the Storyville strand, about a writer and theologian who goes blind just before the birth of his first child and decides to keep an audio diary of all his experiences. 

Altogether less thoughtful is Edge of Tomorrow (2014), with Tom Cruise swatting aliens. That’s on Sony Movies at 21:00 on Friday (6/11). The same evening at 23:30, and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC1 has The Homesman (2014), an excellent Western with Tommy Lee Jones as a low-life drifter hired by pious Hilary Swank to see her across rough country as she transports a group of women, driven mad by frontier life, to sanctuary. 

Oldies

On Saturday (31/10) at 14:30, and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC2 has the Fred Astaire/Cyd Charisse musical The Band Wagon (1953), directed by Vincente Minnelli, Liza’s dad. Later on, at 22:45, Film4 brings our last scary movie of the week, John Carpenter’s nasty Halloween. 

Lots of interesting Oldies on Sunday (1/11). At 02:20, Film4 has the ingenious Pi, directed by Darren Aronofsky, about a crazed mathematician trying to find the secret of the universe in numbers. At 13:35 on 5 Select, there is Wuthering Heights (1939), in the famous version with Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Cathy. At 18:55, Paramount has a strange one. To Hell and Back (1955) is a WWII drama based on the autobiography of Audie Murphy, starring Audie Murphy as himself, the most decorated soldier in US history. Also at 18:55, Horror Channel has The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), a classic pulp story and a triumph of early special effects. At 22:00 and again on Monday at 23:00, Talking Pictures has Fear Strikes Out (1957), with Anthony Perkins in the true story of a baseball player who battles mental illness to become a major-league star. 

On Tuesday (3/11) at 12:55, Film4 has The Sound of Fury (1950), a noir thriller about an unemployed man who falls into the criminal world. 

On Wednesday (4/11) at 23:50, Talking Pictures has French Dressing (1964), a first feature by Ken Russell, pretty much disowned by everybody involved. A drab seaside town decides to hold a film festival, only for a glamorous French star to arrive and turn things upside down. After its release, Russell vowed never to make another feature and returned to the BBC to make documentaries. 

On Thursday (5/11) at 09:10, Sony Action has Build My Gallows High (1947), a noir thriller with Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. A small-town petrol pump attendant gets entangled with a violent gambler. 

Finally, on Friday (6/11) at 12:50, Talking Pictures has Sparrows Can’t Sing (1963), a Joan Littlewood East End comedy-drama. Here’s what Life magazine had to say about it: “‘Sparrows Can’t Sing’ is hilarious. Barbara Windsor is a delight: a bonbon who can be funny merely by jiggling into view. She is the best dumb blonde to hit the screen since Judy Holliday.” They were different times…

Stephen Ilott and John Morrish