Recommended films on TV

FILM OF THE WEEK

The idea for Her (2013) came when writer/director Spike Jonze was first introduced to an artificial intelligence program that purported to be able to converse with him. He immediately spotted, as we all did in those days, that the program was using a few simple tricks to create an illusion of real response. But it set him thinking about what would happen if the artificial intelligence was cranked up to the point where it became an artificial personality. How would people relate to it? How would it relate to them?

Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) , the operating system that lonely Theodore (Joaquim Phoenix) falls in love with, and who apparently falls in love with him, is not Alexa, Siri or (shudder) Cortana. This is not a silly high-concept sci-fi movie. Instead it is an exploration of the nature of human relationships, expressed through a script that recalls the best of Woody Allen and wrapped in beautiful cinematography, production design and music. Phoenix, Johansson, Rooney Mara (as his estranged wife) and Amy Adams (as his friend and confidante) are all excellent. It’s on Film4 on Sunday (22/11) at 01:20. 

World Cinema

On Saturday (21/11) at 00:00, Talking Pictures has The Passenger (1975). This is the near-thriller in which the Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni cast Jack Nicholson as a war correspondent who swaps identities with a dead arms dealer. Maria Schneider, credited only as “Girl”, is his love interest. Odd, but highly watchable. 

On Sunday (22/11) at 22:00 and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC4 brings us Amundsen (2019), a Norwegian biopic of the explorer who beat Captain Scott, and Cheltonian Edward Wilson, to the South Pole. 

Call Me by Your Name (2017) is the acclaimed romance directed by Luca Guadagnino from a script by James Ivory. A teenage student falls for his father’s older research assistant in beautiful northern Italy. That’s on Channel 4 on Monday (23/11) at 00:00. At 01:05 the same night, Film4 has Men & Chicken (2015), an odd Danish-German black comedy that some people find very funny indeed. Two brothers, played by Mads Mikkelsen and David Dencik, travel to an island to find their biological father, only to discover that everyone is even weirder than they are. Finally, at 02:45, Talking Pictures brings us Indiscretion of an American Wife (1953), a romantic melodrama directed by the great Vittorio de Sica and starring Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift. 

On Tuesday (24/11) at 01:50,  Film4 has A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014), an absurdist comedy-drama in episodes linked by the travels of pair of unsuccessful salesmen. 

On Friday (27/11) at 21.00, Channel 5 brings us the definitive spaghetti Western in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).

Stephen Ilott’s picks

On Saturday (21/11) at 16:50 on BBC2 and subsequently on iPlayer, Stephen has chosen the classic Brief Encounter (1945). Also on Thursday 26/11 at 20:30  on BBC4. There’s something in my eye.  

On Sunday (22/11), there is a double-bill of British neo-realism on 5 Select, with A Taste of Honey (1961)  at 09:55 and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) at 12:00. Excellent, gritty stuff. At 15:10, BBC2 has Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960), with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine giving career-best performances. Subsequently available on iPlayer. At 23:45, Talking Pictures is showing The Beauty Jungle (1963), a Val Guest comedy-drama in which a Bristol typist is introduced to the beauty contest circuit by a local journalist. Those were the days.

Finally, on Thursday (26/11) at 22:00 on ITV4, Stephen has selected The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), the third film in the Matt Damon franchise, directed by Britain’s Paul Greengrass. 

Other modern films of interest

On Saturday (21/11) at 22.55,   BBC2 has Lynn + Lucy (2019), a raw British social drama about two friends whose relationship is put under extreme pressure after a domestic tragedy. 

On Sunday (22/11) at 21:00, BBC1 has Lovers Rock (2020), the latest in Steve McQueen’s short series of films about British black life. At 22:10, BBC2 has Free State of Jones (2016), with Matthew McConaughey as a Confederate deserter rallying an armed band against the local Confederate leadership.

On Monday (23/11) at 21.00 , BBC4 has The Hijacker Who Vanished: The Mystery of D.B. Cooper (2020), a documentary in the Storyville strand about an extraordinary unsolved crime. All four of the above BBC films will be available on iPlayer. At exactly the same time, ITV4 is showing The Bourne Supremacy (2004). A bit later, at 23:10, Film4 is showing Miss Sloane (2016), about a Washington lobbyist. With Jessica Chastain and Mark Strong.

On Tuesday (24/11) at 23.10, Film4 has ‘71 (2014), a gripping drama about the Northern Ireland troubles, with a brilliant Jack O’Connell. 

On Wednesday (25/11) at 23.00, BBC4 has Andrea Arnold’s trenchant council estate romance Fish Tank (2009), starring unknown Katie Jarvis, discovered on a railway station while arguing with her boyfriend, and the experienced Michael Fassbender as an ill-matched pair forming an awkward relationship. Subsequently available on iPlayer.

Oldies

On Saturday (21/11) at 13.10, Talking Pictures delves deep for The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934). It is also showing on Friday (27/11) at 13.10. At 21:00, Film4 has Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth (1998), with Cate Blanchett as the Virgin Queen. 

On Film4 on Sunday (22/11) at 11:00, there is Arthur’s Hallowed Ground (1984), with 74-year-old Jimmy Jewel in the title role as the groundsman of a cricket club.

On Monday (23/11) at 12:55, Film4 has Pimpernel Smith (1941), which we have listed again so you can compare it with The Scarlet Pimpernel (above). 

On Tuesday (24/11) at 07:40, Talking Pictures has The Stars Look Down (1940), a Carol Reed drama about a young man who leaves his mining village on a university scholarship. With Michael Redgrave. At 16:50, Film4 has The Man from Laramie (1955), a classic Jimmy Stewart Western.

On Wednesday (25/11) at 00.05, Talking Pictures has The Naked Kiss (1964), a Sam Fuller melodrama about prostitution, violence and mental illness that shocked everyone rigid at the time of its release. To quote the original poster, it is the “Shock and Shame Story of a Night Girl”.

Finally, Film4 has The Way to the Stars (1945) at 12:40 on Thursday (26/11), with John Mills and Michael Redgrave on a WWII RAF bomber station when the first American pilots arrive. 

And that’s all for another week of Lockdown 2.0. Enjoy your viewing. 

Stephen Ilott and John Morrish