Recommended films on TV 26/6/21 to 2/7/21

FILM OF THE WEEK

Aaron Sorkin’s script for Steve Jobs (2015), a powerful biopic of the holy terror who made Apple, is full of clever aphorisms and vivid exchanges, but perhaps the most profound insight into its subject is put into the mouth of Steve Wozniak, the childlike genius who designed and built its first computers. 

“It’s not binary,” says “Woz”, despairing at his partner-turned-boss’s refusal to share credit with anyone else. “You can be decent and gifted at the same time.” 

That’s something that Jobs found difficult, at least according to this well researched and artfully shaped screenplay. In three acts, each set at the launch event for a different machine, he is shown as a monomaniac and egomaniac who tramples mere mortals underfoot. Centrally, he rejects his young daughter Lisa, denying being her father and skimping on child support. And yet, such is the strength of Sorkin’s writing, Danny Boyle’s focused direction and Michael Fassbender’s performance, we see through this cruelty to his existential loneliness. Rejected at birth and then by his first set of adoptive parents, he vowed, as soon as he was conscious, to seize control of his own destiny. 

The film is constructed around Jobs’s ferocious disputes with key individuals: Woz (Seth Rogen); Lisa’s mother Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston); John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the older, more socially-adept Pepsi executive who oversaw his sacking from his own company; and, most centrally, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), his Polish-born marketing boss and “office wife”. In this version of events, she is the only person who knows how to manage him. “Why didn’t we ever sleep together?” he asks, at one point. “Because we are not in love,” she says. And yet she does love him, almost unconditionally. 

Was Jobs worth all the effort Boyle and Sorkin put into this wordy but dynamic film? Yes. He was a revolutionary. He wanted to take the most powerful educational tool ever invented – “ a bicycle for the mind” – and put it into the hands of everyone. To do so he had to make it simple to use, appealing, friendly and robust. As he said to Lisa, showing her the new Macintosh for the first time, “Nothing you can do with it will break it.” Sadly, even Apple’s computers are not like that any more. 

Jobs and his fellow Californian tech hippies – artists in silicon – dreamed of universal communication and understanding. But the fruit of the tree of knowledge proved irresistible to the greedy and the criminal, leading us into computer-accelerated conflict, intimidation, dishonesty and fear. The technology intended to set humanity free has shackled us like never before. He may have been a visionary, but he was also naive. Steve Jobs can be seen on Sunday at 22:00 on 5Select. 

World Cinema

On Tuesday (29/6) at 01:00, Film4 has And Then We Danced (2019), which we showed last week at the Playhouse. A compelling story of forbidden love in the state dance troupe of Georgia, where homosexuality is both widely reviled and illegal. 

On Wednesday (30/6) at 22:00, BBC4 has Petite Fille (2020). A French documentary about eight-year-old Sasha, who wants to grow up as a girl, and her struggle for acceptance. It’s Pride Month. At 23:10, Film4 has The Handmaiden (2016), Park Chan-Wook’s all-conquering sapphic melodrama, which we showed in 2017/18. Beautiful and gripping.

On Friday (2/7) at 23:05, BBC2 has Borg vs. McEnroe (2017), a rather good dramatisation of the rivalry between the two tennis greats of the 1980s, with excellent performances by Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf in the title roles. 

Stephen’s Picks

Tomorrow (26/6) at 16:50, BBC2 has Casablanca (1942). Bogart, Bergman and what some say is the most perfect screenplay ever written. Proof that a film can be both an enduring popular hit and great art. (Also on BBC4 on Thursday at 22:40.) Meanwhile, there are a couple of Bridget Jones movies. At 21:00, ITVBe has Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016),  the belated third instalment, with our favourite singleton pregnant at 40+, and two possible fathers (Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey) in the frame. (Also on Friday at 21:00.) Then at 22:30, Channel 5 has the original Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001). Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Firth (again) and lots of turn-of-the-millennium fun. In preparation, Renée apparently put on weight, dowdied down, and took a job in a London publishing house. Nobody recognised her. (Also on Wednesday at 23:00.) 

On Monday (28/6) at 06:00, Great Movies Action (formerly Sony Action) has Journey Into Fear (1942). An interesting shipborne espionage thriller, with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. RKO’s film did badly in press previews, so Welles (just dumped by the studio) was called back to salvage it. 

Other modern films of interest

On Sunday (27/6) at 00:00, BBC2 has Captain Fantastic (2016). Viggo Mortensen raises his six children off the grid in the wild American North-West. Then he is forced to bring them back into mainstream life, which proves uncomfortable for everyone. Funny, touching and well-observed, with a lovely performance from Britain’s George MacKay, who subsequently starred in 1917.  At 21:00, Great Movies has Panic Room (2002). A David Fincher thriller about a wealthy divorced Mom (Jodie Foster) and her diabetic daughter (Kristen Stewart), hiding from intruders in their reinforced-concrete safe room. Do you have one yet? (Also on Friday at 23:50.)

On Wednesday (30/6) at 22.55, Great Movies has The Guest (2014). A supposed ex-soldier arrives at an American home, claiming to be a friend of the family’s son, who was killed in action. Mayhem ensues. Not the most original film of the week. 

On Thursday (1/7) at 21:00, Great Movies has Moon (2008). Fine low-budget debut by Duncan Jones, lumbered at birth with the moniker “Zowie Bowie”. Excellent performance by Sam Rockwell as a lone lunar explorer losing his marbles. With Kevin Spacey as the voice of a talking computer called GERTY. At 23:30, Sky Arts has I Am Heath Ledger (2017). Friends, family and former colleagues explore the short life of the troubled actor. There is no explanation of his death, except “his demons”. Spoiler: it was drugs.  

Oldies

On Sunday (27/6) at 16:15, Talking Pictures has The Black Swan (1942). Rowdy pirate classic, with Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara and a script by the brilliant Ben Hecht. A-har! At 19:45, Paramount has Operation: Daybreak (1975), dramatising the WWII operation in which a group of London-trained Czechs parachuted into Prague in 1942 to assassinate SS boss Reinhard Heydrich, then terrorising Bohemia and Moravia. At 22:00, ITV4 has Ghostbusters (1984). At 22:00, 5 Star has Basic Instinct (1992), starring Sharon Stone and her (fleetingly) naked pudenda. She now says she was tricked into it. Director Paul Verhoeven disagrees. 

On Thursday (1/7) at 23:40, Film4 has Hear My Song (1991). Rather nice Miramax fantasy about a Liverpool nightclub promoter (Adrian Dunbar) who promises to bring the legendary Irish tenor Josef Locke, AWOL for tax reasons, back to Britain to perform. Locke is played by Ned Beatty, with support from Shirley Anne Field, Tara Fitzgerald and David McCallum. Instrumental in reviving the real Locke’s career. 

On Friday (2/7) at 07:05, Talking Pictures has Jungle Book (1942). Made in Technicolor in California by the Korda brothers, Hungarian stalwarts of the British film industry. Director Zoltán wanted realism. Producer Alexander wanted exuberant fantasy, and won. Starring Sabu, discovered in India as a 12-year old “elephant boy” by the documentary-maker Robert Flaherty. He moved to Hollywood and became a star, though mainly in British-made films.

 John Morrish, Stephen Ilott, Finn Candy-Waters