Five things to watch this weekend – 15-17 March

Fiercely divisive films dominate this week’s handful of viewing recommendations on TV, streaming and at the cinema.

Expresso Bongo (1959)

Where’s it on?  Talking Pictures TV, Monday, 1.15am

Expresso Bongo (1959)

Nostalgists for the old Soho of sin and sleaze should get a buzz out of this late 50s showbiz satire set in the early days of rock’n’roll. Val Guest’s film is based on a West End musical from the previous year, though he surely went to see Sweet Smell of Success (1957) too. There’s that same sense of the bustling, nocturnal underbelly of a city, and more than a touch of Tony Curtis’s grasping PR in Laurence Harvey’s lively turn as the talent agent on the hunt for the latest sensation. “You’ve got a twitch in your shoulder and an H-bomb in your pants,” he tells teen singer Cliff Richard, who he ‘discovers’ in an espresso bar and grooms for fame and fortune. It’s a fun time-capsule of that moment when the squares first sensed a youthquake was coming.

Girl (2018)

Where’s it on?  Cinemas nationwide/BFI Player

Lukas Dhont’s debut feature arrives in the UK on twin waves of acclaim and controversy. The story of a trans girl (brilliantly played by cis actor Victor Polster) training to be a ballerina, while awaiting sex reassignment surgery, it’s been much celebrated on the festival circuit, winning both the Camera d’Or and the Queer Palm at Cannes, and later the award for best first feature at the London Film Festival. But its reputation hit the skids when trans critics got to see it and took it to task (including on these pages) for its cisgendered perspective on trans issues and its fixation on the body. Girl’s young Belgian director has defended his intentions, but it remains to be seen where audience sympathies will fall. Streaming and in cinemas, it’s this week’s hot potato.

To the Wonder (2012)

Where’s it on?  Film4, Monday, 1.25am

It’s got two stars in the RadioTimes, so we’re here to stand up for To the Wonder as the best film on freeview this weekend. But then recent Terrence Malick is the most Marmite stuff this decade’s had to offer. For one camp, Malick has lost his mojo, self-indulging himself in flouncy, magic-hour images and breathily pretentious voiceovers that grate the senses; for the faithful, Malick’s recent run has innovated a rhapsodic new mode of improvisational filmmaking, creating a rush of experience like little else. Starring Ben Affleck and Javier Bardem, To the Wonder is a typically dense and soaring love triangle drama split between France and farmland Oklahoma.

Under the Silver Lake (2018)

Where’s it on?  Cinemas nationwide

This is another film that’s split the room. In the shaggy tradition of LA post-noirs like The Big Lebowski and Inherent Vice, David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to It Follows has Andrew Garfield as a dreamy deadbeat who turns amateur sleuth when a neighbour goes missing, leading him down the rabbit hole into a netherworld of paranoia and conspiracy. Inspired by the quest logic of computer games, in many ways Under the Silver Lake is Mitchell’s Ready Player One, in which the City of Angels becomes a playground of pop-cultural detritus, where bits of Altman, Lynch, De Palma, Hitchcock, Pynchon, monster movies, pop music and comic books create a pick-n-mix choose-your-own-adventure aesthetic. It’s been called a ‘bellyflop’ for Mitchell, but there’s more to rewind and replay here than you could reasonably hope for. 

The Wild Pear Tree (2018)

Where’s it on?  Blu-ray/DVD

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has been pushing at duration all decade, and this latest from him is his second film to breach the three-hour mark. Now released on Blu-ray and DVD, it may feel more digestible with a pause button, assuming your TV’s big enough to drink in Ceylan’s sublime landscape compositions. But while Ceylan’s photographic eye has never been in doubt, his films have also been getting talkier of late, and The Wild Pear Tree is full of magnificently constructed scenes of walking and talking, as city student and would-be author Sinan returns to his parents’ rural home to wrestle with his future.

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