Film of the Week

Whiplash, Saturday, BBC Two, 11.20pm

The dramatic possibilities of obsessions and obsessive behaviour are red meat for film-makers, particularly where the arts are concerned. Think Black Swan, The Red Shoes, maybe even Amadeus and Birdman, which deal with ballet, classical music and theatre acting respectively. Director Damien Chazelle hit critical paydirt in 2016 when, aged 32, he became the youngest winner of the Academy Award for Best Director for the musical La Land, featuring Ryan Gosling as a Los Angeles jazz pianist struggling to make a name and a career. But two years earlier he had announced himself with another jazz-themed film, Whiplash, and boy does this one feature obsessive behaviour. At its heart, a troubling and abusive teacher-pupil relationship.

This time it’s drumming rather than piano-playing which is the means to drive the story. Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a first year jazz student at a fictitious New York conservatory where he is desperate to catch the eye and the ear of Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), a jazz instructor with a fiery temper and a reputation as a man who pushes his students to breaking point. How true that is and how far he will push is revealed as Neiman first finds favour and a place in the conservatory’s studio band, and then comes under pressure to make unpalatable sacrifices in his personal life. These in turn come at a cost to his physical and mental health. The title, by the way, comes from Hank Levy’s 1973 composition and it’s while playing that piece that Neiman first feels the sting of Fletcher’s abusive tendencies. Literally, in this case.

An expanded version of a 2013 short film which also featured JK Simmons as Terence Fletcher, Whiplash makes a neat companion piece for La La Land, though where the second is expansive, glossy and ultimately uplifting, this has a pressured, claustrophobic feel and an ambiguous coda.


How Green Was My Valley, Film4, 4.45pm

Director John Ford was best known for his Westerns, but in this 1941 classic, he turns his attention to South Wales. Based on the best-selling 1939 novel of the same name by Richard Llewellyn and starring Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Donald Crisp and Roddy McDowall, it follows the Morgans, a mining family whose way of life is under threat. In particular, it focuses on the youngest son Huw, who seems to have the best chance of building a different kind of life for himself. How Green Was My Valley won the Best Picture Oscar, famously beating out Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon, a decision which seems slightly baffling in retrospect, but it remains a touching, if occasionally maudlin, drama.


High Plains Drifter, ITV4, 9pm

The residents of a mining town hire three outlaws to murder their sheriff, who was about to inform the government about their illegal activities – and then frame the criminals for theft to ensure their secret remains safe. However, when they learn the felons are due to be released from jail and are undoubtedly plotting their revenge, the townsfolk secure the protection services of a mysterious gunslinger (Clint Eastwood), who turns out to his have his own agenda. Eastwood's second stint in the director's chair is a stylish, atmospheric and extremely violent Western with a twist at the end. Eastwood displays a lot of promise behind the camera, and there are plenty of scenes here that live long in the memory.


Misery, Film4, 9pm

When author James Caan is involved in a near-fatal car accident he is pulled from the wreckage by nice Kathy Bates who, it turns out, is his number one fan. But when she discovers that Caan is planning to kill off his most famous creation, Misery Chastain, in his latest novel, Bates reveals herself to a scenery-chewing psychopath with a fondness for sledgehammers. Stephen King's shocking thriller is ably directed by Rob Reiner with first-class performances from both stars - particularly the Oscar-winning Bates, whose mood-swinging character is quite terrifying. It also helped Caan (who was 12th in line for the role), who was in the midst of a comeback, prove he could do more than play gangsters.


In the Heat Of The Night, Sony Movies Classic, 9pm

When a wealthy industrialist in found murdered in a Mississippi town, the racist local sheriff Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) is quick to accuse black newcomer Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) who has been spotted in the town, only to discover that his chief suspect is actually a decorated homicide detective from Philadelphia. Despite this disastrous start, the pair work together to find the real killer, reaching a new respect along the way. Released in 1967 at the height of the US civil rights movement, director Norman Jewison’s drama boasts great performances and at least one truly iconic line from Poitier. No wonder it won the Best Picture Oscar in a landmark year, beating the era-defining likes of The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde.


Maps To The Stars, BBC Two, 11.20pm

Thirteen-year-old Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) is the pre-pubescent prince of Hollywood, whose upward trajectory is carefully managed by his mother Christina (Olivia Williams). Back at home, Benjie's father, self-help guru Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), realigns the chakras of wealthy clientele including fame-hungry actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), who is pinning her resurgence on a remake of the film that made her mother a star. While Havana awaits news on the role, she employs a new personal assistant called Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), whose sardonic take on Hollywood attracts handsome limo driver Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson). Maps to the Stars is a relentlessly grim satire of ambition, greed and dark familial secrets anchored by Moore's fearless and emotionally raw performance.

And one to stream …

Booksmart, Netflix


Part female buddy movie and part high school comedy, Olivia Wilde’s pleasingly spiky film proved one of the sleeper hits of last year and wound up in many critics’ Best Of 2020 lists. It’s easy to see why. The script is sharp and funny – there were four writers, all of them women – but it’s the interplay between leads Beanie Feldstein (Saoirse Ronan’s sidekick in Lady Bird) and Kaitlyn Dever (so impressive in harrowing Netflix drama Unbelievable) that gives the film its zing.

Feldstein (above, left) is Molly Davidson, Dever (right) is her best friend Amy Antsler and together they are the ambitious and high-achieving nerds at their Los Angeles high school. We meet them on their last day of school as they prepare for life after graduation – Yale for Molly, a stint in Botswana helping women make their own tampons for Amy, whose ancient Volvo is covered in feminist slogans and who has been ‘out’ since the tenth grade though she still hasn’t kissed a girl. She has a crush on androgynous skater Ryan but is too scared to talk to her.

With work and academia having taken centre stage in Molly and Amy’s lives there has been no time for the extra-curricular activities their classmates have enjoyed – sex, drugs, parties, that kind of thing – but it’s a price they have been prepared to pay for success. But when Molly overhears three of her loser classmates dissing her and, even worse, learns that one is also going to Yale, the second to Stanford and a third to a six-figure job with Google, she is appalled. And so she persuades Amy that for one night only, they are going to party.

What follows is 12 hours of chaos, some of it dispiriting, much of it eye-opening, as they come to face to face with hard truths about their friendship, their attitudes to others and their own choices. Wilde’s preposterous setting is a little hard to take. These are uber-rich LA kids who drive around in SUVs: it’s hardly real life and there are questions to be asked about the way she normalises privilege. But it’s smartly done and hits all the right beats – as well as some very weird ones, such as an animated section in which Molly and Amy turn into actual Barbie dolls after eating spiked strawberries.