Monday 18 May 2015

TV Movie Picks (UK): Monday, May 18 - Sunday, May 24

VIEW ON DEMAND (VOD): With Birdman and Whiplash garnering most of the praise, and Selma and American Sniper bathed in controversy, Foxcatcher (various streaming services) got a little buried upon its UK cinema release in January as the mad scramble for the Oscars intensified. And that’s a great shame because Bennett ‘Moneyball’ Miller’s film is a very fine piece of work indeed. Eccentric multi-millionaire John du Pont (an almost unrecognisable Steve Carell) sets up an elite wrestling academy in the grounds of his mansion, recruiting a pair of Olympic gold medal-winning brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum as Dave and Mark Schultz) to his cause. However, as the three men’s relationship starts to deteriorate, it soon becomes apparent Du Pont – a hopeless, maladroit individual who inherited all his money – is also vainglorious, unstable and dangerous. At 2hrs 10mins, Foxcatcher is a slow burn but it needs to be for the story to build and the various character interactions to play out. The whole thing is suffused with tension – between the Schultz brothers, between them and Du Pont, between Du Pont and his poisonous mother (Vanessa Redgrave) – but the ending still comes as a painful punch to the guts if you don’t know the true story the film is based upon.

Five more...
Into the Woods (VSS) Meryl Streep, James Corden, Anna Kendrick and the excellent Emily Blunt star in a clever and enjoyable fairy-tale mash-up based on the Stephen Sondheim stage musical. 
Superman (Amazon Prime Instant Video, from Thursday) Richard Donner’s 1978 movie is a perfect illustration of how the famous DC comic-book hero should be treated on screen (clue: not ridiculously, unrelentingly dark). Christopher Reeve exudes decency and charisma in the title role.
World War Z (Netflix UK, from Thursday) Brad Pitt is caught in the middle of a zombie outbreak in this breathless adaptation of the Max Brooks novel.
Altman (VSS) Passable documentary celebrating late movie director Robert ‘Nashville’ Altman’s life and work.
A Most Violent Year (VSS) Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain star in JC ‘All is Lost’ Chandor’s ’80s-set crime drama.

TERRESTRIAL: I remember being pretty lukewarm on the idea when they announced yet another reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise. As a kid, I’d loved the films and especially the TV show which was shown in the UK on Sunday nights. Before Star Wars came along and turned everyone into instant space opera junkies, POTA was definitely where it was at if you were an imaginative 10-year-old into all things geeky (I even recall a friend of mine buying an expensive ape suit from the States and wearing it in class much to the teacher’s amusement). Thankfully, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (21:00, Saturday, Channel 4) quickly consigned Tim Burton’s failed 2001 reimagining to the dustbin of history and turned out to be a very worthy addition to the canon. It gives us a credible and compelling “origin” story (a putative cure for Alzheimer’s massively boosts its test subject ape’s intelligence) and nicely balances the hugely impressive CGI segments with smaller, emotional scenes. James Franco and John Lithgow are both excellent as the film’s “good humans” but it’s Andy Serkis’ bravura motion-capture turn as ape leader Caesar that deserves most of the plaudits – a perfect marriage of man and cinematic hi-tech. I don’t think the follow-up – last year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – was nearly as successful but this is pretty much perfect.

Five more...
Robot & Frank (23:15, Wednesday, BBC1) Frank Langella is a retired cat burglar getting up to mischief with his robot helper in this touching, sci-fi inflected comedy.
The Trouble with Harry (14:35, Saturday, BBC2) The trouble with Harry is that he’s a corpse in Alfred Hitchcock’s black comedy from 1955.
Trance (21:00, Sunday, Channel 4) James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson’s shaved vagina star in this twisty but underwhelming Danny Boyle art heist thriller.
Valhalla Rising (Midnight, Sunday, BBC2) Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Viking saga is strange, slow and very violent indeed.
Renaissance (01:00, Sunday, Channel 4) Noirish sci-fi animation set in 2054 and starring Daniel Craig (well, his voice at any rate).

CABLE & SATELLITE: Kevin Costner used to be bloody good, bringing his low-key charm and corn-fed charisma to a host of modern Hollywood classics including Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, JFK and The Untouchables. Give me a minute and I could even make a case for Dances with Wolves and Waterworld too. No Way Out (21:00, Thursday, TCM) is from 1987; the film the actor made just before he became ubiquitous and, ultimately, unbearable. It’s one of those glossy, action-packed, twist-filled Cold War thrillers they seemed to bang out so effortlessly back then and in which Costner plays naval officer Tom Farrell. Supposedly on the trail of a murderous Soviet mole, Farrell finds himself compromised. Not only was he having an affair with the Russian’s alleged victim (Sean Young in arguably her best role) but he also knows the identity of her real killer (Gene Hackman, as the US Secretary of Defence, on top form as a total bastard) and that the entire mole story is an invention to cover for him. The plot is convoluted but for once that works in its favour because you simply haven’t got a clue which curveball No Way Out is going to pitch your way next. It makes for a breathless, unbearably tense film that boasts one of the finest twist endings you’ll see this or any year.

Five more...
Cold in July (22:15, tonight, Sky Premiere) Pleasingly twisty ’80s-flavoured thriller starring Michael C Hall in easily his best role since Dexter ground to an ignominious halt.
Raging Bull (22:00, Tuesday, Sky Greats) Robert De Niro is Jake La Motta in director Martin Scorsese’s bruisingly brilliant boxing biopic.
The Godfather (11:00 and 20:00, Tuesday, Sky Select) Francis Ford Coppola’s Mafia masterpiece starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and James Caan. Parts II and III show on Wednesday and Thursday.
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (21:00, Thursday, Horror Channel) Hammer’s swashbuckling blood-sucker basher is surely ripe for a remake.
School of Rock (18:45, Saturday, Film4) Jack Black is at his most likeable and charming in a Richard ‘Boyhood’ Linklater comedy guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Please note: Films starting after midnight are always considered part of the previous day's schedule, e.g. Renaissance begins at 01:00 - technically Monday morning - but is still part of Sunday's listings. All times in 24-hour clock.

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