Monday 30 March 2015

TV Movie Picks (UK): Monday, March 30 – Sunday, April 5

TERRESTRIAL: John Cleese’s comedy powers may have peaked with the magnificent Fawlty Towers in the mid-70s but he’s nevertheless on terrific form in hilarious heist caper A Fish Called Wanda (Friday, 22:15, ITV). The former Python – who co-wrote the film with director Charles Crichton (The Lavendar Hill Mob) – is beleaguered barrister Archie Leach, who becomes involved with a criminal gang that has pulled off a diamond robbery. Kevin Kline (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role), Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Palin (another ex-Python) are his co-conspirators. To call much of the humour broad would be an understatement – Palin (above, with Kline) is an accident-prone dog killer with a ridiculous (and probably quite offensive) stutter, Kline an unhinged moron with delusions of grandeur – but the pratfalls and comedy violence work far more often than not. Wanda really goes into overdrive, though, as the gang’s paranoia is cranked up and the betrayals and counter-betrayals begin to mount. Slapstick segues into farce and back again with dizzying ease.

Also showing: Daybreakers (Tonight, 23:00, 
Channel 5) Half-decent vampire shenanigans featuring Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe. Easter Parade (Friday, 10:00, BBC Two) Irving Berlin’s classic musical starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. Jackie Brown (Friday, 00:35, Channel 4) Classy Quentin Tarantino crime drama with the sublime Pam Grier. Educating Rita (Saturday, 22:55, Channel 5) Julie Walters and Michael Caine are superb in this adaptation of Willy Russell’s stage play. Surrogates (Saturday, 23:55, BBC1) Sci-fi thriller starring Bruce Willis about isolated people living their lives through robot duplicates. A clever idea, disappointingly executed.

CABLE & SATELLITE: My parents must have been crackers to let me watch The Omen (Saturday, 00:50, Film4) as a highly-impressionable 12 year old. At that age, in a rather more innocent time, I hadn’t long stopped believing in Father Christmas so the idea of an evil Antichrist coming to reign down apocalypse on the world must have seemed all too horribly plausible to my confused, naïve young self. You’ll be unsurprised to hear it gave me terrible nightmares whilst simultaneously helping fuel a fascination with horror cinema that lasts to this day. Through slightly more sophisticated adult eyes, director Richard Donner’s satanic tale seems a bit overwrought and corny but it still has the power to chill all these years later. Don’t believe me? Check out David Warner’s much-celebrated decapitation scene, nanny Holly Palance’s suicide in the middle of a children’s party (“Look at me, Damien. It’s all for you!”), and that shiver-inducing ending when Harvey Stephens’ little devil turns to the camera and smiles fiendishly right at the audience. Yes, the dialogue is a bit ripe (“You'll see me in hell, Mr. Thorn. There, we will share out our sentence”), and the performances mostly of the scenery-chewing variety (Gregory Peck turning it up to 11) but such shortcomings are easy to forgive. No horror classic, then, but the next best thing. 

Also showing: 10 Rillington Place (Tuesday, 22:00, BBC4) The late Richard Attenborough is serial killer John Christie in this chilling true story. Spirited Away (Friday, 01:20, Film4) My favourite Hayao Miyazaki film and one of the best animated features ever made. Idiocracy (Saturday, 23:25, Sky Movies Comedy) Luke Wilson’s “most average” soldier is cryogenically frozen, awakening 500 years in the future to discover he’s the smartest guy on the planet. Sharp satire from Mike “Office Space” Judge. Groundhog Day (Sunday, 21:00, Gold) It's just Edge of Tomorrow without aliens! High Noon (Thursday, 11:30, More4) Oscar-winning Western once dubbed "Un-American" by John Wayne. Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly star.

It’s too long and the last half-hour doesn’t work at all but Interstellar (Sky, Virgin, BT etc) is still an ambitious, absorbing and intermittently thrilling piece of work. Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic sees astronauts Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway blasted through a wormhole to find a new home after drought and famine make Earth uninhabitable. Mackenzie Foy plays the heartbroken young daughter McConaughey leaves behind, Michael Caine the NASA boffin with a terrible secret. One of the reasons I suspect many people (including me) found the film a little underwhelming upon its release is because Nolan – as well as his slavering fanboys in the media – were so keen to point out its tonal and philosophical similarities to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interstellar has its redeeming qualities – Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography and solid performances from an impressive cast amongst them – but it simply isn’t in the same league as Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece and will always suffer badly from the comparison. Taken on its own terms, however, Interstellar is an enjoyable blockbuster with heart, imagination and brains.

Also showing (Sky, Virgin, BT etc): Pelo Malo Venezuelan machismo is dissected in this drama about a young boy’s quest to straighten his hair. St Vincent Bill Murray does his irascible Bill Murray thing in a passable comedy. Get On Up Chadwick Boseman stars as the late, great and possibly quite insane James Brown. The Grandmaster Acclaimed Chinese director Wong Kar Wai’s martial arts epic. Wild Tales Unhinged Argentine anthology showcasing six short stories full of rage and revenge (also in cinemas).

Please note: Films starting after midnight are always considered part of the previous day's schedule, e.g. The Omen begins at 00:50 - technically Sunday morning - but is still part of Saturday's listings. All times in 24-hour clock. 

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