Monday 6 April 2015

TV Movie Picks (UK): Monday, April 6 - Sunday, April 12

VIEW ON DEMAND (Virgin Movies, Sky Store, BT TV etc): Film history isn’t exactly chock-a-block with vampire comedies, let alone vampire comedies that are actually funny. Racking my brains (and IMDB) for good ones I came up with just two: Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, from 1967, and 1979’s Love at First Bite, starring George Hamilton. Efforts involving Eddie Murphy (A Vampire in Brooklyn), Leslie Nielsen (Dracula: Dead and Loving It), Johnny Depp (Dark Shadows), and Abbott and Costello (1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein featured Bela Lugosi as Dracula) are probably best forgotten. Thankfully, What We Do in the Shadows doesn’t disappoint. Written and directed by Jemaine ‘Flight of the Conchords’ Clement and Taika Waititi, Shadows is shot in the mockumentary style of This is Spinal Tap, and focuses on a group of fractious but likeable blood-suckers house-sharing in Wellington, New Zealand. The gags – and there are a lot of stake-sharp ones throughout – spring from how centuries-old creatures of the night fare in a modern world they don’t really understand. Clement and Waititi also have great fun skewering the cliches of the vampire genre (“When you are a vampire you become very... sexy!”). I particularly enjoyed the feud with local werewolves (led by Rhys Darby, another ex-Conchord) and the clever, creepy riff on Nosferatu. It’s as witty as it is silly with the out-and-out slapstick moments working just as well as the one-liners. I’d call it “bloody marvellous” or “fang-tastic” but that would be simply unforgivable.

Five more (available on Virgin Movies, Sky Store, BT TV etc, unless otherwise stated)...
Predestination Ethan Hawke stars in a superior slice of twisty sci-fi – Sarah Snook takes all the acting plaudits though. 
Tremors (Netflix, from Wednesday) Kevin Bacon battles monsters from beneath in this classic B-movie. Not a “buffer face” in sight.
Force Majeure (from Friday) Critically-lauded Swedish black comedy. 
Lost River (from Friday) Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut starring Matt “11th Doctor” Smith and Christina Hendricks (also in cinemas).
Spring Breakers (Netflix, from Sunday) College girls – including Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens – go wild in Harmony Korine’s brilliant crime-spree black comedy. 

TERRESTRIAL: I spoke to Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson twice. Once to arrange a phone interview with him, the other to ask him why he hadn’t been around when I’d called to conduct said interview. “Oh yes, I wasn’t here, was I?” was all he said, rather than “sorry” or “how rude of me”. An infuriating man, then, but one who nevertheless bestrode my formative teenage years like a colossus. I was a huge fan of Joy Division and for a good few years TW seemed like the coolest bloke in the country – he dressed immaculately, knew what post-modernism was and could quote Roland Barthes at the drop of a hat. Michael Winterbottom’s hilarious 24 Hour Party People (Saturday, 00:25, Channel 4) has a slightly different take on Wilson. Here the great man is played by Steve Coogan in something approaching full-on Alan Partridge mode (we first see TW in his role as a maladroit TV news reporter crashing a hang-glider). This Wilson isn’t cool and aloof, he’s a bit of a tit, albeit one who – inspired by seeing the Sex Pistols in 1976 – sets up Factory and the Hacienda nightclub, and goes on to sign not just Joy Division/New Order but James and The Happy Mondays too. There’s probably a more serious film to be made about Wilson’s extraordinary life (he died of cancer in 2007, aged 57) but in the meantime this is a fine and funny celebration of a man who, perhaps more than any other, made the Manchester music scene so vibrant and extraordinary.  

Five more...
Fifty Dead Men Walking (Wednesday, 23:15, BBC1) Troubles-set thriller starring Jim Sturgess and professional misery guts Ben Kingsley
Showgirls (Friday, 23:40, Channel 4) Paul Verhoeven’s gloriously tacky Vegas-set drama. 
The Philadelphia Story (Saturday, 14:40, BBC2Double Oscar-winning romantic comedy with a stellar cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart.
Independence Day (Saturday, 18:40, Channel 4) Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum kick alien bottom armed only with a laptop. 
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Sunday,16:40, Channel 5) The proper version starring Gene Wilder. 

CABLE & SATELLITE: You’d be hard pressed to find a better Stephen King adaptation than director David Cronenberg’s take on his 1979 novel The Dead Zone (Sunday, 22:50, 
Horror Channel), although the original versions of Carrie and Salem’s Lot come awfully close. Christopher Walken – in one of his finest roles – is Johnny Smith, the teacher who awakes from a five-year coma with the ability to see the future. Using his gift, Smith discovers a monstrous politician (Martin Sheen) will become president and start a nuclear war to end the world. He plans an assassination. It’s a clever take on the old morality question – Is it ever right to take one life to save millions more? – that usually involves time travel and Hitler. Here, Smith’s supernatural power is portrayed as both blessing and curse; an ability that can do great good but one that will also, almost certainly, mean the death of the man who wields it. Walken sells that terrible conflict beautifully in a performance full of nuance, while Cronenberg expertly keeps the tension bubbling as the film hurtles towards a satisfying and powerful denouement.

Five more...
Fast & Furious (tonight, 21:00, ITV2) First of the engine-revving, rubber-burning, speed-limit-obliterating mega-franchise. Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and the late Paul Walker star. 
Peeping Tom (Tuesday, 21:00, Horror Channel) Michael Powell’s classic Brit thriller from 1960 still has the power to shock.
Al Weiwei: Never Sorry (Thursday, 22:00 and 03:45, Sky Arts 1) Documentary chronicling the life and work of the provocative Chinese artist and activist.
The Evil Dead/Evil Dead II (Saturday, 00:40, Film4) Cabin in the woods, Necronomicon, Deadites, Ash and his chainsaw, rinse and repeat...
Big (Sunday, 18:00, E4) Bittersweet age-swap comedy starring Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins. One of my all-time favourite movies.

Please note: Films starting after midnight are always considered part of the previous day's schedule, e.g. The Evil Dead begins at 00:40 - technically Sunday morning - but is still part of Saturday's listings. All times in 24-hour clock. 

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