Monday 1 June 2015

TV Movie Picks (UK): Monday, June 1 - Sunday, June 7

VIEW ON DEMAND (VOD): Most reviewers will this week be extolling the virtues of Whiplash which makes its debut on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD today. And they’ll be quite right to do so because Damien Chazelle’s film is superb and easily one of my favourites of 2015 so far. But, if you’ve already seen Whiplash or are more interested in discovering a hidden gem, I’m going to recommend you watch Obvious Child (Netflix, from today) instead. In this most unusual of romcoms, Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a young stand-up comedian whose edgy material mostly involves her sex life and her Jewish faith. She’s fearless and talented, but Donna’s life is turned upside down when she loses her job at a local book store, her boyfriend absconds with her best friend, and she gets knocked up by a guy she barely knows (The Office’s Jake Lacy). It’s hugely refreshing to see a film which deals with the subject of unwanted pregnancy without recourse to melodrama or cloying sentiment while Slate’s terrifically funny as Stern (especially the scene, when, at her lowest ebb, she suffers a spectacular on-stage meltdown). Donna’s a loveable walking disaster whose difficult transition to adulthood makes for painful – but entirely relatable – viewing. The script is fresh, funny and packed with decent one-liners, making first-time writer/director Gillian Robespierre clearly one to watch. Fans of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach, this is definitely for you.

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Whiplash (Various Streaming Services) 
Monstrous music teacher JK Simmons pushes Miles Teller to the edge in a powerful drama. Who knew jazz drumming could be so brutal?
Shaun the Sheep - The Movie (VSS) Laugh-packed animation from the ever-dependable Aardman in which the titular TV star heads for the big city to find the missing Farmer.
Ex Machina (VSS) Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander star in Alex Garland’s A.I.-based thriller.
Lost River (VSS) Ryan Gosling’s nightmarish modern fairy tale was panned by critics on its cinema release but it’s substantially better than you’ll have heard.
Beetlejuice (Amazon Prime Video, from Thursday) Before he was Birdman or Batman, Michael Keaton was “bio-exorcist” Beetlejuice in Tim Burton’s outlandish dark comedy. Brilliant.

TERRESTRIAL: Is everyone out of the country this week and not bothered telling me? I only ask as, movie-wise, the five main channels are offering very slim pickings indeed. Tropic Thunder (23:20, Saturday, BBC1) probably isn’t the best of the bunch but it is certainly the most fun. An impressive A-list cast – including Ben Stiller (who also directs), Jack Black, Tom Cruise, and Robert Downey Jr – star in a deft spin on John Landis’ 1986 comedy ¡Three Amigos! In Landis’ film three unemployed actors (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short) are invited to a Mexican village to reprise their most famous characters – a trio of ridiculous cowboy heroes who dress like a Mariachi band. But when they turn up in Mexico, the Amigos realise they have been mistaken for real-life do-gooders and now must fight ruthless local bandit El Guapo. Tropic Thunder sees Stiller, Black, Downey Jr and Brandon T Jackson (as rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino) dropped into the middle of the Vietnam jungle whilst making the titular movie only to fall foul of the Flaming Dragon, a cutthroat gang of heroin smugglers. Of course, the clueless actors dismiss the very real danger they are in, assuming it is all part of the film’s “guerrilla” shooting style. Downey Jr steals the show as absurd Aussie method-actor Kirk Lazarus, lampooning himself as well as Daniel Day Lewis and Russell Crowe along the way. The film itself walks a clever line between being potentially offensive (Downey Jr appears in blackface and coins the much-quoted phrase, “Never go full retard”) and satirising an industry that encourages pampered actors and their monstrous self-regard. There are lots of very good jokes and some spot-on jabs at the war movie genre, while Nick Nolte and Steve Coogan provide game support.

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White Oleander (23:35, Tuesday, BBC1) Melodrama in which a young teenager (Drag Me To Hell's Alison Lohman) bounces between foster homes after her free-spirited mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) goes to prison for murder.
Infamous (23:50, Friday, BBC2) The other film about Truman Capote (following 2005's Capote starring Philip Seymour Hoffman) sees Toby Jones stepping into the acclaimed writer’s skin.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (11:20, Saturday, BBC2) The Beeb’s fine Alfred Hitchcock season continues with James Stewart and Doris Day as a holidaying couple caught up in an assassination plot.
My Week with Marilyn (22:30, Saturday, BBC2) Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) clash on the set of 1957's The Prince and the Showgirl in a charming drama elevated by two fine performances.
A Single Man (23:00, Sunday, BBC2) Gloomy - but finely acted - '60s-set suicide drama starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.

On the 40th anniversary of Jaws, it seems appropriate to recommend a sea-based thriller such as Adrift (23:10, Friday, Film4), albeit one with a distinct lack of sharks. No, the villain of the piece here isn’t a vengeful great white nicknamed Bruce but simple human negligence. And it’s utterly fatal. A group of friends (including Susan May Pratt as aquaphobe Amy) go for a weekend yacht cruise and, weighing anchor, contentedly splash about in the beautiful waters off Mexico. Unfortunately, with everyone in the sea and miles from dry land, it soon becomes apparent they can’t get back aboard the yacht – nobody thought to pull down the embarkation ladder. In short, they’re stranded and Amy’s helpless baby Sarah is still aboard on her own. It’s a fiendishly simple premise but one that director Hans Horn milks for all its worth. First of all, the friends try to calmly and rationally think their way out of trouble but, as the day draws on, and every attempt to escape their watery prison fails, panic sets in and the bodies start piling up. Their desperation is palpable. Adrift (titled Open Water 2 in some countries to cash in on the earlier film’s success even though they aren’t linked) is an extremely effective but sadly underrated thriller that is more than worth 95 minutes of your time.

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Scars of Dracula (21:00, Tuesday, Horror Channel)
Hammer horror starring Christopher Lee as the blood-sucking Count (that’s Count – with an o!).
An Education (21:00, Wednesday, BBC4) Coming-of-age drama set in ’60s London – Carey Mulligan is the teenage ingenue seduced by a shady older man (Peter Sarsgaard).
The Pianist (00:10, Friday, ITV3) Roman Polanski-directed WWII drama with Adrien Brody as a Polish-Jewish musician struggling to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto.
Before Sunrise/Before Sunset (from 20:00, Tuesday, Sky Select) The first two films, back-to-back, in Richard Linklater’s fine relationship trilogy, starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.
Be Kind Rewind (21:45, Friday, Sky Select) Jack Black and Mos Def star in Michel Gondry’s charmingly eccentric video store comedy.

Please note: Films starting after midnight are always considered part of the previous day's schedule, e.g. The Pianist begins at 00:10 - technically Saturday morning - but is still part of Friday's listings. All times in 24-hour clock.

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