Critic’s Choice: Films on TV this Week

November 24, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

PREMIERE: This Is England – Channel 4, Monday 24th November 10:00pm Alert Me

From a wild flight of fancy to a gritty slab of realism, This Is England is a 400lb Gorilla, hitting home with brutal force. Set in 1983, an era seemingly dominated by the twin forces of Knight Rider and the Falklands war, it concerns the story of a bullied 12-year-old, Shaun (a charismatic, perfect, Thomas Turgoose), who is coming to terms with the death of his father (due to the aforementioned war). He joins a gang of skinheads, spliced with mods, who offer him acceptance and validation. It’s hard to believe that anyone could dislike Shuan, though – quick witted, funny, it makes the viewing that much harder as it takes the inevitable tumble into darker waters.

As ‘the Scorsese of the midlands,’ director Shane Meadows isn’t known for chick flicks, and there is a certain predictable familiarity to the story. It ain’t gonna end well, and it ain’t gonna make for comfortable watching. But, God, it grips like a vice as you watch little Shaun being taken in to a more hardcore group of National Front-supporting skinheads – headed by the volatile, violent Combo, a brilliantly textured psycho who stands up well in the great Rogues’ Gallery of cinema’s nutjobs.

When the denouement hits (and oh how it does), you probably won’t be surprised – and you probably won’t care, because you’ll be too busy trying to avoid tottering off the edge of your seat. Maybe the setting is part of the reason why it hits close to the bone – 1983 is far from ancient history, and this startling film is equal parts thrilling, gripping and cautionary. Very good, but not really one to flick on after Strictly Come Dancing.

La Antena (The Antenna) – FilmFour, Thursday 27th November, 10:45pm Alert Me

This is showing as part of FilmFour’s Argentina season, and it’s… Wow. Crazy stuff. An evil TV corporation has homogenised an entire city, leaving its inhabitants – literally – without a voice. It’s called… The City Without a Voice (original, huh?), and thus, the population go about their daily lives as if living in a silent movie. Only a young boy, who has no eyes – and a precious, working voice – can help awaken the city from its telly-induced hypnosis.

The film is incredibly stylised, a love letter to the pre-talkie days – shot in gorgeous black and white, peppered with not-so-subtle effects, and underlined by a wonderful soundtrack. The acting is so far over the top that you might expect it to be troubling jumbos, which is all part of the fun. This is defiantly old fashioned. Any ‘action’ scenes are knowingly slow and silly – like watching your nan attempt to recreate the Bourne Ultimatum. But that’s not the point – the point is the style, so don’t go expecting any niceties in the line of, say, nuanced character development. The majority of the thoughtful touches are given over to satire – be it political, anti-consumerist – or just plain old homage. This is a delirious throwback to the time when Chaplin ruled the world, and yet at the same time, it is an innovative step forward for ‘silent’ film. Alright, so nobody else has even been stepping there for the last 80 years, but at least there are innovations.

The subtitles deserve a special mention – when the characters ‘speak,’ it is displayed on the screen with an emotive visual flourish: a word ticks as if it is attached to a watch hand, ‘ra-ta-tats’ spray across the screen when Tommy Guns are fired. So, grandly imaginative on the visual front, La Antena is worthy of anyone’s attention, but it seems to be a real cinematic blob of Marmite. Love it or hate it, though, you will never have seen anything quite like it.

Deliverance – ITV4, Thursday 27th November, 10.30pm Alert Me

A missed opportunity for a fluffy romantic comedy, as four business-types decide to escape the city for a back-to-basics canoeing holiday. It sounds positively delightful! Maybe they’ll meet Ray Mears along the way. They slip further away from civilisation with every step, every paddle, and soon enough, the nightmare begins. Hillbillies with a penchant for rape. Hmm. I doubt that Mears would even turn up, and even he couldn’t come up with the sage advice that Deliverance offers us: If you find yourself in a musical duel with any creepy, albino, banjo-pickin’ redneck boys, maybe give it all a second thought and get back to where you belong, city boy, or you might just end up squealin’ like a pig.