Rob Pearson’s Films of the Week

February 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Features


Ray, ITV3, Tuesday 24th February, 10:30pm Alert Me


Now, the video below is of The Wonderful Mr. Ray Charles, but after seeing Ray you’ll believe that it might as well be The Fantastic Mr. Foxx (ouch, sorry). Yes, in a startlingly unusual display of taste, ITV3 is celebrating Oscar week by showcasing an awards-laden film every night. Jamie Foxx displays superb acting chops, adorning this film with a wholly convincing performance – one that won him a little golden statuette – and, aside from the music, he’s the best thing in this film by a mile.

In the past few years, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing biopics pop up around awards season. In truth, they’ve become as common as Kerry Katona in a Burberry baseball cap, and the more ‘difficult’ they are, the better: see The Aviator, Walk The Line, Capote, etc – this year we have Milk. Ray fits the bill pretty well. Covering a 10 year stretch of the blind pianist’s life (with the obligatory childhood flashbacks), Ray has a meteoric rise to the top of the charts and is thrust into the world of international celebrity. But, despite his awesome successes in music, he battles a heroin addiction and some extreme womanising tendencies – I think those might the ‘difficult,’ Oscar winning bits. Taking a 10 year slice of Ray’s life is a sensible choice, chronicling the toughest, most exciting part of his career – but it also causes frustration as it ends abruptly, and you’re left wondering what exactly happened to, well, half of the cast.

There’s a general made-for-TV malaise that you often find with biopics (because they’re, um, often, cheaply, made for TV, with enticing titles like ‘Take Me Home: The John Denver Story’). That certain condensed-milk feeling of ticking all of the major boxes is in evidence here: the songs, the meetings with label heads, the record deals, the shows… Imagination is hard to come by, and it seems a shame that, with so many cinematic tools at his disposal, director Taylor Hackford (insert your own ‘hack’ gag here) tells the tale of Ray’s blindness in predictable flashback. So there are absolutely no prizes for originality, but then, that’s what you come to expect. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but buoyed by the quality of Foxx’s performance, Ray stands as a fine testament to a true musical legend.

The Pianist, ITV3, Monday 23rd February, 10:00pm Alert Me


Another Oscar winner for ITV3. For the record, the other flicks are: The Mission (10pm Wednesday), The Killing Fields (11pm Thursday) and The Graduate (10pm Friday). As you can tell from the clip below, The Pianist is a cheerful romantic comedy about a Jewish virtuoso who continually attempts to woo an attractive Nazi guard, much to the amusement of his camp Uncle Adolf (Graham Norton).

No, wait – it’s about the holocaust. Bleak, slow, minimalist, and – if you fancy being emotionally crowbarred in the face for two and a half hours – filled with superb filmmaking.

Manhunter, ITV2, Tuesday 24th February, 10:00pm Alert Me


aka. That Hannibal Lecter Film Without Anthony Hopkins. While everything in this canon suffers by comparison to Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter is an excellent effort, if dated by some tacky 80s music. Drawn from the first Lecter book, Red Dragon, Manhunter doesn’t quite have the iconic fava bean-slurping moments that we all look forward to, but is pretty damn good all the same. From Heat director (or Miami Vice director, depending on how generous you’re feeling), Michael Mann, this stars that main bloke from out of CSI (William Petersen) as our psychologically intriguing (ie. a bit unhinged) hero detective, and Brian Cox with a different, but excellent take on surely the world’s most beloved cannibal.

From Hell, five, Wednesday 25th February, 10:00pm Alert Me


Here we have a film that would, if made now, be the height of fashion. It combines two very-much-en-vogue components: an Alan Moore (Watchmen) comic book, and Johnny Depp. Depp channels a slightly… gaunt… hazy… quality, as he plays Inspector Abberline, an opium addict whose psychic visions/dreams/bits in the film with dodgy editing and weird colours help him to solve his cases. Oh, and he just so happens to be investigating Jack The Ripper.

The plot centres around a group of five chummy prostitutes, who the Ripper is killing off one by one. Our leading lady is Heather Graham, grappling with all the subtlety of a sumo wrestler as she struggles with her Laaahn-dan accent – not to mention her questionable acting skills. But, she’s a hooker, and she’ll get killed by the ripper – right? Not if Johnny Depp and his freaky-drug-induced visions can help it.

Despite veritable rivers of gore, and history’s greatest serial killer on the loose in Whitechapel, this isn’t much of a horror film: It’s more of a whodunnit. Thus we are given a cast of suspicious characters, and a conspiracy that involves the Freemasons (who else? they’re like rent-a-conspiracy-plotline merchants), and stretches all the way up to Queen Victoria herself. Historical accuracy has clearly been flung out of the window – alongside Heather Graham’s linguistics coach, presumably.

Alan Moore frequently moans about the way film adaptations rape his comic books of their subtleties – after the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, who can blame him – but this is pretty decent fun, despite not doing justice to the comic. Stylistically, Victorian London is nicely imbued with a cartoonish, grotty bustle, and any film featuring an opium den can’t be all bad. Robbie Coltrane makes for a fine sidekick to Depp and Ian Holm does a customarily excellent job. To sum it up, there’s blood and sex and weirdness: yay!

Zidane, BBC4, Wednesday 25th February, 10:00pm Alert Me


Attention: if you are not a fan of football, look away now. If you are not a fan of artsy fartsy pretentiousness, look away now. If you’re a fan of one and can tolerate the other (or, heaven forfend, a fan of both), then this might be worth checking out. A documentary of sorts, Zidane follows the titular French footballing genius/lunatic headbutter as he plays football for Real Madrid. That’s it. Really. It’s just one game, with lots of cameras, all covering Zidane.

Thankfully, ‘Zizou’ wasn’t injured in the fourth minute, and so we get nigh-on 90 minutes of Zidane action: Watch on in amazement, as he runs, passes, stands around a bit, and then gets sent off! While that may sound like a rubbish version of Sky Sports’ already-quite-rubbish PlayerCam, it serves the film (such as it is) pretty well. With Zidane quotes occassionally placed in the subtitles, this is just a portrait of the great man at work.

Cunningly scheduled after Wednesday night’s Champions League fixtures, this is one of the more interesting football films to have popped up – which isn’t saying much, when Escape To Victory is generally seen as the classic of the subgenre. The general effect is like watching the highest-budget, best-produced student art installation you’ve ever seen. Great soundtrack from Mogwai, too.

Millions, BBC1, Wednesday 25th February, 11:25pm Alert Me


The Beeb are doing late night showings of a few films from Oscar certs this week – which has led to this lovely little kids’ flick being broadcast at, erm, 11.25pm. Nice one. As with most good kids’ films, though, adults will potentially enjoy it more – even if they’ve just been stroking their goatee beards whilst watching Zidane on BBC4. The talent involved here is Danny Boyle – who, as we know, picked up a little golden fellah last night for Slumdog Millionaire. Starting a week before Britain changes from the Pound to the Euro (which was probably a lot more ‘amusing fantasy’ than ‘genuine possibility’ back in 2004), this story is about two lads from Oop North finding loadsamoney, and then realising that they need to spend the lot before the currency switch-over takes place. There is a delightful,cockle-warming temperature to this film, as the kids decide to help the poor, by, among other things, taking bums to Pizza Hut. It gets a bit religious, too, but don’t hold that against it.

By Rob Pearson