If you can sleep in tomorrow, two great old movies screen late tonight, The Exorcist, 11.05 pm Max, and Rollerball, 11.40 pm TCM; of course, you may not sleep at all if you watch the first one. Two of the week’s best three films screen today.
Today’s best film
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (Sergio Leone/ 1966/ Italy/ Western/ 155 min/Rated R) 2.30 pm Sunday Turner Classic Movies. BEST FILM OF THE WEEK. Watch this if you liked The Wild Bunch, The Proposition or No Country for Old Men. Spaghetti Westerns are to many a serious film buff what one-day cricket is to the Test aficionado: a lot of fun, perhaps, but too flawed to take seriously. Still, Leone’s magnificent storytelling via camera and grunts will keep you enthralled. It ought not to work at all; it does, terrifically. The spellbinding three-way shootout finale (stolen by Quentin Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs), goes on for five full minutes—and you’re holding your breath for most of it. It includes some of the most memorable Western lines—“When you come to shoot, shoot, don’t talk”—and the greatest Western theme of all time. If this is one-day cricket, it’s West Indies v England in the 2004 ICC Champions’ trophy final.
Rest of the week
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik/2010/USA/Drama-Mystery-Thriller/100 min/Rated R for some drug material, language and violent content) 9 pm today and again 9 pm Wednesday, HBO. Watch this if you liked Precious, The American or Brokeback Mountain. Slow, beautifully shot and quietly building to a startling visual moment of genuine denouement, Winter’s Bone isn’t for everyone, as the list of films to which it’s compared might suggest, but the people who will like it will tend to love it. Long, loving shots of, say, a drop of water falling off an icicle on an outdoor porch may strain the patience of the action flick fan but, for the mystery film lover with an A-Level or two, the gradual increase in tension as the teenaged heroine searches for her missing father amongst the crank dealers of the Ozark Mountains is breathtaking. The overly-hasty might dismiss it as esoteric and miss the universalism entirely. What happens in Winter’s Bone could, and has, happened here.
Ransom (Ron Howard/1966/USA/Thriller/121 min/Rated R for graphic, bloody violence and strong language), 7.49 pm Saturday TCM. Watch this if you liked Gone Baby Gone, Disclosure or House of Games. The real wonder of this superior, richly scripted and immaculately paced thriller is that it was done by Ron “Happy Days” Howard, one of the most sentimental filmmakers in Hollywood. Drawn from an obscure Glenn Ford 1955 flick, but with a tightly written modernised screenplay playing perfectly to Mel Gibson’s few acting strengths, this deserved to be better received, commercially, than it was on the big screen. Thoroughly watchable and with a twist guaranteed to delight everyone in kidnap-happy Trinidad, this is one of the best surprises cable will spring on you this year. Recommended like denying Abu Bakr bail.
Best of the rest
Mon: The King’s Speech, 9 pm Max; Tue: Please Give, 7.15 pm Max; Wed: Mackenna’s Gold 8 pm Enc3; Thurs: 2001: A Space Odyssey, 9 pm Max; Fri: The Smurfs, 9 pm HBOF (also 6.15 pm Tues). Scheduled Internet times often vary on the day.