Films of the Week: Conventional plot askew in Western curio

 

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The Independent Culture

Johnny Guitar

Monday 11.15am More4

(Nicholas Ray, 1954) François Truffaut called Nicholas Ray "the poet of nightfall" and Johnny Guitar‚" a Western dream". It is, indeed, a strange and hallucinatory film: a brightly coloured and expressionist feminist Western starring Joan Crawford (below) and Mercedes McCambridge as deadly rivals in a railroad boomtown, and Sterling Hayden as the titular passive, outsider love interest. The late Ernest Borgnine also stars. *****

Ajami

10.10pm BBC4

(Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani, 2009) A crime drama about drugs, gangsters, cops, misunderstandings and revenge killings, set in Ajami – an impoverished neighbourhood of Tel Aviv that is home to Jews, Arab Christians and Arab Muslims alike. The plot is over-complicated but the style is direct and raw; the cumulative effect of so much anger and violence is overwhelming. Shahir Kabaha and Elias Saba (both above) star. ***

M

11.15pm Sky Arts 1

(Fritz Lang, 1931) Fritz Lang's first sound film – and one of his greatest works – is an expressionistically styled but very neatly structured thriller, which features a genuinely chilling, career-best performance from Peter Lorre (above). He plays a serial child killer whose crimes cause hysterical panic amid the population of Berlin, and even inspire the city's criminals to band together in order to catch him. *****

How Do You Know

1.45pm & 8pm Sky Movies Drama & Romance

(James L Brooks, 2010) This rom-com has a love triangle involving the US softball team captain (Reese Witherspoon, above with Paul Rudd), a pro baseball player (Owen Wilson) and a gauche businessman (Rudd). Accordingly, the script features a lot of motivational aphorisms, and it's a wonder that it's so witty. It helps that it's about characters you believe in, with realistic notions of what love is. ****

Millions Like Us

2.55pm Film4

(Sidney Gilliat, Frank Laudner, 1943) Millions Like Us is a Ministry of Information-approved drama from the Gainsborough studio about women's role in the war effort, set in a munitions factory where Patricia Roc's (above) character gets to experience the best that British society, when pulling together, has to offer. It's fascinating as social history, but a detailed, rich and lively human drama, too. ****

Adventureland

9pm BBC3

(Greg Mottola, 2009) Mottola's follow-up to the 2007 comedy Superbad also has its funny moments, but is one of the rare films these days to take US post-adolescents' emotional and sex lives seriously. It's a wistful coming-of-age drama, about a group of kids with summer jobs at a fairground in 1987 Pittsburgh, starring The Social Network's Jesse Eisenberg and Twilight's Kristen Stewart (both above). ****

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

11.15pm BBC4

(Sacha Gervasi, 2008) Describing a year in the life of a real but forgotten Canadian Eighties heavy-metal band (above), during which they embark on a disastrous European tour and record their self-financed 13th album, this very funny documentary gives the early impression that it's a Spinal Tap-style spoof. Instead, it resolves into an unexpectedly touching study of friendship, family and quixotism. ****

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