Films of the Week: Leone's epic tale of gunslingers and revenge

 

Film choice

Wednesday

Once Upon a Time in the West

7pm Sky Movies Classics

(Sergio Leone, 1969) After the US success of his Italian spaghetti Westerns, Sergio Leone made this one – his masterpiece – for Paramount. He cast Henry Fonda brilliantly against type as a remorseless gunslinger, and Charles Bronson and Jason Robards as the guns for hire who go after him. It is richly cinematic, uniquely styled, epic, elegiac and cruel. Also starring Claudia Cardinale, Frank Wolff and Gabriele Ferzetti. *****

Saturday

Alien

11.05pm Channel 4

(Ridley Scott, 1979) In which John Hurt gets an upset stomach, and not long after, the seven-strong crew of the salvage spaceship Nostromo are picked off by a nasty, insectoid alien. Alien has only a simple plot, then, but the set and creature designs by the Swiss artist HR Giger, the Freudian subtext, and its ruthless, relentless thrust make for one of the all-out scariest horror films ever. Sigourney Weaver also stars. *****

Sunday

Dr Mabuse: the Gambler

11.30pm Sky Arts 1

(Fritz Lang, 1922) The first of Fritz Lang's three films featuring the evil psychiatrist, arch manipulator, master of disguises and mesmerist Dr Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), who uses his talents to run an empire of gambling dens and climb society, is one of the great epics of silent cinema. It may be overlong (270 minutes!) and hokey, but it's full of entertainment, social criticism and visual invention. ***

Monday

The Tree of Life

9.45pm Sky Movies Premiere

(Terrence Malick, 2011) This is the most explicit expression of the transcendentalist aesthetic found in every Terrence Malick film: a hymn to all creation, from the infinitesimal to the infinite, set to choral music and full of cinematic natural beauty. Amid this are fragments of a human story, too, though the film is more interested in macro-level profundity than making conventional sense. ****

Tuesday

The Prestige

10.30pm BBC2

(Christopher Nolan, 2006) Nothing is as it seems in this highly enjoyable bit of tricksy period hokum, starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as stage magicians in Victorian London whose rivalry leads them to attempt ever more impressive and dangerous illusions. And the film is impressively staged, too, even if it's merely a chamber piece by comparison to its director's later films, The Dark Knight and Inception. ****

Thursday

Le Quattro Volte

11am Film4

(Michelangelo Frammartino, 2010) This detached, dialogue-free, wilfully uneventful quasi-documentary set in a Calabrian hillside village is all about natural rhythms and the cycles of life. And its credited cast members include a silver fir, goats and charcoal. Many film critics find it transcendental, though the alternate viewpoint, that it is opaque and dull, is equally valid. Giuseppe Fuda and Bruno Timpano star. ****

Friday

The American

8pm Sky Movies Indie

(Anton Corbijn, 2010) George Clooney plays an inscrutable, apparently unfeeling hit-man lying low in a small Italian hillside town. A film in the tradition of existential European thrillers such as The Conformist and Le Samourai, The American doesn't have a lot of plot but it does have an intensified mood; an economy of style and expression, and a studied elegance and classicism. Also starring Violante Placido. ****

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