Films of the Week: Poetic pondering in a subtle mix of short tales

 

Thursday

Short Cuts

12.20am Sky Movies Indie

(Robert Altman, 1993) Freely adapting and then deftly weaving together 10 of Raymond Carver's minimalist, quietly poetic short stories about emotionally inarticulate characters, relocating them to suburban California, injecting a little humour, and having an all-star cast, Robert Altman's tragicomic account of life's rich tapestry was one of the very best US films of the Nineties. Andie MacDowell and Jack Lemmon star. *****

Saturday

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

2.05am TCM

(Mike Nichols, 1966) James Mason and Bette Davis may have been the original choices, but the casting of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor added an extra frisson to this screen version of Edward Albee's then-controversial, still compulsively revealing play about a warring couple on a New England college campus. Shot in close-up and unforgiving black-and-white by Haskell Wexler. *****

The Big Lebowski

11.30pm ITV4

(Joel Coen, 1998) The impossible- to-follow story has to do with bowling, a kidnap plot gone wrong and a nihilist krautrock group and their marmot. But, as with The Big Sleep, the film on which it's very loosely based, the genius of the Coen brothers' comedy is in its dialogue and incidental detail. And Jeff Bridges's "the Dude" may well be cinema's coolest loser. *****

Broadcast News

10.50pm & 2.50am TCM

(James L Brooks, 1987) Holly Hunter's ambitious television news producer, William Hurt's vacuous but telegenic presenter and Albert Brooks's experienced reporter form the three sides of a love triangle in James L Brooks's witty romantic comedy, which also takes a well-aimed swipe at the television news branch of the entertainment industry, and is convincing in the detail of its behind-the-scenes exposé. ****

Dog Day Afternoon

9.30am & 7.50pm Sky Movies Indie

(Sidney Lumet, 1975) This seminal bank-heist-gone-wrong drama was one of the first Hollywood films to comment upon the unhealthy relationship between criminals and the news media – and one of the first with a bisexual protagonist whose sexuality isn't a pathology. Al Pacino is simply brilliant as the tightly wound but endearing anti-hero attempting to raise the funds for his lover's sex-change operation. *****

Taxidermia

2am Film4

(Gyorgy Palfi, 2006) A strong stomach is required for all of the dismembered flesh, vomit and sex on display in this bizarre Hungarian magical-realist gross-out comedy-horror triptych. It is about a soldier, a taxidermist and a star of the national sport-eating team, and informed by the Eastern European surrealist film-makers of the Sixties and Seventies. The electronic score is by Amon Tobin. Gergo Trocsanyi stars. ****

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

11.50pm BBC2

(Sydney Pollack, 1969) Jane Fonda stars as a hard-edged competitor (one reviewer described her character as the "Typhoid Mary of existential despair") in one of the dance marathons (gruelling, several-hundred-hours-long endurance events) that provided entertainment for Americans during the Depression. Adapted from Horace McCoy's allegorical novel, Sydney Pollack's film is bold, and very bleak. ****

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