Films of the week: Transported by a master animator's spell in Spirited Away

 

Tuesday

Spirited Away

11am film4

(Hayao Miyazaki, 2002) This delightful, Alice in Wonderland-ish tale is one of the very best by the master Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. It has a luscious visual style and a dream logic all of its own – in which a plucky 10-year-old girl is separated from her parents, who are turned into pigs, and winds up working in a bathhouse frequented by spirits and gods. With the voices of Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette and Jason Marsden. *****

Saturday

El Topo

1.10am film4

(Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970) In this violent, allegorical and surrealist counterpart to the Clint Eastwood "Man with No Name" films, the director Alejandro Jodorowsky plays El Topo ("the Mole"), a laconic quick-draw gunslinger who has some sort of spiritual rebirth in the Mexican desert. Narrative coherence is of secondary concern, after extraordinary tableaux, visual extravagance and the theatre of the absurd. ****

Sunday

Stand By Me

3.55pm Channel 5

(Rob Reiner, 1986) Adapted from a Stephen King novella, Stand by Me has a middle-aged writer (Richard Dreyfuss) who reminisces about one summer day in the late Fifties, when he and his buddies journeyed into the woods to look for a dead body and came out a little bit closer, older and wiser. It's got nostalgia built in, but is a psychologically astute rites-of-passage drama, played to perfection by the young actors. ****

Monday

Down Terrace

1.20am film4

(Ben Wheatley, 2009) In Ben Wheatley's funny but stealthily darkening debut, a dysfunctional mid-league crime family in a shabby townhouse in Brighton tries to flush a police informant from its midst. Semi-improvised, low-key and delighting in character quirks, this is genre material but with the tone of vintage Mike Leigh – a clever combination Wheatley used again in Kill List and Sightseers. Robin Hill stars. ****

Wednesday

Leaving Las Vegas

1.30am Film4

(Mike Figgis, 1995) Nicolas Cage was awarded an Oscar for his powerful, studied performance as a late-stage alcoholic who burns his bridges in LA and chooses Las Vegas as a suitable place in which to drink himself to death. Elisabeth Shue is equally good as the prostitute who loves and enables him, and this film really belongs to her character. A bleak but tender movie about lost souls. ****

Thursday

Syriana

10.35pm ITV

(Stephen Gaghan, 2005) The muddled and multi-stranded complexity of this political thriller's plot is part of the point of it – an indictment of the oil industry's insidious, wide-reaching influence and tendency to corrupt. George Clooney plays a grizzled CIA operative involved in a plot to assassinate an Iranian emirate; Matt Damon plays an energy analyst who advises the latter. ****

Friday

Anna Karenina

9.45am & 9pm Sky Movies Premiere

(Joe Wright, 2012) Joe Wright's Tolstoy adaptation is as self-consciously cinematic as it is highly theatrical – and it was written by Tom Stoppard, who set most of the action beneath a proscenium arch. Keira Knightley is vivacious and histrionic in all of the right places. Unfortunately, Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Vronsky is foppish and uncharismatic, so you doubt Anna's wisdom and sanity long before you're supposed to. ***

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