Top Films: w/c Saturday February 11
The Railway Children Return (2022) *** (Sky Cinema Premiere, 8.30am & 2.30pm)
Writer-director Lionel Jeffries' cherished film adaptation of The Railway Children, based on the novel by Edith Nesbit, has been chugging into the affections of British families for more than 50 years. An aptly title sequel, The Railway Children Return, strives to recapture the wistful nostalgia against the backdrop of the Second World War, including scenes shot on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway and the return of Jenny Agutter as Bobbie Waterbury (now a headstrong grandmother who has answered the suffragette cause). It's a charming confection anchored by strong performances from the young cast led by Beau Gadsdon. Sadly, Bernard Cribbins' beloved station porter Albert Perks does not return to tug heartstrings and a climax on the railway tracks (where else) uncouples credibility in the sidings.
Now, Voyager (1942) ***** (BBC2, 1.00pm)
Settle in for a classic weepie that really does justify the phrase, ‘they don't make ‘em like they used to'. Bette Davis is at her most sympathetic as the dowdy, frustrated Charlotte, who has been reduced to a nervous wreck by her domineering mother (Gladys Cooper). With the help of kindly psychiatrist Dr Jaquith (Claude Rains), Charlotte finally gains some confidence, along with a new, more stylish look, and sets out to enjoy her independence by embarking on a cruise. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that glamour and freedom can also have their downsides when she finds herself falling for fellow passenger Jerry (Rains' Casablanca co-star Paul Henreid), who has a wife back on dry land.
Spell (2020) *** (Film4, 11.15pm) Premiere
Omari Hardwick stars in this horror as Marquis T Woods, a successful businessman who comes from humble Appalachian roots. He's even wealthy enough to have his own plane, but when he tries to fly his family back to his old home for his father's funeral, a storm causes him to lose control and he crashes. Omar awakens in the attic of a traditional Hoodoo practitioner, Eloise (Loretta Devine), who insists she can nurse him back to health. However, Marquis is understandably suspicious, not to mention keen to find out what happened to his wife and kids… Spell owes a debt to various other thrillers, most notably Misery, but the performances from Hardwick and Devine allow it to stand on its own two feet.
The Notebook (2004) **** (BBC1, 11.55pm)
An elderly man (James Garner) spends his days trying to get through to an ailing care home resident (Gena Rowlands, the real-life mother of the film's director Nick Cassavetes) by telling her a story from his notebook. It's the tale of Allie (Rachel McAdams) and Noah (Ryan Gosling) who fall for each other despite their class differences. However, disapproving parents, rival suitors and even the Second World War conspire to keep the star-crossed lovers apart. If you want a good, old-fashioned sweeping romance for Valentine's Day, then The Notebook is the film for you. Only the most hardened cynics won't be touched by this tale, especially given the chemistry between leads.
Chicken Run (2000) **** (BBC1, 2.15pm)
Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha) is a fearless fowl who is planning a daring escape from the clutches of evil farm owner, Mrs Tweedy (Miranda Richardson). Help arrives in the feathered form of a cocky American rooster called Rocky (Mel Gibson), who claims to be able to fly. Unfortunately, time is at a premium, and Rocky isn't quite what he appears, so poor Ginger has to concoct an elaborate back-up scheme to save them all from the chop. Chicken Run is a technical masterclass from Aardman Animations, playing out the plot of The Great Escape with a cast of Yorkshire fowl. Vocal performances are superb. Sawalha steals the show as the strident heroine who lays her own life on the line to rescue the flock, while Gibson's boisterous wise-cracking matches the energy of Nick Park and Peter Lord's direction.
Walk the Line (2005) **** (GREAT! movies, 6.20pm)
This biopic of Country legend Johnny Cash begins with his legendary live recording at Folsom Prison in 1968, before flashing back to his childhood to explore his feelings of guilt over the accidental death of his brother. It then charts Cash's early song-writing efforts while in the Air Force, before exploring his time on the road with fellow Sun recording artists Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Joining them on tour is June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), the woman whom Cash adored for years despite the fact both were already married to others. It's a sublime romantic drama, and Joaquin Phoenix is suitably brooding as he portrays the spirit and tortured genius of The Man in Black. Witherspoon is immensely impressive as the spirited woman who stood by her man through thick and thin, and thoroughly deserved her Oscar for Best Actress.
Paradise City (2022) *** (Sky Cinema Premiere, 10.30pm) Premiere
Pulp Fiction co-stars John Travolta and Bruce Willis reunited for this thriller, although sadly it's not in the same league. Willis plays bounty hunter Ian Swan, who is missing, presumed dead, in Hawaii. His son Ryan (Blake Jenner) tries to find out what happened to him, and all the signs point to a local kingpin (Travolta). Meanwhile, Ian's former protégé (Stephen Dorff) and a local detective (Praya Lundberg) are also taking an interest in the case. Paradise City is a run-of-the-mill B-movie, but the cast all seem to be having fun – including Willis, in one of his final film roles before his retirement – and it proves to be infectious.
The Girl on the Train (2016) **** (Channel 4, 11.00pm)
Following an acrimonious divorce from her cheating husband Tom (Justin Theroux), Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) takes regular train journeys past her old house where he is now settled with his mistress Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby. One morning, Rachel stares bleary-eyed out of the train window and glimpses Tom's neighbour Megan (Haley Bennett) in a clinch with another man. Megan subsequently vanishes and Detective Sergeant Riley (Allison Janney) becomes interested in Rachel's hazy recollection. Psychiatrist Dr Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) might be able to help Rachel unlock her subconscious, but she will soon realise that some memories are best forgotten. Adapted from Paula Hawkins' novel, The Girl on the Train is a smart psychological potboiler anchored by a strong performance from Blunt.
The Fault in Our Stars (2014) **** (BBC3, 8.00pm)
Sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) was diagnosed with cancer at an early age. An experimental drug trial has slowed the spread of the disease, but Hazel is resigned to her grim fate. She reluctantly attends a cancer patients' support group at the behest of her mum (Laura Dern). During one session, Hazel meets acerbic survivor Gus (Ansel Elgort), who lost his leg to halt the spread of his cancer. As the relationship intensifies, Hazel attempts to keep Gus at arm's length, warning that she is a ‘grenade', destined to obliterate everyone around her. The Fault in Our Stars is a beautifully sketched portrait of adolescence, adapted from John Green's bestselling novel, which deftly plucks heartstrings to the point that a trickle of tears threatens to become a torrent.
Ordinary Love (2019) *** (BBC2, 11.15pm)
Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson deliver compelling performances as a married couple in turmoil in Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn's intimate drama based on a script by Northern Irish playwright Owen McCafferty. Ordinary Love elegantly captures the minutiae of daily life for a wife and husband, who fondly accept each other's foibles and find comfort in the easy silences that punctuate their domestic routine. Lasting affection resonates in moments of the mundane – her saucy addition to a soup recipe, a seemingly benign conversation about his fruit and vegetable intake. The opening 15 minutes of McCafferty's gently paced script encourage us to cosy up to the lead characters in their suburban bubble before giant ripples from a cancer diagnosis test the strength of marital bonds.
Sense and Sensibility (1995) ***** (Film4, 6.15pm)
Emma Thompson deservedly picked up an Oscar for Best Adapted screenplay for this wonderfully witty take on Jane Austen's novel, which also served as director Ang Lee's English-language debut. Thompson takes the role of Eleanor, the level-headed older sister of the more impulsive and outwardly emotional Marianne (Kate Winslet). Eleanor falls for the kindly Edward (Hugh Grant), while Marianne is swept off her feet by the dashing Willoughby (Greg Wise), but despite their very different attitudes to romance, both sisters discover there are obstacles to their happiness. The incredible supporting cast includes Alan Rickman, Gemma Jones and Hugh Laurie in a small, but very funny, role.
Valentine's Day (2010) *** (ITV2, 6.35pm)
As the sun rises on the city, florist Reed (Aston Kutcher) proposes to career-driven girlfriend Morley (Jessica Alba) and she accepts, to the surprise of his teacher best friend, Julia (Jennifer Garner). Elsewhere, other love stories are playing out, including in the skies above Los Angeles, where US Army Captain Kate Hazeltine (Julia Roberts) shares her excitement about a surprise reunion with fellow passenger Holden (Bradley Cooper). Screenwriter Katherine Fugate has evidently overdosed on Richard Curtis's Love Actually, penning her own version on the sun-baked streets of Los Angeles. Some of the plot strands are hopelessly contrived, but there are also some charming distractions such as Julia's revenge for a betrayal, and the interplay between Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo.
Hereditary (2018) **** (Film4, 9.00pm) Premiere
Artist Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is deeply affected by the death of her estranged mother, who took Annie's daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) under her wing. Following the funeral, Annie senses a presence in the family home and her erratic behaviour causes grave concern for husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and teenage son Peter (Alex Wolff). In desperation, Annie turns to a grief support group where she meets Joan (Ann Dowd), who encourages her to connect to her mother's lingering spirit with a séance. As the disturbances within the Graham house increase in frequency, Annie makes a bold decision that has terrifying repercussions. Hereditary slowly tightens a knot of discomfort, heightened by a bravura lead performance from Collette, who turns silent screams into an art form.
Mona Lisa (1986) **** (Talking Pictures TV, 11.10pm)
Bob Hoskins was probably best known for the 1980 drama The Long Good Friday before this gritty, bittersweet offering hit cinemas six years later, and gave audiences a glimpse at his abilities as an unconventional but nonetheless engaging romantic lead. He plays small-time criminal George who, after being released from prison, is hired back by his boss, the sinister Mortwell (Michael Caine), to be the driver and bodyguard of high-class prostitute Simone, played by Cathy Tyson. At first, the two dislike each other intensely, but over time his feelings change and he falls in love with her. Simone asks him to help her negotiate London's sleazy underbelly and find a fellow call girl called Cathy, and when he succeeds, George realises what connects the two women. Robbie Coltrane and Kate Hardie also feature.
Dark Waters (2019) **** (BBC4, 9.00pm)
Mild-mannered defence lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) works at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, which represents some of America's most powerful chemicals companies. He receives a visit from farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), who has been persuaded to deliver a cardboard box of videotapes to the Taft office, detailing the decimation of his cow herd on land adjoining a DuPont chemical plant. Inspired by a New York Times magazine article, Dark Waters is a slow-burning thriller about a dogged fight for justice lasting more than 20 years. Ruffalo transforms from muscular Avengers superhero to a hunched, harangued, jowly workaholic. Anne Hathaway is poorly served in comparison as his on-screen spouse, who witnesses the heavy emotional burden borne by her husband as he goes to war against a corporate behemoth.
No Way Out (1987) **** (Film4, 11.15pm)
Almost overshadowed by the blockbuster success of The Untouchables, this highly effective thriller from 1987 also stars Kevin Costner and shows just why he was the first-choice leading man for a chunk of his career. In this sexy and gripping thriller, he plays a clean-cut naval officer at the Pentagon, who starts a torrid affair with a young woman. Unfortunately, she also happens to be the lover of his boss, the US Secretary of Defence, and when she is murdered, Costner is given the job of catching the culprit. The finale will leave you reeling. Sean Young is sensational as the love interest, and on this form it's rather astonishing that her career stalled in the years since the movie's release.
AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001) **** (Film4, 9.00pm)
Imagine a cross between Pinocchio and Blade Runner and you get the idea behind this stylish sci-fi drama. Young Haley Joel Osment gives a remarkable performance as David, an advanced robotic boy created to love his owner as a parent. After being rejected by his ‘mother', he is abandoned to roam the bleak landscapes of a futuristic America with a talking teddy bear and a robotic gigolo (a brilliant Jude Law), searching for a means of becoming human in the hope of regaining her affection. The film was famously a hybrid of Stanley Kubrick's ideas and Steven Spielberg's direction, and some viewers may feel the mix never quite gels. But while that may make AI: Artificial Intelligence occasionally frustrating, it also makes it the sort of film that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.
Magic Mike (2012) **** (BBC1, 11.30pm)
Steven Soderbergh's thoughtful drama has more to offer than just abs and dance moves. Adam (Alex Pettyfer) lives in Tampa Bay with his sister Brooke (Cody Horn). He lands a temporary construction job alongside nice guy Mike (Channing Tatum) but on his very first day, Adam is sacked. As he roams the town, Adam crosses paths again with Mike who introduces him to the local male nude revue bar, where delirious women thrust dollar bills at gym-toned Adonises. It transpires that Mike is the club's star turn and earns big bucks under the watchful eye of manager Dallas (an impressively sleazy Matthew McConaughey). A mishap affords Adam a chance to perform on stage and under his new moniker of The Kid, he becomes a firm favourite of the female clientele. But he finds that adulation comes at a price.