TV films: Pick of the week

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Here’s our guide to some of the top films on TV this week.

TODAY

Dancing at Lughnasa (1998) *** (Film4, 11.00am)

This handsome screen version of Brian Friel’s award-winning play charts the lives of five Irish sisters in 1930s Donegal. Their seemingly routine lives are thrown into confusion by the return of their brother, an ageing missionary who has come home to die. Meryl Streep - complete with perfect accent - leads a talented cast but the British contingent nab the acting honours, especially Kathy Burke reprising her stage role and the luminous Catherine McCormack. Director Pat O’Connor invests plenty of energy in the beautiful cinematography, presumably to take his film as far away from its humble stage origins as possible.

Aliens in the Attic (2009) *** (E4, 2.00pm)

Teenage swot Tom Pearson (Carter Jenkins) heads to a lakeside retreat with his family having just intentionally failed his classes so he can get the school bullies off his back. In the calm before a meteor shower, four aliens land on Earth, intent on recovering a device from the basement of the Pearsons’ holiday home. An extra-terrestrial called Skip (voiced by JK Simmons) spearheads this scouting party, who masterfully take remote control of any pesky adults using electrical darts shot into the necks of the victims - but it turns out these devices have no effect on children. Aliens in the Attic is undemanding, PG-friendly fun, quickly establishing Jenkins’ outcast as the hero who must go from beleaguered underdog to saviour of the universe in the space of 82 jaunty minutes.

The Princess Diaries (2001) *** (Channel 4, 4.20pm)

Shy, awkward teenager Mia Hermopolis (Anne Hathaway) lives with her artist mother Helen (Caroline Goodall) in San Francisco, where they share a cosy warehouse apartment. The young woman’s mundane routine is thrown completely out of kilter when she learns that she is heir apparent to the small European principality of Genovia. First, her domineering grandmother, Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews), must prepare her for life in the spotlight with a complete makeover, as well as lessons on etiquette and demeanour. The Princess Diaries is a charming reinvention of Pygmalion, and Hathaway’s ‘ugly’ duckling-turned-belle of the ball is an appealing mix of goofiness and pluck, leaving destruction and chaos in her wake.

Dead Poets Society (1989) **** (BBC2, 11.15pm)

Robin Williams gives one of his best-loved performances in director Peter Weir’s moving drama. He stars as John Keating, an unconventional English teacher who arrives at a stuffy, elite all-male school in 1950s New England. He teaches his pupils to ‘seize the day’ and most of them are inspired by his example, even starting their own version of his schoolboy club, the Dead Poets Society. However, not all of the staff agree that Keating should be encouraging the boys to follow their dreams and rebel against authority. Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke are the stand-outs among the students.

MONDAY

Jumper (2008) *** (Channel 5, 11.05pm)

David (Hayden Christensen, much better than he was in the Star Wars prequels), a seemingly ordinary young man, has the ability to transport himself instantly to any place on Earth. So does he use his powers to fight crime and help the needy? Umm no, he uses them to rob banks. However, what David doesn’t know is that he isn’t the only one of his kind, and a secret society of religious fanatics is plotting to wipe him and his fellow teleporters out. It’s hard to create cat-and-mouse tension when your lead character can disappear at will, but the action sequences are strong and Jamie Bell steals the movie as David’s fellow ‘jumper’.

Gone Too Far! (2013) *** (Film4, 2.05am)

Yemi (Malachi Kirby) lives in Peckham with his mother (Golda John), who is excitedly awaiting the arrival of her eldest boy Ikudayisi (OC. Ukeje) from Nigeria. This is bad news for Yemi - he’ll no longer have a room to himself and the image-conscious young man will have to show his big brother around the local area when he would rather be chasing after the beautiful and feisty Armani (Shanika Warren-Markland). When Ikudayisi materializes, Yemi is horrified to discover his sibling is dressed inappropriately and doesn’t know the meaning of ‘acting cool’. Heading onto the streets of London with Ikudayisi in tow, Yemi works hard to keep them both of out trouble, which is going to be difficult following an unfortunate encounter with local shopkeeper Mr Patel (Bhasker Patel).

TUESDAY

The Other Guys (2010) *** (5STAR, 11.00pm)

Detectives PK Highsmith (Samuel L Jackson) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne Johnson) are the golden boys of the NYPD, monopolising newspaper headlines with their gung-ho antics. When the two officers are sidelined, hot-headed Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) and his mild-mannered partner Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) vie with rival detectives Fosse (Damon Wayans Jr) and Martin (Rob Riggle) to lead the team. The Other Guys is an intentionally ludicrous buddy cop movie that gets considerable mileage from several running jokes including Terry’s ability to pull very sexy women such as his wife, Dr Sheila Gamble (Eva Mendes). Wahlberg has a blast as the rogue cop with a short fuse and Ferrell brings out the sweetness and vulnerability of his clumsy oaf.

God Bless America (2011) **** (Film4, 11.20pm)

As the US goes to the polls, it’s the perfect time to show stand-up comedian-turned-director Bobcat Goldthwait’s darkly comic portrait of modern America. His anti-hero is New York insurance salesman Frank Murdoch (Joel Murray), who lives alone next to rude and inconsiderate neighbours. In his exhausted state, he fantasises about gunning down the noisemakers and wreaking havoc on his work colleagues. When his brattish daughter Ava (Mackenzie Brooke Smith) rejects him and his boss fires him over an innocent misunderstanding, Frank snaps and goes on a rampage, killing irritating reality TV star Chloe (Maddie Hasson) at her school. The girl’s classmate Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) is delighted and she spurs Frank on to kill other wastes of space in a murder spree that culminates in a showdown in front of TV cameras.

WEDNESDAY

The Eagle (2011) *** (Film4, 9.00pm)

In 120 AD, the entire Ninth Legion disappears without trace in Scotland and its standard, a golden eagle, is lost forever to the eternal shame of Rome. The commander of those soldiers also vanishes and 20 years later, his son, Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), accepts a posting in Roman-occupied southern Britain to learn the truth about his father’s demise. The young soldier is badly injured protecting his men and he recuperates with his uncle (Donald Sutherland) and slave boy Esca (Jamie Bell), whom Aquila saves from certain death in the gladiator’s ring. Once he has regained his strength, Aquila heads north in search of answers accompanied by Esca. Kevin Macdonald’s film hinges on the rapport between the leads and Tatum is impressive, bringing a brooding physicality to his role.

The Painted Veil (2006) *** (BBC1, 11.45pm)

The searing heat and choking humidity of Twenties Shanghai provide a suitably steamy and exotic backdrop to John Curran’s handsome period romance, adapted by Ron Nyswaner from W Somerset Maugham’s novel. Falling in love is a perilous business in The Painted Veil: young hearts are crushed by the conventions of the time, and women are expected to marry for the sake of appearances. Such matters irk society belle Kitty (Naomi Watts), who embarks on a passionate affair with a local politician. Her doctor husband Walter (Edward Norton) takes his revenge by dragging her along on his mission of mercy to the cholera-ravaged village of Mei-tan-fu, but the hardships they encounter give them a new perspective on their relationship.

THURSDAY

Saboteur (1942) **** (BBC2, 12.00pm)

Alfred Hitchock’s wartime thriller stars Robert Cummings as Barry Kane, an American munitions worker who is wrongly suspected of starting a blaze in an aeroplane plant. Barry believes he knows the identity of the real twisted fire starter, and goes on the run to clear his name. Along the way, he kidnaps a model (Priscilla Lane) who threatens to turn him into the police, but she eventually goes from unwilling hostage to his accomplice. Saboteur received mixed reviews on its release - some critics felt the cast was a bit B-list for a Hitchcock offering -but it’s stood the test of time as a tense, involving movie.

Mr & Mrs Smith (2005) *** (5STAR, 10.40pm)

The media has enjoyed speculating on the demise of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s relationship, but here’s a chance to remind yourself of its beginnings. Doug Liman’s slam-bang actioner sees embittered duo John Smith (Pitt) and wife Jane (Jolie) heading for marriage guidance counselling, hoping to rediscover their lost spark. And excitement is certainly what they get when they learn they are both assassins-for-hire for rival firms - and have been contracted to kill each other. But as the bullets begin to fly, they decide to combine their expert skills in an effort to stay one step ahead of their employers - delivering a breath-taking blitzkrieg of explosive action and pithy one-liners along the way. Fantastic support comes from Vince Vaughn.

FRIDAY

A Lonely Place to Die (2011) **** (5*, 11.55pm)

Alison (Melissa George), Rob (Alec Newman), Alex (Gary Sweeney), Jenny (Kate Magowan) and the relatively inexperienced Ed (Ed Speleers) head into the Scottish wilderness to train for an ascent of the Eiger later in the year. During a hike through a forest, the friends discover a badly dehydrated, eight-year-old Serbian girl called Anna (Holly Boyd) buried in a chamber in the earth. No sooner have the mountaineers rescued Anna than they come under fire from kidnappers Mr Kidd (Sean Harris) and Mr Mcrae (Stephen McCole). Shot on location in the Scottish Highlands, A Lonely Place to Die is an adrenaline-fuelled action thriller set against stunning yet hazardous vistas.

Dragon (2011) *** (Channel 4, 1.35am)

Set in 1917, this gripping martial arts thriller focuses on a craftsman whose violent past raises its ugly head once again when he uses all his high-kicking skills to defend a shopkeeper from two gangsters. The incident - or at least his abilities - attracts the attention of a hard-bitten detective who wants to know more about the mystery man, including what he might have got up to in years gone by. But it’s the criminals from the local underworld who are also keeping an eye on him that he should really be concerned about. Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro head the cast, and the film is in Mandarin with subtitles.