THERE’S time for a couple of scary films about the end of the world before the yuletide spirit takes over, and Foxtel has duly obliged. In Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie One), humanity is threatened by a deadly virus and it’s probably too late to do anything about it. Gwyneth Paltrow, returning to Minneapolis from abroad, seems to have a mild cold; she has sex with an old flame before returning to her husband, Matt Damon, who is seemingly immune to the virus. Meanwhile Kate Winslet, an authority on pandemics, sets out to investigate. What makes the film so frightening is its combination of coolly understated scientific authenticity and its vision of social breakdown — panic, looting, cities in quarantine. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns consulted the World Health Organisation and scientific authorities to get the details right. The final sequence shows how easily a deadly virus can spread. The message seems to be: avoid bacon and bananas.
The events depicted in Soylent Green (Wednesday, 8.30pm, TCM) seemed comfortably remote in 1973, but 2022 feels a lot closer today. Richard Fleischer’s dystopian sci-fi fantasy envisaged a world ravaged by overpopulation, pollution and climate change. Charlton Heston plays a New York cop investigating a murder and Edward G. Robinson makes his last film appearance. The ending, for which plenty of hints are provided for alert viewers, still packs a horrific punch.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Sunday, 8.30pm, Showtime Premiere) is another film with echoes of the 1970s, thanks to the splendid British TV version of the story with Alec Guinness, made in 1979 and for many still the best account of John le Carre’s classic spy novel. Tomas Alfredson’s film proves a more than worthy successor, with Gary Oldman in superb form as the melancholy George Smiley, who is brought out of retirement to track down a Soviet mole in the British secret service. Cerebral, austere, glacially slow, suffused with gloom and disenchantment but wholly absorbing, this fine film provides the perfect antidote (if one were needed) for the glamour and excitement of the Bond movies.
Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow can be seen again in The Talented Mr Ripley (Wednesday, 8.30pm, Movie Greats), based on a 1955 crime novel by Patricia Highsmith, whose earlier novel, Strangers on a Train, was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock. The Talented Mr Ripley is an eerily beautiful film that works as a thriller and an engrossing study of a sociopathic killer’s rise through a world of wealth and pleasure. Tom Ripley (Damon) is penniless, poorly educated and charming, and gets his big break when a businessman asks him to keep an eye on his shiftless son (Jude Law), who is savouring the high life in Italy. But Ripley wants the high life too. Anthony Minghella’s film is funny and disturbing.
(M) ★★★★✩ Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie One
(M) ★★★★✩ Sunday, 8.30pm, Showtime Premiere
(M) ★★★★✩ Wednesday, 8.30pm, Movie Greats
Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow in