week's best films
Half of a Yellow Sun (M) Saturday, 10.50pm, SBS Halloween (MA15+) Wednesday, 10.30pm, SBS Two The Ghost Ship (PG) Wednesday, 1.24am, ABC It isn’t difficult to find a horror film this week, as October marks the onslaught of Halloween festivities now lodged firmly on the Australian cultural calendar. For an authentic game-changer in the genre, look no further than director John Carpenter’s seminal, low-budget 1978
Halloween (Wednesday, 10.30pm, SBS Two). Carpenter’s jumpy electronic score and cinematographer Dean Cundey’s slowly gliding camera set the sinister mood for the story of Michael Myers, an institutionalised psychopath who breaks free to wreak havoc in his old neighbourhood of Haddonfield (a name swiped from producer Debra Hill’s New Jersey home town). If you’ve seen the film, it remains remarkably durable on second viewing; if you haven’t, Carpenter’s style will explain just about every other horror film made in the subsequent decades.
For those looking to welcome Halloween early, the morning hours offer a rare and recommended screening of director Mark Robson’s atmospheric, shipboard-set 1943 psychological thriller The Ghost Ship (Wednesday, 1.24am, ABC). Produced by Val Lewton for RKO Pictures following his great early run of Cat People and The Seventh Victim, the film tells of a merchant marine ship on the high seas and the slow mental disintegration of its captain (Richard Dix). Filmed on existing and previously used sets, the film is atmospherically lit by director of photography Nicholas Musuraca. It is rare because a lawsuit kept it out of release for a half-century, and thus worth watching.
For the Halloween deniers out there, several alternatives beckon. Nigerian-born actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, currently seen in The Martian, is the star of playwright turned director Biyi Bandele’s moving 2013 drama Half of a Yellow Sun (Saturday, 10.50pm, SBS). He plays a radical academic trying to hold a family together during Nigeria’s brutal civil war in the late 1960s. Thandie Newton is vivid in support.
To date the only X-rated film to win the best picture Oscar, director John Schlesinger’s 1969 drama Midnight Cowboy (Monday, 1.05am, ABC) is now shown uncut on free-to-air TV, which speaks volumes to the societal changes under way in the late 1960s. Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman are down-and-outers hustling their way through a grimy New York City, with the latter particular memorable for his improvised “I’m walkin’ heah!” to an aggressive cabbie.
It was a dark horse when first released, yet the first of two White House-under-siege movies,
Olympus has Fallen (Saturday, NSW and QLD only, 9.30pm, Nine), is far better than Roland Emmerich’s subsequent White House Down.
Antoine Fuqua directs fluidly, Gerard Butler is comfortable in the square-jawed hero role, and the whole thing was filmed in Shreveport, Louisiana. Hooray for Hollywood.
The 400 Blows (PG) Sunday, 5.20pm, World Movies (430) A Night at the Opera (G) Monday, 2.20am, TCM (428) Punch-Drunk Love (M) Thursday, 3pm, Romance (408) Among the most auspicious and subsequently revered directorial debuts in movie history is French filmmaker Francois Truffaut’s 1959 coming-of-age drama The 400 Blows (Sunday, 5.20pm, World Movies). Pointedly autobiographical, it tells of the young Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), who is let down at every turn by his parents, teachers and other well-meaning adults. After a series of turbulent adventures (including stealing Citizen Kane lobby cards from a cinema), he is sent to a youth centre, where his fate is unclear.
Although they’d been famous before this, the Marx Brothers are perhaps best remembered for the fast-paced, subversive and altogether delightful 1935 screwball comedy farce A Night
at the Opera (Monday, 2.20am, TCM). Groucho, Chico and Harpo become involved with a rich dowager (their perpetual foil, Margaret Dumont) and theatrical shenanigans. This is the movie with the famous stateroom scene, in which Groucho welcomes an absurd number of people into an absurdly small space. Though their onscreen act flailed soon after this, the movie remains as classic a comedy as Hollywood has produced.
Moving from black and white to colour, comedy looked very different by the time writerdirector Paul Thomas Anderson forged an unlikely alliance with Adam Sandler to make the profoundly strange 2002 romantic comedy
Punch-Drunk Love (Thursday, 3pm, Romance). He plays the owner of a Los Angeles novelty items business whose budding relationship with Emily Watson is threatened by a phone sex scam involving Utah mattress king Philip Seymour Hoffman. Every bit as offbeat as it sounds, the film is also an antidote to the vast number of more complacent romantic comedies. And in some corners, this remains Sandler’s most complex and best work to date.
The Thriller Movies channel is hosting an ongoing Shyamalanathon, showcasing the work of talented yet increasingly rudderless director M. Night Shyamalan. The two best entries are his one unqualified triumph, the 1999 supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense (Saturday, 8.30pm), and the far less well regarded but nevertheless worthwhile 2008 end-of-days saga The
Happening (Monday, 8.30pm). The former stars Bruce Willis as the mysterious child psychologist attempting to counsel troubled youngster Haley Joel Osment (“I see dead people”) and the latter, a guilty pleasure to be sure but a must for genre fans, features Mark Wahlberg as the leader of a group trying to escape an invisible airborne virus that causes people to commit suicide.
The first film to be produced in East Timor, the moving 2013 drama Beatriz’s War (Saturday, 2pm, World Movies), charts the 24-year unrest there and is co-directed Bety Reis and Luigi Acquisto.
Adam Sandler stars in Punch-Drunk Love