The Golden Compass, Total Recall, American Pie - best films on TV tonight

Fantasy, sci-fi and crude comedy in our top picks tonight Wednesday 16 July

The Golden Compass, Total Recall, American Pie - best films on TV tonight
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The Golden Compass - 8pm, E4

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy of fantasy novels already has a place beside the work of JK Rowling (Harry Potter) and CS Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia); it's only fitting, then, that it has also made the leap from page to screen. The first instalment introduces us to 12-year-old heroine Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) who lives in a magical, neo-Victorian Oxford somewhere in a parallel universe. It's a realm dominated by the all-powerful Magisterium (led by Derek Jacobi) and populated by daemon familiars, flying witches and evil child kidnappers. Darker and more complex than the Harry Potter series, this ambitious family movie occasionally feels rather muddled as it struggles with the novels' intricate, philosophical bent. Director Chris Weitz (About a Boy) rallies with a sprawling battle in the Arctic, an imposing CGI polar bear (voiced by Ian McKellen) and an icy turn from Nicole Kidman as evil Magisterium agent Mrs Coulter. As the beginning of a planned trilogy, it certainly whets the appetite for more.

Total Recall - 10pm, ITV4

This rip-roaring slice of sci-fi excess remains Arnold Schwarzenegger's most satisfying film since his breakthrough hit, The Terminator. Director Paul Verhoeven, armed with a smart script from Ronald Shusett, Gary Goldman and Dan O'Bannon (itself loosely based on a short story by cult novelist Philip K Dick), cuts loose with a gloriously over-the-top mix of black humour, ultra-violence and spectacular effects. The result was a massive worldwide hit. Schwarzenegger plays the dull construction worker on a futuristic Earth, who is drawn into a conspiracy on the planet Mars when a virtual reality holiday awakens long-dormant memories. Ronny Cox, fresh from his bad-guy role in Verhoeven's RoboCop, delivers another villainous performance, and is ably assisted by Michael Ironside. However, the real find turned out to be Sharon Stone; she had been on the fringes of Hollywood for some time, but it was this performance that led to her star-making role in Verhoeven's next movie, Basic Instinct.

American Pie - 10:40pm, ITV

The title refers to one of the more eye-widening sequences, in which Jim (Jason Biggs) gets a bit too friendly with his mom's apple pie - if you thought Dumb and Dumber orThere's Something about Mary plumbed the depths of grossness, hold on to your lunch, you ain't seen nothing yet. This laughter-packed comedy about four teenage boys who pledge to lose their virginity before prom night has enough crass gags to satisfy the most demanding fans of Porky's-style farces. Yet it also boasts some spot-on performances from a hip young cast that includes Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid and Natasha Lyonne. This is definitely not one to show granny, but must-see fare for those not easily offended.

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