ANDREW COLLINS: FILM OF THE DAY Shame★★★ 11.10pm-1.15am Film Four
Now that the Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen is an internationally fêted movie director following the Oscar success of 12 Years a Slave, his previous two features become doubly interesting. The first, Hunger, a harrowing but aesthetically beautiful portrait of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands (played by Michael Fassbender), announced an uncommon cinematic talent. The second, Shame, put different demands on Fassbender, casting him as a fictional sex addict in New York, and frames explicit material in what almost feels like a non-homicidal remake of American Psycho. Fassbender elicits our sympathy despite his character’s emotional impotency. As his equally screwed-up sister, Carey Mulligan unexpectedly disrupts his wealthy but unfulfilling routine and their fractious relationship hints at a damaged past. McQueen had stronger material in Hunger and 12 Years – you’ll need the world’s smallest violin to care about a rich, oversexed yuppie – but he certainly brings a striking visual eye to a much-photographed city. Cover the budgie’s cage, though.
Ralph Thomas was better known as a director of comedy (The 1950s and 60s “Doctor” series with Dirk Bogarde and James Robertson Justice) than straight drama, but this wartime story shows him to be a sensitive and powerful film-maker. The tale of a group of nuns who help Jewish children escape from a concentration camp is simply told and strongly played, and Thomas does well to keep the passion of the sisters’ dilemmas over morality and murder lurching into melodrama. The black and white photography tops off the atmosphere of this underrated movie.
Some said this was a mariachi tale too far for Robert Rodriguez. His entertaining 1992 no-budget El Mariachi brought him to Hollywood’s attention and resulted in the bigger-budget delight of Desperado, which provided key roles for Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. It may not have the freshness of the previous outings, but no one who enjoyed the first two will deny the attractions of the top cast that Rodriguez has recruited for this third bite of the vengeful-musician bullet, and late adopters who like sharply dressed action should have no complaints at all, as Banderas is brought out of retirement by CIA agent Johnny Depp for a showdown with a drug lord who wants to take over the whole of Mexico.
Steve Zahn plays it straight for a change in this tense Hawaiian-honeymoon thriller from Pitch Black director David Twohy. Mila Jovovich and Timothy Olyphant are cleverly cast in support, and Chris Hemsworth appears in one of his last minor roles before being catapulted into starring roles by the release of Thor. Twohy handles the twists and turns with ease, right up to the no-holds barred climax.
Although Jet Li has continued to make action movies (Expendables) and martial arts dramas (The Forbidden Kingdom), he has declared this to be his final wushu action release. But fans of his spectacular martial arts career have had plenty to keep them happy since 1982’s Shaolin Temple. And Li doesn’t let them down in this fact-based tale, either, as his martial arts master returns from self-imposed exile to promote a different way of fighting. Ronny Yu’s direction is stylish, and the fight scenes are impressive.