Rock around the Clock, The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey, Friends with Benefits: films on TV today

The birth of rock 'n' roll, the return to Middle-earth, a thoroughly modern relationship: the RadioTimes team’s pick of free-to-air films on TV today

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ANDREW COLLINS: FILM OF THE DAY 
Rock around the Clock ★★★
10.00-11.15pm BBC4 

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It seems unthinkable now that rock and roll, and the newly christened “teenagers” who listened to it in the mid-1950s, were considered a passing fad. As such, this 1956 picture declaring on its posters to tell “The whole story of rock ’n’ roll!” is little more than an exploitation film. It makes mercenary capital from the fact that in 1954 Bill Haley & His Comets took a potent mix of blues, country and western, jazz and swing to number one in the pop charts with Rock around the Clock. Staged by B-movie director Fred F Sears and with DJ Alan Freed playing himself, the film boasts a musical roster that was key to its limited appeal: the Comets, the Platters, and singer Johnny Johnston (who’d had hits in the 40s). It’s a brief, some might say disposable, birth of a nation at 77 minutes, but still charms as a time capsule. The acting is cheesy, the dialogue patronising (“Crazy, man!”), but the tunes still rock the joint. 


The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey ★★★
8.00-11.15pm ITV2 

The critics were sceptical about Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-earth, not only because the the Lord of the Rings trilogy seemed such an unrepeatable success, but because Jackson was stretching a shorter novel into another three-movie series. Yes, there are scenes that Tolkien never wrote, and characters that he never imagined. But, if you are a fan of the Rings movies, just sit back, and as the opening credits roll, you’ll know you’ve returned to a place you know and love.    


Friends with Benefits ★★★
9.00-11.10pm E4 

Good-looking duo Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis play the pals who embark on a sex-only relationship – only for that ol’ devil called love to mess up their arrangements. The formula’s all there for them to run with, and they do it with some style and humour. And if you think you’ve seen it all before but with different actors… Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman had pretty much the same deal in No Strings Attached just six months before this was released.    


Dragon ★★★
PREMIERE 9.00-11.00pm Film Four 

Donnie Yen has such an unassuming air, in films including Hero, Ip Man and this martial arts-film noir cross, that when at last he has been forced to show his hand, the difference makes his hands and feet seem even faster. Here, his peaceful papermaker is unmasked by a detective (Takeshi Kaneshiro) investigating a bungled robbery. The plot may be over-intricate, but the mood is thoughtful, the performances are engaging and the action, in parts, is stunning.


Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery ★★★★
9.00-11.00pm Movie Mix 

Oh, behave! Mike Myers followed the Wayne’s World movies with this spot-on spy spoof that mocks all the genre staples without disappearing up its own 1960’s back alley. Put into cryogenic sleep to match his criminal nemesis, Dr Evil, Myers’s Swinging 60s super spy is defrosted in 1997, and part of the joy of the movie is that both hero and villain are at the mercy of the world they have woken up in. The genre references are scattered liberally, the cast has a ball sending up the fashions, and Myers leaps around at the centre of things like a puppy chasing its tail.


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