True Grit – 10:50am, More4
Big John Wayne finally won peer group recognition, taking the best actor Oscar for his performance in this western as Reuben J “Rooster” Cogburn, a cantankerous, one-eyed, drunken old reprobate hired by Mattie Ross (the excellent Kim Darby) to avenge her father’s death at the hands of thoroughly nasty Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey). This movie has acquired a reputation for being a rollicking fun western, but actually it is surprisingly violent for a Wayne film (a pit of rattlesnakes, Dennis Hopper’s fingers being severed), and, with its finely hewn, semi-Biblical dialogue (by Marguerite Roberts from Charles Portis’s marvellous novel), it’s not – unlike Wayne’s earlier westerns – really suitable for family viewing, despite its strong moral theme. Glen Campbell is ineffective as Texas Ranger La Boeuf – a role first offered to Elvis Presley, to whom Wayne wouldn’t take second billing – but it doesn’t really matter. It’s still a beautifully photographed film of many memorable moments, not least of which is Cogburn’s final shoot-out with the bad guys in a Colorado clearing.
Stand By Me – 4:15pm, 5*
Rob Reiner’s bucolic, nostalgic drama is widely agreed to be one of the most successful adaptations of a story by horror master Stephen King – in this case, a novella called The Body from his primarily non-supernatural collection of stories, Different Seasons. It’s a likeable but hard-centred picaresque set in 1950s Oregon that blends the themes of childhood friendship, parental pressure and the loss of innocence into a Boy Scout-style roving adventure. The bookish Wil Wheaton (played by Richard Dreyfuss as an adult) leads a gang of friends on a rural camping odyssey to find the fabled body of a missing boy. Each is something of a social misfit, subtly played by the young cast, which includes the late River Phoenix and Corey Feldman (The Goonies), and their problems at home are deftly revealed and resolved against rollicking action sequences (involving an oncoming train, a leech-infested swamp and a vicious junkyard dog) and an eventual showdown with bullies.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – 8pm, BBC1
Johnny Depp rides out a rickety plot to keep the franchise afloat in Captain Jack Sparrow’s fourth seafaring adventure. This time he’s dropped the dead weight of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley and his wandering eye settles on the womanly shape of Penélope Cruz, playing the daughter of legendary pirate Blackbeard. It isn’t an explosive match, but there’s much push and pull as she brings him on board to find the Fountain of Youth and save dad from a prophesied fate. Ian McShane is a welcome addition as Blackbeard, bringing grizzled charm even while committing acts of great evil, while an underused Geoffrey Rush is reduced to blundering about as rival pirate Barbossa. As usual, the quest is long-winded and laden with splashy visuals (courtesy of Chicago director Rob Marshall), but thankfully Depp retains the ability to rise above the nonsense with his customary sly humour.
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