The Master, The Natural, Cat Ballou: films on TV today

Joaquin Phoenix joins the Cause, Robert Redford plays the game, Jane Fonda hires a gun: the RadioTimes team’s pick of free-to-air films on TV today

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BARRY NORMAN:  FILM OF THE DAY 
The Master ★★★★
11.10pm-1.55am Film4 Premiere

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Set in the 1950s, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is clearly inspired by L Ron Hubbard and Scientology. The Master here, the Hubbard figure, is Philip Seymour Hoffman, charismatic leader of a religious cult called the Cause. Under his spell falls Joaquin Phoenix, a disturbed, violent and alcoholic ex-sailor, who is given a series of strict tests to determine whether he is fit to be a follower. What unfolds is a psychological drama, a touch pretentious certainly but also ambitious and fraught with tension, as the two men bond and then begin to fall out as Phoenix comes to doubt the Master’s teachings. Hoffman and Phoenix are both excellent and strongly supported by the likes of Laura Dern and Amy Adams. 


The Natural ★★★★
6.15-9.00pm Movie Mix 

The title of this Robert Redford baseball movie could equally apply to the star himself, whose wholesome good looks attracted the camera from the very start of his career. It took him ten years to get the green light for the movie version of Bernard Malamud’s novel (baseball movies were not considered box-office material), but its success opened the door for Kevin Costner, among others. Barbara Hershey’s character, Harriet Bird is based upon real-life sports stalker Ruth Ann Steinhagen, known as “Baseball Annie”, who shot first baseman Eddie Waitkus in 1949 after he moved from the Chicago Cubs to the Philadelphia Phillies.     


Cat Ballou ★★★★
2.00-4.00pm Spike 

It’s a case of the Good, the Bad and the Boozy here, as Jane Fonda hires dipsomaniac gunslinger Lee Marvin to protect her from the silver-nosed killer, also played by Marvin, who’s been hired to force her family off their ranch. It’s a lightweight western treat, with the novelty of a female lead who is due to hang in the opening scene and Marvin on Oscar-winning form. Banjo-playing balladeers Nat King Cole (who died before the film was released) and Stubby Kaye link the scenes with clever little ditties.    


Die Another Day ★★★
11.10pm-1.30am ITV 

A megalomaniac with ideas above his station, a sexy woman with a ridiculous name (Jinx), an invisible car: it must be Bond. Pierce Brosnan is as suave as ever in his swan song as 007, but to audiences in 2002 it was very quickly  evident that the franchise needed a makeover – it was released just two months after The Bourne Identity, whose close-combat scenes, roving camerawork and complete lack of gadgets must have melted phones all around Bond HQ.    


Red Heat ★★★
9.00-11.05pm ITV4 

The Cold War thaws out just a little, as Russian cop Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to America and has to team up with unconventional cop James Belushi. This movie was the first sign that Arnie was branching off from the straightforward action genre and into comedy, as he and John Belushi trade cultural insults across the drug-smuggler plot. Arnie actually learned Russian for three months in preparation, but it doesn’t show.


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