Films on TV: Pick of the Week

picks out some of the best films showing on the small screen this week

inbruggesA Fish Called Wanda
BBC4, Monday 9pm
(Charles Crichton, 1988)

The ludicrous and unreservedly silly creation of John Cleese and Charles Crichton, A Fish Called Wanda follows a group of foolish criminals who team up to commit armed robbery and attempt to double cross each other in the process. The plot, quite frankly, only acts as spring board from which the likes of John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin and Kevin Kline can fully exhibit their comedic talents. The jokes are as good as you’d expect them to be when written by, arguably, the funniest member of Monty Python. Wanda’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) inability to restrain herself from men who talk in a foreign language is particularly amusing, especially when she responds so dramatically when the clueless lawyer Archie Leech (John Cleese) speaks Russian. It is A Fish Called Wanda’s unashamedly salacious and darkly comic nature that makes it such a joy to watch. This isn’t a film that pretends to be nice; its comedy is cruel, but it is also surreal and deliciously barmy. Kevin Kline is wild, filthy, and utterly mad as the Nietzsche obsessed Otto, winning him Best Supporting Actor at the 61st Academy awards. At one point, both funny and excruciatingly uncomfortable, he puts chips up the stuttering Ken’s (Michael Palin) nose and forces him to watch as he eats all his prized fish. A Fish Called Wanda is a unique and exquisite blend of well-crafted silliness, served by a host of utterly brilliant comedic actors that, in recent years, haven’t been seen in enough films.

In Bruges
Film4/+1, Thursday 11.25pm
(Michael McDonagh,2008)

While A Fish Called Wanda is wonderfully Python-esque, In Bruges, the seminal film by Michael McDonagh, manages to be funny through outrageously offensive dialogue exchanged between Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes. Its comedy, similarly to that of Armando Iannucci’s In The Loop (2009) and The Thick of It, is effective because it manages to make swearing and insults almost reminiscent of poetry. The various concoctions of different phrases used throughout the film are simply sublime examples of word play. The apparently straightforward exchanges between the characters are also tinged with a hint of surrealism that gives the gags an almost Shakespearean quality. However, this film is not simply a comedy. In its portrayal of two assassins, Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson), who have been sent to Belgium by their boss, Harry (Fiennes) after Ray bungled an assassination by accidently killing a child, In Bruges provides a sensitive and intelligent study on the processes of guilt, and morality. In the film, the beautiful city of Bruges is almost representative of a type of limbo, in which misfit figures are sent to suffer until their fate is ultimately decided. Ray and Ken meet a variety of bizarre figures, such as an arms dealer, who contemplates the word ‘alcoves’, and a drug-addled racist dwarf. Bruges is just as bizarre. It is beautiful, but in an intangible, almost ethereal manner. A thin mist is spread over the city and in one of the town squares an incomprehensible fantasy film is being shot, in which strangely costumed figures loom out of the fog. Farrell is also marvellous as Ray, emulating a child who has to be protected by the loving but exasperated father figure that is Ken, played by the estimable Gleeson. The film is of course wonderfully funny, and doesn’t neglect its humour in favour of more ‘serious’ topics. However, the real lure of this film is that it subverts your expectations through its discussion of themes that are normally ignored in the comedy genre.

itv4, Friday 9pm
(Joss Whedon, 2005)

Serenity, based on the television programme Firefly, was originally billed in its trailers as a comedic sci-fi film, but it is clear that the film’s intent is more concerned with the possible calamities the human race might cause in the future. Serenity is often accused of being inadequate or incomprehensible if one has not already watched the TV show on which it is based, however it seems necessary to lambast this claim and view this film as an entertaining and thought-provoking (if not perfect) sci-fi, which, when considered separately from the original source material, is still decent in its own right. The plot concerns the crew of the ship Serenity, who are hunted down by an assassin (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is employed by a ruthless Empire that wants him to kill one of their passengers, the mysteriously powerful River (Summer Glau). Serenity is entertaining as a quintessential action film, blending violence and intrigue in a way that will keep the most casual movie watcher occupied. However, it is the more unsettling instances of the film that really allows Serenity to creep under the viewer’s skin. Initial hints of a ravenous and aggressive enemy pursuing the crew through space soon ensure that the film takes on the appearance of a tense horror film. As it is gradually revealed what the enemy are and how they become that way the film also provides an uncomfortably frank look on the ill deeds carried out by humanity under the guise of progress and principles. In this way, Serenity becomes a compelling film about the battle between despotic cynicism and hope. Although this doesn’t exactly breach new ground in terms of interesting discussions made by films, it is well crafted and presents a convincingly intricate universe that is pleasantly unnerving.

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