Films on TV: Pick of the Week

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

adaption Dog Soldiers
Film4/+1, Saturday 11.05pm/12.05am
(Neil Marshall, 2002)

Dog Soldiers, Neil Marshall’s directorial debut, is as coarse as sandpaper; unpolished, rugged and schlocky, the film grates over the eyes (and ears) of the viewer with its presentation of brutal, graphic violence, B-movie standard prosthetics, and a ridiculous and unnecessarily convoluted plot. These are accompanied by some undeniably terrible but also unremittingly profane lines of dialogue, which are barked out by the eponymous soldiers as they attempt to defend themselves from their unusual attackers in the midst of Scotland. Imagine a film in which someone like Danny Dyer shouts at you for just over an hour and you get the idea. However, despite all of these crude elements, Dog Soldiers manages to be fantastically entertaining. Whereas Marshall’s second, and perhaps greatest film, The Descent, is initially claustrophobic and tantalisingly terrifying before it reaches its horrifying conclusion, Dog Soldiers bombasts the audience with intense, creative and often hilarious depictions of gore and violence pretty much from its start. This doesn’t become boring; partly because of Marshall’s fine handling of the film’s B-movie and exploitation aesthetic but also because of its unashamed acknowledgement of its own cinematic history. Dog Soldiers is a British film that stems from the cheap and grisly offerings of 70s and 80s American horror. The prosthetics guts of Dog Soldiers were first seen spilling out of bellies in Dawn of the Dead (1978). Its coarseness contributes to the film’s overpowering attack on the senses, which leaves you breathless and confused, but ultimately exhilarated. Dog Soldiers is crude, rude and is all the better for it.

Film4, Thursday 9pm
(Spike Jonze, 2002)

A spiritual sequel to Being John Malkovich, Adaptation follows Nicholas Cage as a fictionalised version of Charlie Kaufman (the real life writer of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) just after production for Being John Malkovich has finished and during the period in which he is attempting to adapt the fact-based The Orchid Thief written by Susan Orlean (who wrote the book in real life and is played by Meryl Streep) into a screenplay. The narrative of the book is played out alongside Kaufman’s struggle to write the script until both the fact-based but inevitably fictional narratives collide, causing very real, but of course fictional, consequences. The film’s meta-narrative is initially slightly disorientating but ultimately it ensures that Adaptation provides an intriguing and captivating exposition on the processes of creative thought and the various mediums through which thought is expressed. Although the film initially appears to be the mere introverted ramblings of Charlie Kaufman about the struggle of writing and the frustrations that permeate through the writing process, Adaptation also adopts many different genres as Kaufman tries to create the perfect script. It fluctuates constantly, occupying the roles of a robust thriller, a family drama, a comedy, and even a love story. Adaptation lays bare the structures of films, allowing us to observe the creative process is a way that is unique and consequently fascinating. For all of Charlie Kaufman’s (the character and no doubt the actual writer’s) anxiety about his adaptation of The Orchid Thief, the film is undeniably a masterpiece. It goes beyond the arguably gimmicky nature of Being John Malkovich, by providing a postmodern discussion on the very nature of fiction and reality, changing the way one perceives film. Finally, it is one of the few films of the last decade or so in which Nicholas Cage is genuinely brilliant and for that reason alone it is well worth watching.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day
ITV2, Friday 10.55pm
(James Cameron, 1991)

Having discussed the sublime and the ridiculous in equal measure we move on to the simply great. James Cameron’s Terminator 2, the undisputed champion of the Terminator series, should be seen by current filmmakers, including Cameron himself and certainly including Michael Bay, as an example of how to make an action film that is still hugely popular despite the fact it doesn’t resort to misogyny or a banal script, and still retains more than a modicum of intelligence. Terminator 2 transports the present viewer to a time before Transformers or Avatar, in which we are no longer presented with shallow and intangible special effects as a substitute for decent acting or an entertaining and profound script, but are instead treated like competent and rational human beings that are actually able to think about the profound nature of human existence while also enjoying a few explosions at the same time. Terminator 2 not only manages to get the balance between action and drama, but also uses the action and violence as a way to expound on its notions of modern culture. The late 20th century becomes a battleground in which a powerless humanity is fought over by two emotionless automatons. The film is criticising humanity’s increasing recklessness with technology, and revealing the flaws and concerns surrounding artificial intelligence. Terminator 2 is thrilling, cementing Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the greatest action figures in the 20th century, and indeed cementing itself, perhaps alongside Cameron’s Aliens, as one of the best action films in cinematic history.

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