Staying In: Films To Watch Over The Long Weekend

It’s another miserable bank holiday, so that means we won’t all be flocking down to the coast to get sunburn, we’ll all be flopping on the couch watching telly.  Well, here are some film highlights that’ll be keeping your eyeballs occupied as you slump on the sofa.

Mission: Impossible (1996) – Saturday, Channel 4, 7.20pm

Channel 4 wins the battle for sofa supremacy this Saturday with two cracking action adventures.

The fourth film came out at the end of last year and was one of the action highlights.  We saw Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt dangle preposterously off the Burj Khalifa, punch out a series of old school Russian villains and get caught in a sandstorm entirely controlled by the speed of plot.

But whoa, whoa, whoa, back up there cowboy.  1996 saw the beginning of the Cruise-fronted franchise, itself a reinvention of the original 1966 TV series.  When Ethan Hunt’s team is wiped out when their latest assignment ends in disaster, their agency starts to suspect a mole in their ranks and suspicion falls on him as the only surviving member, forcing him to go on the run to clear his name.

Looking back at it, it’s actually strange to see Tom Cruise looking so fresh faced, he almost looks like a Madame Tussauds version of himself.  It’s got the familiar checklist of spycraft – cameras in glasses, hidden microphones, some absolutely ridiculous disguises – all the things that fans of the genre will love.  In fact, it seems almost like a prototype for the more muscular James Bond reboot Casino Royale (via the Bourne films which would also come later).

Brian De Palma brings his expertise with thrillers to bear and concocts some fabulous action sequences – including a brilliant segment with Cruise clinging to the outside of the train but the plot remains rather convoluted.  In fact, I’ll give a small prize to anyone who can explain it to me in fewer than 50 words.  But mostly that doesn’t matter, as the plot rockets along so quickly, you won’t have time to think about.  Plenty of scope for post-credit debate though.

Die Hard (1988) – Saturday, Channel 4, 9.30pm

It’s been on TV more times than I can count but it’s still worth watching.  Ladies and gentleman, I give you the best Christmas movie ever made and one of the best action films of all time.  It’s got everything – a wisecracking hero, a gang of terrorists with a charismatic leader and more action than you can shake a machine gun at. It’s been often imitated (not least by its three sequels, which have all varied in quality but never lived up to the original) but never so far equalled.

New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis – in a vest, naturally) is in LA for the Christmas period to visit his family, only to find that a gang of terrorists have taken over his wife’s office skyscraper.  Well, McClane’s not going to have that, so he sets about single-handedly reclaiming the building.

Director John McTierman keeps the action taut and the suspense high with some blistering gun battles, and Willis is perfectly cast as the sardonic hero.  A particular highlight is Alan Rickman, who of course would go on to play memorable villains in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and the Harry Potter franchise – his callous, urbane villain is the perfect foil to McClane’s brash approach.

It’s the movie which set the benchmark for action movies to come. How many of the films since can simply be described as “Die Hard on a…”? Speed for example is “Die Hard on a bus”, Under Siege is “Die Hard on a ship”.  But let us not forget, the original and best. Yippee kai yay, motherfucker.

Munich (2005) Sunday, BBC2, 11pm

After the silliness of the previous two films, you might need to adjust your filter for Sunday’s first offering.

Munich is the story of the events of the 1972 Munich Olympics in which eleven Israeli athletes were murdered by a Palestinian terrorist organisation.  A hit squad is sent by the Israeli secret service to track down those responsible but the team come to question the morality and effectiveness of their mission,

To some it could be a very frustrating film as it doesn’t pick sides but stays politically neutral.  It’s the antithesis of Mission: Impossible.  While M:I was all about gadgetry and action, Munich is about careful methodical pacing, the unravelling of previously certain viewpoints and the examination of one’s motives and beliefs.

Boasting superb performances from Eric Bana and Daniel Craig (this is before he took on his present iconic role as a certain other secret service operative).  Absorbing, effective but psychologically exhausting (and not brief, clocking in at 164 minutes), it’s definitely worth catching, but it’s not for the faint hearted.

Men In Black (1997), Channel 4, 7.05pm

Right, back to the daft action.  With Men In Black III hitting our screens this summer, it’s time to revisit the first film in the franchise.  The story goes that there are aliens out there but to keep the general populace unaware of their existence (knowledge of aliens would probably cause widespread panic), the government employs the titular Men In Black – those sinister guys in suits and sunglasses who possess an artifact which can wipe your memory clean.

Veteran Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is sent to recruit a streetwise, wisecracking cop (Will Smith – who else?) to become his new partner, J, just as an extra-terrestrial bug-like creature starts to invade the city.

With a smart script by Ed Solomon (who also wrote both Bill & Ted movies and…uh… Super Mario Bros.), Men In Black is unashamed fun all the way.  It features some great special effects which it doesn’t feel the need to lampshade – they’re there merely to enhance the action, as they should be and Smith and Jones are a likeable pair and have some great onscreen chemistry.  It’s also very funny and fast-paced enough to distract you from the fact that there isn’t much of a plot. Oh yeah, and it also spawned that song by Will Smith…