TV Films Of The Week

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FILM OF THE WEEK: Up In The Air
Saturday July 26, BBC Two, 10:30pm

If ever there was a role that perfectly matched the public perception of George Clooney, it’s that of Ryan Bingham in Up In The Air. In the pre-engagement days of ‘Gorgeous George’, the media loved to portray Clooney as the eternal bachelor – commitment averse, moving from one beautiful woman to the next. As Bingham, therefore, it didn’t seem a stretch to play a man who preaches (and practices) a philosophy of avoiding the emotional weight relationships carry as a part-time motivational speaker.

It is this philosophy that Bingham begins to question when his regular job – as a man corporations call in to fire employees on their behalf – brings him into contact with his female equivalent. Alex (Vera Farmiga) also likes to travel light, both literally and figuratively, yet together they enjoy the temporary dances (deep conversation, meals, sex) that comprise a relationship, before busy intercontinental schedules pull them apart. At the same time, Bingham has taken a new recruit Natalie (Anna Kendrick ) on as protégé, whose innovation of firing people via video link even he finds troubling.

What makes Up In The Air so special is its heartfelt examination of the detachment and subjugation we all experience in our professional lives. Capturing the post-2008 economic crash zeitgeist with aplomb, Bingham and Natalie transform before our eyes as they realise the human consequences of decisions taken under their cold, corporate personas. If anything, the film is director Jason Reitman’s wonderful affirmation that, as the expression goes, no man (or woman) is an island.

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The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Saturday July 26, ITV4, 10:25pm

The mouthful of a title may be matched by the film’s lengthy running time, but Andrew Dominik’s revisionist Western takes the myth of Jesse James and uses it to frame a fascinating exploration of the cannibalistic nature of celebrity. Brad Pitt has a quiet intensity as James at the height of his fame/notoriety, as well as at the end of his criminal career and (no spoiler alert – see the title) at the end of his life. Casey Affleck was rightly Oscar-nominated for his desperate Ford, the man whose media-fuelled infatuation with James led him to create his own infamy, while Andrew Dominik’s direction and Roger Deakins’ superlative cinematography make for an absorbing, poetic experience.

The Elephant Man
Sunday July 27, ITV3, 10pm

Following his debut with the surrealist body horror Eraserhead, audiences might have wondered what David Lynch would do with the story of the ‘Elephant Man’. Despite the appalling twisted appearance of John Merrick, the film’s eponymous subject, Lynch actually turned in a tender portrayal of the cruel horror at physical deformity that robs the afflicted of their dignity. The real Merrick was a much maligned and mistreated soul, and even under considerable prosthetic makeup, John Hurt’s sensitive performance will break even the stoniest of hearts.

The Insider
Monday July 28, Film4, 12:40am

With the recent award of $23bn to the widow of a chain-smoker, the issue of Big Tobacco and its deliberate obfuscation surrounding the addictiveness of its products is back in the headlines. Back in 1995, Jeffrey Wigand appeared on legendary US current affairs show 60 Minutes and blew the whistle on manufacturer Brown & Williamson’s attempts to boost the nicotine content in its cigarettes, causing a national scandal. It might not sound like the most exciting premise for a movie, but with Russell Crowe and Al Pacino in blistering form, as Wigand and the producer who got him to talk respectively, Michael Mann’s masterpiece is thrilling from start to finish.

Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids

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