Film of the Week

Friday

Legend, Film 4, 7.10pm

It’s Tom Cruise week on Film 4 but relax, there’s no Vanilla Sky. Unhappily there’s no Top Gun or Eyes Wide Shut either, the line-up sticking mostly to Cruise’s action movie output from the Noughties and 2010s. So there are two Mission: Impossible offerings (Rogue Nation and Fallout, both excellent), Doug Liman’s comedy thriller American Made, Bryan Singer’s second world war drama Valkyrie, and Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of War Of The Worlds. See below for more on those

The joker in the pack (or the fool in motley if you prefer) is Legend, from 1985. Why Ridley Scott chose to follow Alien and Blade Runner with a film in which Cruise plays a forest sprite leading a team of elves, fairies and Blarney-talking dwarves as they try to save a Princess (Mia Sara) from the Lord of Darkness in the shape of Tim Curry (Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) is one of moviedom’s great imponderables. Perhaps it looked good on paper – there are unicorns! – though if it did it must have been that special magic paper which tricks directors into taking on projects they should run a mile from. And yet the film has slowly acquired the tag ‘cult classic’, a combination of the nostalgia veiling everything produced in the 1980s and (not unconnected) some determined critical reappraisals from Reddit users and fantasy geeks.

News flash: there’s no case to be made for Legend being a great film. Sorry. The plot is thin, Cruise is under-used and he hasn’t yet acquired (or isn’t showing) the easy confidence in front of the camera that would make him one of the most charismatic and bankable stars of the modern era. But there’s still plenty here to admire, notably Curry’s sexualised performance as the Satanic Lord Of Darkness and the sumptuous image-making which does at least recall Blade Runner and Alien. Fans of the work of Scottish artist Rachel Maclean or French pair Pierre and Gilles will love the look of the kitsch opening scenes, while cineastes will appreciate the nods to Jean Cocteau and the German Expressionists. And if Film 4 have laid their hands on the American edit – there are three different versions, including a Director’s Cut – then the orchestral Jerry Goldsmith score has been swapped for one by synth-heavy German prog rockers Tangerine Dream. Note the writer, too: William Hjortsberg, whose novel Falling Angel would later be adapted by another British director, Alan Parker, and filmed as Angel Heart. In tandem with Scott, he takes a basic hero-on-a-quest story and bolts on a range of influences from Tolkien and Swan Lake to Midsummer Night’s Dream and MTV pop videos. The result is a glorious, fascinating mess.

Monday

Capernaum, Film 4, 11.40pm

A 12-year-old boy survives by his wits in present-day Lebanon in director Nadine Labaki's emotionally wrought drama, which was deservedly nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar. Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) lives in cramped conditions with his parents and siblings in Beirut. The family survives by smuggling drugs into prison. It's an ingenious scheme: the children soak clothes in Tramadol-saturated water, which are dried and taken into prison as gifts for inmates. The illegal operation hits a snag and Zain's parents decide to raise funds by selling his younger sister Samar (Cedra Izam) as a child bride. The boy vows to make his parents pay and heads onto the streets in search of Samar.

Tuesday

Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Film 4, 9pm

Impossible Missions Force agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) receives word that the terrorist network fronted by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) is poised to take delivery of stolen plutonium. The sale is being brokered by an arms dealer called the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) and Hunt must infiltrate the exchange to prevent the payload falling into the hands of Lane's deranged disciples. His fellow IMF operatives join the mission, but the team's movements are closely monitored by the CIA's August Walker (Henry Cavill). Mission: Impossible - Fallout is the sixth and arguably best instalment of the globe-trotting franchise. While other blockbusters rely heavily on digital trickery, this film places its most expensive special effect, leading man Cruise, in almost every adrenaline-pumping shot.

Wednesday

American Made, Film 4, 9pm

WA pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is haemorrhaging enthusiasm for his job as he provides for his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and children. He makes a little money on the side by smuggling Cuban cigars into America in his hand luggage. This illegal practice is rumbled by CIA handler Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), who coerces Barry into working for the US government by flying reconnaissance missions over Central America to take photographs of the emerging communist threat. During one covert flight, Barry meets members of the high-powered Medellin cocaine cartel, who exploit his greed by employing him to transport narcotics back to America. Based on a true story of outlandish lies, American Made recreates the late 1970s and 1980s with a swagger.

Thursday

Valkyrie, Film4, 11.15pm

The Second World War is raging, but the tide is turning increasingly in favour of the Allies, and a number of senior German officers believe Adolf Hitler must be removed from power and the conflict brought to an end. Recruited into this secret group is Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), a young and well-respected war hero who has grown disillusioned with Hitler and the insidious reach of the SS. The charismatic soldier is pushed to the forefront of the plan to assassinate Hitler, but you don't need a historian to tell you that his mission doesn't go quite to plan. Cruise is solid in the lead, though a little more of his usual charm wouldn't have gone amiss. British thespians Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson easily convince as high-ranking German officers.

Friday

Manchester By The Sea, BBC Two, 11.20pm

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck, who won an Oscar for the role) works as a janitor in a small apartment building in Chicago. Out of the blue, he receives a telephone call to say his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has suffered a heart attack. By the time Lee arrives at the hospital, Joe has passed and the younger sibling must break the tragic news to his truculent 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). A meeting with family lawyer Wes (Josh Hamilton) reveals that Joe named Lee as Patrick's legal guardian. Set in and around the titular coastal community, Manchester by the Sea is an elegiac drama, which eloquently explores universal themes of grief, guilt and sexual awakening through the eyes of a 40-year-old handyman whose outlook on life is as threadbare and tattered as the winter jacket he wears atop his overalls.

And one to stream ...

The Turning, Amazon Prime

HeraldScotland:

Behind you! Mackenzie Davis as Kate in The Turning

Amazon’s streaming rival Netflix is currently airing The Haunting Of Hill House and The Haunting Of Bly Manor, based on (respectively) the eponymous 1959 Shirley Jackson novel and Henry James’s 1898 novella The Turn Of The Screw. Now comes The Turning, notionally an adaptation of the James story though there’s a smidgen of the Jackson in here too – or at least a smidgen of The Haunting, Robert Wise’s terrifying 1963 screen adaptation of it.

As well as those reference points, Italian-Canadian film-makers Floria Sigismondi adds a handful of well-executed horror tropes straight from the Stephen King playbook, and drapes over the whole thing some of the same Gothic sensibility she has shown as an artist, photographer and director of pop promos for musicians such as David Bowie, Bjork, The White Stripes and (particularly relevant here) Marilyn Manson. Choosing to make The Turning neither contemporary nor exactly period, she opens with a news report about the funeral of Kurt Cobain which drops us into the mid-1990s – though for some viewers, especially those thrilled by the presence in the cast of Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, 1994 will feel like a period drama.

Mackenzie Davis is Kate Mandell, who leaves a teaching job in Seattle for a sumptuous country house where she’s to become live-in-tutor to two rich orphaned children, Miles and Flora Fairchild (Wolfhard and Brooklynn Prince). She also leaves behind her mother Darla (Joely Richardson), who is delusional and lives in some kind of institution where she sits in a drained swimming pool and paints weird stuff. The only other inhabitant in the Fairchild pile besides Miles and Flora is severe housekeeper Mrs Grose (Barbara Marten), however there is dark talk of a former employee called Quint who was involved with the previous tutor, Miss Jessel. She disappeared, he died after falling off his horse when he was drunk.

After Kate starts seeing ghostly reflections in windows and mirrors and Miles reveals his creepy side it all ticks along scarily enough, though Scottish actor Niall Greig Fulton is wasted as Quint. Still, with good visuals and a great soundtrack it’s a diverting enough watch.