The best films on television this week

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There’s a great selection of films being shown on television this week.

Sunday

Catch Me If You Can (BBC Two, Regions Vary)

What’s It About? Based on Frank Abagnale’s stunning autobiography Catch Me If You Can: The Amazing True Story Of The Most Extraordinary Liar, Steven Spielberg’s movie recounts Abagnale’s incredible teenage years when he adopted a variety of guises - airline pilot, doctor, international playboy, assistant attorney general - to extort millions of dollars from the US government in fraudulent cheques.

Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson distils Abagnale’s memoirs into a series of vignettes which sprint from New York to Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New Orleans, ending up in the French hamlet where Abagnale is finally apprehended by his nemesis, FBI agent Carl Hanratty.

Is It Any Good? A wonderfully entertaining caper that shows a completely different side to Tom Hanks, and plays to Leonardo DiCaprio’s natural charm.

Anything Else? Those memorable animated opening titles, featuring John Williams’ superb theme, were later spoofed in an episode of The Simpsons.

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye, Amy Adams

Star Rating: **** (2002)

Bad Teacher (Channel 4, 9pm)

What’s It About? Elizabeth Halsey is a cynical and hard-drinking teacher who loathes her job - not to mention the kids in her class - and longs for a way out of her daily grind. She thought she had it made, but when her wealthy fiance dumps her, she has to find someone else to get her claws into. New, rich substitute Scott seems perfect - but Elizabeth has a rival in the form of squeaky-clean colleague Amy Squirrel.

Is It Any Good? The plot doesn’t really stretch the imagination, but excellent performances from the cast more than make up for any shortcomings. The humour contains a nice mix of sight-gags and considered dialogue, and the ending is satisfyingly sweet.

Anything Else? It was directed by Jake Kasdan, who is now working on a sequel, and is one of the brains behind hit sitcom New Girl. His dad Lawrence Kasdan is currently co-writing Star Wars: Episode VII.

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch

Star Rating: *** (2011)

Good Will Hunting (BBC One, Regions Vary)

What’s It About? Based in Boston, this drama centres on Will Hunting, a gifted, troubled young cleaner who has the ability to solve absurdly difficult maths problems. When college professor Gerald Lambeau sets his students a task on the blackboard, he’s amazed when the cleaner solves his conundrum.

Hunting and his mates are often in trouble with the law, and in order to escape jail, Will agrees to be taken under the wing of a curious Lambeau.

The professor attempts to get to the root of Hunting’s psychological problems, and after being rejected by assorted shrinks, Will ends up at the offices of psychiatrist Sean Maguire.

Is It Any Good? An Oscar-winning screenplay by stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck helped make this one of the best films of the 1990s. If you only see five minutes, make sure it’s Robin Williams’s stunning speech to Damon by the Boston Common lake. Little wonder Robin also won an Oscar.

Anything Else? The original script carried a sub-plot involving the FBI. At the request of Rob Reiner, Damon and Affleck met with writer William Goldman (The Princess Bride) for a day, who told them to get rid of the FBI stuff. So they did.

Starring: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgard, Minnie Driver

Star Rating: ***** (1997)

Monday

Sixteen Candles (Film4, 9pm)

What’s It About? Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) is the personification of sulkiness, and quite rightly too, as her parents forget her 16th birthday when they prepare for their older daughter’s upcoming wedding.

Determined not to let her family’s absentmindedness get to her, she tries to get over her disappointment by lusting after a handsome classmate Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling), while trying to avoid the attentions of the school geek (Anthony Michael Hall).

Is It Any Good? One of the first big screen offerings from much-missed film-maker John Hughes is a delightfully bittersweet affair.

Anything Else? Look out for John Cusack and his sister Joan in brief appearances. And if the Reverend looks vaguely familiar, that’s because he’s played by Brian Murray, the brother of Bill Murray (who he later co-starred with in Groundhog Day).

Rather aptly, stars Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall were both 16 when the film was released.

Star Rating: **** (1984)

The Ipcress File (BBC Four, 9pm)

What’s It About? Spy Harry Palmer hates his job, but at the same time seems unable to escape it.

He’s assigned to track down a missing doctor who possesses a file which, if it fell into the wrong hands, could spell disaster. While Palmer immerses himself in his man-hunt, his boss uses him as leverage to secure the information.

Is It Any Good? Described as ‘the thinking man’s Goldfinger’, this is a must for all devotees of Cold War actioners. You may have to concentrate to follow the story, but after the first 10 minutes, you’re hooked. Michael Caine, in one of his trademark roles, is on superb form as the devil-may-care leading character. Several sequels followed, but this was easily the best of the Palmer movies.

Anything Else? If you ever wondered what the title meant, it’s an acronym that stands for Induction of Psychoneuroses by Conditioned Reflex Under Stress. Rumour has it that Steptoe star Harry H Corbett was the original choice to play Palmer

Starring: Michael Caine, Sue Lloyd, Gordon Jackson, Nigel Green, Guy Doleman

Star Rating: **** (1965)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (ITV, Regions Vary)

What’s It About? The demonic crime-buster returns to tackle an elf warrior keen on resurrecting a fabled army of soldiers who could bring about the destruction of mankind. However, he also has to cope with domestic problems, including a broody girlfriend and a lovelorn sidekick.

Is It Any Good? One of the best fantasy adventures of the 21st century so far, boasting terrific special effects, a witty script and an assured performance by Ron Perlman as the eponymous creature. It also boasts unforgettable images, such as a battle with a huge plant creature, and a wonderfully silly scene set to the strains of Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You.

Anything Else? Acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro is currently working on a string of fresh projects, including a TV version of his novel The Strain; horror saga Crimson Peak, and a new adaptation of Pinocchio. Hellboy 3 is also on the backburner.

Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, Luke Goss

Star Rating: ***** (2008)

Tuesday

Goldeneye (ITV2, 9pm)

What’s It About? In this adventure, James Bond travels to Russia, but this is no Cold War adventure. Instead, 007 is trying to locate the source of a new satellite designed to destroy the world’s electronic devices - but ends up face to face with a ghost from the past determined to thwart his plans.

Is It Any Good? It’s one of the best Bond offerings and was a fine debut as the secret agent for Pierce Brosnan. Sean Bean is terrific as the bad guy, Famke Janssen steals the show as sexy assassin Xenia and Izabella Scorupco is a likeable heroine. Fine support also comes from Alan Cumming, Robbie Coltrane and Judi Dench.

Anything Else? New Zealand-born director Martin Campbell returned to the franchise to make Casino Royale in 2006. He was also the first non-Englishman to direct a Bond movie. Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Famke Janssen, Izabella Scorupco, Michael Kitchen, Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane, Joe Don Baker, Alan Cumming, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond

Star Rating: ***** (1995)

Hunger (Film4, 10.55pm)

What’s It About? This harrowing fact-based drama sees 300 actor Michael Fassbender deliver a career-defining performance as Republican prisoner Bobby Sands, who went on a 66-day hunger strike at Northern Ireland’s Maze prison in 1981 to gain political prisoner status. Sands and nine other inmates died after going without food for more than two months, forcing the British government to reconsider prisoner rights.

Is It Any Good? This is as good a debut feature as you’ll ever see. Rookie writer/director Steve McQueen shows he’s already a master of his craft with one powerful scene after another. McQueen’s willingness to forgo dialogue and let the scenes speak for themselves makes this an intense experience from which viewers will be unable to avert their eyes. Michael Fassbender is utterly convincing as IRA prisoner Sands, while Stuart Graham is equally as impressive in support.

Anything Else? The epic 16-and-a-half minute scene between Michael Fassbender and a Catholic priest (Liam Cunningham) took four takes to complete.

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Helena Bereen, Larry Cowan

Star Rating: ***** (2008)

Insomnia (BBC One, Regions Vary)

What’s It About? A troubled LAPD detective is sent to Alaska to investigate a teenager’s murder during a month when the sun does not set. Naturally, sleep deprivation starts to take its toll and he accidentally kills his partner and covers up his own crime. Coincidentally, his grisly act is witnessed by the very criminal he is trying to track down.

Is It Any Good? As he proved with The Dark Knight, no one does grim quite like Christopher Nolan. The British director expertly recreates the magic of the 1997 Norwegian film this is based on and fine performances from Al Pacino (as the agitated copper) and Robin Williams (as the murderer at large) ensure this film is one of the most captivating thrillers of all time.

Anything Else? Harrison Ford was considered for the role of LAPD detective Will Dormer before Al Pacino was eventually cast.

Starring: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney

Star Rating: ***** (2002)

Wednesday

The Matrix (5*, 9pm)

What’s It About? Keanu Reeves is computer hacker Neo, a man with a seemingly impossible mission - to save the world - although he doesn’t know it at first. This bizarre tale centres on the idea that reality, as he knows it, isn’t all that it seems. It turns out he’s living in a hi-tech computer simulation, along with the rest of humanity, but is suddenly plucked out of it by a team of freedom fighters determined to reveal the truth. The whole of mankind is in fact obliviously cocooned within life-sustaining pods from birth, and linked up to a vast virtual reality matrix engineered to convince them all is right in the world, while machines feed off their bodies.

Is It Any Good? The film that created a whole new kind of action movie, and reinvented the cyberpunk genre for Hollywood audiences, still packs a punch nearly 15 years after its original release. It was unique in many ways, including its ground-breaking special effects and top-notch action. Laurence Fishburne plays Reeves’ mentor Morpheus, and the ever-seductive Carrie-Anne Moss is crew member Trinity.

Anything Else? The role of Neo almost went to Nicolas Cage.

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving.

Star Rating: ***** (1999)

Mimic (BBC One, Regions Vary)

What’s It About? It’s a wonderfully creepy thriller in the Alien mould boosted by a solid cast including Mira Sorvino and Jeremy Northam. The story concerns a couple of bug scientists who released a mutated insect form into the New York underground to kill cockroaches carrying a virulent disease. Fast forward a few months and the creatures have started adapting a little too well to their environment. So, inevitably, our heroes end up in the NY subways, chasing around while the mutant bugs start baying for blood.

Is It Any Good? It’s not an original film by any means but it has a certain class all of its own thanks to some atmospheric direction from Guillermo del Toro. Don’t raise your expectations too high and it’s well worth a watch.

Anything Else? The film was actually planned as a 30-minute short as part of a feature of sci-fi/horror/comedy shorts by Miramax.

Starring: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Charles S Dutton, Alexander Goodwin, Giancarlo Giannini.

Star Rating: **** (1997)

Serpico (Channel 4, 12.30am)

What’s It About? Sidney Lumet’s tough, exciting adaptation of Peter Maas’ book is based on the true life accounts of a dedicated New York cop. Officer Frank Serpico exposed departmental corruption in the early 1970s, thus isolating himself from his colleagues, and angering the authorities.

Is It Any Good? It’s an absolute classic. Al Pacino was already a rising star of the movie business following his iconic performance in The Godfather, but it was this slow-burning drama that truly cemented his legend. His performance as a fundamentally decent officer battling a sea of corruption and trying to stick to his principles when nobody else wants him to, is an acting masterclass. Don’t miss it.

Anything Else? After spending a lot of time with Pacino as he prepared for the role, the real Frank Serpico wanted to remain on the set during filming. Producer Bregman said he had to hurt Serpico’s feelings and ordered him to leave because he believed that his presence would be a distraction.

Starring: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe

Star Rating: **** (1973)

Thursday

Employee of the Month (Film4, 6.40pm)

What’s It About? Zack and Vince have been working at the same store for years, and while the latter is content to sail though life without really getting his hands dirty, Zack prides himself on landing the award of the film’s title.

But the guys are in for a shake-up when beautiful colleague Amy transfers from another shop. They quickly discover she loves nothing better than dating the employee of the month and won’t look twice at anyone else, prompting a bitter battle between the men.

Zack resolves to retain his coveted title, while Vince gives himself a kick up the backside to snatch victory from his pal.

Is It Any Good? There’s not much else in the way of plot and although it’s not exactly challenging Oscar Wilde in the wit stakes, there’s plenty of fun to be had. Dane Cook and Dax Shepard work well on screen while Jessica Simpson’s comic timing proves there’s more to her than just a pretty face.

Anything Else? Shepard dyed his hair blond so that he and Cook wouldn’t resemble each other too much on screen. Eva Longoria appeared in a scene which was eventually cut from the movie.

Starring: Dane Cook, Dax Shepard, Jessica Simpson, Efren Ramirez, Andy Dick

Star Rating: *** (2006)

The Outlaw Josey Wales (ITV4, 9pm)

What’s It About? After a Missouri farmer’s family is slaughtered by maverick soldiers during the American Civil War, he vows revenge.

While tracking down those responsible, he becomes an outlaw, much-feared by those who’ve heard of his ruthless ways. When the war ends, Josey becomes a wanted man, and despite his efforts to live the life of a loner, he unwittingly acquires a new family of mismatched, disenfranchised souls.

Is It Any Good: Regarded by some Clint Eastwood fans as his best movie, despite being largely ignored on its initial release. It may be a tad overlong, but there’s little about this classic Western to criticise.

Anything Else? There aren’t many actors who can steal scenes from Eastwood. Donald Sutherland did it in Kelly’s Heroes, and here it’s Chief Dan George as Lone Watie capturing the limelight from his more illustrious co-star. The Chief does the same thing to Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man.

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, Bill McKinney

Star Rating: ***** (1976)

True Lies (Film4, 9pm)

What’s It About? Suave superspy Harry Tasker spends his days battling international terrorism, but his bored wife Helen is under the impression he’s a computer salesman.

She decides to spice up her life a bit, but gets more than she bargained for when she manages to end up in the clutches of a gang who have stolen a nuclear weapon, and it’s up to her husband to save her and, if he gets time, the rest of the world.

Is It Any Good? The first two Terminator films proved that Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron are something of a dream team, and this movie is almost as good. The slender plot is little more than an excuse for a string of outrageous action set pieces, but they are so entertaining you really won’t care. Jamie Lee Curtis makes a fantastic foil for Schwarzenegger, and there’s also good support from Tom Arnold.

Anything Else? The moment where Jamie Lee Curtis falls while performing a striptease was unplanned, but trooper that she is, she got back up and carried on with the scene, so director Cameron decided to leave it in.

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Tia Carrere, Bill Paxton, Art Malik, Eliza Dushku, Grant Heslov, Charlton Heston

Star Rating: **** (1994)

Friday

Saving Private Ryan (More4, 9pm)

What’s It About? Steven Spielberg’s thoughtful war tale tells the story of a platoon of American soldiers, who are ordered to scour the battlefields of France in search of a missing infantryman, Private Ryan, who has been granted permission to return home because his brothers have been killed in the conflict.

Is It Any Good? Spielberg is a true modern-day master of film and it came as no surprise when Saving Private Ryan scooped five Oscars in 1999.

The opening scenes depicting the Normandy invasion are harrowing to say the least and are among the most realistic ever made.

This superb film is capped off by some impressive acting from Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Ed Burns, Matt Damon and Jeremy Davies.

Anything Else? Edward Norton was offered the role of Private Ryan, but turned it down. Coincidentally, Norton was nominated alongside Tom Hanks in the Best Actor category at the 1999 Oscars for his part in American History X.

Starring: Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel

Star Rating: ***** (1998)

Saw (Channel 4, 11.25pm)

What’s It About? Imagine gaining consciousness in a smelly and dark room with no idea how you got there, your leg chained to the wall and a battered, bloody corpse only feet away.

That’s the nightmare from which Dr Lawrence Gordon and Adam are unable to wake - and the worst is yet to come. At opposite ends of a filthy bathroom, the strangers are forced to work together to decipher clues about the motives behind their imprisonment.

The medic soon figures out they are the latest victims of Jigsaw, a serial killer who devises ingenious but horrific challenges which, almost always, end in an agonising death.

Is It Any Good? This low-budget horror was one of the most ingenious movies to hit the big screen in 2004, so it came as no surprise when several sequels followed - but the original remains the best.

Cary Elwes delivers an impressive performance as the desperate family man, with nice turns by Danny Glover and Monica Potter in supporting roles.

However, it’s former Neighbours star and co-screenwriter Leigh Whannell who steals the show as Adam.

Anything Else? The film was shot chronologically in just 18 days with no rehearsals.

Starring: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer

Star Rating: **** (2004)

Wayne’s World (Film4, 11.15pm)

What’s It About? Spin off from a series of TV sketches, this relatively low-budget comedy became one of the biggest hits of 1992.

It centres on party-loving rocker Wayne, who, along with his best friend Garth, hosts his own TV show from his parents’ basement.

But when the show is picked up by slick TV executive Benjamin, the presenters find themselves under pressure to reinvent the show complete with product endorsements and weekly interviews with their main sponsor.

And it seems Benjamin may also have designs on Wayne’s gorgeous rocker girlfriend Cassandra.

Is It Any Good? Some of the slang may have dated, but this good-natured comedy is still a lot of fun.

Mike Myers and Dana Carvey are a terrific double act, but there are also fun turns from everyone from Alice Cooper to Lara Flynn Boyle as Wayne’s obsessive ex.

And the 1993 sequel was arguably even better.

Anything Else? If the Bohemian Rhapsody headbanging scene at the start seems rather subdued that’s because of the number of takes involved to capture it on film - Myers and Carvey both suffered from neck pains.

Starring: Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere, Lara Flynn Boyle

Star Rating: **** (1992)