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Top films to watch on TV this week

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Saturday, Channel 4, 6.20p.m.)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Saturday, Channel 4, 6.20p.m.)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Monday, GREAT! movies, 6.40p.m.)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Monday, GREAT! movies, 6.40p.m.)

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Saturday, Channel 4, 6.20p.m.)

SATURDAY

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Channel 4, 6.20p.m.

The jury may still be out on whether JRR Tolkien’s sprightly novel really benefited from being stretched out over a trilogy of movies, but there is still much to enjoy in director Peter Jackson’s opening instalment, including a near perfect cast.

In the first deviation from the text, Jackson begins his picture at Bag End with the elderly Bilbo (Ian Holm) penning a book to his cousin Frodo (Elijah Wood). We rewind 60 years to meet Bilbo (Martin Freeman) in the Shire as he encounters Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a 13-strong company of dwarves, who intend to reclaim their lost gold from the dragon Smaug in his mountain lair.

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After a sleepless night, Bilbo agrees to accompany dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his troops on their perilous journey.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)Channel 4, 9p.m.

Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), a former Major in the Military Police Corps, is living off the grid, embracing a nomadic lifestyle. En route to a face-to-face meeting with his successor, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), Reacher discovers she has been accused of espionage.

When associates of Turner are slain before they can testify, Reacher realises he has stumbled upon a wider conspiracy involving overseas shipments of weaponry.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a solid, polished and compact thriller that simmers pleasantly thanks to the on-screen chemistry between Cruise and Smulders. The latter rolls up her sleeves to inflict bruises in the accomplished action set pieces while Cruise turns back the years to perform his own death-defying stunts.

SUNDAY

The Greatest Showman (2017) Channel 4, 5.45p.m.

A massive sleeper hit, this musical stars Hugh Jackman as the legendary PT Barnum, a tailor’s son who falls under the spell of the privileged Charity Hallett (Michelle Williams).

They live modestly until PT blags a $10,000 bank loan for a museum of living curiosities. The exhibits include bearded-lady Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), dwarf Charles Stratton (Sam Humphrey) and high-flying trapeze siblings WD and Anne Wheeler (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Zendaya).

Sardonic newspaper critic James Gordon Bennett (Paul Sparks) denounces the enterprise as “a primitive circus of humbug”, but the public disagrees, as does investor Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron).

The Greatest Showman is a joy-infused blast of pure pleasure that calibrates every swoon of romance and doff of a top hat with masterful precision.

Tulip Fever (2017) BBC2, 10p.m.

Orphan Sophia (Alicia Vikander) is raised by the nuns of St Ursula in mid-17th century Amsterdam at a time when the most precious and widely traded commodity is tulip bulbs. She reluctantly accepts a marriage proposal from wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), who will pay safe passage for Sophia’s relatives to live in New Amsterdam in exchange for a male heir.

Cornelis commissions local artist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint a portrait of his blissful union and the painter falls deliriously under the spell of virginal Sophie.

Tulip Fever fails to burst into full bloom and features an oddly restrained performance from Vikander. By contrast, Waltz exposes the vulnerability and sadness of his “lucky old dog”, enriching a potentially two-dimensional villain.

MONDAY

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) GREAT! movies, 6.40p.m.

Ang Lee’s hauntingly romantic epic dazzles the senses and fires the soul. Set at the dawning of the 19th century, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon centres on legendary warriors Li Ku Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), reunited when Li’s magnificent Green Destiny sword is stolen by his archenemy Jade Fox.

Laying a trap for the wily adversary, Li and Yu cross paths with a governess (Cheng Pei-Pei) and her aristocratic ward Jen (Zhang ZiYi), who is secretly betrothed to outlaw Lo (Chang Chen).

Director Lee marries jaw-dropping martial arts choreography with breath-taking cinematography and heart-breaking romance. Four Academy Awards (Foreign Language Film, Cinematography, Art Direction, Music Score) seem scant reward for filmic excellence.

Logan (2017) Film4, 9p.m.

World-weary Logan (Hugh Jackman) – aka Wolverine – lives under his birth name, James Howlett, in a tumbledown ranch in the desert with an albino tracker called Caliban (Stephen Merchant), who helps him to care for ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart).

Out of the blue, Logan is offered 50,000 US dollars to drive a mysterious girl called Laura (His Dark Materials’ Dafne Keen) to “a place up north” called Eden. The child is a vital link to a new generation of mutants and is being pursued by Transigen head surgeon Dr Zander Rice (Richard E Grant).

Logan is a grim and explosively violent swansong to one of the most iconic characters in the X-Men universe. Strong performances from Jackman and Stewart, coupled with a sparkling debut for 11-year-old Keen ensure a fitting send-off.

TUESDAY

12 Angry Men (1957) Film4, 1.10p.m.

Henry Fonda heads the cast as Juror Number Eight, who faces the seemingly impossible task of changing the minds of the 11 other men on a hung jury. They’re convinced a teenage boy is guilty of murdering an elderly neighbour, but Fonda claims there isn’t enough evidence to convict.

It might not sound much, but this is a masterpiece of movie-making with excellent performances from the actors involved. It doesn’t even matter that as soon as you realise it’s Fonda arguing the case for the accused, you can already guess what’s going to happen; sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. Lee J Cobb, Martin Balsam, Jack Krugman and Ed Begley are among those playing the other jurors; the film was director Sidney Lumet’s big screen debut, for which he deservedly received an Oscar nomination.


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