6 films to tape off the telly

I try to make it a rule here to only write about films that I can in all good conscience recommend, but there are a lot of films that are quite enjoyable, but just not so much that I suggest going out of your way to get them.

You know the drill: it’s Saturday night and there’s nowhere to go, so you figure you’ll stay in and watch a movie. You have a bag of Doritos, a can or two of beer, and you fancy a no-brainer slab of hassle-free entertainment to numb the senses for a couple of hours. You glance at the DVD rack – Iron Man? Spider-Man? Taken? You’ve seen them all too recently to sit through them again. So, you leaf through the TV guide (or have a browse on Netflix) and the following catch your eye. I say, go for it! These lightweight popcorners do the job pretty well without really meriting recommendations in their own right.

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1. Pandorum

This German-British sci-fi thriller, produced by Paul WS Anderson, comes very close to being genuinely good. Perhaps with a higher budget, it would have eclipsed the still-faintly-unsatisfying Sunshine and Event Horizon, but it’s still a fairly entertaining B-movie with a couple of unexpected twists. Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster are survivors of an accident in space, waking up from extended hypersleep with amnesia. Trying to piece together what has happened to the rest of the crew, they explore the ship – only to (predictably) find that there are strange and terrifying creatures on board.

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2. Sherlock Holmes

Oh, hold your gasping! Yes, the film was hyped to death and by all rights I should be a quivering mess of gratitude that I was granted the opportunity to sit through it, but Sherlock Holmes is … adequate. Guy Ritchie’s direction is irritating, the macho fight scenes superfluous and the witty banter only just on the right side of obnoxious. The plot makes absolutely no sense. Still, in spite of all that, you have a fabulous cast (Robert Downey Jr doing his best Johnny Depp impression; Jude Law, and the meanest of the Mean Girls, Rachel McAdams), who make the film seem an awful lot better than it actually is.

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3. 9

Shane Acker’s animated fable falls disappointingly short of its initial promise. The Tim Burton-produced fantasy stars Elijah Wood as a Sackboy-style robot in a dystopian future where all organic life is extinct. He finds other robots like himself and has to destroy a huge, nasty robot that is killing off his friends. Again, it’s spoiled by its nonsensical story, but the animation and music is quite beautiful. View it as an extended Danny Elfman promo video, and you’ll enjoy it on that level.

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4. Battle Royale

It’s the one that isn’t The Hunger Games. You already know the plot: Japanese kids forced to fight to the death on remote island. It’s quite cheesy, but fun in places. The trouble with a straightforward film with such a well-known premise is that you pretty much don’t need to watch it, but if you decide to see it anyway, you’ll be entertained for its duration.

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5. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I know that it’s sacrilege not to worship at the temple of the Coen Brothers, but this one aside, I’ve never enjoyed anything they’ve done. This doesn’t make much sense to me, since they’re in so tight with the Raimis and I pretty much love everything Sam Raimi does, but there you go. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey and is a musical of sorts. It’s set in Depression-era Mississippi, and follows escaped convict George Clooney and his pals as they quest for buried treasure. It’s all very over-the-top and silly, but George Clooney knows how to pull that off without becoming annoying. It’s not an amazing film, but it is diverting and fun enough to merit the effort of setting the VCR – or whatever newfangled technology the kids are using these days.

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6. Surrogates

Based on a comic book series, Surrogates is basically Philip K Dick lite. In the future, almost everyone lives via robot avatars while they stay home safely in their virtual reality chairs. It’s never explained why the people don’t all resemble the folks from Wall-E, but what the hey, let’s just roll with it. Bruce Willis is a cop investigating murders which – impossibly – kill the human operators alongside their robot doubles. He’d like to spend more time in the real world, but his wife (Rosamund Pike) insists on hiding behind her robotic facade. Willis isn’t the only one tired of the Sims life: a whole faction of rebels has sprung up to resist what they view as a fake and meaningless existence. So, the story progresses in exactly the way you think it will, but with Jonathan Terminator 3 Mostow at the helm, it’s limited to the higher straits of mediocrity. It comes this close to actually being a good film, but – like the uncanny valley of the surrogates – you never quite buy it.

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