Back to the Future and Southland Tales spell highs and lows this week

by Sarah Barnett / 25 April, 2009

Back to the Future (TV3, 7.30pm). Metaphysics and Oedipal complexes wrapped in a charming, funny, 80s-blockbuster bow. Teenager Marty McFly (Michael J Fox), the cool child of loser parents, winds up back in 1955 with the help of mad scientist Doc Brown's (Christopher Lloyd) time machine. Madness ensues when he decides to right history's wrongs and becomes the object of his young mother's affection - a total mother-kisser. (1985) 9

Saving Private Ryan (TV2, 8.30pm). Steven Spielberg goes for the gut, using visceral, grunt's-eye-view battle scenes to bracket the World War II action, as Tom Hanks and crew go looking for Ryan (Matt Damon), the only survivor of four brothers. US policy says he's got a free ride home, to keep his family tree going, but - a slight snafu - he's just parachuted into France, and his exact whereabouts is unknown. It's okay, though, because we already know the Americans won - apparently, by finding needles in exploding haystacks. The other great battle here, then, is between cliché and brilliance, and the old war-horse Spielberg just pulls it off. (1998) 8

Flyboys (Prime, 8.30pm). Before the US entered World War I and regarded the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", young American pilots signed up with Lafayette Escadrille - a squadron of the French Air Force. This fictionalised account has stunning flying scenes, but is a little bloodless when it comes to the men themselves. James Franco and the ever-excellent Jean Reno do their best, but this has a romanticised old-fashioned feel with curiously modern sensibilities: not one of them smokes. (2006) 5

There Will Be Blood (Sky Movies, 8.30pm). Ruthless Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) exploits Californian landowners for oil in the early days of the 20th century. Paul Thomas Anderson's cherry-picked adaptation of Upton Sinclair's novel Oil! is something of a departure for the Boogie Nights director, but has an epic, near-biblical feel - all burning oil and tortured souls. Plainview's ongoing battle with evangelical preacher Eli Sunday (Little Miss Sunshine's excellent Paul Dano) pits God against oil and wealth but, noted the Listener's Helene Wong, "barely explores any deeper resonances". And so it is: despite bravura performances from all involved, including the scenery, the pickings are almost too easy; the well could have run far deeper. (2008) 7

Southland Tales (TV3, 9.55pm). Director Richard Kelly's disappointing follow-up to the low-key, intriguingly mythic Donnie Darko. Kelly promised a "strange hybrid" of Andy Warhol and Philip K Dick in this post-apocalyptic tale - it's set in January 2008 - and it's certainly that. But the mish-mash of high- and low-concept (a porn star reinvents herself as a political pundit; technology that could solve the world's environmental crisis is controlled by a ruthless demagogue) simply doesn't come off - and the ugly apocalypse chic doesn't help. Rarely, noted one critic, "has a picture been so self-consciously designed to be a culturally meaningful touchstone, and fallen so woefully short". (2006) 2


Free Willy (TV2, noon). A young street-kid (Jason James Richter) finds his soul-mate when he's sentenced to community service at a marine park and meets Willy the killer whale (Keiko). When he catches wind of the park owner's plans to ditch the underperforming cetacean, he decides to orca-strate an escape. Willy or won't he? Keep the tissues handy: you may just blubber. (1993) 7

Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium (Sky Movies, 5.15pm). Dustin Hoffman is the daffy, affable Mr Magorium, like Willy Wonka without the dark side, proprietor of a magical toy store, like Wonka's chocolate factory but without the Oompa Loompas. At 243 years old, he's ready to pass on his legacy, and a reluctant Natalie Portman is his chosen Charlie ... erm, heir. Writer/director Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction) dishes up Roald Dahl-lite, forgetting that sugary fantasy should always come served with a good pinch of (Veruca) salt. (2007) 5

Double Impact (C4, 8.30pm). Jean-Claude Van Damme plays twins separated in childhood after the death of their parents. One grows up in the Hong Kong badlands; the other is raised by a family friend and becomes a high-kickin', silk underwear-wearin' LA karate instructor. When LA Van Damme discovers his Hong Kong twin's survival, the two reunite to claim their inheritance and kick the tail of the guy who killed their parents. Van Damme and Dammer. (1991) 5

Untraceable (Sky Movies, 8.30pm). Solid, professional police procedural with plenty to say about the dark side of online behaviour. Diane Lane and Colin Hanks are FBI cybercrime unit partners, who discover a sicko setting people up on live webcams and torturing them brutally, ratcheting up the pain as more people hit the site, and eventually killing them when the hits are high enough. Despite the FBI's warnings that everyone who visits the site is therefore an accomplice, they just can't stay away. The methods and manipulation employed by the perp invite comparison to David Fincher's brilliant Se7en, to which it doesn't quite live up. And so ... (2008) 6

The Exorcist (TV2, 10.30pm). Still scary in a way that horrors of a similar vintage aren't, and more straightforward than its modern counterparts: 12-year-old girl is possessed, acts evil and creepy, Mum calls in the priests. (1973) 8

Day Watch (TV3, 10.25pm). The follow-up to the hip, stylish, Russian Night Watch, in which the forces of light and dark continue their centuries-old conflict, as the denizens of Moscow remain blissfully unaware. Day retains all the slick effects and sharp look of its predecessor, and follows Night almost scene-for-scene - a history lesson in the opening clears things up for viewers new to the franchise, while the plot follows the same series of skirmishes between the ancient foes, this time over a piece of technology that could rewrite history. (2006) 6


Blood Diamond (TV2, 8.30pm). Leonardo DiCaprio plays a Zimbabwean guns-for-gems dealer who gets wind of a huge find in a Sierra Leone mine. But the big bling is hidden by its finder, exploited miner Djimon Hounsou, who plans to use it as a bargaining chip to get his son out of the RUF's children's army. A decent political action thriller - until moral-minded US journo Jennifer Connelly shows up to blow the story wide open and make sure the audience Gets It. (2006) 7


Wayne's World 2 (C4, 8.30pm). The premise is stretched wafer-thin and the occasional genius moments are all available on YouTube: call it a schwing and a miss. (1993) 4
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