December 1-7: Including Fantastic Mr Fox and Contagion

by Fiona Rae / 29 November, 2012
Wes Anderson whimsy, and Steven Soderbergh virus-apocalypse.


Fantastic Mr Fox

Fantastic Mr Fox (Four, 6.30pm). Wes Anderson, who achieves a whimsical artificiality in his real-life movies, is a natural at actual animation in his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story. The stop-motion (no CGI here) is beautifully done, as are the tiny detailed sets, but Anderson also captures a joie de vivre in the story of the restless Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney), who goes back to stealing to pay for his expensive new house. Once again, Anderson’s themes of fathers, families and friendships are present, and this is way more than a children’s film. (2009) ****½

Super Size Me (Maori, 8.30pm). Morgan Spurlock’s first stunt movie is fascinating, if obvious. Of course eating McDonald’s for every meal is going to be bad for you. What’s scary, though, is the alacrity with which his health deteriorates. He gained 11kg, his liver turned to mush, his cholesterol skyrocketed and he suffered mood swings and sexual dysfunction. It took him 14 months to lose the weight. Spurlock is also highlighting the culture of “super sizing”: inspired by a lawsuit in which two teenagers blamed their obesity on McDonald’s super sizing, Spurlock took the larger meal whenever it was offered. McDonald’s has since phased out the practice. (2004) ***½

Annapolis (TV2, 8.35pm). Clichéd apologia for American military training, and strangely, James Franco is the purveyor of these said clichés. He’s a working-class guy who yearns for the ivory towers of the naval academy across the river. He gets there, he boxes, he becomes a man, he gets the girl. (2006) **½

The Departed (TV1, 10.30pm). No special effects needed in Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller in which he Americanises Hong Kong cop movie Infernal Affairs. The Departed was considered a return home for the master, who mixes it up with mobsters for the first time since Casino. Scorsese won an Oscar for direction – no wonder when the film is an acting master class: Leonardo DiCaprio brings weight and pathos to his role as an undercover cop; Matt Damon is pithy and stylish as an undercover mobster playing both sides; and Jack Nicholson brings all his scenery-chewing quirks to the role of the mob boss. Other fine performances are wrung from Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg and Martin Sheen. Quite the blokey outing, then; thank goodness for Vera Farmiga, a psychologist who is dating Damon and treating DiCaprio. (2006) ****

Catch and Release (TV2, 10.40pm). Erin Brockovich and Charlotte’s Web writer Susannah Grant turns her hand to directing, and produces a charming, unforced romantic comedy. Jennifer Garner, at her expressive and natural best, plays a bride whose groom dies days before the wedding. It’s a shock to all, but one friend knows something about the dead man that the others don’t, and he turns up to try to save them even more pain. Ladies, the fact that he’s Timothy Olyphant is all the better, of course. Not perfect, but it’s not conveyor-belt Hollywood, either. (2006) ***½


Wall-E (TV2, 7.00pm). Underlying the wonderment of this beautiful, melancholy, uplifting movie is the wonderment that Pixar has done it again. Just when you thought it couldn’t top The Incredibles, here’s a movie that isn’t afraid to have no dialogue in its first half-hour, with protagonists who are two little robots without faces, and that has a message about pollution. That first half-hour is genius, as lonely robot Wall-E (stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) tootles around an abandoned Earth, compacting rubbish as he was programmed to do. Once Eve (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) arrives, the movie changes, becoming an action satire in space. How could Pixar possibly top this? Well, there’s Toy Story 3. Extraordinary. (2008) *****

The Holiday (TV3, 8.30pm). In what kind of bizarro world do Jack Black and Kate Winslet get together? That’s about the only surprise in this over-long romcom from Nancy Meyers, who gifted the world What Women Want and Something’s Gotta Give. Winslet and Cameron Diaz are overworked/unlucky-in-love modern women who swap houses for two weeks. In picture-postcard Surrey, Diaz meets Jude Law, and at Diaz’s LA pad, Winslet meets Black. The film’s best relationship is between Winslet and Eli Wallach, playing an elderly screenwriter with plenty to say about the state of movies today. Pity Meyers wasn’t taking heed of her own script. (2006) **½

Forever Strong (Maori, 8.30pm). How big is your appetite for uplifting sports movies? Mormon director Ryan Little lays it on thick with a story about a smart-alec rugby player (Sean Faris) who is sent to juvie and learns the lessons of hard work and humility. The movie appropriates the haka Ka Mate and the term “kia kaha”. We hope they paid the copyright. (2008) **

Contagion (Sky Movies, Sky 020, 8.30pm). Steven Soderbergh does a virus-apocalypse flick and no one, not even Gwyneth Paltrow, is safe. Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Burns consulted the director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia so their depiction of a flu-like pandemic would be accurate. The heroes of the movie are not Kate Winslet or Matt Damon or Marion Cotillard or Jennifer Ehle, but the health systems that mobilise. Nevertheless, there are some thrillery touches, and Jude Law is an unlikely blogger who disseminates false information. Pah. (2011) ***½

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (TV2, 9.00pm). Surprisingly sweet, if profane, romcom from writer/director Kevin Smith, that despite the title is all about the romance. The title gives away the plot, but what Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks are really exploring is the emotional risk of crossing the line with a friend. When Harry Met Sally for the porn age. (2008) ***½

The Sixth Sense (TV2, 11.00pm). The one that rightly made M Night Shyamalan’s name – if you can pronounce it – but which he was destined never to top. In fact, it seems he has spent the rest of his career making successively watered-down versions of this creepy supernatural horror in which Haley Joel Osment is the weird kid whom Bruce Willis, as his psychologist, is trying to treat. Willis again shows he is much more than just an action figure, and there is a tender turn by Olivia Williams as Willis’s sad wife. (1999) ****


The Siege (TV3, 8.35pm). Terrorist attacks in Washington lead to martial law, with Bruce Willis, as a callous army general, in charge of everything. Edward Zwick’s muddled actioner seems to be saying something, but what? Denzel Washington and Annette Bening do their best as FBI agents, but the script doesn’t seem to know which way it wants to go. (1998) **½

Films are rate out of 5: * (abysmal) to ***** (amazing).
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