December 29-January 4: Including The Descendants and Love Birds

by Fiona Rae / 20 December, 2012
Another entry into the beached male genre, and a local romcom for New Year's Day.

SATURDAY DECEMBER 29


The Descendants, Sunday


The Seeker (Four, 6.30pm). Two possibilities: either respected actors Christopher Eccleston, Frances Conroy and Ian McShane loved Susan Cooper’s fantasy stories, on which this is but one of a series, or there was nothing better on offer. One minute, a boy is scrapping with his family in modern America and the next he’s a warrior fighting evil forces and the future of the world rests in his soft, videogame-playing hands. Short on magic, long on imitation – of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Narnia … (2007) **½

Armageddon (TV2, 7.30pm). The end of the world for the end of the year. Bruce, Billy Bob and Ben get busy. (1998) **½

The First Grader (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). “We have to learn from our past.” “We must do better.” “We are nothing if we cannot read.” Justin Chadwick’s fact-based drama about an 84-year-old Kenyan man who fights for the right to an education is heaving with fridge-magnet epithets and tear-jerking moments, but it’s a story worth telling. Kimani Maruge (Oliver Litondo) fought the British in the 1950s Mau Mau Uprising, which allows us quite literally to see the situation in black and white, but here he’s battling other black Kenyans who think he doesn’t belong in a classroom full of new entrants. Naturally, he’s a real sweetie who melts hearts wherever he goes. With Naomie Harris as the teacher who fights his corner. (2010) ***

The Good German (TV1, 11.05pm). Steven Soderbergh’s homage to Casablanca, which was shot as if it had been made in the 1940s, never lets us forget that it’s a lesson in style. The substance – a film noir thriller in which George Clooney’s military journalist gets caught up in a murder investigation in postwar Berlin – is somewhat flimsier, as if Soderbergh forgot to develop plot or characters to hold up his good idea. Cate Blanchett, as Clooney’s shady ex-lover, and Tobey Maguire, playing a manipulative sadist, do their best but “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”. (2006) **½

Sixty Six (TV3, 11.25pm). The funniest thing about this comedy drama from Working Title could be the odd pairing of Helena Bonham Carter and Eddie Marsan as the North London Jewish parents of 12-year-old Bernie Rubens. The title refers to 1966 – possibly more significant to some Brits than 1066 – when England beat West Germany in the FIFA World Cup final. Not, as Bernie finds out, a good day to hold your bar mitzvah. Despite peddling sometimes overcooked nostalgia for the days of Austin 1100s and cat-eye spectacles, this is a sweet little story: the “true-ish” chronicles of director Paul Weiland. (2006) ***

SUNDAY DECEMBER 30


The Descendants (Sky Movies, Sky 020, 8.30pm). New Yorker critic Anthony Lane coined the phrase “beached male” to describe George Clooney’s conflicted dad, and other characters in Alexander Payne’s canon (Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt, Paul Giamatti in Sideways). Clooney is right at home in Hawaii, as landowner Matt King, whose world of mai tais and sunshine comes crashing down when his wife is almost killed in a boating accident. Then her closet door swings open and the skeletons come tumbling out. Payne and two others won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay, from the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings. That’s her playing Matt’s assistant. A delicious comedy drama with aloha to spare. (2011) ****

Vampires Suck (TV3, 8.45pm). Unfortunately, so does this movie. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer only know how to make woeful spoofs – Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans, Epic Movie, Date Movie, Scary Movie and Scary Movie 3 – and this is another one. Someone is obviously encouraging them. (2010) **

NEW YEAR’S EVE


Love Birds, New Year's Day


Dirty Dancing (TV2, 7.30pm). Go on, have the time of your life. (1987) ***

Titanic (TV3, 8.00pm). A little more of Titanic Captain Edward Smith’s going-down-with-the-ship spirit and the big cheese in charge of Italy’s doomed cruise ship Costa Concordia wouldn’t be on permanent desk duty. He would, of course, be dead but also heroic. Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet neatly illustrate the lifesaving abilities of having the right accent: when it came down to it, there was nothing like cut-glass vowels to keep you safe in a disaster. Although many would happily jump into the freezing ocean to avoid Celine Dion and her keening theme song, they would want to sit through this rip-roaring adventure story first. (1997) ****

Zoolander (TV2, 9.30pm). A lot of really silly slapstick gets the laughs by being thoroughly nasty, but Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, as two monumentally brainless male models, are as curiously lovable as ever here. No one will be offended by this daft comedy about an ageing poser who gets sucked into a plot to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Unless you’re a male model or Malaysia. (2001) ***

Jerry Maguire (TV1, 10.40pm). Tom Cruise was nominated for an Oscar for best teeth for this drama about a sports agent who has a sudden attack of morals. (1996) ***½

Sorority Boys (TV2, 11.15pm). Is watching this fratboy pratfest really the last thing you want to do this year? (2002) **

NEW YEAR’S DAY


Love Birds (TV1, 8.30pm). The second directorial effort by Paul Murphy (son of Geoff) after 2008’s Second-Hand Wedding precisely pinpoints the moment that Rhys Darby became overexposed. This spells out 103 minutes of you wishing he had left us wanting more of the glorious Murray from Flight of the Conchords and gracefully, er, ducked out of the limelight for a while. Instead, his injured fowl wisely attempts to steal screentime, battling it out with Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky), the bird he really wants to love. A pleasant local romcom that offers dream product placement for Auckland Zoo and a chance to hear your fave Queen tracks again. (2011) ***

The Boys Are Back (TV1, 10.35pm). Clive Owen. Yum. Clive Owen as a struggling solo dad. Irresistible. (2009) ***

WEDNESDAY JANUARY 2 


Cast Away (TV3, 8.30pm). The bad-luck-at-sea theme continues on TV3 with Tom Hanks’s masterpiece almost-solo work about a guy marooned on an island with only a taciturn basketball for company. A terrible day at the office for poor Vince Martin but Hanks somehow makes survival a riveting watch. (2000) ****

For Richer or Poorer (Four, 8.30pm). A hotshot-to-hayseed comedy in which two New York socialites (Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley) hide out in an Amish community to avoid the tax department. And guess what? When not laughing at the plain folk, they learn to love the simple things again. Yawn. (1997) **½

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