January 5-11: Including Hugo and King Kong

by Fiona Rae / 27 December, 2012
Two love letters to film from Scorsese and Jackson.


Hugo, Sunday

Thunderbirds (Four, 6.30pm). This bizarre remake had more prototypes than a Tracy family rescue craft. At one point, it was to be shot entirely in CGI, then there was the plan to have a live-action feature starring all four Baldwin brothers. Eight years in development, this po-faced effort is more like a Famous Five outing than the 1960s cult TV show on which it is based. Gone are the terrifically low-tech puppets of the original (“filmed in Super-marionation”!) and instead we have a sort-of stilted Spy Kids adventure with real humans, aimed at an audience that wasn’t born when the series screened. Awarded a scorn factor of 10 by Thunderbirds geeks, who instead stayed home to play with their dolls. (2004) **

Shanghai Noon (TV2, 7.40pm). Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson discover a common ability to get into trouble in the Old West in this breakneck action spoof about a hapless Chinese Imperial Guardsman who goes to America to rescue Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) and meets an aspirational train robber. East meets West and the saddles are blazing. (2000) ***½ 

Jackie Chan’s First Strike (TV2, 9.55pm). More Jackie Chan, if you can stand it. Would it surprise you to know that Chan, MBE, is now promoting his 101st film (CZ12), or that he is 58 and promises to make lots more action movies? Here, our hero is on the trail of a missing nuclear warhead. Now, where can that darned thing have got to? (1996) ***

Monster’s Ball (TV1, 10.30pm). What is it when you have a monster’s ball in one hand and …? Not that kind of ball? The title refers to a condemned man’s last night on Earth and, although that unlucky guy is Sean “Puff Daddy/Diddy” Combs, the film is about his ex-wife and a prison guard. That they are played by Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton in a highly intelligent screenplay by Milo Addica and Will Rokos makes for a classy film. Premiere magazine got all huffy and named it No 11 on its 20-most-overrated-movies-of-all-time list. What were they expecting? The Great Escape? (2001) ****

Milk (TV3, 11.25pm). Stay up this late, have a mug of hot milk and you’ll be off to sleep in no time. That would be a pity, though, because Milk is one of the best things on offer this week. Sean Penn is extra-ordinary in Gus Van Sant’s biopic about the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in the US, and won a Best Actor Oscar for his efforts. (2008) ****


King Kong, Monday

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (TV2, 7.00pm). Nic Cage only has to open his mouth and you know whether he has his serious hat on or not. Here, not. This Jerry Bruckheimer--produced adventure is a new take on an old story about a master finding his successor, but its humour makes it a cut above, say, last week’s The Seeker. It’s based on Goethe’s 1797 poem Der Zauberlehrling, which gave rise to Paul Dukas’s music and a segment from the wonderful 1940 Disney film Fantasia, featuring Mickey Mouse and an army of evil brooms. So you’ll be looking for clues to the -original, and although the broom scene is recreated, this is a modern-day fairy tale, set in Manhattan. Despite Cage’s, Jay Baruchel’s and Alfred Molina’s best efforts, it’s slick, camp and somewhat incoherent where it needs to be magical and memorable. (2010) ***

Hugo (Sky Movies, Sky 020, 8.30pm). Martin Scorsese must have required some serious hand-holding to make his first feature in 12 years not starring Leonardo DiCaprio. But there was no room for the American pretty boy: this is a solidly European story (based on the book by Brian Selznick) and it was the most delightful and magical film of its year, winning five Oscars. It’s also an ode to cinema: Hugo (the extraordinary Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives in the walls of a railway station in 1930s Paris. He meets the god-daughter of a local shopkeeper and learns she has a special connection to his dead father and the mechanical man he left behind. With a fantastic cast including Ben Kingsley, Ray Winstone, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths and Jude Law – and you’ll learn to forgive Sacha Baron Cohen after this. (2011) ****

Drowning by Numbers (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). The peculiar works of writer/director Peter Greenaway, frequently spliced with the weird, sexy music of Michael Nyman, became an essential part of the arthouse film landscape in the 80s and 90s. This is the first in a Directors’ Showcase series of Greenaway features: the relatively straightforward (for him) tale of a mother and two daughters – all called Cissie Colpitts – who develop a very final way of solving their relationship problems. Wonderful work by Joan Plowright, Juliet Stevenson, Joely Richardson and Bernard Hill, and you’ll have fun spotting the numbers 1 to 100 as they appear. If you don’t like Greenaway’s movies, you’ll find this horrible, perverted and just too odd for words; if you do like him, it’s cinema from a quirky heaven with the perfect neo-baroque soundtrack. I do! I do! (1988) ****½

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (TV2, 9.10pm). Mike Myers’s funniest creation – apart from the Scottish ogre. Austin’s sexist 60s shtick got pretty threadbare by the fourth movie, but this introduction to his hipster world is worth one meellion dollars. (1997) ***½


King Kong (TV3, 8.00pm). Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1933 classic looks great and will have you weeping for the poor old ape. Who knew Naomi Watts would give Fay Wray a run for her money in the screaming stakes? (2005) ***½

Did You Hear About the Morgans? (TV2, 8.30pm). You won’t need to watch this, then. Hugh Grant hasn’t looked this embarrassed since he was caught with that prossie in Hollywood. (2009) **

Dazed and Confused, Monday

Dazed and Confused (Four, 8.30pm). Richard Linklater’s modern classic looks at the 70s through a 90s lens: pot-smoking, pool-playing, party-going Texan high-school kids. Other-wise known as high-school kids. (1993) ****


Jarhead (TV3, 8.30pm). Sam Mendes’s brutal biopic puts ex-marine Anthony Swofford’s experiences fighting in the first Gulf War right at the centre of everything. Not very different from any other picture about any other war – only the weaponry changes. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper. (2005) ***½

American Dreamz (Four, 8.45pm). This would have looked good on paper: a terrific cast in a satire that takes the piss out of TV talent shows and Middle Eastern terrorists But the script is so laboured and the targets so varied and diluted that we get the film equivalent of an excruciating American Idol contestant who doesn’t know how bad he is. Poor scores for Dennis Quaid, Hugh Grant, Willem Dafoe, Chris Klein and Marcia Gay Harden. (2006) **½

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