March 17-23: Including Biutiful and Away from Her

by Fiona Rae / 17 March, 2012


Firehouse Dog (Four, 6.30pm). We ordinary mortals get our life lessons anywhere we can: here they come from an A-list Hollywood filmdog that gets lost and winds up at a rundown fire station. ­Woofully sentimental. (2007) 5

World Trade Center (TV2, 8.30pm). Two Port Authority police officers become trapped under the rubble of the World Trade Center after the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Now, what would you call this dramatic work? Something to convey the terror, hopelessness and anguish of these men? Would that evocative name be World Trade Center? Probably not, but Oliver Stone’s film – the first feature about the collapse of the towers – is a sight more interesting than its title. This “true story of courage and survival” traces the awful trajectory of America’s most deadly day and how it affected John McLoughlin and William Jimeno, played here by Nicolas Cage and Michael Peña. It’s gripping and well-acted, but one can’t help wondering if Stone felt just the tiniest bit guilty that telling this particular story earned him the biggest opening weekend of his career. (2006) 7


The Bourne Ultimatum (TV3, 8.30pm). It’s almost unheard of for a trilogy to get better as it goes along, and there’s not much in it – they’re all riveting to watch. But this, the third instalment, is even zippier, grittier and heart-poundingly busy than the previous two. One reviewer described hero Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) as “an international man of mystery even to himself”. (2007) 8

Away from Her (Maori, 9.30pm). A moving Canadian film by first-time director and actress Sarah Polley, who was extraordinarily good in 1997’s The Sweet Hereafter. It’s the story of a couple in their sixties whose relationship is changed forever when the wife, Fiona, is admitted to a hospital after she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Polley wrote the screenplay, based on Alice Munro’s short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain, for Julie Christie, who plays Fiona. (2006) 8

Notes on a Scandal (TV3, 10.50pm). It goes against the grain to dislike Dame Judi Dench – she’s like a Wiggle for grown-ups – but she clearly gets a kick out of playing a bitter old cow in this enthralling drama about a retiring teacher with a hold over her younger colleague. When she gets going, Dench’s face caves in with a sort of malevolent mouldiness, which is startling and effec  tive because we’re not used to seeing this from her. Cate Blanchett is equally good as art teacher Sheba Hart: their performances were two of four Oscar nominations for this film. (2006) 8

An Inconvenient Truth (TV1, 11.30pm). Deeply scary. Al Gore – “I used to be the next President of the United States of America” – puts his heart and soul into this documentary on global warming. As he puts it, our ability to live is what is at stake. A desperately important piece of filmmaking. (2006) 8


Yes Man (TV2, 8.30pm). Jim Carrey is the vessel and self-help comedy is the genre. He gave up telling porkies in 1997’s Liar Liar and here he changes his life by saying yes to everything – body-blading, bungy-jumping, learning Korean … But it’s a toss-up whether I’d rather get my personal transformation messages from Carrey or a scruffy dog (see Firehouse Dog, Saturday). Rhys Darby’s attempt to surf on his Flight of the Conchords popularity has him showing up as an irritating über-Kiwi whose “We’re heving a little git-tigither at moi place” could well make it easier for Americans to understand John Key. (2008) 6

Lake Placid (Four, 8.30pm). A croc(k) but at least it’s meant to be funny. (1999) 5

Good Night, and Good Luck (Maori, 8.30pm). George Clooney wrote and directed this fine drama about 1950s Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist spree and the broadcast journalist, Edward R Murrow, who tried to bring him down. Clooney wisely left the latter role to David Strathairn, but plays Murrow’s producer, Fred Friendly, who also makes himself a sworn enemy of McCarthy. All good Americans were encouraged to fear “Reds under the bed”, but perhaps that should have included Freds and Eds. McCarthy is played by himself, using news footage from the era. The excellent cast also includes Robert Downey Jr, Patricia Clarkson and Frank Langella. (2005) 8

Christine (TV2, 10.35pm). Try to imagine your old Nissan Sunny with the same demonic personality as Christine – a 1958 Plymouth Fury. Tricky, isn’t it? This gal is all insanely grinning grille with a piercing double-headlight stare – wearing a blood-red dress, of course. Not Stephen King’s best novel or John Carpenter’s most convincing horror, but you might get a shivery chuckle or two from this twisted tale of a high-school nerd (Keith Gordon) and his all-consuming automotive love. (1983) 6


The Secret of My Success (Four, 8.30pm). A light confection from back in the days when Michael J Fox owned the 80s and his big hair made him look several centimetres taller than he actually was. He still had to stand on boxes with love interest Helen Slater, though. (1987) 6

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). Another entry in the “British caper flick canon” that began with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, this one stars character actor and human chameleon Eddie Marsan, his gormless accomplice Martin Compston and Gemma Arterton as the posh girl they kidnap. A smart and scary thriller that’s a triumph for first-time director J Blakeson. (2009) 7


Biutiful (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). This is Barcelona as you’ve never seen it before: a world of desperation and all manner of criminal activities. Uxbal lives in this world and every moment of his hardscrabble life is etched on his face. Javier Bardem is mesmerising in the role, which earned him the distinction of becoming the first actor in a Spanish-language film to be nominated for a best actor Oscar. Directed by Mexican Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams). An art-house film that offers a different kind of beauty. (2010) 7


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Four, 8.30pm). It’s funny how Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character seems so much more real than he is. Even the cyborgs have more of an inner life. This is sci-fi action at its peak: director James Cameron also wrote the screenplay and knows that a far-fetched plot won’t do if there’s no depth to the people – and machines – in it. A classic of its kind. (1991) 9
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