November 10-16: Including Swing Vote and Crazy, Stupid, Love.

by Fiona Rae / 10 November, 2012


The Princess Diaries (TV2, 7.30pm). Pygmalion-style wish fulfilment of the kind that makes every mother who is trying to raise a strong, independent daughter cringe. And then the movie pulls you in with the humour and the fairy godmother (Julie Andrews) and the pretty frocks. And the cute boy. Damn you, Anne Hathaway! (2001) ***½

Swing Vote

The Strength of Water (Maori, 8.30pm). We are very good at movies about kids that are not necessarily kids’ movies – Boy, Rain, Whale Rider – and The Strength of Water is no exception. It’s the first feature film from Armagan Ballantyne, who works from a script by playwright Briar Grace-Smith about 10-year-old twins growing up in a remote community not unlike the Hokianga. The arrival of drifter Tai (Isaac Barber) precedes a tragic event that affects everyone, and although the unfolding stories do not always connect in a satisfying manner, the film is natural and captures the beauty and power of a New Zealand coastline. (2009) ****

The Joneses (TV2, 9.50pm). A movie whose whole premise is product placement: David Duchovny, Demi Moore and their two teenage children move into a wealthy suburb and become the envy of the neighbourhood with all their cool stuff. The trick is, they are actually salespeople planted there to push everything from frozen dinners to golf clubs. Derrick Borte does a nice job for his directorial debut, although this is a fairly predictable moral fable. (2009) ***

Swing Vote (TV1, 10.35pm). A light political satire somewhat blunted when it tips into sentimentality. Nevertheless, it does have something to say about political engagement and the lengths to which candidates will go. Kevin Costner plays against his usual heroic type as a down-and-out drinker living in Nowheresville, New Mexico. Via machinations by his switched-on daughter Madeline Carroll, he becomes the one voter who will decide the presidential election. Cue media frenzy and the candidates (Dennis Hopper and Kelsey Grammar) flip-flopping on their policies and promising him anything. (2008) ***

Keeping Up with the Steins (TV2, 11.45pm). We see what you did there, TV2  – The Joneses, followed by Keeping Up with the Steins. Except that the Steins is an innocuous comedy about bar mitzvah one-upmanship that is also a boy’s attempt to reconcile his father (Jeremy Piven) and grandfather (director Scott Marshall’s father, Garry). Piven does his usual angry man thing and Marshall is amusing as the neglectful hippie grandad. (2006) ***


The Expendables (TV2, 8.30pm). Second wish fulfilment of the week: Sly Stallone relives the glory days by gathering the action stars of yesteryear for one last comeback tour. Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Steve Austin, Bruce Willis. He throws in the relatively young Jason Statham and Jet Li, but this is one for the old geezers to show they’ve still got it. Unfortunately, Stallone is a plodding director and the movie lumbers along between explosions. (2010) ***

Notting Hill (TV3, 8.30pm). Whenever he appears, Rhys Ifans steals the movie from under the noses of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, which is just as well, because Notting Hill is sweet but lacklustre. Grant retreads his Four Weddings and a Funeral self-effacing Englishman shtick and although the wattage of Roberts’s smile is undimmed, there’s not enough chemistry between the two to set the movie alight. (1999) ***

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Sky Movies, Sky 020, 8.30pm). Steve Carell again with the male inadequacy: this time he’s a buttoned-down pompous dumpee who gets his groove back with the help of a hilariously slick Ryan Gosling. For once, it’s not from the Apatow stable. The directors are Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who previously took Jim Carrey out of his comfort zone with I Love You Phillip Morris. The movie isn’t entirely coherent, but there are good turns from Emma Stone and Julianne Moore, and it’s almost a novelty that the movie is pleasantly uncynical and unraunchy. (2011) ***½

A Song of Good (Maori, 9.30pm). Despite funding difficulties for his second feature film (after the digital black comedy Christmas), director Gregory King still manages to create a tough, troubling slice of suburban Kiwi mayhem. Gareth Reeves (I’m Not Harry Jensen) is a waste-of-space who commits a heinous crime for drug money. What follows is an awkward and, as is King’s style, blackly comedic attempt at redemption. The film has a great deal of visual flair considering its miniscule budget. (2008) ***

The Night Listener (TV2, 10.40pm). A suspense movie that’s not very suspenseful, although the Guardian did describe it as “constantly intriguing”. Based on Armistead Maupin’s novel, the movie stars Robin Williams as a Manhattan talkback radio host who makes contact with a teenager and his social worker, Toni Collette. The boy has written a memoir chronicling his years of sexual abuse and is now dying of Aids, but Williams is sent on a spooky journey of shifting truths when he tries to visit him. (2006) ***


The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Prime, 8.30pm). A bit more action-packed than the previous two Twilight movies, perhaps because it is directed by David Slade, whose credits include a vampire horror that was filmed in New Zealand, 30 Days of Night. It’s about time there was some decent action, although the Twilight fanbase might wish otherwise. The story boils down to Bella’s beaux, Jacob the werewolf and Edward the vampire, joining forces to fight a bunch of “newborns” – vampires who have it in for Bella. Who knows why. There’s still the endless longing, of course, and the chaste courtship of Bella by Edward. Kill us now. (2010) **½


Bad Boys II (TV3, 8.35pm). In Michael Bay’s universe, there’s nothing that can’t be solved by a cop with a gun and a few big explosions. Will Smith has considerable charm and he and Martin Lawrence are a good team but this is crazy macho nonsense at its worst. (2003) *


Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). A documentary that is 94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, although making a film about the guy behind Sesame Street’s Elmo might seem like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s an inspiring story: Kevin Clash (below) was an oddball kid from humble beginnings who was fascinated by puppets. Sesame Street fired his imagination and his homemade puppets eventually landed him a job as Captain Kangaroo’s puppeteer. One reviewer complained there was not enough about what makes Clash, who was the first black puppeteer on Sesame Street, tick, but anyone who has ever enjoyed the Muppets or Sesame Street – ie, everyone – will find the behind-the-scenes details fascinating. (2011) ****

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