November 17-23: Including Knowing and Tabloid

by Fiona Rae / 17 November, 2012


The Visitor (Maori, 8.30pm). Thomas McCarthy’s directorial debut was The Station Agent, a charmer that managed to be warmly wry even as it was exploring the themes of loneliness and discrimination. He keeps that gentle tone for The Visitor, even as he explores the themes of … loneliness and discrimination. McCarthy’s protagonist is a widowed college professor whose near-silent world is slowly thawed by two illegal immigrants he finds living in his New York pied-à-terre. It’s a wonderful, tender performance from Richard Jenkins (who was a surprise Oscar nominee for the role) and as the changes occur in the character’s life – he learns African drumming from Syrian Tarek, then tries to help when Tarek is arrested – McCarthy allows them to unfold naturally and easily. (2007) ****

Knowing (TV2, 8.35pm). Unintentionally hilarious end-of-days sci-fi in which Nicolas Cage, in MIT professorial mode, discovers a code predicting major calamities to come. “If you see only one bad movie this year, definitely make it Knowing,” said the San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s something about Nicolas Cage delivering apocalyptic lines that never stops being funny.” (2009) **

Syriana (TV1, 10.35pm). Director Stephen Gaghan previously wrote the sprawling mini-series Traffic, and Syriana feels like its sequel – many apparently unconnected stories are gradually woven together into a criticism of Big Oil and the US government. George Clooney gained weight and grew a beard to play a veteran CIA agent in the Middle East – his character is based on Bob Baer, a former CIA agent whose memoir is called See No Evil. (2006) ****

Crazy on the Outside (TV2, 11.00pm). There are probably more laughs in Knowing (above) than in this “comedy”. Tim Allen directs himself in a story about an ex-con trying to go straight, despite his former partner-in-crime (Ray Liotta), his eccentric sister (Sigourney Weaver) and his crazy ex-girlfriend (Julie Bowen). Allen should have given himself a good talking to. (2010) *

Someone Like You (TV3, 11.35pm). A very ordinary romcom, despite the relaxed and charming presence of leads Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman. Greg Kinnear is the other third of the triangle, the nice guy who breaks Judd’s heart, which leads her to develop the “old cow, new cow” theory – basically an insult to humans and bovines everywhere. Is nothing sacred? (2001) **


You Again (TV2, 8.30pm). A good cast cannot save this Disney-fied revenge flick about a PR executive (Kristin Bell) who decides to take action when her brother’s fiancée turns out to be her high school bully (Odette Yustman). Bell’s mother is Jamie Lee Curtis, her aunt is Sigourney Weaver and her grandmother is Betty White, but there are very few laughs between them. (2010) **

Duplicity (TV3, 8.30pm). Double, triple and quadruple crosses make this romantic thriller a clever exercise by Tony Gilroy (who wrote the Bourne trilogy and directed Michael Clayton). Perhaps a bit too clever – if you lose one of those threads, you’re done for, although the exchanges between Clive Owen and Julia Roberts are sexy and fun. They’re corporate spies working for rival companies headed by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson – but are they? After the third script reversal, you may be wishing Gilroy hadn’t backed up the truck so much. (2009) ***½

Two Hands (Maori, 8.30pm). Aussie crime caper that is arguably the forbear of the likes of Chopper and Animal Kingdom (not to mention the whole Underbelly thing). It’s a two-hander with Bryan Brown and a young Heath Ledger – both terrific – who respectively play an underworld kingpin and an ambitious kid. But when Ledger loses Brown’s $10k, things get brutally out of hand. A young Rose Byrne plays the love interest and Jordan keeps the movie pacey and taut. (1999) ***½

The Crazies (TV2, 10.40pm). Your typical zombie apocalypse-type outing, but director Breck Eisner (son of Michael) keeps up the pace and the frights – and ladies, it does star Justified’s Timothy Olyphant as the sheriff of a small town who holds it together when all around are going nutso because of contaminated water. (2010) ***

1408 (TV2, 12.45am Mon). John Cusack carries this horror based on the Stephen King short story about a room in a hotel where weird stuff happens. Possibly not gory enough for the horror aficionado, but we scare easy, so … (2007) ***


Blue Crush (Four, 9.00pm). Stop if you don’t like girls in bikinis. An above-average surfer story that was inspired by a magazine article and focuses on three young working-class women, rather than the usual dudes trying to find the elusive perfect wave (how boring is that?) Blue Crush falls somewhere between Saturday Night Fever (also inspired by a magazine article) and Girlfight – an aspirational story of triumph through sport, but it also stays grounded in the realities of scraping out an existence as a hotel maid in Hawaii. Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez and Sanoe Lake are the three surfer chicks; Bosworth has a chance in a big competition, but is haunted by a previous accident. Enter cute football player Matthew Davis, who may or may not be a distraction. (2001) ***½


Inside Man (TV3, 8.30pm). Spike Lee shows he can make a bank-heist thriller, although Michael Mann this is not. Clive Owen and his gang take about 50 hostages at a Wall St bank. A cool Denzel Washington is the detective in charge, and he is, as Owen tells him on the phone, “too damn smart to be a cop”. Washington suspects the robbers have another agenda, but, meanwhile, the bank’s owner, Christopher Plummer, sends in fixer Jodie Foster to retrieve something he doesn’t want stolen. Lee’s intimate understanding of New York is again in play: when Washington doesn’t know what language he has recorded being spoken inside the bank, he simply walks outside and asks the crowd, “Does anyone speak this?” Of course, someone does. Plus, there are terrific performances from Washington, Foster and Owen. (2006) ****


Tabloid (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). The goalposts of truth shift into and out of view in Errol Morris’s fascinating documentary about a bizarre 1977 case that became a UK tabloid scandal. Southern beauty queen Joyce McKinney allegedly kidnapped Mormon missionary Kirk Anderson in the UK and took him to a cottage in Devon for three days. Depending on who you believe, Anderson was either shackled and sexually assaulted, or had consensual relations with McKinney, although Anderson does not appear to put his side of the story. It’s McKinney’s show, and she is an unreliable subject at best. (2010) ***½

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