November 24-30: Including Defiance and Dogville

by Fiona Rae / 24 November, 2012


Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Four, 6.30pm). Another little beauty from Aardman. Nick Park’s joy in his creations, and his love of puns, is in every detail: Wallace and Gromit run a pest-control business called Anti-Pesto; a jar on the breakfast table reads “Middle Age Spread”; Wallace has a row of cheese books on the shelf with titles such as East of Edam. Cracking. (2005) ****


Armored (TV2, 8.30pm). Low-budget heist flick that is so generic you may mistake it for … well, any other low-budget heist flick. A good cast, including Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon, Jean Reno and Skeet Ulrich, is wasted in a story that may be trying to say something about the blue-collar plight, but is otherwise uninspired. Columbus Short (Cadillac Records), the new guy at an armoured truck firm, is pulled into a plan to steal $42 million. You know where this is heading, of course, and in this case, the ride is not worth it. (2009) **

Tears of the Sun (TV2, 10.20pm). A sledgehammer that is “a weird blend of politically aware filmmaking and Hollywood hucksterism”, said Salon. In a story set in Nigeria, director Antoine Fuqua wants us to know about ethnic conflict and the horrific nature of the crimes visited on the innocent – there are some very gory scenes here – but he does it through the typical American action hero. Here, it’s Bruce Willis, but it could have been a taciturn John Wayne who is sent in to retrieve Doctors Without Borders physician Monica Bellucci from a remote village after the political situation turns to custard. At first, he’s following orders, but soon you know he’ll start to care. This is a movie tinged with sadness for another reason: it was going to be Kiwi actor Kevin Smith’s first Hollywood feature. (2003) **½

Defiance (TV1, 10.35pm). Edward Zwick (Legends of the Fall, Blood Diamond) blows his true source material somewhat by making a plodding movie. It’s not without merit, however, and Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber are excellent as two of four Jewish brothers who escaped a Nazi massacre in their Belarus village and went into hiding with other refugees in the forest. Schreiber wants to kick Nazi butt, while Craig is focused on survival. There are some action sequences to break up the monotony, and the cinema-tography by Eduardo Serra (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) is verdant and rich. (2009) ***½

Notorious (TV3, 11.30pm). One for the hip-hopper of the household. The story of rapper Notorious BIG, aka Biggie Smalls, real name Christopher Wallace, who was shot in a drive-by shooting in 1997. Jamal Woolard plays Biggie, but the movie is hijacked by Sean “Puffy” Combs, who is its producer, and who is portrayed by Derek Luke here. It’s probably unsurprising for rappers to mythologise themselves and their dead comrades, but as the San Francisco Chronicle noted, while “the filmmakers are busy making a vanity project, they forget to show why Wallace was such a unique talent”. (2009) **½


The Incredibles (TV2, 7.00pm). Another bona fide classic from Pixar, which took on director Brad Bird after Warner Bros shut down its animated features division. Sucks to be them now: the movie was, ah, an incredible success. The Incredibles belongs to Bird, who has said there were similarities between his life and Mr Incredible’s situation. That would be frustration at work and the inability to get his film off the ground, rather than being a super-strong superhero stuck in an insurance job. In addition, as Bird was moving from 2D animation (his previous film was The Iron Giant) to 3D, he didn’t know the limits of the medium – and you know what that means: innovation. Particularly tricky was the all-“human” cast (never done before in a Pixar movie), which required more realistic clothing, skin and hair. The film is a mini-masterpiece with a subtext about mediocrity and it works on the level of both adults and children. A terrific ride. (2004) *****

About a Boy (TV3, 8.30pm). Hugh Grant uses Caddish Englishman, No 3 of his three acting modes (Nos 1 and 2 being Dithering Englishman and Neurotic Englishman), for the follow-up to Bridget Jones’s Diary. He’s good at it, too, and this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel is reasonably unsentimental, even if little Nicholas Hoult is very cute as the 12-year-old kid who forces Grant to stop being so selfish. Toni Collette does wonders with the thankless role of Hoult’s awful hippie mother, and gorgeous Rachel Weisz plays the love interest. (2002) ***½

War Horse (Sky Movies, Sky 020, 8.30pm). Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel about a horse sent into World War I is grandiose and sentimental. No one does spectacle on a huge scale quite like Spielberg, although no one does emotional manipulation quite like him, either. There are some “expertly framed set pieces”, said our reviewer David Larsen, but “the story’s episodic meander manages to suggest that World War I was a rather unpleasant affair lasting several months”. (2011) ***

Dogville (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). Ready for some Danish avant-garde? Rialto spotlights Lars von Trier with Dogville, followed by the brutal Antichrist (10.45pm). Dogville is a film of a play in the Bertolt Brecht style: there are nine “chapters”, John Hurt narrates, and the action takes place on a large stage on which outlines are drawn, similar to a “black box” theatre. Nicole Kidman gives a fearless performance as Grace, a woman who is exploited by the town of Dogville. It is an explicitly anti-American message, consequently the Americans didn’t like it much, although it was showered with awards in Europe. (2003) ****

MacGruber (TV2, 9.15pm). The New York Times wondered why this movie even exists, although its critic had probably seen the original Saturday Night Live sketches it is based on and concluded there was no need for a 90-minute expansion of a MacGyver spoof with gross-out physical humour and potty jokes. We have not, so maybe there is some fun in seeing Will Forte walking around with a stick of celery where the sun don’t shine. Val Kilmer and Kristen Wiig raise the bar, but this is one for the teenage boy in the house. (2010)


Street Kings (TV3, 8.30pm). In theory, a thriller co-written by James Ellroy (LA Confidential) and directed by David Ayer (Harsh Times) should have been a taut roller-coaster; in practice, Street Kings is a sweaty, shooty, convoluted mess with an improbable pay-off. We’re on the mean streets of LA with vice detective Keanu Reeves; all the cops in his unit are corrupt and he’s a self-appointed Judge Dredd. In sweeps Hugh Laurie from Internal Affairs to investigate, but after that, flow charts may have to be employed to keep up with the story. (2008) **½

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