February 23-March 1: Including Woody Allen: A Documentary and Shame

by Fiona Rae / 14 February, 2013
Rialto starts its Woody Allen season with an insightful documentary, and Michael Fassbender puts his body on the line again.


Shame, Saturday

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (TV2, 8.30pm). Forrest Gump screenwriter Eric Roth adapts a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald and the results are not even a box of chocolates. Through the magic of CGI and prosthetics, Brad Pitt ages backwards, covering a period from 1918 to 2005. He meets Cate Blanchett in the middle, but the film, directed by the usually unsentimental David Fincher, is so long and teary you’ll feel like a baby Brad Pitt by the end of it. (2008) ***

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sky Movies, Sky 020, 8.30pm). An extraordinary debut both from writer-director Sean Durkin and Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of twins Mary-Kate and Ashley. Olsen plays the traumatised escapee from a cult whose moral compass has been so turned around she doesn’t know it’s wrong to strip off in front of her brother-in-law, or jump into bed with him and her sister as they have sex. We gradually understand as the story emerges in flashback, and Durkin shows a mastery of the slow reveal. John Hawkes (The Sessions) is scary good as the cult leader, but less well-drawn are Martha’s sister (Sara Paulson) and her husband (Hugh Dancy), and Durkin makes a heavy-handed comparison of their materialism versus the cult’s simplicity. Nevertheless, a brilliant beginning for the young director. (2011) ****

Shame (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). Quite possibly the saddest movie ever made, emphasised by the blue and green lighting employed by director Steve McQueen for most of the film (except for a sickly yellow during a threesome). Having become skeletally thin in Hunger, Michael Fassbender puts his body on the line again, although this time as a sex addict who apparently can neither control nor understand his impulses. Fassbender is such a remarkable actor that you are willing his redemption, either in the form of a lovely co-worker (Nicole Beharie) or his needy sister (Carey Mulligan), although McQueen is not going to suggest there is an easy solution to his disconnect. (2011) ****

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (TV1, 11.30pm). A message flick from the writer of Thelma and Louise that is so heavy-handed it’s like being slapped in the face by Oprah. When Sandra Bullock falls out with her mum (Ellen Burstyn), three of Mum’s cronies (including Maggie Smith) drug her and take her back South so that she may understand Mama better. Director Callie Khouri has made a career out of creating strong roles for women (her latest project is TV series Nashville, which has two women in the lead), but here eschews real insight for simple resolution. (2002) **½


National Treasure (TV2, 8.30pm). Silly action-adventure film that seems to be trying to get kids excited about American history. A movie with so many ridiculous plot twists and historical absurdities needs a suitably ridiculous lead and Nicolas Cage is the right guy for the job; he is up against Sean Bean in a hunt for a fabled national treasure hidden by the Founding Fathers and the Freemasons during the War of Independence. This involves stealing the Declaration of Independence and Benjamin Franklin’s bifocals, and exploring secret tunnels below New York City. Mad, but the two sequels are worse. (2004) ***

Paul, Sunday

Paul (TV3, 8.30pm). A good-natured geekfest written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost that seemed to disappoint hardcore Shaun of the Dead fans and scare the Americans with its implied atheistic message. This might be because Paul, the alien voiced by Seth Rogen, shares his knowledge of the universe with fundamentalist Christian Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig, brilliant as always). To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, why would you believe in God when the real explanation is so much better? Just as they did with Shaun and Hot Fuzz, Pegg and Frost load up the movie with film references – everything from ET to Men in Black to Alien – and half the fun is the meta-ness. Bonus: one of the greatest pop songs of all time, the Only Ones’ Another Girl, Another Planet, is on the soundtrack. (2011) ***½

No Country for Old Men (TV3, 11.45pm). Joel and Ethan Coen almost make a return to their Blood Simple days, except that, 23 years on, the brothers and their cinematographer, Roger Deakins, are virtuosos who own the language of cinema. With Hitchcock-meets-Tarantino authority, they bring Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel to tense life, anchored by a weary Tommy Lee Jones, who is, these days, the prototype stoic lawman. Here, he can only shake his head at the evil that men do, as represented by Javier Bardem’s deadpan psychotic killer. Josh Brolin is the idiot who thinks he can get away with the $2 million left behind after a drug deal gone wrong (what else?), and although there is some reference to choice versus fate, it’s buried too deep to be annoying. (2007) ****½


Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Four, 8.30pm). One of the earliest and best of the Will Ferrell spoofs. Its legend has grown, too, so much so that a sequel is in the works. It’s the 70s, when all clothes were hilarious, and Ferrell is the ultra-groomed San Diego local news-anchor who isn’t going to be usurped by Christina Applegate, who has been hired in the name of diversity. Early appearances by Steve Carell and Paul Rudd hint at career success to come, and Seth Rogen, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Judd Apatow have cameos. (2004) ***½


A Cinderella Story (TV2, 8.00pm). Too-cute tween fare named one of the 10 worst chick flicks by Time. Hilary Duff was nominated for a Razzie, but you know, whatever. She and Chad Michael Murray are, like, destined. At least happily ever after means going to college, not the burbs. (2004) *

Sanctum (Four, 8.30pm). A movie that proves all the flash technology in the world cannot save you if your script and acting are duff. James Cameron exec-produces, and the same 3D technology he used on Avatar was employed when it screened in theatres, but at home on the small screen, it’s probably not worth diving in just to see a few people get stuck in some underwater caves. (2011) **

Woody Allen: A Documentary (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). Rialto is featuring Woody Allen during March, and kicks off with Robert B Weide’s insightful 2012 documentary. What it reveals is Allen sets the bar so high, even he doesn’t rate most of his films: Annie Hall “came out okay”; Manhattan was “something of a disaster”. “I’ve made just about 40 films in my life and so few of them have really been worth anything,” he says. The documentary spans right from Allen’s early career as a joke writer and stand-up to 2011’s Midnight in Paris, widely regarded as a return to form for the auteur (he won an Oscar for the screenplay). (2012) **** [NB: Click here for Guy Somerset's 2012 interview with director Robert B Weide; here for the long version.]

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