January 12-18: Including Alice in Wonderland and Borat

by Diana Balham / 03 January, 2013
Tim Burton and buddies Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter scare the little ones witless and a moustachioed innocent abroad.


Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland

Muppets from Space (Four, 6.30pm). Who am I? What am I? Where did I come from? Gonzo is contacted by his alien family through his breakfast cereal. Now that’s a plot. And the Muppets did need more existentialism. (1999) ***

Shanghai Knights (TV2, 7.30pm). TV2’s Jackie Chan double-bill Saturday continues with the sequel to Shanghai Noon. So, shouldn’t it be Shanghai Nights? It’s such a glorious mess, perhaps nobody noticed.
(2003) ***

I’m Not Harry Jenson (Maori, 8.30pm). Not a good ad campaign for New Zealand tourism: this local thriller is mostly shot deep in the bush, where it’s always raining and people keep being killed. But this ain’t a sunny story. Young writer/director James Napier Robertson wrings great performances from his experienced cast, including uncle Marshall Napier, Ian Mune, Ilona Rodgers, Gareth Reeves and Renato Bartolomei. (2009) ***

The Hunter (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). Little old Tasmania gets a makeover as a hard-ass in this adventure drama about a loner, this time combing the Aussie wilderness in search of the Tasmanian tiger. He’s been given the bad news – the tiger is supposed to be extinct – but he’s been sent by a biotech company interested in the animal’s DNA. However, a grumpy, stripy ex-mammal looks like being the least of his problems. Willem Dafoe, as Martin the cultured mercenary, looks as if he could do with a hug and a hot meal; Frances O’Connor is Lucy, the nice Aussie who might supply them; and Sam Neill puts on his best Ocker accent as a hunting guide. Loses a bit of mongrel when Martin gets preoccupied with Lucy and her cute kids. (2011) ***

Cry Wolf (Four, 8.50pm). A horror in every sense of the word. Said Entertainment Weekly’s Scott Brown, “Contains no actual wolves but it does have some howlers.” (2005) **½

The Forbidden Kingdom (TV2, 9.50pm). Yet more Jackie Chan with this actioner that’s based on the epic Chinese story Journey to the West, about a Buddhist monk’s pilgrimage to India during the Tang Dynasty. But, of course, that wouldn’t attract the requisite financial backing, so now it’s about a kung fu-obsessed American teenager (Michael Angarano) who finds an ancient weapon in Chinatown and goes back in time to join a crew of martial arts warriors. Sounds familiar. Chan and Jet Li trade chopsocky moves on screen for the first time. Thwacking good fun. (2008) ***

Conspiracy Theory (TV1, 10.30pm). “So, we’ll call it Conspiracy Theory until we think of a better title, okay?” Trouble is, director Richard Donner (all the Lethal Weapons) thought bringing together his pal Mel Gibson and super-hot Julia Roberts in a thriller with a touch of comedy would be enough, and when it didn’t quite work, he lost interest. (1997) ***


Mamma Mia! (TV3, 10.10am). Here we go again. (2008) ***

Alice in Wonderland (TV2, 7.00pm). Tim Burton and buddies Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter scare the little ones witless. If the fi lm’s great failing is that it makes more sense than Lewis Carroll’s stories ever did, that’s a small price to pay for a fi lm so splendidly mad. Apparently, Burton based the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) on TV cook Nigella Lawson: “There’s this glint in her eye and when you see it, you go, ‘Oh, whoa, she’s like really … nuts.’ I mean in a good way.” Too many British stars to mention, as well as our Marton Csokas as Charles Kingsleigh. (2010) ***½

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). Two strong women – Helen Mirren and Margaret Thatcher – will possibly be your lingering memories of this brutal and in-your-face Peter Greenaway classic: Mirren because she’s effortlessly sexy, although uncharacteristically meek here, as the wife of revolting Albert Spica (a superbly vile Michael Gambon) and Thatcher because this nightmarish tale about lust and power and death can be seen as an allegory for Britain under her iron rule. A black comedy: burnt to a crisp, in fact. (1989) ****

Hot Fuzz (TV3, 8.40pm). Part two of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s “blood and ice-cream trilogy”, after Shaun of the Dead and before The World’s End, due for release in 2014. Not to be confused with “warm fuzzies”, although you might get these from this buddy cop piss-take. It’s a bit like a long episode of Midsomer Murders, where there’s a bloody corpse around every quaint corner. Pegg and Nick Frost star as Nick and Danny: one a top city officer and the other a gormless village bobby who couldn’t arrest a guinea pig without backup. (2007) ****

Austin Powers 2: the Spy Who Shagged Me (TV2, 9.05pm). Hands up if you think Americans don’t know what “shagged” means. The trailer goes, “If you see one movie this summer, see Star Wars.” It’s not that bad, it’s just not new any more. (1999) ***


Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief (TV3, 8.00pm). A boy discovers he’s the descendant of a Greek god and sets out on an adventure to settle an argument between the disputing deities. Please apply Plot Strand Number 23: the idea that teenagers aren’t human is proved when they learn they have freaky-deeky superpowers and get the hell out of America to save the world. See also The Forbidden Kingdom, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Seeker – and that’s just in the past three weeks. Not surprisingly, this is directed by Chris Columbus, who made the first two Harry Potter movies. (2010) ***


Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Four, 8.30pm). Sacha Baron Cohen’s mockumentary about a moustachioed innocent abroad is excruciating to watch but, rather like touching an electric fence, you can’t resist it. (2006) ****


Repo Men (TV3, 8.30pm). Not a sequel to 1984’s Repo Man, this grisly thriller stars Jude Law as an agent who “repossesses” artificial organs from people who fall behind on their payments. But when he has a heart attack, his company fits him with a top-of-the-line new model. Trouble is, he finds he can’t forcibly repatriate like he used to: his heart’s not in it, as it were. Law keeps taking micro-pauses to stare alluringly into space, as if he’s promoting his new fragrance, which is annoying, but it gives a brief respite from the incessant rivers of gore he encounters on the job. Forest Whitaker and Liev Schreiber seem better able to concentrate, although the direction (by newcomer Miguel Sapochnik) and screenplay (by Garret Lerner and Matchstick Men’s Eric Garcia) are middling at best. (2010) **½

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