March 9-15: Including Margin Call and Zombieland

by Fiona Rae / 28 February, 2013
The best Wall Street movie ever made, apparently, and a charming zom-romcom.


Margin Call, Saturday

License to Wed (TV2, 8.30pm). An engaged couple (Mandy Moore and The Office’s John Krasinski) are put through a “marriage preparation” course by their reverend (Robin Williams). This includes hilariously bugging their apartment and making them forgo sex. The only good thing we can say is that it doesn’t star Ashton Kutcher. (2007) **

Max Manus (Maori, 8.30pm). Big in Norway. Headhunters’ Aksel Hennie plays local hero Max Manus, a Resistance saboteur whose exploits are known to every Norwegian schoolboy and girl. It’s epic by Norwegian standards, with large set pieces, and areas of Oslo sent back to the early 1940s, including flying a Nazi flag over the parliament for the first time in 60 years. (2008) ****

Margin Call (Sky Movies, Sky 020, 8.30pm). It would be easy in hindsight to make moustache-twirling villains of the architects of the 2007-08 financial crisis, but writer-director JC Chandor doesn’t go for histrionics in his film about an investment firm on the verge of ruin. It’s an impressive debut for Chandor, whose cast includes Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Jeremy Irons and Zachary Quinto. All have been morally compromised in the pursuit of wealth, but the “margin call” arrives when Irons, the CEO of a Lehman Brothers-type firm, calls an emergency meeting to decide whether to stave off -disaster by dumping toxic assets before the market catches on that they are worthless. Margin Call was a surprise hit, grossing more than five times its budget, and the New Yorker declared it “easily the best Wall Street movie ever made”. (2011) ****

Anonymous (Rialto, Sky 025, 8.30pm). Pseudo history from Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) that enraged Shakespeare scholars everywhere by pushing the discredited “Oxford theory” – that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the real Shakespeare. There’s plenty of other stuff to be enraged about, too: Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) is an illiterate, whoring actor; young Elizabeth (Joely Richardson) was no better, frequently retiring to the country to give birth; and Oxford (Rhys Ifans) was her lover who used Shakespeare as a front. Perhaps the director who has already destroyed the world twice is having a laugh? (2011) ***

Sunshine Cleaning (TV1, 11.30pm). A low-key charmer directed by New Zealander Christine Jeffs that features some lovely performances, especially from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, who play sisters, and Clifton Collins jnr as the dispenser of cleaning supplies and advice. The Albuquerque siblings are not doing so well, especially Adams, who was once the popular girl in school but is now a solo mother who works as a cleaner. At the suggestion of Adams’s married boyfriend, the sisters start their own crime-scene-cleaning business, and as a metaphor for cleaning up their own messy lives, it’s a pretty good one. (2009) ****


Zombieland, Sunday

Zombieland (TV2, 8.30pm). Charming drollery and jolly japes in this zom-romcom, pop culture-referencing road movie. Jesse Eisenberg (brilliant in The Social Network) is the unlikely lead, a college kid who is resourceful enough not to get caught by mad cow-infected undead – he has rules, including “Double tap” (shoot twice to make sure), and “Beware of bathrooms” (you can get trapped in them). On the road, he meets Woody Harrelson, doing his best slightly crazy cowboy, and sisters Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, and together they form a kind of … family. Aw. (2009) ****½

Unstoppable (TV3, 8.30pm). Tony Scott was a little like the British Michael Bay: good at the action stuff, but not too deep and meaningful. Never mind, in Unstoppable a runaway train is full of some dangerous stuff or other and only Denzel Washington and Chris Pine (Star Trek) can stop it. Quite a few similarities to Scott’s previous train movie, the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123. (2010) ***

In a Better World (Maori, 8.30pm). A heavy-handed affair from Dogme director Susanne Bier about a saintly Danish doctor (Mikael Persbrandt) and his ministrations of refugees in Kenya. At best, it is heavy-handed; at worst, it is patronising, as Bier makes obvious parallels between the bullying that Persbrandt encounters when he returns home and violence in Kenya. Nevertheless, it won the best foreign language Oscar in 2011. (2010) **½

Funny People (TV3, 10.40pm). Judd Apatow is now a genre all by himself, and Funny People is another in his stable of growing-up/life-changing-events dramas. Apatow bases the movie on his own early experiences as a stand-up, although he never had a mentor like Adam Sandler, who plays a sadder version of himself. When he discovers he is dying, Sandler employs struggling comedian Seth Rogen to write jokes for him and life-changing events ensue. Sandler, for once, is not annoying or boring, and as an insider’s look at the way the comedy industry works, it’s pretty funny. The only bum note is Eric Bana, who overdoes it as the intimidating husband of Sandler’s ex, played by Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann. (2009) ****

District 9 (TV2, 11.15pm). The small flick that has become sci-fi legend: director Neill Blomkamp had been tapped by Peter Jackson to make the film version of video game Halo, but when that fell over, Jackson put his weight behind District 9, a feature-length upgrade of Blomkamp’s short film Alive in Joburg. The film does what the best sci-fi should – explores deep themes (in this case, apartheid, segregation, racism and xenophobia) while sending us on a nail-biting ride with explosions. Incredibly, District 9 was Sharlto Copley’s first professional gig as an actor and he improvised all his lines as lead character Wikus van de Merwe. (2009) *****


Sunshine Cleaning, Saturday

Stormbreaker (TV2, 8.00pm). For a little while, the Brits thought they had another kids’ blockbuster franchise on their hands – the Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz now number nine (two more than Harry Potter). But this junior James Bond caper is a bland affair, even with the addition of Bill Nighy and -Stephen Fry. Lead Alex Pettyfer is pretty but soulless, and despite the action scenes, the movie fails to live up to the excitement of the book. (2006) **½

The Running Man (Four, 8.30pm). A cross between Nineteen Eighty-Four and an Atari video game that depicts a future based on the deranged ravings of Glenn Beck. It’s a police state, all cultural activity is censored and the world government pacifies the masses with an ultra-violent reality TV show. It’s a warning from the past! Well, not really: forcing Arnold Schwarzenegger to participate in the gladiatorial show of the title is more a celebration of violence than a condemnation. The only one having any fun is Richard Dawson (Hogan’s Heroes’ Newkirk) as the sleazy host of the TV show. (1987) **½

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