The best and worst movies on TV this week: December 2-8

by Fiona Rae / 02 December, 2017
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The Lion King, Saturday.

Saturday December 2

The Lion King (TVNZ 2, 7.00pm). Hamlet-on-the-savannah with Elton John songs: what a classic. No one does archly evil like Jeremy Irons, the dastardly uncle who engineers the death of the king, and Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, as Simba’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern helpmates, steal the movie. A CGI remake, directed by Jon Favreau (who also made the new CGI version of The Jungle Book), is scheduled for 2019, but for our money, it should be abandoned immediately. (1994) •••••

Hook (Three, 7.00pm). The sentimental Steven Spielberg comes out for his bloated Peter Pan story, in which Robin Williams must remember what it was like to be a child, or something. There is novelty in the lack of CGI effects, and everyone looks so young, from Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell to Gwyneth Paltrow as the young Wendy. Dame Maggie Smith steals the show as the older Wendy. (1991) •••

The Wedding Date (TVNZ 2, 8.30pm). Like Pretty Woman in reverse: Dermot Mulroney, who is enjoying a late-career rejuvenation (roles include a recovering addict in Shameless and a womanising cellist in Mozart in the Jungle), plays an escort hired by Debra Messing to accompany her to her sister’s wedding. A we-can-see-it-coming-a-mile-away premise, but according to Salon, Mulroney “nearly carries The Wedding Date single-handedly”. (2005) ••

The Lives of Others (Maori TV, 8.45pm). A phenomenal debut from German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck that seemed to be a retort to the cosy nostalgia that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. Set in 1984, when the Stasi had their tentacles in every aspect of East Germans’ lives, it focuses on two men: a playwright (Sebastian Koch) and a Stasi officer (Ulrich Mühe). In their own way, both believe in the ideals of the state and both become disillusioned: when Mühe is ordered to surveil Koch, he discovers it’s not for political reasons, but because his boss is obsessed with Koch’s girlfriend (Martina Gedeck). The contradictions and contortions of a totalitarian state are conveyed in many subtle details, but von Donnersmarck also builds tension as Mühe begins to sympathise with his quarry. The film won an Oscar in 2006, but von Donnersmarck misstepped with his next effort, The Tourist. (2006) ••••½

Thor: The Dark  World, Sunday.

Thor: The Dark World, Sunday.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (Three, 9.40pm). The well from which nearly all other British romcoms have sprung: Love Actually, About a Boy, Notting Hill, Shakespeare in Love, Sliding Doors and Bridget Jones’s Diary would all follow. Hugh Grant’s floppy hair and stuttering seem almost clichéd now, but this was his big break and his diffident Englishman act was considered the last word in charming. Director Mike Newell and writer Richard Curtis court America with the addition of reliably bland Andie MacDowell, and the lovely John Hannah made WH Auden the go-to poet for funerals. (1994) ••••

Sunday December 3

Thor: The Dark World (TVNZ 2, 8.30pm). Chris Hemsworth has remarked that he was bored with the character and the stories, and although sequel No 2 does the business, you can see it coming. The trouble with superhero movies is the endless search for adequate villains, and Thor is up against a foe of infinite dullness, Malekith, the ruler of the Dark Elves who, we’re sorry to say, is played by Christopher Eccleston. After many plot contortions, the showdown occurs at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, which is at least a nice location. (2013) •••

Colombiana, Friday.

Colombiana, Friday.

Adaptation (Maori TV, 8.30pm). Spike Jonze directs a script by Charlie Kaufman based on his experience of trying to adapt a book into a script. With that much meta-narrative, Kaufman has to split himself in two: Nicolas Cage is both Charlie and Donald Kaufman, although only one has writer’s block as he tries to adapt Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. The other is getting six or seven figures for a clichéd psychological thriller. Satirical and self-referential, the movie also features Meryl Streep as a drug-addled Orlean, who tries to kill Charlie in a Florida swamp. (2002) ••••

Chronesthesia (Rialto, Sky 039, 9.20pm). One of four local films on Rialto this week – that must be a record. With its themes of loneliness, disconnection and physical and psychic inertia, Hayden J Weal’s no-budget time-travel romcom could have been a Zach Braff movie in another life. Weal, who also wrote and edited the film, plays Dan, an introverted Wellington barista who finds messages written on his window and starts to follow them. It’s disconcerting and clever and is especially aided by director of photography Simeon Duncombe, a Weta Digital animation supervisor, who films Wellington with the most loving of eyes. Michelle Ny, Julian Dennison and Cohen Holloway also star. (2016) ••••

27 Dresses (Three, 10.15pm). Katherine Heigl is always the bridesmaid, never the bride, which seems to sum up her post-Grey’s Anatomy career. She’s stood up for friends 27 times, but life-changing catalysts arrive in the form of her manipulative sister, who snags the guy Katherine is secretly pining for, and journalist James Marsden, whose cynicism (because journalists are always cynical in the movies) is worn down. (2008) •••

Chronesthesia, Sunday.

Chronesthesia, Sunday.

Friday December 8

Bad Company (TVNZ 2, 8.30pm). Only 10% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Ouch. But then, Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock are the least likely misfit buddies ever. Rock is the separated-at-birth twin (groan) of a CIA super-sleuth who dies during a mission and Hopkins has the job of training him to impersonate his bro so they can try to stop a nuclear attack. Terrible even for a Joel Schumacher/Jerry Bruckheimer flick. Because of the subject matter, and as the last major production to film inside the World Trade Center, its release was delayed because of 9/11. (2002) ••

Colombiana (Maori TV, 8.30pm). Co-written and produced by French action-meister Luc Besson and directed by Olivier Megaton – yes, it’s that sort of movie. It begins with a flashback to Zoë Saldana’s childhood in Bogota, where she witnesses the death of her family at the hands of a crime boss and resolves to become a killer. As you do. In the present, she’s working in Chicago for her Hispanic-American uncle Cliff Curtis. The typically slick action sequences and martial-arts-style fights are painted in the lurid greens and yellows that Megaton favours, and although it gets a little messy, the film is elevated by Saldana. (2011) •••

This article was first published in the December 2, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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