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Films on TV, November 8-14: including The Matrix Reloaded and Eagle vs Shark


Mission Impossible (TV2, 8.30pm). Re-imagining the IMF as an acronym for Impossible Mission Force instead of the International Monetary Fund seems apt in these credit-challenged times. Sadly, Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt is more into tearing off latex masks than strategising Federal Reserve injections. Jon Voight, Kristin Scott Thomas and Emmanuelle Béart make up the extra wheels on Cruise's team as he struggles manfully against a post-Communist East European demon. Director Brian De Palma keeps up the thrill-rides: the closing sequence, in which a helicopter chases a train through the Channel Tunnel, is spectacular if, well, impossible. (1996) 6

The Matrix Reloaded

Eagle vs Shark (Rialto, 8.30pm). Jemaine Clement, one half of the awards-crushing steamroller that is Flight of the Conchords, teams up with director Taika Waititi (who has directed a couple of episodes of the Conchords' HBO series) to tell an understated and wildly quirky comedy about stunted adolescence. Clement is a video-game geek with woeful delusions of grandeur. Loren Horsley, against odds and sense, falls for Clement and tags along when he goes home to face an uber-critical family and a transformed childhood bully. Although many reviewers drew comparisons with Napoleon Dynamite, the Village Voice notes that Clement's "strident ugliness definitely serves as a critique of geek-chic narcissism". Oddball in the extreme, yet lovable. (2007) 7

The Matrix Reloaded (TV2, 10.35pm). All the elements of the original are there: Laurence Fishburne reprises his Obi-Wan Kenobi narrator shtick, Hugo Weaving is as hissy as ever, Carrie-Anne Moss is sleek and glossy and Keanu Reeves is permanently befuddled. The fight scenes, choreographed by genius martial-arts conductor Yuen Wo Ping, are fabulous to look at but the paranoid whispers of the original are replaced by sludgy expositions of pseudo-metaphysics. The middle instalment of the Wachowski brothers' trilogy comes off the rails entirely when Zion, the underground home of human resistance, throws a celebratory rave and transforms into an MTV-filmed subterranean Ibiza. The centre cannot hold. (2003) 4

Election (TV3, 12.30am Sun). After watching Key vs Clark and McCain v Obama, let Alexander Payne's electoral process satire show you how absolute power corrupts even school kids. Reese -Witherspoon plays a single-minded politician-to-be questing for the coveted role of student council president. Teacher Matthew Broderick, realising he has a power-crazed harpy on his hands, desperately tries to foil her campaign with a -succession of hardball schemes that turn both of them into the compromised figures found mostly behind the Beltway. Fun fact: Sarah Palin impersonator Tina Fey has cited Witherspoon's character as an inspiration for her side-splitting spoofs of the Republican vice-presidential candidate. (1999) 9


Hairspray (Sky Movies, 8.30pm). The Broadway equal-opportunity musical about freaks and queens and the promise of the 1960s gets a big-screen remake. Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer and Queen Latifah are better than their material (which equates racism with hate of the fat). John Travolta, channelling the singing and dancing that made him a star in Grease, dons high heels and breast pads and miraculously avoids extending his Battlefield Earth atrocity count. Much like the hairdos, somehow this film defies gravity. (2007) 6


Jarhead (TV3, 8.30pm). A boot camp-to-battlefield flick set during the long build-up to the 1991 version of the Iraq adventure: Desert Storm. Based on US Marine Anthony Swofford's blistering and excellent grunt's-eye memoirs of the campaign, director Sam Mendes makes a good fist of telling a story that's more about bearing witness than lighting up ragheads. Jake Gyllenhaal, beefed-up and with a military buzz-cut, masters a beseeching, pale-eyed stare as Swofford's warrior-poet among illiterates. Jamie Foxx is appropriately lively as a staff sergeant but Peter Sarsgaard doesn't get enough time in a supporting role. Although the closing lines hardly give Desert Storm a free pass ("We never have to come back to this shithole ever again!"), is it even possible to make an anti-war film? Swofford's Marines, counting down the 175 days until the invasion, watch the spectacular Wagnerian helicopter napalm scene from Apocalypse Now and by the end are on their feet screaming for blood. (2005) 8


Mission Impossible 3 (TV2, 8.30pm). Tom Cruise gets a haircut and again runs - this time into Philip Seymour Hoffman's bombs-on-the-brain villain. The old tricks are all here - latex masks, fancy cars and -switcheroos - as well as nods to Face/Off and Pulp Fiction. Anthony Lane of the New Yorker thought Michelle Monaghan as Cruise's fiancée was wasted, but he did prefer Hoffman-the-maniac to Hoffman's Oscar-winning turn in Capote: "As for the sequence in which Hoffman pretends to be Tom Cruise pretending to be Philip Seymour Hoffman, most of us would call a personal-injury lawyer or perhaps a libel specialist." (2006) 6


Elizabeth: the Golden Age (Sky Movies, 8.30pm). The lavish 1998 production of Elizabeth gets a sequel, with Cate Blanchett reprising her regal role and Pakistani Shekhar Kapur again taking up the directing reins. Blanchett outshines even her blindingly sumptuous costumes, Clive Owen is the dashing love interest and Spanish Armada-sinking Sir Walter Raleigh, and Samantha Morton's Mary, Queen of Scots, is an able foil for the Virgin Queen. For lovers of costume drama this is a fine argument against republicanism. (2007) 6

Behind the Sun (Rialto, 8.30pm). This fortnight Rialto is host to a festival of international film. Behind the Sun certainly fits the brief - directed by Brazilian director and banking heir Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries), and based on Broken April, an Albanian novel by Ismail Kadare. Two families of near-destitute sugar planters are locked into a long-running cycle of murder and revenge. The New York Times writes that "The cost of this struggle is, as you might expect, devastating, but not without a note of chastened optimism." (2001) 8


Le Divorce (TV3, 11.20pm). This film about the clash between American and French cultures seems to have cast the entire population of both countries and then some. Naomi Watts plays a pregnant American whose French husband, Melvil Poupaud, has taken off with an already-married Russian bride named Magda. Watts' sister, Kate Hudson, flies to Paris in support and starts an affair with her mother-in-law's brother, Thierry Lhermitte. Magda's husband Matthew Modine enters the picture and blames Watts for his marital problems, and Glenn Close plays an expatriate journalist who was once hooked up with Lhermitte. Even Stephen Fry gets in on the act as an art valuer. This army-sized, mid-Atlantic skirmish about manners is, not surprisingly, directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant. (2003) 5