TV Films

by Philip Matthews / 25 December, 2004

CHRISTMAS DAY

Home Alone 2, TV3, 3.35pm

Christmas in New York, and Kevin's (Macaulay Culkin) family have gone to Florida. The successful formula is reprised to the letter, only with Manhattan taking the place of the family home. In its blend of cartoon violence and hokey sentiment, it's sadistic and sanctimonious at once. (1992) 2

Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, TV3, 7.20pm

A merchandising pageant pitched at a sugar-rush mardi gras level, this abominable effort is star Jim Carrey and director Ron Howard's desecration of the Dr Seuss book and, even worse maybe, the wonderful cartoon by Chuck Jones. (2000) 2

A Knight's Tale, TV2, 8.05pm

The comedy of anachronism - 14th-century scenes edited like music clips, scored to rock songs - drives this medieval-era number in which Heath Ledger's poor-born knight must prove himself in jousting contests and the like. In that sense, then, it's only a sports-self-esteem film that has stepped into the time machine. And it's up to Ledger's British co-stars to provide charisma. In particular, Paul Bettany as Chaucer. Yes, that Chaucer. (2001) 4

Dr Zhivago, Prime, 8.30pm

It goes on for about 10 years, has impossibly clunky scenes plus a truly risible ending and yet ... parts of this overrated romance are staggering in their scale, and, by the end, it has communicated some feeling of dramatic historical shift. With Omar Sharif, Julie Christie and direction by David Lean. (1965) 5

Shakespeare in Love, TV3, 9.05pm

Cuter than you expect, this posits the idea that a Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes, good) suffering writer's block while struggling with "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter" is inspired, both in work and love, by one Viola Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow). As romantic about England as it is about, well, romance, this has the familiar strain of American fascination with high cultural tradition, even while its director, John Madden, and writers, Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, are British. The script is smart and fast and studded with tasty in-jokes, and there are quality-theatre-signifying cameos: Judi Dench, Colin Firth, Rupert Everett. It even manages to find a use for Ben Affleck. (1998) 6

The Importance of Being Earnest, TV1, 10.10pm

Crammed with brilliant Wilde--an epigrams - it is here that you hear that "to lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two seems like carelessness" - and light-footed performances from, er, Everett, Firth, Dench and, as Miramax's token American, Reese Witherspoon. (2002) 6

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, TV2, 10.15pm

Crouching Tiger's executive producer called it "Sense and Sensibility with swordfights" and therein lies the problem - contrived to be the tasteful and respectable end of martial arts, this slow, dreary film is really about the triumph of hype and marketing, selling old rope to the middlebrow, art-house crowd. There are captivating fights at the start and at the end, but the languorous middle all but orders you to take a nap - at the very least, it should have got director Ang Lee taken off the Hulk film. (2000) 6

From Here to Eternity, Prime, 11.40pm

Famous for Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr's roll in the surf, this adaptation of a Pearl Harbour-set James Jones novel is, critic J Hoberman noted, "an acting bonanza": besides Lancaster and Kerr, check Frank Sinatra's Private Maggio and Montgomery Clift's Private Prewitt. (1953) 8

BOXING DAY

Babe, TV3, 4.00pm

A work of some brilliance, partly because it was made with Australian eccentricity (the executive producer and writer was Mad Max's presiding genius, George Miller). Its whimsy feels natural, not forced. (1995) 7

Remember the Titans, TV3, 7.30pm

A shameless button-pusher about race in the US in the 1970s, played out on that other field of dreams - the high school football field. With Denzel Washington as sermon-offering coach Herman Boone. A true story is buried within it. (2000) 3

Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me, TV2, 8.30pm

Comedian Mike Myers appears as no fewer than three characters here. Still, two of them - Austin Powers and Dr Evil - actually work (the other is that "Fat Bastard"). As a Bond parody, it finds names such as Felicity Shagwell and Ivana Humpalot inherently funny, and, if you agree, Myers has a whole movie of jokes that are just the same. (1999) 6

Apollo 13, TV3, 9.55pm

Call it the do-right stuff, the can-do stuff. Tom Hanks, with his quiet heroism, his stoic, conservative bent, was a natural for Ron Howard's space odyssey, in which a NASA accident is an evocation of a great lost age of American know-how and world-beating optimism. This is an efficient, gripping, white-knuckle ride. With - here they are, floating in a tin can - Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton. Ed Harris is on the ground. (1995) 7

MONDAY December 27

The Beach, TV3, 8.30pm

Alex Garland's bestseller held up a mirror to the mind of the young backpacker in South-east Asia, mapping an imagination fed equally on drop-out fantasies of primitive and unspoilt islands and war-movie images of Vietnam soldiers on permanent, drugged-up R&R. It was hugely entertaining and this movie botched it almost entirely. With Leonardo DiCaprio. (2000) 4

Mary Reilly, Prime, 8.35pm

Behind the scenes with Jekyll and Hyde. A pallid horror made with art-house values, Mary Reilly takes the maid's point of view - the maid is played by a sombre Julia Roberts - on the Jekyll/Hyde story (the mad doctor and his bad self are both played by John Malkovich). Naturally, this means that we miss all the action, although a panicked studio did graft an OTT climax and add a transformation scene. (1996) 5

TUESDAY December 28

Grease, TV3, 7.30pm

A film about the 50s made with the hedonistic mores of the 70s: unsafe sex, dangerous driving, underage drinking, heavy smoking. There are also songs. (1978) 6

WEDNESDAY December 29

Almost Famous, TV2, 8.30pm

Stairway to Cleveland: Almost Famous is Cameron Crowe's anodyne fantasy of 70s rock, based on his adventures as a kid reporter with Rolling Stone. Despite the recounting of at least one Led Zeppelin fact - "I'm a golden god!" yells a wasted rock star (quoting Robert Plant) - the fun and games are a long way from Bacchanalian, and even the 1970s aren't an excuse for the lead guitarist to have a moustache. (2000) 6

NEW YEAR'S EVE

Reindeer Games, TV2, 8.30pm

Neat title. It's to do with a casino heist that's set to take place on Christmas Eve. Among the protagonists are Ben Affleck as an ex-con - yes, we had trouble buying that casting, too, but it has been noted that one of the film's pleasures is in seeing Affleck get the stuffing kicked out of him by guys who really do resemble ex-cons. With Charlize Theron and Gary Sinise. (2000) 6

Coyote Ugly, TV3, 8.30pm

To call Coyote Ugly the unholy spawn of Showgirls and Cocktail is to damn even Showgirls and Cocktail more than they deserve. On one level, this is merely about a redneck-themed bar - in that way, the movie operates as its own franchise advertisement - at which girls like to dance on tables for the guys. Fair enough, but as producer Jerry Bruckheimer also came up with Flashdance - Jennifer Beals welds by day, dances by night - this titillation-fest also has no shortage of unconvincing waffle about blue-collar hopes and dreams. (2000) 2

SKYHIGHS

W hen the elderly Cuban musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club (Rialto, Thursday, 8.30pm) finally get to gaze in wonder at New York City - and there's a scene loaded with decades of historical, Cold War baggage - it's worth remembering that German director Wim Wenders is an outsider here, too, and that his best films have had the outsider's refreshed perspective. One of those films was Paris, Texas, for which musician Ry Cooder contributed an elegiac, slide guitar soundtrack. In 1996, Cooder revived the legendary Buena Vista Social Club for recording sessions in Havana and Wenders followed him over. "Havana great time," is how one review of the resulting film opened, and that is the feel: Cooder has pulled these old men out of musical obscurity (singer

Ibrahim Ferrer had been shining shoes) for the performances of their lives. "In Cuba, the music flows like a river," Wenders said. "I wanted to make a film that'll just float on this river. Not interfere with it, just drift along." The result was the easiest, least solemn Wenders film in a decade.

The MGM channel continues to unearth classics to mark MGM's 80th birthday. In the 1959 Billy Wilder comedy Some Like It Hot (MGM, Saturday, 2.20pm), Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis famously disguise themselves as women - members of an all-girl orchestra, no less - which brings them into direct contact with Marilyn Monroe, here as a singer; as at least one critic noted, shooting in un-garish black and white helped audiences to forget that they were watching a film about tranvestism. The film that follows, 1961's The Misfits (MGM, Saturday, 4.20pm) has a more morbid air: not just a late-career film for Monroe and co-star Montgomery Clift, this revisionist western - written by Arthur Miller - works through unheroic, twilight-of-the-frontier ideas. Then the channel follows that with another classic Wilder comedy, The Apartment (MGM, Saturday, 6.25pm), featuring another classic Lemmon performance.

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