TV Films (44)

by Philip Matthews / 31 December, 2005

SATURDAY December 31

The Adventures of Huck Finn, TV2, 6.00pm. A pre-Frodo Elijah Wood is young Huck in the umpteenth treatment of the Twain mater-ial. "A good film with strong performances," thought critic Roger Ebert. Robbie Coltrane, Anne Heche and Jason Robards co-star. (1993) 5

Dumb and Dumber, TV2, 8.15pm. The two most abhorrent people in the US (Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels) take to the road - in search of loot, girls, maybe both - in the least sentimental film about idiocy this side of ... The Idiots, probably. (1994) 6

The Frighteners, TV3, 9.15pm. A patchy, entertaining, minor horror comedy, directed by one Peter Jackson and shot in Miramar and Lyttelton, both of which do a nice job of standing in for Anytown, USA. Michael J Fox plays a con man who fakes hauntings so that he can charge out for phony exorcisms, until one day ... you get the picture. The real fun to be had is in picking up on the abundance of movie in-jokes and allusions - from Poltergeist to Ghostbusters to Carrie to Natural Born Killers to Beetlejuice - poured on like a heavy sauce by Jackson, the director as devoted film nut. (1996) 5

Blazing Saddles, TV2, 12.30am (Sun). Frat-boy humour in the old west: it's probably fair to say that this stuff plays out better in your memory than it would on screen 30 permissive years and many Airplane/Naked Gun films later. Still, Madeleine Kahn does a nifty Marlene Dietrich impersonation and there is something admirable about writer/director/actor Mel Brooks's relentlessly gleeful bad taste. (1974) 5

SUNDAY New Year's Day

Fame, TV2, 12.10pm. Painful narcissists fight for attention. Watch if you dare. (1980) 3

Breakfast at Tiffany's, TV3, 1.25pm. Truman Capote's novel about callgirl Holly Golightly is cleaned up and aired out by the team of director Blake Edwards, writer George Axelrod and star Audrey Hepburn. Prostitution wouldn't have such a good image until Richard Gere went shopping with Julia Roberts 30 years later. (1961) 6

The Kid, TV3, 3.55pm. The inner child metaphor is made banal and literal when corporate warrior Bruce Willis meets an eight-year-old who turns out to be an earlier model of himself - and the boy is very disappointed in the man that he became. The personal redemption film is a staple diet of the Hollywood studios, and this one marries It's a Wonderful Life - the genre model - with Willis's spooked turn in The Sixth Sense, but it's as bogus as the star's toupee. (2000) 4

Road to Zanzibar, TV1, 4.05pm. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope kid around on the entirely and deliberately fake "African" backlots of Hollywood studios, with Dorothy Lamour and occasional natives. (1941) 4

Whale Rider, TV1, 8.30pm. "There was no gladness when I was born," says 12-year-old Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) with a candour that is heartbreaking. In this confident blend of tragedy, comedy and innate, intuitive mysticism, young Paikea appears as something like a messiah in disguise - think of the King Arthur stories or even Star Wars - while Koro (Rawiri Paratene), the community's elder, is looking for the birth of a boy who will lead the way forward, who can even re-establish a whale-human bond lost long ago. It's to the credit of director and writer Niki Caro that the magical, supernatural elements of this plot are so grounded in the everyday that the difference between the natural world and the fantastic scarcely seems to exist. (2002) 9

Heavenly Creatures, TV2, 10.20pm. The first - and, so far, only - Peter Jackson film to live more in reality than fantasy, this is a gripping and imaginative retelling of a murder case that rocked staid, Anglophile Christchurch five decades ago. And despite its basis in truth, it has all the frenzied, headlong intensity of Jackson's best action-horrors - Braindead and Fellowship of the Ring. Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey play the hysterical teen lovers/killers with real feeling and Jackson gets right inside their troubled heads (so well that the "fourth world" fantasy scenes seem superfluous). The supporting performances by Sarah Peirse, Jed Brophy, Diana Kent and others are generally excellent, too. (1994) 8

The American President, TV3, 11.25pm. Fans of The West Wing may find a weird dislocation in a film about the White House in which Martin Sheen is merely the Chief of Staff, especially as West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin also wrote the screenplay. Here, the love life of a liberal, widowed president (Michael Douglas) is used to bash those who confuse the public and the private - the enemies of Clinton, in other words. (1995) 7

MONDAY January 2

Doctor Dolittle 2, TV3, 7.30pm. If he can talk to the animals and no one is there to hear him, does he make a sound? Another stop on the long decline of Eddie Murphy, who doesn't have much to do here other than sit back as performing seals and dancing bears enact a plot about a threatened forest in California. (2001) 3

O Brother, Where Art Thou?, TV3, 11.30pm. A tall tale told by a cheerful idiot, this Coen brothers film is a comic romp through the Depression-era south, like Bonnie and Clyde remade with an antic spirit: we get such folkloric images as corrupt law enforcers and farm foreclosures, bank robbers and hobos, preachers and KKK wizards, Bible salesmen and a blues singer who sold his soul at the crossroads. The narrative loosely adapts The Odyssey, as Everett Ulysses Gill (George Clooney) leads a chain gang break so that he can get home to his wife - so we get a Cyclops, some sirens, a soothsayer. The brilliant soundtrack of 20s and 30s music was a success in its own right. (2000) 9

TUESDAY January 3

Forrest Gump, TV3, 8.30pm. A collection of clichés and platitudes about the old South and changes in America - from the civil rights movement and Vietnam to AIDS and the selfish 80s - fronted like a this-is-your-life clipshow by a near-autistic Tom Hanks. (1994) 4

The Royal Tenenbaums, TV3, 11.25pm. The story of a family in terminal decline, The Royal Tenenbaums wears its mood of bookish and melancholy eccentricity like a badge. For director Wes Anderson and co-writer and actor Owen Wilson, this runs like a more elaborate version of their wonderful 1999 sleeper hit, Rushmore, but that elaboration also means that their askew humour and attention to detail have grown baroque and opulent, petrified by detail. (2002) 6

WEDNESDAY January 4

Nothing to Lose, TV2, 8.30pm. A strictly third-rate rendition of the ever popular inter-racial buddy/crime flick, this time with Tim Robbins as the uptight square and Martin Lawrence where Eddie Murphy used to be. (1997) 3

Hamlet, Prime, 8.30pm. Kenneth Branagh must have called in every favour he was ever owed to assemble this star-studded and extravagant treatment: in minor roles, we get Charlton Heston, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Gerard Depardieu. In the lead, Branagh's energy is admirable, the shooting is crisp and beautiful and the sets and locations are lavish - the decision to set this in the 19th century also restores a geo-political dimension that most directors skip. There are flaws - Jack Lemmon is all wrong as Marcellus and the Ophelia (Kate Winslet) plot isn't very well-treated - but Branagh's near-operatic ambition is something to behold. Fans of minimalism should avoid it. (1996) 8

THURSDAY January 5

Long Time Dead, TV3, 8.30pm. Six go mad with a Ouija board in this fairly ordinary British horror. A waste of a good title. (2002) 3

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