Films on TV, October 31-November 6: including What We Do in the Shadows and World War Z

by Fiona Rae / 22 October, 2015
The genius local comedy arrives for Halloween, as does the zombie apocalypse. Again.
What We Do in the Shadows, Saturday
What We Do in the Shadows, Saturday


Frankenweenie (TV2, 4.35pm). Tim Burton gives his 1984 live-action short film the stop-motion treatment he always wanted, resulting in one of his best. It’s the macabre story of a boy, Victor, who reanimates his pet dog, Sparky, and there are many, many entertaining references and homages. Almost as good as The Nightmare Before Christmas. (2012) ••••

What We Do in the Shadows (TV2, 8.30pm). Good score for Halloween, TV2. This drolly funny, terrifically inventive mockumentary-style local flick has quite rightly cemented Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s reputation as comedy geniuses. The devil is in the detail, such as the past history of the vampire flatmates (Clement, Waititi, Jonathan Brugh and Ben Fransham) flashing by in a montage of historical photographs. The more carefully the world is constructed, the more laughs can be extracted, and there are some frights and even pathos in Viago’s search for the girl he once loved. Bloody brilliant. (2014) •••••

The Invisible Woman, Saturday
The Invisible Woman, Saturday

The Invisible Woman (Rialto, Sky 039, 8.30pm). A triumph of restraint and an extraordinary second directorial outing for Ralph Fiennes, who again insists on starring in the film as well. He occupies less screen time here as Charles Dickens than he did in Coriolanus, focusing on Felicity Jones, who plays young Nelly Ternan, an aspiring actress who was swept up by writing and stage superstar Dickens. Working from a script by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, Shame), who adapted Claire Tomalin’s book, Fiennes manages to capture some of the complicated genius of the great writer, beloved for his stage performances and social idealism, but also a fame-hungry egotist who could walk away from an injured Nelly after a train crash so as not to reveal their affair. In a cast that includes Kristin Scott Thomas and Tom Hollander, Joanna Scanlan stands out for her sensitive portrayal of Catherine Dickens, the wife who gave Charles 10 children, but whom he divorced in 1858. (2013) ••••

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (TV3, 9.00pm). Producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay presumably wanted to make a horror-action-comedy, but with a clichéd script written by its Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, this amounts to silly pastiche. The casting of blank ciphers Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as Hansel and Gretel doesn’t help, either. Nevertheless, it was big at the box office, and a sequel is in development, although without Wirkola. (2013)

Hell Baby (TV2, 10.15pm). TV2 goes for more horror-comedy laughs, although this US flick starring Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb is decidedly average. It’s a Rosemary’s Baby-style set-up, but you’d think the Devil could have organised some better gags. (2013) ••


Into the Wild, Sunday
Into the Wild, Sunday

World War Z (TV2, 8.30pm). Apocalypse, again. Brad Pitt tries to make a more socially conscious blockbuster out of Max Brooks’s novel, although the multitudes of obviously CGI zombies somewhat dampen the effect. Pitt’s UN investigator zooms around the globe like a sad James Bond trying to find the source of the outbreak; surprisingly, the answer is to be found in Wales. (2013) •••

Into the Wild (Choice, 8.30pm). A horrifying story, to be sure, but Sean Penn, in his third directorial outing, has sympathy for the young man who went north into the Alaskan wilderness armed with little more than idealistic hubris. It’s based on the story of Christopher McCandless, who sought solitude and a subsistence life in Alaska in 1992 and kept a journal upon which a later book was based. Emile Hirsch is riveting as Christopher, who has help from a number of people, but ultimately can’t be dissuaded from leaving civilisation altogether. (2007) ••••

Milk (TV3, 11.25pm). The first amazing performance by Sean Penn this week (see Wednesday); here’s his uncanny portrait of gay rights activist Harvey Milk. Gus Van Sant’s biopic is, as biopics often are, a sprawling affair that has to tick all the boxes. Penn won an Oscar for his transformation into the Long Island Korean War vet who thought that gay consumers with their pink dollars should have a share of the power in San Francisco. Penn conveys Milk’s unlikely charisma and his ability to be out and still strike a deal with huge and hairy Teamsters (“Don’t worry, I left my high heels at home,” he jokes). It was a carefree time, before Aids, and when there were battles to be fought and won, notably against a notorious referendum that would have banned gay teachers. Perhaps Van Sant paints Milk as too saintly, but nevertheless, despite the ending, this is an uplifting film that shows a world changing for the better. (2008) ••••½


20 Feet from Stardom (Maori, 8.30pm). Terrific documentary (which won an Oscar last year) about the back-up singers who were literally 20 feet away from the real stars. Their voices can be heard on many a classic, but most people would struggle to name even one. The likes of Mick Jagger and Stevie Wonder provide insight, but director Morgan Neville would rather concentrate on Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton and Táta Vega. (2013) ••••

The Grey, Tuesday
The Grey, Tuesday

The Grey (Prime, 8.35pm). More than just a survival flick, with a sad-sack Liam Neeson taking on not only a pack of wolves in the Alaskan wilderness, but his own demons. The other members of the crash-landed crew (which includes James Badge Dale and Dermot Mulroney) are similarly afflicted, amid discussions about nature versus God. From the guy who made The A-Team, too. (2011) •••½


Dead Man Walking (Four, 8.30pm). Sean Penn is absolutely intense in this anti-death penalty movie, although it doesn’t sugar-coat the crime committed by Matthew Poncelet and his accomplice. Based on the book by nun Helen Prejean, Tim Robbins’s film also acknowledges her simple Christian values as she communicates with families on both sides. Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for her portrayal of Prejean and she has since become an anti-death penalty campaigner. (1995) ••••½


Chronicle (Four, 8.30pm). Low-budget “found footage” flick with an age-old story that still manages a gritty freshness. That would be because of its charmingly short running time, taut script, real-looking special effects and good performances from star-in-the-making Michael B Jordan (Fruitvale Station) and Dane DeHaan (Kill Your Darlings, The Place Beyond the Pines). When three high-school kids get superpowers after an encounter with something alien in the woods, the next step is saving the world, right? Wrong – they play practical jokes and have a flying football game. (2012) ••••

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

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