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Films on TV: May 7, 2016

Including Avatar, Moonrise Kingdom, and Smokin' Aces.

Avatar, Sunday.
Avatar, Sunday.


Avatar (TV3, 7.00pm). After years of hype and hysteria about a new generation of special effects, Titanic director James Cameron finally revealed CGI spectacular Avatar (kudos to Weta Workshop). By 2154, our civilisation has depleted the earth’s resources to a near-apocalyptic extent. The military sets out with a small scientific attaché to mine the much-needed “unobtanium” from the floating, luminous Pandora, where humans must use avatars, replicas of the huge, blue native people, to survive the noxious atmosphere. Paraplegic Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is given a new lease of life when he is selected for the mission to use the avatar of his deceased identical twin. On seeing the destruction of Pandora, Sully’s loyalty is tested. Avatar is essentially a green, anti-war film. Cameron must hold conservation dearly as he is said to have been lobbying the Government for the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. (2009) 

Moonrise Kingdom (Four, 7.50pm). Wes Anderson’s films (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Darjeeling Limited) are so singular and unmistakable you only have to see the striking colour palette, the technical symmetry or the appearance of Bill Murray to know that you’re in for a rib-tickle. In Moonrise Kingdom, orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) deserts his Scout camp to explore the tranquil island with bookish local Suzy (Kara Hayward). The grown-ups mount a search party à la Hunt for the Wilderpeople in which Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) and Social Services (Tilda Swinton) lead their respective charges. It’s daft and delightful. (2012) 

Inside Man (Maori, 8.30pm). In this throwback heist movie, Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and his team of thieves smoothly take over a Wall Street bank and swiftly subdue the hostages before laying down a set of demands. But hostage negotiator Keith Frazier (the unflappably cool Denzel Washington) soon realises the robbers are stalling and have no interest in their demands. So what do they want? Director Spike Lee (Oldboy, Malcolm X) is brilliant at building tension and slyly injecting social commentary, but too many central characters have undeveloped and confused roles. (2006) 

Gravity (TV2, 8.45pm). What’s up with twin films – ­similar movies that are released around the same time? (See The Prestige and The Illusionist, Yves Saint Laurent and Saint Laurent, and forthcoming The Jungle Book and Jungle Book.) Add to that list Gravity and Interstellar. The latter film dives deep into space and even ventures to represent the perplexing effects caused by Einstein’s relativistic time dilation, while Gravity is set in low-Earth orbit where disaster strikes as Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt ­Kowalski (George Clooney) carry out repairs on the Hubble space telescope. The acting is superb and the visuals are breathtaking, but the fast and loose treatment of science didn’t go down well with the world’s coolest astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. (2013) 

Moonrise Kingdom, Sunday.


The Fault in Our Stars (TV3, 8.35pm). A plot revolving around two young, dying lovers is an old and risky strategy for extracting tears from a willing audience, but The Fault in Our Stars manages to pull it off, if only through the stand-out performance of Shailene Woodley (Divergent and The Descendants) as Hazel. There are some completely charming and wistful moments as the cancer sufferers deal with reality in unconventional ways, not including Gus’ (Ansel Elgort) tiresome habit of puffing on an unlit cigarette. The scenes in Amsterdam show the actors at their finest. And you better believe they visit Anne Frank’s house. (2014) •½


Blackfish (Maori, 8.30pm). By 2015, SeaWorld’s profits had plummeted 84%, in no small part due to the fallout caused by this brutal documentary on captive orca whales. During film-maker Gabriela Cowper­thwaite’s investigation into three deaths at SeaWorld caused by orca Tilikum, a picture begins to emerge of whales going mad in captivity. SeaWorld unsurprisingly denies any allegations of animal mistreatment, and the family of a killed trainer says the documentary does not represent her beliefs. Nevertheless, Blackfish is compelling and effective. (2013) •½


Leviathan (Rialto, Sky 039, 8.30pm). In Leviathan, an enormous whale appears only as a skeleton: a reference to both the Book of Job and Thomas Hobbes’ famous treatise on the social contract between citizen and sovereign. The allusions play out in the story of Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov), a car mechanic whose prime piece of real estate on an idyllic cliff top is wanted by the crooked and vodka-sodden mayor. It is a bleak yet magnificent film that serves as a cutting critique of the corruption and absolute power in the Russian Orthodox Church and state. (2014) 

Smokin’ Aces, Friday.
Smokin’ Aces, Friday.


Smokin’ Aces (Sky Movies Action, Sky 032, 8.30pm). Smokin’ Aces is an ultra-hip sub-Tarantino actioner made for the Grand Theft Auto generation. One New York Times review said, “Watching it is like being smacked in the face for 100 minutes with a raw sirloin steak.” Dodgy illusionist Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) is holed up in a coke-filled apartment before testifying against the Las Vegas mob. A motley crew of hired assassins and bounty hunters arrive and mess things up for the two FBI agents (Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta) tasked with protecting the snitch. There might even be a twist amid all that blood. There’s certainly a star-studded cast: Ben Affleck, Chris Pine, Alicia Keys and our own Martin Henderson are among those who appear. (2006) •½

Seven Psychopaths (Prime, 9.30pm). This blackly hilarious film written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) centres on screenwriter Marty’s (Colin Farrell) struggle to finish his screenplay “Seven Psychopaths”. Does it sound meta? It should. There are seven psychopaths who all come to a head after Marty’s friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), who has a habit of stealing dogs and returning them to their owners for the reward, kidnaps a shih tzu from the wrong psycho. Stellar performances by Farrell, Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Harry Dean Stanton. (2012) •½

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