TV Films

By Philip Matthews In Uncategorized

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27th November, 2004 Leave a Comment

SATURDAY November 27

Stir of Echoes, TV3, 8.30pm

The nonsensical title sounds like some nu-metal band – Puddle of Mudd, System of a Down – and the audience might not be too dissimilar. In this supernatural thriller, Kevin Bacon is in touch with the other side. Incidentally, the story comes from a novel by Richard Matheson, author of the books that inspired The Incredible Shrinking Man, I Am Legend and What Dreams May Come. (1999) 5

Mr Nice Guy, TV2, 8.35pm

Action star Jackie Chan is all feet. His cartoonish stunts are closer to silent comedy set pieces than the outrageous choreography of the Hong Kong action school and he’s as eager to please as a spaniel. The movies are interchangeable and generic, mostly agreeable nonsense – as in porn films, the plots and set-ups are inconsequential. In this one, he’s a TV chef – he chops with his hands – and the dramatic stretch can be seen in the character’s name: Jackie. (1997) 5

The Fugitive, TV2, 10.20pm

This routine cat-and-mouse thriller is pumped up by two very, very watchable performances: Harrison Ford as the harried Dr Richard Kimble, on the lam since the murder of his wife, for which he was convicted; and Tommy Lee Jones as the preposterously driven US Marshal, the dogged hellhound on his trail. This also includes what might be one of action cinema’s greatest ever train crashes. (1993) 7

Freedom Strike, TV3, 10.30pm

Cult hero Michael Dudikoff must be straight-to-video action trash’s most prolific, er, craftsman. In 1998, he pumped out no fewer than five movies and his character names and the film titles should describe the general flavour: as Tom Dickson in Freedom Strike, Rusty in the Jerry Springer film Ringmaster, Andrew Garfield in In Her Defense, Captain Jake Fuller in Crash Dive 2 and D’Artagnan in Musketeers Forever (no, not those Musketeers, but a gang of secret agents in Las Vegas). Laugh all you want but he’s richer than you are. (1998) 2

SUNDAY November 28

Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Prime, 8.30pm

Casting genius: against Gary Oldman’s demonic, seductive, blood-crazed Dracula – perversely attractive, even when he looks every one of his 500 years – director Francis Ford Coppola cast, as Jonathan Harker, that great blank slate that we know as Keanu Reeves. Dude, where’s my fiancĂ©e? Oldman’s lonesome, heartbroken Vlad sees a photo of Harker’s beloved, Mina (Winona Ryder), and she is a spitting image for his long-dead Elisabeta (er, Ryder). So, he packs his coffin and heads for England, crossing “oceans of time” – the film is packed with this kind of deliriously operatic and melodramatic language – to look for her. That Oldman/Reeves imbalance shows that Coppola’s heart is with Dracula, a figure both tragic and erotic, and the visual sense is brilliantly, wildly over-the-top. (1992) 9

Domestic Disturbance, TV2, 9.30pm

Whatever happened to John Travolta? He wound up in nonsense such as this tired post-Fatal Attraction thriller in which his character’s ex-wife (Teri Polo) is shacking up with an obviously dodgy individual (how obvious? He’s played by Vince Vaughn) on whom his son is blowing the whistle. And from that summary, you can see all of it unfold. With some light relief from Steve Buscemi as Vaughn’s even dodgier mate. (2001) 3

Never Say Die, Maori Television, 9.30pm

Temuera Morrison stars as the improbably named Alf Winters, hotshot investigative journalist. When his house blows up, he knows that something serious is going on. Car chases against scenery ensue. The eventual conspiracy takes in apartheid-era South Africa, the New Zealand police and mysterious American corporate forces – meaning that you could probably call this one an ancestor of director Geoff Murphy’s upcoming Spooked, his thriller adapted from Ian Wishart’s dark-forces-are-at-work-everywhere bestseller The Paradise Conspiracy. (1988) 4

John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, TV2, 11.25pm

An army of the zombie undead … on Mars! No, Carpenter sure hasn’t lost his knack for the B-movie concept, especially as this thing really runs, like his far superior 70s film Assault on Precinct 13, as a transplanted western. None of which is to say that this is really much good as an actual, er, movie, but it’s hard not to feel some residual affection for the action-horror artisan in an age of corporate facelessness. With Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge and Pam Grier. (2001) 4

MONDAY November 29

High Crimes, TV3, 8.30pm

Another beautifully modulated performance from Morgan Freeman – paired with Ashley Judd for the second time – in a film that, on first glance, doesn’t really deserve it. These legal thrillers are as generic and textbook as it gets, but this is better than most, not only because of Freeman, but because of what the director Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress, One False Move) brings to it. Discuss among yourselves whether talent as great as Freeman and Franklin should be reduced to animating airport novels. That both overlooked talents are black is no coincidence at all. (2001) 6

WEDNESDAY December 1

Antitrust, TV2, 8.30pm

The only pleasure to be had in this ludicrous thriller is in the performance of Tim Robbins, who plays a contemptuous megalomaniac surely based as closely as is legally possible on Bill Gates. Yep, as evil nerd Gary Winston, Robbins even has the little glasses, the boyish haircut. His corporation is known as NURV. How Scooby Doo does all this sound? It gets worse: only boy-genius Milo (Ryan Philippe) can get between Gates – sorry, Winston – and total world domination. This hugely improbable scheme has something to do with linking the world’s computers and then requiring that everyone needs to keep buying the software that … hang on. (2001) 3

THURSDAY December 2

The Velocity of Gary, TV2, 11.30pm

Clunky and pretentious, this play that became a film displays all the negatives of such an adaptation. The milieu is a fantasy New York – pre-Times Square clean-up – of hookers, queens, all-night coffee shops. Everybody will be talking at you, but you won’t want to hear a word they’re saying … With Salma Hayek. (1998) 4

FRIDAY December 3

Sullivan’s Travels, TV1, 11.10pm

Disillusioned with comedy, a movie director (Joel McCrea) disguises himself as a hobo to go looking for the real America. His ambition? A serious, socially conscious picture called O Brother, Where Art Thou? (yes, in lifting the title, the Coen brothers were paying a tribute to this film). “I want this picture to be a document. I want to hold a mirror up to life. I want this to be a picture of dignity – a true canvas of the suffering of humanity …” He winds up on a chain gang. Directed by Preston Sturges, whose The Lady Eve ran in “the Vault” last week, this was one of the earliest films to take on that now-familiar Hollywood subject: Hollywood becoming aware of the smug limits of its worldview, and trying to get out into reality and make a difference. At the same time, it ultimately satirises the seriousness of such social-issues movies and lofty, patronising “our people today” thoughts. (1941) 10


ans of comics and bad TV know how Hulk (Sky Movies 1, Sunday, 8.30pm) works: zapped with gamma rays, Bruce Banner (Australian actor Eric Bana) finds he has a new personality that erupts when he’s angry. His id breaks out as a large, green, rampaging monster. Bruce wakes after his Hulk benders shirtless, with ripped pants, no memory and wanton destruction nearby. It’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but it’s also King Kong: neither hero nor villain, the Hulk is a sensitive brute. When the Hulk swats planes and helicopters, director Ang Lee (Ice Storm) makes the comparison explicit.

Rick Moody’s Ice Storm novel filtered family dysfunction through Marvel comics. Now, Lee does the reverse – this movie is a Freudian case study of absent fathers and traumatised children. Recovered memories drive the plot. Nick Nolte plays Bruce’s dad, the original mad scientist, as a wild-haired, crazed ancient mariner (not really a stretch). Sam Elliott plays the father of Bruce’s girlfriend, Betsy, as an uptight army suit representing 50 years of military-industrial secrecy. Betsy is Jennifer Connolly, reprising her Beautiful Mind role of thankless support to personality disorder-afflicted genius.

What kind of disorder? The unjolly green giant finally appears an hour in – an eternity for a comic-book film. This Hulk is all-digital but pretty well-rendered, and as he angrily trashes the lab and then makes sheepish, frightened eye contact with Nolte, you realise what this morose family therapy session has released: the beast is a giant toddler. This isn’t The Hulk, it’s Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.

Other highlights: the dark New Zealand thriller Orphans and Angels (Rialto, Wednesday, 8.30pm) has inspired David Lynch comparisons – if this was Mulholland Drive, then its star, Emmeline Hawthorne, would probably be Naomi Watts; speaking of drugs, Human Traffic (Rialto, Monday, 8.30pm) is a time capsule of that glorious, vanished historical moment known as “club culture” – nice one, bruvva, etc.

27th November, 2004 Leave a Comment

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