Por­trait of a ge­nius painted by num­bers

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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Evan Wil­liams

TER­RENCE Mal­ick’s new film is called The Tree of Life. It’s his fifth film in 37 years, it won this year’s Palme d’Or in Cannes, and I can’t wait to see it. But that ti­tle both­ers me. It sounds too re­fined, too ex­alted, too grandly meta­phys­i­cal. How can we crit­i­cise any­thing called The Tree of Life? For that mat­ter, how can we crit­i­cise any­thing called A Beau­ti­ful Mind (Satur­day, 11.15am, Movie Greats)? Minds and beau­ti­ful things are the very stuff of Hol­ly­wood. This is Ron Howard’s film about the Amer­i­can math­e­ma­ti­cian John Nash, who fought a long battle with schizophre­nia. Nash won a No­bel prize in eco­nom­ics, A Beau­ti­ful Mind won an Os­car for best pic­ture, so you’d ex­pect some­thing pretty spe­cial. And up to a point, we get it.

But some­how we’re not as en­thralled as we should be. Ev­ery­thing feels too man­nered, too ma­nip­u­la­tive, too fa­mil­iar. Hol­ly­wood has al­ways been fas­ci­nated by sto­ries of ec­cen­tric ge­nius, maths prodi­gies es­pe­cially. Dustin Hoff­man won an Os­car for play­ing an autis­tic sa­vant in Rain Man. We had an­other mixed-up maths whiz in Good Will Hunt­ing.

Back in 1947, when Howard’s story gets go­ing, math­e­ma­ti­cians had a whiff of glam­our about them. Maths code-break­ers had helped de­feat Ger­many and Nash was re­cruited by the CIA for a top-se­cret cryp­tol­ogy pro­ject dur­ing the Cold War. The film is ex­cel­lent in con­vey­ing his delu­sional states and chaotic love-life. But we never know what to be­lieve. Screen­writer Akiva Golds­man has ad­mit­ted that ‘‘ most of the things that hap­pen in the movie didn’t hap­pen in John’s life’’, while many things in John’s life aren’t in the movie. But see it for Rus­sell Crowe’s gnarled, sub­dued and care­fully stud­ied per­for­mance.

For a dis­arm­ing ti­tle it’s hard to beat Shake­speare in Love (Sun­day, 6.20pm, Show­time Drama). Shake­speare had a beau­ti­ful mind, so what could be nicer than a film about his love life? This also won a best pic­ture Os­car, and the screen­play by Tom Stop­pard and Marc Nor­man is a witty ex­plo­ration of the links be­tween li­bido and creativ­ity. Young Will (Joseph Fi­ennes) is work­ing on his new play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pi­rate’s Daugh­ter, which is not an­other in­stal­ment of Pi­rates of the Caribbean, de­spite an ap­pear­ance by Ge­of­frey Rush. Gwyneth Pal­trow has suc­cess­fully au­di­tioned for the part of Romeo (a girl play­ing a boy), and Judi Dench is Queen El­iz­a­beth. Fun.

Cin­ema Par­adiso (Satur­day, 7.25pm, World Movies) never re­ally lives up to its promised al­lure, though the ti­tle was good enough for Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences vot­ers in 1988, who de­clared it best for­eign pic­ture. It wal­lows in nos­tal­gia for a mythic movie-go­ing past when ev­ery tiny flea-house cin­ema in pre-war ru­ral Si­cily screened clas­sic movies ev­ery night and fired the imag­i­na­tion of young Toto (Sal­va­tore Cas­cio), who grows up to be a movie di­rec­tor. Giuseppe Tor­na­toro’s film is as cloy­ing and sen­ti­men­tal as the best Hol­ly­wood tear-jerker and cin­ema buffs love it.

Oth­ers will look for a thor­oughly off­putting ti­tle such as In­tol­er­a­ble Cru­elty (Sun­day, 8.30pm, Show­time Com­edy) and be pleas­antly sur­prised to dis­cover a cyn­i­cal screw­ball com­edy from Joel and Ethan Coen. Miles Massey (Ge­orge Clooney) is a hot-shot Bev­erly Hills di­vorce lawyer who tan­gles with gold-dig­ging di­vorcee Marylin Rexroth (Cather­ine Zeta-Jones). Much of it is a par­ody of Hol­ly­wood cliches (‘‘Ob­jec­tion, your hon­our, he’s stran­gling the wit­ness’’), and here is Rush, again, as a sleaze­bag.

I searched but could find no part for Rush in Pa­per­back Hero (Sun­day, 8.25am, Show­time Drama), the Aus­tralian com­edy about a truck driver (Hugh Jack­man) who writes a ro­man­tic novel un­der the name of his girl­friend, played by Clau­dia Kar­van, and doesn’t tell her about it. A clever script by Antony J. Bow­man, who also di­rected.

Would you watch some­thing called A Film with Me in It (Satur­day, 1.30am, Movie One) if you knew it wasn’t writ­ten or di­rected by Clooney or Pene­lope Cruz? You might do worse. It’s a black Ir­ish farce, di­rected by Ian Fitzgibbon, in which the main char­ac­ters, an ac­tor and a writer, play out a se­ries of events that may or may not be the sub­ject of the film they are work­ing on. Mark Do­herty, who wrote the screen­play, plays the down-and-out ac­tor hav­ing a bad day. It works as macabre dead-pan com­edy, as a story of ill-fated bud­dies and as a mod­ern moral­ity tale, full of ques­tions about guilt and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, black and re­lent­less, funny and dis­turb­ing.

Gwyneth Pal­trow in Shake­speare in Love

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