Portrait of a genius painted by numbers
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