Cate and Eric shine as Lizzie and Chop­per

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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Evan Wil­liams

BE­FORE she be­came se­ri­ously fa­mous as an ac­tress and ecow­ar­rior, Cate Blanchett starred in Thank God He Met Lizzie (Tues­day, 1.10pm, Show­time Drama), a bit­ter­sweet com­edy di­rected by Cherie Nowlan. It was one of her best roles and the film is a ne­glected trea­sure. (It was re­leased on video as The Wed­ding Party, which may not have helped.) Cate plays the beau­ti­ful Lizzie, a doc­tor from an up­per-crust Syd­ney fam­ily who falls for Guy (Richard Roxburgh). A posh wed­ding is ar­ranged (this is the sort of fam­ily who can af­ford so­lar roof pan­els), but Guy has a prob­lem: he’s haunted by mem­o­ries of his for­mer love (Frances O’Con­nor), who keeps ap­pear­ing in flash­backs dur­ing the wed­ding re­cep­tion.

And that’s more or less the story. In fact, it’s the whole story, not count­ing the end­ing. Blanchett and O’Con­nor look smash­ing, and Guy’s prob­lem is fa­mil­iar from many a sec­ond-thoughts-at-the-al­tar com­edy: will it be the cool, high-toned and cul­tured blonde or the sprightly, prank­ish, fun-lov­ing brunette? The shrewd, ironic screen­play was writ­ten by Alexandra Long and the re­sult was a mix­ture of su­pe­rior froth and real-life pain as good as Muriel’s Wed­ding.

Be­fore he made a Hol­ly­wood ca­reer play­ing English kings and Tro­jan heroes, Eric Bana starred in Chop­per (Tues­day, 8.30pm, Show­time Ac­tion), the story of Mark ‘‘ Chop­per’’ Read, no­to­ri­ous Mel­bourne stan­dover man and au­thor of a cel­e­brated mem­oir. It was Bana’s first film — a bril­liant one — and the de­but fea­ture of di­rec­tor Mark Dominik.

Bana makes Chop­per a huge, lethal slob, a tat­tooed fig­ure of moun­tain­ous vul­gar­ity and prodi­gious en­ergy, boil­ing with anger, re­sent­ment and sus­pi­cion. Af­ter dis­pos­ing of his ri­vals in jail, he gets him­self trans­ferred from Pen­tridge by hav­ing his ears cut off by an oblig­ing fel­low pris­oner, and in his newly mu­ti­lated state set­tles a few scores in the out­side world and seeks a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with his for­mer sweet­heart (Kate Bea­han).

This daz­zling black com­edy was not so much a thriller or a prison drama as a psy­cho­log­i­cal study of an un­sta­ble char­ac­ter with a per­verted in­stinct for show­man­ship. View­ers should be warned that parts of it are nause­at­ingly vi­o­lent.

Di­rected by Danny Boyle ( Trainspot­ting), 28 Days Later (Satur­day, 8.30pm, Show­time Ac­tion) is be­ing touted as a pay-TV pre­miere, but I’m sure I’ve seen it on the small screen be­fore. This is a fine dystopian sci­encefic­tion thriller in the tra­di­tion of On the Beach and The Day of the Trif­fids: a hand­ful of sur­vivors con­fronts a world laid waste by an apoc­a­lyp­tic calamity. An­i­mal rights ac­tivists have re­leased in­fected chimps from a lab­ora- tory, un­leash­ing a deadly virus. If 28 Days Later were no more than a high-class zom­bie thriller it would be supremely scary. But Boyle and his screen­writer (Alex Gar­land) touch on pro­found ques­tions of sci­en­tific moral­ity and the re­sult is a near-mas­ter­piece, hor­rific and vi­sion­ary. (An in­fe­rior se­quel, 28 Weeks Later, ap­peared in 2007.)

In Steven Zail­lian’s A Civil Ac­tion (Satur­day, 8.30pm, Show­time Drama), Robert Du­vall plays a smug, am­bi­tious lawyer moved by a sud­den char­i­ta­ble im­pulse to fight for a small Mas­sachusetts com­mu­nity whose en­vi­ron­ment has been poi­soned by toxic waste. It’s a true story (more or less) — one of the big­gest US legal cases of the 1980s — and Zail­lian’s film is about the sys­tem. Un­like legal thrillers of the John Gr­isham va­ri­ety, it has some­thing of the awk­ward­ness of real life. No mys­tery wit­nesses come for­ward at the end; no webs of corruption ex­tend to city hall or the gov­er­nor’s man­sion. The end­ing is a bit of a downer. But the pe­cu­liar mix­ture of greed, ide­al­ism and self-right­eous­ness at the heart of the US jus­tice sys­tem is bril­liantly por­trayed.

And that’s quite enough doom and gloom for one col­umn. The fol­low­ing films are all guar­an­teed mood-lifters for a longhol­i­day week­end: Meet Me in St Louis (Satur­day, 8.30pm, TCM), is MGM’s won­der­ful Vin­cente Min­nelli-di­rected pe­riod mu­si­cal with Judy Gar­land, a valen­tine to Amer­i­can in­no­cence and fam­ily val­ues set dur­ing the 1904 World’s Fair, and Mon On­cle (Satur­day, 4pm, World Movies) is Jac­ques Tati’s lovely satire on moder­nity, and one of the five great, near-silent come­dies he made be­tween 1948 and 1967. Gigi (Thurs­day, 8.30pm, TCM) was an­other Min­nelli MGM mu­si­cal, this one with Les­lie Caron. Many saw its story of a waif trans­formed into a high-class cour­te­san as a re­work­ing by Lerner and Loewe of My Fair Lady. The songs aren’t as good, but Gigi works charm­ingly in its own way.

Eric Bana and Kate Bea­han in a scene from the at-times nause­at­ingly vi­o­lent Chop­per

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