Cate and Eric shine as Lizzie and Chopper
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