Dozens of laughs
IN her excellent biography of Joe Lyons, Australia’s prime minister in the 1930s, Anne Henderson reminds us that Joe and his wife Enid had no fewer than 12 children. That was a sizeable brood for a PM even in the golden age of big families, so it’s sad to think Joe didn’t live to see the wonderful Clifton Webb comedy from 1950 about the real-life Gilbreth family and their offspring. In Shaun Levy’s remake of the same name, Cheaper by the Dozen (Saturday, 6.45pm, Showtime Comedy), Steve Martin plays a school sports instructor whose wife (Bonnie Hunt) has managed to raise their 12 kids while writing a novel.
The films have little in common. Clifton Webb’s all-powerful dad was a strict disciplinarian and industrial efficiency expert, and the comedy consisted in his loving suppression of domestic chaos. In the later film the comedy is in the chaos itself: madcap meals, rampaging kids, orgies of goodnatured destruction. Martin’s funny faces and voices aren’t enough to save things.
To return to the Lyons family (if I may), it appears Enid once performed in a pageant as Queen of the Public Service with a nine-yearold Errol Flynn as her pageboy. Errol’s father, Professor Theodore Flynn, was a long-time friend of Joe Lyons. So how appropriate, I thought, that this column should mention Edge of Darkness (Monday, 11.50pm, Showtime Premiere), until I discovered it isn’t the famous World War II adventure with Errol Flynn but the 2010 conspiracy thriller with Mel Gibson. Mel is back in his best old-fashioned form knocking heads together as a tough Boston cop who stumbles on a vast web of corruption while investigating the affairs of his daughter, who has been brutally murdered. It’s a violent, scary affair, directed in visceral style by Martin Campbell, and based on a 1980s miniseries Campbell made for the BBC. Australian playwright Andrew Bovell ( Lantana) had a hand in the adaptation.
For a true story of corporate corruption I recommend The Insider (Wednesday, 8.30pm, Starpics), with Russell Crowe as Jeffrey Wigand, a tobacco company executive fired after raising uncomfortable questions about how much his fellow execs knew about nicotine addiction and the carcinogenic properties of tobacco additives. Michael Mann’s gripping account of corporate whistle-blowing is filmed in edgy, impressionistic style.. No one comes out of this sad, sorry tale with much credit.
But at least we recognise a familiar world. In Christopher Nolan’s Inception (Sunday, 11.05am, Movie Two) Leonardo Dicaprio and his fellow researchers have discovered a new form of corporate espionage based on penetrating the dream states of selected targets and extracting their innermost thoughts. This intricate tale was made with Nolan’s customary technical craftsmanship and intelligence. One respected colleague declared at least three viewings were needed to take in all its layers of meaning. So far I’ve only seen it once, which I think is sufficient.
The big one for climate-change believers is The Day After Tomorrow (Saturday, 3.55pm, Showtime Action) — a vision of a future apocalypse from director Roland Emmerich. Notable for its spectacular special effects, the film is despised by climate sceptics, who have relegated it to the same rubbish bin as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. A huge hailstorm has struck Japan; it’s snowing in New Delhi; the worst cyclone in history is causing havoc down under, and pretty soon a Russian ship is sailing up Fifth Avenue. Dennis Quaid is the brave climatologist who alone understands what’s going on. We take it as an omen when the Hollywood sign above LA is blown away in a mighty storm. Shredding a symbol of US cultural triumphalism is a brave start for any Hollywood film. An Inconvenient Truth, released three years later, seems cautious by comparison.
Leonardo Dicaprio in the famously baffling Inception