Free to air
WHATEVER one thinks of the story and performances, James Cameron’s Avatar (Saturday, 8.30pm, Ten) is probably the most technologically advanced film Hollywood has given us — five years in the planning, with creative use of 3-D (in various formats), cuttingedge motion-capture techniques and brilliant special effects, not to mention the creation of an artificial language spoken by the extraterrestrial beings. It was a breakthrough film for Australia’s Sam Worthington, who leads a mission to the distant planet Pandora, where humans are mining a precious mineral and threatening the existence of the indigenous Na’vi people. With a screenplay that ticks all the correct boxes — global warming, species extinction, depletion of natural resources and (by implication) the US role in Iraq — Avatar offers a treat for the eye as well as a credible love story. During its theatrical release it became the highest grossing film of all time, eclipsing Cameron’s own Titanic. The fact I found it a little boring should deter no one.
Directed by Bruce Beresford with a screenplay by Jan Sardi ( Shine), Mao’s Last Dancer (Saturday, 1pm, Nine) tells the story of Li Cunxin, one of seven children of a Chinese peasant family who was plucked from his classroom at the age of 10 and sent to the Beijing ballet school to train as a dancer. Later the communist authorities granted him the rare privilege of continuing his dance studies in the US, where his prodigious talents were to flower. Disillusioned with communism, he married an American woman, defected to the West and became an international star. Chi Cao, who plays Li as an adult, is a thrilling dancer and a convincing actor, strikingly handsome and altogether charismatic in the central role. And while many will want to see the film for its dance sequences alone, Beresford gives primacy to the emotional and political narrative — grand, lucid and absorbing.
On the subject of charismatic performances, Sean Penn is at the top of his form in Milk (Saturday, midnight, Seven), Gus Van Sant’s film about the first openly gay man to be elected to political office in the US — a member of San Francisco’s board of supervisors. That was in 1977, when the gay rights movement was a growing but still largely untested force in US politics. Van Sant’s film tells a tragic story and never loses its grip. And as Harvey Milk, Penn gives the performance of a lifetime.
For this week’s classic I nominate All the King’s Men (Thursday, 2pm, 7Two), Robert Rossen’s scathing, grimly realistic account of the rise and fall of crooked politician. Broderick Crawford, previously confined to B-pictures, delivers an acting tour de force as Willy Stark, a character said to be based on Huey Long, the notorious governor who ruled Louisiana with an iron hand and enriched himself in the process. Saturday, 1pm, Nine
(M) ★★★★ Thursday, 2pm, 7Two
(M) ★★★ ✩ Saturday, 8.30pm, Ten