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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Evan Wil­liams

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

(PG) ★★★★✩

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