National TV highlights for Sunday, December 25
National TV highlights for Sunday, December 25, Christmas Eve just hasn't been the same since long-time host Ray Martin was replaced by Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson. For one thing, the banter with choirmaster Uncle Doug Heywood isn't nearly as witty. But fear not, as all the frivolity, reality show contestants (Stan Walker gets his turn this year), visits from the man in red and Marina Prior and Sylvie Paladino in over-the-top evening gowns remain unchanged. In many households, Christmas Eve is as much about watching Carols as it is about wrapping the last presents. While it may be kitsch, it is an institution and will at least get you humming along to the Hallelujah chorus
THE VICAR OF DIBLEY - SEVEN, 6.30pm
Light entertainment is the order of the day, and this is a pleasant enough way to pass some time between Christmas dinner and bedtime, as the usual cast of oddballs from the town of Dibley celebrate the holy day. Vicar Geraldine (Dawn French) is spending her 10th Christmas in the village so the townsfolk hold a carol-writing contest in her honour. Supermodel Rachel Hunter makes an unlikely guest appearance, spurring rumours Geraldine is gay when Alice (Emma Chambers) spots the bombshell naked in the vicar's house. Meanwhile, David (Gary Waldhorn) invites the Archbishop of Canterbury along for the festivities.
WAREHOUSE 13 - 7MATE, 10.30pm
If you're still up after gorging yourself on Christmas dinner, you can treat yourself to a double helping of this sci-fi series that was inspired by the supernatural drama of The X-Files. The title refers to the US government's storage unit for unusual artefacts that is under the custodianship of secret service agents Myka Bering (Joanne Kelly) and Peter Lattimer (Eddie McClintock). Tonight, Myka goes undercover to find out why young models have started to mysteriously age at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, computer whiz Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) goes on a non-date with a local hardware store assistant.
THE ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS PRESENT - SEVEN, 6.30am, G (2000)
An unashamedly escapist Disney-produced telemovie to help foster the Christmas spirit. A young girl (Hallee Hirsh) steals a weather machine from Santa to make it snow, and inadvertently ends up creating a blizzard over Los Angeles. Exactly the sort of improbable fantasy you'd expect for the silly season. For kids only.
KARROLL'S CHRISTMAS - 7TWO, 6.30am, PG (2004)
In this lightweight variation on the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, modern-day Scrooge Allen Karroll (Tom Everett Scott) is accidentally visited by the three spirits of the festive season (Alanna Ubach, Larry Miller and Verne Troyer, best known for playing Mini Me in the Austin Powers' movies) who are supposed to be working on the miser next door. Needless to say, the unexpected experience warms Karroll's cold heart and changes his life forever.
MIRACLE - 7TWO, 8.30am, PG (2004)
You might think The Mighty Ducks franchise milked all the goodwill out of the feelgood story of ice hockey underdogs triumphing over adversity, but this Disney drama is surprisingly appealing. Kurt Russell gives one of the best performances of his career as coach Herb Brooks in this inspiring tale which recounts the true story of the US ice hockey team's upset of the Soviets against overwhelming odds in the 1980 Olympics. Indie director Gavin O'Connor (Tumbleweeds) makes his first mainstream splash, while Patricia Clarkson co-stars in the thankless role of Brooks' supporting (but not infinitely patient) wife.
MILLIONS - SEVEN, 1.00pm, PG (2004)
Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) takes a break from his usual fare in this charming comedy with a generous dose of fantasy thrown in. Seven-year-old Damian (Alex Etel) has a very active imagination. While his brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) is a born pragmatist, Damian spends his time talking to the saints he learns about in Sunday school. Both boys have been deeply affected by the recent death of their mother, and move to the suburbs with their father Ronnie (James Nesbitt) to start over. When a bag of money falls from the sky, the boys are faced with the problem of what to do with it. A journey for the whole family.
UNACCOMPANIED MINORS - GO! 3.00pm, PG (2006)
You guys give up yet? Or are you thirsty for more? Macaulay Culkin delivered that immortal line in Home Alone and, assuming the kids-versus-adults genre isn't quite dead, Hollywood has answered for us. It's Christmas Eve and five kids have just been snowed in at an airport. That's where the mayhem begins. Determined to max out their interrupted holiday, the five outwit and outrun an uptight airport official (Lewis Black) and his gullible assistant (Wilmer Valderrama). Holiday pandemonium ensues, but, as with all good Christmas movies, it proves that the holidays aren't about where you are, but who you're with.
DECK THE HALLS - NINE, 6.30pm, PG (2006)
A wholesome comedy about a couple (Matthew Broderick and Kristin Davis) who take pride in meticulously planning the entire neighbourhood's Christmas decorations. Cue the neighbour from hell (Danny DeVito) intent on making his house the most decoratively lit - and tasteless - in town. Another lightweight Christmas offering that offers nothing more than forced yuletide cheer.
JEAN DE FLORETTE - SBS TWO, 7.30pm, PG (1986)
Gerard Depardieu plays a hunchback tax collector who moves with his family to rural France in search of prosperity on an inherited farm and encounters society's evils in the form of greedy locals who seek to take his land away from him. Jean de Florette is an exceptionally-told tale of man and the land that has the power to either suffice or cause sacrifice to his spirit. Emmanuelle Beart, Daniel Auteuil and Yves Montand round off a polished cast.
EASY VIRTUE - ABC1, 8.30pm and repeats at 2.25am, PG (2008)
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert director Stephan Elliott rediscovered his mojo with this jaunty adaptation of legendary British playwright Noel Coward's 1924 comedy of manners. Jessica Biel stars as American tomboy Larita, whose marriage to English gent John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) is at odds with the wishes of his mother Veronica (Kristin Scott Thomas), who presides over the uptight family's crumbling estate. Colin Firth plays the peacekeeper father-in-law, but he is no match for the ladies when their verbal sparring starts up. One might expect Elliott to overdo the camp antics, but the result in a refreshingly crisp and accessible period comedy.
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION - NINE, 8.30pm, PG (1989)
The third of the Vacation series is chock-full of laughs and is the perfect antidote to the other soppy Christmas fares. This year, the Griswolds are spending Christmas at home and, of course, anything that could go wrong, does, especially when cousin Eddie (a show-stopping Randy Quaid) and family (with dog Snots) are thrown into the mix. As for the hapless Clark (Chevy Chase), like his wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) says, forgive my husband, he knows not what he does. Despite shonky production values this is hilarious - not surprising considering the late, great John Hughes wrote the script.
LADIES IN LAVENDER - 7TWO, 8.30pm, M (2004)
Charles Dances charming directorial debut transports us back to Cornwall, circa 1936, where two ageing, meddling sisters, Ursula (Judi Dench) and Janet (Maggie Smith) stumble across and rescue a near-dead foreigner (Daniel Bruhl) who has washed ashore. While nursing him back to health, they learn he is Polish and speaks no English. So the sisters endeavour to reach him through his prodigious talent for the violin, which proves an awakening in lifelong spinster Ursula, as doubts arise over the possibly sinister true identity of their house guest. A more genteel, tranquil film would be difficult to find, and Dench and Smith are typically enthralling.
STORMBREAKER - GO! 8.30pm, M (2006)
Based on Anthony Horowitz's best-selling children's novels, schoolboy Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) is forced into Britain's Secret Service after his super-spy guardian (Ewan McGregor) is found suspiciously murdered. A well-structured story and a sound cast (including Alicia Silverstone, Stephen Fry and Mickey Rourke) round out this enjoyable Bond spoof.
MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY - GEM, 8.30pm, PG (2008)
Oscar nominee Amy Adams (Junebug, Catch Me If You Can) again stars in a fairytale but while this female buddy movie differs in many key areas from Enchanted, both films are anchored by the starlet, whose infectious energy make them compulsively watchable. The ever-reliable Frances McDormand (Fargo, Almost Famous) plays the title character of this romantic fantasy - a drab governess plunged into the dizzying glamorous world of an American actress and singer (Adams) on the eve of World War II. A madcap story about true love, ambition and identity set against a background of impending conflict.
MEN OF HONOR - ONE, 8.30pm, M (2000)
The inspiring true story of the almost-saintly Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding Jr, in his only post-Oscar role of note) who is determined to become a Navy diver, despite the best efforts of Billy Sunday (Robert De Niro) - a master chief diver - to keep him from being the first black man to do so. Gooding Jr and De Niro are so good as the fresh-faced pupil and rugged master that you can forgive some of the saccharine elements called on by the feelgood script, as well as the criminal under-use of Charlize Theron as Sunday's wife.
THE PERFECT MAN - ELEVEN, 8.30pm, PG (2005)
Pop princess Hilary Duff headlines another piece of vanilla cinema. The multi-tasking teen plays Holly Hamilton, who is so over her mother (Heather Locklear) moving her and her sister (Aria Wallace) every time a boyfriend dumps her. Relocating to Brooklyn, Holly conspires to create a fictitious perfect man for her mum - reasoning that the trick will allow the family to stay in one place. Her quest is made possible with the help of a bistro manager (Chris Mr Big Noth). The blonde songstress does little here to disrupt her carefully moulded image, and is outdone at every turn by reliable pros Locklear and Noth. Queer Eyes Carson Kressley also amuses in a small role as a bartender.
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON - SBS, 8.40pm, M (2000)
The smash-hit romantic martial arts epic from director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) is not to be missed. Part tragedy, part comedy and part love story, the screenplay follows a legendary martial arts master (Chow Yun-Fat) who hopes that by presenting his famed Green Destiny sword to the local governor he can retire and act on his feelings for a fellow warrior (Michelle Yeoh). But when the blade is stolen, his plans go awry. Lees heroes are granted super-human abilities as they bounce off water and do battle for the blade in the bamboo treetops. With beautiful choreography, these epic fights take on a majestic quality.
THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY - TEN, 8.50pm, M (1998)
A screamingly funny and sweet love story from the crass-minded Peter and Bobby Farrelly (the brothers behind Dumb & Dumber), which was a box-office smash in its day. The nerdish Ted (Ben Stiller) hires a sleazy private dick (Matt Dillon) to track down his high-school sweetheart, Mary (Cameron Diaz), a knockout blonde with a big heart. Trouble abounds, however, when his hired help also falls head over heels for her. Gross-out jokes, bodily fluids and an assortment of non-PC situations are sprinkled with merry abandon, propelled by pacy direction and hilarious set pieces.
Classy follow up to the classic tale of Jean de Florette is every bit as memorable and engrossing. Mission: Impossible's Emmanuel Beart is Manon, the sensuous daughter of Jean, intent on avenging the death of her father (Gerard Depardieu) and repossessing the Provencale land taken from her family. The absence of Depardieu is richly compensated with stellar reprisals from Beart, Yves Montand and Daniel Auteuil. A fluent film, exempt from contrivances, that leads to a praiseworthy and unexpected conclusion.
JOYEUX NOEL - ABC1, 10.05pm, M (2005)
Writer-director Christian Carion brings together actors from three countries in this trilingual depiction of the true events of the famed World War I ceasefire on Christmas Day, 1914. The plot is essentially telemovie fare - Scottish, French and German soldiers lay down arms to enjoy a night of music, camaraderie and football together, but the powerfully emotional story has its heart in the right place. At the centre of the push for peace are German opera tenor (Benno Furmann) and Danish soprano (Troy's Diane Kruger). A humane and optimistic gem, brimming with Christmas cheer.
BAD SANTA - NINE, 10.30pm, MA15+ (2003)
A profane comedy from director Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World), which follows the less-than-jolly exploits of perverted, chain-smoking, whisky-swilling Santa-for-hire Willie (an incredibly funny Billy Bob Thornton). Aided by his Elf sidekick (Tony Cox), the duo parlay their roles as entertainers to annually fleece the department stores they work at. But this year's heist is complicated when a bullied, lonely youngster (Brett Kelly) latches onto the surly, red-suited crook and adopts him as a father figure. Zwigoff never compromises his bawdy humour, making this a lewd Christmas treat to be opened with extreme caution.
THE JAZZ SINGER - GEM, 10.30pm, G (1980)
In a remake of the slightly politically incorrect 1927 Al Jolson film, Neil Diamond made the switch from singing to acting in this uneven drama. He's Yussel, a young Jewish cantor, who decides to leave his religious stage in New York and pursue a career in music in California, much to the horror of his traditional family. While in Cal State, Yussel has a crisis of conscience - did he make the right decision? You can probably guess the ending, but Diamond, while not traditionally an actor, is good, and scene-stealer Laurence Olivier hams it up as Yussel's overbearing father.
KUNG FU HUSTLE - SBS, 10.50pm, M (2004)
The earnest, operatic beauty of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero gets turned on its head in this martial arts flick. Set in 1940s Shanghai, director and star Steven Chow (Shaolin Soccer) plays Sing, a wannabe gangster who inadvertently starts a war between the local Axe Gang and the residents of Pig Sty Alley, the last gang-free refuge, who are led by the matriarchal landlady (Yuen Qui). It sounds silly, and it is, but then that's the point. Chow presents his action sequences for the sake of comedy, not grandeur, the result all the more entertaining. There are many affectionate homages to Bruce Lee, and to the history of Hong Kong cinema.
BOYTOWN - TEN, 11.20pm, M (2006)
Mick Molloy (Crackerjack) assumes the lead role in this boy-band satire, which chronicles the reformation of ageing Backstreet Boys-type band BoyTown (featuring Molloy, Glenn Robbins, Bob Franklin, Wayne Hope and Gary Eck), who were massive in the 80s but are now long forgotten. Armed with tunes such as Love Handles, Special Time (of the Month) and Cellulite Lady, they ready themselves to take the music world by storm once again. A steady stream of gags and a suitably cheesy soundtrack make this one of the better local comedy features.
FANFAN LA TULIPE - SBS TWO, 11.40pm, M (2003)
Unfortunately for the high-calibre list of actors in this remake, the 1952 version is far superior. This follows the story of the casanova of the title (played by Vincent Perez), who joins the army of King Louis XV on the advice of Adeline La Franchise (Penelope Cruz) after she predicts it will lead him to marry one of the king's daughters. Of course, there is the requisite romance and the chemistry between the leads is palpable. It's a funny, easy-paced comedy but for those who have seen the original, an unnecessary remake.
THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR - NINE, 12.30am, PG (1965)
This uncharacteristic venture from Hammer films strays from their usual horror or a sci-fi flicks. Oliver Reed hams it up as a rebellious chieftain who leads a revolt against the British Raj, with a face-painted Ronald Lewis (Robbery Under Arms) struggling with both the locals and a bad script. Hammer should have stuck to what they know.