HDTV Movie Highlights: March 13-19

The Secret Life of Bees: Sky Movies, 8.30pm Saturday.

Syrupy chick-lit tearjerker with a civil rights twist, about a 14-year-old runaway who’s taken in by a family of black bee-keepers in 1964 South Carolina. TV vet Gina Prince-Bythewood directs her own adaptation of the Sue Monk Kidd novel with a cast that includes Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophia Okonedo and Paul Bettany. (2008)

Silence of the Lambs: Sky Movies Greats, 8.30pm Saturday.

An FBI agent is assigned to track down a serial killer called Buffalo Bill with the help of a crazed psychiatrist nicknamed Hannibal the Cannibal because he eats people’s livers. This keenly crafted, terrifyingly executed trip into the depths of human depravity won Oscars for best picture, director (Jonathan Demme), actor (Anthony Hopkins) and actress (Jodie Foster). Much imitated but never matched. (1991)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Sky Movies, 8.30pm Sunday.

In this meticulously crafted, Oscar-winning visual effects feast, Brad Pitt reunites with Se7en director David Fincher to play a man who’s born old and regresses in age as he comes of age. It’s a tad too Forrest Gump-ish, and has pivotal plot turns that don’t bear scrutiny, but is a touching, artful take on rebirth and impermanence. Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton and Julia Ormond (who was Pitt’s love interest in Legends of the Fall) co-star. (2008)

The Spirit: Sky Movies, 8.30pm Monday.

The Spirit is a dispiriting jumble of noir nonsense, ‘toon goons and comic book camp. It stars Gabriel Macht as a murdered cop who’s resurrected to fight crime looking like The Lone Ranger in a Fedora. The storytelling’s duller than the largely monochromatic visuals while writer/director Frank Miller (Sin City), to paraphrase his over-boiled lingo, goes through clichés like toilet paper. Eva Mendes, Samuel L Jackson and Scarlett Johansson co-star. (2008)

Dark Blue: Sky Movies Greats, 8.30pm Tuesday.

This searing police drama is an LA Confidential take on the LA riots. About escalating police skulduggery on the eve of the Rodney King verdict being announced, it’s a tense and troubling thriller about the pressures that drive cops to cross the line between procedure and expediency. Kurt Russell does outstanding detective work as a third-generation LAPD vet “from a family of gunfighters” while director Ron Shelton skilfully recreates the atmosphere of a city about to explode. (2002)

Bad Boys: Sky Movies Greats, 8.30pm Wednesday.

A noisy, nonsensical but never dull shoot-‘em-up about two bantering Miami cops babysitting a murder witness who’s the key to their finding a fortune in stolen heroin. Formulaic filmmaking as usual but where this Lethal Weapon rip-off differs slightly is in its casting of then-sitcom stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. These Bad Boys aren’t from the ‘hood but Tinseltown’s melting pot, where bankability and blandness are the chief ingredients. It’s also clear that more of the budget was spent on fast cars and big explosions than script development or acting lessons — none of which will disappoint anyone still young enough to wear a baseball cap back-to-front. (1995)

Open Range: Sky Movies Greats, 8.30pm Thursday.

This majestic, magnificent western with Unforgiven parallels mourns a shrinking frontier but this time cowboys are the endangered species. Kevin Costner, who also directed, and Robert Duvall play stubborn “free grazers” who refuse to move on when threatened by tyrannical cattle king Michael Gambon. Both richly romantic and starkly unvarnished, Open Range is a breathtakingly beautiful and heartfelt, elegiac take on a genre that still stirs the soul like no other. (2003)

Old School: TV3, 8.30pm Friday.

An A-grade cast helps this next-generation Animal House comedy to be a smarter frat house romp than most. Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Entourage’s Jeremy Piven star while The Hangover’s Todd Phillips directs what The Washington Post dubbed “an extremely funny and, of course, socially unredeemable comedy.” (2003)

Notorious: 8.30pm Sky Movies.

Men of Honor director George Tillman Jr’s first movie in nearly a decade dramatises how Notorious B.I.G., who was also known as Christopher Wallace, rocketed from street hustler to legendary rapper. Variety dubbed it “a rock-solid biopic with a foolproof rise-and-fall storyline” but the San Francisco Chronicle thought it “fawning”. Jamal Wollard, Trauma’s Derek Luke and Angela Bassett star. (2009)

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