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Saturday, Dec 30, 2006


Believe it or not, making worst-of lists is a heck of a lot harder than making best-of determinations. The explanation for why may seem specious at first, but follow along anyway. You see, something good stands out for numerous reasons – brilliant direction, monumental acting, a quick and brainy script, an approach to a subject that is fresh and dynamic. Even when that story seems similar and the elements reek of the routine, energy and mood, tone and treatment can all aid in a film’s final aesthetic determination. But with the bad, the facets are sadly familiar – boring execution, non-existing cinematics, lame, ludicrous writing and performances that range from problematic to pathetic. These aggravating aspects never change, they never alter their under-performing patchiness. A crappy effort is a crappy effort, each one feeling similarly unworthy and unacceptable.


So when faced with the mountain of mediocrity a DVD critic is exposed to each year, finding a mere 10 that turn your stomach is an exercise in remembrance and repulsion. Looking back means identifying works that wasted your time, revisiting filmmakers whose arrogance blinded them to their true lack of artistic acumen, and generally re-experiencing the pain of time lost, sensibilities shaken, and interest waned. Again, the same rules apply here as with the Films You’ve Never Heard Of category. The movie itself can be from any year – the digital version, however, had to arrive on the medium in the past 12 months. There are a couple of theatrical releases here, an unfathomably bad TV show, and more than a few homemade movie macabres. Between Joe Bob Briggs’ famous three “Bs” – blood, breasts and beasts” – there’s enough genre junk on hand to send horror back to its pre-Gothic roots.


So grab hold or your aesthetic and wade in cautiously. SE&L‘s 10 Worst DVDs of 2006 have been known to drown even the most adventurous cinematic swimmer:



1. Dark Reality
Dark Reality is a depressing failure, the kind of overly ambitious claptrap that originates out of every fanboy’s camcorder the minute they decide to make a horror film. The creative coupling of Christopher Hutson (whose resume includes a Penthouse video and a how-to sex guide) and three additional writers thinks its clever keeping us, as well as the characters, in the dark about their foul fate. However, it merely creates an instantaneous detachment that can only be reestablished by empathetic individuals and smart scripting. Unfortunately, Dark Reality has neither. Instead, we get a Blair Witch kind of relationship to the actors, able to tolerate them only in very small doses. The minute these grating gals open their mouths to speak, however, we immediately start rooting for the middle-aged murderer whose trapped them.




2. Live Feed
Rumor has it that the father and son team responsible for Live Feed – Canadians Roy and Ryan Nicholson – had the idea for this Asian slaughterhouse atrocity long before Eli Roth created his fright flick masterwork Hostel. If that’s the case, then Mr. Cabin Fever may have the first and only legal claim of backwards plagiarism ever experienced by a mainstream moviemaker. Wanting to be an all out gratuitous gorefest loaded with gallons of overflowing red stuff, what we get instead is a mindless waste of time and talent. The characters are craven archetypes, uninvolving and more than a little irritating, and the storyline tries to be shocking, but only winds up feeling stagnant. By the end, you wonder what you, yourself, can do to prevent this film from ever again destroying a fellow fright fans fear factors.



3. Knight of the Peeper
Somewhere between an old-fashioned exploitation film and the kind of gimpy, gratuitous softcore sagas usually helmed by Fred Olen Ray, Knight of the Peeper is about as unpleasant an entertainment experience as a non-14-year-old adolescent male can have. With a lame narrative and a dearth of feminine delights, anyone who’s not packing pre-or post puberty hormones in uncontrollable boner bushel baskets should probably steer clear of this full-frontal skin flick-a-thon—unless, of course, the thought of various New York/New Jersey strippers showing off their breast augmentation scars gets your geriatric gonads in an uproar. This is nothing more than grating grindhouse material, the kind of seedy smoker reel made by and for dudes who need to pay to know the touch of a woman.



4. Dawn
A vampire rewrite that’s so dull, so unbelievably boring, that you’ll wonder what writer/director/actor Jay Reel was aiming for when he foisted this no-budget nonsense on the film-viewing public, Dawn is tedious and talky. It’s a film overripe with narrative, and hampered by its determined anti-horror stance. By draining all the life blood out of the neckbiter genre—hunters are just mutant people who need claret, not cold cuts and cole slaw, to survive—he robs the mythology of its romanticism, its vitality… heck, of just about anything remotely interesting. In its place he finds pages and pages of dialogue, and a collection of actors who don’t understand the difference between performance and merely repeating lines.



5. Survival Island
Though the set-up would suggest that this is regular Skinemax erotica, the truth is far more fleshless. In truth, Survival Island is a sloppy combination of Dead Calm, Swept Away, and a myriad of mindless “two men and a hot chick” testosterone-fueled flops that play on an audiences’ morbid curiosity with flawed fantasy fodder. This is the kind of movie that announces its intentions right off the bat: rich couple coolly looking down at the Latino cabin boy; hot-tempered honey who throws a voodoo curse on our Hispanic hunk’s libido; the accidental if paranormally purposeful disaster at sea; the eventual arrival on a deserted island; the savage sexual tension; the laughably lame dialogue; a few fights; an unexpected death, and, of course, a cruel twist at the end.



6. H6: Diary of a Serial Killer
Hindered by a script that’s all talk and no stalk, and absent even the most elemental eeriness, H6: Diary of a Serial Killer should actually be retitled Boring Murderer with Diarrhea of the Mouth. Ever since Hannibal Lector made the gift of gab frightening, filmmakers have decided that nothing says insane spree slaughter better than a guy who just can’t shut up. Like Brad Garrett as Ed Gein, Fernando Acaso uses his banana oil slicked hairdo as a main character dimension, and runs his yap incessantly while preparing to pare up another prostitute. No matter your penchant for dread, this is the kind of movie that will cure you of your creature feature cravings once and for all.



7. Hussy
Hussy is a terrible movie. It offers little in the way of emotional or dramatic intrigue, and takes what seems like cinematic eons to get to its rather vapid points. Captured within this sorry slice of 1980s- era British celluloid is a decent performance from headlining star Helen Mirren, a zombified turn by John Shea, who is completely out of his element here, and a scene-stealing sequence from a Third Act narrative catalyst known as Paul Angelis. As a first-timer whose naiveté is palpable, obviously unskilled at motion-picture practicalities like consistency of tone and clarity of narrative purpose, writer/director Matthew Chapman clouds everything in a veil of unspoken passions and illusory personal secrets. The result is a sloppy character study that actual infers more than it reveals – including entertainment value.



8. Bazaar Bizarre
There are certain things that do not belong in a documentary about serial killers – interviews with individuals who have no direct correlation to the crimes, tentative statements about the extent of the evidence, local bands playing bad blues within a mediocre music video style setting – and yet these are the very elements that self-proclaimed avant-garde “artist” Benjamin Meade uses to tell the story of Kansas City slayer Bob Berdella. All throughout the mock/documentary Bazaar Bizarre, Meade uses the juicy commentary of author James Ellroy (LA Confidential) to provide an outside voice of reason and outrage in the discussion of this madman’s brutal crimes. But the ancillary elements – outright conjecture, songs that explain the case at hand – just sink the story.



9. One Last Thing…
One Last Thing … is unconscionable. At its core is the dim dying wish of its central character, Dylan, an aspiration that’s part symbolic, part softcore pornographic. The notion of a high school sophomore with raging cancer wanting his final days to be spent with a superhot supermodel may seem sensible but, logistically, it’s not really rational. Dylan is just asking for disappointment and Sunny Mabrey’s cynical Nikki does not fail to frustrate. As a matter of fact, the only way she can make up for 80 minutes of miserable treatment is to go jailbait on our hero. The result is an ending that smacks of stupidity and staging, never once touching on the truth of such a sick kid/dream date situation.



10. The Ron White Show
Call it a one off special or a junked attempt at a weekly TV gig, but The Ron White Show is really nothing more than 22 minutes of mindless crap comedy. Frankly, this smart, savvy stand up deserves better. His is a humor based in defeat and humiliation, 20 years of trying to break into the big time and sudden, sensationalized success. If this was the reward he was aiming for, the final prize after decades of struggling, he should have quit while he was a failure. This is a depressingly bad piece of garbage, a watered down version of what White truly stands for. Everything here is filtered through a demographic homogenizer to guarantee that all wit, cleverness and intelligence is weeded out.


 


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Saturday, Dec 30, 2006

The Wall Street Journal‘s pop culture coverage always strikes me as pretty random. Yesterday the paper had an article by Ethan Smith about the soft-rock band America, who are in danger of suddenly becoming cool after years of rock cognoscenti ridicule for seeming to epitomize 1970s FM radio singer-songwriter mediocrity. (What’s next? The Seals and Crofts revival?) The band name is generic and awful; it’s hard to trust a band that thought calling themselves America was a good idea and without that trust it’s hard to let yourself be entertained. Their hits—“Horse with No Name,” “Sister Golden Hair,” “Tin Man,” “Ventura Highway”—were ubiquitous, almost taken for granted, songs I knew intimately without ever once having chosen to hear them, my familiarity bred from hearing it during rides in friends’ parents cars, or in the orthodontist’s waiting room, or as bumper music for TV shows, that sort of thing. Actually, one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar was “Horse with No Name” (Em and some weird D chord). I always regarded them as a second-rate Bread (not a second rate CSNY, as Smith suggests was the put-down), but basically harmless and clearly preferable to James Taylor, Don McLean or the Eagles, mainly because their lyrics had only a casual relationship to planet Earth. In general, America has bubbled along through the decades as an inescapable part of the pop culture wallpaper, popping out from the background now and then in mainstream places (Janet Jackson’s sampling “Ventura Highway”) and indie (the Loud Family naming its first album “Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things” after a line in “Horse with No Name.” Lately, having exhausted the novelty of the neglected Bread catalog (On the Waters is a great album, and so is Baby I’m-a Want You—seriously) I’ve been appreciating America’s hits, for their mellowness and familiarity. They seem to have no image; I don’t know a single person who can even name one member of this perfectly anonymous band. I just read the article in the paper, and I couldn’t remember any of them without looking again.


Now, apparently one of the guys from Fountains of Wayne has decided to try to rehabilitate America the way Rick Rubin tried to do for Neil Diamond last year, the way Joe Henry has for Solomon Burke. The Fountains of Wayne guy recruited members of My Morning Jacket, Ryan Adams, Ben Kweller and James Iha from Smashing Pumpkins to help America make a new album. Having looked through many a thrift store album bin in my time, I can’t help but feel there is already too much of America out there. But now we’ll have more, a double disc, no less. This would seem like a fortunate turn of fate for America, but there are risks to becoming cool. Being adopted by those whose business it is to cycle through culture—make it cool, use it up, make it forgotten—has a tendency to backfire.


But even if America does become cool again—or for the first time—the group may want to retain some of its ways from the decades it spent as workmanlike players on the nostalgia circuit.
“We’re mulling the concept of doing some kind of hip club tour,” Mr. Bunnell [that’s one of the America guys] says. But “frankly, we have to weigh economics. You can’t just find the hot club and go in there and play for 200 people” since that wouldn’t yield enough revenue to meet expenses. America’s typical appearances in recent years have drawn 500 to 2,000 people at larger venues.
Being cool has a way of taking a backseat to more practical concerns, Mr. Bunnell notes, “when you’re in your 50s and you’ve got mortgages and record sales aren’t what they used to be.”



If America has the misfortune of alienating the heartland fans by becoming a recognized symbol of encroaching hipsterism, they stand to lose a steady gig. But I suppose they could be hoping for a bigger pay off than touring or record sales—getting their songs in a commercial, something they seem to feel is long overdue:


Mr. Bunnell says he’s always been puzzled by the sparse interest among advertisers in using his band’s hits in commercials. “I always thought ‘Sister Golden Hair’ would be a Clairol ad,” he says. “And maybe ‘Ventura Highway’ would be a car ad.”


Poor America; they had sold out from the get-go, but never got to take full advantage and they yearn for even less credibility then they have ever earned, in a way, back when indie cred meant not caving in to commercialism. But credibility and commercialism have a different relationship now; indie bands make their name by being adopted by a commercial. Music supervisors for TV ads are today’s A&R men. America has come full circle; they now hope to sneak back through crass commercialism’s back door by seeming obscure and hipster enough to be discovered for kitschy use in an ad looking for snippets of melody that are catchy and distinctive. Unfortunately, America’s songs have long been too recognizable; they probably seemed overfamiliar and generic the moment they were written. So America’s trapped in a tricky spot—they can be appreciated in an ironic fashion by hipsters, which may cost them their mainstream nostalgia circuit fans without gaining them a lucrative return to the spotlight, because vanilla blandness and their continual ubiquity means their retro appeal can’t be made ironic enough.


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Friday, Dec 29, 2006


By all accounts, 2006 was a disorienting year at the movies. On the one hand, box office receipts were up, end of the year quality seemed sound, and a decent balance between horrible and honorable was maintained across the board. At least, that’s how it looked at first glance. But when you probe deeper, delving into the darkest recesses of the cinematic septic tank, the atrocious efforts of the past 12 months give off a funk so powerful that even the most seasoned cinephile would gag from the tang. You see, bad movies don’t begin abominable. Several significant factors must come into play before your typical motion picture goes malodorous. Basically, a director must become blinded to his or her own vision, the script should skip standard literary elements like logic and coherence, and the actors must merge with the flimsy filmic foundation, performing up to or below the level of the narrative’s nonsensical expectations. Toss in some lame special effects, sloppy cinematography, and an editor whose aesthetic skews toward the erratic, and you’ve got certified cinematic slop on your hands.


Or do you. Reviewing this year’s list it is clear that, in almost all the cases, the efforts being belittled are big budget Hollywood horse apples. They’re the kind of expensive, marketing masterminded redundant dreck that threatens to make every trip to your local theater a metaphysical minefield overflowing with potential time wasters. Sure, it’s easy to pick on the independent efforts that represent some film geeks glorified idea of compelling creativity, but when untold millions are being spent to support half-baked humor, insipid drama and atrophied action, it’s the worst kind of filmmaking felony. In some ways, picking the worst films of any year is much harder than pinpointing the best. For every Departed, there’s a dozen Stay Alives. For every Science of Sleep, there’s a few Super Ex-Girlfriends. Paring it down to ten can be trying, but we here at SE&L strive for analytical excellence. So after hours of concentrated consideration, here is our list of the 10 Worst Films of the year:



1. Little Man
Without a doubt, the most excruciatingly horrible experience anyone could have at a movie theater in the last few years. It’s not bad enough that the one time talented Wayans clan revert to lowest common denominator humor to sell their dwarf as a diamond thief stupidity. No, they go a step further, filling the screen with so much sophomoric sleaziness that you feel just filthy watching it. Clearly the vilest experience of 2006.



2. Omen 2006
For anyone who needs proof that bad casting can kill a potentially interesting project, this lame remake of the 1976 satanic sensation is considered confirmation. Between the misused Mia Farrow to the blank as a fart Julia Stiles, you’d think this tale of the Antichrist’s return to Earth would have exhausted all potential acting awfulness. But no, they have to drag poor Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick through the sludge as a giggly, goofy Devil doll. Ugh!



3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
When this sequel/prequel to a remake of the original power tool terror was announced, it promised to show how Leatherface (now named Thomas Hewitt) became the crazed cannibal killer that many a Goth gal gushes over. Instead, the narrative centers on the slaughter star’s Uncle, a redneck reject who uses a random roadside incident to become Sheriff Hoyt. Add in the standard batch of unwitting teens and it’s another dull, dumb splatterfest.



4. BloodRayne
Sword and sorcery doesn’t get any stupider than in this Uwe Boll directed dung. Featuring amazingly bad acting turns by Michael Madsen, Billy Zane, Ben Kingsley, and Ms. T-X herself, Kristanna Loken, this ‘based on a video game’ groaner takes motion picture mediocrity to new levels of ludicrousness. Boll recently challenged several journalists to a staged boxing match, defending himself against their critical drubbing. Too bad his fisticuffs can’t save his hideous hackwork here.



5. Employee of the Month
Just like mixing certain household cleaners, the combining of Dane Cook, Dax Shepard and Jessica Simpson turns out to be a caustic, near deadly experience. Granted, Shepard has proven capable in efforts like Zathura and Idiocracy, while Cook can claim a large myspace-based fandom. But Simpson is a slag, unable to act her way out a siliconed skin bag, and her co-stars match her witlessness for witlessness. Comedy doesn’t get much sadder than this.



6. Big Momma’s House 2
Following Eddie Murphy’s formula for failing career rehabilitation, former blue comedian Martin Lawrence dons drag once again to portray that infamous obese black woman. This time, he takes on the Mrs. Doubtfire dynamic, playing nanny to a group of kids whose daddy might be a corporate spy. With nameless villains, featureless plotting, inert performances and an overall feeling of being warmed over and repetitive, this was just a poorly concealed cash grab.



7. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Nicole Kidman – statuesque Australian beauty, porcelain in her complexion and supermodel-esque in her overall look. Diane Arbus – dark, dour New Yorker, very ethnic in her inherent Jewishness and disturbed to the point of self-destruction. How do the two match up to make a singular surreal biopic about the famed photographer’s career? Only the amazingly misguided Steven Shainberg can explain this fictional, farcical take on the troubled, talented artist.



8. Zoom
Tim Allen now holds a distinct place in the annals of sci-fi cinema. He starred in one of the genre’s greatest satires (GalaxyQuest) and, this year, he wrapped up the worst effort award as well. Playing a former superhero recruited to train a group of underage wannabes, this appalling combination of the speculative and the scatological is aimed at an IQ below the average of its single digit demographic.




9. Poseidon
With all the advances in special effects, a remake of this 1972 Irwin Allen disaster epic would seem like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, director Wolfgang Peterson took the whole ‘mindless’ concept seriously, and delivered an inert action movie with more plot holes than portholes. Even the CGI sucked, rendering the set piece moment when a ‘rogue wave’ capsizes the ship as pure pixilated poppycock. Not even Kurt Russell could save this ship.



10. The Da Vinci Code
Ron Howard rewrites the rules of the thriller, determining that belabored flashbacks and endless exposition are the perfect components to create suspense and intrigue. With a built in fanbase across the world, Code becomes the first megahit to be a complete and utter filmic fiasco as well. Proponents point to the meticulous recreation of Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel, but this literal adaptation is so overblown in its sense of self-importance that it simply implodes.



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Friday, Dec 29, 2006

I’ve been reading Giles Slade’s Made to Break, which explores the evolution of the concept of planned obsolesence in American industry. Slade goes into way too much detail for my taste about the nascent radio and nylon industries, but his overall account of the unstoppable rise of disposability is interesting. The story goes like this: the expansion of industry in the nineteenth century brought with it the specter of overproduction, which seemed to many to be responsible for the Depression. (Obviously these folks took no comfort in Say’s law.) In order to get consumers to repeatedly purchase the same item, and thus keep workers employed in making these items, they needed to be convinced that what they already owned had become obsolete by offering a “new and improved” version. Of course, touted technological improvements were often specious, and most improvements are entirely stylistic—as a quintessential example, Slade traces how GM pioneered styling in autos to steal market share from Ford, which stubbornly built durable cars. Slade cites Christine Fredrick, one of the pioneers of gender-targeted advertisement, as devising a list of three “telltale habits of mind” that we should be induced to cultivate, which he paraphrases as this:


(1) A state of mind which is highly suggestible and open; eager and willing to take hold of anything new either in the shape of a new invention or new designs or styles or ways of living.
(2) A readiness to ‘scrap’ or lay aside an article before its natural life of usefulness is completed, in order to make way for the newer and better thing.
(3) A willingness to apply a very large share of one’s income, even if it pinches savings, to the acquisition of the new goods or services or way of living.


I don’t think it’s too cynical to say that this defines the meaning of life for those in a consumer society—do whatever you can to remake yourself in a new and improved way with the aid of products that one can readily fantasize about and through. The degree to which you are “countercultural” is the degree to which you consciously resist these tenets. (And the degree to which we think we disobey these tenets but reveal nonetheless how deeply we have internalized them makes us faux countercultural—makes us hipsters.)


Industrial design as an industry in its own right begins here, and the advertising industry, generally, takes off with this new mission in mind, to persuade the general public that fashion cycles must be obeyed in regard to all their material possessions, and the up-to-dateness of the stuff you have is the surest way of identifying status, rather bloodline or comportment—this message has a democratic appeal to it, in that it seems to do away with inherited privilege in favor of what money can buy, but the relentless, ceaseless striving to be current if not novel is merely a different kind of tyranny, and one that is tremendously harmful to the environment—Slade is especially good at illustrating the enormous amount of waste a consumer society generates by relying on unecessary packaging (individually wrapped just for you!) and unnecessary replacement buying to connote one’s personal progress. Inevitably we come to expect to throw away everything we acquire eventually; we don’t saddle ourselves with the looming burden of ownership—imagine if you were continually confronted with the possibilty of having to keep everything you got forever; think then what a borderline insult it would be to have gifty gifts foisted on you for no other reason that to make the giver feel thoughtful.


This burden of ownership, and our deeply ingrained committment to disposability, may be why it feels so good to purge ourselves of unnecessary things. It’s always a rewarding feeling when I drop off Trader Joe’s bags full of junk at the Goodwill. (Though I usually end up buying more junk on the same visit.) At times I feel as though nothing is as satisying as the experience of using things up, of finally extracting the potential of some object I’ve acquired and then getting rid of it. Consumer society orients us to think in these terms, of not merely using things but of using them up, of extinguishing them, of sucking them dry. The idea that something could be useful without being used up begins to seem like a dream, a scam, a lie akin to a perpetual motion machine. When I’m conscious of this, I try to resist; I begin to romanticize getting pleasure from the same thing, listening to John, Wolf King of L.A. over and over again, or glorying in playing Freecell repeatedly. I think about rereading books I love, sometimes I’ll even thumb through them, suffused with warm wistfulness—ah, that first time I read For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign….  So we glorify inexhaustible resources, but we don’t trust them; they are fairy tales, mirages of nostalgia. Eventually we begin to think of other people as resources to be used up, that this is the honest and fair way of appraising them, and we attempt to extract whatever use we can out of them and then discard them, whether they are in the labor force or are our intimates—though the “purity” of the latter may sometimes be contructed as an escape from the former, the way we feel obliged to use people in production, to manage them as disposable things. In essence we start to plan for obsolescence with regard to the people in our lives, though we regard this as something inevitable that we must “be realistic” about. (We need to expect the cheese to be moved, that sort of thing.) This leads perhaps to our wanting to compensate by prioritizing trying to be indisposable, feeling irreplaceable for some unique quality we have to offer the people who are closest to us. We love those who make us feel this way, regardless of whether the way we have become indispensible is also a way we can be any good to this world.


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Thursday, Dec 28, 2006


One more day. One more 24 hour time period. A few cocktails, a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” and, before you know it, the new year will finally be here. It all sounds so dignified, and back when people actually anticipated the turn of another 365 days, this holiday was treated with a kind of tacit respect. Sure, there was still a lot of partying and partaking of alcohol, but suit and tie, not shorts and a beefy T, were the apparel of choice. Nowadays, the transition between 31 December and 1 January is seen as a time for drunken foolishness, projectile vomiting, and a nauseating hangover accented by way too much college football. It’s an intoxicated testament to how the next 12 months will probably play out. Even more disconcerting, several new traditions have built up around this annual liquor lift. Some shoot of fireworks, failing to remember that the black powder explosives are supposed to represent the rockets red glare of our national anthem come 4 July. Similarly, some regions see individuals pointing pistols at the sky and ripping off a few rounds before the booze bites them back toward some manner of reality. So in preparation for all this aggravating anarchy, a couple of hours in front of the boob tube may be the perfect pre-Eve anesthetic. The choices for the weekend of 30 December are typically hit or miss, but a couple may just provide the entertainment comforts you crave:


HBOThe Family Stone
One of last year’s under the radar delights, former fashion executive Thomas Bezucha deconstructs the knotty connections between kinfolk with this fresh, occasionally formulaic comedy. Sarah Jessica Parker is the uptight, Type-A personality who finds herself awash in the title clan’s free-spirited spontaneity. Dermot Mulroney is her boyfriend, and the prodigal Stone. They return to the family home for the holidays, and all kinds of comic and caustic situations arise. Along the way, Bezucha gives us a deaf gay son, Diane Keaton as a meddling mother who finds her eldest’s choice of companion unworthy of her favorite child, and the arrival of Parker’s sister, played by Claire Danes, as a catalyst for some last act circumstantial secrets. While there is much more drama here than humor, and the Stone’s can come across as a little self-involved and arrogant, Bezucha keeps the revelations and the reactions honest. It makes for a heady holiday treat. (Premieres Saturday 30 December, 8PM EST).


PopMatters Review


CinemaxRumor Has It
In reality, this is not a bad idea for a movie – a young woman, curious about her past, discovers that her family may actually be the inspiration for one of the ‘60s most famous works – in this case, the novel and film known as The Graduate. Unfortunately, first time filmmaker (and screenwriter) Ted Griffin was yanked from the director’s chair when fading superstar Kevin Costner found him wanting. In stepped the equally evaporating Rob Reiner, and together a motion picture disaster was fashioned. Perhaps it was placing Jennifer “Only Ready for Prime Time” Aniston in the lead, an actress of limited, if not downright singular cinematic qualities. Maybe it was the notion of nutty Shirley MacLaine taking point for the far more ‘potent’ Anne Bancroft. Or it could be the film’s fractured tone. At any given moment it can be a comedy, an earnest drama, or a cyclical pop culture pit. In any case, no amount of “plastics” could contain this film’s formidable flopsweat. (Premieres Saturday 30 December, 10pm EST).


PopMatters Review


StarzThe Matador
Pierce Brosnan is a high-minded if burnt out hitman (he considers himself in the business of ‘facilitating fatalities’). Greg Kinnear is a down on his luck salesman who can’t seem to catch a break. The two meet in a Mexican bar, and eventually buddy up for a series of deliciously dark comic coincidences. Previously known for his unusual takes on the thriller genre, writer/director Richard Shepard uses Brosnan’s inherent undercover allure, along with Kinnear’s hound dog demeanor, to create an unforgettable pair of baser level leads. The interaction between the performers is priceless, and the narrative, which seems like a simple post-modern crime spoof, ends up being a poignant look at two morally bankrupt buffoons. Praised by many critics as one of the year’s (2005) best films, Starz serves up this effort as its last Saturday premiere of 2006. It is a film definitely worth checking out. (Premieres Saturday 30 December, 9pm EST).


PopMatters Review


ShowtimeCoach Carter
Someone once said that certain actors could read their grocery lists and we would still find them to be compelling onscreen presences. Whoever conceived of that unusual insight obviously had Samuel L. Jackson in mind. Capable of carrying himself with dignity and discipline in even the wackiest of circumstances (Formula 51, xXx and its silly sequel), this amazing performer provides the gritty realism that brightens even the most ridiculous premise. Case in point – Coach Carter. Based on a real life individual famous for benching his entire basketball team for poor academic performance, Jackson jump starts what is a standard sports story, giving weight to what is essentially an after school special level narrative. Under the dizzying, jump-cut chaotic director of Save the Last Dance‘s Thomas Carter, this MTV production wants to promote the value of education over entitlement. Sadly, a Jackson-starring PSA would have probably made the point more effectively. (Saturday 30 December, 9:00pm EST)


PopMatters Review


ZOMBIES!
For those of you who still don’t know it, Turner Classic Movies has started a new Friday night/Saturday morning feature entitled “The TCM Underground”, a collection of cult and bad b-movies hosted by none other than rad rocker turned atrocity auteur Rob Zombie. From time to time, when SE&L feels Mr. Devil’s Rejects is offering up something nice and sleazy, we will make sure to put you on notice. For 29/30 December, it’s back to Vincent’s “Price”-less oeuvre for more macabre fun:


Madhouse
The last in what many consider to be a roundabout dark comedy revenge series for the actor (after the Phibes films and Theater of Blood), Price is again an actor who may or may not be a psychotic killer.
(2am EST)


The Last Man on Earth
As the Earth slowly dies from a post-apocalyptic plague, Price is the only human left. Sadly, his survival skills now must include combating wave after wave of bloodthirsty, vampire-like zombies.
(3:45am EST)


Independent Eye
A new year signals a new approach for SE&L‘s weekly venture into deciphering the best that pay television has to offer – at least film wise. Going back to basics, each week, Independent Eye will focus on the films featured on two of cable’s more esoteric movie channels – IFC and Sundance. The top three picks (when available) for each will be discussed, hopefully enlightening you on the cinematic possibilities that exist beyond the standard blockbusters and off title releases. For the last weekend of 2006/first week of 2007, the filmic focus finds:



IFC: The Independent Film Channel


31 December 9PM EST – Shallow Grave
For his first feature film, Trainspotting‘s Danny Boyle mixed Hitchcock with delicious dark comedy to tell a tale of flatmates, a fatality, and a suitcase full of cash.


1 January 9PM EST – Garden State
Scrubs’ Zach Braff got a chance to prove his talents behind the camera, writing and directing this autobiographical take on maturation and memories.


4 January 11PM EST – The Sweet Hereafter
Atom Egoyan’s masterpiece about a tragic bus accident is more than just a drama about loss – it’s a telling take on how anger paralyzes and poisons us.


The Sundance Channel


1 January 12AM EST – H
Many claim this is the South Korean version of Silence of the Lambs, with just a little Se7en tossed in for good measure. This means it’s either derivative or delightful.


 


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