Heaven help the person looking for a little above board entertainment via their pay TV provider this weekend. The movies the big four premium channels are providing appear so bereft of clear pleasure principles that its hard to imagine anyone getting anything other than frustrated from such flummoxing choices. Sure, the Jet Li movie is a nice riff on the routine fight film, and Starz’s sullen entry does try to create another variation on the ‘adultery is killer’ thriller. But when Jessica Simpson and her whole-assed awfulness is the highlight of the schedule, perhaps its time to consider reading a book. Heck, even Showtime has split the scene, at least temporarily, showing a marathon of its suburban pot drama Weeds instead. So, if you enjoy slightly average action, below average acting and even more mediocre moviemaking acumen, you’ll feel right at home with at least two of the movies premiering on Saturday. Specifically, one will be suffering through the following filmic flotsam:
HBO – Unleashed
Why does Hollywood have such a hard time figuring out what to do with Jet Li. He’s charismatic, graceful, athletic and charming. He always comes across as considered and commanding. Just because English is his subsidiary language doesn’t mean he can’t have a meaningful mainstream movie career. Yet Tinsel Town is torn as to how best to utilize his sizeable skills. In the meantime, he returns to his homeland to churn out classics like Hero and this fall’s Fearless. Here, paired with the Transporter duo of Luc Besson (script), and Louis Leterrier (director), we have a far more effective actioner than previous Li efforts. Combining fabulous fight scenes with just the slightest twists on its melodramatic conventions, we end up with something more satisfying than stagnant. (Premieres Saturday 9 September, 8:00pm EST).
Cinemax – The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
Ouch! Here’s a film so painfully pathetic that SE&L has a hard time even THINKING about it, let alone discussing it. Marketed to make money by trading on Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass fanbase, as well as Jessica Simpson’s dumbass personality, the end result was a one note novelty that proved the potential of the adolescent male demographic to show up for almost anything. Following this formula, it won’t be long before someone supes up Nanny and the Professor with the Pussycat Dolls as a determined group of barely dressed babysitters, and Bam Margera as the lonely widower teacher desperate for help raising his wee ones. Now just add Li’l Jon as the nutty next-door neighbor and you’ve got another hap-Hazzard style payday. (Premieres Saturday 9 September, 10:00pm EST).
Starz – Derailed
What’s worse than a movie starring Jennifer Aniston? How about a film matching her with the enormously talented Clive Owen. Since showing some decent performance chops in 2002’s The Good Girl, the artist formerly known as a Friends haircut has had an incredibly difficult time translating her ‘talent’ to the big screen. This Fatal Attraction styled thriller is no different. While many critics praised the narrative’s no frills attempt at showing relationships in decline, and affairs as a kind of interpersonal poultice, the minute blackmailer Vincent Cassel enters the fray as the tripwire terror, the plot follows the film’s title. Not even a last minute twist (totally telegraphed along the way) can save this sloppy, ineffective flop. (Premieres Saturday 9 September, 9:00pm EST).
Showtime Showcase – Jules et Jim*
Why not avoid all the Tinsel Town tripe being forwarded this weekend and settle in with something REALLY special. Critic turned filmmaker François Truffaut used the growing French New Wave mandate (break all the rules of cinema) to create a masterful celebration of the medium’s many possibilities. At the center is an unconventional love story between two friends and the flighty femme that would control them both. Everything about this film defies expectation, taunts tradition and redefines the motion picture language. Like all great experiments, it has its flaws. Like all tests of talent, it’s astounding. As much of a challenge to an audience as an entertainment, there are very few films like this post-modern masterpiece. (Saturday 9 September, 8:00pm EST)
Indie Film Focus: September 2006
Last month, Turner Classic Movies was kind enough to supply us with 30 days of star driven righteousness to keep the small screen film finds freely flowing. With the network back to it’s rather hit or miss programming, SE&L has decided to focus on another facet of the cinematic canon – the Independent film. Thanks to IFC, otherwise known as The Independent Film Channel, and The Sundance Channel, there is currently a 24 hour a day supply of outsider excellence. Some of the movie suggestions here will seem obvious. Others will reflect the divergent nature of the art form’s overall approach. Whatever the case, these are the highlights for the week of 9 September through 15 September:
Paul Thomas Anderson delivers his ultimate ode to Robert Altman with this evocative Short Cuts like look at lives in apocalyptic disarray
(Saturday 9 September, 7:15pm EST)
Black Sunday (1960)
It’s the title that marked Italy’s ascension to movie macabre prominence. Mario Bava directs the ethereal Barbara Steele in a story of witches, possession and blood!
(Tuesday 12 September, 6:25pm EST)
Human Nature (2001)
The last time director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charles Kaufman got together, they delivered Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This film’s ALMOST as good.
(Wednesday 13 September, 9:00pm EST)
Ed Wood (1994)
Tim Burton’s love letter to the oddball icon behind Plan 9 from Outer Space, this smart little film is still looking for the respect it deserved 12 year ago.
(Thursday 14 September, 5:45pm EST)
Decline of Western Civilization: Part 2 – The Metal Years (1988)
Wanna see something really scary? Director Penelope Spheeris delivers the shocks in this documentary on ‘80s hair metal, with all its decadent, self-deluded dimensions.
(Sunday, 10 September, 10:00pm EST)
11’09"01 - September 11 (2002)
A group of foreign filmmakers try to find cinematic answers to the events that happened in lower Manhattan that fateful fall day, and illustrate its affect on the world.
(Monday, 11 September, 11:00pm EST)
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Martin Scorsese takes on Catholicism and the Bible in this remarkable adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s controversial novel. A true misunderstood masterpiece
(Thursday, 14 September, 10:00pm EST)
Monster in a Box
The late, great Spaulding Gray discusses his mother’s insanity, and the creation of his novel, the “monster” known as Impossible Vacation, in this amazing monologue.
(Friday, 15 September, 4:15pm EST)