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Monday, Mar 12, 2007


It’s almost here – the Summer movie season is just a mere eight weeks away. Time to drop as many of 2006’s late arrival titles on the unsuspecting DVD audience as possible. Once a certain spidered man starts slinging his webs around the 6th of May, the suits inside the studios will be concentrating on how well their would-be blockbusters are doing at the Cineplex, not how many copies of last year’s lamentable romantic comedy they’ve sold. So be wary when traveling to your favorite home theater depot. Interspersed among the timeless classics and new-fangled franchise efforts are a boatload of bullstuff, all aiming to drain away the last of your yet to be determined dollars. So choose wisely as you walk the aisles this 13 March, and try to avoid the elephantine hype surrounding our SE&L selection for this week:


Casino Royale


It seems like, every few years, spy film fans go through the James Bond jitters, Either they’re fed up with Roger Moore’s aging aimlessness, or angry that longtime producer Albert “Chubby” Broccoli can’t keep the one man they feel was perfect for the role (Pierce Brosnan) from bolting to bigger and better things. The latest row was over the casting of British blond himbo Daniel Craig as the new, post-millennial 007. The only glimmer of hope inside this otherwise dismissed bit of hiring was the promise that this version of the classic UK agent would be a “real return to form” (meaning a creative call back to the days of Sean Connery). Sure enough, this kinetic update delivered the best Bond movie in a long time – a legitimate action film with heart and head to match. Craig may still have to win over the Ian Fleming faithful, but at the box offices, he’s more than renewed his character’s license to kill.

Other Titles of Interest


The Burmese Harp: The Criterion Collection


As one of two classics by Kon Ichikawa to be released by DVD’s definitive preservationists, this story of a WWII Japanese platoon who sing to keep their spirits up represents war at its most insidious. Instead of focusing on death and destruction along the battlefield, Ichikawa follows the fallout of battle on man’s inner strength and resolve. The results are dark and devastating.

Fire on the Plain: The Criterion Collection


The second Ichikawa film from Criterion focuses on the ravages of combat from the psychological outward. When a group of Japanese soldiers are trapped in a Philippine’s jungle, the stress of waiting for death drives them insane. Some even resort to murder and cannibalism. As strong an anti-war message as you are likely to find anywhere, this amazing film fits perfectly into the company’s creative dynamic.

The Holiday


It’s a shame that Nancy Meyers isn’t a more skilled filmmaker. She had a great idea here, and a certifiably star-driven cast. Just the thought of Jack Black hooking up with Kate Winslet had stocky guys all across the world celebrating in vicarious triumph. Unfortunately, most critics found this routine romantic comedy to contain more hackwork than humor…or heart…or hope.

Shortbus


Here it is – John Cameron Mitchell’s notorious follow-up to his madcap musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Following the failing fortunes of a bunch of beleaguered New Yorkers, Mitchell made the unprecedented decision to ignore the MPAA and show all the sexual acts in their full blown, X-rated reality. What you wind up with is a surreal cinematic experiment, a character study that suddenly breaks into hardcore porn honesty.

Volver


While other foreign filmmakers seem to mellow and wane with age, Spain’s Pedro Almodovar is only getting feistier and more confrontational. For his latest look at women on the verge of interpersonal freefall, he casts Penelope Cruz in a story of ravaging emotional erosion. So successful was the combination that Ms. Cruz became the first Spanish actress to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.


And Now for Something Completely Different
Open Water 2


It’s quite the motion picture pickle – how do you make a sequel to a film where both of the main characters died in the end? Easy - avoid everything that the first movie stood for, and strike out on your own; borrow the name for some instant audience recognizability and hope no one in the fooled fanbase hollers “FOUL!” That’s what the makers of Adrift did when they discovered that the lame-os over at Lionsgate were picking up their effort for direct to DVD release. This German joke of an aquatic horror film is so illogical, so laced with ridiculous decisions by both the characters on screen and the creative team behind the lens that the individuals responsible for the original ‘you are there” sharkfest ought to consider an immediate injunction. The only thing this stupid storyline has in common with the 2003 hit is the vastness of the ocean – that’s it.

 


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Sunday, Mar 11, 2007


Something must be terribly wrong with Terry Gilliam. Either that, or he drank the Kool-aid on his own hype a few films ago. Back in 2005, the director was desperate. The Toronto Film Festival trounced all over his latest effort, a queer adult fable based on the book Tideland, and no distributor was willing to take on the impossible task of marketing the movie. With a narrative that focused on a little girl lost in a fatalistic fantasy world of her own making, and disturbing elements that included nods to underage sexuality, brutal drug use, and human fallibility, it appeared as if no one would be willing to stand up for the stranded artist. Gilliam even took to the streets, following the film around during its limited theatrical release to pony up publicity for his orphaned effort.


Now, a mere three weeks after THINKFilm’s released the title on DVD, Gilliam is fuming. Strike that – he’s uncharacteristically livid. The controversy doesn’t center on censorship, or some manner of mandated cuts to the content of the story. No, the ex-pat Python is upset over how the film was transferred over to the digital medium. It’s a gloriously geeky mess, the kind of nerd obsessive nonsense that gives the Internet and its struggling journalistic reputation a wonderfully weird wedgie. You see, Tideland was filmed in Super 35mm, and the resulting image was framed and composed for a 2.35:1 aspect ratio release. But beginning with its pitch for Oscar attention, THINK has purposefully reconfigured the film. The reports vary, from a 1.78:1 Academy screener, to the 1.85:1 version that hit stores 23, February.


Now, if you believe Gilliam, his cinematographer (and good friend) Nicola Pecorini and the investigators over at film ick (your basic UK blog) THINKFilm deceived the auteur. They prepared the DVD version without his consent, ported over most of the bonus material from the Region 2 release (which supposedly maintains the 2.35:1 aspect ratio) and made it appear that the director approved of the new pictorial proportions. In a pair of press releases, Gilliam has gone on record as renouncing the Region 1 DVD, and has even gone so far as to tell his American fans to boycott the disc. Pecorini goes a little further, stating that “nothing” about the THINKFilm release warrants consumer consideration. It all seems so very odd.


Remember, this was a man who, up until the mid-part of last year, couldn’t get a single significant studio to release his fractured fable. Listening to the audio commentary as part of the DVD (as well as his discussion of the post-production problems as part of another bonus feature), you hear a man mad as his status as a cinematic pariah. In truth, almost NONE of the reasons Gilliam is given over to a reputation as “difficult, demanding, excessive and eccentric” have to do with his own actions. Aside from bragging on Brazil (his 1982 masterwork) to the point of pissing off Universal, the rest of his problems stem directly from acts of God, location and forces outside his filmmaking. Indeed, he mentions that his last dust-up – a battle with the Weinsteins over his poorly received Brothers Grimm – had nothing to do with what happened on screen. It was merely part of the package of being in the motion picture business.


But the issue with THINKFilm is different, at least from these rumored reports. This is a matter of principle, pure and simple. Gilliam agreed to have the company release his movie, remembering that they should abide by his creative and aesthetic wishes. Basically, they couldn’t take Tideland and re-edit it, recolor the sky or brighten the darker moments. Back when The Descent hit DVD, fans were flummoxed by the ability to see more of the action in New Line’s remastered transfer. Cries of filmic foul were raised, since many believed director Neil Marshall’s hide and seek suspense conceit was being purposefully played with for a home theater audience. Turns out they were wrong. Marshall always had his visuals lit for ease of visibility. It was the crappy theaters and under-trained projectionists around the country that failed to fully illuminate the film’s many underground fights.


For Tideland, it appears that the only real concern is over aspect ratio. Listen to any of the ardent defenders of Gilliam’s “original vision” and they will tell you that the difference between 2.35:1 and 1.85:1 is top to bottom, as well as side to side. Mathematically speaking, taking a narrower image and broadening it means more information is revealed above and below. In addition, in order to avoid some technical elements that may have existed outside the frame (boom mic, crew or camera shadows, etc.) some companies zoom in on the image, losing a little of the compositional information on all four sides. In the opinion of the fanatical, such a situation undermines Gilliam’s original intent. It also destroys all of the carefully controlled creative strides made by cinematographer Pecorini. What many wondered prior to the recent reports was (a) was 2.35:1 the original aspect ratio?, and (b) was Gilliam aware/did he approve of the change?.


The answers are now obviously “yes” and “Hell No!”. From a purely practical standpoint, THINKFilm’s DVD release of Tideland in Region 1 is incorrect. It offers a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image that’s absolutely stunning, but does indeed represent a retrofitting of the film’s OAR. Since it is so based in the symbolic and visual, relying on images to explore many of Mitch Cullin’s more disturbing ideas, fans of the film feel betrayed by such a situation. In fact, some are even suggesting that potential viewers will be put off of the film because, while viewing its complex and occasionally corrupt storyline, they will be missing many of Gilliam’s lush optical nuances. Such a stance fails to take into account the movie’s resounding dismissal at the hands of critics during its THEATRICAL run, or the praise this particular DVD has received from those unaware of the OAR scandal.


In reality, Tideland is a difficult movie to champion or chastise. It sits somewhere between a failed masterpiece and a brilliant bomb. It contains elements both personal and peripheral that threaten to undermine its acceptability (including a Tennessee Williams type turn by Jodelle Freland as an underage antebellum Southern surrogate) and really adds up to very little in the end. Unlike the rest of Gilliam’s creative canon, Tideland represents the director at his most disassociated. Similar to the lead character, Jeliza-Rose, he too is trapped in an unwieldy world of his own making. And now it seems that he’s ready to rebuke yet another studio for screwing with his efforts.


Consider this: THINKFilms was touting Tideland for Oscars back in November. Press releases went out to all critics groups with the standard ‘For Your Consideration’ rot, and free screeners were made available. As part of that DVD, Gilliam gave a surreal ironic introduction (a piece that prompted many an admirer to question his cinematic sanity) and then the full length feature was presented – in a 1.78:1 transfer. Now, if THINK really thought Tideland had a chance at Academy gold, why did they undermine their artist (and, in turn, his hardworking crew) so? Though he probably doesn’t care about such self-congratulatory backslapping, why didn’t Gilliam complain then? Was it because he knew he had no chance at Year End glory? Or was it a case of out of sight, out of mind?


In defense of the DVD, it doesn’t look like Tideland is missing much in the visual department. Only a comparison between the two transfers (Region 1 and Region 2) will settle the story once and for all – and that’s just what we’ll attempt to do in Part 2 of this discussion. In the meantime, we are stuck wondering how something like this can occur, especially in a day and age where every online film fan has a forum to ridicule and rail against a shoddy motion picture package. It worked when Pan and Scan was threatening to turn the digital medium into a graduated VCR. It worked when colorization raised its repugnant head a couple of years back. Studios frequently feel the wrath of the cinematic faithful when films are released minus key scenes, lines of dialogue, or removed musical cues. So, is the Tideland story a legitimate slighting of a moviemaking genius? Or is it just a product pitching ploy. We’ll have to wait for an Air Mail delivery from the UK to find out.


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Saturday, Mar 10, 2007


There are a couple of distinct advantages to being a homemade moviemaker – that is, someone guiding their own cinematic career with a group of friends, a camcorder, and an unquestioned desire to create. The first, naturally, is pure aesthetic liberty. Basically, you can do whatever the Hell you want, however the Hell you want. Feel like combining genres in contravention to everything they teach about narrative and tone in film school? Go right ahead. Need to have slapstick humor combine with slimy scare tactics? Be my – or make that, your own – guest. In essence, want to follow your own merry muse wherever and however it takes you to the land of inferred entertainment? Like the old sports shoe slogan said – GO FOR IT!


The second benefit is a little more elusive. It only appears when someone with a significant point of view, or clear artistic conceit, takes a chance behind the viewfinder. You see, with most wholly independent films, there is more copycatting and past film referencing than wholly spontaneous and original ideas. If our basement Bertolucci fancies himself a horror maestro, you can bet that zombies, vampires or serial killers – the triumvirate of terrors for novice auteurs – will play a major part. On the other hand, if this so-called low rent Renoir wants to explore the realm of comedy, it’s more than a safe bet that the humor will be less analytical and far more anal – both literally and figuratively. So it takes a rare talent to traipse around inside such a potential set of pitfalls, knowing how to avoid said dangers as well as how to save yourself once you do slip and succumb.


Justin Channell is such a moviemaking anomaly. Born in 1987 (making him a whopping 20 years old) and currently serving as the webmaster for the Troma Films fansite, Tromatized!, this knowing neophyte wanted to find a way to turning his love of horror and humor into a successful narrative combo. Along with his partners in motion picture crime, Joshua Lively and Zane Crosby (Channell writes and directs, while his buddies act onscreen and occasionally contribute to the scripts) he has turned the world of the living dead and the bloodsucking basics of Dracula’s domain into the post-modern equivalent of an Abbott and Costello romp. With Lively and Crosby as his cinematic comedians, and working within the clear confines of a classic old school team (Josh is the straight man, Zane is Mr. Zinger), Channell proves that, with motivation, and some hands-on moxie, you too can create cinematic gold.


The trio’s first film together, the incredibly effective Raising the Stakes, found Lively and Crosby taking on teen angst and inhuman immortality. The storyline featured the pair as two unhappy nerds who mistakenly believe that, by becoming vampires, they will instantly achieve campus coolness – and looks from the ladies. Naturally, the plan backfires (they still get their asses kicked, even as members of the undead) and all manner of hilarious hackneyed hijinx ensue. With an obvious love for all things South Park (the dialogue cribs quite a few catchphrases from the classic TV series) and a reliance on the retarded to amplify the anarchy, this genial jokefest helped put Channell and his chums on the outsider map.


After providing a segment for the hilarious scare spoof Faces of Schlock Volume 2 (the zombie baby lark A Fetal Mistake), Channell immediately leapt into his next project, the cannibal comedy Die and Let Live. This time, Lively and Crosby play college age slackers who enjoy intellectual repasts at the local coffee house. It also offers them the opportunity to ogle the brainy babes who stop by for the occasional hot cupper. Lively’s character, Benny Rodriguez, has the hots for a gal named Stephanie, and he’s desperate to impress her. He goes so far as to beg Crosby’s Scotty Smalls to hold a poolside keg party in hopes of getting a hook up. Never one to reject a liquor-based soiree, Scotty makes the mistake of telling a few unwelcome buddies, and before you know it, Benny’s plans for an intimate evening have turned into a typical adolescent booze binge.


Even worse, there’s been an outbreak at the local medical testing facility, and a virus with the ability to raise the dead has been released. As Benny, Scotty and their pals pour down the pints, the local corpse population is stirring from their graves, and looking for people to munch on. Naturally, a series of confrontations occurs, with Benny trying to ward off Stephanie’s old boyfriend (a jock joke lummox named Andrew) while the zombies discover the smorgasbord of inebriated idiots to satisfy their corrupt cravings. It will take a miracle – or the unbridled bonding power of some dolphin-shaped ‘best friend’ necklaces – to save the day.


Expanding on the formula he founded for Stakes, Channell chooses the best elements of the time-honored teen comedy and fuses them into a sly Shaun of the Dead dynamic. He never tries to oversell the scares, and indeed, frequently uses the homemade gore to wonderful comic effect. His ease with the material, the excellent conceptualizing of how to handle both the casual conversations and the blood and guts set pieces argues for a filmmaker wise beyond his meager years. Channell also understands his macabre, and enjoys the outright referencing of previous fright flicks as part of his production design. He even casts Troma titan Lloyd Kaufman and former company creative mind Trent Haaga in successful cameo roles.


But the movie really belongs to Lively and Crosby. In fact, Channell could simply dump the amiable arterial spray and use the duo as the next generation of rib tickling comedy teams. Borrowing less from their media influences, and creating a wonderfully wittiness that’s all their own, these chums and collaborators off camera come across as lifelong companions on. Crosby alone has some amazing comic timing, never flinching or failing a joke. Lively is also adept at turning his occasional ironic quips into stellar asides. You can see how good they are when compared to the rest of the amateur cast. While the costars’ lack of performance grade is nobody’s fault (this is no budget filmmaking after all), Lively and Crosby could become indie film icons, the Clerks for a post post-Kevin Smith generation.


So, with all this talent on tap, and a few fine features under their belt, what’s the downside to all this craft and creativity? Well, Die and Let Live has yet to find distribution on DVD (at least, as of this date) and both Raising the Stakes and Faces of Schlock Volume 2 are both self-circulated titles. Channell continues to play the festival circuit, hoping audience reaction – which is almost always favorable – will drive up interest in a legitimate release. Such is the tradeoff in the wonderful world of filmmaking beyond the fringe. You can make or do whatever you want, with the final product representing the best that you and your friends have to offer. But the question then becomes, will anyone ever see it? In the case of Justin Channell, Josh Lively and Zane Crosby, it’s just a matter of time before they’re outsider idols. Until then, they get the benefits, and detriments, of being homemade heroes.


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Friday, Mar 9, 2007


As part of a new feature here at SE&L, we will be looking at the classic exploitation films of the ‘40s - ‘70s. Many film fans don’t recognize the importance of the genre, and often miss the connection between the post-modern movements like French New Wave and Italian Neo-Realism and the nudist/roughie/softcore efforts of the era. Without the work of directors like Herschell Gordon Lewis, Joe Sarno and Doris Wishman, along with producers such as David F. Friedman and Harry Novak, many of the subjects that set the benchmark for cinema’s startling transformation in the Me Decade would have been impossible to broach. Sure, there are a few dull, derivative drive-in labors to be waded through, movies that barely deserve to stand alongside the mangled masterworks by the format’s addled artists. But they too represent an important element in the overall development of the medium. So grab your trusty raincoat, pull up a chair, and discover what the grindhouse was really all about as we introduce The Beginner’s Guide to Exploitation.


This week: the kiddie matinee turns moneymaker for the grindhouse gang.

The Wonderful Land of Oz/ Jack and the Beanstalk


You have to remember – exploitation was all about money. Any notions of art or appeal were a slim, shady second. If you could film it, and find an audience willing to watch it – or be tastefully tricked into doing same – your coffers could be clinking with curiosity-inspired coinage. Short of sneaking over into hardcore pornography (still a major Constitutional no-no at the time) or delving into areas even more disturbing (snuff, anyone?), producers had to plunder the depths of all potential profit zones, going from fright to foreign to get the greenback dollar done. And then once they struck grindhouse gold, they would tap and re-tap said monetary mine until it was almost ready to implode.


Perhaps the oddest revenue stream came from the pre-teen crowd. Too young to pet up the passion pit, but still cognizant of film as a form of entertainment, they were a fledgling fanbase that the major studios failed to sufficiently market to (wow – how times have changed). While it may seem strange for a business that based most of its earnings on eros, nudity and scandal to venture into kid-friendly fare, anyone who knew the genre’s cinematic con game realized such a strategy was a long standing element of exploitation. When the roadshow proved successful – selling sex education epics loaded with “live birth footage” along with an in-person hygiene lecture – other combinations of cinema and theatrics were conceived. Magicians, capable of creating magic without the need of celluloid, were quickly reconfigured into horror hosts. The next thing you know, the spook show was born.


It was a killer combination. A cornball carnival act was out-fitted with Grand Guignol blood and gore effects, a rotten old scary movie was picked out of the public domain pile, and almost instantaneously, ads announcing the upcoming fright fest were filling papers all around the standard exploitation circuit. Summer-weary youngsters, looking for something to stifle the sweltering heat (or in Fall, to prepare them for All Hallow’s Eve) would line up outside the local Bijou, ready for a mind-boggling multimedia event. Traveling from city to city, these potent profit generators became an annual rite of passage for many of the nation’s most easily impressionable. But just as the spook show was burning up the beltway, Congress began its unprecedented hearings into comic books and juvenile delinquency. In one fell swoop, the selling of violence to children was tantamount to a crime.


Quickly needing to regroup, the exploitationers hit upon a radical idea – pander to the parents. Instead of shocking their offspring, perhaps they should provide a sort of cinematic panacea (and indirectly, a few hours out of Mon and Dad’s harried household). The answer was obvious – link into the large library of fairytales, apply the same lo-fi no budget approach to their production as they do in the skin and sin department, and railroad them through as many small market screens as possible. Thus the kiddie matinee was born, an afternoon long celebration of good clean fun merged with buck-based babysitting. A perfect example of this approach are the efforts of Barry Mahon. A director who dabbled in almost every genre of sleazoid cinema, his late ‘60s/early ‘70s adolescent epics defy easy description. These amazingly misguided movies prove that, when it comes to famous fables from the past, familiarity breeds a kind of commercial contempt.

When it comes to wonderful wizards, it figures that as soon as Dorothy and Toto travel somewhere back over the rainbow to Kansas, Oz instantly becomes a backlot at some failed Florida funpark. It is here where we meet Tiperarious, an off-key cretin, who is ready to help bastardize L. Frank Baum’s beatitudes. Apparently, “Tip” is a metaphysical princess trapped in a talentless male child star’s body, enslaved to a wax-chinned witch. Typical of your enchanted land manservant, little Lord Boredleroy carves a pumpkinhead and calls him Jack (somewhere in the great beyond, the future imagination of Timothy Burton smiles). Mombi, his magical “massa,” sprinkles her broth of vigor all over the squash and he turns into a walking, talking gourd with no ass and Jackie Vernon’s voice.


Overhearing that his hag housemother plans on turning him into a marble garden gnome, Tip takes Jack to the Emerald City to visit the Scarecrow. Along the way, the dumb duo runs into General Ginjur and her all-female marching band. They are set to overthrow the forward-thinking Oz government for granting them suffrage. Seems our young ladies would rather sleep late and money grub after all (screw the ERA!). In a desperate attempt to breathe life into this tired child’s chestnut, they introduce the timeless, treasured literary characters of the flying sofa Gump and the walleyed Cuddlebug/Pollywog/Wiggleworm/Wogglebug/Whatever. It doesn’t work. So then everyone sings!


Meanwhile, in another far more single warehouse set fantasy world, Jack and his fiduciarily strapped family lament their late father. Or a better explanation would be that they sing pathetic show tunes about how stupid he was at not being able to recreate his famed, money making inventions, or how many of their now malnourished ribs they can count. Mom decides that instead of slaughtering the cow and serving flank steak for a month, she’d rather turn over the wise financial decisions to her wispy loafered son Jack. He immediately trades the potential ground round for a handful of lentils, then tosses them into the backyard, thereby avoiding the alimentary middleman.


A huge beanstalk grows, Jack traverses it, and runs into the sloppiest giant (with the loveliest castrati voice) in all of Cloud City. Our light fingered fig climber commits acts of larceny while the crumb laden colossus eats his weight in skunk soup and then falls into incredibly well timed cases of narcolepsy. Eventually, Jack discovers he is stealing to supply his sister with a dowry. Seems a hard-up mutt ugly 16-year old miss has a difficult time getting hitched to swarthy suitors without cash on the salt pork barrel head, or at least a harp that plays by itself. Eventually there is some manner of “happily ever after” since the movie ends.


For those who find the Rankin-Bass school of brat bewilderment jerky and unnerving, or Sid and Marty Krofft’s sebaceous cartoons on crack like kissing Billy Hayes, just wait until you get a load of what nudie entrepreneur Barry Mahon thought wee ones would be willing to sit through on a hot Saturday afternoon. Unless your name was K. Gordon Murray and you set about importing all manner of Mexican merriment to fuel your moneymaking matinees, you had to grow some junk of your own. And films like The Wonderful Land of Oz and Jack and the Beanstalk were the homemade horse hockey result. These movies share a great deal with the entire R-B/ S&MK school of juvenilia with their Puffnstuff/Bugaloos/Lidsville weirdness; awkward, in puberty flux teen boys with bad Beatle hair and even worse singing voices cooing about magic wands and enchanted pixies; overly bright and oddly angled sets attempting to pass for far-out imaginary locations, and charmless adults in ill-fitting costumes and pounds of pancake makeup prancing and posing, passing time until happy hour.


Oddly enough, Oz is rather faithful to the original book upon which it is based (The Magical Land of Oz), even using some of the same dialogue and scenes. And that’s good, because when left to his own devices, Mahon gives us action, actors, and musical numbers that take the whole notion of nonchalance to a new, near comatose level. Even when they’re singing the saccharine, silly songs inserted into the show, everyone in the cast seems barely awake. You start to wonder how something this outrageously awful could be made. And fret it could get worse.


And then it does. Jack and the Beanstalk starts to play. So stagy and talky that David Mamet watches it annually just to remember how best to cram the maximum amount of dialogue within the minimal amount of scene changes, this vexingly verbal version of the classic Fe-Fi-Fo-Fooey should be called Jack Beany / Jackstalk. You half expect Kevin Spacey to show up three-quarters of the way through (in a wizard’s hat of course) and yell at the cast to “go to lunch.” Anything to enliven this by the fast food franchise coloring book rendition of the bedtime standby. Every time the hairy, seemingly hung-over giant goes into his high pitched “Fe-Fi” aria, you actually feel your individual skin cells quivering in nucleic failure. Jack’s mother sounds like she just came over on the boat (from where? Perhaps…Lithuania?) and his sister is so obsessed with that damn dowry that you’d swear she was Indira Gandhi in another life.


The direction subdivides the film into three separate, bowel challenging movements, each one starting and ending with Jack climbing his green leafed rope ladder and shuffling along the dry ice stage setting like he’s tripping the cumulus fantastic. Then, via the magic of atrocious rear projection, he steals cardboard items while we witness the gross gob of our elephantine enemy in all his mouth corner salt sickness. It’s just too bad that even with his lack of musculature, Jack never once stumbles and tumbles to his upper atmospheric death. Nothing or no one so deserves to burn up in the earth’s atmosphere more than this grimy Grimm’s flimsy tale.


Oddly enough, both movies were very successful. They lead Mahon to make a version of Thumbelina (1970) and a pair of corrupt classics with Christmas as a backdrop (Santa and the Three Bears, 1970 and Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, 1972). And it wasn’t even off-title exploitation auteurs that were betting on brats to rake in the dough. Even Herschell Gordon Lewis, the originator of the gore film, tried his hand at it, making the insane fantasy flop Jimmy the Boy Wonder. He would even go so far as to film a local amusement park’s stage show and release it under the title The Magical Land of Mother Goose. In both cases, the movies were good for a couple week run before fading into the entertainment ether. It all ended when TV realized the desperate demographic available, and began purposefully programming cartoons and other kid fare during the afternoon hours. In an instant, the kiddie matinee died. The films were relegated to rerun status on local UHF channels, and the producers went back to pushing softcore smut as their ballyhoo bread and butter. After all, exploitation was all about money. Still, it’s interesting to remember a brief period when the piggy bank drove as many movies as the private parts.


 


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Thursday, Mar 8, 2007


Spring has sprung – so get out and live your life. Take some time. Stop and smell the flowers. Do anything and everything you can, but whatever you do, DON’T WATCH THE PREMIUM CABLE MOVIE CHANNELS THIS WEEKEND. All four films being offered, including one made exclusively for the coaxial market, are absolutely lame. They lack sufficient cinematic and artistic cred, and consistently undermine the individuals responsible for their creation. Where once the arrival of winter’s thaw marked the dog days at the local Multiplex, it appears pay TV is the new landfill for lost motion picture prattle. If you insist upon cranking up the cable box and bothering with any of these offerings, SE&L can only sell you on one – and the pitch is pretty weak. In fact, this may be a good time to explore other options in Saturday evening adventure. Here’s what’s waiting on 10 March:


Premiere Pick
Stay Alive


You know the pickings are exceptionally slim when SE&L goes about recommending a rather under-baked video game styled horror film as its premium channel pick – especially one as slipshod as this one. Tripping lightly into Silent Hill territory, with just a smidgen of Final Destination to add to the illogic, what starts off interesting (including a nice bit of immersive 3D animation) ends up inert as old legends come back to life for absolutely no good reason. The cast is comprised of unimpressive actors, each one looking lost in what is essentially a slasher film with microchips instead of machetes. With an overblown ending and more than its fair share of plotholes, the only entertainment you’ll get from this failed horror hackwork will come from second guessing the characters. Sadly, you will probably overestimate their intelligence every single time. (3 March, Starz, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices
Life Support


It’s more issue-oriented fare for the Emmy winning network as Queen Latifah stars in this based on a true story drama. Her character is an urban activist, a former junkie now infected with AIDS who wants to help others avoid her physical fate. In addition, there’s an older daughter whose overflowing with bitterness regarding her upbringing, and various stoic subplots that take attention away from the main narrative. For all its noble intentions, this is nothing more than a mediocre made for TV weeper. (10 March, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Sentinel


At first, we here at SE&L were excited. It looked like one of our favorite novels from the mid-70s, Jeffrey Konvitz’s The Sentinel, was getting the remake treatment. The original motion picture adaptation was a pointless little travesty, and an update at the hands of one of our modern macabre experts would be more than welcome. Turns out this is some minor Michael Douglas thriller. That sound you hear is the superstar’s demographic demanding their money back. (10 March, Cinemax, 9PM EST)


The Pink Panther


Steve Martin should be ashamed. Shawn Levy should also hang his head in collaborative guilt. Together, these two supposedly talented men shit all over the legacy of Peter Sellers and his slapstick collaborations with the brilliant Blake Edwards. And rumor has it that a sequel may be in the works. Apparently, audiences enjoyed this update on the modern Inspector Clouseau character enough to warrant a return to the well. Here’s hoping all involved drown. (10 March, Showtime, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
O’ Brother Where Art Thou?


After The Big Lebowski failed to make them mainstream heroes, the Coen Brothers decided to step back and regroup. Fargo Oscars in hand, the boys called on some odd source material (Homer’s The Odyssey) to forge their next effort, a rustic riot that stands as one of their best films ever. George Clooney, in the Clark Gable part, leads thick-witted associates Delmar and Pete through a sticky Alabama backwater, all in an attempt to locate a tantalizing treasure that may or may not exist. Aside from the amazing performances and pitch perfect casting (including Brother favorites John Goodman, Holly Hunter, and John Turturro), the movie featured a Grammy winning soundtrack of classic country and bluegrass songs. Indeed, thanks to that T-Bone Burnett produced collection, more people were exposed to the Coen’s creative conceits than ever before. (11 March, IFC, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Human Nature


Back before they were both big names, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry delivered this quirky romantic comedy. Or is it really a science fiction fantasy. The premise has scientist Tim Robbins and his hirsute girlfriend Patricia Arquette (she has a biological condition that produces excess body hair) discovering a real ape man – that is, a feral human raised in the wild. The result is some surreal interpersonal problems and a lot of strophic sexuality. (10 March, IFC, 9PM EST)

Jesus Christ, Superstar


While not quite as controversial as Martin Scorsese’s take on Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel, Norman Jewison still fielded a lot of public grief from bringing this blasphemous rock opera to the big screen. Even worse, he filled his cast with clear counterculture types, turning the hit musical into a statement about the National disconnect over the Vietnam War. It remains a wonderful version, with some stellar turns both vocally and acting-wise. (15 March, Sundance, 7PM EST)

Fahrenheit 451


It remains a minor glitch in a true cinematic giant’s substantive resume. By the end of filming, both actor and director couldn’t stand each other. And as book to film adaptations go, it stands as a solid, if slight, effort. For François Truffaut, there would be other triumphs. But fans of author Ray Bradbury still wonder why no one has picked up the remake mantle on this classic tale of totalitarianism run amuck. (12 March, Sundance, 6AM EST)

Outsider Option
Dawn of the Dead (2004)


It shouldn’t have worked. When zombie king George Romero delivered his sequel to the stellar Night of the Living Dead in 1978, he had to do so without a rating. The material was so horrifying, and the amount of gore so generous, that the MPAA would never approve the picture. Fast forward 26 years, and first time filmmaker Zack Snyder decided to helm this remake, complete with as much arterial spray as possible. Thanks to a clever update from genre genius James Gunn (the first ten minutes alone are refreshingly frightening) and a decision to turn the living dead into fast moving monsters, what could have been a disaster ended up one of 2004’s certified smashes. Now, as Synder’s sword and sandal epic 300 prepares to hit theaters, revisit this filmmaker’s fascinating vision with this unholy look at a world gone horrific – and hungry. (10 March, Starz, 11:30PM EST)

Additional Choices
I Bury the Living


After more than a month off, TCM brings back its Underground series, and horror host Rob Zombie. This time out, we get an Albert Band classic, a grisly little tale of a cemetery worker whose casual placement of pins on a graveyard map causes the death of said plot owner. With a terrific performance by Richard Boone, and a last act twist that helps up the ick factor, this is old fashioned fright filmmaking at its finest. (9 March, Tuner Classic Movies, 7:30PM EST)

Blue Sky


While it may seem like she fell off the face of the Earth since this, her last major Oscar nominated performance (which she won for, by the way), Jessica Lange has actual been featured in nearly 20 projects over the last 13 years. Still, how she moved from the A-list to an afterthought remains a motion picture mystery, especially considering her remarkable work in this period drama. Sadly, this was also the last film for the award winning Tony Richardson.(12 March, Movieplex, 9PM EST)

Blue Thunder


A perfect example of ‘80s high concept action and adventure, this clever retrofitting of the chase/conspiracy picture found Roy Scheider behind the controls of an experimental helicopter. Thanks to a sly little script by Dan “Alien” O’Bannon and definitive direction from genre master John Badham, this technological take on the standard morality tale was a surprise hit that still manages to hold up, even under today’s F/X fancying demands. (13 March, Flix, 10PM EST)

 


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