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Wednesday, Dec 27, 2006


Before the complaints come pouring in, let’s clarify the ground rules for this particular year-end list, shall we? Many of the movies referenced were indeed made BEFORE 2006. At least one dates as far back as the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. A few are DVD-only releases. Others had a limited life in theaters before making their way to the home theater arena. So, in essence, the criteria for appearing on this list is that, in general, the titles discussed must have arrived on the digital domain sometime in this calendar year. Granted, we could be dealing with a double dip, a new release of an out of print presentation, or a major distributor pick up of a previously independent offering. In any case, there is a twofold purpose to making such an annual assessment—to raise the profile of some criminally overlooked efforts and to make a broader determination of what a year like 2006 had to offer.


You’ll notice that the list is weighed heavily toward two distinct categories—comedy and genre efforts. Indeed, at least five of the films listed have humorous underpinnings, while six carry horror/fantasy/sci-fi elements as part of their make-up. The reason for this is self-evident—your big budget Hollywood hit machine is incapable (with rare exceptions) of making this kind of film work and work well. Instead, they go for the easy high concept or the limited lowbrow gross out as part of an overall demographical devout business model. In addition, many of these films have a homemade feel to them, a clear indication that DVD, and the decreased costs of moviemaking technology, are investing the common man with the true means of creating cinema. This does not mean their quality is compromised. In fact, almost every title here easily eclipses much of this year’s Tinsel Town’s tripe.


So grab a pen and make note of SE&L’s Top Ten Films of 2006 That You’ve Never Heard Of…until now:



1. Lollilove
Amazingly enough, Troma’s release of this mock-documentary classic came out all the way back in January. Still, we here at SE&L have yet to see a comedy as clever, biting, and insightful as this look at the convoluted clash between celebrity and charity. Jenna Fischer, famous for her role on NBC’s Office, hooked up with famous hubby, silver screen scribe James Gunn and delivered 2006’s funniest film.




2. Period Piece
Another Troma title, this time from genius outsider auteur Guiseppe Andrews. In this scatological Short Cuts, Andrews addresses the way in which sex scars and subjugates us. Using his typical acting company of trailer park residents and a vignette like approach that resembles Paul Thomas Anderson on peyote, this astonishing social commentary only gets funnier—and fouler—with repeat viewings. Andrews is indeed a cinematic savant.


 



3. New York Doll
One of the best experiences a viewer can have is going into a movie cold, not knowing anything substantive about a story, and coming away mesmerized and moved. This is what happened when director Greg Whiteley discovered that Arthur “Killer” Kane, bassist for the New York Dolls, was a fellow Mormon. Following his rise and fall from star to street person, we get an experience both uplifting, and devastating.




4. Marauders/ SNAK—Sensitive New Age Killer/ Defenceless (Savage Cinema from Downunder)
Though a couple of these titles were released years ago, the work of Australian Mark Savage was more or less unknown to US genre fans. Now, thanks to an impressive box set from Subversive Cinema, we get to experience this divergent trio of terrific films in all their independent artistic glory. From senseless spree killers to a ghostly woman’s revenge, Savage cements his position as an inventive and important filmmaker.



5. Rock and Roll Space Patrol: Action is Go!
Our third Troma title is the equivalent of fan fiction. It’s a labor of dork love, a ballad to Roddenberry and a sloppy French kiss for individuals obsessed with their multi-sided dice. Everything here is DIY and duct tape, from the Amiga-esque CGI to refrigerator experiments in “ice box fusion”. A lot like watching the Three Metaphysical Stooges spoofing Star Trek, this glorified Geeks Gone Wild is stellar sci-fi schlock.



6. Small Gauge Trauma
For over 10 years, Canada’s Fantasia International Film Festival has been on the cutting edge of up and coming genre greatness. They discovered such macabre masters as Takashi Miike and introduced J-Horror to a ‘desperate for something different’ Western mentality. This year, they released a DVD collection of their most novel and creative contributions. Combining live action and animation, the results are remarkable, easily one of 2006’s most compelling compendiums.




7. Bleak Future
It is hard to get a real handle on this surreal sci-fi stunner, a piece of potent post-apocalyptic chaos that plays like a long lost Douglas Adams novel. Bleak Future is simultaneously smart and stupid, realistic and retarded, inspired and insipid, wholly original and a complete and utter rip off. It’s the kind of craziness that Netwads will go nutzoid over for decades to come.



8. Freak Out
Like a Monty Python derived movie macabre, this slasher spoof is out to imitate favorite fright films while simultaneously sending up the genre every step of the way. Combining a little Benny Hill style slapstick, a healthy dose of Goodies era goofiness and more than a few nods to TV dynasty Dallas, what we end up with is a compendium of styles and a wealth of worthy material.



9. Magdalena’s Brain
Leave it to narrative novices Marty Langford (producer/writer) and Warren Amerman (writer/director) to merge the speculative with the sinister to create a marvelous sci-fi/ horror hybrid. More dread-driven than straight ahead scary, this oddly effective film features strong performances and an equally powerful narrative force. Complete with a twist ending that actually works and a strong central performance by Amy Shelton-White this is an excellent indie entertainment.




10. Let Me Die a Woman
As an update to the old Roadshow movie of the 40s and 50s, the legendary Doris Wishman was behind this deranged docu-drama. Part hygiene exposé (the subject—transsexuals!) part Christine Jorgensen riff, all wanton weirdo wackiness, this corrupt combination of sex change surgery footage and post-/pre-op tranny treats is so downright bizarre, it could only come from the lunatic lens of the raincoat crowd’s favorite femme.



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Tuesday, Dec 26, 2006


You know you’ve had a good year in DVD distribution when you can discount a company’s remarkable reissues and still come up with an amazing list of definitive digital releases. And in Criterion’s case, the accomplishment is even more impressive when you realize that The 400 Blows, Armacord, Grey Gardens, Brazil and The Seven Samurai are all part of the second time around list. For SE&L‘s 2006 pics, we’ve purposefully avoided the new presentations of these timeless classics, simply to make room for more amazing cinematic goodness. Of the over 50 releases this year, the industry’s premiere preservationist introduced film fans to the eclectic catalog of independent international film, resurrected several seemingly ‘lost’ efforts, and argued for the place of works both pre-sound and post-modern as viable benchmarks in the history of cinema.


In essence, choosing a top ten out of this amazing collection is actually fairly counterintuitive to Criterion’s overall philosophy. Indeed, in the rare cases where a release goes out of print, the company attempts to replace the missing title with something of equal import and aesthetic merit. And besides, how fair is it to discount other fabulous discs like Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales or Pietro Germi’s Seduced and Abandoned? On the other hand, to mention every single DVD the company created this year would look kind of foolish, and so, the creation of a subjective Top Ten. By no means definitive, the list represents 12 months of remarkable entertainment options, as well as a spectacular amount of film history and archeology. Covering nearly eight decades of filmic expertise, here are the choices for the best Criterion DVDs of 2006:



1. Dazed and Confused
Richard Linklater’s love letter to the sensimilla-tinged ‘70s was given one of the best digital presentations of the entire year, which is apropos when you consider the fabulous film inside. More like a snapshot come to life than a fictional recreation of the last day of school in a small Texas town, the director expands his Slacker dynamic to create the ultimate illustration of youth, unaffected and unbridled.




2. Pandora’s Box
Criterion uncovers yet another gem with the release of this legendary Louis Brooks vehicle. The tragic story of a prostitute and performer named Lulu, this is the film that made Miss Brooks a star, and the toast of the jumping jive jazz age. Director Georg Wilhelm Pabst combined his acclaimed insight into actors with the inherent artistry of German Expressionism to forge an epic dissection of the human spirit.



3. Mr. Arkadin
A film whose history is as convoluted as its narrative, Arkadin represents Orson Welles at his most insular and inspired. Writing, directing and playing the lead role of a mysterious tycoon with no memory of his past, the infamous filmmaker once again saw his vision butchered, altered and rearranged by distributors desperate for financial returns. Criterion does it’s best to preserve the artist’s original vision, and the results are masterful.



4. The Double Life of Veronique
Looking for another way to explore spirituality’s place in the world, Polish director Krsysztof Kieslowski crafted a complex exploration of duality/parallelism featuring two identical women living similar lives in different parts of the planet. Veronique/Weronika both have magical singing voices. They are also both burdened with a biological birth defect. What follows is a meditation on the connectivity between humans and of unlinked lives still being inseparable and intertwined.



5. The Spirit of the Beehive
Spanish filmmaker Victor Erice’s amazing The Spirit of the Beehive is the visualization of the moment when every child’s mind turns from naiveté to knowing. Combining youth, the Spanish Civil War, Franco’s fascism, and the indelibility of Hollywood imagery, Beehive plays on themes of fear and alienation, using the ghost town-like village at the center as a symbol of Spain’s internal destruction. The results are both moving and revelatory.



6. Equinox
Yet another example of innocent filmmakers flimflammed by a savvy distributor out to make a buck, this Famous Monsters of Filmland inspired novelty is nothing more than a home movie fleshed out to definite drive-in dimensions. Thanks to Criterion’s decision to release both versions, as well as a complete compendium on the film’s making and reconfiguration, we witness the birth of horror fandom, and the evils inside the motion picture industry.



7. Sweetie
Sweetie is a strange experience, a movie made up almost exclusively out of hints and suggestions. Obviously, Australian auteur Jane Campion (in her first feature film) is dealing with a family hiding a mountain of damaging dysfunction behind their dry, dopey, demeanor. Between one child’s uncontrolled Id and the rest of her kin’s slighted and submerged egos, the result is a ticking human time bomb waiting to insert itself into situations and simply implode.



8. The Fallen Idol
Carol Reed, the British director responsible for several of cinema’s more outstanding milestones (The Third Man, Oliver!) delivered one of the most devastating takes on hero worship shattered ever attempted. When cruelty and death forces an isolated child to confront his issues of loyalty and adulation toward a favored family butler, the truth becomes more difficult to decipher than the mixed messages from the adults around him.



9. Playtime
Call him France’s answer to Charlie Chaplin/Buster Keaton, or a post-modern silent comedian, but no one can deny Jacques Tati’s filmmaking acumen. A stickler for detail as well as a painstaking perfectionist, Playtime began production in 1964…and didn’t wrap until 1967! Focusing on his classic character, the bumbling Monsieur Hulot, and his 24 hours in Paris, this pop art poem glitters with cosmopolitan gloss and delightful urban angst.



10. Young Mr. Lincoln
John Ford’s adulating approach to Lincoln in his early, pre-Presidential days is highly fictionalized, but oddly enough captures the American icon in all his revered glory. Thanks to Henry Fonda’s fascinating performance, the amazing black and white cinematography, and the crackerjack court case the characters participate in, this is a vision of how America might have been – or at least, how a pair of patriotic artists wish it would be.



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Monday, Dec 25, 2006


Ouch! Not so loud! SE&L is still nursing a massive holiday hangover, a pain perpetrated from processing all the potential titles one could count on to bolster their gift giving acumen this festive fake-out. Not only that, but we’re also trying to decide what to do with the iridescent blue tie, the Rocky Balboa party mug, and the “World’s Greatest Weblog” statuette we got as part of our Christmas swag. While the thought of returning such fine, thoughtful gifts would never cross our mind, it’s interesting to note how the crack commercial distributors have held back on three big summer releases for just that very reason. Don’t like the matching potholders your aunt insisted would perk up your kitchen? Horrified by the pair of plaid wool socks your spouse thought would make your season bright? Bewildered over how to respond to the ‘Fat, Bald and Sexy’ t-shirt your kids gave you? Easy, trade in said tacky trinkets and head on over to your local brick and mortar for a little digital healing. Nothing says self-satisfaction better than a DVD you picked out for yourself. So wake up early, get in line, and contemplate these 26 December releases. It will help make the lack of legitimate customer service that much more bearable: 


The Black Dahlia

Brian DePalma, once a Hollywood heavyweight with his Hitchcock homage style, has fallen on some substantial hard times as of late. Going back to 1984’s Body Double, his career has been loaded with fine, if flawed, efforts (Casualties of War, Carlito’s Way) and outright cinematic stool samples (The Bonfire of the Vanities, Femme Fatale). Resting somewhere right in the middle is this LA Confidential retread, a routine reading of James Ellroy’s novel about the mysterious murder of a Hollywood starlet. The true story is so riveting, so loaded with ominous ideas of death and dismemberment (the ‘Dahlia’ was found cut in half, face lacerated from ear to ear) that to have it take a backseat to more ‘good cop/bad cop’ showboating seems silly. But that’s exactly what this movie does. The Dahlia murder is more or less an after thought, thrown in randomly and resolved in one of the kookiest, over the top denouement’s ever filmed. Not a total waste of time…nor a return to form.


PopMatters Review


The Descent


Like Borat a while back, SE&L just doesn’t see what the rest of the movie going public perceive about this Neil Marshall mess. The storyline has potential – a group of friends decide to explore a series of mysterious caves – and the set up has some startling notions about friendship and loss. But once our heroines go spelunking, the narrative literarly falls apart, moving through a series of false scares, claustrophobic contrivance, and attacks by creatures that are as unispired as they are hard to see. Marshall obviously believes in the Spielberg theory of shocks – he barely lets us witness any of the terror we’re supposed to experience. Instead, this is a creature feature as shell game, a one dimensional diversion that’s neither as scary as the hype projected, or as inventive as many fright fans have claimed. It’s just a routine thriller disguised as something more daring. About the only truly masterful element of the entire movie is the stunning soundtrack by David Julyan.


   


PopMatters Review


Jackass Number 2

*
It’s more stunt silliness from the incredibly successful MTV madmen. Taking his inspiration from Tom and Jerry cartoons, and the adventures of one Wile E. Coyote, Johnny Knoxville has once again abandoned the Hollywood mainstream to attempt more scatological silliness for the extreme skate rat demographic. While the execution remains the same, some elements originally intended are missing here. Prior to his arrest on pedophilic-like charges during a Colorado appearance, Don Vito, Bam Margera’s etiquette impaired butterball of an uncle, was heavily featured in several set piece skits as part of this financially mandated sequel. Now, his scenes may or may not be part of this DVD release. In addition, so much footage was shot for the redux that a direct-to-digital offering or another big screen presentation is being considered. It just goes to show you that people can’t get enough of guys acting inappropriate and showering their private parts with potentially deadly ideas. Toilet humor was never so entertaining.



PopMatters Review


Last Kiss

The reigning prince of post-modern male ennui, Zach Braff, stars in this tale of a mid-life crisis sped up by twenty years. Facing the fact that this longtime girlfriend is now pregnant (presumably with their child), Braff’s architect decides the best way to face his pending responsibility is via a roll in the hay with a local co-ed. He now must deal with the quandary such a triangle creates – baby or booty, biology or the dirty boogie. In the less than capable hands of actor turned director Tony Goldwyn, what wants to be incisive and deep ends up being intolerable and dreary. It’s not bad enough that Braff is having these growing pains so late/soon in life (it’s a human hissy fit usually reserved for the 15/45 year old demographic); no, he must whine about them incessantly in the kind of Paul Haggis scripted screeds that make you want to slap some sense into the character. Spending two hours with such a wuss is not worth anyone’s time.



PopMatters Review


The Legend of Boggy Creek*
For many a kid growing up in the ‘70s, this was one exploitation creepfest that really sent the spine into massive shivers. Drive-in moviemaker Charles B. Pierce crafted a docu-drama doozy out of an Arkansas style Bigfoot and a lot of bayou atmosphere, telling the tale of the notorious Fouke Monster and his skunk ape spree among the residents of a blinkered backwater burg. Perhaps the most effective element of the movie, the various shots of the Sulfur River swampland where the beast typically treads are accented by a supposed beastie bellow that’s so unsettling, it still makes the hairs stand up straight on the back of one’s neck. Over the years, this movie has fallen out of favor with fear fans, many dismissing it as another example of Pierce’s problematic oeuvre (he’s also responsible for The Town that Dreaded Sundown and The Norseman). But there is something unnerving about the way in which he handles this material, making schlock turn to shock with undeniable effectiveness.



Monarch of the Moon/Destination Mars*
Setting itself up, Lost Skeleton of Cadavra style, as a recently discovered lost remnant of the 1940’s cinematic serial scene, this dandy Dark Horse production has its issues, but actually does a bang up job of recreating the episodic feel of the long lost genre. Sure, some of the jokes are obvious – the Yellow Jacket character appears to be spewing speeches lifted directly from a certain George W.‘s jingoism – and there are moments when the lampoon looses its focus and disintegrates, but like a recent release from Tempe Entertainment – the terrific World War II superhero homage Project: ValkyrieMonarch makes its devotion to the past both sincere and symbolic. Sure, all the “undiscovered artifact” advertising can grow a bit tiresome (some of us are still smarting from all the Blair Witch bullspit), and no one can accurately recapture the look and feel of films made over 70 years ago, but the effort put into this pleasant production more than makes up for the publicity propaganda.


What Alice Found
Borrowing elements of the Dogma ‘95 school of filmmaking with the seedy story of a lost woman forced into a life of truck stop prostitution, A. Dean Bell’s independent effort is all the more impressive for the cinematic standards it fails to embrace. With subject matter this tawdry, one would expect a scatological softcore sleazefest overloaded with crudeness, corruption and carnality. Instead, thanks to lead actress Emily Grace’s braveness, and her title character’s dogged determination, it’s all more dramatic than dirty. Through the use of digital video and a series of found locations, Bell brings a coarse realism to his tale, an authenticity that many movies of this sort more or less miss. While some have complained about the length of scenes and Alice’s inherent naiveté, what remains most effective is the sense of hopelessness and despair among the characters. Even the individuals responsible for Alice’s awful lot in life have issues that make them both disgusting and desperate.



And Now for Something Completely Different:

In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 26 December:


Scratch*
The cover art says it all – and it has to, since it’s near impossible to find any information on this film either on the Internet Movie Database or the World Wide Web in general. One source confirms that this is a tale about a desperate couple searching for a mad scientist responsible for the creation of some mutant mice. Cool! Indeed, how can you resist a DVD that offers a large, menacing rodent head, a beady evil eye, and the caption “The New Sound of Terror”. In general, most killer animal movies are awful, more campy than creepy and overloaded with amateurish acting and derivative directing. Scratch could be guilty of all these filmic flaws and many, many more. Still, the notion of reprobate rodents getting their gory groove on has a genuine genre jive to it. So lock up the wee ones, break out the popcorn, and cuddle up on the coach – this will either be a horrifying hit, or a hilarious hoot. Here’s betting on the latter.


 


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Friday, Dec 22, 2006


You may be asking, how does the winner of the 1981 Oscar for Best Picture warrant classification as a Forgotten Gem? The answer is quite simple. When you’ve beaten both Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull and David Lynch’s Elephant Man for the accolade, you are destined to be diminished in the eyes of many angry film fans. Indeed, along with Dances with Wolves, American Beauty and Shakespeare in Love, Ordinary People regularly gets ridiculed as being one of the worst Academy Award winners of all time. It’s a title not borne out of reality – this fragile family drama is certainly a motion picture masterpiece – it’s just that, when placed up against an American maestro and a mainstream curio from one of our most gifted, idiosyncratic directors, being great is just not enough.


There was minor controversy surrounding the film when it first opened, almost all of it centering on America’s sitcom sweetheart, Mary Tyler Moore, being cast as the cold hearted, manipulative matriarch of the Jarrett household, Beth. Not known for playing characters that were distant, angry, bitter and inaccessible, audiences weren’t expecting much from her performance. And indeed, initial reviews were less than supportive of Moore’s attempt to break out of her goody two shoes stereotype. But thanks to the brilliant work of Donald Sutherland (who deserved an Oscar, though his competition – Robert DeNiro and his career defining turn as Jake LaMotta in Bull – made that all but impossible) and impressive debut of Jim Hutton’s son Timothy, Moore easily melded into the ensemble, eventually shining as a parent whose put all her emotion and love into her personal pride and joy – a now dead son named Buck.


For anyone living in the Midwest, especially in the Chicago suburbs where People is set, first time director Robert Redford gets all the white picket fence and wholesome details just right. The characters all live in dollhouse like mansions, rooms furnished in tactful, traditional styles. Dressed in plain sweaters and simple accessories, the dynamic is lifted almost directly from an episode of Leave it to Beaver – albeit, a very special installment of same. Within this backward bastion of wealth and security, Redford explores the chaotic underpinnings of Judith Guest’s amazing novel, showing how even the most seemingly functional clan can come apart over something as simple as death, guilt and forgiveness. Two decades ago, relatives didn’t discuss or disclose their interpersonal problems. People was one of the first films to explore the notion of familial disintegration within the closed context of an isolated, insular tragedy.


In the storyline, which deals with youngest son Conrad’s suicide attempt, hospitalization, and after care therapy, the Jarret’s attempt to reconfigure their life. But the two way street of devotion between Beth and Buck was such a major force in the household that its absence leaves an unavoidable deficiency. Sadly, it’s a chasm that no one can replenish. But instead of trying to make a new approach work, Mother turns on her troubled son, husband feels resentment toward the angry spouse, and all the boy can see is blame. One of the most moving moments in the entire film comes when Conrad, under the care of Judd Hirsch’s genial Dr. Tyrone Berger, confronts his lingering remorse. Burdened with taking both the death of his brother and the fragmenting of his family to heart, it’s a moment of catharsis that few films even attempt to achieve, let alone realize. Hutton’s performance at this point is so powerful, so overloaded with passion and purity that we can’t help but exhale and exalt right along with him.


Yet this revelation does not suture the scar in the Jarret household. Perhaps no other actress could convey the sense of normalcy knocked asunder as Moore does. Her Beth is not a bitch - she’s a cheerleader that’s lost her champion, a doting, devoted parent who didn’t plan on being stripped of the sole focus of her adult joy. Buck, seen in a couple of telling flashbacks, is a shining star, an obvious athletic BMOC who entertains his mother with extracurricular exploits that no normal kid would be allowed to discuss. But since he is the first born, the golden boy, he’s pardoned. Even when the truth of the sailing accident is revealed, and her hero is shown as mortal, more bluster than bravery, Beth cannot except it. During her final scene, Moore manages one of those rare acting moments that rocket right to the heart of her character’s problem. Allowing herself to slip, just momentarily, Beth unleashes a strangled sob so devastating, we’re glad she manages to pull it back in. Otherwise, the fallout could be lethal.


Told in a fashion that keeps all its divergent elements alive and important, Redford routinely discovers facts of the narrative that keep his insights up front and fresh. Conrad’s attempts to connect with friends – from the hospital (a mentally melting Dinah Manoff) and from school (an endearing Elizabeth McGovern) come back to play important parts in his journey, and a holiday visit with family finds Beth and her husband slowly breaking apart. This is not a splashy, stylistic turn behind the camera. Redford even keeps the film’s fatal flashback in a tight, telling two shot. One could easily envision Buck’s death as a major action sequence, especially in our CGI oriented idea of how such a spectacle is realized. But Redford realizes that it’s the individuals, not the event, that’s the most important. He devises a way of capturing the horror, and the humanity, concurrently.


In one of those unlucky happenstances that seem to befall certain films, Raging Bull didn’t get the accolade acknowledgement it deserved, and film fans pretend that People should be passed over for better early ‘80s efforts. Sadly, such thinking is incredibly narrow-minded. Scorcese’s ethical biopic may be the better artistic statement, but there is just as much beauty and grace in Ordinary People. Even a quarter century later, it’s power remains right on the surface, easily tapped into by even the most jaded cinephile. Usually, a domestic drama about dysfunctional relatives looses its edge after years, what with other efforts commenting on and challenging it. But this staggering statement of a nuclear family’s final freefall still holds up in all its painful, irreproachable sadness. Maybe it didn’t deserve the Oscar, but no one should forget what a fine, formidable film this really is. 


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Thursday, Dec 21, 2006


It’s hard to believe that, with all the massive merchandising and commercialization of the holiday season, someone hasn’t found a way to exploit Christmas Eve Eve. Tradition and religion have usurped most of the pre-Santa celebrations, but with all the companies out there looking to turn a Yuletide profit, the night before the night before Xmas would seem like a guaranteed greenback generator. In fact, they could treat it like a parent’s only party, a time when Mom and Dad can disregard the kids for a moment and have a holiday hoedown themselves. Or twist it toward the wee ones and give it a fully fleshed out anti-materialism approach. Allow otherwise ancillary figures like Rudolph, Frosty, and similar timeless characters to have their own hour in the merriment spotlight. Or maybe make the night a day of deserved rest, an oasis inside the non-stop chaos of consumption. Just don’t look to the boob tube for any entertainment relief. The movies being offered for the weekend of 23 December are examples of the absolute dregs, films that reek of recent flop sweat. So unless you want to experience the humor/horror combo of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead sequel, there is nothing to give your glad tidings great joy. To clarify, here are the efforts making an appearance on the premium channels this day before the day before Jesus’s birth:


HBODomino

The filmic fates were just not ready to smile on this sleek Tony Scott style-fest. During the pre-release publicity, it was revealed that some of the storyline here was “enhanced” (read: massively altered) to smooth over some of real life bounty hunter Domino Harvey’s less than genial cinematic traits. Then, near the end of June 2005, Harvey was found dead, the victim of an accidental overdose. Nothing ruins your otherwise routine ‘rock ‘em, sock ‘em’ action pic more than an air of unease and the purposeful avoidance of your subject’s possible personal problems. What was supposed to be a break out turn for actress Keira Knightley – a chance to move away from all the frilly dresses and dainty accents – quickly de-evolved into a contrasting creation seemingly insensitive to Harvey’s plentiful personal demons. Though turns by a newly revitalized Mickey Rourke and Delroy Lindo helped keep this superficial ship afloat, this film is a clear case of fact overpowering the forces of fiction. (Sunday 24 December, 12:30AM EST).


PopMatters Review


CinemaxThe Ringer

When he sticks to his Jackass style stunt work, Johnny Knoxville is a genial, jovial jerk, the kind of stupid smart aleck that gets his point across with a laugh and a lewd gesture. But place him inside a fictional setting, and he turns awkward and affected. Borrowing an idea from South Park (or visa versa), Knoxville plays a patsy who gets talked into competing in the Special Olympics as a way of making some quick money (who knew said events were so fiscally profitable). Once inside the contest, living with the rest of the handi-capable athletes, the character’s ersatz retard skills are put to the test. Naturally, lots of life lessons are learned and the mentally deficient are shown as being just as normal as you or me. But perhaps the worst part of this relatively ordinary film is how it squanders opportunities to be crude and rude. This is a PC pleasant look at a potentially tasteless topic. And nothing kills comedy quicker than tameness and tact. (Premieres Saturday 23 December, 10pm EST).


PopMatters Review


StarzUnderworld: Evolution

It’s one of those post-modern movie industry mandates – an unnecessary sequel to a film most people didn’t like in the first place. But thanks to DVD popularity and that always forgotten facet of the international marketplace, even something this substandard gets the repeat treatment. With lead actress Kate Beckinsdale back, along with director Len Wiseman and a great deal of dopey CGI work, the centuries-old war between the Death Dealers (vampires) and the Lycans (werewolves) rages on. The only thing worse than a lame comic book movie is a similarly lamentable film without a graphic novel to back up its bullstuff. Perhaps if you’re a member of the gloomy Goth set who thinks everything associated with blood drinking and shape shifting is cool and clever, you’ll line up for more of this dross. If, on the other hand, you like your macabre scary, suspenseful and serious, this action figure oriented junk will leave you as cold as a corpse. (Premieres Saturday 23 December, 9pm EST).


PopMatters Review


ShowtimeEvil Dead II: Dead by Dawn

When he released his first film - the fright night classic The Evil Dead - in 1981, many wondered if Sam Raimi was anything more than a geek show loving film freak. A couple of decades and a definitive comic book franchise later, and his mainstream cred is more or less secured. But it was this quasi-sequel to his macabre masterpiece that really showed what Sam the Man was all about. Combining outright terror with terrific bits of black comedy and silly slapstick, Raimi reinvented the genre movie, confirming that it could combine many seemingly antithetical elements and still be a scary, savvy dread delight. Highly influential (a good drinking game can be devised from all the outright rip-offs this film inspired) and featuring the best post-modern b-movie actor ever – a.k.a. Bruce Campbell in his defining role as Ash – what Raimi does here is really astounding. He makes fear funny, and comedy creepy, and the combination a hilarious high water mark in a career filled with same. (Saturday 23 December, 9:00pm EST)


 


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 22/23 December, Francis Ford Coppola takes on terror in one of his first feature films:


Dementia 13
While assisting Roger Corman on a film in Ireland, a young Coppola used many of the same sets and actors to craft this creepy, old dark house saga. The eerie results speak for themselves.
(3:15am EST)


 


The 12 Films of Christmas

Like that lame little ditty we all find ourselves humming around this time of year, SE&L will select three films each week from now until the end of the holiday as our Secret Santa treat for film fans. Granted, the pickings are incredibly slim (how many GOOD X-mas movies are there, really?) and you may find a lump of coal in your cinematic stocking once in a while, but at least it beats endless repeats of Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, right? The three festive treats on tap for the week of 16 December are:


Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas
(TBS, 22 December, 11:40PM EST)
While it’s hard to determine which holiday this inventive animation classic best serves, there’s no doubting the stop motion magic visible in every fabulous frame.


Roadhouse
(Encore, 23 December, 12:15PM EST)
How else would you celebrate a Patrick Swayze Christmas, Mystery Science Theater 3000 style? Watch, or we’ll tear your throat out and kick you in the ear!


Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas
(The Disney Channel, 24 December 8:00PM EST)
Tying together three cartoon shorts – “Donald Duck: Stuck on Christmas”, “A Very Goofy Christmas” and “Mickey and Minnie’s the Gift of the Magi” – it’s a reminder that the House of Mouse can occasionally create something very special, when it wants to.


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