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Monday, Aug 14, 2006

It’s another uninspired week in the DVD aisles, with lots of lame product taking up valuable merchandising space. Certainly, if you’re interested in the latest installment of the dragged out Simpsons’ release schedule (we are now up to season EIGHT) or some less than stellar box set collections of “classic” films by Hollywood stalwarts like Clark Cable, Jimmy Stewart and Ronald Regan, there’s very little of note. Instead, there’s another digital variation on a seminal ‘70s classic, two offerings by one of Italian horror’s most recognized auteurs, an unusual biography, a sloppy send-up, a flat family film, and a compendium of masterworks from an important French artist. Together, they make a deliciously diverse set of possible purchase options. The selections that SE&L’s thinks may or may not tickle your filmic fancy for August 15 are, in alphabetical order:



Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier*
Or, actually, the “incomplete” dossier. Still MIA in this otherwise stellar presentation of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam via Joseph Conrad masterwork is the equally sublime Hearts of Darkness documentary. Said warts and all look at the production, featuring audio recordings of the filmmaker’s frequent meltdowns, has long been rumored to be part of a comprehensive Apocalypse package. Its absence here continues to fuel speculation that Coppola no longer appreciates the film’s portrait of him as director/demagogue. Thankfully, we have both versions of the finished epic (original and expanded cut) and a wealth of extras to keep us occupied.
PopMatters Review


Do You Like Hitchcock?
After a comeback, of sorts, with 2004’s The Card Player, horror master Dario Argento helmed this stylish TV movie, part of a proposed series in which other famous Italian filmmakers would pay homage to the unqualified Master of Suspense. Opinions are mixed on the final outcome, with some critics complaining that Argento seems stuck in the overstylized aspects of his aesthetic while others enjoy the numerous references to genre artists (Murnau, Lang) from the past. One thing’s for sure – with Argento behind the lens, the visuals will far outshine any narrative missteps.


Heart Like a Wheel*
Long before Danica Patrick made fast (racing) females pop culture cool, Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney broke the gender barrier in the competitive world of top fuel drag racing. This 1983 bio-pic features a stellar lead turn by Bonnie Bedelia as Mudowney, with excellent supporting work from Beau Bridges, Hoyt Axton and Leo Rossi. Over the Edge director Jonathan Kaplan doesn’t go for slam bang action, or a phony vignette-oriented overview of Muldowney’s life. Instead, he allows the characters to develop and grow, making the emotional impact in the story all the more potent.


Hoot
Favored Florida son Carl Hiaasen has been notoriously gun shy about having his work translated to the silver screen. After all, the last time he allowed a novel of his to be interpreted by Hollywood, the result was the certified stinker, Demi Moore’s infamous Striptease. Nearly a decade after that debacle, Hiassen hooks up with comedian turned director Will Shriner to helm a version of his most family friendly tome. While this story of a transplant teen compelled to take up the cause of an endangered owl is faithful to its source material, many critics found the results dull and uninspired. 


Masters of Horror: Dario Argento’s Jenifer
When Showtime announced the premise behind its new anthology series, Masters of Horror, the scary sky appeared to be the limit. The world’s leading genre moviemakers creating original fright flicks for the small screen – what could go wrong? Well, just ask anyone who sat through Don Coscarelli’s Incident On and Off a Mountain Road or John Landis’ Deer Woman. While Joe Dante’s Homecoming received universal praise, Dario Argento’s addition, a slick, sick adaptation of a 1974 Creepy Magazine story was not so successful. It goes without saying that the title “entity” is a nasty little looker. The rest of the movie is not that much fun.


Scary Movie 4
Oh joy, more pointless spoofery without a lick of subtlety and sense. Nothing more than a lame lampoon of every blockbuster film that arrived in theaters since the last installment of the franchise, there is no longer anything frightening in these films – except their continuing existence. With nary a Wayans in sight and a constant reliance on gags both obvious and under-realized, the formerly talented creative team behind the still funny Airplane!/Naked Gun movies shows how far they have sunk in their desire to be demographically correct. Besides, how do you seriously ridicule cinematic and social stumbles as obvious as The Village or Tom Cruise’s Oprah dramatics? That’s like shooting farce fish in a barrel.
PopMatters Review


Six Moral Tales by Eric Rohmer, The Criterion Collection*
Though he’s considered an important part of the French New Wave of the ‘50s and ‘60s, director Eric Rohmer was not out to change the face of cinema. Instead, he was more concerned with bringing the dark truths and harsh realities of human interaction into the typically staid world of Hollywood hokum. Collecting all six efforts in this self-styled series – The Girl at the Monçeau Bakery, Suzanne’s Career (both 1963), The Collector (1967), My Night at Maud’s (1969) Claire’s Knee (1970) and Chloe in the Afternoon (1972) – Criterion delivers another stunning box set celebrating an important motion picture artist.


And Now for Something Completely Different

In a new weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 15, August:


Sars Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis
First off – gotta LOVE that title. It would take a whole heck of a lot of cinematic incompetence to screw up this superb idea. An outbreak of the deadly virus turns twisted, as victims mutate into foul flesh eaters. It is up to a guy with a sword to stop the rampage. While it claims to be created “in the tradition of Shaun of the Dead”, this sounds more like the amazing Argentinean undead epics Plaga Zombie and Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone. In fact, if it’s one-tenth as inventive and entertaining as those hilarious horror comedies, this could be the fun fright find of the year.



*=PopMatters Picks


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Monday, Aug 14, 2006


As the summer film season slowly starts to fade in the still humid days of August, SE&L turns its attention to the upcoming fall parade of possible releases. Some of these titles aren’t 100% confirmed, and there is always the possibility that a studio or distributor can change their mind and pull the picture before it opens. And SE&L is not concerned with the obvious choices. You won’t find entries for Scorsese’s The Departed, Aronofsky’s The Fountain, Nolan’s The Prestige or Sean Penn in the long delayed remake of All The King’s Men. Those are standard filmgoer gimmes. No, we at PopMatters are looking for the unknown quantity, the borderline movie or moviemaker who can and will quite possibly deliver something decidedly different come autumn. So, without further ado, here is a list of the 10 films that will have our attention during the last four months of 2006:


This Film Is Not Yet Rated (1 September—NY/LA)
Ever wonder who, exactly, makes up the membership of the MPAA, those guardians of cinematic right and wrong and purveyors of the patented rating system for films? Well, so did documentarian Kirby Dick (Twist of Faith). Hoping to out the actual people behind the pronouncements, Dick lays on the standard industry thesis—violence gets a pass while nudity gets the axe—yet there is more here than just a missive about misguided values and the basic breakdown of how the Association works. Dick is also saying something about the way in which entertainment formulates social philosophy and visa versa. It’s a lesson that’s long overdue. 


Science of Sleep (22 September—Limited)
With the imaginative and idiosyncratic Michel Gondry behind the camera and rising international superstar Gael García Bernal in front, this looks like—pardon the pun—a real sleeper. In this fairytale comedy about a dreamer who loses his fantasy/reality filter when he falls for a new neighbor, the standard Gondry guarantees are present—impressive visuals, joking juxtapositions and deep emotional resonance. How audiences will react to the famed filmmaker working without a Charlie Kaufman script for once (the pair previously collaborated on 2001’s Human Nature and the masterful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) will be interesting. We at SE&L can hardly wait


Renaissance (22 September—Limited)
While some would like to call this a Parisian Sin City rip off, SE&L believes there is room enough in the cinematic universe for two black and white animated crime thrillers. While it will have a long way to go to top Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s endlessly fascinating fake film noir from last year, Renaissance appears ready to do battle. Granted, the plot sounds a little convoluted (there’s a ominous genetic engineering company at the center) with lots of speculative fiction facets, but the cartooning is indeed quite impressing. As a matter of fact, in some ways it puts the humans as drawings dynamic at work in Sin City to shame. 


Infamous (13 October—Limited)
No, it’s not deja-vu all over again, or a quickie remake of a recent triumph. The story goes that writer/director Doug McGrath (Emma) was working on this version of the backstory behind In Cold Blood—based on a George Plympton book—when Capote came along. Suddenly, actors were dropping out and Oscar nominations (and awards) were being won. Now, it’s nearly a year later, and if the trailer is any indication of the overall quality, the Academy may find itself in the odd position of giving out TWO Best Actor trophies to different performers playing the same person. Toby Jones is terrific as Tru - both evil and elfin all rolled into one - and the supporting cast looks excellent. Here’s hoping for a dynamic double play.


The Queen (6 October—Limited)
How’s this for casting: Helen Mirren as the reigning Queen Elizabeth, James Cromwell as her disconnected spouse, Prince Phillip, and Underworld’s Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. With such a group of actors on board, occasional genius Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters) has more than enough performance power to pull off this story of the UK government’s struggles while trying to find an appropriate response to the death of Princess Diana. Such meaty behind the scenes exposés usually make for good clean catty fun. Here’s hoping that Frears and his fellow Brits cut through the sermonizing and idolatry and get down to the sensitive subjects at hand—specifically the still lingering tensions between Her Majesty and the famous former daughter-in-law. 


The Marine (13 October—Wide)
With a trailer so overloaded with jump cuts you’d swear the editors were suffering from epilepsy when they crafted it, The Marine marks Vince McMahon and the WWE’s entry into so-called ‘legitimate” filmmaking (along with this past May’s sloppy slasher film See No Evil). Taking a simple story—a war vet seeks revenge on the criminals who’ve kidnapped his wife—and cramming it full of as much action, gunplay and fisticuffs as possible, SE&L senses an adolescent action epic in the making. So why is such an obvious attention getter featured as part of this list. Well, even we film snobs enjoy a little escapist popcorn schlock now and then, and this one looks nice and cheesy.


Fuck (10 November—NY/LA)
What’s better than a documentary about the MPAA? How about one destined to give said designators of decency a series of substantive conniption fits. Using a format similar to the hilariously vulgar The Aristocrats, first time fact filmmaker Steve Anderson gathers together a formidable group of celebrities, everyday citizens comedians, and scholars to discuss why the F-word is so used, abused and confused. While the answers seem kind of obvious, Anderson and his interesting collection of voices promise more than just a tawdry tour through the scatological and the shocking. We can hardly f*cking wait!


For Your Consideration (17 November—Limited)
Christopher Guest is back, and this time, he’s taking on awards season itself as the focus of this promising mockumentary. Featuring the usual cast of Guest regulars (Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer) and a few very familiar new faces (including the UK Office‘s own Ricky Gervais) the film already has impressive credentials. Add in the Oscar-like environment and this look at how the ballyhoo surrounding the yearly rush for recognition affects three unknown actors could be classic. Considering Guests previous track record, odds are that this one is equally silly—and satisfying.


Black Christmas (25 December—Wide)
There’s no better way to celebrate the yuletide with its festive sentiments of peace on earth and goodwill toward men than with a good old fashioned genre workout. While die-hards are probably foaming at the mouth over yet another horror movie update (in a true touch of irony, A Christmas Story’s Bob Clark directed the first film), Glen Morgan, the mastermind behind the fantastic Willard update from 2003 is on board. That means that, no matter the spirit of the season, we fright fans could be in for a nice, gory gift under the X-mas tree. Besides, original cast member (and SCTV alum) Andrea Martin is back—after 32 years.!


Pan’s Labyrinth (29 December—Limited)
Following in the same sensational footsteps as his previous look at war as a child’s nightmare—2001’s The Devil’s Backbone—many have called Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro’s latest frightening fairytale his masterpiece. The preview images are astounding and the international trailer argues for an artistry not typically seen on the big screen. If anyone can pull off the complicated tonal shifts and the merging of magic with reality, it’s Del Toro. From his criminally underrated Hellboy to the best Blade of the franchise, this is one director who appears to be a single breakout film away from major commercial and critical adoration. This just may be the one.


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Sunday, Aug 13, 2006


Outlaw Prophet is dead brilliant. This low budget journey into the center of David Heavener’s evangelistic mind is as flabbergastingly inventive and bizarre as the universes created by other obtuse auteurs like David Lynch and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Like a cinematic carpet sweeper, Heavener casts his narrative net to the four winds and sweeps every last potential plot point and storyline strand out of Haroun’s sea of stories. In one film we have all of the fictional sci-fi melodramatic filaments: aliens, space, computers, radio waves, telepathy, shape shifting, brainwashing, device implantation, foster children, abandonment, trailer trashing, pre-school runaways, grilling, picking, grinning, sinning, salvation, ham radio, strange frequencies, reality television, ratings, Van Dykes, morphing, mutations, zombies, kung fu, car wrecks, The Bible, the Antichrist, the new Messiah, death, rebirth, angels, demons, disco, adoption and bad children’s programming. Yet somehow, Outlaw Prophet makes all of these divergent elements coalesce into a fine mist of monumental moviemaking. NO, really.


It takes a rare and refined talent to get this all to work, and yet Heavener finds a way to make his cockeyed Christian vision, as well as his rock and roll musicianship and personal faith, serve the final cut. What he manages is a kind of innocent idiot savant con job, an entertainment flim flam where, instead of grade Z direct to video VHS filler, you receive a strangely evocative substitute for typical street preaching channeled through an outrageously original independent movie mentality. This director dives into the same pool of sermonizing - one spicing up the brimstone with all manner of special effects and action figure permutations - that other deity die-hards indulge in. The result is an addled allegory about the second coming of Christ carved out of a reality show spoof, a smattering of Turkish Star Wars, and a whole lot of crappy hair metal. Toss in the Devil as an evil TV producer (there’s a stretch) and a trip to a zealot BBQ and you’ve got the kind of cinematic Stilton that satisfies as much as it stinks.


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Friday, Aug 11, 2006


Michael Tolkin’s amazing The Rapture is a work of powerful ideas. It challenges the stance of traditional religious belief as it questions the concept of the contemporary lifestyle. It attempts to illustrate the epic ideas in the Final Days while it keeps its story in the personal, not the ephemeral realm. It takes events of cataclysmic scope and boils them down to a select story of individual endurance. With it’s seemingly simple chronicle of a sinner – in this case, a sexually adventurous Information operator named Sharon – adrift in a world of one night stands and self-serving sin The Rapture asks you to identify with and sit in judgment of a beleaguered soul in development. It also has you wondering to yourself if you could withstand the same verdict as well. It then takes the mandatory leap of faith, moving its lead along until she, too, is faced with ultimate blessing, eternal damnation or something far, far worse.


As a film, it contains acting performances from Mimi Rodgers (as the suddenly spiritual Sharon) and David Duchovny (as her lover and future spouse) of subtle power and unusual invention. And as a writer/director, Tolkin never talks down to or up at his audience. he doesn’t expect you to know the Christian concepts inherent in the storyline, but does provide hot button frames of reference (sexual cynicism, disgruntled employees on killing sprees, child endangerment) as a way to make the inhuman tests within religious conviction seem comprehensible. At its core, The Rapture is one woman’s journey to personal enlightenment, a post-modern pilgrim’s progress through the basic tenets of devotion. But there is a deeper, more depressing notion to what this movie has to say. Beyond all the prophecy and puzzles, in between the testimonials and the tribulations, The Rapture seems to be asking two competing questions: Is God really worth it, and more shockingly, are you worth it to God?


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Friday, Aug 11, 2006

One of the strange things about the pay cable schedule for premier movies is that it always seems to be approximately one year removed from release date reality. It used to be that channels like HBO and Showtime regularly BEAT home video to the exclusive, offering first looks at famous films before VHS could spread the cinematic wealth. Nowadays, day and date issues with DVD have more or less destroyed cable’s ability to title co-opt. For the week of 11 August, it’s more or less the Summer of 2005 all over again. Among the options offered are the following hits, miss and the typical unnecessary sequel:



HBOCharlie and the Chocolate Factory*

Criminally underrated when it hit theaters (mostly because of baby boomers lamenting the very thought of remaking the 1971 Gene Wilder “classic”), the immensely talented duo of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp deliver a fractured fairy tale for the glorified geek ages. From the film’s incredible look to the emotionally satisfying backstory given to the creepy-cool character of Willy Wonka, this duo created an instant masterpiece. Take this opportunity to savor the flavor this cinematic confection offers. (Premieres Saturday 12 August, 8:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review:
PopMatters DVD Review


CinemaxRed Eye*

In what many consider to be the better of last year’s ‘thriller on an airplane’ films (the other being Jodie Foster’s decent Flightplan) horror maestro Wes Craven proves there is more to his moviemaking mantle than ghouls and gore. With exceptional performances from Rachel McAdams and the shockingly sinister Cillian Murphy, as well as a terrifically tight script by TV scribe Carl Ellsworth (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) this clockwork bit of airborne claustrophobia was a surefire sleeper when it hit theaters. Here’s thinking it will play equally well on the small screen. (Premieres Saturday 12 August, 10:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


StarzThe Legend of Zorro (2005)

Add this to the category of sequels nobody wanted or needed. Seven years after the first film was an unqualified summer smash, director Martin Campbell is back and he’s brought along sword swingers Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Set ten years after the events of the previous plot, our masked hero must balance his devotion to avenging the common man with the pressures of a wife and family. Add in the standard action set pieces, a minor amount of political intrigue (Old California considers joining the rest of the “United” states) and you’ve got an overly familiar retread of the original.  (Premieres Saturday 12 August, 9:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review
PopMatters DVD Review


Showtime Too - Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

In the free-for-all to find their own franchise, ala Harry Potter, Paramount and Dreamworks opted for a slightly darker, far dopier kid lit icon. Daniel Handler’s novels may be blithe black comedies for the grade school set, but their Gaham Wilson wannabe humor has a hard time translating to the big screen. Even with an amazing production design and stellar turns from Meryl Streep, Billy Connolly, and perhaps the perfect Count Olaf, the jaunty Jim Carrey, there is still something hollow about this scattered adaptation. While it warrants a look, it’s definitely no threat to a certain series featuring that famous boy wizard. (Saturday 12 August, 8pm EST)


PopMatters Review
PopMatters DVD Review


Turner Classic Movies: August: Summer Under the Stars Month

Leave it to the classic film channel to find novel ways of constantly recycling its catalog of amazing Tinsel Town artifacts. In August, the station will salute several celebrated names from Hollywood’s Golden Age upward, using each daylong promotion as an excuse to screen numerous offerings from the specific star’s catalog. A few of the highlights for the week of 11 August to 18 August are:



16 August – Joseph Cotten

He worked with Welles, Hitchcock and many other premier filmmakers in his long, illustrious career. And some of the best examples are offered in this delightfully divergent celebration, including:
6:00 am From The Earth To The Moon (1958)
7:45 am Citizen Kane (1941)* 
9:45 am Magnificent Ambersons, The (1942) * 
11:15 am Orson Welles: The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice (1952) 
1:00 pm F for Fake (1973) * 
2:30 pm Jack Of Diamonds (1967) 
4:30 am White Comanche (1968) 
6:15 pm Soylent Green (1973) * 
8:00 pm Love Letters (1945) 
10:00 pm Third Man, The (1949) * 
12:00 am Abominable Dr. Phibes, The (1971) *
1:45 am Man With A Cloak, The (1951) 
3:15 am Journey Into Fear (1942) 
4:30 am Walk Softly, Stranger (1950)


18 August– Bela Lugosi


Poor Dracula – hung out to dry by a studio system that didn’t know what to do with his hammy Hungarian pride. As a result, many of the films featured here harm instead of help this horror maestro’s myth. Your choices include:
6:00 am Thirteenth Chair, The (1929)* 
7:15 am Broadminded (1931) 
8:30 am White Zombie (1932)* 
9:45 am Death Kiss, The (1933)
11:00 am Mark Of The Vampire (1935) 
12:00 pm Spooks Run Wild (1941) 
1:15 pm Ghosts on the Loose (1943) 
2:30 pm Gorilla, The (1939)
3:45 pm Zombies On Broadway (1945) 
5:00 pm Genius At Work (1947) 
6:15 pm You’ll Find Out (1940)
8:00 pm Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)*
9:30 pm Island of Lost Souls (1933)* 
11:00 pm Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) 
12:15 am Devil Bat, The (1940)*
1:30 am Body Snatcher, The (1945)
2:45 am Scared To Death (1947) 


* = PopMatters Picks


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