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Sunday, Aug 13, 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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Saturday, Aug 12, 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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Thursday, Aug 10, 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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Thursday, Aug 10, 2006



Andersson commented that her work on Through a Glass Darkly (which brought Bergman a second consecutive Academy Award in 1961) almost did not happen. She said it was the only time she considered not going to work. She was newly married with a baby when Bergman sent her the script, which asked her to play a schizophrenic. The actress turned him down flat. Bergman convinced her to visit a sanitarium and talk to doctors, figuring she might find a way into this character. She considered the notion of people who are very disturbed and sick - yet not having visible signs of same - to be a very challenging, intriguing acting prospect and quickly changed her mind, maintaining that “it’s very difficult to say ‘No’ to Ingmar Bergman”.


Cries and Whispers, the director’s 1972 masterwork, a visceral and intriguing mediation on death and afterlife, family, loyalty and feminine mystery, is widely considered by many film enthusiasts to be among the best films ever made. From the stark red, white and black art direction to cameraman Sven Nykvist’s other-worldly photographic style, all of the technical aspects of the movie blend beautifully with the intense, uncanny performances.  Playing Maria and Karin, sisters halfheartedly keeping watch over another dying sibling, Bergman greats Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Thulin generate heated emotion and subtlety in their characters, adding to the film’s ethereal and haunting qualities. As the pained, desperate and ghostly Agnes, Andersson gives arguably the most triumphant, nuanced and fully realized performance of her distinguished career.


Clearly, Andersson’s insights into the physical and emotional preparation for playing Agnes were most incisive and detailed. She recalled, with clear fondness and sadness, that she borrowed heavily for the role of the dying woman by dredging up memories of her father, who himself suffered a slow, horrible death from cancer. She explained that watching someone she knew and loved experience such personal hardship was the basis for her entire performance. She did not diet to achieve her corpse-like look. It was actually realized more through make up than an actual physical transformation - though Andersson said that Bergman did tell her to stay up late and not get any sleep, the very opposite of his usual instructions. She said that she almost lost her lips because of the make up used to create her mouth sores. The corrosive mixture that was to go on her face even ate through the cup it was mixed in!


She went on to say that as an actor, you must have discipline in your work and remember that it is a job. It was advice that helped her get through the wrenching performance. She also said there was under pressure because funding for motion pictures was almost impossible to secure (as she put it, “who wants to see a film about three sisters, one dying, one promiscuous and one who puts glass up her ‘va-guy-na’”). She said she knew what the stakes were, and that results in a performance of easy potency.

Andersson said there was never any need to adlib with Bergman because his scripts were literally so perfect that there literally was no need for embellishment. She also said that Bergman was open to the possibility of adding things, yet usually used just the first or second takes. Andersson noted she was never surprised or shocked at the director’s sometimes incendiary narrative. During her career she had been sent a variety of scripts: one, in particular, was a Greek tragedy where, at one point in the script, the director wanted her to play a table, down on all fours, completely in the nude. She also said it was impossible for her to accept work from other countries because it’s too hard to act in another language.


She mentioned her appearance in the experimental Lars Von Trier film Dogville, where she played Gloria, cousin of Lauren Bacall’s shopkeeper Ma Ginger. Andersson said that while it was a small part, she was delighted to take it. She commented that it was very fun to work with the cast, particularly Bacall, who she said she would engage her in little fights every day on the set. Bacall would yell at her not to touch her things in the “store” and she would say “Please, can I wash the windows or sweep or something?” She praised the director’s unconventional story, and when asked if it was the most unusual film she had been a part of, she looked justifiably shocked. Anderrson did, after all, contribute notable acting to some of the most iconic and remarkable European films of all time.


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