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Friday, Aug 3, 2007


It’s been a tough week for film fans. We lost Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, French film star Michel Serrault (Albin in La Cages aux Folles), and make-up artist William Tuttle (7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Young Frankenstein). It seemed like, for a while there, every time you opened your browser and clicked on your standard Internet news page, another famous face had left us. All loss is hard, but when it comes to the passing of our cinematic stalwarts, the forced filmic perspective is especially brutal. Who, if anyone, will be stepping in to take the place of such exalted names – and if there is no one waiting in the wings, why not? Could it be that Hollywood is so busy making a buck that they can’t be bothered by art anymore? That’s possible. It could also be that we aren’t looking in the right places. There are plenty of magnificent moviemakers out there, but unless they manage some sort of commercial appeal, they get left out of the cultural mix. Maybe the premium pay cable channel offerings for 04 August will shed some light on the subject. There’s at least one amazing movie in the bunch, something that could very easily stand the test of aesthetic time:


Premiere Pick
The Prestige


Yes, it does appear that SE&L will pimp this brilliant Chris Nolan film every chance it gets, but the reason for such shilling is simple – this is one of the best movies of the last ten years. Complicated, lush, and teaming with emotional heft, this story of competing magicians and the mistake that would forever connect their lives works as a thriller, a perfect period piece, a classic whodunit, and a clever combination of eye and mind candy. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale have never been better, and Nolan’s eye for detail and definition turn even the most minor moments into something significant and epic. With all its terrific twists and turns, it’s intricate character work, and brilliant basis in the weird world of magic and illusions, we wind up with something that resonates well beyond its limits as legitimate entertainment. What we have here is a masterpiece, and it’s a stunning sight to behold. (04 August, Starz, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
The Last Kiss


When Garden State arrives in theaters way back in 2004, pundits were predicting that star Zach Braff (who also wrote and directed) would wind up a genial generational guiding light. Fast forward two years and this sloppy anti-rom com has more or less robbed him of his aesthetic cred. Playing an indecisive dolt who can’t choose between his giving fiancé and a gal he used to grope in college, we wind up witnessing slacker ennui at its most aggravating. (04 August, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Marine


Glorified guilty pleasure alert! WWE wrestler John Sena stars as a stoic military man who makes a mistake, and finds himself all pumped up with no place to go. Luckily, his wife gets kidnapped by some escaping criminals, so all that lethal government sponsored training doesn’t go to waste. The result is a minimum of exposition and a lot of explosions. It’s not a great film, but is sure beats a Saturday night alone – sort of. (04 August, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

 


An Inconvenient Truth


Al Gore may not have won the electoral war, but he sure is making more significant global changes than the rube the Red States put in office. This Oscar winning warning about the legitimate threat from climate change challenges the conventional wisdom about nature’s resilience while offering practical solutions to save our environment. No wonder it became an indie doc phenomenon. The voting public may be persuadable, but they’re not dumb. (03 August, Showtime, 5PM EST)

Indie Pick
Half Nelson


The story sounds slightly sensational – well meaning inner city teacher reaches out and connects with his underprivileged students by day, goes home and smoke crack like an addict at night. Yet Ryan Fleck reached ridiculously splendid heights with just such a premise. Thanks in no small part to the award winning work of another same named star – the unbelievably brilliant Ryan Gosling – the outsider auteur found a happy, hopeful medium between outrageous and original. While many praised the star for his solid, skillful turn, a great deal of attention focused on Shareeka Epps, playing the inner city kid who stumbles upon her instructor’s dirty little secret. The two share a bond that’s both believable and breathtaking, making the movie more than just an examination of social status, race relations, and dire personal problems. In fact, what Fleck does better than most in his particular position is find the humanity inside the horror. If you haven’t already seen it, now’s the time to do so. (04 August, Sundance Channel, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices
O’ Brother Where Art Thou?


The Coen Brothers surprised everyone, including their tuned-in fanbase, when they answered the slick pot smoke swagger of The Big Lebowski with this period piece take on Homer’s Odyssey. Even more unusual, they loaded up the soundtrack with classic country and bluegrass tunes, acting like a Greek chorus for all the shinbone alley shenanigans going on. The result was the boys’ biggest mainstream hit, and a Grammy winning soundtrack album to boot. (05 August, IFC, 9PM EST)

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance


Oldboy gets all the glory. Lady Vengeance gets all the geeks. But this first installment in Chan-wook Park’s Revenge Trilogy set the standards by which both its sequels function. While the narrative falls outside the mob war mandates of the standard Asian action flick, this diligent director does such a great job with his scripts that we don’t miss the mafia. In fact, Park’s proposal that all humans have an inherent need for justice speaks louder than any slow-motion gunplay. (06 August, Sundance Channel, 2:45AM EST)

Employee of the Month


Don’t get nervous – SE&L hasn’t lost its mind and decided to champion that horrible Dane Cook/Jessica Simpson comedy from last year. No, this 2004 effort focuses on an unlucky bank employee who loses his job, his fiancé, and his car all in one horrible day. Believe it or not, the following morning things only get worse. Hated by most critics when it hit theaters in a limited release, the small screen may be the place to enjoy this unusual tale. (08 August, IFC, 9PM EST)

Outsider Option
Berserk/ Trog


Ah – the sad fate of the fading Golden Era Hollywood superstar. Indeed, what are your options when the studios won’t hire you, the public no longer cares, and the lovely lifestyle you’ve been used to for the last 40 years comes back to bite you in the budget. Well, if you’re Joan Crawford, you buck the fudge up, drop the pretense of pride, and take any scritp that happens to come your way. Thus we have the fading fortunes of her otherwise legendary career – to genre jokes of undeniable goofball pleasures. The first film focuses on a circus “cursed” by a determined slasher. The second features the world’s least convincing caveman making nice with the star’s pseudo-scientist. Had TCM’s Underground included both Straight Jacket and I Saw What You Did, we’d have a quadrilogy of quirkiness that would be hard to beat. Instead, just sit back and enjoy this daffy duo. (03 August, Turner Classic Movies, 2AM EST)

Additional Choices
Hellraiser: Deader


It’s hard to figure out what’s more shocking – the fact that this is the seventh installment in the Clive Barker series, or that there remains an audience eager for this many versions of Pinhead and Company’s ‘pain is pleasure’ paradigm. Having long since dispensed with the Lament Configuration in favor of narratives that briefly touch on the Cenobites before going off on their own genre tangents, this promises to be excruciating – and not in a good way. (05 August, SciFi Channel, 3AM EST)

Deadly Snake vs. Kung Fu Killer


Okay, we admit it. We know next to NOTHING about this 1977 martial arts movie, but – come on! – check out that title! How can you not love something that celebrates its chop socky schlock value so? As a matter of fact, the actual translation of the original Chinese title (Tin loh daai poh ng hang chan) is Deadly SNAIL vs. Kung Fu Killer. It could be a load of derivative dung for all we know. Thanks to the tag, who cares? (02 August, Drive In Classics Canada, 7PM EST)

Mad Love


Another noted mix-up here at SE&L Central. We thought we’d be celebrating the delirious Peter Lorre vehicle from 1935 about a mad scientist who substitutes the hands of a gifted pianist with those of a serial killer. Instead, we get Drew Barrymore going insane, and her good natured doormat bohunk Chris O’Donnell desperate to save her. Sigh. Oh well, they say this movie has its moments. We’ll have to take their word for it.  (09 August, Indieplex, 7:20PM EST)

 


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Friday, Jul 27, 2007


With August right around the corner, summer seems to be winding down the way it began – not with a solid cinematic scream, but a minor motion picture whimper. The premium pay cable channels have done little to alleviate the dull, depressing malaise, playing a hopelessly outdated hit and miss game of blockbuster vs. disaster week in and week out. Sure, those disconnected from the rest of the post-modern multimedia machine will be happy just to have said lackluster first run features filling up their coaxial line. But with so many outlets for potential entertainment in the amusement arena, continuing to champion garbage does little to elevate one’s aesthetic position. And it’s a shame. Once pay TV was seen as the hope for home theater enthusiasts. Now it’s a bastion of bad byproduct mixed with the occasional filmic find. The final weekend in July is a perfect example of this ideal. The choices for the 28th do a good job of mirroring the overall options – for good, and definitely for bad:


Premiere Pick
Jet Li’s Fearless


Marketed as action star Jet Li’s last “martial arts” movie, the promoters of this firebrand period piece were actually fibbing, if only a bit. Li has no intention of giving up the well choreographed fighting moves that made him an international superstar. No, this fascinating look at Chinese Master Huo Yuanjia, the founder and spiritual guru of the Jin Wu Sports Federation, will be the last ‘wushu’ effort the actor attempts. A subgenre of the standard kung fu category, this epic stands as a deeply personal and very powerful work by a man devoted to the subject’s teachings and philosophical perspective. Many have praised this film for its attention to detail, as well as its inclusion of as many different styles of human combat as possible. Thanks to the enigmatic efforts of Ronny Yu behind the camera, Li exemplifies the charisma and the athletic prowess that’s made him a legend. A must-see movie for fans of old school stunt work and pure visual opulence.  (27 July, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices
Inside Man


Spike Lee proves he can make mainstream movies just like the rest of Hollywood, resulting in a career rebirth – at least from a commercial standpoint. Featuring excellent performances from Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, and Clive Owen, this is big budget, A-list thriller entertainment at its most fresh and ferocious. Along with his work on the amazing Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke, 2006 stands as a banner year for the enigmatic director. (27 July, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Covenant


Where do one time famous filmmakers go when their careers fade into obsolesce and/or oblivion? Apparently, the answer is the hack teen horror genre. This is where you’ll find Renny Harlin, the man behind Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight. It’s hard to sink much lower than a movie about male witches, but this occult OC finds the onetime action king treading tenuous waters at best. (27 July, Starz, 9PM EST)


Mad Hot Ballroom


Little kids learning a mature mannerism – a guaranteed documentary crowdpleaser. In this case, we have a program that teaches underprivileged urchins in the toughest sections of New York City the social and disciplinary benefits of professional dancing. Of course, it all ends up centering on a competition to see who’s best, but the journey is more enjoyable – and enlightening - than the final showdown. (27 July, ShowTOO, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
Cry-Baby


After hitting critical – and commercial – paydirt with his ode to Baltimore circa the early ‘60s (the drop dead brilliant Hairspray), bad taste guru John Waters went back another decade to deliver this, a reimagined juvenile delinquency musical. With rising superstar Johnny Depp in tow, and a clever cast including Iggy Pop, Susan Tyrell, Rikki Lake, Patty Hearst, and notorious porn goddess Traci Lords, the devious director juxtaposed the bohemia brazenness of greaser chic with the uptight terrors of suburban conformity. Stylistic, electrifying, and filled with fabulous music, the film proved that Waters could work within the confines of Hollywood wholesomeness and still deliver an acerbic, witty satire. Now, like its pre-Peace generation counterpart, Broadway is adapting this stellar spoof for the stage. While it can never match the original, more money – and recognition – headed Waters way is an aesthetic plus, anyway you look at it. (31 July, Sundance Channel, 12:00AM EST)

Additional Choices
The Nomi Song


He was the most unusual figure floating around the edges of the New York post punk scene. Yet with his alien appearance and operatic vocals, Klaus Nomi was less a novelty and more an endearing eccentric. Part personal escape, part rock and roll performance art, his undeniable uniqueness meshed with a tragic personal trajectory makes for a monumental cinematic experience. (30 July, Sundance Channel, 10PM EST)

The Agronomist


Jonathan Demme’s career has always been filled with contradictions. For every serious Hollywood movie he makes – Beloved, Philadelphia, Silence of the Lambs – he steps outside the system to direct deeply personal, highly topical documentaries. In the case of this intriguing tale, the filmmaker explains the life and tragic times of Haitian radio personality and human rights activist Jean Dominique. Few knew of this man in his lifetime. After seeing this devastating movie, even less will forget him.  (31 July, IFC, 7:25PM EST)

Quiet Cool


It’s amazing how time tempers even the most caustic opinions. Back in its day, this b-movie action film was considered an off title treat at best, a lame excuse for Tinsel Town thrills at worst. Fast forward twenty years, and it’s now a lost example of independent excellence. James Remar plays a cop who gets in too deep after agreeing to help an old flame. Not the greatest movie ever made, it’s still a fine example of genre experimentation.  (01 August, IFC, 7:45PM EST)

Outsider Option
Dr. Phibes Rises Again


After the shocking success of the 1971 original, star Vincent Price was asked to reprise the title role, a heavily scarred surgeon who, in the first film, sought revenge on the doctors he felt contributed to his wife’s death. Now, with some ancient Egyptian scrolls in tow (and a bigger budget to work with) the sequel ups the camp factor and tones down the supposed terror. The story is basically the same – Phibes is again wronged and wants payback on those who’ve harmed him. But with its wildly imaginative sets and sense of outsized outrageousness, what could have been an ongoing supernatural series ends up exhausting all its ideas at once. Still, one can’t escape the endearing delights of Price in his twilight prime, an actor so filled with good natured gravitas that he could make even the most mediocre material come alive. He proves it here, elevating a routine redux into something quite special.  (29, Drive-In Classics Canada, 10:15PM EST)

Additional Choices
A Bucket of Blood/The Terror


It’s a Roger Corman double feature as Dick Miller plays an artist who discovers the value of “life like” models, while Jack Nicholson gets creeped out at Boris Karloff’s eerie cliff side castle. Both movies are examples of the bottom line oriented producer at his most forward thinking and fun. And when you consider the talent he had both behind and in front of the camera, it’s clear why he’s a legitimate legend even today. (20 July, TCM Underground, 2AM EST)

The Idolmaker


The ‘50s fascination with the talentless teen idol remains a powerful backdrop for a major motion picture, and yet few have found the creative calling to venture into said Svengali-like territory. In his first major motion picture, Taylor Hackford used the life of rock promoter Bob Marucci as the premise for a gripping tale of stardom unearned, and dreams dashed. It remains one of the best explorations of the era’s exploitation ever captured. (02 August, Indieplex, 6:55PM EST)

Headspace


There’s a clear conundrum awaiting audiences of this unusual horror hybrid. The critical community has been very kind to this tale of a young man whose ever increasing mental capacities begin making his life a literal living hell (complete with demons). Fans who’ve found the film based on said reviews have declared it a useless piece of inappropriately praised junk. Guess audiences at home, intrigued by the premise, will have to decide for themselves. (02 August, The Movie Channel, 1:20AM EST)

 


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Thursday, Jul 19, 2007


Can you see it? That little speck way off in the distance? That’s the light, baby. That’s the end of the 2007 Summer Movie Season slyly making its first true appearance on the horizon. With only six weeks left, Tinsel Town is still trying for a great big finish. Indeed, over the next few Fridays, we’ll see the big screen debut of America’s favorite cartoon family, a trequel from our man Bourne, a bland biopic about salsa ‘legend’ Hector Lavoe, and Rob Zombie’s reinvention of the Halloween franchise. Toss in a fractured fairytale, a bad idea family film, and a useless remake of an overdone sci-fi thriller and there’s plenty to keep you occupied. So where do the premium movie channels stand during this last big motion picture push? Very well, actually. Two of the four features presented on 21 July are definitely deserving of a Saturday night at home, and the outsider/alternative choices aren’t bad either. Just avoid the fishtailing cars and the well-meaning urban farce and you’ll be just fine. Of course, there’s always something playing down at the Cineplex, should you not enjoy what SE&L selected:


Premiere Pick
The Illusionist


Last year (2006), there were two highly touted movies centering on magic. One was a box office flop that didn’t generate much concerned critical buzz. The other was a clever period piece that gave away its twist ending about halfway through. The so-called ‘bomb’ went on to score many kudos come end of the year best-of voting. The moneymaker with the insufficient denouement was more or less ignored. So in the conflict over prestidigitation as big screen entertainment, it’s clear that this amiable effort featuring fine performances by Edward Norton, Jessica Biel and Paul Giamatti won the battle, but lost the war. And the reasons why are obvious. While Christopher Nolan turned The Prestige into a sensational psychological thriller, Neil Burger stayed solidly in Harlequin romance territory. The results are sumptuous yet simple, and a tad too obvious to sustain their storyline. Still, this is a fine feature, one worthy of your time and viewing leisure. It’s commercially unviable competitor on the other hand remains the timeless work of motion picture art. (21 July, Starz, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Little Miss Sunshine


It was the small independent movie that almost pulled off the upset come Oscar time – almost. Few outside the truly obsessed thought this marginal movie about a dysfunctional family dragging their precocious child to a beauty pageant was Best Picture bait. Still, the hype machine went into overdrive, convincing many that this screwball satire had a chance. Oddly enough, the small screen both enhances and erases some of the films fault, making the praise all the more perplexing. (21 July, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift


Same premise, same storyline, different locale. For this third go around in the FF franchise, our pissed off pre-adult heroes head to Japan, where drifting is all the rage. Apparently, this means kids destroy their brakes and alignment by purposefully fishtailing their back tires. Peachy! As an aside, beware of those earworm masters The Teriyaki Boys. Their hideous theme song plays throughout this derivative action pic. (21 July, Cinemax, 10PM EST)


Madea’s Family Reunion


Tyler Perry tweaks another of his many urban stage plays, removing all the music but keeping the calm Christian message. As a result, he walks away with another demographically precise hit. Far less melodramatic than his Diary of a Mad Black Woman, this tale of an upcoming wedding, and the various trials and tribulations surrounding it, makes for another generic yet warm family comedy. He may have flaws as a filmmaker, but his drag creation remains potent. (21 July, ShowTOO, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll


It started out as a normal idea for a documentary – follow around Chuck Berry and modern day fan Keith Richards as the two prepare for a 60th birthday tribute concert to the early rock guitar hero. Little did filmmaker Taylor Hackford know, what started out simple would grow exponentially as egos and agendas clashed over and over. In essence, Berry didn’t appreciate the pip squeak upstart from those know nothing newbies The Rolling Stones telling him, a walking talking living myth, what to do. For his part, the gnarled Glimmer Twin was disillusioned by his idol’s lax attitude toward rehearsal and performance. He only wanted to see his mentor shine, not settle for subpar effort. The end result was a fiery behind the scenes scandal merged with a tremendous onstage spectacle, a character study studded with old school riffs. Many feel this is the ultimate combination of man and material. Berry may have been an unbearable bore and a mentally unstable cheapskate, but he also forged many of the moves that turned simple cultural heritage into the music we know today. (23 July, Sundance Channel, 4:15PM EST)

Additional Choices
Naked


To describe the ‘plot’ of this Mike Leigh movie – an antisocial Manchester man escapes to London to avoid the consequences of his actions – is to remove most of its magic. Granted, it remains a film in which the central character (played brilliantly by David Thewlis) meanders around, philosophizing out loud. Yet what he has to say, and the secrets revealed, turn a regular road movie into one of the ‘90s most meaningful films. (22 July, IFC, 9PM EST)

Dangerous Game


After the dopey disaster known as Body of Evidence, this independent hokum helmed by Abel Ferrara was meant to be Madonna’s cinematic redemption. After all, she was paired alongside actor anchor Harvey Keitel, and both he and the maverick director had a recent critical smash with their Bad Lieutenant. But just like anything celluloid the Material Girl touched, this art imitates life lameness was another first class flop.  (23 July, IFC, 10:40PM EST)

Assisted Living


Similar to a Christopher Guest mockumentary, filmmaker Elliot Greenebaum created a fictional story about a nursing home janitor, and then decided to stage and shoot the movie in an actual assisted living facility. It gives this otherwise conventional slacker comedy a real air of authenticity and realism. Of course, the history inherent in the residents is far more compelling than anything Greenebaum and his actors can generate. (26 July, Sundance Channel, 8:30PM EST)

Outsider Option
A Family Thing


Co-written by a then struggling Billy Bob Thorton and featuring the intriguing onscreen pairing of James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall, this engrossing drama deals with, of all things, an usual sibling situation. When his mother dies, Duvall’s backwoods hick Earl learns that his real mother was a black woman, and that he has a half brother living in Chicago. Deciding to get his life in order, he heads to the Windy City and winds up on the doorstep of Aunt T. A refined woman of color, she helps the confused visitor understand his circumstances. She also aids in bridging the cultural barrier between the white Southerner and his distrustful urban kin. Both Jones and Duvall are magnificent here, selling a similar sentiment of hurt and suspicion. But the real revelation is Irma P. Hall as the blind substitute matriarch. She is the life at the center of his confused situation, and uses her undeniable wisdom to explain that blood remains the same color, no matter the skin it’s in. A forgotten classic from the mid ‘90s, this movie deserved to be rediscovered. (26 July, Indieplex, 12:45PM EST)

Additional Choices
I Bury the Living


Richard Boone works in a graveyard. Whenever he inserts a pin into the cemetery map, the owner of said plot dies. Imagine what happens then when all the pins fall out. This early zombie stomp has already been featured as part of this ongoing TCM series, but it’s worth a second look. The atmosphere of dread is delightful, and the finale fulfills its premise’s promise – approximately. (20 July, TCM Underground, 2AM EST)

Reeker


When you read the synopsis for this film – a group of travelers, stuck in a desert oasis, are preyed upon by an unknown evil force – you think you’re in for a standard fright flick. Then you learn that the main creature is a decaying fiend with a noxious odor that’s capable of killing. Oh, and there’s a twist ending, Sixth Sense style. Still, any movie about a monster with a murderous ming has SE&L’s full support. (24 July, Showtime 2, 8PM EST)

Ride in the Whirlwind


Prior to his days as a certified Hollywood superstar, Jack Nicholson was a struggling actor. He also made a living penning genre efforts for Roger Corman (horror) and Monte Hellman (thriller). Here, he creates an existential western about three lawless men on the run from a posse. Thanks to Hellman’s crackerjack directing and its overall counterculture approach, this is one horse opera that stands on its own. (25 July, Drive In Classics Canada, 10:45PM EST)

 


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Thursday, Jul 12, 2007


Man it’s hot. To paraphrase Ms. Lulu Fortune, it’s more blistering than Georgia asphalt. The whole country has been gripped by that most uncomfortable of seasonal slights – the heat wave – and while the North can expect a respite come September, those of us in the more temperate part of the nation will be sweating like overweight businessmen well into November. Add on the yet to begin hurricane season and it feels like Summer is just getting…warmed up (Sorry). Anyway, here’s a good way to beat the sun’s incessant rays – take in a film. If you don’t’ have adequate air conditioning (or the means to afford it), the Cineplex is usually ice cold and loaded down with some nifty blockbuster quaffs. If, on the other hand, your central system can manage the triple digit temperatures – well, it might be good to get out after all. The premium movie channels are back in the doldrums this week, tossing out a few off-title treats that more or less died at the box office. But if you’re stuck inside this 14 July, you may be able to find some relief – environmentally and entertainment wise – from these rather slim pickings:


Premiere Pick
My Super Ex-Girlfriend


Uma Thurman should be a superstar. Not that she isn’t already, but it seems odd that the woman behind pivotal roles in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill would still be slugging away in under-developed dreck like this. At the core of this film is a very interesting idea – how would a superhero live amongst real people (in this case, already jaded New Yorkers) and deal with her depressing love life. Unfortunately, director Ivan Reitman, a one time comic genius, decided to bring the horribly miscast Luke Wilson along for the answer. The results are some of the least funny moments in a recent Tinsel Town laughfest. While she retains most of her dignity, Thurman is also lost, relying on quirks and tics to take the place of actually character development. And the storyline is so sloppy – we are introduced to a villain (played by a lax Eddie Izzard) and yet the good vs. evil dynamic fades into more romantic ridiculousness. As spectacle, it’s stunted. As entertainment, it’s even worse. (14 July, HBO, 8PM EST)

Additional Choices
Beerfest


Who, exactly, are Broken Lizard, and more importantly, why do they keep getting chances to make movies? Artist like Terry Gilliam and David Lynch have to struggle to finance their films, and yet this so-called comedy troupe has had three flaccid projects greenlit – Super Troopers, Club Dread and this inconsistent alcohol comedy. The plot has a pair of brothers competing in a German Fight Club style drinking competition. Sounds like a subpar Simpsons episode gone even more sophomoric. (14 July, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

All The King’s Men


For a long time, it was poised as guaranteed Oscar bait. Even with its remake status, no one could imagine Arthur Penn Warren’s political drama being bad. But somehow, Steve Zaillian found a way to reduce the narrative into a series of grandstanding stunts. Sean Penn is pretty good as Willy Stark, but the rest of his co-stars seem blindsided by the Louisiana heat. They’re so under-baked it’s like watching dough deliver dialogue. The best advice is to enter at your own risk. (14 July, Starz, 9PM EST)

 


In the Mix


Here’s a horrible idea done just as ineffectually. R&B star Usher is a DJ (big stretch) who inadvertently helps a young woman one night. Turns out she’s a mobster’s daughter, and he’s repaid for the favor by becoming her bodyguard. Huh? Anyway, this lame rom com is further proof of director Ron Underwood’s (City Slickers) fall from grace. Guess helming The Adventures of Pluto Nash will do that to you. (14 July, ShowTOO, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
Gerry


As the first installment of what would later be dubbed ‘The Death Trilogy’ (along with the Columbine inspired Elephant and the Kurt Cobain fantasy biopic Last Days), Hollywood heavyweight Gus Van Zant tried to reconnect to his indie roots with this luminous two person drama. Casey Affleck and Matt Damon are pals out on a desert hike, wandering aimlessly like a couple of post-modern Godot watchers. Unfortunately, neither one brought any food or water, and as the elements start to take their toll, the duo must improvise ways of dealing with the harsh habitat that is swallowing them whole. Before long, fatigue sets in, and the pair is faced with very hard, very human choices. Such a shocking change of pace from his trite Tinsel Town efforts (Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, the Psycho remake), this is the Van Zant that critics first fell in love with – beautiful, demanding, abstract and incredibly powerful. (18 July, IFC, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Who Gets to Call It Art?


Ever wonder how modern art, with its convention breaking canvases and radical aesthetic ideas, got its start? Oddly enough, almost all major inroads lead to Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Henry Geldzahler. During the ‘60s, New York’s fledgling bohemian scene was expanding in dozens of different directions – and Geldzahler was there to chronicle it all. Perhaps no other person did more to legitimize the many differing styles and conceits. He remains a crucial link in non-traditional technique’s eventual acceptance. (16 July, Sundance Channel, 9PM EST)

CSA: The Confederate States of America


Here’s a great bit of speculative satire – what if the South, not the North, had won the Civil War? What would America look like today with an antebellum administration in place? Filmmaker Kevin Willmott concocted this brash mock documentary, a Ken Burns like ‘what if” that examines the aftereffects of a Dixie victory. Of course, there is still slavery. And the horrifyingly racist products presented actually derive from our own real history. (16 July, IFC, 11PM EST)

Darwin’s Nightmare


Brought to Africa in the ‘40s and ‘50s to help wipe out hunger, the Nile Perch has created quite the opposite – a major natural disaster. It destroyed all other native species, and yet European markets have only increased demand. The local residents are left with nothing – no financial windfall, no fish, no natural resources to rely on. This brutal documentary, laying the blame at the feet of many, pulls no punches as it examines the horrendous exploitation of the region. (17July, Sundance Channel, 9:35PM EST)

Outsider Option
200 Motels


Frank Zappa was never what one would call a conventional musician, so its only right that his motion picture output would be equally unusual. Take this bizarre quasi-performance piece. While on tour with the Mothers of Invention in the early ‘70s, the madman virtuoso decided to chronicle life on the road. Of course, he decided to channel it via his own unique perspective and filter it through the last dying vestiges of the imploding counterculture.  The end result is a surreal stream of consciousness loaded with sex, drugs, and Zappa’s own brand of usual rock and roll. The narrative – the band’s search to get paid and laid – is secondary to all the hallucinatory visuals, wild casting choices (Keith Moon? Ringo Starr? Theodore Bickel?), and overall feeling of excessive experimentation. Not usually listed among the essential music-based movies of all time, the decades have helped temper many of the late luminary’s movie’s more outrageous aspects. Some, believe it or not, are now quite quaint. (15 July, Drive In Classics Canada, 10:45PM EST)

Additional Choices
Billy the Kid vs. Dracula/ Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter


Whoever concocted the idea of a Western melded with a crappy creature feature deserves a motion picture medal – or a good beating. Actually, William “One Shot” Beaudine was behind this ditzy double feature, the last in a very long line of fringe films. Neither is very good, either as horse opera or horror, but the truth is that the inherent wackiness of the premises helps pull the audience along – if only barely. (13 July, TCM Underground, 2AM EST)

Friday the 13th Part III


Among all the Jason Voorhees inspired sequels, this third journey into the murderous Camp Crystal Lake featured a novelty outside the standard slice and dice narrative – 3D! That’s right, the original theatrical release relied on that old ‘50s cinematic stunt to lure audiences. It made for some obvious camera tricks (items zooming directly toward the lens) and a few nasty innovations (can you say flying eyeball?). (14 July, American Movie Classics, 12:15AM EST)

Broadway Danny Rose


It’s perhaps the last pure comedy American auteur Woody Allen ever created, a fully realized vision of awkward acts, tacky talent agents, and the mafia connections floating between the two. While Mr. Annie Hall is excellent as the nebbish artist’s representative, it’s former flame Mia Farrow who really shines as a gum-smacking moll with a soft spot for lifelong losers. (18 July, Indieplex, 7:30PM EST)

 


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Thursday, Jul 5, 2007


It’s overwhelmingly oppressive, and there’s no relief in sight. No, we’re not talking about the blistering July heat. We’re discussing the absolute dearth of entertainment options available for the interested audience member. Tinsel Town has a few more juicy bon mots waiting in the wings – including a beloved wizard whose fifth film opens one week from today (13 July) – and the basic broadcast networks are regurgitating old reality show faves (Big Brother) to spark excitement. But unless you missed most of last year’s popcorn movie season, the selections provided by the premium pay channels will feel like a severe case of redux déjà vu. Indeed, Saturday night will feel like August 2006 all over again what with the choices offered. Still, there’s some value here, especially the somewhat forced funny business of the SE&L selection. Indeed, you could do a lot worse for your 7 July jollies:


Premiere Pick
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby


There was a time there when supposed funnyman Will Ferrell was in danger of dropping far down the list of Hollywood humorists. After a very shaky start in cinema (A Night at the Roxbury, anyone?), the trifecta of Old School/Elf/Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy substantially shifted his big screen fortunes. But then bad script choices (Kicking and Screaming, Bewitched) threatened to unseat him once again. Turning to Burgundy’s creative team of Adam McKay (writer/director) and Judd Apatow (producer), he twisted the current fixations of NASCAR nation into a sly take on racing and the sport’s beer belly bravado. The result was a solid summer 2006 hit, a box office bonanza additionally aided by the appearance - and supporting performance - of soon to be Borat phenom Sacha Baron Cohen. Sure, some of the jokes are dumb and/or dopey, but the Method madness to the creation of this fictional hero is so detailed that you sometimes forget you are watching fiction – or Will Ferrell. (07 July, Starz, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
The Devil Wears Prada


Every season, a movie sneaks under the pre-hype radar and illustrates the truth about what audiences really want. In this case, they apparently required a witty, acerbic take on haughty New York couture featuring a fresh faced newcomer and a grand dame diva of the acting trade. And that’s actually what this undeniably charming movie delivered, much to their delight. (07 July, HBO, 8PM EST)

Miami Vice


You’ve got to give Michael Mann points for trying. Who else would take the important iconic elements of their own mid ‘80s TV series – pastel colors, fashion plate cool - and strip them away for a big screen revamp? Granted, Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx may be enough human eye candy for the neo-nostalgic audiences, but somehow, this is more South Florida Heat than an update of Crockett and Tubbs. (07 July, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

 


An American Haunting


It was advertised as the only true case of a ghost ever killing a man, and for a while, the trade paper ruse worked. Then viewers discovered that the storyline was set in the early 1800’s, and was based on that most unreliable of evidence – the anecdotal kind. And even then, the filmmakers still screwed it up. A powerhouse cast is wasted on a paltry PG-13 spook show. (07 July, ShowTOO, 9:50PM EST)

Indie Pick
Incident at Loch Ness


With his latest fiction film – Rescue Dawn – about to hit theaters, this oddball mock doc from 2004 gives fans and the unfamiliar a chance to see another, more satiric side of famed German auteur Werner Herzog. As a favor to neighbor Zak Penn (A-list Hollywood scribe and self promoter), the director lent his considerable cult of personality to a semi-success spoof about ego, excuses and exploration. Together, Penn and Herzog play themselves, and head out on an expedition to discover the secrets inside Scotland’s most famous lake. In between are staged conversations and conflict, lots of self deprecating humor, and an ending that doesn’t really satisfy. In fact, this is a frequently one note vanity project that trades on Herzog’s calculated cool to appear more substantive and sharp than it really is. Still, with his seductive German accent and well-earned gravitas, it’s always fun to see this Teutonic titan in action – even if the results are rather routine. (10 July, IFC, 2:25PM EST)

Additional Choices
Habit


Vampires don’t get a lot of cinematic respect. Whatever made solid stars of these bloodsucking members of the undead community has long since dissolved into pools of pointlessness and stereotypical slop. So it’s a relief to champion something different within the neckbiter genre, and this amiable indie effort from 1996 is just that. It’s disturbing, sexy, and most importantly, quite original. (08 July, IFC, 10:35PM EST)

Commune


When one thinks of the ‘60s, certain concepts instantly come to mind – The Beatles, free love, flower power, and the agricultural egalitarianism of the shared living community. In this fascinating documentary, writer/director Jonathan Berman explores the real life Black Bear Ranch, and how it was centered more on philosophy than fornication. Indeed, it remains a perfect depiction of the real counterculture.  (09 July, Sundance Channel, 9PM EST)

Fearless Freaks – The Flaming Lips


They’ve been around since 1983, and yet like their brothers in sonic arms, Guided by Voices, The Flaming Lips continuously fall outside the mainstream music scene. Hoping to increase their popular profile, filmmaker Bradley Beesley went about creating a documentary focusing on founder Wayne Coyne, and the dichotomy between his rock and roll and real life personas. It makes for fascinating viewing. (11 July, Sundance Channel, 10PM EST)

Outsider Option
Barton Fink


The Coen Brothers stunned audiences at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival with this brilliant deconstruction of Hollywood hack commercialism and writer’s block. They won the Golden Palm (the highest honor) while Joel earned the best director nod. Even star John Turturro picked up praise – and an award – for his brilliant turn as the title character. Playing a self-important New York playwright whisked off to Tinsel Town to act as patsy to the standard studio merchandising machine (his charge – write wrestling pictures), Fink finds himself locked up in a decrepit hotel, visited frequently by his loud, lumbering next door neighbor (an equally genius turn by co-star John Goodman). When the inability to create becomes too overbearing, he tries to tap fellow scribe W. P. Mayhew for help. He soon learns that a life in service of schlock can kill you – literally. Among their many masterworks, this is one of the siblings most symbolic – and satisfying. (11 July, Indieplex, 7PM EST)

Additional Choices
Curse of the Demon


Symbolism is everything in horror. Give the audience good ghouls and you’ll win them over (almost) every time. Night of the Demon (the original title before a Tinsel Town reedit) offers a floating devil head that is still creepy fifty years later. The rest of the movie is fairly ordinary, but that disembodied fiend will haunt your nightmares for years to come. (6 July, TCM Underground, 2AM EST)

Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter’s Cover


How desperate is the slasher film, and those who make them, to rely on a zombie pirate to provide their slice and dice delights? And how derivative is an undead buccaneer, considering the entire plot of the initial Curse of the Black Pearl installment of Disney’s blockbuster franchise? Who knows, and with something this potentially cheesy, who cares? Here’s hoping it’s so bad, it’s good, instead of just plain awful. (08 July, Sci Fi Channel, 3AM EST)

American Gothic


This long forgotten cult creepfest deserves to be rediscovered. It has Oscar winner Rod Steiger and former Munster Yvonne DeCarlo chewing up the scenery as a sinister couple, and an unsettling premise about a backwards/woods family who don’t take kindly to strangers. So naturally, a group of misguided travelers land on their doorstep. Eep! (11 July, Drive-In Classics Canada, 7:15PM EST)

 


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