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Friday, Sep 7, 2007


Instead of ranting and raving about the upcoming week in premium pay cable movie premieres, let’s just meditate on Autumn, SE&L’s favorite time of year. Here’s a picture to aid in your calmative contemplation:



Okay – enough multicolored foliage. Now, on to the choices for 8 September, including a rather timely world premiere:


Premiere Pick
World Trade Center


It’s so strange to think that this movie was made by the same man who redefined Vietnam, took on the JFK conspiracy, and supported several causes considered ‘anti-American’ by conservative commentators. For decades, Oliver Stone has been an aggressive agent provocateur, not a flag-waving jingoist. Yet here he is, the man responsible for calling into question almost every political power within the last three decades doing a nice, noble job of telling the true story of two Port Authority police officers during 9/11. In Nicholas Cage and Michael Pena, Stone found two actors capable of carrying off their scenes while buried under tons of art department rubble, and the initial scenes of the terrorist attack, all suggestion and subtle shifts in personnel and perspective, are expertly done. Towards the end, when the trapped men’s families start freaking out, the movie looses a little of its bearing, but overall, Stone taps into the national nightmare of that fateful day, and delivers a devastating drama. (08 September, Showtime, 8PM EST)

Additional Choices
Superman Returns


Bryan Singer’s bloated, overdone homage to Richard Donner didn’t deserve all the geek squad accolades it received. Even a year after its release, the flaws are all too obvious. Kate Bosworth remains a poor choice for Lois Lane, and the whole Super-boy angle is underplayed to the point of implausibility. For every good thing this restart does – Brandon Routh is excellent as the superhero, and Kevin Spacey gives good Lex Luthor – Singer stumbles. (08 September, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Return


You’d figure that after The Grudge, Sarah Michelle Gellar would try and move as far away from the J-Horror film fad as possible, less she wind up typecast. Sadly, she instead embraced the format, starring in this Asian terror knock off from British moviemaker Asif Kapadia. Unlike his first film, the feudal India themed The Warrior, this has Ju-On juice spread all over it. Fans of more subtle scares should look elsewhere for their fear factors. (08 September, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Open Season


Though the look of this animated ordinariness is unusual (lots of odd angles and stylized characterization), we wind up with the same old CGI stumbles. Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher are a bear and a mule deer, respectively, that must rally the other woodland creatures in time to prepare for the title event, and the onslaught of hunters that will follow soon thereafter. Though the humor is forced and the film forgettable, the kiddies couldn’t care less. (08 September, Starz, 9PM EST)

 


Indie Pick
Breathless (1956)


Perhaps the biggest misconception about the French New Wave that swept through cinema in the ‘50s and ‘60s was that the entire movement was an attack on Hollywood and its mainstream brand of moviemaking. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead, all directors like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard wanted to do was expand the possibilities of film, and the only way they could accomplish this was by blowing up the formulas and deconstructing the various elements. Then, they put them back together in ways contrary/complimentary to the works that they loved, thereby creating and commenting via a new form of expression. This, Godard’s 1960 masterpiece, is a perfect example of the stratagem. The storyline is simplistic – a young girl hooks up with a murderous criminal – but it’s the presentation that sets the new standards. With its handheld cameras, jarring jump cuts, breaking of various ‘walls’, and self-conscious rebellion, it functions as one of the artform’s most important and radical works. (12 September, Sundance Channel, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices
Tout Va Bien


Over a decade after he redefined the language of film, Jean-Luc Godard teamed up with fellow filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin to make this aggressively avant-garde look at relationships, politics, and the strictures of cinema. Featuring fine performances from Yves Montand and a fresh from Klute Jane Fonda, the result is supremely frustrating with sprinklings of electric genius. While not upfront about all their ideas, Godard/Gorin still get most of their point across. (09 September, Sundance Channel, 7:15PM EST)

Igby Goes Down


Celebrated as a post-modern Catcher in the Rye as well as one of the first films to adopt the digital approach to filmmaking, this Burr Steers’ effort has its charms. Macaulay’s brother Kiernan Culkin does an excellent job in the lead role, and he gets good supporting turns from Bill Pullman and Susan Sarandon. While not quite on par with Salinger, this is still a smart and substantive coming of age saga. (12 September, IFC, 9PM EST)

Steal This Movie


The Yippie movement, best exemplified by Abby Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Tom Hayden remains a potent source of motion picture material. Sadly, nothing has successfully tapped into such subject matter, including this well intentioned biopic from documentarian Robert Greenwald. Vincent D’Onofrio does a fine job as Hoffman, and Janeane Garofalo is good as his wife, Anita. But the narrative never finds a focus. (14 September, IFC, 11:30PM EST)

Outsider Option
The Prime Time


Before he became the Godfather of Gore (with his classic terror triptych Blood Feast, 2000 Maniacs, and Color Me Blood Red), Herschell Gordon Lewis was the king of the nudie cutie. Working with partner and mighty monarch of the exploitation film, David F. Friedman, the former advertising employee cranked out Florida based flesh feasts dealing with subject both scandalous and silly. In this case, we have the typical little girl lost scenario. Jean is desperate for kicks (the ‘50s/’60s substitute word for illegal fun) and she ends up getting involved in drugs and nude modeling. Perhaps most notorious for Karen Black’s appearance (or lack thereof – she sued to be removed from the film) and the lack of Lewis regulars (it was his first film as a director, after all), it still stands as a slyly suggestive treat. (11 September, Drive In Classics Canada, 1AM EST)

Additional Choices
Twice the Price - Again


Our main man Vincent is back again for another double dose of delirium at the hands of TCM’s Underground series. This time around, we witness a late in life insignificance of Madhouse, followed by the more successful Italian take on Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (here called The Last Man on Earth). No matter the movie, Price was a gem. He remains a very enigmatic and elusive screen star. (14 September, Turner Classic Movies, 2AM EST)

The Piano


New Zealand director Jane Campion went from cult creator to mainstream moviemaker – at least in the eyes of Western audiences – with this intriguing take on the bodice ripping romance. Holly Hunter, Sam, Neil and Harvey Keitel give brave, bravura performances in a narrative that, while arch and a tad tawdry, really gets to the heart of obsession, compassion, and loss. (10 September, Indieplex, 9PM EST)

House on Haunted Hill (1995)


While William Castle purists will balk at the suggestion, the remakes of his classic films have been pretty good – considering the campy and kitsch nature of the originals. This offering is not as good as 13 Ghosts (a more imaginative take on the material), but still offers enough gory thrills and unexpected chills to send more than a few shivers up and down your spine. (11 September, ThrillerMax, 11:50PM EST)

 


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Friday, Aug 31, 2007


When compiling this week’s compendium of choices, a single theme kept sticking out – “Award Winning”. In fact, looking over the list, over half the films and/or filmmakers represented have Oscar, or something similar, sitting on their inner sanctum shelves. This either argues for the Academy’s broadening acceptance of fare outside the studio system mainstream, or just a freak coincidence of programming proportions. In both cases, it makes for an interesting beginning to what promises to be an equally odd month. With school starting back, the Summer season officially finished, and families falling into their familiar routines, TV reasserts its importance as a communal comfort and fixture. So don’t be surprised to see the major pay channels rest on those laurels, at least for the time being. For SE&L’s part, we will continue to seek out the more unusual offerings to challenge your motion picture palette, including our stand up suggestion, an insane satire we felt was one of 2006’s best:


Premiere Pick
Idiocracy


It’s the best movie of 2006 that no one saw – and that was on purpose. Fox, feeling let down once again by Mike Judge’s slanted satirical eye, relegated this 2004 futuristic farce to a high shelf in their direct to DVD release schedule. Then, feeling considerable pressure from the filmmaker, dumped it in a few theaters during the end of Summer 2006, signaling their overall contempt for the title. While no one deserves to be treated so, especially not the man who made Office Space and brought Beavis and Butthead into the world, Fox’s reaction makes sense…especially once you’ve seen the film. The very demographic the studio was banking on to fill Cineplex seats were the very target of Judge’s derisive skewering. A movie that makes the bold prediction that our country is getting stupider every year, here’s hoping it finds a knowing audience on home video. (01 September, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices
X-Men: The Last Stand


Brett Ratner has nothing to be ashamed of. His installment of the famous comic book franchise was imminently watchable. If anything, he proved once and for all that Bryan Singer is one of the most overrated auteurs in all of cinema. What has he really done to warrant such praise? The geek fiefdoms opinion aside, Ratner’s adaptation of the material results in a solid action flick.(01 September, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Queen


The death of Princess Diana divided Britain into two long simmering camps. The first were glad to get rid of the globe trotting, royalty ruining tabloid subject. The vast majority mourned the first real perceived “person” in Buckingham Palace. This fictionalized recreation of the events directly following her passing remains a stellar motion picture. Helen Mirrem’s much predicted Oscar was very well deserved indeed. (01 September, Starz, 9PM EST)

 


Akeelah and the Bee


2006 ended up being the year of the spelling bee, what with this film and Bee Season following up the discovery of the fascinating documentary from 2002, Spellbound. This time out, a young girl from South Central Los Angeles is taken in by a mentor and prepared for Nationals. It has all the standard feel good facets, but thanks to gritty portrayals from Keke Palmer and Laurence Fishburne, it transcends its trite trappings. (01 September, Showtime, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
The Blues Brothers


There’s no real reason to go into the relative merits of this overdone SNL skit. It does represent the excess of the late ‘70s piled into the mythos created by the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players. It does have the late great John Belushi in what was probably his best role. And the cameos and reliance on good old fashioned R&B for its musical numbers definitely made it an aesthetic rarity. No, the really interesting element of this movie is the massive revisionist history that has gone on over the last quarter century. This movie was a FLOP when it first hit theaters, an expensive vanity project viewed as a reason to relegate all the participants, including director John Landis, to the back of the commercial bus. It made money, but barely covered its elephantine budget. Now, in our post-millennial/messageboard mentality, it’s a comedy classic. What a difference a few years, and a million showings on cable TV, can make. (05 September, Sundance Channel, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices
Sling Blade


The world first discovered the oddball pleasures of Karl Childers and his creator, writer/director/actor Billy Bob Thorton in this brilliant Deep South drama. Playing a mentally challenged man who was institutionalized after killing someone, his impending release has the head of the hospital worried. Karl is not prepared to meet the pressures of the real world. Those fears, oddly enough, are proven all too true. (01 September, IFC, 9PM EST)

Far from Heaven


Hoping to channel the spirit of such Tinsel Town kitsch masters as King Vidor and Douglas Sirk, Todd Haynes took his throwback retro revisionism and applied it to a scintillating melodrama dealing with interracial romance and gay love. Quite a controversial jolt for its ‘50s suburban setting. Celebrated with several Oscar nods, it remains a work of exquisite beauty and seismic social themes. (04 September, IFC, 9PM EST)

Waterland


Jeremy Irons was probably hoping that this adaptation of Graham Swift’s novel would land him right back on top of the Awards season heap. Only two years after his 1990 win for Reversal of Fortune, this tale of a timid schoolteacher who uses his classroom as a confessional had all the earmarks of another strong cinematic statement. Sadly, it failed to fulfill much of its potential promise. In retrospect, it’s a decent little drama. (04 September, Sundance Channel, 11:30PM EST)

Outsider Option
Dead Alive, a.k.a. Braindead


Peter Jackson wasn’t always into CGI spectacle and retelling Tolkein’s literary triptych. When he started, he was a good old fashioned horror geek, and he translated his love of all things splatter into a pair of seminal scarefests – 1987’s Bad Taste and this demented zombie stomp. Beginning with a pair of star-crossed lovers, a mean spirited mother bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey, and a town’s eventual transformation into a slapstick selection of the living dead, the future Oscar winner (that has such an amazing sound to it) went all out for this blood soaked bonanza. As influential in the world of whacked out horror comedy as Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 or the entire Troma catalog, the combination of gore and goofiness went over like gangbusters with fright freaks. It established the filmmaker’s ability to successfully mix genres, making him the perfect choice to bring the still amazing Lord of the Rings trilogy to life. If you want to see greatness, even in its indie embryonic stage, this is the place to start. (02 September, HD Movies, 12:15AM EST)

Additional Choices
Dementia 13/Homicidal


After a month spent celebrating the amazing movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Turner Classic Movies is back with its Underground series, and the selection this time out represents a bit of program padding. Both films have been shown before, Dementia as part of a Corman cock-up, Homicidal as a William Castle salute. Worth seeing, but not necessarily viable a second time around. (07 September, Turner Classic Movies, 2AM EST)

Three Stooges Film Marathon


No, this is not a festival of their amazing shorts. Instead, these are the kid vid vehicles the aging slapstick stars helmed once TV established their rerun relevancy. Our twisted trio meets Hercules, heads off into orbit, and goes around the world in a daze. There are only three words you need to know in judging the quality of this collection of comedies – Curly Joe DeRita. That’s all. (02 September, Drive In Classics Canada, 9PM to 1AM EST)

The Sugarland Express


During his days as a wunderkind discovery working at Universal Studios, Steven Spielberg dreamed of being a serious dramatist. Before finding himself detouring into blockbuster territory with Jaws, he delivered this action-oriented stand off between Goldie Hawn, William Atherton, and the Texas State Police. Not so much an anomaly in the proud popcorn movie papa’s canon as a sign of his amazing range and inherent directorial designs.  (06 September, Indieplex, 9PM EST)

 


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Friday, Aug 24, 2007


Though it’s still officially several weeks off, SE&L senses that fall is finally on the horizon. Sure, it’s still stifling outside, temperatures matching the amount of money your average Hollywood blockbuster rakes in, so it’s hard to get completely into that autumnal feeling. But the sad fact is that, within the next month, leaves will begin to turn and days will start getting shorter. Movies will also be transforming, shuffling away from popcorn pulp and into more awards baiting brashness. You can see the dichotomy clearer over the 25 August weekend. On Saturday night, you can see 2006’s winner for Best Picture, a highly publicized, Internet fueled horror romp, a sad scarefest, and an amazing indie experience featuring an Oscar worthy performance. In essence, it’s a lot like how September through December will look – a few amazing movies surrounded by varying degrees of cinematic support. If it’s not already part of your collection, do yourself a favor. Switch over to Cinemax on Saturday and see one of the decade’s best efforts. It’s certified SE&L sublime:


Premiere Pick
The Departed


As the illustrious LL Cool J once warned, don’t call it a comeback. Indeed, Martin Scorsese has not been hiding along the fringes of cinema, waiting for another certified gangster blockbuster to resurrect his implied lagging artistic credibility. Since his last film, The Aviator, was nominated for several Oscars, it seems silly to suggest that the certified American auteur is arriving from anywhere but the top. Besides, some of his best films – Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, The King of Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ – have nothing to do with mean streets and goodfellas. This does not lesson the impact or import of this brilliant Boston crime drama – no one does operatic brutality better – but Scorsese is much more than movie mob boss. He doesn’t deserve such stereotyping. And besides, he finally got the industry recognition he’s so richly deserved. Comeback? More like a stand down. (25 August, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices
Snakes on a Plane


One of last year’s most debated films finally arrives on the small screen with none of its pleasures, or problems, lost. The Fourth Estate foamed over how the supposed push from the Internet failed to fulfill its blockbuster potential, but this doesn’t mean the final product is bad. In fact, this is one of the great guilty pleasures of the last two decades, a dopey action spoof with a lot of humor and a juicy amount of gore.  (25 August, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Grudge 2


As the fortunes of J-Horror slowly fade back into the fad gadget woodwork, here’s an opportunity to see how wrongheaded the genre can go. Trading on the first film’s archetypal narrative – ghost haunts house and causes curse – and moving headliner Sarah Michelle Gellar to cameo status, we get more of the same strictures that eventually killed the up and coming dread category. Sadly, director Takashi Shimizu has signed on for…you guessed it…The Grudge 3. (25 August, Starz, 9PM EST)

 


Sherrybaby


In what many are calling a career defining turn, Secretary/World Trade Center star Maggie Gyllenhaal plays an ex-con trying to reconnect with her young daughter after an extended stay in prison. With the cloud of drugs and abuse constantly shadowing her efforts, the story becomes more than a mere formulaic melodrama. It actually touches on what makes people susceptible to such self-destructive situations. Thanks to her performance, Gyllenhaal finds the truth inside her character’s torment. (25 August, ShowTOO, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
House of 1000 Corpses


It’s clear from the opening moments of this movie that Zombie recognized the rarity of being able to direct a film. Thousands dream of the chance, yet few if any ever really get it. So as his (conceivably) one and only shot at bringing his love of the horror genre to the screen, this full blown macabre obsessive was going to make every second count. That is why House is so overwhelmingly busy, teeming with ideas, and seismic in its tonal shifts. Zombie more of less filtered his fright Id through an undying love of exploitation fare and forged the kind of reference heavy homage that only equally batshit film fans would adore. From the far too clever casting to the occasional clips from classic terror titles, this is the man’s sinister scrapbook come to life. Granted, a lot of it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially when our sole survivor ends up in the lair of a poorly defined Dr. Satan, but the ride is filled with exceptional individual moments.(30 August, IFC, 10:45PM EST)

Additional Choices


The Human Stain


We expect much more from the three people behind this middling melodrama. Robert Benton is an Oscar winning director (for Kramer vs. Kramer) and noted screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (several of the best Star Treks) had Phillip Roth’s intense novel to work from. Of course, casting can kill you, and that’s basically what happened here. Both Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins don’t work. Once you know the plot, you completely understand why. (26 August, IFC, 9PM EST)

Writer of O


In the ‘60s/‘70s, The Story of O was a scandalous bestseller. It brought the fetish of sadomasochism to the forefront in a way that few factual documents had ever dared. For decades, the identity of the author remained a mystery, cloaked in a veil of ambiguity that suggested some smattering of reality inside all the highly sexualized romance. In the early ‘90s, the truth was finally revealed, and this fascinating documentary followed the fall out.  (27 August, Sundance Channel, 10:30PM EST)

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man


Though he’s never had a major hit on his own, several singers and musical pioneers have plumed his catalog for their career highlights. Now the Canadian troubadour gets a celebratory documentary on his life and times, mixing tributes from the rock and roll elite with performances in recognition of his amazing music. Some will find the juxtaposition a tad tenuous, but it’s the sonic statements that end up painting the more valid picture. (28 August, Sundance Channel, 10PM EST)

Outsider Option
2010


Peter Hyams was just asking for trouble. No one takes on the mantle of Stanley Kubrick and comes out clean – just ask Steven Spielberg. Still, after the success of his High Noon in space (Outland) and the vigilante justice joke The Star Chamber, he made a sequel to the seminal 2001 his next project. Granted, original author Arthur C. Clarke had continued the epic journey of the alien monoliths in a series of books, but the cinematic statement made by the original movie seemed too monumental to overcome. Still, Hyams tried, and with the appearance of Keir Dullea as the ‘embodiment’ of missing astronaut Dave Bowman and the original voice of HAL the computer in tow, things seemed stable. Even the advances in special effects helped to sell the sometimes silly storyline. But it was one auteur’s undeniable genius that hampered this production from the get go. It remains the reason the rest of Clarke’s Odyssey books have avoided a big screen adaptation. (29 August, American Movie Classics, 12PM EST)

Additional Choices
Wild at Heart


David Lynch gives us a post-modern Wizard of Oz and then replaces all the recognizable iconography with sex and violence. The surreal story of Sailor and Lula is often heralded as one of the director’s dopier works, and if you go by the more “pharmaceutical” definition of the word, you’d be right. Laura Dern and Nicholas Cage are dynamite, and the visual flourishes used throughout sell the story’s strange designs very well indeed.  (27 August, Indieplex, 11PM EST)

The Graveyard


Yes, it’s another in a long, LONG line of stupid slasher films. Yes, it features the unfathomable premise of a cemetery sitting smack dab next to a summer camp (taxidermy must be one of the arts and crafts), and it offers the standard slack-jawed teens getting killed for reasons of randiness and retardation. So why is SE&L recommending this slop? Because, every once in a while, your aesthetic needs an enema – and this is it. (30 August, Showtime Beyond, 12AM EST)

Erika’s Hot Summer


With a tagline like “She Forced an Entire Lifetime of Passion Into One Lust Filled Summer!”, how can you resist. Back before porn was a slow dial-up connection away, the tempted took their chances on softcore shams like this. Granted, star Merci Montello makes for some damn fine eye candy, and the notion of inherent naughtiness in such a production provides some decent eros. But if you’re looking for the hard stuff, you’ll be ‘doubly’ disappointed. (31 August, Drive In Classics Canada, 9PM EST)

 


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Friday, Aug 17, 2007


In two weeks, it will all be over. The summer hype machine will finally close down, and the weary motion picture audience will have a chance to catch its breath before the next barrage of implausible propaganda comes hurtling down the production pipeline. After all, award season is just a mere three month away. Argh! Anyway, there’s an opportunity to catch up with one of last year’s best efforts this week, a truly remarkable movie that just lost to Germany’s The Lives of Others for Oscar’s Best Foreign Film (and considering how amazing that film was, that’s quite an accomplishment). Sadly, the rest of the pay cable channels are serving up nothing but chum, regurgitated comedies and unnecessary sci-fi silliness. Unless you look beyond the Big Four to alternate networks, you’re stuck sucking on the proverbial Tinsel Town teat. And with the latest popcorn pictures providing nothing but ever hardening husks, there will be little silver screen relief. So relish the SE&L selection for 18 August. It is truly a motion picture masterpiece:


Premiere Pick
Pan’s Labyrinth


Up until now, it’s been relatively easy to dismiss Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. Oh, he’s just a glorified genre director, some might say, pointing to his initial forays into fear with such works as Cronos and Mimic. Others look directly to his comic book efforts, from the only decent installment in the Blade series (#2) to his magnificent makeover of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, and deny his inherent ability. Even his defiant history lesson from 2001, The Devil’s Backbone is viewed as more of a ghost story than a grand artistic statement. But with the release of this amazing film, and the surrounding critical clamor, Del Toro is finally finding the respect that he deserves. And there’s a good reason for all the accolades. Without modifying his cinematic approach, and staying true to his vibrant vision of a world constantly weakened by elements both fantastical and fatal, this fascinating fable of a little girl’s hellish existence amongst the Post-war Fascists of Franco’s Spain is simply stunning. It’s a testament to human will and the power of the mind to make substitutes and sacrifices for the horrors all around us. (18 August, Cinemax, 10PM 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. (18 August, HBO, 8PM EST)

Scary Movie 4


The spoof, as a comedy genre, is officially dead – and the reason rests in this horrendous fourth installment in the already weak faux fear franchise. Gone is any semblance of the R rated foundation that started this stale series. In its place are tame takes on War of the Worlds, The Grudge, and (of all things) Brokeback Mountain. Featuring Leslie Nielsen as a bumbling President who makes our current Commander in Chief look like a savant. (18 August, Starz, 9PM EST)

 


Aeon Flux


What do you do with all that newly gained Academy Award clout? Well, if you’re Monster’s Charlize Theron, you sign up for a quick cash grab and make a stupid sci-fi action film based on a mediocre MTV cartoon. Fans of the original Liquid Television series were startled to see the liberties taken with this revamp. But the most troubling element is our lead, a truly talented woman who deserves better. (18 August, Showtime, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
Garage Days


For filmmaker Alex Proyas, it looked like a future filled with speculative fiction fare. He had successfully overcome the horrible death of Brandon Lee to complete The Crow, and his Dark City set the stage for all that Matrix mania. But instead of continuing on the high tech road, the audacious auteur delved into Australia’s music scene (he’s a Downunder native) to produce this bittersweet comedy. Returning to his MTV roots (he got his start directing videos), we get the standard story of an unsigned band hoping to make it big. Loaded with obligatory montages and lots of Proyas’ patented visual vibrance, we also get the behind the scenes drama, the kind of backstage instability that tears friends and fellow musicians apart. While he would return to the shape of things to come with the middling Will Smith vehicle I, Robot, this will mark the moment when Proyas proved his true moviemaking mantle. (23 August, IFC, 1:45PM EST)

Additional Choices
Marebito


Proving he is the master of Asian creepiness, Ju-On creator Takashi Shimizu took the eight day break he earned before helming the American remake The Grudge to shoot this sly, suspenseful story about a fear obsessed free lance photographer and an unsettling urban legend about a demonic presence in the Tokyo subway system. Efforts like this and the recent Reincarnation prove that there is more to Shimizu than stringy haired spooks doing the spider crawl down a set of stairs. (19 August, Sundance Channel, 12AM EST)

The Dancer Upstairs


Though the title suggests something completely different, this John Malkovich directed drama actually centers around a South American police officer’s search for a suspected revolutionary. Featuring a sensational cast that includes Javier Bardem, the film tries to balance the political elements essential to the narrative’s drive with the interpersonal concepts that create character. Most critics found it less than successful, but the small screen can often change a movie’s entertainment dynamic. It will be up to viewers to decide. (20 August, IFC, 6:35PM EST)

The Celebration


A product of the radical cinematic style known as Dogma ’95, this dysfunctional family melodrama is a real piece of work. Every member of this corrupt clan has so many skeletons in their closet that could start their own medical research business. Thanks to the no frills filmmaking approach, and the commanding performances, the over the top human histrionics are kept in check. The results are as powerful as they are preposterous. (22 August, Sundance Channel, 11:45PM EST)

Outsider Option
The Frighteners


The Frighteners is Peter Jackson’s lost masterpiece, an important cinematic cog linking his genre work of the past with the monumental achievements in fantasy filmmaking he would attain with the Lord of the Rings. Coming right after the personal, praised Heavenly Creatures, Jackson had wanted to make a more mainstream film. Robert Zemeckis stepped in and offered the director a chance to make a full-blown Hollywood hit. With longtime partner Fran Walsh, Jackson had been kicking around the idea of a Ghostbusters-style psychic who conned people out of money by pretending to purge spirits from their home. Though it failed to become the blockbuster everyone had hoped for, The Frighteners still functioned as a real stepping-stone in its creator’s canon. Beyond its import to his career, Jackson’s film is also important in the ongoing evolution of CGI. While Jurassic Park will always be seen as a monumental step forward, this forgotten gem was a formidable attempt at the seamless incorporation of motherboard rendered visuals into a narrative. (21 August, USA Network, 12PM EST)

Additional Choices
Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die


Mike Connors is an American spy sent down South to Rio by the sea-o to prevent a madman from launching a sterility inducing satellite. Terry Thomas is a proper British valet, and Dorothy Provine is an equally snooty secret agent. Rushed into theaters to beat the ultra-hyped James Bond parody, Casino Royale, this glorified goof has earned some interesting support over the years. Supposedly Hollywood hero Quentin Tarantino is a big, big fan. (21 August, Drive In Classics Canada, 11PM EST)

The Public Eye


Though it was supposedly based on the life of infamous tabloid newspaper photographer Weegee, this 1992 period piece is more fiction than fact. Joe Pesci makes a fine ‘40s shutterbug, mouth stuffed with an ever present cigar, but the tacked on subplots and lack of any real notorious names leaves the story feeling superficial and slight. By the time our lead lumbers over into hero mode, we’ve long since stopped caring about his snapshot situations. (23 August, Indieplex, 7:20PM EST)

Arachnia


Big bugs gobbling up gratuitous goofballs? How can any schlock fan resist? Apparently, the answer rests in writer/director Brent Piper’s complete lack of cinematic competence. Responsible for such past puke as A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell and Drainiac! , this giant spider invasion was to be as hilarious as it is horrifying. Sadly, it’s just another waste of a potentially worthwhile terror treasure trove. (23 August, Starz Edge, 12:30AM EST)

 


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Friday, Aug 10, 2007


It’s a tough week for the homebound film fan. Unless you can get out and hit a Cineplex, or find the opportunity to enjoy an out of the way arthouse offering, the choices churned up buy the pay cable channels are “challenging”, to put it mildly. Two are clearly not worth your time, and another follows the familiar strains of the “go team” genre to a “T”. As a matter of fact, you could probably use your experience within this particular entertainment dynamic and just fudge to your friends about how this ‘football as faith healer’ work turns out. Indeed, some will look at SE&L’s selection, quite ‘controversial’ to say the least, and believe we’ve slipped a few aesthetic cogs. While horror is frequently marginalized as the bottom feeder of the film arena, many consider what Eli ‘wrought’ to be degradation at its most decadent. Of course, you can always wander down the page and pick out something suggested from the Indie or Outsider section. In any case, there should be something to reward your entertainment intentions comes 11 August, beginning with:


Premiere Pick
Hostel


Eli Roth took a lot of grief for delivering what many consider the opening volley in a new, sick cinematic genre – torture porn. But his ‘gorno’ leanings aside, this film remains one of nu-horror’s defining moments. Disregard its ugly American undercurrent, its obvious swipes at male-pattern sexism, and the notion of Eastern Europe as an enclave of ‘anything for a buck’ opportunists, but this benchmark movie will, in the future, stand as something significant. It works as both satire and scarefest, walking effortlessly between its bravado and body parts. Some will accuse the filmmaker of lowering the level of motion picture macabre, but such a staunch criticism is missing the point. Hostel functions as the opening salvo in the latest example of post post-modern genre tweaking. It may not always be pleasant to look at, but it’s obviously unable to be dismissed outright. Otherwise, why would we still be talking about it so long after its release? Time will only add to its tripwire tension. (11 August, Showtime, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Man of the Year


Robin Williams tries desperately to reinvigorate his failing serious satire status by once again teaming with his Good Morning, Vietnam co-hort, Barry Levinson. The results, however, are far from ribtickling. Indeed, most critics were caught off guard by the movie’s second act switch into political conspiracy theorizing, more or less vacating the “Everyman as President” plot. This is definitely not Dave, nor is it a return to form for the fading funnyman. (11 August, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning


If Hostel represents the future of fright (at least, during this recent renaissance), then this horrid, unnecessary prequel to the otherwise decent Michael Bay produced remake begins the death knell. Nauseating in its desire to undermine one of the more important franchises in all of horror, we wind up with an origin story that focuses more on R. Lee Emery’s “Sheriff” Hoyt than how the iconic Leatherface got his groove on.  (11 August, Cinemax, 10PM EST)


Gridiron Gang


What former wunderkind Phil Joanou is doing helming this formulaic sports film is a mystery only mainstream Hollywood could solve. Granted, he does the moments of athleticism exceptionally well, but the rest of this pointless feel good fodder is just the same old clichés collected and metered out in the standard stereotypical way. Props also go to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for his excellent turn as a parole officer hoping football will straighten out his juvenile charges. He overcomes what should have overwhelmed. (11 August, Starz, 9PM EST)

Indie Pick
Gosord Park


While he was noted for jumping around genres, Robert Altman and the British drawing room whodunit seemed like the absolute oddest of cinematic pairings. Known for his complicated, interconnected takes on modern life (usually set within an unusual or telling situational backdrop), the twee aspects of such a film should have flown directly into the face of the antsy artist. But leave it to the man behind such brilliant, baffling works as 3 Women and Short Cuts to find the familiar humanism inside all the misplaced manners. With the fireworks generated by his A-list cast (no matter the project, Altman always worked with the best) and his attention to narrative detail, he lifted the standard murder mystery to shockingly sublime heights. As his definitive post-millennial effort, Gosford Park remains a delightful tangent for an otherwise very modern moviemaker. Aficionados of the auteur – and anyone else who likes quality cinema – should definitely check it out.  (15 August, IFC, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Acacia


Korea continues to differentiate itself from the typical J-Horror histrionics (the Japanese do prefer their spirits and superstitions) with efforts like this – a 2003 creepfest that focuses on a childless family and the unusual child they adopt. Things seem desperate for the Kim family, until little Mi-sook comes into their life. At first, he’s fine. Then the couple discovers that they are finally going to have a child of their own. Guess who doesn’t take the news all that well. (12 August, Sundance Channel, 12AM EST)

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle


For some reason, Alan Rudolph can’t break into the mainstream. His movies have always been viewed with a mostly favorable eye by critics, but audiences are turned off by his insular, obtuse take on cinema. A perfect example is this otherwise excellent look at the famous writer and her snide cohorts of the notorious Algonquin Round Table. It’s the perfect subject for a witty, biting comedy, and Rudolph gathered a primo cast. Audiences still ignored it. (12 August, IFC, 6:45PM EST)

C.R.A.Z.Y.


It’s a standard family drama with a unique allegorical twist. It’s a tired take on interpersonal relationships dolled up with unnecessary quirk. It’s energetic. It’s exasperating. It’s a 2005 Canadian effort that many have praised passionately, while others have dismissed as whimsy gone wonky. Thanks to the programmers at Sundance, you can make up your own mind. Will you come away a convert, or will you sit and stare in startled disbelief over how anything this hamfisted became so celebrated? (12 August, Sundance Channel, 9PM EST)

Outsider Option
Dreamchild


Before he died of pancreatic cancer in 1994, Dennis Potter was famous for creating one of British television’s considered classics – 1986’s masterpiece The Singing Detective. But the year before, he developed a fantasy biography of the Reverend Charles L. Dodgson (also known to literary fans worldwide as Lewis Carroll), incorporating the fall out for the real life Alice with some sour, almost sinister views of the world beyond the rabbit hole and outside the looking glass. The intention was to infer as much as explain, using the religious figure’s too familiar obsession with the pre-pubescent child as a metaphor for the meaning inside of Wonderland’s surreal situations. When juxtaposed together – scenes of young Alice interacting with Dodgson, an older woman begrudgingly celebrating the infamous tome, animatronic character from the classic looking shabby and sounding seedy – we wind up with an intriguing interpretation of both the book and the man who made it. (15 August, Indieplex, 7:20PM EST)

Additional Choices
Price Night


It’s the Summer Under the Stars (or something like that) over at TCM, and in celebration of one of films foremost macabre maestros, the network will uncork a collection of Vincent Price standards. Highlights include The Tingler, The Last Man on Earth, and The Masque of the Red Death. While a few of the featured titles will test even the most ardent fan, the actor remains the golden standard of b-movie schlock. A marathon not to be missed. (10 August, Turner Classic Movies, 11AM – 6AM EST)

Don’t Knock the Rock


Parents in the ‘50s had it all figured out. Their kids were turning into juvenile delinquents not as an act of rebellion or white flight restlessness, but because of that demonic music known as rock and roll. Hollywood tapped into the medium’s notoriety by releasing talent-heavy quickies which used the boss new sound as the foundation for standard morality tales. This one features DJ Alan Freed and the proto-punk Bill Haley and the Comets. (14 August, Drive In Classics Canada, 9PM EST)

Aliens


James Cameron really had his work cut out for him when he landed the gig to follow-up Ridley Scott’s extraterrestrial “haunted house in space” saga. His artistic decision was a brilliant one – instead of going for more fright, he’d make a John Wayne war movie and set it on a planet overrun by a plague of the title characters. The results are one of the ‘80s best films, a whiz bang actioner that’s visionary and vibrant. (15 August, ActionMax, 5:40PM EST)

 


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