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Thursday, Sep 28, 2006

It’s beginning to sound like a SE&L mantra, but September’s last gasp as a source of small screen entertainment is overloaded with spotty selections – a below average animated flop, a startling personal/political drama, a flashy, mostly fictional bounty hunter biopic and a repeat of one of 2005’s biggest box office hits. And again, each one sits at the center of your favorite pay cable channel’s schedule this weekend, providing their own unique value and allure. Some may argue that this is typical of the movie networks’ programming style – mix and match until you find the proper combination of publicity and propaganda to rake in the regulars. At least each film featured offers something interesting, be it a revisionist look at science fiction action or an attempted CG update of a classic kiddie story. But the best bet is actually an off the radar effort providing one of our most gifted serious actors an intriguing individual to inhabit. That is also tells the relatively unknown true story about a man so disillusioned with the ‘70s that he would take out his frustration on the country’s commander in chief is another substantive selling point. If that subject seems too weighty however, the rest of the picks pack enough escapist entertainment to keep you calm for hours. Available for sampling the weekend of 29 September are:


HBOWar of the Worlds

Like an aging superstar stud, wandering onto a far more youthful playing field in preparation for showing the novices how the big boys do it, Steven Spielberg stepped up to bat in 2005 and blasted one out of the park with this smart, savvy remake/update. Juxtaposing fantasy with reality has always been one of the Blockbuster King’s greatest artistic strengths, but no one could have anticipated the “life during wartime” routine he used here. Instead of overpowering us with action and effects, Spielberg decided to keep everything within the POV of its main character – absentee dad Ray Ferrier. The result is a unique approach to spectacle, a cinematic twist that has planes crashing off screen and major battles playing out just beyond the character’s line of sight. Granted, HBO and Cinemax have milked this movie for months now – it premiered ages ago – but there’s no time like the present to revisit this stellar example of Spielberg’s motion picture prowess. Worlds is one of his more rousing successes. (Premieres Saturday 30 September, 8:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


CinemaxDomino

The filmic fates were just not ready to smile on this sleek Tony Scott style-fest. During the pre-release publicity, it was revealed that some of the storyline here was “enhanced” (read: massively altered) to smooth over some of real life bounty hunter Domino Harvey’s less than genial cinematic traits. Then, near the end of June 2005, Harvey was found dead, the victim of an accidental overdose. Nothing ruins your otherwise routine ‘rock ‘em, sock ‘em’ action pic more than an air of unease and the purposeful avoidance of your subject’s possible personal problems. What was supposed to be a break out turn for actress Keira Knightley – a chance to move away from all the frilly dresses and dainty accents – quickly de-evolved into a contrasting creation seemingly insensitive to Harvey’s plentiful personal demons. Though turns by a newly revitalized Mickey Rourke and Delroy Lindo helped keep this superficial ship afloat, this film is a clear case of fact overpowering the forces of fiction. (Premieres Saturday 30 September, 10:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


StarzChicken Little

This is it? This is the reason Disney decided to dump 2-D animation for the far more artistically infinite (and fiscally viable) CGI process? If so, someone needs to grab a drawing board out of the dumpster and start rethinking this crackpot cartooning decision, A.S.A.P. If this unnecessary update of the classic children’s nursery rhyme feels a little familiar, it’s because its alien-influenced narrative is highly reminiscent of 2001’s Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Besides, the House of Mouse understands almost instinctively how to micromanage all the fun out of its supposedly timeless family fare. With an over reliance on obvious pop culture references, showboating stunt casting, and a lack of legitimate charm, it’s no wonder Pixar’s John Lassiter was brought in to save the company’s pen and ink product. Without him, this dumb cluck’s sky wouldn’t be the only thing falling. (Premieres Saturday 30 September, 9:00pm EST).


ShowTOOThe Assassination of Richard Nixon

Based on a startling true story that most US citizens probably never knew existed, the illusions to 9/11 may have undermined this amazing movie’s potential popularity. Sean Penn plays a disgruntled member of the ‘70s rat race, looking to any target for his failing American Dream. Finally fed up, he decides to hijack an airplane and crash it into the White House. As history, there are many things amiss with this otherwise insightful drama. But as a pure psychological portrait, graced with another carefully considered bravura turn by the always interesting Penn, this is a stunning look at mental despair and human humiliation. While we may never know what drives a supposedly normal person to acts of outrageous self and social destruction, Assassination at least begins the process of understanding. If you failed to catch this compelling effort the first time it aired, now is your chance to play a little historical catch up. (Saturday 30 September, 9pm EST)


PopMatters Review


Seven Films, Seven Days

For October, the off title idea is simple – pick a different cable channel each and every day, and then find a film worth watching. While it sounds a little like an exercise in entertainment archeology, you’d be surprised at the broad range of potential motion picture repasts in the offing. Therefore, the first seven selections unearthed this week include:



30 September – Team America: World Police
South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone prove that clever social satire can come in any form, be it animated – or in this case – a full blown puppet production. (The Movie Channel – 9:30PM EST)


1 October – The Owl and the Pussycat
In order to establish her acting chops, determined diva Barbra Streisand took on the role here of a hooker with a heart of sarcasm. It remains one of her best efforts. (Flix – 6:15PM EST)


2 October – Scarface (Edited Version)
How do you make an uber-violent crime epic into a comedy? Strip away all the swear words, and giggle at the silly substitutions overdubbed onto Oliver Stone’s script. (American Movie Classics – 8PM EST)


3 October – Annie Hall
Woody Allen won multiple Oscars for this considered comedy. While a little dated from today’s relationship standards, Hall is still very funny, and very insightful. (Turner Classic Movies – 8PM EST)


4 October – Murphy’s Romance
An aging James Garner woos a determined, if directionless Sally Field. Sparks, and stellar performances, fly. (Encore Love – 9PM EST)


5 October – A Sound of Thunder
Need a break from all the GOOD sci-fi/fantasy flooding the motion picture marketplace? Then give this below-average B-movie a try. (Action Max – 10:30PM EST)


6 October – Cast Away
Tom Hanks stars as a Fed-Ex man stranded on a desert island. Once this movie moves to the mainland, it looses a lot of its dramatic drawing power and punch. (TNT – 8PM EST)


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Thursday, Sep 21, 2006

As the month of September winds down, it’s a fairly routine 50/50 proposition on the premium movie channels this weekend. Granted, none of the offerings are instant classics, and if you base success on box office, only one truly triumphed (the other’s stellar fiscal performance masked a massive budget and even more monstrous marketing campaign). Still, if you’re up for a little man vs. monster brutality – complete with overreaching firepower – or a second serving of Elmore Leonard’s neo-noir, you just might be in luck. In fact, with the local Cineplex offering the kind of critically questionable vehicles that seem to slowly slog along between the blockbuster biz of Summer and the official start of awards season, you may be as equally entertained on the small screen as with a trip to the bigs. Besides, at least one of this weekend’s titles promises the kind of no holds barred brazenness that’s been missing from most mainstream comedies. So, for your consideration, here are the titles trying to grab your attention for the weekend of 22 September:


HBOWedding Crashers

In an age where ‘PG-13’ rules the Cineplex roost, and audiences apparently want their humor on the goofy or gross side, this raunchy R-rated comedy was a welcome relief from all the pro-PC platitudes stinking up the screen. With the viable chemistry between leads Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson (as men who arrive, uninvited, to other people’s ceremonies and cruise for some easily available action) and the laughably lewd hi-jinx they get into, this was one of 2005’s better efforts. While Cinemax subscribers have already had their fill of these naughty nuptial nogoodniks, it’s time for the Home Box Office crowd to get a taste of this film’s wild and wanton wackiness. (Premieres Saturday 23 September, 8:00pm EST)


PopMatters Review


CinemaxDoom

Even with the rising stardom of one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, no one except die-hard ‘Doomers’ were expected to give this adaptation of the popular title a chance. Turns out, those anonymous analysts were right. Granted, revamping a first person shooter experience noted for its horror, monsters and gore quotient into a continuous 100 minute narrative would seem like a tough enough challenge. Yet after jettisoning much of the original storyline in favor of a more Aliens-esque approach, even the loyalists felt lost. With only a single memorable POV sequence, this dull, derivative is high on body count, low on logic and proves that it’s the VERY rare game that can make the cinematic grade. (Premieres Saturday 23 September, 10:00pm EST)


PopMatters Review


StarzThe Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

In an obvious bid for some Lord of the Rings style revenue, Disney teamed up with late author C.S. Lewis’s multi-volume Christian allegory, and laid on as much CGI spectacle as they could. The result was a fairly well regarded hit. But first time live action director Andrew Adamson (who helped helm the first two Shrek epics) soon learned the lessons his Kiwi better Peter Jackson had to bear as well – fans will fry you if you’re unfaithful to the source, critics will complain if you sacrifice drama for the sake of literary loyalty. Where the Rings trilogy succeeded on all levels however, this heavy, ponderous production only soared when the action trumped the traditional narrative elements. Not surprisingly, a sequel is in the works. (Premieres Saturday 23 September, 9:00pm EST)


PopMatters Review


ShowtimeBe Cool

Somehow, this smacks of desperation. John Travolta used the one two punch of Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty to resurrect his flagging feature film career back in 1996. Now, 10 years later, he is back as mobster turned mogul Chili Palmer, and not surprising, looking for yet another considered career boast. Not even the eccentric cast – featuring Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer and a previous named ex-wrestler – can save this sloppy, silly sequel. Moving the action from the movie to the music business may have seemed like a logical - and literary - move, but it only stands to rehash material that was tenuous to begin with. Even with the thankless artifice of Barry Sonnenfeld’s mannered direction out of the picture (F. Gary Gray is in charge here), this is still one revisit too many. (Saturday 23 September, 9pm EST)


PopMatters Review




Indie Film Focus: September 2006


Last month, Turner Classic Movies was kind enough to supply us with 30 days of star driven righteousness to keep the small screen film finds freely flowing. With the network back to it’s rather hit or miss programming, SE&L has decided to focus on another facet of the cinematic canon – the Independent film. Thanks to IFC, otherwise known as The Independent Film Channel, and The Sundance Channel, there is currently a 24 hour a day supply of outsider excellence. Some of the movie suggestions here will seem obvious. Others will reflect the divergent nature of the art form’s overall approach. Whatever the case, these are the highlights for the week of 16 September through 22 September:


IFC


Wonderland (2003)
Val Kilmer stars in this intriguing look at these infamous murders, and the possible connection to porn star John Holmes.
(Sunday 24 September, 9pm EST)


Talk To Her (2002)
Pedro Almodovar won an Oscar for his screenplay to this unusual character drama revolving around life, death, and the tenuous, comatose connections between.
(Tuesday 26 September, 9pm EST)


Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003)
The Vermeer masterwork gets its own unusual cinematic explanation in this fascinating film. With Colin Firth as the artist and Scarlett Johansson as his muse.
(Wednesday 25 September, 9pm EST)


Secrets and Lies (1996)
Director Mike Leigh turns his idiosyncratic improvisational style loose on the family drama, with amazing, masterful results.
(Thursday 28 September, 5:45pm EST)


Sundance Channel


Dazed and Confused
The ultimate time warp back to the ‘70s, D&C also stands as the final statement on the joy and illogical liberty of youth.
(Saturday, 23 September, 10pm EST)


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Thursday, Sep 14, 2006

September is starting to become the month of mediocrity on your favorite premium cable channels. This week alone offers one average box office hit, two ‘one week and out’ theatrical bombs, and a ‘could have been a cult contender’ urban comedy. When you put them all together, they make for a quartet of questionable entertainment offerings. As a matter of fact, you’d be better served heading over to Turner Classic Movies on 16 Saturday and catching the classic Casablanca at 6:00pm EST, and then Paper Moon at midnight, rather than scanning through the atrophying amusement on hand here. Still, if you must get your pay TV money’s worth this week, you’re going to have to lower your cinematic standards a series of significant notches. Honestly SE&L and PopMatters can’t recommend any of the offerings making their premiere this week. For those still interested in what’s available, here’s the rundown on 16 September:


HBOFantastic Four

When it was originally release in 1994, the Roger Corman production of this classic Marvel title was done purely as a legal maneuver. When purchasing the title, a deal was struck. Unless a film was made of this potential property within a given time frame, the rights would revert back to the original owners. Never one to let a missed monetary opportunity pass him by, the famed b-movie maverick rushed out this sloppy, stupid spectacle. So here’s the question – what was 20th Century Fox’s excuse? They had time, talent and an eager comic geek audience on their side. Granted, this story of astronauts bombarded by space radiation, rendering them suddenly gifted with superpowers, has its fans and made enough of a box office splash to warrant a sequel, but its still substandard on many moviemaking levels. (Premieres Saturday 16 September, 8:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


CinemaxThe Ice Harvest

Second only to a failed horror film in cinematic sadness is the lax dark comedy. This one should have been better. It had lots of noted names behind the scenes (director Harold Ramis, screenwriters Richard Russo and Robert Benton) and a more than competent cast (Billy Bob Thorton, John Cusack, Oliver Platt). Yet this crime caper, part cynical seasonal struggle, part overly clever caper, suffers from an unsure tone, careless plotting and a less than satisfying conclusion. While some critics enjoyed the combination of Cusack and Thorton, and forgave the film its scattered sensibility, audiences obviously didn’t agree. Barely making back half of its $18 million budget, this frozen funny business got a clear cold shoulder from the majority of movie mavens. (Premieres Saturday 16 September, 10:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


StarzAn Unfinished Life

Like Madonna before her, Jennifer Lopez has been riding on the success of her first few film roles – Selena, Out of Sight, The Cell – for far too long now. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that this Empress has no cinematic clothes. Recent efforts like Angel Eyes, Enough, Maid in Manhattan and The Wedding Planner have been hits, but not necessarily because Ms. Cullo Grande has anything to offer as an actress. A clear example of this concept comes to us via this resoundingly rejected weeper about family and fathers. Taking on the role of J-Lo’s pop is the ethnically unbelievable Robert Redford (???) who spends a lot of time with his best pal Morgan Freeman. Talk about diversity in action. Sadly, not even the racial mix can make this movie work. It’s a slow slog through an equally muddy motion picture bog. (Premieres Saturday 16 September, 9:00pm EST).




PopMatters Review


ShowtimeSoul Plane

Here’s a lesson for first time feature filmmaker Jessy Terrero – never promise a crude, rude urban comedy when you have absolutely no desire to deliver one. Soul Plane stumbles, and finally stinks, for reasons that are so obvious that race plays little part in the pathetic nature of this nonsense. With a cast that combines ultra cool rappers (Snoop Dogg, Method Man), sensationally gifted stand-ups (Mo’Nique, Loni Love, D.L. Hughley) and a few off the radar has-beens (Tom Arnold), what should have been a combination of Airplane! and Dolemite ends up being a boring, bewildering, unfunny farce. When you can’t even get a pimp joke right, when your flatulence riffs are just repugnant, you don’t deserve your wit wings. (Saturday 16 September, 8pm EST)



PopMatters Review


 


Indie Film Focus: September 2006

Last month, Turner Classic Movies was kind enough to supply us with 30 days of star driven righteousness to keep the small screen film finds freely flowing. With the network back to it’s rather hit or miss programming, SE&L has decided to focus on another facet of the cinematic canon – the Independent film. Thanks to IFC, otherwise known as The Independent Film Channel, and The Sundance Channel, there is currently a 24 hour a day supply of outsider excellence. Some of the movie suggestions here will seem obvious. Others will reflect the divergent nature of the art form’s overall approach. Whatever the case, these are the highlights for the week of 16 September through 22 September:


IFC



Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
Woody Allen’s love letter to his favorite musical artform, this genuinely jazzy fictional biopic has Sean Penn delivering yet another of his definitive bravura performances.
(Saturday 16 September, 9:35pm EST)


Miller’s Crossing (1990)
The best movie of the ‘90s, bare none. The Coen Brothers borrow the crime genre from all its motion picture practitioners and make it wholly their own.
(Sunday 17 September, 6:25pm EST)


Auto Focus (2002)
The life and times of Bob Crane has always cried out for a brazen biography. Thankfully, Paul Schrader delivers a devastating look at the doomed TV icon.
(Tuesday 19 September, 11:15pm EST)


Female Trouble (1974)
John Water’s second certifiable masterpiece is also his most accessible. If you don’t mind being offended by blatant bad taste, you’ll love this loony laugh-a-thon.
(Wednesday 20 September, 10:35pm EST)


Sundance Channel



Fearless Freaks (2005)
Though considered part of the fringe facets of the music biz, the Flaming Lips get the regular royal treatment in this fascinating documentary look at their crazy career. 
(Sunday, 17 September, 7:15pm EST)


The Beguiled (1971)
Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel delivered more than just cowboys and cops with their collaborations. This Civil War thriller is proof of their rich cinematic range.
(Monday, 18 September, 12:00pm EST)


Ju-On (2000)
No one does J-Horror better than the Japanese. Witness Takashi Shimizu’s original Grudge fest, a wonderfully wicked look at secrets and their sinister consequences.
(Thursday, 19 September, 12:30am EST)


Topsy Turvy (1999)
Mike Leigh usually doesn’t do historical figures as part of his improvisational output. But this look at Gilbert and Sullivan is a sensational and effective period piece.
(Friday, 21 September, 10:00pm EST)


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Thursday, Sep 7, 2006

Heaven help the person looking for a little above board entertainment via their pay TV provider this weekend. The movies the big four premium channels are providing appear so bereft of clear pleasure principles that its hard to imagine anyone getting anything other than frustrated from such flummoxing choices. Sure, the Jet Li movie is a nice riff on the routine fight film, and Starz’s sullen entry does try to create another variation on the ‘adultery is killer’ thriller. But when Jessica Simpson and her whole-assed awfulness is the highlight of the schedule, perhaps its time to consider reading a book. Heck, even Showtime has split the scene, at least temporarily, showing a marathon of its suburban pot drama Weeds instead. So, if you enjoy slightly average action, below average acting and even more mediocre moviemaking acumen, you’ll feel right at home with at least two of the movies premiering on Saturday. Specifically, one will be suffering through the following filmic flotsam:


HBOUnleashed

*
Why does Hollywood have such a hard time figuring out what to do with Jet Li. He’s charismatic, graceful, athletic and charming. He always comes across as considered and commanding. Just because English is his subsidiary language doesn’t mean he can’t have a meaningful mainstream movie career. Yet Tinsel Town is torn as to how best to utilize his sizeable skills. In the meantime, he returns to his homeland to churn out classics like Hero and this fall’s Fearless. Here, paired with the Transporter duo of Luc Besson (script), and Louis Leterrier (director), we have a far more effective actioner than previous Li efforts. Combining fabulous fight scenes with just the slightest twists on its melodramatic conventions, we end up with something more satisfying than stagnant. (Premieres Saturday 9 September, 8:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


CinemaxThe Dukes of Hazzard (2005)

Ouch! Here’s a film so painfully pathetic that SE&L has a hard time even THINKING about it, let alone discussing it. Marketed to make money by trading on Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass fanbase, as well as Jessica Simpson’s dumbass personality, the end result was a one note novelty that proved the potential of the adolescent male demographic to show up for almost anything. Following this formula, it won’t be long before someone supes up Nanny and the Professor with the Pussycat Dolls as a determined group of barely dressed babysitters, and Bam Margera as the lonely widower teacher desperate for help raising his wee ones. Now just add Li’l Jon as the nutty next-door neighbor and you’ve got another hap-Hazzard style payday. (Premieres Saturday 9 September, 10:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


StarzDerailed

What’s worse than a movie starring Jennifer Aniston? How about a film matching her with the enormously talented Clive Owen. Since showing some decent performance chops in 2002’s The Good Girl, the artist formerly known as a Friends haircut has had an incredibly difficult time translating her ‘talent’ to the big screen. This Fatal Attraction styled thriller is no different. While many critics praised the narrative’s no frills attempt at showing relationships in decline, and affairs as a kind of interpersonal poultice, the minute blackmailer Vincent Cassel enters the fray as the tripwire terror, the plot follows the film’s title. Not even a last minute twist (totally telegraphed along the way) can save this sloppy, ineffective flop. (Premieres Saturday 9 September, 9:00pm EST).



PopMatters Review


Showtime ShowcaseJules et Jim*

Why not avoid all the Tinsel Town tripe being forwarded this weekend and settle in with something REALLY special. Critic turned filmmaker François Truffaut used the growing French New Wave mandate (break all the rules of cinema) to create a masterful celebration of the medium’s many possibilities. At the center is an unconventional love story between two friends and the flighty femme that would control them both. Everything about this film defies expectation, taunts tradition and redefines the motion picture language. Like all great experiments, it has its flaws. Like all tests of talent, it’s astounding. As much of a challenge to an audience as an entertainment, there are very few films like this post-modern masterpiece. (Saturday 9 September, 8:00pm EST)


PopMatters Review


 


Indie Film Focus: September 2006

Last month, Turner Classic Movies was kind enough to supply us with 30 days of star driven righteousness to keep the small screen film finds freely flowing. With the network back to it’s rather hit or miss programming, SE&L has decided to focus on another facet of the cinematic canon – the Independent film. Thanks to IFC, otherwise known as The Independent Film Channel, and The Sundance Channel, there is currently a 24 hour a day supply of outsider excellence. Some of the movie suggestions here will seem obvious. Others will reflect the divergent nature of the art form’s overall approach. Whatever the case, these are the highlights for the week of 9 September through 15 September:


IFC


Magnolia (1999)
Paul Thomas Anderson delivers his ultimate ode to Robert Altman with this evocative Short Cuts like look at lives in apocalyptic disarray
(Saturday 9 September, 7:15pm EST)


Black Sunday (1960)
It’s the title that marked Italy’s ascension to movie macabre prominence. Mario Bava directs the ethereal Barbara Steele in a story of witches, possession and blood! 
(Tuesday 12 September, 6:25pm EST)


Human Nature (2001)
The last time director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charles Kaufman got together, they delivered Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This film’s ALMOST as good.
(Wednesday 13 September, 9:00pm EST)


Ed Wood (1994)
Tim Burton’s love letter to the oddball icon behind Plan 9 from Outer Space, this smart little film is still looking for the respect it deserved 12 year ago.
(Thursday 14 September, 5:45pm EST)


Sundance Channel


Decline of Western Civilization: Part 2 – The Metal Years (1988)
Wanna see something really scary? Director Penelope Spheeris delivers the shocks in this documentary on ‘80s hair metal, with all its decadent, self-deluded dimensions.
(Sunday, 10 September, 10:00pm EST)


11’09"01 - September 11 (2002)
A group of foreign filmmakers try to find cinematic answers to the events that happened in lower Manhattan that fateful fall day, and illustrate its affect on the world.
(Monday, 11 September, 11:00pm EST)


The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Martin Scorsese takes on Catholicism and the Bible in this remarkable adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s controversial novel. A true misunderstood masterpiece
(Thursday, 14 September, 10:00pm EST)


Monster in a Box
The late, great Spaulding Gray discusses his mother’s insanity, and the creation of his novel, the “monster” known as Impossible Vacation, in this amazing monologue.
(Friday, 15 September, 4:15pm EST)


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Thursday, Aug 31, 2006

It’s September, and that means a new month, a new page on the desktop calendar, and a new slate of movies for your perusal on all four premium cable channels. Actually, that final bit is not quite true. A couple of decades ago, when the coaxial held equal footing in the home video market for the available audience attention span, pay TV networks would dump the previous 30 days worth of titles, loading up the preceding four weeks with all manner of ‘new’ motion picture product. Granted, the schedule was shamefully similar to what had been offered before – forgotten films, made for cable schlock, your basic b-movies – yet as long as it was “different” enough, they felt they were fulfilling their promise.


Nowadays, with DVD dominating the demographic, the premiums have wised up. They rotate their stock like the commercial crops that they represent, always feeding the merchandising machine that keeps their subscriptions active and their customers calm. Then once a week, typically on a Saturday, the latest big name ‘blockbuster’ drops, like a carrot in front of an overtired mainstream mule. The arrivals this week – 2, September - are an interesting combination, representing some of 2005’s best and more baffling efforts. They include:


HBOWallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

*
After the smashing critical success of Chicken Run, the geniuses over at Aardman decided to give their seminal twosome their own big screen epic. Using the painstaking art of stop motion animation, and setting their tale within the unlikely genre of horror, the result was one of ‘05’s best efforts. As characters, Wallace (absent minded inventor) and Gromit (faithful canine companion) represent a perfect combination of the clever (dog) and the clueless (man). Given Aardman’s acknowledged skill and craftsmanship, it’s no big surprise that this delightful duo easily make a transition from short film prominence to full-length feature masterpiece. (Premieres Saturday 26 August, 8:00pm EST)



PopMatters Review


CinemaxCinderella Man

*
Always seen as the blockbuster/Oscar contender that never was, Ron Howard’s look at Depression era boxing champion Jim Braddock was probably the victim of too many expectations and too much exterior baggage. It didn’t help matters that star Russell Crowe was going through one of his more “uncomfortable” fame phases, and that the brain trust behind the final release date decided to premiere this prestige picture in the middle of the Summer’s celebration of superficiality. Add in the typical Hollywood whitewashing of anything remotely controversial and you have the standard story of the human spirit overcoming social adversity. If you didn’t already catch it on sister station HBO, now’s your chance to judge its mixed merits for yourself. (Premieres Saturday 26 August, 10:00pm EST)



PopMatters Review


StarzThe Greatest Game Ever Played

*
Actor Bill Paxton’s (Aliens, A Simple Plan) directorial follow-up to his 2001 creeper Frailty couldn’t be more dissimilar. Combining your standard underdog sports drama with a turn of the century period piece, Paxton presents the true story of a 20 year old linkster who actually defeated the reigning 1913 US Open champion Harry Vardon. While golf films in general don’t inspire a lot of entertainment confidence (The Legend of Baggar Vance anyone?) Paxton plays up the populist angle in the material, giving the entire enterprise a nice, nuanced feel good gloss. Even more amazing, this project was scripted, and based on a non-fiction tome by none of than Twin Peaks scribe Mark Frost. (Premieres Saturday 26 August, 9:00pm EST)



PopMatters Review


ShowtimeThe Woodsman

*
Though he seems to be better known for that slightly clever ‘six degrees of separation’ game than his recent movie roles, the truth is that Kevin Bacon has been making some brave choices as of late when it comes to his career. Take this terrific 2004 drama in which the former Footloose star plays a just-paroled pedophile trying to regain a sense of normalcy in a world unready and unwilling to forgive his past. Not only does Bacon basically implode his former friendly frat boy image, but he also redefines his future as a sly, subtle and serious actor. Though the subject matter may seem shocking, it is nothing compared to the astonishing work done here by this unfairly underrated performer. (Saturday 12 August, 8pm EST)


PopMatters Review


* = PopMatters Picks


 


Indie Film Focus: September 2006

Last month, Turner Classic Movies was kind enough to supply us with 30 days of star driven righteousness to keep the small screen film finds freely flowing. With the network back to it’s rather hit or miss programming, SE&L has decided to focus on another facet of the cinematic canon – the Independent film. Thanks to IFC, otherwise known as The Independent Film Channel, and The Sundance Channel, there is currently a 24 hour a day supply of outsider excellence. Some of the movie suggestions here will seem obvious. Others will reflect the divergent nature of the art form’s overall approach. Whatever the case, these are the highlights for the week of 2 September through 8 September:


IFC



Bamboozled (2000)
Spike Lee’s modern minstrel show loses its way toward the end, but while it’s working, it is one devastating denouncement of the media and its approach to race.
(Saturday 2 September, 11:00pm EST)


American Movie (1999)
All Mark Borschardt ever wanted to be was a filmmaker. Thanks to documentarian Chris Smith, he became something more – a symbol of irrepressible Indie dedication.
(Sunday 3 September, 5:00pm EST)


City of God (2002)
Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund didn’t invent the gangster film, but thanks to their efforts behind this stellar cinematic masterpiece, it sure feels like they did.
(Tuesday 5 September, 10:45pm EST)


Run Lola Run (1998)
While he’s never lived up to the promise he showed here, German director Tom Tykwer still deserves a place in foreign film history for this kinetic crime thriller.
(Wednesday 6 September, 5:45pm EST)


Sundance Channel



Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Remember when Guy Ritchie made GOOD movies NOT starring his shapeshifting dance diva wife? That’s okay, this British take on the mob movie will remind you.
(Saturday, 2 September, 7:00pm EST)


DiG! (2004)
Without question, the definitive rock and roll documentary. Ondi Timoner uncovers the insanity both inside and outside the music biz, and it’s not a very pretty sight.
(Monday, 4 September, 7:00pm EST)


Jesus Christ, Superstar (1973)
Controversial at the time (holy hippies?), Norman Jewison’s adaptation of this revered rock opera still plays as vital and as volatile as it did three decades ago.
(Wednesday, 6 September, 7:00pm EST)


Fellini’s Casanova (1976)
Always known for his cinematic excesses, this is considered by many to be the Italian maestro’s overkill breaking point. Tune in for yourself and see if it’s true.
(Thursday, 7 September, 7:00pm EST)


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