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Thursday, Aug 24, 2006

As the summer blockbuster carnival slowly “slithers” away from your local Multiplex, the major pay cable channels think its award season circa 2005. Two of the four offerings premiering this week were considered shoe-ins for Oscar nods once the nominations hit in February. They were even bolstered by some helpful pre-Academy nods. Not surprisingly, they were left wanting when the names were finally read. This doesn’t mean they’re not worth checking out, though. As a matter of fact, compared to the action-oriented dreck one channel is passing off as entertainment, and the dearth of new titles elsewhere, this pair of potential prestige pictures may be your best bet for a little Saturday night small screen fun. Here’s what’s on tap for the weekend of 25, August:


HBOIn Her Shoes

*
When is a chick flick not your typical chick flick? When it’s directed by LA Confidential helmer Curtis Hanson. Sure, there are formulaic elements to this odd couple sister combo, but Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette manage to move beyond the archetype, turning what could have been a conventional comedy into more of a carefully realized character study. With the arrival of Shirley MacLaine as a disgruntle grandmother who holds some secrets of her own, this is not your typical Lifetime-like melodrama. Thanks to Hanson and his cast, the syrupy saccharine levels are kept to a manageable minimum. (Premieres Saturday 26 August, 8:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


CinemaxThe Transporter 2

It’s more bare-chested and knuckled fun for everyone’s favorite UK himbo, Jason Statham. In this sequel to the famously unclothed one’s previous action packed DVD hit from 2002, Statham’s Frank Martin is in Miami, and implicated in a kidnapping. Naturally, this means he’s must kick ass, take names, and strip down to his skivvies every now and again to clear his name. As the stunt work and set pieces practice their physics-defying magic, our only choice is to turn off our brains and enjoy the superficial thrills and antihero chills. Otherwise, the logic leaps and lapses become far too obvious to ignore. (Premieres Saturday 26 August, 10:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


StarzRent

Why it took so long to bring Jonathan Larson’s Tony Award winning musical to the silver screen, especially with the cinematic conceit of employing the original cast, is anyone’s guest. Why it failed to fulfill the promise of this rock show remix of La Boheme is a little more self-evident. Director Chris Columbus may be a lot of things, but a filmmaker in tune with the mandates of the song and dance format he is not. Also, the narrative’s AIDS oriented storyline is definitely dated, particularly in light of our current sense of empowerment over the disease. Still, the music and the performances remind us of the power inherent in the wholly American artform. Too bad the translation failed to capture it correctly. (Premieres Saturday 26 August, 9:00pm EST).



PopMatters Review


ShowtimeThe Passion of the Christ

*
While he waits the frightening fall out from his undeniably Anti-Semitic remarks, here’s a chance to see Mel Gibson practice what he apparently preaches. This is a gorgeous, visually stunning film, despite its splatter/snuff reputation and heavy headed religiosity. While the Jews definitely get it in the far too literal Bible belting, it’s the Romans that actually come across as slobbering, sadistic animals. Carrying too much personal baggage to exist exclusively as iconography, what we have here is still an evocative and inflammatory motion picture. (Saturday 26 August, 10pm EST)


PopMatters Review


 


Turner Classic Movies: August: Summer Under the Stars Month

Leave it to the classic film channel to find novel ways of constantly recycling its catalog of amazing Tinsel Town artifacts. In August, the station will salute several celebrated names from Hollywood’s Golden Age upward, using each daylong promotion as an excuse to screen numerous offerings from the specific star’s catalog. A few of the highlights for the week of 25 August to 31 August are:



26 August – Cary Grant

No one, before or since, matched his delicate air of suave sophistication. Sadly, many thought such a style came naturally and never gave him the acting credit he so richly deserved. Let the performance reevaluation begin with these fine films:


6:00 AM Monkey Business (1952)* 
7:45 AM She Done Him Wrong (1933)* 
9:00 AM Cary Grant: A Class Apart (2004)* 
10:30 AM Operation Petticoat (1959) 
12:45 PM Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer, The (1947) 
2:30 PM Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)* 
4:15 PM Dream Wife (1953) 
6:00 PM Father Goose (1964)* 
8:00 PM Gunga Din (1939)* 
10:00 PM Arsenic And Old Lace (1944)* 
12:15 AM North By Northwest (1959)* 
2:45 AM Suspicion (1941)* 
4:30 AM Every Girl Should Be Married (1949) 


29 August – Ingrid Bergman

While she may always be remembered as fragile femme fatale alongside Bogart’s magnificent ex-pat machismo in Casablanca, there was much more to this Swedish beauty than her ravishing looks and a scandalous affair with director Roberto Rossellini. Here’s proof:


6:00 AM Rage In Heaven (1941) 
8:00 AM Stromboli (1950)* 
10:00 AM Europa ‘51 (1952) 
12:00 PM Yellow Rolls-Royce, The (1964) 
2:15 PM Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1941)* 
4:15 PM Gaslight (1944)* 
6:15 PM Casablanca (1942)* 
8:00 PM For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943)* 
11:00 PM Cactus Flower (1969)* 
1:00 AM Adam Had Four Sons (1941) 
3:00 AM Saratoga Trunk (1945) 


30 August – Sidney Poitier

In an era when racial divides were unrelenting in both their cruelty and illogic, he towered above them, both in talent and tolerance. As the first performer of color ever to win the Oscar for Best Actor, here’s several reasons why he’s remembered as much for his acting as his activism: 


6:00 AM Blackboard Jungle (1955)*
8:00 AM Patch Of Blue, A (1965) * 
10:00 AM Edge of the City (1957) 
11:30 AM Red Ball Express (1952) 
1:00 PM Defiant Ones, The (1958) * 
2:45 PM Band Of Angels (1957) 
5:00 PM Sidney Poitier: One Bright Light (2000) 
6:00 PM Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) * 
8:00 PM For Love of Ivy (1968) 
10:00 PM In The Heat Of The Night (1967) * 
12:00 AM They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) 
2:00 AM Wilby Conspiracy, The (1975) 
4:00 AM Something Of Value (1957) 


* = PopMatters Picks


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Thursday, Aug 17, 2006

It’s fairly hit and miss this weekend at your favorite pay TV premium channels. Frankly, the fact that there’s anything decent during what is typically viewed as the graveyard shift of the television season is surprising. HBO has a horrible entry, a misfire by two usually gifted big screen performers, while Showtime is repeating Tyler Perry’s first filmed “gospel play”. Then again, Cinemax is premiering its exclusive run of the already aired comic book classic from 2005, centering on that infamous man who loved bat dancing, while Starz delivers a much maligned masterwork from Elf director Jon Favreau. Depending on your particular motion picture bent, it’s either feast of famine over the next few days. Our money is on the fanciful and the fantastic, versus the mediocre and the near-minstrel. Specifically, here’s what you have to look forward to:


HBOTwo for the Money

Bombs Away! It’s August, and yet Home Box Office insists upon serving us turkey. This lackluster gambling thriller from last year featured a decent Matthew McConaughey, a plaster peeling Pacino, and lots of shots of men staring at televised sports. Director D.J. Caruso, a somewhat successful TV helmer, had a minor hit with the Angelina Jolie serial killer film Taking Lives in 2004. This, apparently, gave him the clout to create a rambling, routine story of innocence, and wagers, lost. There is probably a good story about the sins of betting somewhere in this misguided mess. Maybe cable is the perfect place to try and find it. Good luck. (Premieres Saturday 19 August, 8:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


CinemaxBatman Begins*

Though it’s already premiered on sister station HBO, there’s no time like the present to get acquainted – or for fans, reacquainted – with Christopher Nolan’s exceptional reimagining of the Dark Knight saga. Featuring near perfect casting (something that the just announced sequel seems to be already lacking) and a more psychologically dense interpretation of the Bat/Bruce character, what Tim Burton’s mid-‘80s jumpstart promised, Nolan and Christian Bale definitely delivered. In fact, the former American Psycho might just be the best actor ever to take on the superhero challenge. While Spidey still holds the prize for overall comic creativity (thanks to a certain Mr. Raimi), this is one reborn franchise that definitely deserves to live on. (Premieres Saturday 19 August, 10:00pm EST)


PopMatters Review


Starz Zathura*

One of the most misunderstood and unjustly underrated films of last year, Zathura suffered from something called “The Jumanji Syndrome”. Both marketers and critics decided to buzzword this exceptional fantasy to death, making the connection between Jon Favreau’s fine sci-fi adventure and that long ago excuse for some post-Jurassic CGI more meaningful than it was. True, author Chris Van Allsburg was responsible for the books both were based on (he also write The Polar Express), but that’s where the similarities end. Jumanji was an over hyped Robin Williams vehicle with significant narrative flaws. Zathura, on the other hand, is a new classic. (Premieres Saturday 19 August, 9:00pm EST)



PopMatters Review


Showtime Too Diary of a Mad Black Woman

A lot of critics despise Tyler Perry and his “chitlin’ circuit” efforts, but this critic finds him a deeply compelling, occasionally inventive performer. While Diary doesn’t do his crazed comic character, the gun-toting, pot smoking out of control Grandma Mabel “Madea” Simmons justice (only the stage plays prove her amazing mantle), this racially specific dramedy deserves some respect for reaching out to a demographic not usually in tune with what Tinsel Town has to offer. If you take the entire experience with a huge grain of cinematic salt (yes, you saw right - that is a man playing an elderly woman) you’ll more than likely be able to find the meaning inside this mess. Besides, you have to admit it; Perry is pretty funny, sometimes. (Saturday 19 August, 7pm EST)


PopMatters Review


 


Turner Classic Movies: August: Summer Under the Stars Month

Leave it to the classic film channel to find novel ways of constantly recycling its catalog of amazing Tinsel Town artifacts. In August, the station will salute several celebrated names from Hollywood’s Golden Age upward, using each daylong promotion as an excuse to screen numerous offerings from the specific star’s catalog. A few of the highlights for the week of 19 August to 25 August are:



19 August – Audrey Hepburn

She was sophistication and urbanity in an era pushing for more realism and Method alienation. That this elegant lady survived to become an icon to both fashion and fame is a testament to her talent, and her radiant charms. Enjoy the following line-up of loveliness:
6:00 am Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)*
7:30 am Children’s Hour, The (1961)* 
9:30 am Charade (1963)* 
11:45 am Love In The Afternoon (1957) 
2:00 pm Sabrina (1954)* 
4:00 pm Always (1989) 
6:00 pm Funny Face (1957)
8:00 pm My Fair Lady (1964)* 
11:00 pm Nun’s Story, The (1959) 
2:00 am Wait Until Dark (1967)* 
4:00 am Green Mansions (1959) 


22 August – Rita Hayworth

To many, she remains a mere pinup, a glamour gal whose far more remembered for being a part of every WWII GI’s barracks (and a certain Shawshank prisoner’s wall) than for any performance she ever gave. But this raven-haired honey made an impact on the silver screen, with a sexual potency prevalent in many of the following features:
6:00 am Rita (2003)* 
7:00 am Renegade Ranger (1938) 
8:30 am Susan And God (1940) 
10:30 am Strawberry Blonde, The (1941) 
12:30 pm Pal Joey (1957)* 
2:30 pm Money Trap, The (1966) 
4:30 pm Only Angels Have Wings (1939) 
6:45 pm Music in My Heart (1940)* 
8:00 pm Loves of Carmen, The (1948)* 
10:00 pm Gilda (1946)* 
12:00 am Lady From Shanghai, The (1948)*
1:30 am Rita (2003) 
2:30 am Affectionately Yours (1941) 
4:00 am Wrath Of God, The (1972) 


25 August – Jimmy Stewart

He’s everyman and no one, a symbol of something beyond our concept of humanity and decency, and yet a performer so slippery he could play almost any kind of character and make it believable. Though the dearth of Hitckcock here is disturbing, the rest of this day’s celebration is sensational, including:
6:00 am After The Thin Man (1936) 
8:00 am Of Human Hearts (1938) 
9:45 am Shopworn Angel, The (1938) 
11:15 am Shop Around The Corner, The (1940)* 
1:00 pm Malaya (1949) 
2:45 pm Far Country, The (1955) 
4:30 pm Night Passage (1957)* 
6:15 pm Naked Spur, The (1953) 
8:00 pm Shenandoah (1965)* 
10:00 pm Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)* 
12:15 am Stratton Story, The (1949) 
2:15 am Bell, Book and Candle (1959)* 
4:15 am No Time For Comedy (1940) 


* = PopMatters Picks


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Friday, Aug 11, 2006

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



HBOCharlie and the Chocolate Factory*

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


PopMatters Review:
PopMatters DVD Review


CinemaxRed Eye*

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


PopMatters Review


StarzThe Legend of Zorro (2005)

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


PopMatters Review
PopMatters DVD Review


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

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


PopMatters Review
PopMatters DVD Review


Turner Classic Movies: August: Summer Under the Stars Month

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



16 August – Joseph Cotten

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


18 August– Bela Lugosi


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


* = PopMatters Picks


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Thursday, Aug 3, 2006

Ever since the mid-‘80s, pay movie channels like Home Box Office, Cinemax and Showtime have offered Saturday Night premieres of first run Hollywood films—or, at the very least, what THEY consider to be first run Hollywood films. Anyway, as part of the Short Ends and Leader Blog. PopMatters will look at these upcoming debuts, as well as point out other notes of cinematic interest available on the network schedule. For the week of 4 August, here is what’s arriving:



HBOMr. & Mrs. Smith

Okay, okay, everyone is just plain sick and tired of Angelina and Brad by now. They’re really hot. They’ve had a baby. Blah, blah, blah. While deciphering why the public is so fascinated by this couple, you can experience the film that started their fairy tale freefall into tabloid tenancy. Call it a hyperactive War of the Roses, or an overdone screwball comedy, but this he and she hitman saga is a less than perfect offering that still crackles with enough glittering superstar spark that it almost overcomes many of its missteps.  (Premieres Saturday 5 August, 8:00pm EST).


PopMatters review: Click HERE


Cinemax The Island


Gee, another pair of famous faces, another high concept action movie that didn’t really live up to expectations. Godfather of the gauche epic, Michael Bay, may have thought he could fool film fans with his high tech retread of Parts: The Clonus Horror, but by casting the frequently flat Ewen McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, this sterile sci-fi film was guaranteed never to quite take off. Heck, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night than with a superficial serving of speculative silliness. Besides, no one knows action better than Bay. (Premieres Saturday 5 August, 10:00pm EST).


PopMatters review: Click HERE


STARZThe Fog (2005)

Signaling the exact moment when the ‘70s/’80s horror remake revival hit the wall, this rotten retread of John Carpenter’s already nominal scary sea shanty offered proof positive that there is nothing frightening about a murky PG-13 macabre. Directorial lightweight Rupert Wainwright can’t match the level of dread contained in the original, and frequently substitutes shoddy CGI for anything remotely terrifying. Investigate this murky mess at your own risk. (Premieres Saturday 5 August, 9:00pm EST).


PopMatters review: Click HERE


Showtime TooCrash

Six months out and people are still clamoring over this surprise Oscar victor. Did it really deserve the Best Picture trophy? Was there something political (or anti-agenda based) in its victory over a certain cowboy drama? Who actually produced this thing, and will they ever see a residual check for the efforts? If you are unfamiliar with Paul Haggis’s interlocking take on racism in America and its seemingly universal effects, perhaps it’s time to pay it a visit and consider its value – not just as an award winner, but as an overall social statement as well. (Saturday 5 August, 7pm EST)


PopMatters review: Click HERE


Turner Classic Movies: August: Summer Under the Stars Month

Leave it to the classic film channel to find novel ways of constantly recycling its catalog of amazing Tinsel Town artifacts. In August, the station will salute several celebrated names from Hollywood’s Golden Age upward, using each day long promotion as an excuse to screen several offerings from the specific star’s catalog. A few of the highlights for the week of 4 August to 11 August are:



5 August – Humphrey Bogart

One of the few true icons of the studio system silver screen, Bogie gets his well deserving due when TCM airs the following films (all times EST):
6:00am: The Racket Busters (1938)
7:15am: The Petrified Forest (1936)
8:45am: Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
10:30am: Action in the North Atlantic (1943)
12:45am: High Sierra (1941)
2:30pm: The Maltese Falcon (1941)
4:15pm: To Have and Have Not (1944)
6:00pm: The Big Sleep (1946)
8:00pm: Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
10:15pm: Across the Pacific (1942)
12:00am: Knock on Any Door (1949)
2:00am: They Drive By Night (1940)
4:00pm: All Through the Night (1942)


6 August– Robert Duvall

Moving up to the post-modern Method generation of actors, the quiet intensity of Duvall’s onscreen counterparts is on full display in this set of career-defining films (all times EST):
6:00am: Tomorrow (1972)
8:00am: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
10:15am:Captain Newman, .M.D. (1964)
12:30pm: Tender Mercies (1983)
2:15pm: Countdown (1968)
4:00pm: The Outfit (1973)
6:00pm: The Conversation (1974)
8:00pm: The Godfather (1972)
11:00pm: The Godfather Part II (1974)
2:30am: THX 1138 (1971)
4:15am: Lawman (1971)


11 August – Katherine Hepburn

Another one of those rare Hollywood symbols, this stubborn individualist left behind a oeuvre overflowing with amazing work, many of which TCM will air as a tribute to her talent, and tenacity (all times EST):
6:00am: Katherine Hepburn: All About Me (1993)
7:15am: Little Women (1933)
9:15am: Quality Street (1937)
10:45pm: Stage Door (1937)
12:30pm: Bringing Up Baby (1938)
2:15pm: The Philadelphia Story (1940)
4:15pm: Woman of the Year (1942)
6:15pm: Adam’s Rib (1949)
8:00pm: The African Queen (1951)
10:00pm: Rooster Cogburn (1975)
12:00am: Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962)
3:00am: Spitfire (1934)
4:30am: Christopher Strong (1933)


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