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:
HBO – Fantastic 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).
Cinemax – The 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).
Starz – An 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).
Showtime – Soul 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)
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:
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)
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)
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)