[5 October 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Call it an ‘Awards Wannabe’ weekend on the premium movie channels. Mixed in among all the mindless comedies, baffling ‘b’ genre efforts, uninspired action films and draggy dramas, three of the big four film networks are breaking open the Oscar addled entries from last year’s frustrating Fall season to hopefully provide some glamour to their otherwise gratuitous offerings. Frankly, such a switch up is more than welcome, especially when you consider the completely brainless crud that could be currently available - or sadly, is destined to be part of the future programming schedule for this frustrating quartet. At least three of the offerings are well worth a Saturday night sitting in front of the TV (or an attempted TiVo recording, depending on your social plans) and individually, all argue for a sense of artistry comparatively absent within your typical Tinsel Town fare. Even without a statuette in hand, all four of these films are worth your consideration. Available for sampling the weekend of 7 October are:
HBO – Walk the Line*
Boy oh boy does Tinsel Town love actors who can sing and dance. Granted, it’s part of the medium’s luminous past, and argues for a talent far beyond the standard Method acting elements of modern moviemaking. Still, critics went crazy for this Johnny Cash biopic, with most noting how honorable it was to see leads Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon singing the songs in their own voices. Similar to Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter (but unlike Jessica Lange in the Patsy Cline drama Sweet Dreams) the result was an Oscar for Witherspoon, serious consideration for Phoenix, and a decent box office run. Frankly, there is much more to this movie than a couple of younger generation Hollywood superstars warbling a collection of country and rockabilly classics. Both leads do something that’s rare in a cinematic biography – they get to the true heart of their celebrated counterparts. (Premieres Saturday 7 October, 8:00pm EST).
Cinemax – Jarhead*
Sam Mendes must have done something in his past to deserve such a rollercoaster ride. When American Beauty hit theaters in 1999, it was immediately embraced as a sensational, satiric skewering of strangled suburban sexual politics. What a difference a few years, and dozens of messageboard debates, makes. Mendes is now condemned for helming one of the worst Best Picture winners in the history of the Academy and his own award is dismissed as a the result of standard Oscar overkill. All of this applies to his fine follow-up, the Gulf War epic Jarhead in the following, unfortunate manner. Instead of embracing this latest effort as its own visually stunning experiment in storytelling, it was cast aside as another example of Mendes meaninglessness as a cinematic entity. As a result, what should have been an acknowledged minor masterwork was poisoned by the Internet’s inane ability to turn everyone into a critic. How horribly unfair. (Premieres Saturday 7 October, 10:00pm EST).
Starz – Memoirs of a Geisha
Ever since the book became a bestseller, rumors were flying about the eventual big screen adaptation of this project. For the longest time, Stephen Spielberg was positioned as a possible director, and right up to the moment he pulled out, his imprint was all over the approach. With his leaving came a creative void that needed desperately to be filled. With his Best Director nomination in hand for helming Chicago, Rob Marshall was put in charge of the production, and the rest is mediocre moviemaking history. All arguments about the ethnicity of the cast aside (Chinese playing Japanese, for starters) and the misguided decision to make non-English speaking performers phonetically fudge their Western dialogue, Memoirs is still a visually sumptuous effort. Yet many feel this film is all style and absolutely no substance – at least none that was included as part of Arthur Golden’s book. Whether or not they’re right is up for argument, and thanks to Starz and its various premium channel showcases, they’ll be plenty of chances for viewers to decide for themselves. (Premieres Saturday 7 October, 9:00pm EST).
Showtime – Dave Chappelle’s Block Party*
While he was apparently too whacked out on sudden fame to continue his Comedy Central series, the brilliant, if baffling comedian Dave Chappelle was well enough to collaborate with French auteur Michel Gondry for this Wattstax-inspired concert film. With such a substantive cinematic heritage to contend with (the 1973 effort is one of live music’s forgotten masterpieces) and the baggage the star brought along, success seemed slight – or at the very least, destined to be determined demographically. Unbelievably, the movie was incredibly well received, with appeal that crossed over generations, races and other social classes. Thanks to Gondry’s inherent ability behind the lens, and Chappelle’s unbridled braveness in front of it, what could have been a standard concert experience becomes a celebration of humor and humanity that’s infectious in its effectiveness. While the small screen may diminish some of its impact, this is still an experience to seek out and enjoy. (Saturday 7 October, 7:05pm EST)
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 second seven selections unearthed this week include:
7 October - Jay-Z: Fade to Black
The rap impresario used his “retirement” from performing to put on this star studded live concert. One of the best hip hop happenings every captured on film.
(The Movie Channel – 11:20PM EST)
8 October - In Cold Blood
With Infamous hitting theaters and Capote fresh in everyone’s mind, here’s a chance to see Richard Brooks’ masterful 1967 take on the celebrated “nonfiction novel”.
(Flix – 10:15PM EST)
9 October - Dances with Wolves
Some argue that Kevin Costner was unduly rewarded for this overlong horse opera. Presented in its almost four hour splendor, such sentiments may now be prescient.
(Encore Western – 8PM EST)
10 October -Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte
With the success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Bette Davis was looking for another horror film to sustain her career. She got this camp classic instead.
(Turner Classic Movies – 8PM EST)
11 October - The Waterboy
Believe it or not, Sandler plays a real character here, a hopelessly hindered mama’s boy who discovers the joy of team sports – and the local Cajun gal who loves him.
(Encore – 8PM EST)
12 October - Deliverance
While it’s hard to imagine how the censorship-happy channel will handle the infamous “squeal like a pig” sequence, it should be fun finding out.
(American Movie Classics – 8PM EST)
13 October -Wild Wild West
Okay, it’s awful, but it’s filled with inventive visuals to go along with its incredibly lame logistics. Beside’s it’s the perfect bad movie for a day overloaded with silly superstitions.
(TNT – 11PM EST)