Viewer Discretion Advised: 28 April, 2007

[26 April 2007]

By Bill Gibron

PopMatters Contributing Editor

Perhaps it was Meatballs that said it best – are you ready for the Summer? It will definitely be an interesting four months. Instead of giving us one or two major blockbusters to contemplate over the next 16 weeks, Tinsel Town is dropping one on us each and every Friday. That’s a lot of popcorn product to digest. To make matters worse, the major cable channels are finally scheduling those long delayed hits from last year to turn the weekend watching decision into a real dilemma. Thank God for TiVo and DVR. While you’re standing in line waiting on the next available seat for Spider-Man 3 or Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, you can be recording the pay movie networks and their equally entertaining offerings. Beginning with this last week in April, it should be a battle between big and small screen for your leisure time attention, starting with:

Premiere Pick
Cars

Critics were unfairly harsh to this amazing animated film when it hit the big screen last summer. Apparently, a steady diet of Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles left them unable to appreciate John Lassiter’s love letter to the American obsession with automobiles. Granted, the premise is a tad predicable (hot shot racer learns life lessons from the practical populace of a small town) and the voice work was more character driven than gimmicky (which, by the way, is a GOOD thing). Still, the spectacular CG work matched with backdrops that really sell the far away wanderlust of the open road, are a joy to behold – and thanks to the typical Pixar attention to detail, the little moments are just as impressive as the big. If you dismissed this movie before, here’s an opportunity to give it a second chance. It may not be great, but it is definitely as good as the artform gets. (28 April, Starz, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

As remakes go, this update of Wes Craven’s 1970s cannibal holocaust is pretty straightforward. It follows the original as an unlucky family finds themselves at the mercy of some demented desert mutants. But once the standard slice and dice dynamic has been explored, director Alexadre Aja does something quite effective. He turns the tables, focusing on the foul irradiated murderers instead of our supposed heroes. (28 April, HBO, 8PM EST)

Phat Girlz

Mo’Nique is a very talented comedian. She’s also a fine actress when she wants to be. So you’d think a big screen comedy focusing on both of these facets would be a winner. Well, you’d be wrong. Strikingly schizophrenic in approach, part of the narrative wants to condemn our current fascination with body type and weight. Then, out of nowhere, a wild and crazy comedy emerges. For fans only. (28 April, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Elizabethtown

Here’s proof that even the mighty must fall sometimes. After winning over audiences with Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe went and whizzed his film geek goodwill right down his leg. This slow, dragged out declaration of the old adage about ‘going home again’ made audiences weep – but not in a good way. No, they were wondering where all the wit, style and invention of Crowe’s previous canon had wandered off to. (28 April, ShowTOO, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.

It’s the second week in a row that we’ve featured a documentary here, which speaks volumes for the long overlooked format. This time around, genre giant Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven, The Fog of War) looks at the man responsible for most of the execution technology used in our current penal system. Mr. Leuchter’s engineering expertise, especially in the arena of putting people to death, became crucial to modernizing the approach toward capital punishment in this country. His so called know how was also manipulated and abused by revisionist historian Ernst Zundel, a Holocaust denier that got Leuchter to agree with his proposition that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. That Morris manages to keep our interest in this man once such a baffling bombshell is dropped confirms his ability as a fascinating auteur. It’s also the main reason why the fact-based film is such a misunderstood member of the cinematic community. (30 April, IFC, 5:45PM EST)

Additional Choices
Dumplings

Just call this Dim Sum Death Becomes Her. The storyline follows a fading actress and the rumors surrounding a mysterious chef’s dumplings that may actually rejuvenate one’s youth and beauty. The cook’s previous life as a gynecologist and renowned abortionist may have something to do with the miracle food – and its unique filling of effectiveness. Yes, it’s apparently as gross and gory as such a suggestion implies. (29 April, Sundance, 11PM EST)

Solaris

No, this is not the original version of the Russian 2001. Instead, this is the George Clooney/Steven Soderbergh update, which many find equally compelling. In essence, both versions of the story are an exploration of loneliness and alienation, made all the more obvious by the vast distances of time and space inherent in interstellar travel. But there are also elements of love lost and the heart exposed that make the cosmic contemplation even more human. (2 May, IFC, 11PM EST)

American Me

Following 30 years in the life of a Chicano gang member, actor Edward James Olmos banked some of his Miami Vice/Stand and Deliver commercial cred to direct this three hour epic. His first feature film behind the camera, Olmos went for a combination of The Godfather, Scarface and Once Upon a Time in America, dealing realistically with both life in prison and on the streets. The combination makes for compelling, if occasionally overdone, motion picture drama. (2 May, Sundance, 3AM EST)

Outsider Option
Beloved

Believe it or not, this is a very well done adaptation of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s famously poetic novel. Indeed, it’s hard to fault star Oprah Winfrey, director Jonathan Demme, or anyone else in the extremely talented cast or crew. So why wasn’t this movie more popular – both critically and commercially – when it arrived in theaters back in 1998? Perhaps it had something to do with the very nature of Morrison’s work. Her storyline is part ghost story, part metaphysical reparations for a nation still smarting from the pain of civil war. Demme draws directly from the book’s baroque prose, illustrating moments that appear to play better in one’s mind. And then there is the title character, a surreal specter that disturbs in her otherworldly whine. Put them all together and you have an art film as horror-tinged history. It works – perhaps just not in the way that you, or any other fan of the TV talk show hostess intended. (3 May, Indieplex, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!/ Mudhoney

Apparently, the TCM Underground is already running out of films to feature. First they repeat a pair of Ed Wood epics, then they revisit the DePalma thriller Sisters. Now it’s Russ Meyer’s turn to take up residence in rerun city. These remarkable movies, unlike anything else made in the exploitation era of the ‘50s and ‘60s, stand as monuments to one man’s idiosyncratic eccentricity. Sure, they’re nothing but babes, boobs and bloodshed, but no one ever handled that tantalizing trio better. (27 April, Turner Classic Movies, 11:15PM EST)

Strange Days

Right at the height of his popularity as a sci-fi whiz (around T2 time), James Cameron gave ex-wife and fellow director Kathryne Bigelow a chance at equal speculative fortunes. His script for an end of the millennium thriller involving portable memory and governmental conspiracies was turned into a big budget spectacle by the Point Break helmer, with Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett along for the ride. Unpopular at the time, the movie has since had a kind of reactionary cult rebirth. (30 April, Fox Movie Channel, 10PM EST)

The Thing Below

Every once in a while, even the most tolerant film fan needs a little cinematic cheese to cleanse their artsy fartsy tastebuds. No one is suggesting that this low budget drek from 2004 is good, or even tolerable, but with a plot involving an alien creature terrorizing an offshore oil rig and its occupants, who are we at SE&L to say ‘No’. In fact, something as sensationally stupid as this only makes us enjoy the cinematic artform that much more. (2 May, Showtime Beyond 12:15AM EST)

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