[28 September 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
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:
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).
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).
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).
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)
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)